Never Do These 10 Things in Your College Application Essays

Posted by Carol Barash on Aug 28, 2014 1:30:00 PM

When I read college application essays as a faculty advisor to the admissions committee at Douglass College, Rutgers in the 1990s, the great essays were few and far between, but I remember them to this day. They were authentic, well-crafted and, just as critically, avoided the following 10 traps: 

1. Never rehash your academic and extracurricular accomplishments.

Your school work and out-of-school work already show up in your transcript, lists of awards, and activities. Essays provide another dimension to your application. Who you will be as a classmate? As a roommate? As the leader of a campus activity?

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Motivation and College Application Essays: Why the Process Matters

Posted by Carol Barash on Aug 21, 2014 1:15:00 PM


college admissionsRecently in the New York Times, Amy Wrzesniewski and Barry Schwartz described a study of motivation at West Point. It turns out that intrinsic motivation (doing things for your own reasons) is much more powerful than instrumental motivation (doing things for external rewards).

Here’s the college admissions takeaway for parents as well as students: approaching college admissions as a reward system—you are applying to college “get into…” name the place—is much less likely to succeed than taking on the college process (and of course college) to achieve something bigger: to “learn” or “grow” or “make a difference in the world.” 

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Topics: college application, storytelling, College, college essay, preparing for the future, self discovery

3 Sane Steps To Manage Your College Visits

Posted by Sophie Herron on Aug 14, 2014 11:30:00 AM

by Carol Barash, Founder and CEO, Story To College

You know you need to start building a college application list. And you really want to!—But the process of whittling down the hundreds of possible schools is overwhelming, and it feels like everyone you know wants to go to the same places. I know--I remember the bags of brochures each of my children recieved during their application processes.

Many students do not know how to build a list of schools where they are a strong candidate, relying on name recognition and schools in their area. Others commit to marathon road-trips, travelling to dozens of colleges without doing any research beforehand. Instead of getting caught up in the mayhem, here are 3 steps to find the colleges where you will be happy and successful, where your essays will make the most difference.

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Topics: college application, juniors, seniors, college visits, college list

Supplement Tuesday: Tackling Tufts University’s Unconventional Question #3

Posted by Sophie Herron on Aug 12, 2014 11:30:00 AM

by Alexis Schaitkin, Instructor

Last year, Tufts University made waves when it asked applicants: “What does #YOLO mean to you?” This year, the university is back with a fresh batch of questions that encourage students to be playful and think creatively.

In addition to the Common Application essay, Tufts asks students to write three short supplement essays. Two of these supplement essays are the same as last year; to see our advice for how to approach them, check out last year’s post.

For the often-wacky third question, you have a choice of six prompts. In this post, we’ll focus on how you might approach three of these prompts, but you’ll want to carefully consider all six. Our advice? Set aside some time to brainstorm and free-write on a few of the prompts before making your final selection. One might jump out at you right away, but it’s worth seeing if pushing yourself to try one of the others sparks your imagination. 

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Topics: college application, seniors, supplement essays, college essays, writing supplement essays, tufts writing supplement, tufts university

Apps for College Apps

Posted by Sophie Herron on Aug 7, 2014 11:40:00 AM

by Nora Princiotti, Intern

One chilly morning during the fall of my senior year, I opened my planner at the end of my bioethics class to write down an assignment. I noticed a note about double-checking that a form for one of my college recommendations had been submitted. Had I done it? I took notes by hand in high school and didn't have my laptop so as class got out I sprinted to and from my dorm to get it before my next class. I sat on the linoleum hallway floor outside my European history classroom three minutes before the bell, frantically logging onto my Naviance account as my classmates filed through the door. I exhaled when I found that, yes, I’d submitted everything I had needed to.

That was three years ago. Now, mobile apps have been developed so that college applicants can navigate nearly every step of the process with just a mobile device. We don’t actually recommend that students do this, but in case you are banished laptop-less to a desert island (with cell service) or find yourself in a pinch like I did, here are the best apps to guide an entirely mobile college application process

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Supplement Tuesday: The University of Chicago's Quirky Questions

Posted by Sophie Herron on Aug 5, 2014 11:30:00 AM

by Cooper Marshall, Instructor

If somebody asked you, “So where is Waldo, really?” what would you say? Last fall, that question was one of the University of Chicago's supplement questions.

The Common App has streamlined the college application essay process, but many top schools use supplement essays to determine which students would be a good fit for their campus. UChicago has a reputation for chin-scratching, esoteric, outside-the-box questions. A successful response needs to reveal that you can tackle unique problems and would be up to the challenge of UChicago’s rigorous academics.

This year, UChicago’s six essay options are as quirky as ever. We’ll take a look at three of them here, but make sure to explore all of them. Whichever option you choose, the focus is on you – a unique aspect of your character or a specific story from your life – and why you would make a great addition to the University of Chicago.

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4 Tips To Ace The Common App

Posted by Sophie Herron on Jul 31, 2014 11:30:00 AM

by Carol Barash, Founder and CEO, Story To College

The Common Application went live today! With the countdown over, here are four keys to acing the latest version of the 300-pound gorilla of college admissions.

1. Tell your story.

In releasing the fourth version of the Common App (CA4) the committee developing the questions did away with the old set of complex, multi-dimensional essay prompts in order to cut through the aura of complexity that shrouds the Common App, especially the essays, and ask user-friendly questions that are accessible to all. Scott Anderson, Director of Outreach at The Common Application, said in an email releasing the questions that their purpose is to give applicants “the chance to tell their unique stories.”

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How to Write a College Essay That Isn’t Cheesy

Posted by Sophie Herron on Jul 29, 2014 11:54:00 AM

by Alexis Schaitkin, Instructor

“I feel like my essay is sappy.” “Can you read this and tell me if it’s way too corny?” “Every time I get an idea I think is good, I start writing and it turns out cheesy.” Working with students on their college essays, I hear concerns like these frequently. Students are passionate about their essays—they know they’ve got only a page or two to show colleges who they are—and they are wary of producing something that feels sentimental and cliché.

An essay is cheesy when it hits all the predictable notes: a student has an experience, learns the expected lesson from the experience, and is changed in the expected ways. Things end happily ever after. This kind of essay often rings cheesy or false because everything happened just like it was “supposed to”, when we all know that life rarely does. Because the essay follows an expected script, the student remains a paper cutout, never popping vividly from the page.

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Story To College online course “Story2” wins 2014 Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, Powered by TechStars

Posted by Sophie Herron on Jul 24, 2014 9:58:00 AM

We’re excited to announce our selection for the 2014 Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, Powered by TechStars! For the next three months, Story To College will work from the TechStars Broadway office to develop, market, and launch the first online college admission essay course.

“The technology mentoring and knowledge provided by TechStars is incomparable,” Carol Barash, Story To College founder and CEO, explained. “Combined with Kaplan’s industry leadership in the test prep space and the intelligence and inspiration of our partner companies, this is a defining moment for Story To College.”

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Topics: college application essay, juniors, seniors, College, story2, edtech,, techstars,

The 3 Keys to Successful College Admission Essays

Posted by Carol Barash on Jul 8, 2014 11:29:00 AM

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

I was cleaning up my study over the weekend, clearing the decks to write a new book about college admissions, and I found my notes from the road trip I took with my daughter in 2011, the summer before she applied to college.

“85% of the students who apply to Harvard,” I dutifully transcribed as I listened to the admissions officer, “are academically qualified. You will live here for four years, so we want to know who you are. Use your essays to show us who you are.”

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Topics: college admissions, college essay, essay, college admissions strategy

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