4 keys to a more productive, less stressful college search process

4 keys to a more productive, less stressful college search process

The college search process can be fun and exciting. It can teach you a lot about yourself and what’s important to you. But for many high-school students, the college search process feels scary and intimidating.

I love helping high-school students discover great college options. I love helping a student to discover a school they never knew existed that turns out to be a potentially great fit for them.

College Search Process Get StartedIn more than ten years as a college planner, I’ve helped thousands of high-school students and families find their best-fit college options and earn merit aid that makes college more affordable.

Here are 4 keys to making your college search process more productive, less stressful and more fun.

Use your college search process to expand college options and delay making college decisions.

The biggest college search process mistake I see students and families make is waiting too long to start their college search and then rushing to make college decisions. That’s a bad combination, but it happens all the time.

Delay decisions for as long as you can. Most students don’t need to finalize their college choice until late in the spring of their senior year. However, start exploring college options now. When you start your college search process as a freshman, sophomore or early junior year, you build your college knowledge base over time. Students often freeze up and have trouble gaining momentum on their college search process. They think, “I have no idea which college is right for me, and I don’t even know what I want to major in.”

Well, of course not! You haven’t done your homework yet. Take the pressure off. This isn’t about making decisions. It’s about expanding options. Focus less on finding the perfect college and more on finding colleges to which you want to apply. This makes it easier to get started on your college search process and build momentum.

College Search Process OnlineStart your college search process online in just five minutes.

You can start your college search now from wherever you are. Visiting one college website for five minutes is a powerful way to build momentum. Clicking on that first college website takes a dose of courage. Remember, you’re not going to break anything or commit to anything or make a final decision.

Visiting one college website, any college website, is the best place to start because it’s easy and you can do it right now from wherever you are. Type in the name of a college — any college — and spend five minutes looking around. Five minutes is an eternity on the Internet. If you don’t know which college to choose, type in “B-e-m-i-d-j-i-S-t-a-t-e” and check out my alma mater. I’ll give five bucks to the first person who emails or texts me and tells me something about BSU.

By the way, this was the first step to finding college options pre-Covid, and it’s still the first step.

College Search Process Stress FreeMake sure your college search process includes schools that weren’t already on your short list.

Another common misstep I see in the college search process is that students think they need to come up with a list of schools first and then go research them. This is backwards. It often leads to overlooking college options that could be a great fit for you, simply because you aren’t already familiar with them.

Here’s something I love to hear from the students we work with: “I had no idea that College XYZ even existed, but I’m so glad I found it, because it would be a great college fit for me.”

There are literally thousands of college options in the US alone, which I realize may be daunting. Don’t worry. I’m not asking you to look into ALL of them or even MOST of them. The point is, with so many options and since college is an investment of six figures and ffour years of your life, why wouldn’t you expand your college search process beyond what’s already familiar to you? Imagine the fun you can have imagining different possibilities while making your final college decision more complete and well-informed!

There are many ways to find great college options you’ve never heard of. Here are a few:

  • Talk to people you know, like older friends, cousins, your parents, aunts, uncles, or their friends. Ask them where they went to school and why, what they liked about it and what they studied. You might find a gold nugget or two that are worth exploring.
  • Use Google to search things like, “best colleges for nursing” or “colleges near mountains” or “best colleges for business majors”
  • Visit free college resource websites, like College Data and start poking around
  • Engage the help of a college planning expert. We specialize in helping students unearth great college options. Schedule a free consult to learn more about our college search process.

College Search Process College Planning ExpertsVisit colleges early and often during your college search process.

The campus visit is the most powerful tool in your college search, even as the availability of onsite campus visits has decreased. This is where we need to push harder to not let Covid derail our plans.

One of the biggest hurdles families face right now is the relative lack of in-person campus visits. “I really need to see the campus to know if it’s right.” No, you don’t, at least not initially. You can get 83% of what you think you need from the myriad virtual visit options campuses now offer:

  • Virtual tours in real-time where you can ask questions.
  • Info sessions hosted by current students in your potential major.
  • Live chat features staffed by salaried admissions officers, not bots.
  • Phone calls and email exchanges with admissions reps, faculty and students.

Virtual college visits are incredibly helpful. Learn how to do them well in this video tutorial which only takes 20 minutes to watch. When you want to learn more and become a campus visit pro like me, download my Campus Visit How-To-Handbook.

Engage the help of a professional college planner.

I hope these four keys to your college search process help you get started and gain momentum, but you don’t have to go it alone. Every year, we help hundreds of high-school students and families navigate an easy, low-stress path to the college options that are best for them. To learn more, schedule a free consult online today.

F Words for 2020

F Words for 2020

Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any more F words thrown at it, here are three more: Flip, Flop, Forward. I’ll explain in a bit, so keep reading.

Lately, my feed (and probably yours, too) is full of posts about what a challenging year 2020 was, so I don’t need to spend any time recapping that fact. As college planners and test prep gurus, we’re especially aware of how difficult the year was for students and families trying to navigate their way through the college planning process.

Three F Words for 2020

2020 was the year of the perpetual FLIP.

2020 College Planning FlipThe pandemic flipped our worlds upside down. It flipped our plans over and over again. Students, parents, teachers, business owners, EVERYONE turned themselves inside out trying to maintain some semblance of the routines and traditions we were used to, like school, sports, work, weddings, even simple nights out with friends. Rites of passage like college visits, prom and graduations were Zoomified, drive-byed or just plain cancelled. Things we’d taken for granted as “normal” suddenly weren’t. In our best moments, we pivoted tirelessly and creatively to maintain the life we knew. In more weary moments, we simply flipped out. I know I did.

On an individual level, our students were tossed and turned in the endless flipping back and forth between on-again-off-again ACT exam dates, closed campuses, never-ending changes in school routines, sports, how they could (and could not) enjoy time with friends, teammates and even their own grandparents.

Dear students, God-willing, there will never be another year like 2020. However, if you’re like most people, this won’t be the last big flip of your life. You will come again upon circumstances in your life where things don’t go according to plan, and your world is flipped upside down. You have survived 2020, worse for the wear in some ways, stronger in others. The next time you get flipped, remember that you have the inner muscle to withstand it. Knowing how to flip is a skill the teens of 2020 couldn’t help but learn.

Much of 2020 was a big, fat FLOP.

At some point, during the perpetual flip, as we let go of our plans in a thousand tiny pieces, some things just flopped. No matter how many adjustments we made, the thing we planned and hoped for just wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t the same flop for everyone. In our family, it was a high-school graduation celebration that was revised and revised again, being flipped multiple times until it just didn’t happen. For others, it was the pursuit of a state championship that you jumped through hoops and made many sacrifices to earn, and in the end you had to forfeit your place in the championship game, cuz’ Covid.

If you flipped until you couldn’t flip anymore and then just flopped, it’s okay. You’re not alone.

Sometimes you need to take a pause, cry, grieve, take a nap, take the day (or week or month) off and regroup. Flop away. This is part of grief in the face of loss.

But put a timer on it. Perpetual flopping will ultimately cause atrophy, and there’s one more F word you need in order to survive the first two.

Ultimately, we kept moving FORWARD.

College Planning 2020 Step ForwardFlip. Flop. Forward. Flip. Flop. Forward. As long as you get all the way to the third F word, it’s going to be okay. One baby step at a time is okay. You don’t need to see all the way to the finish line, but you do need to take the next step FORWARD. If you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will reach your goal, eventually.

We loved hearing about how our students moved forward through 2020 by finding a new hobby, a new entrepreneurial business venture, new rhythms, new interests, new and deeper relationships. For students on their way to college, moving forward meant new ways of exploring college options, new skills to find the answers they needed (ie, picking up the phone and calling admissions reps), new options and ways of learning altogether. We are so proud of our students and the parents who love them for finding ways to keep moving FORWARD.

Ultimately, it’s about Controlling What You Can Control.

College Planner 2020 Moving ForwardOur motto for the year that we’ve shared with the hundreds of high-school students and families we’ve worked with this year is: Control what you CAN control. This has always been our recommendation. This year in particular, we were all made keenly aware of the fact that there is a LOT that’s beyond our individual control. When we feel helpless, disappointed, anxious, confused or just downright pissed off, we can always return to focus on what’s within our small sphere of influence. There may be a lot I can’t do about circumstances beyond my control. However, in my experience, there’s never a shortage of things I CAN do. I can do the next right thing, take the next step, move forward with the action that’s right in front of me. I may have to pivot. Plans may be flipped. Things might flop. I keep moving forward.

There’s a riddle I came across recently. What has no arms, no hands and no legs, but moves the earth? The earthworm. He flips, flops and moves forward. In his persistent movement, controlling what he can control, he moves the earth. Flip. Flop. Forward. Flip. Flop. Forward.

Nothing magical is going to happen tomorrow, folks. January 1, 2021 and the coming months will probably look a lot like the past ten or so. So the motto for 2021 will likely remain the same as it has in 2020 (and all the years before that): Control what you CAN control. There’s plenty of work to be done. And we’re here to help.

Teens Can Use LinkedIn To Find Careers and Colleges

Teens Can Use LinkedIn To Find Careers and Colleges

Get our free LinkedIn Training Video!

Keep reading if you want to learn how high school students can use LinkedIn for career and college research. If you’re a video/visual learner, get our free training video. We created an entire 30-minute training video that hows you how to unlock the power of LinkedIn for your college and career research, and we’d LOVE to send it to you. Click here to download this FREE training video!

Hey high-school students! Did you know that the minimum age for having a LinkedIn account is just 16? Many high schools now teach students how to use of LinkedIn for networking. I think that’s brilliant. LinkedIn offers tips for high-school students wanting to set up a LinkedIn account for networking. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/linkedin-tips-high-school-students-judy-schramm/ It’s pretty helpful. Check it out.

However, what’s incredibly cool is how LinkedIn can be a high-school student’s powerful research tool to find colleges and careers. Teens can tap into the power of LinkedIn to find potential careers and colleges that may interest you.

Teens Linked In College Career Research ToolToday, I’m talking to the high-school student (or parent of a student) who has no earthly clue what they want to major in at college. What’s worse is the fact that this cluelessness is holding up their entire college search. Many teens think that before they start looking at schools, they have to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. False! (Thank you, Dwight Schrute).

You do NOT need to choose a major before you go to college. Many students head to college believing that they’ll figure it out along the way, and most of them do. Even your friends who sound incredibly sure of themselves about what they want to do with the rest of their lives will likely change their mind.

Use LinkedIn as a research tool to find interesting careers and colleges.

First step for high school students is to set up a LinkedIn account.

Linked In For Teens College and Career ResearchHead on over to LinkedIn and follow the steps to create your account. You can choose to add information to your profile right away, or stick to the bare minimum for now. You can always update your profile later.

Next, teens can tap into LinkedIn for career research.

LinkedIn is a gigantic search engine you can use to research companies, jobs they offer, the people who work for those companies and even the career paths of those employees! Imagine how powerful this insight could be when considering your own career and educational path.

As one example, I used the Search tool at the top of the LinkedIn homepage to search a company I’ve always admired: Adidas. Once I landed on Adidas’ company profile page, I scrolled down and took note of what I could learn there:

  • Holy cow! Is that gorgeous, super cool building their office?
  • Wow, they just launched a new Brand Center in Beijing!
  • Hey, cool article about the legendary Stan Smith
  • Under their About section, I learned that they have 60K employees worldwide and could view their company locations on a global map.

LinkedIn For High School Students SearchHigh school students can learn what types of jobs exist by using the Jobs section of LinkedIn.

Sticking with my Adidas search, I clicked on the Jobs tab of their company profile. I found some really interesting titles, like this. At this point, I have no idea what some of these words even mean, but if there’s one that piqued my interest, I clicked on the job and could read the job description, which gave me a really good sense of whether or not that’s a job I’d enjoy.

For example, I clicked on a job posting for a “Copywriter Digital Creative” because I like writing, and I like being creative. I had to wade through a bunch of words I barely understood, but I did learn some things that this job would entail, the types of titles a copywriter would work with, AND I learned under “Requirements” that they’d be looking for someone who’d majored in something related to Writing, Creative Writing, Communications or “Other Media”. Hmmmmm….super helpful.

Narrow your job search by using keywords to zero in on topics of interest.

LinkedIn For High School Students JobsMaybe it sounds too time-consuming to navigate to job postings by starting with a company search. No problem! You can access the Jobs section of LinkedIn from the homepage and narrow your search by entering keywords into the search tool. Maybe you have a family friend who has a career in Marketing, and you think that sounds interesting. Type “marketing” into the search tool and choose any location that sounds intriguing. You’ll be amazed how much you’ll learn about the types of jobs, titles and careers that exist within your broad field of interest.

Dig deeper by looking at People profiles.

Once you find a job title that really interests you, go back to the homepage. Use the search tool to type in the title you’d like to know more about. I typed in VP Marketing to see what people have that job title. I then clicked on a profile for someone who is a VP of Marketing at a company I think is super cool: Google.

Once I was on his profile page, I could scroll down and see not only information about the job he currently has, but also what he’d done before that. This is called his “career path”. This is important because while my goal may be to one day be a Vice President of Marketing, I need to understand the jobs and steps that come before that. I was even able to see where this person attended college and what he majored in!

High-school students keep digging, keep exploring to find potential careers and colleges using LinkedIn.

LinkedIn For High School Students PeopleOne profile won’t tell you everything you need to know. You’ll need to keep exploring to confirm your findings, expand your understanding and identify options for both colleges and careers that you should check out.

I guarantee that reallocating some of your scroll time to LinkedIn from Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube will help you identify some outstanding options for career categories and colleges that should be on your list for consideration.

Get our free LinkedIn Training Video!

We created an entire 30-minute training video that goes into detail about how you can unlock the power of LinkedIn for your college and career research, and we’d LOVE to send it to you. Email us to let us know you’re interested, and we’ll send it your way!

Paying for College is a Tough Topic For Teens and Parents

Paying for College is a Tough Topic For Teens and Parents

Paying for college and who pays for what and when is among the most challenging topics between teens and parents. In your family, does everyone understand who pays for what and when for college costs? For most families, the answer is no.

Most families aren’t talking early enough or often enough about who pays for college. Not enough families are openly asking enough questions of each other when it comes to who’s paying for what college costs and when. In its most recent survey of college costs, the College Board reports that the average cost of attendance for in-state students at a four-year public institution for the 2020-2021 academic year averaged $26,820. This means that even an in-state, public college education is a six-figure decision. It warrants clear conversation about who’s paying for college costs or how college costs will be shared among parents and the student.

Do yourself a favor when it comes to determining who’s paying for college.

Paying For College Easy Madison WiOn or before your child’s 12th birthday, please have this conversation: “We think it’s important for you to go to college, or at least consider your college options. Here’s what we’re going to do to help…” If your student is older than 12, then have the conversation as soon as possible once you and your spouse or significant other come to agreement about who pays for college and your family’s college cost arrangement.

Families that fail to address the college cost question suffer from consequences of poor communication and poor planning. Even if it’s uncomfortable, speak openly and in quantifiable terms about all three components of this college planning question: who, what and when. Who pays for college? What college costs are covered by parents, and what college costs are covered by the student? When (and under what conditions) will college costs be covered? None of these variables is optional when it comes to paying for college.

Why it’s tough to talk about paying for college.

When you shop for a car, new or used, you can assume that the price you see on the window sticker or scribbled across the windshield is not the final price you will pay. Factoring in a trade, the actual price may be 5, 10 or even 20% lower than that of the sticker. We all have a ballpark price in mind when we visit an auto dealer, or we can access one in a blue book. Houses are largely the same, but without the possible trade-in value. The people who determine college costs, however, seem to go to great lengths to prevent you from feeling any sort of comfort level or command of what you’ll pay for college. College tuition may be $25,000/year, but you really have no idea what you will pay with everything thrown in. In fairness, great strides have been made by institutions of higher learning (with considerable arm twisting from the federal government) to get you a ballpark figure early on in the college planning process using tools such as net price calculators.

Outline who’s paying for college and which college costs are covered by whom in writing.

Paying For College Madison WiHow do you talk about who will pay for what for college (and when) if you don’t know how much college will cost? Starting college research early helps you develop solid cost estimates to work with. College websites are now much more helpful in helping you to get a sense of what you’ll pay for college.

Once you’ve done your college research, write it down, and do the math. Make it clear to both parents and to the student who’s paying for which colleges costs and what the totals are per year. Create a college cost template based on what you as a parent can and are willing to contribute. This template spells out the college financing categories (or portions thereof) for which each party will be responsible. Here are four examples:

  • “Mom and I will pay for all tuition, fees and books at an in-state public university. Everything beyond that is yours.”
  • “We will contribute $30,000 per year for four years. If you go somewhere more expensive or take more than four years, you’re responsible for the balance. And no, we will not ‘refund the difference’ if you graduate in three and a half years or choose a very inexpensive option.”
  • “It’s 50-50 all the way.”
  • “We’ll pay for everything, but we want you to work at least ten hours per week so you learn how to manage your time, just like in the real world. You can keep what you earn, but you have to work.”

As one college planning example, my parents paid for tuition and fees plus a book allowance and required each of their three sons to pick up the tab for room and board, plus spending money. Each of us chose public universities, but the idea was that we would have the option to attend a more expensive private institution without incurring significantly greater debt. For the most part, room and board is the same at Harvard as it is at Des Moines Area Community College.

You’re essentially creating a college financing contract, and it’s perfectly acceptable to include performance clauses. Setting basic benchmarks such as “satisfactory progress in all courses” or “maintain a 3.0 cumulative GPA” works well. Whether or not you put this onto paper is up to you, but the basic premise of “If I do this, I expect you to do that” helps eliminate surprises.

Bring to the college planning conversation your own experiences and arrangements with your parents, but keep in mind that working your way through college has become significantly more difficult as college costs have escalated. In fact, this approach can actually be counterproductive if a student devotes so much time and energy to earning money that she is left with little time to study. She ends up working extremely hard to pay for something that has less than optimum value.

Many families simply tell children not to worry about college costs, or not to worry about it while searching, but this can cause confusion. Instead, have the college cost conversation wrapped up prior to senior year. If the message is, “Don’t worry about it for now,” the impression you leave may be that money is no object or that a student really shouldn’t worry and therefore not plan and save for her college financing portion.

College planning questions to consider when it comes to paying for college.

Paying For College Help Madison WiHow does an intended major impact this question, i.e. am I as a parent more willing to support a future anesthesiologist vs. an anthropologist?
If a student delays admission by taking a “gap year”, how does that change things?

  • Who gets credit for merit scholarships?
  • How about study abroad programs? Who pays for that?
  • What stipulations are there for semesters beyond the traditional four years?
  • How does a possible journey into grad school factor into all of this?

Making the effort to have open, honest conversations about money and college financing is far better than the consequences of NOT having these conversations. Be bold. Be open. You’ll be glad that you were.

We’ve helped thousands of students and families over more than 10 years, and can lend insight to your college cost and college planning conversations. Email me anytime or schedule a free consult to get your college questions answered.

6 Great (and Free!) College Websites Plus Tips for Better College Research

6 Great (and Free!) College Websites Plus Tips for Better College Research

When it comes to researching colleges online, a word of caution. Much of what you find when you start typing words into Google is going to be junk, which isn’t exactly news to you. Instead of Googling “best colleges for future doctors” or “occupational therapy majors,” start with the best resources for information on colleges. These are the tools I use as a professional college planner for my first-step, basic research. Some are better than others for specific search functions, so plug in some criteria and test them out. Use the tools that you like best.

College Search Better College Research6 Great College Information Websites

  1. http://www.petersons.com
  2. https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org
  3. http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
  4. http://nces.ed.gov
  5. http://www.collegedata.com
  6. http://www.ucan-network.org

Whenever I turn to a website such as these, I always take the results with a grain of salt and use them only as a starting point. If you find that College X has biochemical engineering, go directly to their website and do more digging to confirm the initial results, and then make contact with someone at the school who can tell you more and answer some questions.

Get Better College Information By Going Beyond Online Research

After you’ve done your research online, including spending significant amounts of time on the college websites for the schools that interest you most, you need to make contact with the schools that interest you. Yes, this means picking up that 50-pound phone and calling someone you don’t know who is probably older than 30 and asking good questions. This is the first step in an ongoing dialogue between you, the prospective student and family, and the college.

Better College Search PhoneBefore you pick up the phone or fire off an email, consider these guidelines for effective college search dialogue.

  1. Find the right person to ask.
    If you have questions about the college in general, ask admissions. If your questions are specifically about majors or programs, find a professor or administrative professional within the department, such as program coordinators. When applying to grad programs in the early 1990′s (read: largely pre-internet) I found myself communicating much more frequently and with greater success with administrative assistants than professors. They were easy to reach because they sit next to a phone, and they knew all the details about how to apply, deadlines, requirements, etc.
  2. Don’t ask for answers that are readily available on the website.
    If what you’re looking for doesn’t jump out at you, ask another family member to search for it, or use the search box that is usually in the upper right-hand corner of each page. It’s a sign of laziness to ask, “How many students do you have at your college?” It also sends the message that you can’t find answers on your own. If you legitimately can’t find basic data, then by all means ask.
  3. Keep your queries brief and professional.
    Whether you’re 17 or 47, a well-written email with a succinct introductory sentence and closing statement works best. A variation on the email template here always works well.
    Hello [salutation if available]
    My name is _____ and I’m a sophomore/junior at [high school] in [town and state]. I’m very interested in [name of college] and specifically in your [major or department]. I have three questions I’d like to ask:

    1. How many of the students in your [academic program] enter the workforce immediately vs. going on to graduate school?
    2. What sets [college]’s [major] apart?
    3. What new classes or facilities could I expect to see if I enroll?

Thank you for your time and attention to these questions. Sincerely,

You may not get an immediate response, but you will get a response. If you don’t try someone else, or call to see if that person is traveling or on leave from the university.

4. Treat this as the first step in a larger conversation.
My rule of thumb is to never ask more than three questions in a single email. Don’t deluge the person with so many questions that she can’t respond in a timely manner. When you receive a response, it’s likely to include a “please let me know if you have more questions”, and while you don’t want to take advantage of that person’s time, you should take her at her word. Thank her for her time and send a follow-up question if you have one.

College Search Better College Research 2Between diligent online and offline research, you’ll be well on your way to identifying some colleges that could be great fits for you. For help defining the University of You and exploring great college options based on your unique needs, goals and passions, email me about our College Search services or schedule a free consult here. This is my life and my passion to help students find their best college fit!

7.5 College Essay Tips To Tell Your Story Well

7.5 College Essay Tips To Tell Your Story Well

In 2020, more than ever before, your college essay matters. The college essay is 4th on the list of the things colleges look for in applicants, in order of importance. True, it comes after the rigor of your curriculum, your GPA and standardized test scores (if you’re submitting them). It ranks higher on the list than your extracurricular activities! It’s a great way for college admissions officers to get to know you. In the event that students are not submitting ACT or SAT scores, the essay is even more important. It conveys the type of person you are and what you’ll contribute to that school, if admitted.

Best College Essay Tips 2We have an entire course devoted to college applications and essays. It’s called the College Applications & Essays Bootcamp, and it could help seniors still wrestling with the overwhelming task of writing killer essays and completing the Common App.

The college admissions office uses your college essay(s) to better understand who you truly are, what makes you tick, what your passions are and what you’d bring to their campus. They’re reviewing your essay in context with the rest of your college application, so tell them something they CAN’T learn from the other materials you’re submitting. Yes, you can write about an activity that’s already included on your list of activities, but make sure you say something new and deeper than what you’ve already told them throughout the rest of your college application.

Here are some college essay tips, if you want to do this thing right. There are 7 of them, plus a .5 bonus tip to make your essay truly one-of-a-kind.

7 College Essay Tips to Tell Your Story Well

Tip 1: Consider “optional” college essays to be required for you.

Assume “optional” = required. You’ll write essays for the Common App, for particular institutions and also for scholarships, both institutional and private. The Common App essays are more general, while the supplemental essays required by some colleges tend to be more specific, e.g. “Why Duke?” Any essay listed as optional should be considered required. You want to show you’re the type of person who’ll go above and beyond, not that you are simply willing to meet minimum requirements. Get used to it. That’s how most things go in life.

Tip 2: Don’t try to cram your entire life story into a 650-word college essay.

Best College Essay Tips 3Pick your moment, and go deep rather than broad. 650 words is not a lot of space, essentially one full page, single-spaced. One of the biggest mistakes we see students make is trying to cover too much ground. Pick a moment, experience or situation that enables you to reveal who you are at your core. The moment doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or monumental. It can actually be something very simple. Some of the best essays we’ve seen take a moment that’s actually pretty ordinary and MAKE it something unique, something that says something about the author. One student wrote about building a bird house with her grandfather. Another wrote about noticing that the corn field near her house had been turned into suburbs, and it made her think differently about time passing.

Tip 3: Focus on the story you want to tell, not what you think they want to hear.

It’s going to be difficult to be anyone but you, and why would you want to be? The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response.

Tip 4: Pay attention to college essay word counts before you start.

Best College Essay Tips 2020 4Nothing’s more heartbreaking than drafting a 500-word college essay and then learning you’re only allowed 300 words. In most cases you are asked to respond to a “prompt” within a specific word limit (650 or less for Common App and usually 300-500 for others). Do not go beyond the stated limits, and avoid unusually brief essays. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.)

Tip 5: In your college essay, convey not just events, but also your outlook on them.

Getting to know you is as much about learning how you view the world and why, as it is what you’ve done. Give some thought to who you are, how you think, why you think the way you do. Start by making a list of your best qualities: persistent, funny, empathetic, creative, observant, others-focused, adventurous. Think about WHO YOU ARE. THEN consider a moment, experience or scene that enables you to SHOW ME, versus TELL ME, that this is who you are. Learning that you ran your first 10K last year is less important than learning how accomplishing this goal changed you, shaped you, what it taught you about yourself.

Tip 6: Remember that your college essay is an essay, not an expose.

Honesty is good. Brutal and unabashed honesty in the form of a true confession makes admissions officers squeamish, and with good reason. This is not the time to confess to anything illegal or immoral. Sharing serious challenges you’ve faced is great, but remember that you’re talking to people who’ve never met you, not your best friend. Above all, admissions officers are looking for a personal expression of who you are, what you believe and what makes you tick – in the form of a well-crafted and thoughtful essay. Be yourself and write from your own point of view, but don’t be different just to be different or to shock.

Tip 7: Give your college essay the time and attention it deserves.

Best College Essay Tips 2020 5Writing your college essay doesn’t have to consume you for a month straight, but don’t wing it, either. Assume that this will take time, thought and work, as well as rework. Think of any great high school paper you ever wrote. Was that done hastily and in one draft? Probably not, if it was done well. This college essay is of greater importance, so give it its due. Your college essays, if done well, enable you to get to know yourself better, as well as learning how to succinctly present yourself to a brand new audience. This is something you’ll have to do throughout your life, for internships, job interviews, even dating and friendships. Embrace the challenge, enjoy it and create space for yourself to do your best.
And for the bonus point (or 1/2 point…)

BONUS COLLEGE ESSAY TIP

Challenge yourself to write an essay that couldn’t possibly have anyone else’s name at the top.
Once you get a rough draft down, ask yourself, could this essay have been written by anyone else? Is it uniquely me? Does it convey my own unique outlook and perspective? If not, take another pass through it and inject more YOU. Make your college essay a unique expression of who you really are. That is the goal of the college essay(s), to get to know YOU. So be YOU.

We offer a College Applications & Essays Bootcamp, as well as other college applications services to help you navigate college essays and applications. We’d love to help you tell your story.