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high school students Middle School Top Tips writing

Get Published This Winter

Students often tell us they dream of being published, but are resigned to waiting until graduate school when they are working with distinguished faculty members. We (gently!) guide our students in understanding that technically you don’t always need a mentor or manager or faculty member to supervise your work or your writing, or comment on your photography or art or poetry -or your literature review, to get published.

IN THE KNOW

You can secure a publication solo IF you know where to look and how to prepare.

If you’re engaged in your classes and actively writing, you likely have papers and Word files collecting virtual dust on your laptop. Bring them back to life, get them read, get them out!

As the great Sylvia Plath once said, “Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.”

FIVE FRESH PUBLICATION IDEAS

Check out these 5 ideas on where to pursue publication ASAP:

  1. West Virginia Press has a call for submissions for their print anthology (a BOOK) called “Essential Voices: A Covid-19 Anthology.” They are seeking poems, stories, recipes, or works of art “that reflect upon the experience of COVID and COVID related issues in your life.” (open to all ages, due 1/15/21)
  2. The Architectural League of NY is asking some pretty insightful questions this month: “At a time in which our relationships to both private spaces and the public realm have been thrown open to question, what lessons can we learn from looking carefully at the world around us? How can we better understand the places where we live—the histories that have shaped them; the social, economic, and political mechanisms that make them function as they do today; the communities they structure; their possibilities for the future?” They are seeking submissions of photographs, videos, or drawings accompanied by short written observations “about the spaces around you, with the goal of creating a visual archive that captures the relationship between society and the built environment in this unprecedented time.” (open to all ages, due 12/31/20)
  3.  The Sunlight Press is a nonprofit literary arts journal for “new and established voices.” They are seeking nonfiction personal essays, fiction, poetry, book reviews, artist reflections of their work with photos of their art, and photograph submissions (open to all ages, submit after 1/4/21)
  4. Girls Right the World is a literary journal seeking female-identifying writers and artists (ages 14–21), to submit work for consideration in their fifth annual issue. Submissions can include poetry, prose, and visual art of any style or theme. (open to all ages, due 12/31/20)
  5. And  –for students in grades 5-12 who love astronomy and space, NASA has a ‘Scientist for a Day Essay Contest’ asking writers to focus on which moon they’d travel to and how/why (grades 5-12, due 2/12/21) 

STAYING POWER

The neat thing about securing a publication is that it stays with you for life –on your Common App, in your graduate school applications, in your resume, and on your LinkedIn profile. More eyes on your published work means more eyes on you, more networking opportunities, and more engagement with peer scholars and top researchers. Seeking more personalized ideas and assistance with preparing your submissions to publication outlets, peer reviewed journals and conferences? Let us help!

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ACT college admissions Common Application Insider Tips letters of recommendation SAT Standardized Testing Top Tips

Common Application: Does “Optional” Truly Mean Optional?

You’ve finished the core components of your Common Application – your main essay, your activities, and any required supplements for the schools on your list – and are ready to submit. Then you pause.

Should I self-report my scores? Do I need to respond to the COVID question? Will colleges read the four extra letters from my other recommenders?

Need some last-minute advice? Read on!

COMMON APPLICATION: TESTING

Standardized testing these last few months has been an exercise in frustration for seniors. You’ve registered and prepared, only to see test centers shuttered and exams canceled – sometimes with no warning. Maybe you were able to sit for the SAT or ACT once but ended up with a lower score than you had hoped.

For students applying to colleges that are newly test optional, including the majority of the most selective colleges in the country, a good rule of thumb is that if your SAT or ACT scores are well within the middle 50th percentile range, then go ahead and submit these scores. Remember that for many top colleges, the switch to test-optional this year leaves admissions officers without some of the customary guideposts they used to help decisions. If everything else about your application is strong— your GPA, rigor of course load, and rank (if your school calculates one)—then including scores confirms to admissions officers that you are the kind of student they seek to admit.

What if your SAT or ACT scores are below the school’s typical admit ranges? If you are from a high school that typically sends lots of high-scoring applicants their way, admissions officers will likely assume that you are unhappy with your scores and chose not to send them. Remember that they have data from prior years’ applicant pools so they have some sense of what to expect from your school. Students from low-income schools and communities, those in historically underrepresented groups, will likely be given more benefit of the doubt than students from well-resourced families and schools.

We also anticipate that newly test-optional colleges this year will be flooded with applicants from around the country and around the world who, in previous years, may have been discouraged from applying because of lower scores. If applicant pools balloon, guess how admissions officers will sort through applications? They’ll use data – scores and GPA – especially in the first read, to figure out who seem to be the strongest students in their pool. A word about AP scores. If you’ve got a bunch of AP courses on your transcript from junior year, admissions officers will check to see if you self-reported your results. If not, they’ll assume the results were poor. So, if you have scores of 3 or higher, report them! In the absence of an SAT or ACT or subject tests, strong AP scores will also help show your strength.

Common Application COVID Question

COMMON APPLICATION: COVID QUESTION

The Common App’s new, optional question opens the door for students to share more about the impact of COVID on their “health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable and quiet study spaces.” Should you respond?

First, ask yourself a question. We’ve all had our lives turned upside down these last 9-10 months. Virtual schooling, zoom fatigue, quarantine blues, canceled testing, disrupted activities – these are common to all high school students. If the story you tell pretty much recounts what every high school student has had to contend with, then you are better off not responding to this optional prompt. You risk coming off as tone-deaf or privileged, two things that will form a bad impression in the minds of your application readers. 

Do answer this question if you and your family experienced significant hardship because of COVID – serious illness or death of a loved one, parent’s loss of employment, additional home responsibilities caring and teaching for your siblings, lack of access to technology and other online resources. In addition to sharing your struggles, be sure to show admissions officers how you overcame these unexpected challenges.

COMMON APPLICATION: SUPPLEMENTAL RECOMMENDATIONS

Back in the day when students applied to college using pen and paper (seniors, ask your parents about those days), admissions officers had a saying: “the thicker the file, the thicker the kid.” Essentially, students who loaded up their application with tons of extra letters of recommendation were essentially compensating for weaker credentials and basically throwing the kitchen sink at the admissions office.

So, once you’ve assigned the one or two required teachers, be judicious in using any of the optional or “other” recommenders. If you truly believe that a potential recommender can offer a perspective on your candidacy that no other recommender can, then go ahead and tap that person to be your “other” recommender. But, loading up on extra recommendations – even if the college allows – can overload your application with extraneous materials, making admissions officers a little grumpy as they wade through these extra letters. Good luck with your applications and we are here to help if you want last minute essay help or an entire application review before hitting SEND.

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college admissions College Application Secrets Common Application Common Application Essay Top Tips writing

5 Tips for a Compelling Common Application Essay

For many high school seniors, the Common Application’s personal essay is the most intimidating part of the admissions process. What are admissions officers looking for? Are there particular topics you should avoid? How can you possibly summarize your interests and goals in 650 words? What do they mean when they call it a “personal essay?”

If the very idea of tackling this essay leaves you feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry! We’re here to help. Below, we’ve listed some of the most important things to keep in mind when putting together your personal essay. If you can follow these guidelines as you plan, draft, and polish your applications, you’ll be in great shape! And bonus tip, it’s not really personal, meaning they don’t care about your personality or your deep, dark secrets. Read on.

5 TIPS FOR YOUR COMMON APPLICATION ESSAY

1. What Makes You Stand Out

Every year, admissions officers receive thousands of essays that sound similar. Some of these address cliché topics (e.g., winning the big game, being transformed by a volunteer opportunity); others simply don’t make clear how the applicant differs from other students.

Before you begin writing your essay, take some time to think about what makes you a compelling applicant. Are you an amazing writer or an incredible biologist? Are you a budding political activist? Have you developed great resources to support the homeless population in your area? Whatever it is that makes you stand out, that is what you should be discussing in your college essay! Not what you want to “do” in life, but what you’ve done to elevate yourself to present as a compelling candidate. Give the reader a zoomed in snap shot of what it is you will bring to college.

2. Turn Your Essay Into A Story

The Common App asks for a “personal essay,” but you’d do better to think of your writing as a personal narrative. Use this as an opportunity to tell a story about yourself, one that — like all the great stories you’ve read in English class — includes a compelling opening, some narrative tension to keep the reader invested, and a satisfying conclusion. If, for example, you want to write about your background as a programmer, don’t just tell us that you can code and list your achievements. Instead, tell us a story about how you were confronted with a seemingly impossible programming challenge, how you spent months studying a particular programming language to debug your code, how you finally succeeded after multiple failures, and how this has shaped your current approach to computer science. Giving your story a narrative arc will make it both more enjoyable and more memorable. The one caveat: make sure your narrative presents you in a positive light. No one wants to admit the story’s villain.

3. Show, Don’t Tell

We’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: rather than telling us that something is true, show us evidence that makes us believe it. That is, rather than simply asserting things about yourself in your college essay (“I’m a compassionate person,” “I love history,” etc.), give us information that proves your point. Maybe you’ve shown your compassion by working at a food bank during the pandemic and tutoring underprivileged kids. Perhaps you have illustrated your love of history through independent historical research projects and summer programs on American history. Providing this information in your essay will support your statements about yourself and make them convincing to your reader.

4. Proofread Your Work

After all of the hard work you’ve put into planning and drafting your essay, you don’t want an admissions officer to dismiss it because of sloppy writing. Typographical errors suggest to admissions officers that you are a careless student or (even worse!) that you aren’t particularly interested in their college. To avoid giving these impressions, make sure to spend some time carefully reviewing your writing. (Don’t just rely on the computer’s spellcheck feature — it won’t catch everything!) If you can, ask a few other people to review the piece for you to look out for any spelling or grammatical errors or any moments where your writing is unclear.

5. Get Help

If you keep these suggestions in mind when putting together your personal essay, you should finish with a strong piece of writing. Still feeling a little unsure? We’re here to help!  Just as you might get standardized test tutoring to help your scores go up, it’s helpful to have an expert make sure you are on the right path with your college essay. Like a good theater director is able to get a magnificent performance from an actor, so too does a skilled essay coach help an applicant find and present his/her authentic voice.

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grad school Graduate Admissions Stanford Top Tips

Stanford Law School Admissions: What To Know

Post by: Dr. Kristen Willmott

November 2020 is a busy month for LSAT test takers and there are four LSAT flex online options: November 7th, 8th, 10th, and 11th. If you’re taking the LSAT, be sure you utilize LSAC’s free LSAT prep package and read up on the complexities of the new online LSAT flex.

Many students are at the tail end of their law school admissions pathway and they’re now wrapping up their personal statement and sitting for the LSAT, and then their applications are off and running.

One of the most popular law schools to target this fall?… Stanford Law of course! Read on for key data and frequently asked questions on Stanford Law School (SLS).

STANFORD LAW SCHOOL: FAQS & KEY DATA

How can I research key data on Stanford Law? Where do I look?

It’s common for applicants to skip reviewing the current student profile before they apply and yet it’s so important! We walk our students through it, of course, but here’s Stanford’s info (not always easy to find –the direct link is here):

2019 First Year Class, 2018-2019 (most recent data they’ve posted) =

  • 3,908 completed applications and 380 offers of admission, so that’s a 9.72% acceptance rate.
  • 157 enrolled, which means 223 turned Stanford down, so that’s a 4.02% enrollment rate.
  • 23 other first year enrollees (aka deferrals), so 180 were in the class
  • LSAT Percentiles: 25th percentile 169; 50th percentile 171; 75th percentile 174
  • Undergrad GPA: 25th percentile 3.79; 50th percentile 3.91; 75th percentile 3.96 (meaning SKY HIGH!)

What programs does Stanford Law offer? Is a JD the only degree program I can consider? 

Many applicants are unaware that SLS offers several different programs, the JD is not the only SLS option. We’ve worked with many international students where SLS’ advanced degree options are appealing. They have the Master of Laws LLM program, Master of the Science of Law JSM degree (via the Stanford Program in International Legal Studies), the Master of Legal Studies degree, and the Doctor of the Science of Law (JSD) degree.

What are the components of the SLS application, and are they weighted differently?

The 10 pieces of the SLS JD app are outlined here. Note that you’ve got some hefty writing to do for items 3, 4, 5 and 6 (let us help!). It’s interesting that the last two they mention, the LSAT and transcripts to date (submitted as part of the needed Credential Assembly Service Report —via LSAC) are the last two stated in the list of ten, though those carry a great amount of weight in an admissions review. SLS is seeking unique students who have broken the mold in what they’ve pursued and accomplished before the time of their application and who therefore will continue to be changemakers on campus and post-degree. The quantitative data (LSAT, GPA) allows for a round 1 initial slice of thousands of applicants, but an applicant’s story, diverse background, relevant and rigorous work experiences, massive community impact and evidence of leadership to date push him into the pool.

What makes a Stanford Law School applicant stand out in a good way? What about in a bad way?

Hopefully, the above addresses ways to stand out in a good way. A mistake that law school applicants can make is thinking that when a program states something in the application is optional, it’s really optional. It’s not; it’s unofficially strongly urged. I often work with students who believe something like Stanford’s (and many other schools’) “optional diversity essay” is something they can or should skip. They might feel they are not diverse, that they don’t belong to a unique community, etc.  I try to gently urge applicants to think more deeply on this prompt. The prompt interprets the word ‘diversity’ very broadly, so the applicant should as well.

Everyone is DiVeRsE in some way —if you feel you’re not diverse at all and you have nothing unique to bring them, why are you applying to SLS?… When I have a student tell me he’s not diverse, I urge him to try to expand his definition of diversity and reflect on the following list –and THAT allows for this “optional” essay to be prepared/submitted and hopefully stand out:

Diversity factors for students to consider writing about include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Ethnic minority
  • Low-income childhood
  • Low-income now
  • First generation in your family to graduate from college
  • LGBTQX community
  • Non-traditional student (i.e., older student)
  • Single parent while attending college
  • Disabilities (learning, physical, mental)
  • Underrepresented religious affiliation
  • Immigrant
  • Foster child
  • Grew up in an unusual neighborhood, town/city, or country
  • Grew up with unique circumstances that are underrepresented in the school’s student body 

How can an applicant ‘overcome’ things like poor test scores or a lack of career experience? 

The best ways to combat a low LSAT are to prep and tutor more and retake it, allow yourself more time to apply, bump out your timeline, etc. However, the LSAT is not the only factor in SLS admissions. A lack of career experience or massive resume gaps can also be red flags as the goal is to show the admissions office you are deeply committed to your work/academics, likely to succeed in the program and post degree. They already believe, as does every top law school, that they have a fantastic program with unparalleled academic offerings, internationally renowned faculty, etc. They want to know what you will bring to THEM and how that makes you stand out from the pack. Perhaps that’s added grad level coursework, conference presentations, publications, nonprofit work that links to your professional background, etc. We’ve also worked with past students who struggled a bit in college but then had stellar professional experiences post degree and now want a way to first, be certain that they want to commit to three years of law school and a law career, and secondly, offer evidence on a transcript that shows they are fully capable of getting A grades.

One thing that accomplishes both, for example, is a graduate level credit-bearing course in your preferred field of study —not necessarily with the hopes of transferring those 4 credits into law school when you matriculate (as it’s unlikely), but to ensure you want a law school pathway, and ensure you show transcript evidence that A grades are in your wheelhouse.

Here’s one to show what I mean: Harvard Extension School online course for 4 graduate level credits called International Human Rights Law. Starts 1-27-21.  I’ve also had past students tell me that an Intro to Logic course (in college or a post college grad level one like the one linked here, at the Harvard Extension School) for credit has been a boost to their law school admissions application process, since it links to the logic that is actually needed in year one of law school as well as the logic questions on the LSAT, and also the framing of the law school app overall.

How can I become a ‘standout applicant’ from the pack at Stanford Law?

We’ve had past students: publish research papers or old finals papers in journals (such as Yale’s Undergraduate Journal of Economics and Politics), dive into an artificial intelligence research internship that links to patent law, climb the career ladder at an international startup focused on international women business owners, teach virtual coding classes to middle schoolers, work in DC as a policy analyst, and obtain a full time job as law office administrative assistant.

The trick is to authentically present as a compelling applicant with a unique story and insightful evidence of success in the program –and post degree as well as ideally as an active alum.

STANDING OUT IN LAW SCHOOL ADMISSIONS

Looking for more personalized ideas on ways to you can stand out in your law school applications and essays?  We’d love to propose targeted ideas for you! Let’s chat.

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College Board Common Application Top Tips

Common App Eliminates Disciplinary Question

Post by: Dr. Michele Hernandez

Every year, we have a few students who agonize over the disciplinary question on the Common App and how to respond to that question. As parents ourselves and private admissions counselors for two decades, we have seen all sorts of crazy incidents from a student who was charged with a felony (“graffiti” on federal land when it was actually just a funny drawing in a park) to plagiarism, cheating, fighting, drug/alcohol and minor disciplinary charges like missing a few days of schools. One complicating factor is that every high school has different rules for suspensions, expulsions and what to report. Should a student who receives a dress code suspension receive the same treatment as one accused of academic dishonesty?

ACADEMIC HONESTY IS KEY

When I worked in Ivy League admissions, I can testify that we were VERY concerned about any report of academic dishonesty from plagiarism to cheating and did reject kids who were known cheaters. After all, academic honesty and integrity is the currency of a university experience. Any violation of academic integrity typically resulted in rejection though often we would verify with the student’s school counselor first.

We also gave the student a chance to explain what happened and the Common App itself provided a space to do so. For years as private counselors we have helped students show their side of the story which often mitigated the judgment if it turned out to be more of a misunderstanding than a flagrant violation such as the student who wrote on social media that she could “Kill Mrs. Smith for that horrible test” which her school took as a threat.

When the Common App actually analyzed the data of who actually submitted application materials, they found that students of color (Black students particularly) were more than twice as likely to report a disciplinary record than white students. This is a significant issue since Black and Latinx students (27 percent of students who submit applications through the Common App) comprise 52 percent of the roughly 7,000 students who first, declare an infraction and second, as a result, do not submit their application.

COMMON APP DISCIPLINARY QUESTION = GONE

Based on that data, the Common App decided to eliminate that question beginning in the 2021-2022 admissions cycle. Does that mean students should not worry at all? Of course not. Keep in mind that serious incidents of bad behavior or academic dishonesty still have paths to reach the admissions office. The most common way is the actual guidance/college letter. I would hope that a counselor would include in their official letter any serious incidents as they put their reputation on the line each time they write a letter of recommendation. If admissions officers learned of a serious omission, it would threaten the credibility of the high school and the counselor. My worry is that counselors are often afraid of legal repercussions and undue pressure from wealthy/powerful parents who could influence them to leave out important information. The other avenue for requesting the same information would be for colleges who wanted more information and who cared deeply about academic dishonestly to include that question on their supplemental essay questions so that the student would have a chance to elaborate.

Though of course we don’t support a question that penalizes one segment of the population, we do think the Common App could have perhaps tweaked the question rather than abandoning it altogether. We surmise that suspensions result more often from bad behavior than from academic dishonesty. If that were the case, why not ask a more targeted question: has this student had any major infractions of academic dishonestly including cheating or plagiarism. That would eliminate the minor suspensions from shoving a classmate in the hallway or not tucking in a shirt for instance, but preserve the essence of the question.

OUR ADVICE TO YOU

Our advice to students and parents is to keep in mind that top colleges DO value honesty and integrity and your teachers and school counselor are still writing letters to colleges that elaborate on what kind of student you are. Just because the Common App is eliminating the disciplinary history question (along with the cover letter School Form that asks for similar information) does not give you license to cheat or behave badly. That information is likely to come across via other channels (even from jealous classmates – really!).

Honesty is usually the best policy and we have helped students explain unjust suspensions or unfounded accusations. Admissions officers are human beings who do try to understand the context and the nature of any disciplinary action. That being said, your best option is to take pride in your own academic achievements and to avoid risking rejection for falsifying any of your work, period.