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Archive for the ‘Yale Supplemental Essay’ Category

How to Write the Yale Supplemental Essays for 2018-2019 (And a bonus look at the Dartmouth Supplemental Essay for 2018-2019)

In Community Essay, Problem Essay, Uncategorized, Yale Application Essay 2018-2019, Yale Supplemental Essay on July 6, 2018 at 11:59 pm

Who should read this post:  Anybody applying to Yale or Dartmouth and anybody who needs to write about community or about a problem that needs solving.  In my previous post, I discussed sorting prompts into categories in order to save time by creating reusable essays, or at least some reusable language.  To summarize the basic point, many prompts have overlapping topics that allow you to reuse material, which saves time and suffering.  In that spirit, this post will focus on connections between the Yale and Dartmouth prompts for 2018-2019.  For a link to  a discussion on how to write about a problem, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Background to This Year’s Yale and Dartmouth Prompts:

No doubt if you are reading this, you have already visited the Yale and perhaps the Dartmouth site, and seen this year’s application essay prompts.  Yale and Dartmouth have both launched their essay prompts ahead of their Ivy League peers, as well as Stanford, a move that suggests they are interested in seeing the effects on their application numbers.

Yes, the others have essay prompts up, but they are last year’s prompts, and even though little change is expected for essay prompts this year, I advise that you wait until each school’s prompts  are officially released for this year before you write an essay, so that you do not find that your topic has disappeared.  It have seen this happen.

The reason for the early launch by two Ivies is  easier to guess than, say, why Amazon is changing the prices of product x or y at Whole Foods:  Yale and Dartmouth want a boost in applications this year, by getting the work-intensive part of their applications up early.  Yale has often been a bit tardy in getting their essays out, so it is even more noticeable, at least to me (I do pay attention to this stuff, after all.  It’s my job).

For more on last year’s Ivy League application data, as well as a bit on Stanford, have a look at my recent post on early versus late applications, here:  Ivy League and Stanford Application Data for 2017-2018.

So why would Yale get out there to stir it up and boost numbers?  In my opinion?

There have been identity issues in the Ivies, and there has been some discussion of Yale’s brand slightly declining against those of its immediate peers due to a perception that it is not “STEM-y” enough.  Yale also sends a high percentage of grads into the financial industry in New York, which is a pure blessing for its alumni donations, but a mixed blessing reputationally.  Or maybe those folks in  Yale admissions have just been drinking a lot of double espressos (on ice, given the weather of late) and are operating at a hyper-caffeinated pace.   There is further evidence of another intent within the Yale prompts that is perhaps related to reputation, however, as well as to the kind of student the most elite schools have been working with.

Yet it is not like Yale is the only school struggling with some identity issues.  Harvard had a notorious cheating scandal–and you can see these institutions dealing with their own paradox:  it is so hard to get into most Ivies that some people will do almost anything to get admitted, and some continue their anything-goes-to-get-my-grades habits during their college years.  These things  may explain why so many essays this year can be sorted into the “community involvement” or “do good for humanity” category.

Yale, for example,  has three supplemental essay prompts, but two of them are really about being part of a community.   Note, by the way, that this makes a total of three essays for one Yale application (the Common App 650 or the Coalition App essay, then two of the three supplementals).

And what does Dartmouth have as a supplemental prompt?  Three of the five options are in some sense about being part of a larger community or purpose.  Of course, Dartmouth had its own cheating scandal, in an ethics class, no less.   Satirists take note.  The messaging  in the choice of prompts that the schools are choosing is clear.  Have a look at the Boy Scout Oath if you have any further questions.

Yale and Dartmouth Essay Prompts for 2018-2019

To save you the effort of toggling between windows, here are the supplementals for Yale, followed by a brief analysis, then Dartmouth:

Yale

After a series of short responses with an emphasis on academics, Yale presents this:

Applicants submitting the Coalition Application or Common Application will select from the following topics:

  • Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it?
  • Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How do you feel you have contributed to this community?
  • Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international importance. Discuss an issue that is significant to you and how your college experience might help you address it.

Applicants submitting the Common Application: Please choose two of the topics above and respond to each in 250 words or fewer. (The bold print here is mine)

Let me point out why I sort two of these essays into the same basic category:  Both the community essay, which is the second option, and the significant issue essay, the third option are about engagement with the greater world.

Please notice as well that, when you begin to talk about being part of a community, it may involve things like food and music and family and geography, but it also tends to involve specific challenges–all communities have to be maintained and all communities face problems.  A quick look at our politics shows you that, whether we are talking about decaying mining communities in the Appalachian region or immigrant communities in Oakland:  place, music, food, all the elements of culture are there, but so are a specific set of problems that define the communities.

I do have something for you to consider as a counter-zeitgeist move, though–instead of talking about what it means to be part of some sub-group, is it possible to talk about what it means to be American?  Is that a community anymore?

I am asking this seriously.  I heard a teacher from a highly diverse high school interviewed recently, and he observed that his non-anglo students did not identify with the term “American,” seeing it as a code word for “white”.  So one thing I might challenge you all to think about his what means to be “American” today.  I qualify that as well, by pointing out that, in South America, people tend also to think about themselves as “Americans” in some sense, as this link will show you: “What Does American Actually Mean?”

I also point out that the question of community identity is behind many of the troubled headlines today–tied to the fear of the Other.   (What else is the fear of migrants in, say, Bavaria, when you look at it?  Well that and manipulation by fear-mongering demagogues, which might also be a topic for this year, if you have been paying close attention and can avoid writing a rant.   For the record, for those of you who read the article linked here, I have been to Duisburg and Berlin and did not see the rampant crime claimed by certain Bayerisch politicians.  Felt safer in both places, in fact, than I have in more than a few American cities).

This fear of others is a world-wide phenomenon now, not just an American problem.  Just beware of preaching or going off as if this were a class discussion in Civics or history.   And please note  that this kind of problem or community essay needs to have a strongly personal foundation in  you, your family, your sense of place within a community or within a term like “American,” and that none of these topics ask you to sermonize.

As an addendum to this short discussion I can also suggest that you listen to a short essay by the great linguist Geoffrey Nunberg–words and identity are inseparable, and Nunberg talks about tribalism as his word of the year for 2017 (which involves both a problem and deals with what community is) here.

 

Everything he said in 2017 seems totally relevant now.  He has a lot to say about related topics if you keep clicking.

If you have an appealing or interesting personal and family history, that also has a place in this kind of essay, but of course you may have crossed that box off already for your Common App or Coalition main essay.

Dartmouth Supplemental Essays

Here they are:

1. Please respond in 100 words or less:

While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, delivered this memorable line: “It is, Sir…a small college. And yet, there are those who love it!” As you seek admission to the Class of 2023, what aspects of the College’s program, community or campus environment attract your interest?

2. Please choose one of the following prompts and respond in 250-300 words:

A. “I have no special talent,” Albert Einstein once observed. “I am only passionately curious.” Celebrate your curiosity.

B. The Hawaiian word mo’olelo is often translated as “story” but it can also refer to history, legend, genealogy, and tradition. Use one of these translations to introduce yourself.

C. “You can’t use up creativity,” Maya Angelou mused. “The more you use, the more you have.” Share a creative moment or impulse—in any form—that inspired creativity in your life.

D. In the aftermath of World War II, Dartmouth President John Sloane Dickey, Class of 1929, proclaimed, “The world’s troubles are your troubles…and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.” Which of the world’s “troubles” inspires you to act? How might your course of study at Dartmouth prepare you to address it?

E. In The Bingo Palace, author Louise Erdrich, Class of 1976, writes, “…no one gets wise enough to really understand the heart of another, though it is the task of our life to try.” Discuss.

F. Emmy and Grammy winner Donald Glover is a 21st century Renaissance man—an actor, comedian, writer, director, producer, singer, songwriter, rapper, and DJ. And yet the versatile storyteller and performer recently told an interviewer, “The thing I imagine myself being in the future doesn’t exist yet.” Can you relate?

So let’s sort these as well:  Prompt 1, the short response, is clearly of the “Why Us” variety which I discussed in my previous post. It is also really  short, so look closely at a few programs/aspects of Dartmouth that appeal and good luck.

Prompt 2 has a clear “problem” essay in Dbut this problem also implicitly demands a degree of awareness and engagement with the larger world.  So, a community aspect, define that as you will by the problem you want to address (and those you therefore want to help).  Again, watch the preaching.

As for community prompts here, that starts with B–history, legend, tradition are all community things.  Sure, it is about you, but it is about what has been transmitted to you and what you are part of.

Prompt E is also in about connecting to somebody else, whether because they are an outsider, or as part of just connecting, to which I add that some sense of shared connection, some sense of empathy  is always what underlies a community.    (Warning for this essay:  Beware of a Kumbaya overdose, for which the antidote is a good sense of humor).

And finally, Danny Glover in E.  Maybe what Glover was thinking about that does not exist is just being a person in America, without all that other stuff he often talks about as a comedian, like always having a hyphen attached to his identity, or what one has to do while black in America.  Think about what it would be like to have an America where that did not happen and Danny Glover was not an “African-American” comedian, but instead was just an American comedian.  Or just a great comedian.

Before I leave, I have written about the Problem Essay long ago.  Some topics not have changed  much, which says a lot.

If time allows, I will discuss problem essays at more length in the coming weeks.  But hey, when Yale gets its application prompts out this early, I may be busy pretty soon.  Speaking of which, if you are seeking editing help, Contact Me sooner rather than later, as my book will start to fill up soon.

 

 

 

 

Example Post from 2015-2016 Essay Analysis–Yale Application Essay Topics for 2015-2016: A.K.A. Tell Us Something About Yourself That is Not on Your Application

In Applying to Yale, Yale Application Essays, Yale Supplemental Essay on July 15, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Keep in Mind that this post was written for the class of 2020 application–if you are graduating high school in 2017, you will be applying for the class of 2021.  While some or even most of the information below may be true when you apply, I won’t know for sure until July or August, 2016, at which time my Yale post will update.

The Yale essay is ready for you.  Are you ready for the Yale essay?

For most of you the answer will be, I am not ready.  The reason is simple:  most of you will need to have a pretty good grip on the rest of your application–and will need to have written a more-or-less decent draft of your Common Application main essay–before you will know what to write for this Yale essay.  For this year’s Common Application Essay Prompts, see   Application Prompts for 2015-2016.

For the Yale topic and more on writing for the Yale prompt this year, including a roughed-out example essay, continue below:

Yale Essay Topic
Please note that the Yale freshman application will be available on the Common Application website sometime in August. (Note from WordGuild:  The Common App goes offline July 23rd and erases all accounts on the site at that time; when it goes live again on or just before August 1st, you can open an account and upload essays.  My advice:  start essays early and upload late, to give yourself plenty of time.)

The Yale-specific questions will include one additional required essay for all applicants, and one optional essay for prospective computer science and engineering majors. The essay prompts for the 2015-2016 Yale Essay Questions are as follows:

Yale’s essay question is required for all freshman applicants:

Please reflect on something you would like us to know about you that we might not learn from the rest of your application, or on something about which you would like to say more. You may write about anything—from personal experiences or goals to interests or intellectual pursuits. (Please answer in 500 words or fewer).

Yale Essay Prompt Analysis and Advice:

As you can see, it’s tough to say what they might not learn from the rest of your application before you have at least roughed out the rest of your application–remember that you are creating a kind of holograph of yourself composed of basic data (G.P.A., SAT/ACT scores), a list of activities and some short descriptions, accompanied by odds and ends like letters of recommendation–and your essays, which can make or break your application.  I talk about this at more length in this post–how college applications are evaluated.

To add a metaphor, you should look at each part of your application as being a chapter or entry in a book about you.  So write your Common App essay, complete your activities list/descriptions, then write this essay with an eye on filling in the blanks and/or pulling things together.  You want to humanize yourself and, if possible, reveal a passion or strong interest that may help your application.  And when you do write this essay, do NOT simply repeat your activities–but also do not assume that you cannot slide them in somewhere.  Think of this essay as  either  . . .

A Network or a Walkabout

There are two basic ways to approach this question–one is The Walkabout, in which you present a stand-alone activity that you think is interesting enough or humanizing enough to merit a solo, one-off focus.  More about that in a few moments.

The other way is to write a Network Essay–use an interesting or important activity to connect disparate parts of your resume, or to remind the reader of some aspects of you that you think are important (or persuasive as admissions factors). Let’s say you are into math and physics in school, with some connected activities including a robotics team, while outside of school, you like to go fishing and camping  (which you likely cannot do too often as you are an oversubscribed high school student trying to get into college, but let’s say for the purposes of an example essay that you go fishing one or two times a year and are into math and physics and the robotics team).

These do not seem to be connected, but this is a matter of focus–that is the key to and the purpose of a Network Essay.  For example:  Fishing involves physics in a number of ways, starting with putting a lure or a fly where you want it, and getting its parameters right (depth of bait, etc).  This is applied physics and the use of empirical knowledge (How to cast to get the lure to point x, how deep the fish are . . .).  So you might start the essay with a focus on fishing and camping, then use it as a network to connect this unknown part of you to the other parts of you that are clear in the application.  The person described above might do the following, for example, to get this Yale essay started:

Network Essay Example–The Fishing Physics Fan

Whenever I can, I like to pack up the car and disappear for a few days.  I like to cut the electronic tether, escape the ping of texts and pong of e-mail, and go to any one of several locations I cannot disclose. 

I cannot disclose these locations specifically because they are the best places to catch fish in the (pick a region).  And fisherman may tell a lot of tall tales about the one that got away, but no real fisherman ever gives away his Secret Spot to Catch Fish.  And I am a true fisherman.

This might seem an odd thing for a person who spends most of his other free time sitting at a computer coding so that an x can do y (examples not included in this example essay intro) or fiddling with a robot’s arm so it manages to do a instead of b (examples not included in this example essay intro)  but in a way it all fits together–fishing is all about physics and trial and error.  Trying to get a lure to that spot by the sunken log across the mouth of the stream is a matter of telemetry, a problem with many factors–the wind, the current, how deep the water there is . . . (You would expand somewhat here, using concrete detail.)

When I am out in nature fishing, I am really living in the moment in a way that I do not in my daily life at home, but nature  is also really a collection of things we call physics.  Take the lightning storm that was approaching Twin Lakes (sorry, can’t tell you which Twin Lakes) the last time I was there . . . . (Again, you would expand here, but notice how I am tying fishing to  your other interests, to physics . . .)

And then you might end the essay by literally and figuratively coming home (refreshed and refocused) to your more formal experiments in applied physics).

Notice how I am introducing other activities or interests beyond fishing, but they are put into this essay as context for the fishing focus, while simultaneously reminding the reader of specifics in terms of interests and knowledge from your activities sheet and from your academic life.  So the essay emphasizes one thing but shows others by connecting them.  This is what I mean by the network essay–it focuses on something new, on an activity that is either not in or only mentioned in the rest of your application but in the essay on this activity, you touch on other things that it does not hurt to remind the reader about.  All your many features are somehow included.

Here’s why this network approach can be useful:  It does not hurt to remind the reader about some other aspects of your resume or activities because, on average, the app reader will spend about 3 minutes reading each of your app essays–sometimes less–and this rapid reading will come after the app reader has scanned your activities, and is meanwhile thinking about your GPA, etc, and figuring out how to boil it all down to a single number, appended by some comments.

And the app reader is doing this at some point in a day in which he or she has read dozens of other applications and multiple dozens of essays if your application comes up late in the day.  So things will tend to get blurry as the app reader takes notes and assesses you, and the artful reminder of things you want them to remember can help your evaluator–and so help you.  Thus, the network essay which uses an interesting aspect of yourself to connect other, known aspects of your application in an interesting way can be an ideal add to your application.

Oh, and if you think something like fishing (or whatever it is that you do) is not an interesting topic, it depends on what you say about it.  And how you say it.  Contact me if you have something you like to do but think it will look boring in your essay, and I will help you develop your words and do so in a way that works with the rest of your app.

The Walkabout Essay

A walkabout was a rite of passage for a young Australian native, a time spent wandering the bush alone and surviving independently–the word has taken on other meanings, but the walkabout was originally a personal journey for the experience to be had on the journey.  It was also seen as something necessary and transformative, shaping the person who experienced it and propelling him into adulthood.

If you have an activity that is like this, a stand-alone that is also an important part of who you are, something that you do for its own sake,  then you can write a Walkabout Essay exploring this activity.

As an example, are you into math, programming and classical Indian Dance?  The closest you could come to a network essay with these would be to say they are all possible areas of creative expression.

But classical dance is embodied, is a way of knowing that is shown by doing in a way that is not true of math and programming, for your physical self is fully engaged, and it might best be explored as such, as a unique activity that humanizes and adds an interesting dimension to you–and that really offers little connection to your other, more purely mental activities.  Though you may still mention some other activities with the excuse of showing how different this activity is (and so reminding the app reader, however briefly, of those other aspects of yourself.)

The Key to the Walkabout Essay:  Become a Knowledgeable and Interesting Guide

So some level of networking/connection is always a good idea, but the Walkabout essay will really focus on the glories of the activity in the essay.  Classical Indian dance, as an example, embodies much of traditional Indian culture: its gestures are symbolic, and it is influenced by or on a continuum with other specifically Indian activities, like what we now call Hatha Yoga, as well as traditional Indian martial arts–if you become a guide, showing things like this in some detail to the app reader, and so showing your passion, you will have a good  essay–you want your app reader to have that look of surprise and interest that comes when someone learns something interesting, as you reveal the philosophy and history of the dance through some well-chosen examples, while inserting close description about the people and dances you have done and perhaps an amusing anecdote or two.    Inform without lecturing, show by examples and close description instead of simply telling.

And finally–if you are “Saying something more” about an activity or concern that is already on your application/activities, my advice here still applies.

That’s it for now. Get started on your Common App essay while thinking about this essay.  And contact me if you would like some professional editing.  N.B:  Sooner is better than later as things really pick up from August 1st on.

College Admissions Data from 2014-2015 and What It Means for You in 2015-2016

In Admissions Data for 2014-2015, Cal Poly Admissions Data, Ivy League Admissions for 2015-2016, Princeton Admissions Data 2015, U.C. Berkeley Admission Data 2015, U.C.L.A. Admissions Data 2015, Yale Admissions Data 2015 on July 6, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Warning for those used to reading only 140 characters at a time: 

This post has analysis and data on Ivy League applications for the last five years, as well as on the most popular U.C. campuses and a couple of interesting alternative schools (particularly for tech and engineering students).  It may feel like reading War and Peace for those of you whose reading does not generally extend beyond Twitter and text messages. On the other hand, for the labor, you will get a good overview on the trends in elite Ivy and U.C. schools, as well as free advice for saving yourself a lot of application misery–which starts with looking at the data on schools and on yourself.  For more, read on. 

For some things, the past is no longer such a great predictor of the future–the weather, for example.  I just came back from ten days in the Sierra Nevada and the weather reminded me of the monsoon:  thunder, lightning and rain daily, with green grass in the arid ghost town of Bodie–in July.  Go figure.

For other things, the past is still a good predictor of the future–take college applications as an example, in which the forecast is for admissions to be incrementally tougher every year–if you are going to the most competitive schools.  If you are not, relax and enjoy the application process (As much as possible.  Think about it as a challenge, as an opportunity for growth, as . . . a lot of work).

Some Examples That Show the Trends (and Why Averages are not Necessarily for the Average Applicant)

Turning to some specifics for this year, the tale is pretty much the same as it has been for over a decade:  if you want to go to one of the super select colleges, the going is tough and tougher.  Stanford, for example, came close to breaking into the 4% admit range this year, dropping to an all-time low of 5.05% of applicants admitted.  Of course, they do have a relatively small undergraduate population and are a worldwide brand pretty much on par with Disneyland, which means that your average 4.0 GPA can expect to be rejected, but . . . it’s even worse when you look at their average GPA and test scores and realize that they have under 8,000 undergrads and a very full and vibrant athletic program, among other things, which means for the average student, the GPA and test scores listed are not really averages for the average applicant.

Why?   Because those average numbers are skewed by hundreds of athletes, many of whom (but not all, for sure) have somewhat lower GPA and test scores.  And special categories for admits are not just for athletes.  For those who are upset at this, I believe this is actually fair–for one simple reason:  no money, no university.  Universities need to build a happy alumni and athletics are a big part of brand and of donations, and these donations and the happy supporters with their fond memories of tailgating, et al,  pay for all kinds of things, including new facilities, scholarships athletic and otherwise . . . and not only that, many kids who excel athletically but are somewhat underperforming academically for admission to the elite schools they get to attend will still go on to to exceptional work as adults.

And  special admits are not just for jocks.  A math prodigy who is mediocre at other things (yep, they exist) may also jump past an accomplished generalist when it comes to admits.   And a high performing kid from a rough neighborhood may also get a boost–which is okay by me.  It’s fair play for universities to have special categories for everything from athletic branding to social justice. Their game, their rules.  This is true in many areas of life.  Your task is to decide whose game to play.

So getting back go forecasting and data for this year, one easy prediction for your application experience is this:  if you are less concerned with brand and just want a good education,  you have no worries–last year I had multiple clients with C+ averages make it into multiple universities, and clients in the solid B range doing very well with multiple accepts to multiple well-known brands–not in the Ivies or Stanford of course, but getting accepted into a broad range of good schools, public and private.

It’s all about finding a broad range of colleges that will allow you to fulfill your ultimate ends and settling on a good list for your final applications, then having good supplemental materials.  Turning to one of the other popular options in California as a more sane option than Stanford, U.C. Berkeley had roughly a 17% acceptance rate for fall 2015 (still bad, but compared to the Cardinal, this looks very reasonable).

(For more insights into how college applications are evaluated and some thoughts on strategy, have a look at how applications are evaluated and my secrets to college application success.)

Your Takeaway in Only 633 Characters:

Before I get to this year’s data but let me give you my takeaway for this whole post now:

To avoid misery, create good goals and keep those goals in mind when planning for factors that you cannot control (like what the colleges are looking for to fill specific categories this year), without obsessing about fairness.  And be sure that you do not focus only on getting into HYPSM.  These are great schools and offer unique opportunities for their students, but so do most respectable colleges.    And finally, use the CollegeAppJungle cushion formula when creating your college list:  for every Stanford or top Ivy on your list, have one school for which you are average and one school for which you are above average.  You then can reach for your dreams, with a safety net.

Admissions Data for 2015 and Beyond

Okay, that’s enough of the preparatory remarks already; here’s quick rundown of some recent admissions data:

Pretty Scary Data:  Ivy League Results for the 2014-2015 application season (these students will be enrolling for fall semester, 2015-in a couple of months, in other words).

Brown

30,397 applied; 8.5% admitted

(2013-2014 data:  30,291 applications; 8.6% admitted–see what I mean by incrementally more difficult each year–this is pretty consistent throughout what follows.)

Columbia

36,250 applied; 6.1% admitted

(2013-2014: 32,952 applications; 6.94% admitted)

Cornell

41,907 applied; 14.9% admitted

(2013-2014 data: 43,041 applications; 15.2% admitted)

Dartmouth

20,504 applied; 10.3% admitted

(2013-2014 data: 19,235 applications; 11.5% admitted)

Harvard

37,307 applied; 5.3% admitted

(2013-2014 data: 34,295 applications; 5.9% admitted)

Penn

37,267 applied; 9.9% admitted

(2013-2014 data: 35,788 applications; 9.9% admitted)

Princeton

27,290 applied; 6.99% admitted

(2013-2014 data: 26,641 applications; 7.28% admitted)

Yale

30,237 applied; 6.49% admitted–making Yale a bit of an outlier as their numbers softened slightly this year.

(2013-2014 data:  30,932 applications; 6.25% admitted)

And for you uber-STEMers, here is M.I.T:

18,306 applied; 8% admitted

(2013-2014 data:  18,356 applied; 7.9% admitted)

The numbers above could be described as ranging from tough to terrifying, if you are obsessed with the Ivy League and M.I.T.  But keep in mind that there are up to a thousand decent to superb colleges in the Americas, particularly if you break them down by schools or majors (e.g. Colorado College of Mines, the University of Toronto and the University of Michigan, among others, Oh Engineers).  Also be aware when assessing data that all colleges must estimate how many of their admits will actually choose to attend, which affects their admits–this is called yield, and I have written about this here: Why Yield Still Matters.  Ivy League colleges have very high yield, relatively speaking, and so have an even lower level of admits compared to schools with lower yield.

Of course, if you are not totally obsessed with the Ivy League, this data is merely interesting, and using it, along with, say,  a scattergram from Naviance, you can do a cost-benefit analysis based on your chances of admission.  I say, Go for it, given that your average app costs only 50-75 dollars, but have a healthy list of non-super-selective colleges, guided by a healthy perspective on why you want to go to college and what you expect to get from it.

Compare the last two years’ data to a three year trend that takes us from 2013 back to 2011:

Brown–2011: 8.70%; 2012: 9.60%; 2013: 9.16%

Columbia– 2011: 6.93%; 2012: 7.42%; 2013:  6.89%

Cornell–2011: 17.95; 2012: 16.2%; 2013: 15.15%

Dartmouth–2011: 10.14%; 2012: 9.79; 2013: 10.05

Harvard– 2011: 6.17%; 2012: 5.92%; 2013: 5.79%

Princeton–2011: 8.39%; 2012:  7.86%; 2013: 7.29%

U Penn–2011:  12.26%; 2012: 12.32; 2013:10.05

Yale–2011: 7.35%; 2012: 6.81%; 2013: 6.72%

And here is data for M.I.T: 2011: 9.6%; 2012: 8.9%; 2013:8.2%; 2014: 7.7%

M.I.T’s West Coast competitor, Cal Tech, had 11% admitted in 2013, 8% for 2014, for you STEMers who need another point of comparison.  I will update with this year’s data for CT when I get it.

The trend is clear:  steadily down for the most competitive schools, and the seeming upward trend in a couple of cases may be due to the fact that they admit more because more students use them for a backup school,  choosing to attend another school after admissions offers go out–universities  have to calculate this into the admits, much like an airline figuring out how to slightly overbook flights–the difference being that, if a school misses their admit/yield target, they either lose money when they under enroll, or have to find a way to house and provide classes to their excess new students–U.C. Berkeley had a bit of a fiasco with yield some years back and had freshman students living off of cots in rec rooms and hallways of dorms for quite awhile.   See my post on Yield, above, for more on yield.

If the current trend continues, the top three  Ivies will all be under a 5% admit rate a year or so before the next Winter Olympics roll around.  Fear not, however, for I will conclude with some recommendations for dealing with this in a moment–but before I do . . . . let’s get to this:

Getting back to REALLY Scary Data:  Stanford

Stanford–2011:  7.10%; 2012: 6.61%; 2013: 5.69% 2014:  42,167 applicants; 5.07% admitted–and in 2015, only 5.05%, or 2,144 out of 42,487 applicants were admitted.

As I said, really close to that 4% barrier and really likely to break it this year,  based on the trend.  They could decide to forestall this by adjusting and making some space for a slightly larger freshman class, but nothing currently suggest this will happen.  Stanford is the go-to destination for today’s Future Masters of the Universe, really–anybody who wants to launch a good STEM career has Stanford at or near the top of their college list.  So expect yield at Stanford to stay high, and for the Cardinal to drop below 5% during your application season as Stanford  turns down many students who look perfect in terms of numbers.  Other factors, like essays and extracurriculars will play in important role in application results here.  So will institutional needs.

Inconsistent Admission Results

I did have six of my clients be admitted to Stanford in 2013-2014, which was a new high for me, but two of them were outstanding female athletes as well as good students, and the others were nearly perfect, with outstanding essays and interesting backgrounds. This year, so far three have reported admissions, but I have only had formal reports back from about 70% of my clients as of July, so I hold out hope for those who may still be too giddy to respond to my June e-mail request for results and decisions.

I also had other clients who did not get into Stanford, some of whom were admitted into places like Harvard and Yale, and of course those who had admits to both/and.  My  Stanford admits were not admitted to some of the Ivy League schools on their list while being admitted to others.  The upshot on this is simple:  you cannot count on admission to any specific school in the usual short list of top universities–so you should widen your application list.  Do some deep breathing.  Remember that life is not about what college sticker you put on your car.

Have a Good Backup Plan

Let’s start with what West Coast applicants applying to the Ivy League think of as “backup schools:”  U.C. Berkeley and U.C.L.A. (Personally I find the idea that the U.C.’s are somehow second-rate to be hilarious.  Berkeley has been ranked as the top school in the world overall by some ratings systems–not that I am all that impressed by ratings, which usually focus on incomes of graduates and a bunch of less clear metrics, none of which guarantee a good outcome for any individual.  But back to our topic . . .)

U. C. Berkeley–2011:  25.54%; 201221.13%; 2013: 20.83%; 2014: 17.3% admit rate, with 12,795 admitted for fall 2014 out of 73,771 applicants; of these, 65.6% were California residents and 4,401 were out-of-state students; this year’s admits had a weighted average GPA of 4.18, ACT composite average of 31 and SAT reading of 677, Math of 703 and Writing of 691.

Berkeley Update for fall 2015 enrollment:  78,918 freshman/1st year applicants, 13,321 admitted for a 16.9% admit rate, a new low. Yes, a large, “state” school with many applicants and an incrementally more difficult admissions rate, but a much better admit rate than in the Ivies.  Llike the Ivies, the trend is toward tougher admissions, and the drop  in admits at Berkeley is even steeper over recent years than at most other schools–a result of the Ivies, et al, having such low rates of admission that more and more students are dropping out of the Ivy League app race and going straight for the great public universities.  The average unweighted GPA for these admits was 3.91 with an average ACT of 31 and an average SAT of 2093.  For transfers, Berkeley had 17,239 applicants, 93% of whom came from California community/junior colleges; 3,763 or 21.8% were offered admissions this year; compare that to about 23% transfer admits last year and the theme of incrementally increasing difficulty reappears here as well.

U. C. L. A.–2011:  25.28%; 2012: 21.27%; 2013: 21.10; 2014:  18.23% admit rate, with 15,778 admitted out of 86,537 applicants–4,110 of these admits coming from out-of-state. Weighted average GPA for U.C.L.A. in 2014 was 3.94.  For  a complete look at U.C.L.A.’s test average (SAT/ACT) and other data up through 2014, which is rendered in more detail than Berkeley, see this:  U.C.L.A. Averages.

U.C.L.A. Fall 2015 Update:  17.3% admitted, including 16,027 freshman admits out of 92,722 applicants.  This is a pretty good jump downward in admits and upward in applicants for U.C.L.A.  U.C.L. A. also admitted 4,905 out of 20,063 transfer students (mostly J.C. transfers).  Again, you see a relatively easier admissions challenge relative to the Ivies, but also  a relatively steep decline in admits in recent years.

Some Other Schools to Look At

This will be more focused on STEM majors, not because I think STEM is the only way to go (far from it), but rather because so many want a STEM major, and it provides an easy way to focus on a small selection of the thousands of colleges in North America and beyond.

University of Washington

Why not, STEMmers and others?  For you STEM folks who think that Berkeley or Stanford are the only way to go to get a foot in the door of the West Coast Tech Industry, you might have heard of those guys at Amazon and Microsoft up there in the Seattle area (Of the latter, I know, I know, so Old School, but still–one of the biggest and most important tech companies in the world.)  Not to mention those biotech companies and internet companies like Zillow, Expedia, et al and so forth.  Specifically of interest to you computer science and programming folks, U.W.’s Comp Sci school has a truly fantastic new building and a large degree of protected funding dedicated to Computer disciplines–a good thing in today’s challenging  world of educational finances.  For more on that, look here: U Washington Computer Sciences.

Here’s a quick look at UW data:

2012: 26,138 applications, 16,679 offered (55% acceptance rate) with a yield of 6.225; 2013:  30,200 applications, 16,679 accepted (59% acceptance rate) and a yield of 6,049; 2014–Applied 31,611, Accepted 17,451 (55%) Yield 6,361 or 36.4%.

2015 data is pending as of July, 2015–a relaxed approach from a university that is pretty relaxed compared to the Ivies and Berkeley.

Looks doable, doesn’t it?  Of course, some majors will be far more challenging to get into–like those in the computer disciplines–but still not even nearly as tough as the Ivies, Stanford, or the U.C.’s, especially Berkeley, if you are a STEMmer. Of course, there is some rain, but the good coffee and access to excellent salmon offset that . . .

Harvey Mudd

If you haven’t heard of this place, they know it well in Silicon Valley.  And while it is tougher than Berkeley and far tougher than Washington, its data shows that it is a good alternative school for those convinced that the Ivies are the Cat’s Pajamas.  Here some data:

2013:  3,539 applicants; 18% admitted;  2014:  3,678 applicants; 524 admitted (14.2% admit rate);  as of July, I am still waiting for HM to report stats for fall, 2015 enrollment.  One additional point–more than two men apply for every woman who applies to HM  (2,588 men for fall 2014 vs. 1,090 women), but the number of women who were admitted in the last available class (fall 2014) was 255 vs. 269 for the men.  So the advantage is to you ladies.  Though the admit total is admittedly small in both cases.

H.M is a beautiful, small school in a Southern California setting (807 undergraduate students last year), and while both private and expensive, has pretty generous financial aid (32,000 has been the average aid package in recent years, according to HM, apparently an upgrade from the old HM 25 k package).  If you can pay for an out-of-state public school, you can likely afford HM.  The steep recent decline in admits does suggest that HM has been discovered, with a rising rate of out-of-state applicants, but still:  worth adding if you have some space on your target school list and are interested in a small school.

Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

One of my favorite, small, public colleges and also a favorite of Silicon Valley employers, as well as companies like Bechtel, Webcor, Kiewit, et al. Look em’ up, if you are curious, Oh engineering types.  The school is well-known for programs ranging from Architecture to Electrical Engineering, has a highly ranked business school and a number of very strong humanities programs.  Here’s some CPSLO data:

2013: 40,402 applications, 13,939 accepted (35% accepted) with an average wieghted GPA of 3.96, ACT composite average of 29 and SAT 1 average of 1311.  2014: 51,707 applicants, 14,749 admitted (28%-this is a record low for CPSLO), with a weighted GPA of 3.97 on average and SAT Reading and Math of 1318–the ACT composite was 29.  Fall 2015 Update: 46,799 applied; 14,386 admitted; 4.0 GPA average (weighted); ACT average of 30; SAT Reading and Math average of 1332.

Cal Poly has (finally) started to offer more detailed information on student data by fields of study–click here for information by school:  Cal Poly Data Breakdown.

Your Takeaway:  Diversity, Diversity, Diversity–and a somewhat longer list than the old “10 is the max” standard.

As in recent years, the takeaway for this is to develop a longer list of target schools and add some diversity.  I suggest 12-15 as a minimum on your target list, not the old ten maximum list.

After all, it’s the 21st Century, Friends, and as you can see, the admit rates at my alternate schools are also declining, a trickle-down effect of both increased expenses at some of the more popular schools and the very low likelihood of admissions to the most competitive schools–students and parents are getting the message and are looking for the hidden gem or overlooked schools like the few I showed you in this post.

So look for the overlooked, look across borders and over the sea, as well as in your backyard.  Don’t limit your search to the United States.

As in recent years, I strongly encourage students to look at Canada–the University of British Columbia, U of Toronto and McGill come immediately to mind, and are cheaper on average than going out of state within the U.S.  A West-Coast flight to Vancouver, or an East Coast flight to Toronto is actually pretty affordable, so parents can visit with ease, if necessary, and Canada is on average a safer place to live than the U.S., even if they do have more guns per capita.  Must be that relaxed and friendly attitude.

And don’t take the various university rankings too seriously, even if you are a STEM person, which some  of the best known university rankings weight over other factors (money being the other dominant metric).  Nobody knows how to measure the real value of an education, and there is a degree to which the Ivies, particularly Yale, Harvard and Princeton, demonstrate a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to income–income and some other stuff that is used to rank universities does not necessarily reflect the quality of your undergrad education.   Having said that, you might want to check out international rankings for British and Irish universities, and check out some specialty programs, like the accelerated medical degree at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland–an example only if you want to be a surgeon, of course.

Moving back to the role income plays in university rankings, a school from a western state, particularly if it has a smaller population, will obviously have folks with lower incomes–it’s cheaper to live there and more of the students from, say University of Washington or Oregon will be from those states and likely continue to live in the Northwest, which has a great standard of living, but lower average incomes than, say, New York or Mass.  If you went to school in Seattle, but took a job in Cupertino, your income would reflect that.

Keep that in mind and ask what you want from your college experience–a good job is huge, but a good experience is as well, and it starts with having a good list of backup schools to ease the stress of applications.  Good luck and come back soon.

How To Write A 500 Word College Application Essay–An Exercise In Editing

In Common Application Essays, Essay on an Influence, Essay on Intellectual Development, Essay on What Matters to You, Harvard Application Essay, Princeton Application Essay, Stanford Supplement Essay, Yale Supplemental Essay on May 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm

One of the greatest challenges in writing an application essay is the length demanded by the Common App and most universities:  500 words  (or less).  For many applicants, this is akin to writing a perfect Italian sonnet about their lives–or boiling their lives down to a haiku.  But if your initial essay has “good bones,” meaning a good central narrative or description and good structure, you should be able to  pare down your language to come up with an excellent final draft.

The 500 word limit is not like a deadly force field, of course–your essay won’t be obliterated or cast aside if you are a few words over –but the fundamental rule is clear: the more words over the limit, the more you risk irritating the reader and the more they will expect from the essay.  As one app officer has said, it really “raises the bar” if the essay is too long, and the longer it is, the higher the leap, so to speak.

So don’t get hung up on every word as if there were only one possible version of your essay in the entire universe.  If you start your essays early, you will have plenty of time to play with them.  Once you have a good draft, good editing is paramount.  You want to create clean sentences, use the most precise vocabulary possible and cut out repetition.  One well-chose word can replace a phrase or even a sentence.

To show you what I mean, I will edit and vastly cut down the much longer essay we discussed in my last post.  It will be helpful to see the last post and read the essay before continuing.

To continue,  I will take that (very) long and brilliant essay linked and discussed in the last post and distill from it a small excerpt; this excerpt will be a mini-version of the original, but will still be hundreds of words too long (874 words, to be precise) so I will edit it again, showing my editing marks, and then end with a third version of 500 words.  This final essay could be used equally as well for an intellectual experience essay or a personal influence essay.

Tearing down and rebuilding a long and brilliant essay by a real pro may seem like a kind of party trick, but in reality this is what good editors do all the time for journalists,  essayists and novelists.

Version 1, below, is an excerpt from the original, longer essay; version 2 is the edited example of that excerpt; and version 3 is the result, in which the excerpt has been editing down to become a 500 word application essay.

Version 1

An excerpt from a much longer essay on the comic book superhero

This is a cut-down version of the original,  with no other editing changes.

When I was a boy, I had a religious-school teacher named Mr. Spector, whose job was to confront us with the peril we presented to ourselves. Jewish Ethics was the name of the class. We must have been eight or nine.

Mr. Spector used a workbook to guide the discussion; every Sunday, we began by reading a kind of modern parable or cautionary tale, and then contended with a series of imponderable questions. One day, for example, we discussed the temptations of shoplifting; another class was devoted to all the harm to oneself and to others that could be caused by the telling of lies. Mr. Spector was a gently acerbic young man with a black beard and black Roentgen-ray eyes. He seemed to take our moral failings for granted and, perhaps as a result, favored lively argument over reproach or condemnation. I enjoyed our discussions, while remaining perfectly aloof at my core from the issues they raised. I was, at the time, an awful liar, and quite a few times had stolen chewing gum and baseball cards from the neighborhood Wawa. None of that seemed to have anything to do with Mr. Spector or the cases we studied in Jewish Ethics. All nine-year-olds are sophists and hypocrites; I found it no more difficult than any other kid to withhold my own conduct from consideration in passing measured judgment on the human race.

The one time I felt my soul to be in danger was the Sunday Mr. Spector raised the ethical problem of escapism, particularly as it was experienced in the form of comic books. That day, we started off with a fine story about a boy who loved Superman so much that he tied a red towel around his neck, climbed up to the roof of his house, and, with a cry of “Up, up, and away,” leaped to his death. There was known to have been such a boy, Mr. Spector informed us—at least one verifiable boy, so enraptured and so betrayed by the false dream of Superman that it killed him.

The explicit lesson of the story was that what was found between the covers of a comic book was fantasy, and “fantasy” meant pretty lies, the consumption of which failed to prepare you for what lay outside those covers. Fantasy rendered you unfit to face “reality” and its hard pavement. Fantasy betrayed you, and thus, by implication, your wishes, your dreams and longings, everything you carried around inside your head that only you and Superman and Elliot S! Maggin (exclamation point and all, the principal Superman writer circa 1971) could understand—all these would betray you, too. There were ancillary arguments to be made as well, about the culpability of those who produced such fare, sold it to minors, or permitted their children to bring it into the house.

These arguments were mostly lost on me, a boy who consumed a dozen comic books a week, all of them cheerfully provided to him by his (apparently iniquitous) father. Sure, I might not be prepared for reality—point granted—but, on the other hand, if I ever found myself in the Bottle City of Kandor, under the bell jar in the Fortress of Solitude, I would know not to confuse Superman’s Kryptonian double (Van-Zee) with Clark Kent’s (Vol-Don). Rather, what struck me, with the force of a blow, was recognition, a profound moral recognition of the implicit, indeed the secret, premise of the behavior of the boy on the roof. For that fool of a boy had not been doomed by the deceitful power of comic books, which after all were only bundles of paper, staples, and ink, and couldn’t hurt anybody. That boy had been killed by the irresistible syllogism of Superman’s cape.

One knew, of course, that it was not the red cape any more than it was the boots, the tights, the trunks, or the trademark “S” that gave Superman the ability to fly. That ability derived from the effects of the rays of our yellow sun on Superman’s alien anatomy, which had evolved under the red sun of Krypton. And yet you had only to tie a towel around your shoulders to feel the strange vibratory pulse of flight stirring in the red sun of your heart.

I, too, had climbed to a dangerous height, with my face to the breeze, and felt magically alone of my kind. I had imagined the streak of my passage like a red-and-blue smear on the windowpane of vision. I had been Batman, too, and the Mighty Thor. I had stood cloaked in the existential agonies of the Vision, son of a robot and grandson of a lord of the ants. A few years after that Sunday in Mr. Spector’s class, at the pinnacle of my career as a hero of the imagination, I briefly transformed myself (more about this later) into a superpowered warrior-knight known as Aztec. And all that I needed to effect the change was to fasten a terry-cloth beach towel around my neck.

It was not about escape, I wanted to tell Mr. Spector, thus unwittingly plagiarizing in advance the well-known formula of a (fictitious) pioneer and theorist of superhero comics, Sam Clay. It was about transformation.

Version 2

An Edited Version–You can see the version above under the editing marks, and you can see the 500-word version emerging.  

When I was a boy, I had a religious-school teacher named Mr. Spector, whose job was to confront us with the peril we presented to ourselves. Jewish Ethics was the name of the class. We must have been eight or nine.

Mr. Spector used a workbook to guide the discussion; every Sunday, we began by reading a kind of modern parable or cautionary tale, and then contended with a series of imponderable questions. One day, for example, we discussed the temptations of shoplifting; another class was devoted to all the harm to oneself and to others that could be caused by of the telling of lies lying. Mr. Spector was a gently acerbic young man with a black beard and black Roentgen-ray eyes. He seemed to take our took our moral failings for grantedand, perhaps as a result, favored favoring lively argument over reproach or condemnation. I enjoyed our discussions, while remaining perfectly aloof at my core from the issues they raised. though I was, at the time, an awful liar, and quite a few times had stolen chewing gum and baseball cards. from the neighborhood Wawa. None of that seemed to have anything to do with Mr. Spector or the cases we studied in Jewish Ethicsfor all nine-year-olds are sophists and hypocrites; I found it no more difficult than any other kid to withhold my own conduct from consideration in passing measured judgment on the human race.

The one time I felt my soul to be in danger was the Sunday Mr. Spector raised the ethical problem of escapism, particularly as it was experienced in the form of comic books. That day, we started off with a fine story about a boy who loved Superman so much that, he tied  with a red towel around his neck, he climbed up to the roof of his house, and, with a cry of “Up, up, and away,” leaped to his death. There was known to have been   —at least one verifiable such a boy,boy, Mr. Spector informed usso enraptured and so betrayed by the false dream of Superman that it killed him.

The explicit lesson of the story was that what was found between the covers of a comic books was were fantasies, and “fantasy” meant pretty lies., the consumption of which failed to prepare you for what lay outside those covers. Fantasy rendered you unfit to face “reality” and its hard pavement. Fantasy betrayed you, and thus, by implication, your wishes, and your dreams and longings, everything you carried around inside your head that only you and Superman and Elliot S! Maggin (exclamation point and all, the principal Superman writer circa 1971) could understand—all these would betray you, too. There were ancillary arguments to be made as well, about the culpability of those who produced such fare, sold it to minors, or permitted their children to bring it into the house. These arguments were mostly lost on me, a boy who consumed a dozen comic books a week, all of them cheerfully provided to him by his (apparently iniquitous) father. Sure, I might not be prepared for reality—point granted—but, on the other hand, if I ever found myself in the Bottle City of Kandor, under the bell jar in the Fortress of Solitude, I would know not to confuse Superman’s Kryptonian double (Van-Zee) with Clark Kent’s (Vol-Don). Rather, What struck me, with the force of a blow, was recognition, a profound moral recognition of the implicit, indeed the secret, premise of the behavior of the boy on the roof:  . For that fool of a boy had not been doomed by the deceitful power of comics books, which after all were only bundles of paper, staples, and ink, and couldn’t hurt anybody. That boy had been killed by the irresistible syllogism of Superman’s cape.

One knew, Of course, that it was not the red cape any more than it was the boots, or the tights  the trunks, or the trademark “S” that gave allowed Superman the ability to fly. That ability derived from the effects of the rays of our yellow sun on Superman’s alien anatomy, which had evolved under the red sun of Krypton. And yet you had only to tie a towel around your shoulders to feel the strange vibratory pulse of flight stirring in the red sun of your heart. I, too, had climbed to a dangerous height, with my face to the breeze, and felt magically alone of my kind. I had imagined the streak of my passage, like a red-and-blue smear on the windowpane of vision. I had been Batman, too, and the Mighty ThorI had stood cloaked in the existential agonies of the Vision, son of a robot and grandson of a lord of the ants. A few years after that Sunday in Mr. Spector’s class, at the pinnacle of my career as a hero of the imagination, I briefly transformed myself (more about this later) into a superpowered warrior-knight known as Aztec. And all that I needed to effect the change was to fasten a terry-cloth beach towel around my neck.  It was not about escape, I wanted to tell Mr. Spector, thus unwittingly plagiarizing in advance the well-known formula of a (fictitious) pioneer and theorist of superhero comics, Sam Clay. It was about transformation through imagination.

Version 3:  A 500-Word Intellectual Experience or Personal Influence essay.

When I was a boy, I had a religious-school teacher named Mr. Spector, whose job was to confront us with the peril we presented to ourselves. Jewish Ethics was the name of the class. We must have been eight or nine.

Mr. Spector used a workbook to guide the discussion; every Sunday, we read a kind of modern parable and then contended with a series of imponderable questions. One day, for example, we discussed the temptations of shoplifting; another class was devoted to all the harm of lying. Mr. Spector took our moral failings for granted, favoring lively argument over condemnation. I enjoyed our discussions, though I was, at the time, an awful liar, and had stolen chewing gum and baseball cards. None of that seemed to have anything to do with the cases we studied in Jewish Ethics, for all nine-year-olds are sophists.

The one time I felt my soul to be in danger was the Sunday Mr. Spector raised the ethical problem of escapism, particularly in the form of comic books. That day, we started off with a story about a boy who loved Superman so much that, with a red towel around his neck, he climbed up to the roof of his house, and, with a cry of “Up, up, and away,” leaped to his death. There was such a boy, Mr. Spector informed usso enraptured by the false dream of Superman that it killed him.

The explicit lesson of the story was that comic books were fantasies, and “fantasy” meant pretty lies.  Fantasy rendered you unfit to face “reality” and its hard pavement. Fantasy betrayed you  and your dreams. These arguments were mostly lost on me, a boy who consumed a dozen comic books a week, all of them cheerfully provided to him by his (apparently iniquitous) father. Sure, I might not be prepared for reality——but if I ever found myself in the Bottle City of Kandor, under the bell jar in the Fortress of Solitude, I would know not to confuse Superman’s Kryptonian double (Van-Zee) with Clark Kent’s (Vol-Don). What struck me was a profound recognition of the implicit premise of  the boy on the roof:   that fool of a boy had not been doomed by the deceitful power of comics which after all were only paper, staples, and ink. That boy had been killed by the irresistible syllogism of Superman’s cape.

Of course, it was not the red cape any more than the boots or the tights  that allowed Superman to fly. And yet you had only to tie a towel around your shoulders to feel the strange vibratory pulse of flight stirring in your heart. I, too, had climbed to a dangerous height, and felt magically alone. I had imagined the streak of my passage, a red-and-blue smear on the windowpane of vision. I had been Batman, too. And all that I needed to effect the change was to fasten a terry-cloth beach towel around my neck.  It was not about escape, I wanted to tell Mr. Spector: it was about personal transformation through imagination.

Writing About An Intellectual Experience Or Personal Influence: Post #1 on College Application Essays For 2012-2013

In Common Application Essays, Essay on an Influence, Essay on Books, Essay on Intellectual Development, Harvard Application Supplement, Princeton Application Essay, Stanford Supplement Essay, Yale Supplemental Essay on May 11, 2012 at 11:53 am

This is the inaugural post on the topic of books and intellectual development for the 2012-2013 application year.  I have previously written about this topic in a number of posts; for writing about books specifically, you should start at The Harvard Supplement; Or, How To Write About Books Part 1 , a post from last year.  I will add, however, that the essay we will examine in this post could equally be used for an essay on an influential person or experience.  Read on to see what I mean.

One of the problems common for my clients last year was making an essay about a book or intellectual experience a vehicle of personal expression.  If you are passionate about the topic, your passion will make your essay come alive, but some of those who worked with me on their essays were so enthused about the minutiae of the intellectual experience or books that they forgot about themselves.  Remember that your audience is an admissions officer and that you are really writing about yourself when you write about an intellectual experience or a book that is important to you.  I have discussed audience and purpose in this post from last year, and if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend reading it now: So You Want To Write A College Essay.

The remainder of this post will be aimed at an analysis of  a specific essay  one of our prominent contemporary authors, a man of wide-ranging curiosity who  has promoted the artistic and cultural value of such “nonliterary” forms as the comic book–make that the graphic novel.  He has written about the influence of comics and other pop art forms on his life.  While it may seem unorthodox or event totally inappropriate for me to start me series on intellectual experiences with an analysis of an essay on comic books, I think that you will find this post both informative and invaluable in opening up possibilities for the intellectual experience essay.

This is a sample of a much longer post with links to an excellent essay and detailed analysis of it.  To access this post in full, you may either pay the minimal subscription fee, receiving full reading rights to all of my college app and essay posts, or you may retain me for college application advising and editing.  This blog is a mixture of  free information, particularly for general analysis and advice, and protected posts which offer very specific advice and analysis.  See “Welcome To The Jungle” in the first column of this blog and the table of contents included in it  for more information, as well as the “About” window.


How To Write About Books III

In common application, Essay on Books, Essay on Intellectual Development, Harvard Application Supplement, personal statement, Princeton Supplemental Essay, Stanford Essay, Writing About Books, Yale Supplemental Essay on November 1, 2011 at 7:39 pm

This post builds on the last two posts and offers a  list of themes by which you can classify and discuss books.  This includes a detailed discussion of books and particularly of some  quality trilogies and  series that have been popular in recent years.  The post includes suggestions for mixing it up by developing a thematic comparison of  fiction and nonfiction.  Links to outside reading and examples are included.

I will assume that you have read my last two posts.  If not, start here:  How to Write About Books Part I.  In this post I will summarize the process I outlined in the previous two posts and offer a bit more commentary.  While some university supplements do not ask specifically about books, this discussion, and the two posts preceding this, may be useful in giving you a focus for a discussion of your intellectual development, or you might find useful information here if you wish to write an essay in which you discuss some aspect of life outside of books and relate it to what you have found in books. When you have one or more essays ready for feedback, send them to me at wordguild@gmail.com as Word attachments for a free editing sample and job quote–in return for seeing what I can do for you risk-free, I ask for only serious inquiries. Thank you.

If you are like most readers of Non Required Books, you have picked up either a variety of books with no clear plan involved in your reading or  you have read with a very narrow focus.  The result is probably a pile of unrelated tomes or something like a stack of George R. R. Martin novels.  One heap will seem aimless, the other obsessive, neither of which are impressions you really want to make in your college application essays.  The challenge for the obsessive is to add something to the mix; for the aimless, to find common ground in the material.

Here’s the system I outlined in the last two posts, simplified:

1. Find the similarities in the books.

This post continues by explaining and elaborating on this system for writing about books.  This is an approach, not a formula, and yields individualized essays, not essays based on an outline.  The post goes on to discuss different thematic approaches, with high-quality and popular examples from both fiction and nonfiction, including links.

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