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Posts Tagged ‘common application’

Trouble At The Common Application Website

In Common Application 2013-2014, Common Application Glitches, Problems Uploading to the Common Application, Problems with the New Common Application, Uploading the Common Application Essay on October 13, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Problems at the Common App, from Scary to Simply Irritating, With a Few Suggestions on How to Deal With It.

For an 11/7/13 update on conditions, read the whole post or just scroll right down to the bottom.

So by now you’ve probably heard that the so-called Obamacare rollout has been a bit of a catastrophe due to the website failures.  The reasons are many of course, and many of those are political–poor funding, the late release of some important rules (timed to miss the last election) the incredible decision by Health and Human Services to try to coordinate the contractors and to ensure that all the software works together themselves, etc.  A large part of the problem is that phenomenon called “managing up,”  which may also explain the dumb decision by HHS to attempt to manage the program so directly:  Sure, Boss, we can do it! The other big problem is the number of politicians and states who want to destroy the program, or at least hinder it as much as possible.

What a mess, bordering on a catastrophe, but I would cut them some slack as they have more or less been trying to run their insurance exchanges in enemy territory, politically.  This is not true of the Common Application, which has no known enemies, which makes their own failures  even less excusable.  You could  say that the new Common App website is a bit of a mess as well, but it won’t become a catastrophe until November 1st;  if they don’t work it out by then, it’s going to look like a five alarm fire meeting a flood of the ages at the hundreds of admissions offices served by the Common App, and if  that continued through November, it could be curtains for the Common App itself–they do have competitors, like the Universal Application, and you could expect other folks to take an interest in this “market” as well.  The Common App  may be a nonprofit, but their people are decently to very well paid, and others will take notice.

So what are the problems students are having with the Common App site?  You could have a look here at the Common App’s own ongoing list of problems, fixes and apologies here, or you could simply read on below for the, uh, lowlights, as well as a few suggestion on how to deal with them.  If you do click the Common App link to have a look, I would suggest that you take some phrases like “in rare instances problem x has occurred” with a shaker of salt–it’s not looking so rare to my clients, and I am asking everybody to give their deadlines a bit more leeway.  Just in case.

Let’s start with the scary and move to the frustrating.

Scary:  The Signature Page that confirms payment may not show up for as much as a day or may prompt repeated payments.  When you pay by credit card, you will get a signature page on which you must type the name to confirm payment.  You MUST type in this confirmation, or you have not paid.  The problem is that this page may not show up right away–in fact, it has taken as much as a day to pop up, and in that case, you have to check back to do it.  It won’t prompt you at this point.  So if you made a payment and didn’t have to respond to a prompt to type the name to confirm it, go back and look.  You may also find that you are prompted to pay multiple times–if you’ve paid, typed the name in the signature page and successfully submitted it, you should be done.  On the other hand, I’d rather pay twice and deal with getting the money back later than not be sure I paid.  I like to prioritize my headaches by their threat level.

Frustrating (And Time Consuming):  

Uploading Essays Has Been A Royal Pain In the Keister.  Formatting is scrambled or lost, including paragraphing, and my clients, along with, it seems, many other folks, are having to painstakingly go over their essays once again to correct formatting, et al.  This seems to be resulting from both problems that various operating systems are having in interfacing with the Common App site, as well as some specific problems with word processing programs–in other words, despite its ubiquity, the Common App people don’t seem to have done an adequate job of vetting their site’s interactions with Microsoft Word.  One work-around to try is to save your doc as a text doc, double check it in text edit, then upload it.  It may not work, especially if your browser or operating system has trouble with the Common App portal, but it’s worth a try to avoid reading, correcting and rereading what you have already perfected–try multiple browsers before moving on to a different computer.

Naviance was not meshing well with the Common App, as of the beginning of October, and while things are improving, not everything is available even now.  Be patient, but if you have an app  soon (I am writing on Sunday, October 13th and some apps are due by Tuesday, the 15th–Yes, I’m talking to you folks, especially) show up early to school and politely insist on an appointment with your counselor, asap.  And again–be polite.  This has really created a nightmare for you average high school counselor, in your average understaffed and overworked high school counseling office.  Be compassionately persistent.

The Preview Function is not working well or is balky.  Some of my clients are reporting blank pages when they try to preview.  This seems to be affected by web browsers, so try a different browser, then try a different computer.  Do not wait until the last minute to submit.  That advice applies all the time but even more now.

And Finally, Be Aware of This:  To my knowledge thus far, only Georgia Tech has pushed back some paperwork.  And even in that case, GT, like all the rest of the universities in the Common App, plan to issue all their decisions on the same timetable, with no extensions–they are busy hiring people to handle the extra workload now.  Don’t count on a break if you are doing things late.  Submit ahead of time.  Getting a break after a deadline that you missed is unlikely to a high degree, and you’ll be left with only this:  Bummer.

I say be proactive instead and leave the bummers to The Dude.   Good luck and contact me if you need any editing or advice–though rush jobs come at a premium, just like at Fed Ex.  Oh, and on a different topic, if you see an ad below, I did not put it there.  Wordpress did, and the proceeds go to supporting them, and I myself am all for supporting WordPress, though I do not choose nor am I advised ahead of time about  any ads that may appear below.

11/7/13 Update:  In many cases, my clients are finding that they if they log on then log off again, whatever function was stalled will be complete.  Others have used text edit, et al, to ease copying and pasting essays into the Common App.  Naviance now seems to working better as it interacts with the Common App, but it’s still balky at times.  Overall assessment:  Not great, but you can work with it, with patience.  If you are lucky, it will work as it is supposed to.  If not, log on and off, etc.

Finding The Right University: Some Resources

In college admissions, college application, common application, University of California Application on May 22, 2012 at 11:28 am

College Search and Evaluation Software and Websites

Most of the people I help with college applications can be categorized in two ways:  those who are fixated on a list of big-name universities which are the ONLY places they can possibly consider applying to, and those who are overwhelmed by the information available and so feel paralyzed and unable to choose.  I usually start with the college names they know in both cases and then move on to things they may not have considered, such as this question: Would you want to live there if the university was not located there–a good thing to ask about a place where you are likely to spend at least four years of your life.

In addition to asking questions beyond the status of the university, which in itself is no guarantee of a good experience, it helps to use some of the excellent sources of information that are available today.  I have elsewhere discussed some of the books that can help with the college search, but increasingly the best information is available online.

I encourage my clients to use the information sources below to help narrow the search–I offer suggestions and give them information that falls into the gaps, so to speak, but your average searcher for a good university could do much of the work a college counselor might be paid to do (which is one of the reasons I prefer the title “College Advisor” and put most of my time into intellectual and essay development).  By sending my clients to the sites below and helping put the information in perspective, I can almost always help my clients with a good, varied list of colleges to pursue.  I suggest starting with somewhere around twenty names, then reducing this list to ten or twelve colleges–I used to recommend ten, but in these times, a few more apps is a good idea. So the first step is to empower yourselves, folks.   Take charge of your search, starting with the following sources:

Software And Sites You Should Definitely Use (if you can)

The College Board

www.collegeboard.org

If I may compare the college application game to the rackets, the College Board is the Godfather.  They have a finger in every pie and control much of the important data.  Go to their site, pick a college name and search—this will take you to their Big Future college search engine, which has all kinds of useful data and information—for example, cost estimates are broken down not just by in and out of state but also by on and off campus.

The Common Application

https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/default.aspx

Continuing with my rackets analogy, if the College Board is the Godfather, these guys are the consigliere.  Much of the information on the Collegeboard site can be found here, but focused specifically on the hundreds of universities using the Common App.  Not quite as detailed as the collegeboard, but you are most likely going to set up an account here and you might as well check out what they offer.

College Navigator

http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/

If the College Board is the Godfather, this is the Oracle of Delphi.  This is a federal website and it is built right on the source of education statistics for the U.S.  The site is a function of the Institute of Education Sciences, which is essentially the data clearing house for education facts nationally, among other things.  Graphics windows that open up when you search are not flashy, but the layout is very easy to use and clear, and  you can see very detailed breakdowns of costs from tuition to room and board to an estimate of extra expenses, as well as test scores and pretty much any other statistic you might want, though some of the numbers may be a year behind.   Go now if you haven’t already.   They are the data set, really, that everybody else uses.

Naviance

www.naviance.com

If your school or district has not purchased this service, then you are only going to be frustrated in reading this; if so, convert your frustration to political action and advocate that the board or school purchase Naviance.  Naviance is an institutional software package and service, meaning that it can be purchased by school districts but not by individuals.  There are legitimate institutional reasons for this limitation.  If your district does use Naviance, it will perform most of the functions of a traditional college counselor by providing a highly accurate picture of your chances of gaining admission to a particular university—this feedback is specific to your profile and to your school’s profile.  This includes scattergram reports updated annually for your school.  See Cappex, below, for more on that.   Of course, Naviance can’t read your essays and evaluate them, nor is it very good at figuring out if you are going to get an athletic or music scholarship, to name a couple of very important admissions factors.  But  if your school does have Naviance, Congratulations!  Go see your counselor posthaste.  If you do not have access to Naviance, the two sources above and those I list below can help you approximate Naviance.  In any case, any prediction made by Naviance or any other service is a based on data, in other words is based on the past, and the past is becoming less and less reliable as a predictor of the future except for the general truth that every year it is becoming harder to gain admissions to most selective universities.

Apps and Sites That Are Worth A Look

Cappex

www.cappex.com

Cappex is trying to be a free version of Naviance, with a dose of attitude.  They even have  scattergrams  for the schools they discuss.  Scattergrams are xy graphical representations of results on student applications, with GPA and ACT/SAT score as the two factors represented.  This means that, like all of these predictive tools, we can’t factor in essays, talents, et al, and we don’t know exactly how large the sample is for the Cappex data either, but they do claim to show the results of all of their members who applied, and this number is definitely growing.  There are many other nice features here—their profiles of universities, which include the scattergram,  are reasonably informative and can quickly give you an idea of where you fall among applicants–the most selective unis are shifted way up toward the top right in the scattergrams . . .

College Ray

http://collegeray.com

A good statistical site with a lot of data, presented in a straightforward fashion.  It is searchable and has statistical info like that offered by the College Board, et al.  It’s not clear where they intend to go with this site—it was developed by Harvard undergraduates for the HackHarvard web app incubator–but it offers good info in an easy-to-use format.

Admissions Splash

www.admissionssplash.com

This is a Facebook app that works with around 1,500 schools, matching your profile with the schools and giving you a prediction of your chances to be admitted.  This is a numbers only site—GPA, SAT/ACT—so essays, talents and other factors are not weighed.  This is true of all the software or apps which predict admissions chances, though Naviance, above, has more specific information  and theoretically should be  a bit more accurate.  Still, Splash is worth a look as you search.  It will give you a score range from 1-100 and chances are calculated from “fair” to “great.’  They claim to have a 90-97% predictions.  Keep in mind that you are providing private information—while they have no plans at the moment for using your data, they have not “determined” the long-term use of the data.  In addition to the calculator for predicting admissions, they have a question and answer function and a blog on topics related to college and college admissions.  As with college confidential, almost none of the information offered by individuals can be validated and you are probably wasting your time reading a bunch of responses which purport to offer “insider’ info.

Unigo

www.unigo.com

This is a participant driven site—think of it as the Yelp of universities.  Or you might think of it as an attempt to create a college student Borg.  Good for some idea of aspects of your potential colleges that are not readily clear in statistics—social life, for example—but I always wonder what the basis for comparison is—how do you really know how to rate the social life at your school against that of another?  Without, say, attending both?  An epistemological mystery, but anecdotally this site is useful for things like reviews of dorm life to what the stereotypes of students at the school are, or is.  They also (claim to) rate schools against each other.

Can Give Interesting Information But Probably Not Worth The Time

College Confidential

I like most of the “official’ info, by which I mean the commentary the adults in charge offer, but the various chat threads and discussions of how to finesse an app to a particular school are pretty much sliced lunchmeat.  The discussion threads do have occasional tidbits of good information, but it’s like looking for a pearl in the tanks of a sewage plant.   Buy a rabbit’s foot instead of spending time reading the chat(ter).  The people who work at universities in or with insight into admissions have frequently lambasted the information offered here, with good reason.

Early College Admissions Data For 2012: What It Means For You

In college admissions, college application, college essay, university rankings on February 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Who should read this post:  parents and students considering applying to a university in California; parents and students who are beginning to investigate or just jumping into the college applications process; parents and students interested in application trends in California universities; those who want to explode the myth that a good football team is vital to a university; and anybody who wants evidence that Stanford students are bigger tailgaters than Cal students.

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.

It’s the best of times if you are running one of the elite universities; it’s the worst of times if you are applying to one of these schools.  But never fear, Reader, I will offer you some suggestions for dealing with the rapidly increasing demand for the insufficient supply of seats for qualified applicants.  Let’s begin by looking at some of the numbers that are out for this year.

The early signs are that admissions demand has dropped for the most competitive Ivy League schools, but this is not true for most of the selective schools as a category and is specifically not true for the more popular schools on the Left Coast–Stanford and Cal, for example, saw significant increases in demand  again.    We await word on early admits and anything else from USC as of this writing.  (Note to Tommy Trojan:  The kids are anxious.  Please hurry.)

In fact,  large increases in applications were the rule for California universities, so this post will focus on some numbers for  California schools; in a later post I will give you some analysis for the East Coast universities and we’ll also be looking north at some of the big state schools in Oregon and Washington which are often overlooked outside of the region.  Near the end of the post, when I discuss *Cal Poly, I will look more closely at what the numbers really mean–simply looking at raw numbers such as increases in total applications is a good place to start planning, but it doesn’t tell much of the story beyond what common sense already suggests:  more people than ever are competing for about the same number of seats at popular universities.  Other stats will help you analyze the true probabilities for your own admission.

Keep in mind when viewing the numbers that the universities are also strategizing as  they compete for spots on college rankings, spots that are determined in part by how selective they appear to be.  Many of them try to increase applications by recruiting students in order to turn down a large number, and by doing so appear to be a more selective (and therefore both more rigorous and more desirable) university.   And they all estimate how many students will actually enroll when they come up with an acceptance number–in many cases, a third or less of those accepted will actually enroll and attend classes, even at sought-after universities.

Here is a rundown of some of the numbers for some of California’s more competitive campuses (with a mostly unscientific  analysis on the influence of football teams on college applications, in case you needed another metric.). 

Stanford

Call it Good (Andrew) Luck for Stanford, but this year the Cardinal received a total of 36,744 freshman applications by the  January 1st 2012 deadline.  This is a 7 percent increase from last year and a new record, surpassing last year’s  34,348 applications for the Class of 2015. To put this trend into context, around 32,000 students applied for the Class of 2014 and approximately 30,000 for the Class of 2013.

The Director of Admissions at Stanford, Bob Patterson, had expected a drop this year due to Harvard and Princeton reinstating early admissions.  It was not to be, and Patterson blames–or gives credit, depending on your point of view–to  the Stanford football team going to the Fiesta Bowl and more specifically to Andrew Luck.  For those of you who trash talk college sports, what can I say?  Football is one of our great cultural artifacts.  Historians and archaeologists will one day excavate  the earthquake-broken ruins of the Stanford Stadium and Bear Stadium to research the folk rituals of early-20th Century Americans.  Certainly Patterson believes that this year’s stats suggest that the best and brightest of high school seniors were swayed by heroics on the turf, and he should know, right?

Cautionary note to Stanford admits:  in keeping with the theory that history repeats itself, expect Stanford to revert to football mediocrity  again soon.  See the post-John Elway era if you have any questions.

U.C. Berkeley

Speaking of Bear stadium, Cal saw an even  larger jump in applications, with 61,661 students applied for freshman admission, a record number and big increase from the 52,920 students who applied for 2011-12.  I’ll save you the calculation:  this is a one-year increase of 16.5%.  I’d be interested to see data on whether the Ivies lost a significant ratio of California natives to the U.C. system, given the dip they saw this year.

This is tough news for students wanting to apply to Cal, to be sure, but sports-haters, this one’s for you:  the Cal football team did improve from their losing season the year before, but only to 7-5 in the regular season, followed by a loss in the Holiday Bowl.  An improved record for the football team over last year but not enough to explain the huge jump in applications to Cal.  Clearly this is a triumph for the geeks over the tailgaters.

On the other hand, Cal’s jump was below the rise for the UC  overall, which saw a systemwide average increase of 19 percent with the most popular campus remaining U.C.L.A.  Speaking of which . . .

UCLA

A record high 91,512 students applied for fall 2012 admission to UCLA.  UCLA has had, in fact,  the highest number of applicants to any four-year university in the nation in recent years.

Let’s look a little more closely at the numbers for UCLA:  Overall, applications for fall 2012 admission jumped by 12.7 percent over last year, with an 18.1 percent increase in freshman applications for a total of 72,626.  there was a  4.3 percent decrease in transfer applications, down to 18,886. Freshman applications from California residents rose by 7.5 percent, from 48,578 in 2011 to 52,231 this year, despite the fact that the the state has not projected any increase in the number of students graduating from California’s public high schools. 
Let’s see,  UCLA football in 2011:  6 wins and 7 losses in the regular season.  No correlation with the rise in admits here.
State Universities
If you are depressed by the U.C. numbers, I strongly suggest that you consider applying to schools in the Cal State system.
San Diego State and Cal Poly have been the most selective State University campuses, but with admissions rates around 30%, these are excellent choices as alternatives to the U.C. system, with some of the programs at these schools considered among the best in the country–engineering and architecture at Cal Poly, for example, have national reputations.  Of course, these are also very difficult programs to get into, with far lower admissions rates than  Cal Poly’s less demanding and less in-demand majors. 
The Cal State System overall received 665,860 applications overall during the priority application period,  a 9 percent increase over the previous year’s record fall application cycle, when the CSU received 611,225 applications.  Compare this to the 19% increase for the U.C. system and throw in the fact that you don’t have to write another essay for these folks and you should choose to do some research on Cal State campuses and send in at least a couple of apps if you want to go to school in California.
San Diego State

San Diego State University received 69,225 undergraduate applications for the fall 2012 semester, the most applications ever received by the university.

That is a 15 percent increase over last year at this time,  when SDSU received 60,085 undergraduate applications for fall 2011. The previous record for SDSU was 62,330 undergraduate applications received for fall of 2008.

Among the 69,225 fall undergraduate applications are 50,705 freshmen and 18,181 upper-division transfer students. Freshmen applications are up 14 percent, while upper-division transfer applications are up 19 percent.  And no, the university is not expanding its capacity to absorb the additional applicants.  As a percentage, fewer will be accepted this year, as is true with most selective universities.

SDSU football had an 8 and 4 regular season record in 2011.  Not their best season but not their worst either.  The  verdict is:  no correlation with applications.  Must be a pretty intellectual school.


Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

*For those of you outside California, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo is a popular State University which  has highly reputed engineering and architecture schools, among others.  It is in some ways an even better choice than Cal if you wish to work in Silicon Valley or want to have an  engineering or architectural career in California.
 Cal Poly has issued an early, round number of 45,000 applicants for next fall.  This is up from 41,000 applicants last year.  To give you a comparison,  go back about 20 years and Cal Poly had 13,441 applicants.  Applications have trended upward every year since, and  CPSLO has had over 40,000 applicants annually for several  years running.
But What Do These Numbers Mean?  How Can I Create a Strategy?
The continuing increase in overall applicants to all of these schools is also grim news in terms of the raw numbers with whom you will compete next fall, but fear not, reader, there is hope, especially if you are diligent in your research about colleges and even more so if you have the foundation you need in grades and test scores.
I will be looking more closely at a number of schools in the coming months, but let’s use Cal Poly as our first example for this year, since it is a competitive State school and represents a kind of medium between a place like Harvard and the typical no-name, nonselective school.  Cal Poly also stands out because their administrators have been pretty frank in their public statements about enrollment and budget matters.
As an example, Cal Poly admissions director James Maraviglia estimated earlier this month that there will be 3,860 undergraduate slots actually filled, including transfers, for the fall of 2012.  He added to this that he assumes no further cuts to the budget by then, which is a decent bet since the real cuts will come early in 2013 if governor Brown’s tax increases don’t make it at the ballot box (and even if the tax increases fail next November, those applicants who are enrolled as of September would remain enrolled, though they might spend the better part of a decade getting through all the classes they need after the cuts eliminate any professors below the age of 45. Just kidding on that last stat [I hope]).
Understanding Admission Rates and Enrollment Rates
So what happened to that 30% acceptance rate I quoted earlier? Does this mean that a lowly California State University actually has the admit rate of an upper tier Ivy-League school, at 8.5%?   Nah.  Cal Poly’s admissions rate is around 30%–according to The Princeton Review, it was 33% two years ago–but of course only about a third of those people accepted actually enroll and show up. This is reflected in Maraviglia’s estimate that they will have slots for 3,860 students.  This is down from the number of slots open last year, but the admit rate will still be generous, and if you really want to go there and they admit you, they have to give you a spot, even if they blew it on their estimates and too many Freshmen show up.  If you’ve ever wondered about those news stories in which a university suddenly doesn’t have enough dorm rooms and is putting up Freshman students in fleabag motels, now you know–they had more students who actually enrolled after being accepted than they expected.  Woe to the Director of Admissions.
Compare Cal Poly to UCLA, which the Princeton Review’s most recent stats put at a 23% admit rate, with 37% of those 23% who actually enrolled.  Compare that again to Harvard, which in the Princeton Review’s stats has only a 7% admissions rate and fully 75% of those admitted actually enroll.  Yikes!    Presumably most of the others went off to places which are almost as selective, like Stanford which, in the same year, had a 7% admissions rate with 72% of those enrolling and Princeton, which had a 9% admissions rate with a comparatively lower 57% enrolling.  I guess Princeton is the “safety” backup choice for Harvard and Stanford admits?
The Take Away:
Students applying to California schools face increased competition for admission.  However, as you go about planning for your applications, keep in mind the fact that  no universities enroll every student that they “accept.” So start by distinguishing between the number “admitted”  or “accepted”and the number who actually enroll in order to get a more realistic idea of the school’s exclusivity.  This is something that you should take a close look at for all of the schools on your long list as it will help you create a shorter list.
I advise against applying to more than ten or twelve colleges at the most, and that you look beyond the big-name and nationally known universities; given the number of students admitted, schools like Cal Poly should be on your list, especially, in the case of Cal Poly, if you want to study in a technical area and if you like the idea of a small town in a semi-rural environment with easy access to superb beaches.  Which is another point:  would you really like to live for four (or more likely five or more) years in the places you think you want to go to school.  Be sure to consider geography and also look into specific schools and programs within the universities or better yet, start with programs and let that lead you to universities.
Who does have the best programs in your are of interest?  Where would you like to live, in what kind of setting with what kind of weather?  If you haven’t started listing schools yet, try starting with those questions.
And you definitely need to look at some stats; I would get a copy of the Princeton Review’s The Complete Book of Colleges or, if you want to save some money, go to http://www.collegeray.com, a fairly new but good stat site put up by a former student of mine, among others, and using much of the same data sources as the Review people.  Look at the stats and compare the accepted rate to the next number, which shows the percent who actually enrolled (yield).  You can start to draw your own conclusions about the strategies and goals of the universities you are looking at most closely.
Football Teams and Selectivity
As for the football team and the demand, we have to give the final victory here to Stanford.  In fact, given the correlation this year, it looks like Stanford students are much bigger football fans than students at pretty much anywhere else.  Is this the new Tailgate U?  Let me know what you think.

Writing An Essay About An Important Influence

In Autobiographical College Essay, Autobiographical Essay, common application, Essay on an Important Experience, Essay on an Influence, Influential Experience Essay, Influential Person Essay on July 26, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Many applications ask for an essay on a person who influenced you or on an important experience.  There are wrinkles to this kind of question–in some cases, the “person” can be a fictional character and the influence can be a work of art, as in one of the prompts from the Common Application in recent years.  (Note–this is possible as an approach for prompts like the “person of influence” that begins tthe 2017-2018 Princeton application essays, but this is a reach; they really want insight into your personal experience, your world view and experiences, and living through a fictional character is a stretch–though I have had clients pull it off.  The key is to choose good books that have occupied a large place in your life and influenced your perspective, curiosity and interests.  On the other hand, if you are really into a specific character, why not just turn to an author who has influenced you–that might work.   Of course the same topic focus could work for a  different prompt, in this year’s Princeton essays, that could be anything from culture to the quote-from-a-book prompt.) 

This post will discuss this kind of prompt by specifically addressing prompts three and four of the Common Application for 2011-2012, but the discussion in general is useful for any essay about a personal influence, including those that will have that topic in 2017-2018.

Let’s start by looking at the old Common App prompts three and prompt four together, as they in some ways overlap, and they are similar to Princeton’s personal influence prompt for this year:

3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you and describe that influence.

4. Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you and describe that influence

Like Prompt Four, Prompt Three is based on personal experience, but the intent of the prompters is that the essay on Prompt Three be about a person with whom you have direct, personal experience. This is the kind of autobiographical essay commonly taught in high school, and I see many of these essays written about coaches, teachers and other mentor figures. Your college admissions officers also see many essays like this. Keep that in mind. You might want to visit my earlier posts about audience and the rhetorical situation, beginning here.

Less commonly, I have seen essays on Prompt Three about the influence of, say, a younger sibling or of a person the writer has met only once but who made a profound impact on the writer. While most who address this prompt write about a positive experience or influence, some writers examine more ambiguous or even malevolent figures in their lives.

This post continues analyzing this essay prompt in detail and concludes with exercises to help you write a vivid and appealing essay.

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