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Story Up! The College Essay Blog

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Need to Commit? 3 Tips to Navigate Your College Admissions Options

choosing a college

by Carol Barash, PhD, founder and CEO, Story To College, and author of Write Out Loud

This year, students applied to selective colleges in record numbers, and admissions rates reflect this influx: Harvard accepted 5.9% of applicants, and Stanford only 5%. Top-tier state universities are seeing the same effect: UCLA's admissions rate might slip below 20% for the first time this year. 

Now students are dealing with the news that those rates indicate. For high school seniors, spring is the season of exuberance, disappointment, and everything in between—often in the very same person. Perhaps you were admitted to several colleges, but not your first choice, where you were waitlisted; or perhaps you have a handful of great colleges that want you, but none stands out as your top choice. Maybe you got the nod from several of the colleges you wanted but didn’t get enough financial aid.

Here’s how to navigate your options in each situation:

3 College Admissions Lessons Mere Mortals Can Learn from Kwasi Enin

Ivy League Admissions

by Carol Barash, PhD, founder and CEO, Story To College, and author of Write Out Loud

Kwasi Enin is this year’s college admissions “it kid.” Last year it was the homeless girl who got into Harvard. Next year it will be another outlier. You can check out stories about Kwami in USA Today, NY Post (where his essay was “leaked”), and NY Magazine.

I applaud Kwasi Enin and would love to meet him: by all available measures, he is an exceptional student and musician, with a clear sense of personal purpose, who is making a difference in many different ways in his community. He is going places.

I am not surprised he was admitted to all of the Ivies, even though his application essay was padded with cliches, generalizations, and words gleaned from his thesaurus.

What can students and parents learn from Kwasi’s admissions story? Let’s say you don’t have Kwasi’s over-the-top-in-every-respect record, what can you do in your college applications to connect with admissions officers and win an increasingly competitive admissions game at the most selective colleges?

Here are 3 lessons everyone can learn from Kwasi’s success:

The Storyteller’s Story


By Carol Barash, PhD, Founder and CEO, Story To College

Last week I was climbing Kilimanjaro with my husband, Jed, for our thirtieth wedding anniversary--clambering over rocks, walking pole pole, as they say in Swahili, slowly, slowly--counting my steps and my breath for eight or more hours a day. Our group included five climbers, three guides, and 29 porters.

The porter who carries the medical supplies is named Ali. He wears black long underwear with tears at the knees, biker shorts and a brown knitted cap. Ali’s bottom front teeth are missing. He walks at the back of the group.

I bend over to brush my face against the purple tips of the Everlasting flowers. I take mental pictures of the lichens, the scree, the tiny bits of moss. I recall students from Story To College courses whose essays touched and transformed me:

Sheu's Clues: 8 Essay Hacks

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Somewhere far in a foreign land, students must write witty, charming and concise responses to thought-provoking prompts in the span of 500 words or less. Can you imagine spilling out your life story in 250 words? Or telling your dream school why its your dream school in 100 measly words?  This “faraway land” isn’t so far after all -- more and more applications beyond the realm of college apps require short answers to get in competitive programs or job opportunities, or just to get that 100 on your English essay. It can be arduous to write a whole essay on a philosopher you’ve never heard of before, but keep reading for my personal strategy and attack plan!

The New SAT: State of the Union

new sat

The news of the new SAT has been on everybody’s mind lately, and we’ve talked with a lot of families who are still trying to figure out how the changes will affect them, and how to best prepare.

Here’s a round-up of the first week’s news releases and commentary.

Sheu's Clues: Researching Frenzies + Finding that Perfect Internship

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Hello, and happy Wednesday! I hope you all enjoyed my last column about those pesky summer internships. I understand that some of you ambitious students are looking for even more opportunities beyond my top choice list from the column prior. I applaud you for being so enthusiastic and determined, so please enjoy yet another list of great opportunities I slaved over a hot hard drive to find for you all...

Build a Balanced College List in 3 Easy Steps

college visits

by Carol Barash, PhD, founder and CEO, Story To College, and author of Write Out Loud

So you’re in eleventh grade and everyone is talking about college! You know you need to start building a college application list—and you really want to—but the whole thing is overwhelming and it feels like everyone you know wants to go to the same places.

Sound like you? Here are three steps you can take right now, in the spring of junior year, to give yourself some fresh air from SAT/ACT test prep and studying for AP exams, and plan for a college admission season that lands you at the colleges you want to attend.

Sheu's Clues: Intro + 13 Excellent Summer Programs

michelle sheu

Hey guys! My name is Michelle Sheu (pronounced like “shoe”) and I am a senior at Benjamin Cardozo High School in the depths of Queens, NY, where I await my college decisions to my top choices, Grinnell College and Macaulay Honors Baruch College. I currently intern for Story to College! When I’m not blogging or vigorously researching and compiling documents at work, you can find me getting lost on the streets of downtown Manhattan, listening to bizarre but hauntingly awesome music and vandalizing my sketchbook. Despite my “exciting” life, I will never forget the stress and confusion that came and hit me in the head during my entire high school career, especially during my junior and senior years. I am proud to say that I survived high school, (at least until now), and through this blog I will share the insights, tips, and "clues" I learned, so stick around every week for my own perspective and dissection of the college admissions process and life after high school!

Common Application Prompts: The 2015 Dos and Don'ts

common app

by Carol Barash, PhD, founder and CEO, Story To College, and author of Write Out Loud

It’s official: the Common App essay questions will be the same as last year. This is great news! This year’s juniors are already ahead. Not only have the questions been released before the summer, but you have a world of expertise on these questions at your fingertips.

Here at Story To College, we’re excited about this news not only because we think these are actually excellent prompts, but to build on our successes from last  year and help the class of 2015 reach their top admissions results.

Here are the most important dos and don’ts for each of the Common App essay questions, based on our success working with students this past year:

Transfer Applications: 4 Steps to Simplify the Process


Carol Barash, PhD | Founder and CEO, Story To College and author of Write Out Loud

Today’s post brings back one of my favorites from the archives: a clear 4-step approach to transfer applications. It was first hosted by Chegg. Read the original here.

Trying to transfer from one college or university to another? Want to finish at a different college, but not sure how to make it happen? The good news: transfer applications are generally more straightforward than first-time applications. But transfer applications are also more competitive.

Here are 4 steps to simplify your transfer application process:

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