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Category: College Prep

College Essays: How to Slay Your First Draft?

Things I hear during application season:

“I read a bunch of college essays on ____ site to help me understand what I should be writing.”

“My friend/parent/older sibling told me I should do _____ – is that OK?

And on it goes.

Write College Essays DraftWhy is writing for college applications so very difficult? Why does it stir up so much doubt? Because of fear. Fear of looking silly. Fear of writing the wrong thing. Fear of being REJECTED.

When it comes to college essays, you often feel that the stakes could not be higher.

What should you do? Reframe the task. College admissions officers want to hear what you have to say. They are not out to play “gotcha” – they actually want to get to know you. That’s what your college essays are all about. How can you help them to see the real you? Let’s dive into that first draft!

 

 

How important is your college essay? Check out our post on Why The College Essay Matters

 

brainstorming and plan your college essay contentInsight #1: Channel Your Creativity!

Great writing starts with great…pre-writing. Yes, brainstorming! A simple pen with paper will do. So will sticky notes, or, if you like being able to move, erase, etc. your ideas, I highly recommend using a mind-mapping software (Coggle and Miro are examples). Check your environment – is being at home too distracting? Hit the library or literally take a hike (and bring your notebook with you).

 

 

 

 

Insight #2: Let Your Inner Editor Wait Its Turn

 

let your thoughts flow when you write your college essay draftsIf you are worried about your writing, while you are writing it, this means your editor and writer selves are battling for control. Who is the captain? The editor or the writer? If the answer is “both” that means the boat goes nowhere (“boat” in this metaphor being your draft). When you notice your inner editor interfering, questioning, or otherwise stopping the writing process, try thanking it for showing up and asking it to wait a while until it is time to work. When will that be? AFTER the first draft.

 

Writer’s block? Read more about Overcoming Writers Block

Insight #3: You are Feeling the Pain of Learning How to Write About…You

Quick, grab any adult you know and show them some of these college essay questions. Would they love to answer these? Of course not. They are difficult! So part of this process is learning that the discomfort of learning how to write about yourself doesn’t mean you are “good” or “bad” at it – it just means you are learning.

 

Insight #4: Everyone Can Do A GREAT Job

No matter how you feel about your writing skills, it is highly unlikely that you have written anything like this before. Do you think that my students who have written novels and scripts, or have worked on their school newspapers sailed through the applications process without a care in the world? Nope! If you write well, your fears may be even more pronounced than someone who feels less confident about their writing. Why? Because you know that you can always do a better job.

What if you struggle in English classes? That is also OK. I have worked with students who aren’t native English speakers, and they are still able to express themselves well in their college applications. How??? The fact that the process of writing your college essays is difficult. Keep in mind that your first draft does not predict the later quality of your work. At Insight, we work with students through one draft after the next, and every iteration pushes their college essays toward greatness. Don’t feel discouraged if your first few drafts aren’t perfect. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and making consistent progress – that is what matters!

 

Insight #5: You Are The Expert of Your Life

Lastly, something to remember is that you have had 11 years of people telling you to listen and follow their lead. It can be shocking to realize that colleges want to hear from you. It is a completely different dynamic. My goodness – now someone wants to hear what I have to say? It takes some acclimatization. However strange it may sound, you are actually an expert – on your own life. You are 100% qualified to discuss it.

 

Want more college essay tips? Check out 5 Tips for Your College Essays

 

I hope these college essay insights help you as you move through your drafts this summer/fall. Happy Writing!

 

Need help with your college essays? We are here for you! Schedule a 1-hour personalized college planning session with an Insight Counselor today to learn how we can help you write your college essays!

 


Written by Meilin Obinata

This article is written by Insight Senior College Admissions Counselor Meilin Obinata.

Meilin Obinata is a Senior College Counselor who enjoys learning from her students. She believes education is a creative endeavor and creates a space that allows students to explore new ideas. As a Bay Area native who grew up in Santa Cruz, she is familiar with the local schools. Read her full bio here.

How to Write the “Why Major” or “Why College” Essays?

During the college admissions process, you may come across many supplement essays. The most challenging one is the “why” essay. Generally, these college essay prompt asks, “Why do you want to attend our school” or “why do you want to study this specific major?”

 

(Rather watch a video instead? Check out Senior College Admissions Counselor Zach’s video on How to Write the “Why Major” and “Why College” Essays!)

 

What Do College Admissions Officers Want to See in a “Why College” Essays?

It depends on the specific college or the specific program you are applying to. When you respond to the “why college” essay, you want to address the reasons that you’re drawn to that college. Essentially, you’d share what you find unique and different about that particular university.

 

Think of the “why college” essay like a love letter. There are thousands of colleges out there you can apply to, but what makes this college THE ONE? A good “why college” essay is based on in-depth research. You really have to do your homework! Don’t just jot down the first few things you see on the college’s website. Dig deep. What are some of the opportunities that this university offers that draw you in? How do you find yourself fitting perfectly into the campus culture? Why is this college the best fit for you academically or socially? What are some of your personal goals and values that can only be achieved at this school?

 

Just like any love letter, you want the reader to feel special. The why essay should not feel generic. The easiest way to check if your why essay is too general is to substitute the name. If you can replace “College A” with “College B” in your essay and it still reads fine, then you need to rewrite and be more specific.

 

What about a “Why Major” Essay?

The “why major” essay is specific to what you are hoping to accomplish or what career path you hope to be on in the future. Not every high school student knows exactly what they want to do. That’s perfectly normal. For those who are undecided or those who have several interests, be as clear as possible on what you are trying to achieve. What drives you to this set of majors? What do you hope to explore within this particular program?

 

For those who have a better idea of what they want to do, you’d want to research the resources that this major (or program) offers. What classes are available? Why do you find them intriguing? What research opportunities are offered? What facilities and labs will you be able to utilize? What professors would you study or research under? You want to demonstrate that you’ve really looked into this program, and only this major/program at this school can offer you the unique chance to achieve your goals.

 

How to Write a Good Why Essay?

Be specific! The more focused you are on expressing what attracts you, the better. The why essay is as much about you as it is about the school (or program or major). Don’t rely on samples or templates that are out there. You may want to talk to friends or alum who went to this college, but what they tell you to write might not make good content.

 

This really needs to be about you. Think about it from the admissions officer’s perspective. They are reviewing thousands and thousands of applications. You don’t want to sound like just any average joe. You don’t want your love letter to this school/program/major to sound generic. You want it to be unique. You want it to be authentic and specific. You want your own voice to come out. Most importantly, you want your why essay to supplement your personal statement.

 

A good why essay should provide another dimension to who you are. You shouldn’t repeat information that’s already in the activity section or your personal statement. Ultimately, a good why essay shares why this college is a good fit for you while allowing the college admissions officers to get to know more about you.

 

Sounds Great! How Do I Get Started?

One way to get started on your why essay is to ask – “What did you enjoy doing?” You want to reflect on what you’ve done thus far. Think back on your high school years and what you have accomplished so far. What are the ways you can continue excelling at the college level? How can this college help you grow?

 

For example, if you have been involved in certain charity work and you love it, look for opportunities on this college campus that will allow you to explore this. What are the ways this college or program will help you expand this experience? If you have started a particular research at the high school level, you will have access to more resources, better tools, and professors that can help you to further your research. It may lead to jobs and future career paths.

 

Another way is to visit the college. Check out research opportunities online. Walk around the campus. Join a virtual information session. Schedule informational interviews with alumni. Essentially, use all the possible resources to learn more about this college. This can help you convey why you are drawn to this school with detailed examples and reasons.

 

The key point to remember as you write your why essay: you want this college (or major) to do as much for you as you can for it.

Need professional guidance for your college essays? Schedule a personalized one-hour consultation with our College Admissions Counselor


Written by Zach Pava

This article is inspired by an interview by Insight Senior Counselor Zach Pava.

Zach has guided hundreds of students throughout the college admissions process. His extensive writing background includes essay contributions online and in print, a sports blog, screenplays, and film reviews. Contact Insight Education today to schedule an initial consultation with Zach. Read his full bio here.

How to Build Your College List

There are so many college ranking systems – US News might be the most famous one in the USA, but there are also lists from the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, just to name a few. Can’t you just copy/paste a college list from one of these and call it a day?

Nope!

Because these lists often include hundreds and hundreds of schools, after seeing the common “name-brand” choices, they might just blend together so that you mentally check out – and overlook many excellent choices. Or maybe you decide against applying to certain schools because of the sheer intimidation factor. The rankings systems at best could be a place to start your research but you cannot substitute their judgment for yours!

 

College List Insight #1: RESEARCH, RESEARCH, AND MORE RESEARCH

knowing your priorities and asking universities the right questions can help you build a personalized college listYou will need to make a customized list for yourself for deciding where exactly you would like to apply. Yes, that means doing all kinds of research to get to know colleges to see what would be a great fit for you. It means attending in-person or virtual events to get to know the student body and personnel. It means really digging deep to understand what is most important to you as you emerge from high school. What is really going to help you grow? What do you really need? Reflecting on your wants, needs, and goals is essential for making a good college list. What if you have no idea what you are looking for? Then, start as soon as possible to take stock and identify what are the deal-breakers for you.

One of my students told me that she could not apply anywhere close to skiing sites because she would ditch school for skiing and not study at all. This was incredibly honest of her! Indeed, she ended up applying and ultimately attending *flat* locales (and was very happy).

 

College List Insight #2: SEE YOURSELF AT THE COLLEGE

As much care as you might put into choosing your next pair of shoes, you will want to put one thousand times that effort when you are looking at colleges. How much time do students spend on their classes? Do they connect with professors? Are you extremely independent about academics? Or is having a community of utmost importance? You can look at what majors are popular at a college, or one which is impacted (ones for which demand is greater than supply). What kinds of extracurricular activities, hands-on work or real-world experiences can you access through that college? How do you want to meet schoolmates? If you have loved music all your life as a performer, is there a way for you to continue channeling that joy where you land?

Summer Plans? Top 10 Summer Tasks for College Admissions

 

College List Insight #3: HOW DO YOU LOVE TO LEARN – AND LIVE?

For any college on your list, are you feeling like the college matches how you see learning – and does it meet you where you are at, right now in your learning journey? It won’t just be your brain going to college – it will be your entire personality. I heard from a senior who told me that she was so glad that she did not “live” for colleges – she lived her high school life with enjoyment and spent time doing what she loved – without regrets. She told me, “I put myself first.” That might seem obvious – who would not put themselves first – but that is not what everyone does in high school.

Building a college list is about best-fit for you not rankingI think this sentiment is important because so many students are scared about being authentic and allow colleges to dictate what they do. Choosing colleges that match who YOU are is so much more important than trying to fit into what you think they want from you. Keeping this in mind – that you are focusing on you – as you look for colleges that you want to consider for your college list – will help you stay centered and calm.

 

Takeaways

– Think about how you truly love to learn, and what you need to do that
– Lovingly research each college, allocating plenty of time to do so
– Try to imagine your life at the college – even if that seems very fuzzy right now
– Check for obvious deal-breakers
– Stay calm and centered by matching colleges which are going to be a great fit for YOU!

 

Read more:  Balance Your College List: Really Focus on What YOU Want

 


Written by Meilin Obinata

This article is written by Insight Senior College Admissions Counselor Meilin Obinata.

Meilin Obinata is a Senior College Counselor who enjoys learning from her students. She believes education is a creative endeavor and creates a space that allows students to explore new ideas. As a Bay Area native who grew up in Santa Cruz, she is familiar with the local schools. Read her full bio here.

College Facts Friday: Georgia Tech

In this week’s #CollegeFactsFriday, we are heading to Atlanta to learn more about Georgia Institute of Technology (aka. Georgia Tech).

 

 1. A coin toss at graduation? In 1890, the first two engineers graduated from Georgia Tech. To decide who had the honor of receiving the first degree, they tossed a coin.

 2. Georgia Tech has a unique mechanical mascot, the Ramblin’ Reck. It is a 1930 Ford Model A Sport Coupe that is painted in the school’s color of old gold and white.

 3. Are you a super sports fan? Meet the Goldfellas! You can spot them at every home football game, fully painted in yellow and black to look like the mascot Buzz.

 4. Another tradition before Homecoming game is the Cake Race. Freshmen are encouraged to participate, and everyone races the half a mile toward the stadium, where the winners receive cakes (but everyone gets a cupcake).

 5. Georgia Tech was founded in 1885. At the time, the campus only had two buildings. Now there are over 160 buildings sitting on the 400 acres of campus.

 6. After 67 years, the first class of women students was admitted in 1952.

 7. Think you will escape the bell schedule once you graduate high school? Think again. At Georgia Tech, the steam whistle blows five minutes to the hour-to-end classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

 8. Some of the well-known Georgia Tech alumni included Jimmy Carter, Susan Still Kilrain (NASA astronaut), J. Paul Raines (CEO of GameStop), and Barbara “Bobbi” Morse (fictional character from Marvel Comics).

 9. It is one of a handful of NCAA Division 1 football teams without the word “University” in its name. A few others are Boston College and Dartmouth College.

 10. Want to learn more about Georgia Tech? Follow them on social media (Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook)

 

Recommendation Letters: the Great vs. the Not-So-Good

Letters of recommendation can play a key role in the college admissions process. Many colleges, especially private universities, view their applicants holistically. They want to know who you are as a “whole person,” rather than focusing on only your academics or test scores. That’s why your college essays and your recommendation letters are important to college admissions offices. They share who you are, what your values are, and where you aspire to be.

 

In this article, we will share five sample letters: some stellar and some not so great. The first letter is from a Biology teacher, the second from an AP Chemistry teacher, the third from a mentor, the fourth from an AP Computer Science teacher, and the fifth from an AP English teacher. After each letter, we will also provide insights into what makes an amazing letter of recommendation and what pitfalls you should avoid.

 

Sample Recommendation Letter #1: Brian

Dear Office of Undergraduate Admissions,

I first met Brian in his freshman year of high school. He was a student in my ninth-grade biology class. From the beginning, he contributed to class discussions and always had a positive approach to new material. During our unit on plants, he did unassigned research on his own time away from school and approached me during open office hours to discuss his findings. I was always impressed with his initiative and enthusiasm for the subject.

Since that time, I have transitioned to teaching AP Biology, and I was fortune to have Brian in my class again during his junior year. He consistently excelled with labs and achieved consistently high marks throughout the year. He brings energy to every discussion. That spring, he began to tutor other students who needed support as well. His willingness to help his peers was admirable, especially during the busiest stretch of the year when he was preparing for multiple AP exams. Currently, he is helping me as a teaching assistant during his senior year, while maintaining a full course schedule and applying to college.

Last summer, Brian volunteered at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose. During his time there, he was able to shadow doctors and nurses and interact with patients. He regularly communicated questions to those with more experience and has already expressed interest in continuing to volunteer his time next summer before he heads off to college. His desire for knowledge and the care he shows to other people leaves no doubt that he has a wonderful future ahead, not only as a biology major in college, but also as a young man who will make valuable contributions to society.

Please reach out to me at rcarson@insight.education should you need more information.

Sincerely,
Mrs. Carson

Insights to this letter of recommendation

This is a great letter of recommendation from Mrs. Carson. From this recommendation letter, we can tell that she knows Brian well and has high opinions of him. Mrs. Carson shares specific anecdotes of Brian, showing that he made a powerful impression. She doesn’t describe Brian as “a good student;” she shares examples of his unassigned research and his willingness to help others.

You could argue that Mrs. Carson remembers Brian because he was her student for two years and later her teaching assistant. You wouldn’t be wrong. It’s important to whom you ask for recommendation letters. Your interactions and relationships with the recommenders are far more important than your grades in the class. From her letter of recommendation, you can tell Brian exhausted his resources to learn everything he could about biology. He asked Mrs. Carson for help in his independent research in ninth grade. He actively participated in her AP Biology class discussions. He devoted his time to become her teaching assistant. While Brian did all these activities to pursue his interest in biology, no doubt he made a strong impression for Mrs. Carson to take her time and energy to craft together a glowing recommendation letter.

 

It’s important to whom you ask for a recommendation letter. Your interactions and relationships with the recommenders are far more important than your grades in the class.

 

What does this recommendation letter tell the admissions office?

private colleges may require recommendation letters as part of the admissions process

The college admissions officers could have already seen Brian’s courses and his AP Biology test score. They may even know Brian is a strong student with an interest in biology. Ms. Carson’s recommendation letter confirms Brian’s enthusiasm for biology. In addition to his academic interests and grades, Ms. Carson shared that Brian loves to help others, even if he must squeeze time out of his busy schedule.

From her letter of recommendation, Ms. Carson paints a picture of an overachiever who is not only intellectually curious but also compassionate. Her belief that Brian will “make valuable contributions to society” really helps to add weight to his college application.

 

Sample Recommendation Letter #2: Catherine

Dear Admissions Committee,

I am writing this letter of recommendation in support of Catherine’s application for undergraduate admission in the chemistry program at Insight University.

I was Catherine’s teacher for AP Chemistry last year. She is a strong honors student, who received excellent grades on all classwork and exams. Catherine submits her work on time and gets along well with her classmates. Aside from getting an A+ in my class, Catherine also received a 5 on her AP Chemistry exam at the end of the year.

She is involved in a number of school clubs and summer research programs pertaining to Chemistry. Catherine’s dedication to her interest in the subject matter has impressed me, and I am confident that she will continue to demonstrate the same commitment in college. I look forward to seeing her future pursuit of her interests at your institution and offer my endorsement of her.

Sincerely,
Mr. Pauling

 

Insights to this letter of recommendation

Compared this letter to the first letter, the length is shorter, and the language is vague. We can tell that Catherine did really well in AP Chemistry, but her grade and AP scores can be easily found on her application. Mr. Pauling did not offer any specifics about Catherine’s clubs and summer research programs, which shows his lack of personal knowledge of Catherine.

However, this could be prevented had Catherine provided a resume when she asked for the letter of recommendation. School teachers work with hundreds of students per year. They may remember anecdotes of your behavior in their classes, but teachers will have a hard time recalling which specific summer research program you participated in. Thus, it’s a good idea to provide them with relevant details when you ask for the recommendation letters.

a resume or a list of your achievements can help your teachers with the letter of recommendation

 

It could be helpful for your recommender if you prepare a resume or a short list of your achievements.

 

 

What does this recommendation letter tell the college admissions office?

This letter is unlikely to add any positive value to Catherine’s application. Compared with her application, this recommendation letter arguably offers less information. We don’t even know the name of the school clubs Catherine was in.

A good letter of recommendation provides additional facets or dimensions of “you” in the college application. From this letter, we know Catherine was a good student. College admissions offices need more than that; they want to know your character traits and what your values are. It is one thing to learn your traits from your personal statement, but it speaks volumes when those same traits are observable by others around you as well.

 

Sample Recommendation Letter #3: Kyle

To whom it may concern,

I am writing this letter in support of Kyle. I have been Kyle’s tennis coach for the last two years at Insight High School and I look forward to this season, when he will be one of three co-captains on the varsity team.

Kyle only joined the tennis team during his sophomore year, and as such he had to catch up with peers who had been playing longer. However, Kyle led by example from the beginning. He was always on time and prepared for practice. Additionally, he was always willing to take constructive feedback. Despite a meticulous approach to developing his skills and being hard on himself after the occasional mistake, he has always remained approachable. He has excellent communication skills and has never shied away from a challenge.

Now a stronger player than he has ever been, teammates turn to his for support. This is especially true of younger teammates who want to challenge themselves by competing with those more advanced. As a mentor, Kyle has really hit his stride and showcased exceptional leadership ability. In fact, he even set up a private meeting with a teammate who was considering leaving the team after a poor performance. Kyle inspired his teammate and motivated her to continue. The only reason I know about this meeting is because the younger student who needed support told me how great Kyle has been in helping her through a tough time.

People gravitate to Kyle, and I think that will be evident as he continues to compete at the next level.

If you have further questions, you may contact me at (xxx) xxx-xxxx.

Regards,
Coach Roger

 

Insights to this recommendation letter

Unlike the previous three examples, this one is from a mentor. Depending on the college’s admissions requirement, you may need to find letters of recommendation outside of the classroom. You want to pick someone with whom you have a good rapport, work closely with, and have known for some time. For example, a mentor from your year-long volunteering experience or a manager from your part-time job.

Always double-check the college admissions requirement on letter of recommendation before you make your selection. Some high schools also have rules on who/when you can ask for recommendation letters, too. 

In this case, Coach Roger was Kyle’s tennis team coach for more than two years. In two simple examples, Coach Roger explained in detail what sets Kyle apart. Kyle is hardworking, disciplined, and motivating. We may not know what Kyle’s grades looked like or how challenging his academic curriculum was, but that doesn’t make Kyle any less of an appealing candidate. We admire his courage in the face of challenging times and his thoughtfulness when helping his teammates.

 

What does this recommendation letter tell the college admissions officers?

From Coach Roger’s letter, we can see who Kyle is beyond his grades and GPA. Kyle has the qualities that allow him to succeed in school, and more importantly, those qualities will help him excel in life. These qualities, also known as non-cognitive factors, are essential in holistic admissions. They are related to motivation, integrity, temperament, attitude, and interpersonal skills. College admissions officers seek out students who possess these non-cognitive factors because these students are likely to continue to thrive and grow.

 

Sample Recommendation Letter #4: Aaron

To whom it concerns,

This letter is for Aaron. I met him in August when he joined my AP Computer Science class. He previously took Java and has begun to demonstrate more interest in the field. Despite not having a long relationship with Aaron, he has been a good student this year and typically earns As and Bs on tests. He wants to get involved in more CS-related activities and recently took part in his first hackathon.

I told Aaron how competitive CS is, and we have discussed related fields such as data science. His goal is to work at a tech startup in the Bay Area. I think that with hard work and more focus on his chosen major, he will find success as an undergraduate student.

Aaron is a good kid with a bright future ahead of him.

Best,
Mrs. Turring

 

Insights to this letter of recommendation

building a genuine relationship is the best way to a strong recommendation letterMrs. Turring’s description of Aaron is generic. It lacks passion. The specific details she was able to share are information already listed in Aaron’s application, such as his grades and activities. In this case, Aaron could help himself by sharing why he wanted to learn Java or what his hackathon experience was. Strike up small talk with your teachers, even simple things like asking about their day and sharing something meaningful to you. This is not just about getting a good letter of recommendation; you’re learning to build an important skill, which is fostering relationships with people from different backgrounds and age groups.

Read more: Tips for Strong Letters of Recommendation

 

What does this recommendation letter tell the admissions office?

This recommendation letter tells colleges that Aaron is interested in CS, which is a very competitive major. If he is interested in a career path pertaining to computer science, we would expect more interactions with his AP Computer Science teacher. Actually, this letter causes a slight concern because Mrs. Turring thought Aaron needs “more focus on his chosen major.”

 

Sample Letter of Recommendation #5: Edie

Dear Admissions Office,

I proudly write on behalf of Edie and her ambition to attend your university. I am fortunate to have Edie as a student in our school’s AP English Language course, a two-year class tailored for the most creative and rhetorically gifted students on our campus. Though amongst the elite, Edie represents the best of the students I am honored to teach based on her intelligence, creativity, broad scope of talents and contributions to our school and community, and leadership. However, atop her catalog of attributes, Edie is one of the most kind, respectful, and outgoing students I have ever had in my twenty-seven years of teaching. I hope my following words of praise improve Edie’s opportunity for admittance.

Last year, Edie instantly proved her willingness to contribute to the classroom. Though many times exhausted from her litany of extracurricular demands or her taxing AP schedule, Edie arrived to class smiling and beyond any definition of simply participating in class. Her genuine positive energy cascaded throughout the classroom each day making everyone in the room smile, including me. Edie also shattered the expectations I had on every assignment whether academic or creative. To link with Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Edie creatively illustrated her own A Streetcar Named Life, using images and quotes encapsulating life’s challenges and inspirations. Her command of language equally impressed on both AP timed writings and other rhetorical tasks. Below is a brief excerpt from Edie’s own apocalyptic tale imitating the fragmented style of Cormac McCarthy after reading The Road.

Papa felt weak. He felt it overcome him like the shadows during Lights Out, mother says. So papa left. into the dark. Mother says papa left us fighting the dark alone. I don’t think we should fight the dark. The dark is my best friend the only friend I have ever known. The dark lets me feel, lets me feel weak.

People gravitate to Kyle, and I think that will be evident as he continues to compete at the next level.

Yet, Edie’s most impressive effort was her year-long independent study project. For the TAG curriculum, students are encouraged to choose a passion of theirs to explore, create, and practice beyond the traditional bounds of a research paper. Edie chose human experiences. Of her eight installments, Edie proved the elasticity of her mind and heart. She wrote random notes of kindness to strangers, friends, family, and even our entire class. She paid it forward in our community, wrote beautiful, humanistic poetry, conquered a few of her fears, and provided insight on many of life’s most inspirational quotes. I particularly liked how one of her favorite quotes is also mine by Bruce Lee. Do not pray for an easy life; pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.

Without reciting Edie’s entire resume, her accomplishments and leadership are many. With all these achievements, you might expect an overzealous, arrogant student to walk through your doors. Edie is not. she smiles more than anyone and exudes the utmost respect for everyone in the room. It is refreshing to be around such a talented and accomplished student who also has such a great sense of humor and modesty. I offer Edie my highest recommendation as she is a student for even adults to emulate. She works so hard on every assignment that I almost feel guilty assigning it. Almost.

There are many more examples and anecdotes of Edie’s efforts. If what I stated above served not as acknowledgment enough, I hope my own daughter becomes the same type of student and person Edie represents. I know she will make an excellent contribution to your campus and lives. She has mine. If there is anything additional I can offer to help Edie’s opportunity, please do not hesitate to request.

With Sincerity,
Edward Insight

 

Insights to this letter of recommendation

While Mr. Edward Insight focused his entire letter on Edie’s performance in his class, this letter is significantly different from Catherine’s recommendation letter. Mr. Insight phrased his letter of recommendation carefully to deliver his respect for Edie. From the first paragraph, we already learn that he thought of Edie as the best of the best because of her academic performance and her characteristics. Mr. Insight listed many anecdotes to support his view of Edie, and he even shared a piece of her work for the college admissions office to experience her creative writing.

From this recommendation letter, you can almost picture what Edie looks like, and she sounds like a very charming, open-minded, and compassionate person. That’s what makes this so powerful. A well-written letter of recommendation makes the student come to life for the college admissions officers.

 

What does this recommendation letter tell the college admissions office?

This recommendation letter shouts, “Pick her!” It makes us want to meet Edie and get to know her more. This is the kind of letter you want to have: specific, passionate, and well-crafted. Mr. Insight hopes for the best for Edie, and he wants to help her achieve her dream. This is not a letter that you can write in five minutes or half an hour. He spent the time choosing his words and examples to make a strong impression on the college admissions officers.

 

Final Thoughts

Recommendation letters can make or break a college admissions decision. It’s important whom you ask and how you ask. At Insight, our counselors encourage and help students build relationships with their teachers. Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Don’t stress! We are here to help. Schedule your 1-hour personalized college planning session with an Insight Counselor today!

 

Best of Luck,

Team Insight

College Facts Friday: UC Davis

Happy Friday! You know what this means – YES, another round of quick #CollegeFacts! This week we are checking out one of the UCs. Located less than an hour away from the California state capital, UC Davis has a lot to offer.

 

  1. A fan of Tolkien and sustainability? Students at UCD can apply to live at the UC Davis Domes (also known as Baggins End). These cute little yurts are part of the cooperative housing run by the Solar Community Housing Association.

 

  1. UC Davis has the best program in Viticulture and Enology (the study of grape growing and winemaking). In fact, people in the wine industry state that there are just two degrees of separation between the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology and anyone in the wine world.

 

  1. UCD has the largest campus size of all UC schools. It’s 5300 acres! It began as a farm school for UC Berkeley and grew into a world-renown college offering 103 different undergraduate majors.

 

  1. The Eggheads are seven white sculptures scattered across the Davis campus. They are the work of artist and UC Davis Professor Robert Arneson from 1989.

 

  1. You don’t need to fly to London to ride a vintage double-decker bus. You can ride them at UC Davis! The Associated Students of the University of California, Davis (ASUCD), purchased the first two used buses and put them into service on February 28, 1968.

 

  1. UC Davis has the biggest open house every year in April called Picnic Day. With over 125,000 attendees, it is the largest student-run event in the country.

 

  1. Are you a dog lover? During finals, you can get some Fluffy Therapy. UCD partners with local animal groups to bring in certified therapy dogs and rescue pets to help students de-stress.

 

  1. Another fun tradition is the Doxie Derby. During the annual Picnic Day, dachshunds from around the Sacramento area gather to race!

 

  1. Davis is also known as the Bicycle Capital of the US with 98% of its streets friendly to cyclists!

 

  1. Want to learn more about UC Davis? Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok!

 

 

Waitlist and Appeal – What Should You Do?

We always look forward to this time of year filled with excitement — the time when college decisions are released. It marks years of hard work and dedication. It also brings with it hope for the future and a new beginning. And while we celebrate acceptances and struggle with denials, many don’t know how to react to getting waitlisted. In this article, we will explain waitlisting and what you can do, as well as whether you should appeal a denial.

 

(More of a visual learner? Check out our video on Waitlist and Appeal HERE.)

 

What is a waitlist offer?

A waitlist offer means that the college finds that you are a great fit, but it cannot offer you a position at this stage. The reason that you are on the waitlist may vary from school to school and from year to year. Being on the waitlist tends to conjure more disappointment than hope. This is mainly because most don’t understand what the waitlist means and because students are truly just tired of waiting any longer. Many students take this to mean that they fell short or that they are a college’s second, third or 40th choice.

 

But what does being offered a position on the waitlist mean?

Colleges have limited seats available to offer which leaves admissions officers having to make some tough choices. When they are offering you a waitlist position, they are sending you the message that they think you are a great fit for the class and your accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. You would be a fantastic addition to the campus, but they need to see how many admitted students will accept their offers of admissions before they pull students off the waitlist to fill any open spots in the freshman class.

Most waitlists are unranked. Colleges are not lying when they say that. It is not some ploy to appease you. Remember that admissions officers are trying to build a well-rounded class. Once the college receives the decisions from its admitted students, they then go through the waitlist to see which students would best complement the incoming class.

At this point, they may also need to evaluate the financial aid it has available to offer students. Accordingly, they will admit students off the waitlist in small batches, offering more spots as they become available. This process is usually complete no later than June, but in very rare situations we have seen students get an offer of admission from the waitlist in early August. This was particularly true during the summer of 2020 due to the impact that Covid had on admissions outcomes for the high school class of 2020.

Wondering what you can do to get off the waitlsit? Contact us today!

Although in our experience students do indeed get off waitlists successfully, it is vitally important that you not rely on a waitlist position. Unfortunately, some colleges are putting thousands of kids on a waitlist and admitting few students. In 2019, 48% of schools admitted less than 10% of students that accepted a waitlist position. Seven percent admitted no one. In that same year, the University of Michigan offered more than 12,000 students a waitlist position and only admitted 89 students. Similarly, UC Irvine offered a waitlist position to more than 17,000 students (about the seating capacity of Madison Square Garden and almost twice the size of the incoming freshman class) and offered spots to 1,600 students. Private schools are no less predictable. Dartmouth took no one off the waitlist while Boston University later offered spots to 11% of students that accepted the waitlist. Conversely, Vanderbilt is well known for the fact that ten percent of their freshman class has historically come from an original waitlist position.

While you are waiting for the waitlists to clear, you should accept a position at another school before May 1st. You should also be excited about that offer and have the full intention of attending and graduating from that university. If a waitlist offer from a school you love DOES come through, you will absolutely have the option to accept that position and withdraw from your original school. In some years, waitlists can clear as late as just a couple of weeks before classes start. You don’t want to be waiting by the mailbox – virtual or real.

 

What can I do about being waitlisted?

It may sound like the college has all the power in this situation. But you do not need to just comply and play the waiting game. Think clearly about whether or not the school or schools that offered you waitlist positions are among your top choices. You are not obligated to accept the position. If it is not a school you would seriously consider, politely turn it down and give another student a chance. Chances are that by declining a waitlist spot you are helping a student or even a close friend at your own high school. Collecting admissions offers is not the goal of the admissions process. Finding a school where you thrive both academically and socially is the actual goal.

If you do want to stay on the waitlist, you are unlikely to get a decision back before the May 1 Statement of Intent to Register (SIR) deadline. This means you must decide among the colleges that accepted you where you will attend. Do not rely on the waitlist. It is completely unpredictable how many students will be offered spots off the list. It can vary from 0 to 300 depending on the college and the year.

While you wait, be excited about your other prospects. Do your due diligence. Visit colleges. Talk to current students. Get engaged with the school you accept. Chances are strong that the college where you submit your Intent to Register is where you will be in Fall.

If you are accepted from a waitlist, you will have very little time to decide. If you decide to accept, you will need to first withdraw your Statement of Intent to Register from the school you accepted. Chances are your family will lose the deposit. It is an extremely straightforward process, and it happens every year. You are not violating any agreements or laws. They may ask you for proof that you were admitted from a waitlist.

 

Can I do something about denials? Should I appeal?

Yes, and no. We get a lot of requests to help with appeals for students who just can’t understand why they received the decision that they did. As tough as it can be to hear, more often than not, the denial decision from a college is the final decision, and launching an appeal process will be unsuccessful because they do not allow them.

However, a great reason to put an appeal together, assuming the university in question offers an appeal process, is if there was something missing from your application. Something you didn’t tell colleges about that you probably should have!

We have worked with students who have successfully appealed a denial because they were afraid to discuss something like a personal struggle that would have given colleges context about why their academic performance wasn’t as strong as it otherwise may have been. Or, not explaining a dip in grades in their application and just glossing over it, hoping that the college didn’t notice.

Another reason could be a major accomplishment may have occurred in the time between submitting the application and receiving the decision! This can be a wonderful thing to make sure the college is aware of. Not all schools will look at new information, so do your research on what constitutes the basis of an appropriate appeal for each university.

Whatever the reason may be for why essential information wasn’t included in the application, those are the types of things we will be looking for if a student comes to us wanting to launch an appeal. It needs to be based on some information that you are ADDING to your file that was missing from the original application.

So, when you receive your decisions and start to think about your next steps, keep in mind the types of information necessary to launch a successful appeal and see if you have any of those. Completing an appeal takes work, time, and emotional energy, so it is important to make sure you understand all your options and if this is the right one for you.

We work with students and families on appeals, waitlists, and college decision meetings. Reach out to us today at info@insight-education.net for more information!

 

All the very best!

Team Insight

College Facts Friday: Lehigh University

It’s another #CollegeFactsFriday! This week, we are heading to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to learn more about Lehigh University.

 

 

 1. Lehigh University’s Taylor Stadium was the third concrete stadium in the United States. It was built in 1914. The final game at the Taylor Stadium was on a frigid day where the temperature was in the mid-20s and the wind chill factor was somewhere between minus-10 and minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit.

 2. Their former mascot was the Engineers. Since 1995, Lehigh’s teams are officially known as the Mountain Hawks.

 3. The Rivalry between Lehigh University and Lafayette College went as far back as 1884.

 4. An interesting tradition until the 70s, freshmen wore “dinks,” which were small brown hats with their class years, from the beginning of fall to the first football game with Lafeyette.

 5. Hate taking the stairs? Thanks to Lehigh alumnus, Jesse W. Reno, we now have escalators. He was Class of 1883.

 6. For those of you from the Bay Area, the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed by two Lehigh alumni, Howard McClintic and Charles Marshall.

 7. The week before the first Lehigh-Lafeyette Rivalry game, Lehigh’s Marching 97 band would make a campus tour, called the Eco Flame. During Eco Flame, the marching band storms into different classrooms while playing its spirit tunes in drum cadence.

 8. One of the oldest traditions of Lehigh’s Spirit Week is their annual Turkey Trot. Students would dress up to join this 2.6-mile running and fun walk through campus.

 9. After the death of Lehigh’s founder, businessman Asa Packer, Founder’s Weekend has become an annual tradition. This weekend celebration includes a lawn party, tailgate, fun run, and more!

 10. Want to learn more about Lehigh University? Check out their social media (Twitter @LehighU, Instagram @LehighU, TikTok @lehighadmissions)

 

Top 6 Summer Activities for High School Students

Planning for the summer can be overwhelming for high school students and their families. From figuring out what’s meaningful to you to what can help you in college admissions, you may have trouble picking the “perfect” summer activities. In this article, Insight Senior College Admissions Counselor Zach Pava explains the top 6 summer activities for high school students and why you should consider them!

 

(Prefer to watch a video instead? We got you! CLICK HERE for Zach’s video.)

 

Summer Plan Looks Different from One Student to the Next

You may be tempted to join a summer program or apply for an internship because your friends are doing it, but keep in mind that this is YOUR summer. Whatever you decide to do, whether it is preparing for standardized testing or working in retail, it’s important that you build on those opportunities, so you can have a very well-rounded college application. Ultimately, you should have a terrific experience over the summer during those precious few months when you are away from school.

 

Let’s dig a little more deeply into some of these summer activities!

 

1. Taking a Course

It’s pretty self-explanatory; you are taking a class or two over the summer. Within this category, however, there may be many different reasons for joining summer classes. Some students are repeating a class to make up for a grade because they didn’t pass the class or they had withdrawn. Summer can be a great opportunity for them to focus on the class.

Read more: Help! I Got A D – Can I Still Go To A UC?

Take an enrichment course over summerSome students may choose to take a course to prepare for a very challenging course in the next school year. Having a preview of the course materials can help them stay ahead of the curve and feel prepared. For a similar reason, students may also choose to prepare for standardized tests, such as the ACT or the SAT, over the summer to help their minds stay sharp and to add positive data to their college applications.

Not sure which test to take? Read our full insight on ACT v. SAT

There are also students who are taking classes for a GPA boost. Even if their GPA is in good standing, they may have their sights set for a higher GPA. We’ve also seen students take college-level courses to explore an academic subject that they are interested in. No matter your reason, taking summer courses can be a good way to demonstrate to colleges that you care about your grades and have the academic rigor to be successful.

 

2. Volunteering

Another major area beyond coursework is volunteering over the summer. If there is a cause that you care about, go for it! Don’t volunteer for the sake of volunteering. (The same goes for any summer activities!) College admissions officers are very good at discerning if the student is doing something because they love it or just to pad their resume. One of our main functions as Insight Counselors is to help students figure out the summer opportunities that are worth their time, so they can have fun in the process and share their growth in their college essays.

Need to find your motivation to volunteering? Check out The Gift of Service: Why and How Students Should Volunteer

At Insight, we tend to give students a big list of volunteering options because finding your volunteering program can be like a contact sport. In other words, the more places you reach out to, the more likely you are going to receive a response. The process may be difficult. You may reach out to 15 or more programs and only hear back from two or three. You need to be proactive in these cold calls. You may need to follow up and call when the programs don’t respond to your emails. Colleges like these qualities in their potential candidates.

You may also be interested in 8 Unique Silicon Valley Teen Volunteering Opportunities

 

3. Student Internship

The word “internship” gets tossed around a lot, and it means different things to different people. Typically, with an internship, you are looking to apply the knowledge that you’ve learned in a classroom setting to a real-world problem. Internships exist in many areas of interest, so it’s important to first figure out what you want to do. The main point of a student internship is to gain relevant professional experience. In order to get an internship, you will often have to go through an application process involving essays, recommendation letters, and maybe even an interview.

 

Most summer internship application deadlines are between the end of December to mid-February, so as soon as Insight counselors are wrapped up with their seniors, they are usually working with juniors and sophomores on their summer internship applications (which have some similarities to college applications).

Read more: Don’t Seek Summer Internships Just To Impress Admissions Officers

 

4. Student Research

Internships are slightly different from academic research. There are summer research programs designed to pair you with a college professor or a graduate student. You can also directly reach out to professors if you find their research projects appealing (and our counselors can help you figure out how to draft those emails!) It may start with simple tasks such as data entry, but as you learn more on the subject and develop a rapport, you may find yourself with more responsibilities.

Read more: Beyond College Admissions: Why Extracurricular and Summer Activities Matter?

 

5. Getting a Job

Of all the options, getting a job is sometimes the last thing students want to consider. However, this can be a wonderful experience. Whether you get a full-time or a part-time job, you can learn about life skills, such as responsibility, punctuality, and accountability. Working with other people and dealing with situations that are out of your comfort zone can be valuable life lessons. The fact that you are also earning money at the same time is a great bonus!

 

6. Creating Your Own

While there are age restrictions and other requirements for some summer activities, this shouldn’t limit your options. You can always create your own business or conduct your own research project. Starting a new thing can be daunting. That’s why Insight Counselors guide their students through this process and help them realize their potential in creating and bringing their visions to life.

 

 

Concluding thoughts

Summer is a great time for you to explore and build. Understanding what you need and what you may want to pursue is a great starting point for you to plan your successful (and enjoyable) summer activities!

 

 


Written by Zach Pava

This article was created from an interview with Insight Senior Counselor Zach Pava.

Zach has guided hundreds of students throughout the college admissions process. His extensive writing background includes essay contributions online and in print, a sports blog, screenplays, and film reviews. Contact Insight Education today to schedule an initial consultation with Zach. Read his full bio here.

The Complete Guide to College Admissions Interview (Class of 2026)

As many of you have submitted your college applications for the 2021-2022 college admissions season, it’s important to update your calendar and check your inbox regularly for interview invitations.

 

You probably already know which schools on your list offer admissions interviews and whether the interview helps you demonstrate your interest in attending those colleges. Continue reading

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