I hope that these past few days have brought good news for you. But if you're reading this, there was probably some disappointing news.  Perhaps you were deferred or got in EA, but don't really want to attend that school now.  Whatever the case, you're confronting the reality that you have more applications to do, and limited time.

Unfortunately, this happens every year.  Students apply, realistically or not, and now must face the brutal reality that there are too few seats and too many applicants.  That said, I think it makes sense to get organized for this final push.

First, this is going to be a tough couple of weeks.  There is no way around that.  So face it now. Face it honestly.  Expect to work A LOT.  This is not going to be relaxing holiday break. Things didn't go as you'd hoped, but that doesn't mean they won't.

Second, get a plan. Figure out what other schools you want to apply to. That may mean applying to more "safe" schools, or it might mean applying to more "reach" schools (if you've gained admission at a school you like). 

Third, you probably should reach out to some different people and see their reflections and thoughts on your application. Talk to a different teacher. Perhaps a family friend who works in education.  You may have done everything "right."  The statistics of admissions are just brutal.  But if you didn't, you want to find out now and course correct immediately. It's not too late.

Fourth, set up a timeline.  You need to be disciplined and focused if you want to finish.  Set realistic goals.  But know that there is no way you're going to be able to apply to five schools on Dec 31.

Fifth, take a deep breath. You'll figure this out.  And even if things don't work as you'd hope, there are always other options.  You could take a gap year.  You could transfer after a year or two.  Take a breadth. You're going to figure this out, and you're going to be fine!



The Topic.

So there is a lot of material about essays topics out there.  Some good, some not so good. To reduce a very complicated subject to something simple I would say this:  

you want a topic that allows the reader to get to know YOU.  Don't tell them what you think they want to hear about you.  Tell them about topic that is you.  A topic that allows the reader to get inside your head.  Tell them about your love of lock picking or your obsession with DFV wrap dresses, your collection of orchids or your obsession with Selena Gomez. 

Okay, you may say, but there are lot of things that would allow the reader to know you. I love soccer; I read Michael Lewis obsessively, I love my church, etc. How do I choose between them?

Think about three elements.  First, uniqueness.  Second, story. Third, passion.

Uniqueness. Notice in the preceding examples the topics I suggested were somewhat unique. I didn't suggest that you should write about you love for soccer or your mission trip or volunteering abroad.  Here's why.  If you're an admissions officer how many times do you think I've read about a soccer team that won a key game, how your mission trip changed your life, etc. A LOT.  Really, A LOT.  So when I read your essay I automatically recall my favorite essay about topic X, here, let's say soccer. And the chances that your essay is going to compare favorably to that favorite essay is low.  Why? Would you want to try to write the best essay about soccer out of 200 or more of your fellow peers?  Never mind the hundreds, if not thousands, the officer has read in the past.

 Story.  So you've thought about the first point, uniqueness. But that alone is not sufficient.  You also need to think about a story.  Great essays tell stories that lead the reader to know something profound / interesting / take you inside the author's head.  Bad essays tell you about how amazing XYZ thing is or XYZ characteristic.  Given the competition you're facing you need to choose a topic that leads itself to a story.

PassionSo we've talked about uniqueness and story, the final axis on which to think about things is passion. Choose to write about something you're passionate about. Don't write about the volunteering you did, that you liked but was fine.  Write about your love of Kentucky Blue grass. Write about your love of Iyengar yoga  Passion comes across in essays, and passion makes your essay shine. 

There is obviously more to topic selection than these three things.  You need to think about how the whole package comes together, you need to think about how what you're writing about reflects the values and goals of the college.  But these things are squarely in realm of college consultants or essay consultants like me.  It's hard to give generic advice about that. (And besides, I need to be sure you have a reason to hire me afterall, ha.) 



The Masters of your fate, the Captain of your universe.

A lot of attention is paid to the college admissions process. And a lot of people spend a lot of time worrying about the essays on the college application.  But not a lot of time or attention is spent on the reader, the college admission officer: the master of your fate.

Who are they?

In the next couple of posts, I thought it make sense to talk about the archetypal college admissions officer. Understanding who the person is and isn't can really help you figure out what to write and how to deploy those precious 650 words.




When should you start your personal statement?

Now! NO -- yesterday actually.  You're behind already! OK. Not really, but my point is that there is no point in waiting.  A good personal statement is going to be about something that helped you learn and grow as an individual.  While you'll continue to learn and grow throughout the fall of your senior year (even I am still growing -- mainly wider these days) you need time to process the events and experience.  So it's unlikely that you'll have enough distance from something that happens in October to write about in November or (erg) December. So start now.

The other thing about personal statements is that they take time.  The good ones do at least. It's very hard to throw together a great statement in a two or three drafts on a Saturday in December.  A good statement takes time.  You need to write it, and then get some distance form it, and return again.  It's labor intensive process that should help you learn about yourself and help you to develop as a writer.

So that means you should be starting now.

Call me Ismael -- or -- Call me, maybe?

Call me Ismael. Call me, maybe? Each could be the mantra of this blog. Each a somewhat cautionary tale about the capricious nature of college admissions.  One a warning about the dangers of obsession; the other a fitting tale of an unrequited love interest who is ultimately not interested (through no fault of your own).

In many ways the two lines tell you a lot about the current reality of the college admissions.  Given our work, we are intimately involved in this world.  So I thought it might be interesting -- err, fun -- to write about various topics and questions that we see.  Besides who doesn't love to procrastinate a little?

Feel free to post comments about your thoughts and comments.  And feel free to suggest  topics you'd be interested in reading, or message us directly at our company name at gmail.