Of all the choices available to you, we would like to know why you want to attend Essentially Awesome Person University. Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and/or area of study?

One of the schools you apply to will probably ask you to write an essay answering some version of the prompt above. Makes sense. Most schools get far more qualified applicants than they have spaces for every year. A peek into your mind’s reasons for choosing them is a useful tool for sniffing out students who will make the best use of their resources in the long-run. Answering this prompt can be enlightening, challenging, and even fun, but you need to be intentional about getting the most you can out of this essay.

Why Us? vs. Why College?

This is the biggest issue I run into with students. They would be “honored” to go to a school because it has “hundreds of courses, an [insert beloved part of your identity] Students Association, the chance to study abroad, and a mission statement they believe in.” Duh. Most schools have these offerings as of 2021 so you aren’t really explaining why you want to go to Essentially Awesome Person University specifically, just college in general. Writing like this can actually hurt you because it makes you look like you’re willing to make a big decision without doing adequate research.

You want to make the case for why this particular school is one of the ten you chose to apply to out of thousands of options. Use facts that are specific and unique to the school. A helpful framing to keep you focused on this is to invite comparison into your essay. What are you getting from this school that you can’t get from other schools in the area? Or on your list? Or with similar departments for your area of study?

“While other schools have X, EAP University stands out because…”

Research First

It’s important to point out that you should be doing this anyway. You don’t want to waste your senior year applying to schools that are not a great fit for you. You should research all of your choices, including safety schools. There are indeed patterns and weights schools use, but the truth is, the process is still often very subjective and you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t want to be stuck going to a school you know very little about!

You will also need research to provide clear examples of why you are interested in a particular school. In addition to general research, try to find things that make the school unique. Some examples:

  • Particular professors

  • Courses you may not find elsewhere (Not Engineering 101!)

  • Class/Teaching Options (e.g. small class sizes, project-based learning, internship courses, etc.)

  • Location

  • How students interact with one another

  • Traditions

  • Clubs not offered elsewhere or that may be run in a unique way

  • Overall ranking or ranking for your major’s department

Be Honest

This seems like an obvious piece of advice but I always verbally ask students writing a Why Us? essay why they want to go to the school in question, and they often tell me things that aren’t in their essay. You’re better off telling a school a well-written, nuanced version of the truth than a stale version of what you think they want to hear. Trust me when I tell you that it is very very very very very easy for admissions readers to tell the difference.

Tell Your Story

It is important to not only be specific about how the school stands out from others in general, but also about how it is uniquely positioned to help you on your personal journey toward adulthood. How does this particular school help you reach your goals? It is ok if you are not 100% sure about what you want to do for a career (plenty of adults are in this position!) but you can at least think about how the school will help you become the kind of adult you want to see in the mirror ten years from now.

With the Coronavirus closing schools and colleges across the United States, it can be understandable for students and their families to feel anxious, which is why I want to take some time to talk about what's going on for current seniors who are receiving their admissions decisions over the next few weeks along with the juniors and sophomores who face a bit more uncertainty on how to proceed in the months ahead.

First, let's talk about high school seniors. This is terrible timing. I'm sorry you guys are going through this. Not only will this potentially affect your senior activities like prom and senior trips as well as other traditions, but this may also affect your decision on where and how far you want to venture for college. While many colleges have canceled Accepted Student Days and onsite campus visits, colleges are working hard to make themselves available online via 1-on-1 Zoom calls, virtual events, and tours.

You may also be worried about trying to make your decision by May 1st which has traditionally been College Decision Day. How can you make a decision when you haven't had a chance to visit the school? Admissions hears you and more and more are updating their Decision Date to be June 1st with the hopes that our country will be running again by then. To check out the full list as it is being updated, click here.

Next, let's talk about the juniors as there may be quite a few thoughts on your mind. For some of you, the SATs or ACTs were canceled this past weekend. Then you found out that CollegeBoard just canceled the makeup test for the SAT for later this month as well as the April test. The ACT just postponed its April test to be in June. Then there's the question of AP exams and subject tests. I get it...there's a lot of moving pieces.

First, take this time to prep for your later test. You have been granted more time to study for them. Many educational resources are free for these next few weeks and months, including the mini-workshops I will be giving for free on my Parents Passionate about College Admissions Facebook page. Take advantage of them.

There will be tests in June, August, and September, so you have more opportunities ahead of you. Testing companies are going to try to do the right thing.

Next, know that admissions and educators are trying to also do the right thing and some have already announced that they will be going test-optional for the upcoming admissions season. You can also help reduce your stress by balancing your list with some test-optional schools. You can find the list here.

Now, how about all this 'free' time you guys have now? First, spend it taking care of your health and that of your families. Most high school students are overworked and sleep-deprived. Catch up on sleep first. Your body will thank you. It will also help you stay healthy.

Next, take some time to think about all the things you've wanted to do but haven't had a chance to but can still do virtually. Here's a few to get you started.

1) Help your community. While it is encouraged to stay at home to flatten the curve and only run out for the necessities, think about how you can help your local community. Do you have elderly or immune-compromised neighbors? Can you help do their grocery shopping for them? Love kids and are not sick? Perhaps you can offer free childcare for people who have to work, like doctors and nurses or those that need to be working at grocery stores and pharmacies.

2) Explore your intellectual interests. Here are 450 free Ivy League courses, plus you can also check out Coursera for free courses.

3) Spend some time indulging in your personal interests. From listening to free opera from the Met to learning how to draw, follow your heart and see where it leads. Perhaps you'll find a new passion, like cooking.

4) Work on the college admissions process through taking the time to research your college list and major more. Spend more time building relationships with your teachers, counselors, and colleges virtually. Get a head start on your personal statement. The prompts are out for Common App.

5) Connect. Connect with your loved ones. With Facetime and the internet, being physically separated doesn't mean you can't grow closer with the ones in your home or ones that are not nearby.

What are you planning to do? Wishing everyone good health!

#coronavirus #collegeadmissions #SAT #ACT

As the college admissions scandal has made clear over the past week, the anxiety, stress, and competition of college admissions can make families go to extreme measures to help their children improve (or in the case of the scandal “guarantee”) their chance of being accepted by their ideal school.

Through my work with both pro-bono with families of limited means and also with “privileged” clients, these are strategies I utilize for all of them to help them maximize their chances at their top choices — and it doesn’t cost thousands of dollars or require breaking the law. If you have a teen in high school, here are four strategies you can use to help them gain an edge in admissions beyond just completing the application.

Invest Time in Building Genuine Relationships

As someone once said, “love can’t be bought.” While it would seem that an acceptance can be bought from admissions in this scandal, it is not only rare but also clearly unethical and illegal.

Students who want to gain an ethical edge on their application can do so by investing the time and effort to create genuine relationships with admissions representatives. This is especially important for colleges and universities that measure the level of an applicant’s interest during the admissions.

A few ways to do this are: While visiting a school in person for an information session and campus tour is an ideal way to do this, students don’t need to spend that type of money to build a connection. Students can take advantage of when admissions representatives are in the area for college fairs and local high school visits or simply by sending them a well-written note.

Students I have worked with who do this not only grow in their communication skills but have also even gained acceptance to their “stretch” schools. One of my students felt like they wouldn’t be able to get into their dream school because she had C’s and D’s on their transcript. She connected with her regional admissions representative and by the time he visited her school, he called her out by name!

Remember, money is a poor substitute for genuine connections that don’t cost anything to build.

Don’t Obsess Over the Perfect Resume

Decades ago, the buzzword for what a perfect resume for college would look like was “well-rounded.” The truth is colleges don’t need well-rounded or “jack of all trade” students.

They want students that are talented and passionate in a few key areas — and most importantly, they don’t care which ones. As I told a parent who was adamant about having their child join a sport for their resume, “he doesn’t have to join a sport. Let him spend time doing what he enjoys.”

For example, a student of mine that had an interest in computer science would volunteer as a teacher’s assistant for a local robotics class and participate in hackathons on the weekend, in addition to being part of his high school’s computer science club.

As admissions have shared numerous times, there isn’t a formula for a perfect resume or admissions profile. So, stop obsessing about having everything on the resume, spend your time on what you care about — academically and personally — and be able to explain your choices. It’s easier to speak to your interests and where you spend your time if it comes from the heart.

Make Admissions’ Job Easier for Them

When I first started working after college, I received some words of wisdom that I share with my students today, “your job is to make your boss look good and you do that through making their job easier for them.”

Similarly, in admissions, there will be different readers who will be fighting for their favorite candidates, including you! The one question that they are all trying to answer is, “is this student a good fit for my institution?” Students can help themselves stand out by customizing their application, especially their responses to supplemental essay questions by focusing on how pieces of their admissions profile align well with the college’s mission, values or offerings. Admissions is trying to picture what type of impact you’ll have on their community if admitted. By doing your research and customizing your application to match up with the school, you’re making their job easier of connecting the dots to understand how you’re a great match for their school, but its really important that the impact you hope to have is genuine.

Get the Scores You Need to Qualify and Move On

While standardized test scores can play a significant role in merit scholarships, their role in admissions has diminished over the years as evidenced by the increasing amount of colleges that choose to go test-optional. Colleges recognize that there isn’t a strong correlation between standardized test scores and success at their institution. Rather, its use in the admissions practice for many schools, especially those who view students holistically is to qualify the student. Overall, it’s not the factor that helps the student get accepted to the school in the end.

So, work to get the scores you need to qualify for the school and then focus your time on the factors that actually might get you accepted at the school, like extracurricular activities you are genuinely interested in, essays, and experiences that help you grow as an individual.

I want to share my motto from when I was applying for college as a first-generation college student because it decreased my anxiety and stress and put the power where it belonged — with me. “This is me. Take it or leave it.” While it certainly is bold and even a little cocky, the point is you should go to a school that values and wants you too, because they are going to give you the opportunities you deserve — and have rightfully earned.

Anna Ren is the founder of Elite Advantage Prep College Admissions Consultingand the co-host of the top 10 iTunes podcast on college admissions, College Admissions with Mark and Anna.

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