Tag Archives: college advice

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.

The Truth Behind College Admissions: Learn what it really takes to get into College from Admissions Experts

THE TRUTH BEHIND COLLEGE ADMISSIONS

A Free Community Seminar for prospective clients, hosted by INSIGHT EDUCATION! 

 

Date: April 3, 2022

Time: 10:00am – 12:00pm

Location: Insight Education Cupertino Headquarter

Address: 1601 S De Anza Blvd, Suite 108, Cupertino, CA 95014 

 

**Three (3) people per family max, please register a ticket for each member of your family** 

 

Learn what it takes to get into the colleges of your choice in our Truth behind College Admissions Seminar! Including:  

  • How has the College Admissions Landscape changed?
  • What does Holistic Admissions really mean?
  • Why does it seem harder to get into Colleges these days? 
  • Does your High School choice matter?
  • Should you take any Standardized tests? If so, which one?
  • What do colleges truly want to see on the Applications?
  • The College Application itself
  • What can you do to maximize your chances of Admissions?
  •  

Check-in begins at 9:45am for a 10:00am presentation start time!

 

Please note, parking around the location is free but can be limited. We recommend you arrive early to find your spot. In order to keep our community safe and healthy, we ask that all attendees in live events to show proof of being fully vaccinated and boosted (if eligible) or negative COVID test results within 24 hours (Antigen) / 48 hours (PCR). Please click here to see our in-person guidelines regarding COVID vaccination/tests.

 

We look forward to seeing you at the seminar,

Team Insight

ACT vs. SAT: Which Test Should You Take?

Standardized testing remains a key part of the college admissions process. Many students and parents begin their admissions journey by comparing the SAT and the ACT. One of the most commonly asked questions for Insight Counselors is “which test is easier/better?”

The SAT and the ACT generally cover the same topics. Both ACT and SAT scores are used for college admissions decisions and awarding merit-based scholarships. Most colleges do not have a preference for which standardized test scores are submitted. Neither the SAT nor the ACT is harder than the other. The deciding factor is often your preference.

Before you dive in and pick one test over the other because all your friends are doing it, here is our detailed breakdown of both standardized tests. 

 

Insights into the ACT and the SAT

 

SAT

ACT

Purpose

 

Colleges use the SAT test scores for  admissions consideration, merit-based scholarships, and sometimes placement purposes

 

Colleges use the ACT test scores for  admissions consideration, merit-based scholarships, and sometimes placement purposes
Test Structure

Reading

Writing & Language 

Math (No-calculator section)

Math (Calculator allowed sections)

 

English

Math

Reading

Science

Essay (optional)

 

Length 3 hours

 

2 hours, 55 minutes (without essay)

3 hours, 40 minutes (with essay)

 

Test Breakdown

 

Reading

 – 52 questions, 65 minutes
 – 5 passages or pairs of passages (literature, historical documents, social sciences, and natural sciences)

Writing & Language

 – 44 questions, 35 minutes
 – Focus on grammar, vocabulary in contexts, writing and editing skills

Math (no-calculator)

 – 20 questions, 25 minutes
 – Topics cover Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Data Analysis

Math (calculator allowed)

 – 38 questions, 55 minutes
 – Same topics as no-calculator sections

 

English

 – 75 questions, 45 minutes
 – Focus on grammar, editing skills, and summarization

Math

 – 60 questions, 60 minutes
 – Topics cover Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Statistics

Reading

 – 40 questions, 35 minutes
 – 5 passages (humanities, social science, natural sciences, and literature)

Science

 – 40 questions, 35 minutes
 – Testing your critical thinking skills and ability to interpret data (NOT specific science knowledge)

 

Essay

 

None

 

 

40-minute optional essay testing your abilities to evaluate and analyze issues

 

Test Score System

 

The SAT test is scored on a scale of 400 – 1600

 

The ACT test is scored on a scale of 1 – 36
Test Dates

 

The SAT is typically offered on a Saturday in these months: March, May, June, August, October, November, and December

 

The ACT test is typically scheduled on a Saturday in these months: February, April, June, July, September, October, and December

 

Which should you focus on, the ACT or the SAT?

In our previous article, “Should You Be Taking Both the ACT and the SAT?”, Insight Senior College Admissions Counselor Zach Pava listed these three criteria:

Which test are you most comfortable with? 

Which test is the best fit from a timing perspective?

Which test can you score better on?

He also analyzed a few differences between the two standardized tests (summarized below)

 – The ACT tends to be more straightforward in its questions and presentation of material.

 – If you’re a student who is generally science-focused, and you enjoy reading, graphs, & data, the ACT may be a good fit for you.

 – The SAT allows students more time to spend on each question and therefore presents fewer timing challenges than the ACT. If you find time management to be a big obstacle, then you may want to consider the SAT.

 – The SAT contains one Math section in which no calculator is allowed. If you are not very confident with your computational skills, this may also be a point for consideration.

Compare your scores – Click here for the ACT – SAT Score Conversion Table.

However, the only way you would know for sure which test is more suitable for you is through experience. At Insight, we strongly encourage students who have not tried either test to take both for practice before making a decision. Doing this will expose you to the style and structure of both exams, and then we can establish which test you are more comfortable with in terms of content and timing, and ultimately which test youre likely to score better on.  From there, we can plan for when to take the exam, which is important because the SAT and ACT are offered on different dates and in some cases, different months throughout the year. We also want to establish a goal score for each student, as well as an end date when we want students to be finished with testing altogetherIdeally, you should be done before the start of your senior year, because once senior fall starts, your college applications truly will become a full-time class away from school, and you don’t want to have to give up valuable weekends preparing for these standardized tests.

 

Want to know which tests you should take? Contact us and schedule your full-length SAT and ACT practice tests today and see your score analysis!

 

Curious whether you should opt for test-optional? Check out our article: To Test, Or Not To Test? and see if your top choice colleges are in our List of Test Optional Colleges 2022 and Beyond

5 Tips for Your College Essays

It’s no secret that your college essays can influence your college admissions chances. You probably have been planning (and possibly stressing over) what to write and how to tell your story. Insight Senior College Admissions Counselor Jenny Bloom is here to share five tips to help you get started on your college essays!

 

(More of an audio-learner? Check out Jenny’s video here)

 

1. Start early.

 

Unlike most of the essays you’ve written in school, college essays, especially your personal statement on the Common Application, require you to introspect. You don’t want to provide a laundry list of extracurricular activities, but you shouldn’t also write about how you worked really hard and finally became captain of the team. Thousands of other students share that. To craft a college essay that helps you stand out takes time. It takes time to find your unique story. It takes time to find your own voice and express your characters. It definitely takes time to revise and rewrite. A solid college essay or personal statement is something you build up, and you can’t do that in a week or two before the application is due.

Read more: How to Answer the New 2021-2022 Common App Essay Prompt

 

2. Build a routine.

 

Once school starts, you will need to balance your classes, activities, and social time. You may find it challenging to focus on your college applications. It’s really important that you build a routine and include the college admissions tasks in your routine. Designate 30-60 minutes per day to write or edit your college essays. Sometimes it can be just doodling ideas or answering a short question about yourself. Schedule it as part of your day until it becomes a habit.

 

3. Use “I” Statements.

 

Your college essays are all about you. It’s your time to shine. You want to tell colleges what you have been through or other great qualities about you. Thus, it’s important to say “I did this” or “I learned this” to put yourself in the spotlight.

 

4. Show us. Don’t tell us.

 

It’s easy to start listing your qualities or your activities, but you want to show “why this is important to you.” Rather than saying “I care about my community,” you want to dig deep and figure out why do you want college admissions officers to know about your volunteering experience, what did you learn from it, and how is this lesson meaningful to you.

 

5. Rewrite and revise.

 

No one writes the perfect first draft. That’s why they are call drafts. Review your essays and ask yourself: “does this show who I am?” or “is this what I want colleges to know?” Be critical. Read it out loud. Ask someone you trust to read it and provide you with feedback.

 

Final Thoughts:

 

Writing college essays is not easy, but you will learn a lot about yourself during this process. Invest in the time. Seek help if you need to. As always, we are here to guide you every step of the way. If you would like a 1-hour personalized college planning session, please reach out to us via email (info@insight-education.net) or give us a call (408)252-5050.

Read more: Why The College Essay Matters

 


Written by Jenny Bloom

This article is based on our interview with Insight Senior Counselor Jenny Bloom.

Jenny has worked with a variety of students since 2012 to help them take the right steps to achieve their academic goals. Part of her philosophy is to guide students to consider how they will build and hone their skills and talents to make a difference in the world around them. Contact Insight Education today to schedule an initial consultation with Jenny. Read her full bio here.

GPA Test Prep College Admissions

Top 3 Tips to Help You Start to Prepare for College Admissions

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought changes to every aspect of our lives, from how we socialize to how we learn, and of course, to how we need to prepare for college admissions. If you are still unsure about which path to take on your college admissions journey, don’t worry – you’re not the only one.

 

While we don’t have the superpower to predict the future, Team Insight has been keeping a close monitor on the latest college admissions news and making projections that can help keep your options open as we gear up for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle.

 

Now, let’s dive in!

 

Insight Advice #1: Provide Positive Data (as much as you can).

 

A solid GPA, a progressively challenging curriculum, and well-written college essays – all of these are considered positive data about yourself. College admissions offices want to see that you can handle the academic work, but they also want to get to know you. What are your values? How do you spend your spare time? What are you devoting your time to during the summer?

 

In addition to GPA, academic profile, college essays, extracurricular activities, and awards, another positive data you can provide on your college application is test scores. A strong ACT or SAT score adds value to your college application, even for test-optional schools. In 2021, more than half of the applicants chose to submit their test scores. From the data, those who included their test scores have a higher chance of acceptance. Approximately 60% of the students who applied for Rice University submit a test score. Of the students accepted by Rice University, 80% submitted an SAT or an ACT score.

 

Insight Advice #2: Stay Informed. Prepare Ahead.

 

While we are uncertain whether test-optional admissions policies will continue, what you can do is research thoroughly into the school of your choice. Stay informed about their testing policies. Check the admissions website and their emails to see if there are any changes in test-optional policies. Most importantly, don’t wait till the last minute! It takes time to prepare for the ACT or the SAT, so plan enough time for test prep.

 

Read more: How to approach standardized testing this summer

 

At Insight, we use the term “relative to your peers” as a guide. What does it mean? In the case of testing, if your friends are planning on taking the SAT or ACT in the fall, it may be a good idea for you to take the test, too. When the admissions office evaluates your college application, they are comparing you to those similar to you, such as your high school’s graduating class. In addition, if you are applying to a competitive school or program that may have many applicants with test scores, you should also prepare for the ACT/SAT.

 

Need help improving your SAT test scores? CLICK HERE to see our summer programs

Taking the ACT instead? CHECK OUT our ACT summer boot camps

 

Insight Advice #3: Research. Research. Research.

 

The biggest 2021 college admissions trend we’ve noticed at Insight is the rise of virtual sessions. Learning about your potential school is now as easy as tapping a few keys. Attend virtual college tours. Ask your questions at virtual info sessions. Use different websites to gather information about a school of your choice. At Insight, our counselors guide students to conduct college research starting in May or earlier, and we continuously revise their list with them.

 

Read more: How to conduct virtual college visits?

 

Another trend that has been accelerated during this time is more students are applying to selective schools, which leads to decreasing acceptance rates. For example, the acceptance rate at the University of Pennsylvania in the 90s was 39%; the acceptance rate in 2021 for UPenn was 9.9%. So be practical when building your college list. Remember, every college on your list, even your safety school needs to be a school you can see yourself in.

 

Read more: Why is it important to find your Best-Fit college?

 

Concluding Thoughts

 

Even if your top schools remain test-optional, remember that test scores may still be required for scholarships or other funding opportunities. During transitions like this, you want to remain flexible and keep your options open. This may mean spending part of your summer doing test prep, but the upside is that you will not be scrambling to take the SAT or ACT at the last minute. Keeping your options open may also mean joining a virtual tour of a college you have not heard of, but you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find. As always, we are here for you! Reach out if you have any questions!

Top 3 Tips to Help You Prepare for College Admissions

 

 

Need a boost to your college admissions success?

Schedule Your 1-Hour College Planning Session

Early Decision vs. Early Action – Which to Choose?

If you are entering the college admissions process, you might have heard of these terms. You might even wonder what they are. What is the difference? Which is better for your college admissions strategy, if at all? Insight Head of College Admissions Purvi Mody is here to share with you all the insights on Early Decision and Early Action, so you can pick the option that best suits your needs.

Quick Summary

  –   Both Early action and early decision have earlier application deadlines than regular admissions.

  –   You will also receive college admissions decisions earlier, usually starting in mid-December.

  –   You can apply to as many schools as you want using EA.

  –   ED is for only one school, and it is a binding agreement, which means you have to attend when you are accepted.

“Early Decision” and “Early Action” are likely terms that you have heard before when talking about the college application process. The biggest thing to get your head around – what is the difference between the two? They have similar names but are quite different in their outcomes. 

 

 

What is Early Action?

As the name implies, your college applications are due earlier than regular application deadlines. Typical deadlines for regular applications can be December 1st and January 15, whereas early deadlines mean you’re probably submitting around November 1st. For some schools and majors, you need to complete your admissions file by mid-October.

 

There is no limit to the number of schools you can apply to using early action. This can be a great option because it means you have submitted applications to schools early in the season – they’re off your plate! But why would you want to submit your applications a month before everyone else?

 

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), early action means that “students apply early and receive a decision well in advance of the institution’s regular response date.” And that is a big advantage. You will receive your admissions decisions back earlier! You may find out in December or January about where you stand with your dream school. That may also mean you can relax and enjoy the rest of your senior year.

 

Another advantage with early action is that you do not need to commit until May 1 (the national response date), so you have almost half a year to decide and to compare financial aid packages. 

 

Though to make things confusing, some schools use restrictive early action (or single-choice early action), which is exactly like early decisions. The restrictive early action limits you to using the process only once. Thus, be diligent in your college research and weigh your options carefully before committing to applying early. 

 

What is Early Decision?

Unlike early action, early decision is binding! You can apply to only one because you are saying that if the school accepts you, you will 100% attend. Because of this commitment, colleges require signatures from you, your family, and a school counselor in order for you to apply early decision.

 

Early decision benefits students who know their first-choice college and who are confident in their odds of getting accepted. Similar to early action, you will also receive an admissions decision early, usually in December.

 

One of the challenges with early decision can be that you will not find out about other schools until later in the year. If you get into a different school that you’d actually like to attend more than your early decision school, you don’t have the option to switch. So be 100% certain about your early decision school. If you are torn on which school you would ultimately like to attend, or which major you’d like to do, early decision might not be for you.

 

Another aspect of early decision to consider is the financial side of it all. If you apply early decision, you’re telling the school that you will attend no matter what. This means they are less likely to offer you a scholarship or financial aid because they know they don’t need to add those incentives to sway you to attend their school. If you are counting on some financial help, early decision again may not be right for you.

 

Read more: Think it Through: Early Decision

 

What Are the Benefits of Applying Early?

By applying early, you stagger the deadlines, which alleviate the stress that comes with stacked regular admissions. Early action allows you until May 1 to decide whether or not you want to attend that school. Both early action and early decision show the schools that you have done your research and you are interested in these schools.

 

Something else to keep in mind is that some colleges do take a substantial amount of their incoming class from that early decision pool. Many elite schools look at early decision as a way to separate the students that are “kind of interested” from the students that are willing to commit 100% to that school. 

 

Should I Apply Early?

With all the advantages, it may seem compelling to apply early. Keep in mind that the early admissions process works best for students who know their dream school(s) and who feel they are competitive applicants.

 

How do you know if you are competitive? Check the school’s website. Most schools give you an idea of their applicant profile. In addition to your application, you need to thoroughly research the schools. It is not a blanket statement that “all elite schools will take a higher percentage of their class from the early decision applicants”. Some schools only take a slightly higher percentage, and in some cases, the difference between early and regular admissions rounds is not noticeable at all. Other than the academic offerings, campus, school culture, and location, you should also research the different available financial aid packages. 

 

Our biggest tip is to do your research! Talk to your school (and Insight) counselor, your parents, and family members. Figure out if you have a school on your list that might be a good candidate for early decision, and if you do, make sure you are prepared for the financially and mentally to commit to that school.

What are College Admissions Officers Looking for?

insight into college admissions interview

An Interview with Santa Clara University’s Claire Kreeft, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions

I conducted an interview via email with Ms. Claire Kreeft, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission at Santa Clara University (SCU).  Ms. Kreeft provides invaluable insights into the admissions process at SCU.

 

Please note that this interview was conducted shortly before SCU announced that it will be going test-optional for the next two years (meaning SAT or ACT scores will not be required to apply to SCU for the next two years), so please keep that in mind when you are digesting Ms. Kreeft’s responses.

 

Insight counselor Jason:  What are the most important factors in a student’s application?  Why?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  At Santa Clara University we have a holistic application review process. What we mean by that is that we consider all parts of the application to paint a larger picture for each student. We do not have a minimum GPA or test scores (although those are still important factors in the application), so we balance those hard data points with the student’s story they share with us through the personal statement, involvement, and supplemental questions.

The different parts of the application are indicators of different things and are thus all-important. GPA, test scores, and transcript help us determine if the student is academically ready for SCU. The personal statement, extracurriculars, and service work help us determine if a student would be a good fit for our campus and if we can support what that student wants to do.

That being said, if a student is well below the average in both GPA and test scores, it is tough to make a case for a positive admission decision. 

 

Jason: What sets accepted applicants apart from the rest of the pack?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  A student that can articulate what they want to do, how they have practiced this so far, and why they want to continue it on my campus stands out. What makes an applicant memorable is when they can show us how they have maximized their opportunities so far and how they plan to take advantage of what we offer at SCU, it is not one magic factor like the right number of APs. At one high school taking 10 APs before you graduate may be rare, whereas at another high school it may be the norm.

What we want to see is how a student pursues their interests and passions.

If you want to be an engineer, what projects or clubs have you invested yourself in to further explore this? If you want to partake in undergraduate research, have you looked into what ongoing projects we have and if professors on our campus are engaged in your topics of interest? 

 

Jason:  What is the best advice you could give to prospective applicants?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  The best advice I can give to prospective applicants is to think about your non-negotiables.

What will you need on a college campus to feel comfortable and successful? Size and location are two of the most impactful features of a college campus that the individual student cannot change, so think carefully about the type of environment you want when crafting your list of schools to apply to.

When you have that list, be sure to communicate to those colleges why they are on your list. Don’t just regurgitate the school’s mission statement, be intentional and specific. I can tell pretty quickly when reading a student’s application if they are truly considering SCU or if we were just another college to apply to. 

 

college application advice from undergrad admissions office

 

Jason:  Other than grades and standardized test scores, what is the most important part of the application?  Why?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  In holistic admissions, this is a difficult question to answer (and one that doesn’t really have one answer), because the whole point is that the elements of the application complement each other to give depth to a student.

One factor that is often overlooked, but is very important, is rigor (or strength of schedule). When we see your high school transcript we see what your choices were for classes. Especially in a college landscape with increasing test-optional application routes, a student still needs to demonstrate the strength of their academic career. Rigor becomes especially important for students seeking admission to our more specialized programs in Business and Engineering.

Just taking a standard college prep course load will not be enough. Also, a student is more than just the things they study and the tests they took. Use the story part of your application (essay, involvement, supplements) to give life to your file. 

 

 Jason:  How much does an applicant’s choice of major factor into whether they are accepted or not?  Are there certain majors that affect admissions decisions more than others, and if so, which majors?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  At Santa Clara University, it is actually the choice of school that matters more than the choice of major when it comes to selectivity. When you apply to SCU, you will choose to apply to the College of Arts and Sciences (about 55% of the undergraduate population), the Leavey School of Business (about 30% of the undergraduate population), or the School of Engineering (about 15% of the undergraduate population).

While it is the same application process for each of the three schools, the way we read the applications is a bit different. With our more specialized (and smaller) programs of Business and Engineering, we take a closer look at a student’s academic history in certain areas.

For Business that would be in math, specifically looking for calculus. For Engineering that would be math and science, specifically looking for calculus and physics. The one major that has the greatest impact on an application, and is our most selective, is Computer Science in the School of Engineering. Students admitted to this major tend to have our highest average GPAs/test scores as well as having demonstrated a prior interest in and commitment to this field.

 

 Jason:  What advice can you offer regarding application essays?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  The biggest piece of advice I offer students regarding application essays is to centralize your experiences in your own voice.

No matter what the prompt says, an admission office is trying to learn more about who you are and how you will be in their community.

I have read some beautiful essays about how influential a student’s grandmother has been in their life, and then by the end of the essay I want to admit the grandmother and I have learned very little about the student. My first big tip is this: after you write your essay, highlight every sentence that has to do with you (the student) making a decision, reacting to experience, learning a lesson, etc. If this isn’t at least 50% of your essay you need to rewrite it.

My second tip is this: have a few people close to you read over and give you feedback on your essay.

Sometimes we think we know how we sound, but having a fresh set of eyes review your work can make sure you communicate the message and story that you intend to. 

Another important thing to consider, use the additional information section to give more context! This is an optional section in the common application that is essentially bonus free words. There is no prompt; it is not an additional essay. It is simply space for a student to give us more context. If you have something you need to explain, like a poor grade in a class or a personal situation that has impacted your high school career, this is the place to tell us about it. Save your personal statement for the story of who you are and what you care about.

 


Written by Jason Katz

This interview article was conducted and written by Insight Counselor Jason Katz.

Jason has helped hundreds of students gain admission to their best-fit universities. In addition, he wrote more than 170 college admissions/college life columns for the Palo Alto Daily News and the San Jose Mercury News.

Insight counselor Jenny H shared her lessons learned from preparing for ACT tests

Standardized Testing: A Reflection

I feel like there are certain activities that will always make me a little—okay, very—nervous.  These include riding a roller coaster, watching a horror movie, and lastly, taking standardized tests!

 

Standardized testing was not my forte, and I felt like this was the most daunting aspect of the college admission process in high school.  For those of you who feel the same way and/or are in the midst of studying for the SAT / ACT test, I am motivated to write this blog post to reflect on my experience. In doing so, I hope that you will gain some insight into how to better prepare for these tests moving forward.

 

Insight counselor Jenny H reflected on her studying for the ACT test prep

 

What I Did Adequately

Even though there were some parts I would have done differently, there were a few things I feel like I did adequately.   

 

1. Be Determined

If there’s one thing I am at peace with, it’s that I was determined and worked hard to do “well.” My desk was piled high with practice books, and you would constantly find me in the library furiously scribbling into a notebook for hours.

For the majority of us, determination is a crucial component in doing well on the SAT / ACT. This is also the attitude you will need to succeed in college and beyond, so I hope that you will continue to develop this mindset while studying for the SAT / ACT.

2. Be Prepared on Test Day

On test day, I had everything ready: multiple pencils, an eraser, a calculator, etc. Even though I was nervous about the test, I knew I had everything I needed which at least alleviated a little bit of stress. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to come equipped with all materials on the day of the test!

If you are taking the test in-person, I also recommend visiting the testing site before test day if possible.  In case of unexpected circumstances—heavy traffic, you wake up later than expected, etc.—you’ll at least know where the testing site is instead of frantically searching the day of.

 

3. The Score Doesn’t Define Me

I wasn’t the best test-taker which reflected in my score, but I didn’t believe the results implied that I was a failure or predestined to fail in college.  I chose to be proactive in my studies and present on my college campus which wouldn’t have been possible if I’d given up because of my standardized test results!

Thus, if you don’t do “well” on the SAT or ACT test, don’t give up on yourself. Work hard in college! Consequently, identify and cultivate your gifts so that you can better yourself and serve your community. 

 

What I Could Have Done Better

However, there’s more to getting a “good” SAT/ACT score than just determination. The following is what I feel like I could have done better prior to the test and after receiving my score.

 

having structure and strategy for your test prep is key

 

1. You Sure About THAT Test, Jenny?

In retrospect, I wasn’t as mindful as I could have been when deciding which standardized test to take. If I had done a more thoughtful job, I might have gotten a score that more accurately reflected the effort I put into studying for it.

Thus, choose the test that you’re taking with careful consideration; one way to help you decide is to take both the SAT and the ACT diagnostic tests. At Insight, we offer both ACT and SAT test assessments so you can know which test is for you.

 

2. Don’t Just Study! Learn HOW to Study

As I mentioned, I had the determination to succeed. However, besides whatever guidance was offered in the practice books, I didn’t understand how to strategically approach each problem. If I could rewind, I would enroll in an SAT / ACT class to acquire these skills.

I recommend reaching out to a trusted individual in your support system who is skilled in taking standardized tests, as they might be able to offer some advice. Even better, if you have the financial means, I encourage you to take a class or find a suitable tutor who can offer valuable insight on creating a study plan and how to effectively navigate taking these tests.

We offer SAT and ACT test prep classes at Insight. The instructors not only review the topics and concepts, but they also walk you through test reviews and time management. You can click here to find out more.

 

3. Make an Action Plan

Given that I self-studied, I was fully responsible for learning all the materials before test day. I vaguely remember that I created a general plan, but I should have had a more elaborate schedule with more definite deadlines to ensure that I was completely prepared before test day. 

Consider making a schedule if you feel that it’ll help keep you accountable. I recommend using a planner so that you can refer back to the milestones you set.  Appropriate deadlines include noting when you plan on taking a practice test or reviewing vocabulary words. By breaking the task into smaller ones, it could make studying for the SAT / ACT feel more manageable.

Note: It’s okay if you occasionally veer off schedule! You might find yourself having a busier week than you originally anticipated, and instead of compromising your health, you can always adjust your schedule to make up for any material you missed. Remember, your well-being should always come first!

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Ready, Set, Take the Test!

4. Take Practice Exams That Replicate the Testing Environment

Besides lacking the tools to successfully attack the exam, I also took practice tests in conditions that did not fully reflect an actual testing environment. As a result, I question if this was an effective way to study in hindsight. 

When taking a practice exam, it’s important to replicate the testing environment: don’t eat snacks, listen to music, play with your phone, and give yourself ample time to solve the problems (In other words, use a timer that reflects the time constraints you have on each section when taking the actual test). In doing so, you will ideally grow more accustomed to the conditions you will experience on test day.

 

5. Find Other Opportunities to Highlight Strengths

Given that my score could have been better, successfully highlighting my strengths were even more crucial when I applied to colleges as a senior in high school. While I tried to do so at the time, I’m now more aware of different opportunities, like working a part-time job or starting personal projects, that I could have participated in.

Everyone has strengths including yourself. If you are struggling with standardized tests as I did, I encourage you to find safe and reputable opportunities to showcase your strengths and interests on the college admission application. Your Insight counselor can provide some resources as well!  

 

Concluding Thoughts

In essence, it’s not only important to have the heart to study but the knowledge on how to study for these tests.

However, know that your SAT/ACT score is just one data point that colleges will consider, so it is not the end all be all. Remember, the SAT/ACT is something, but it is not everything. Moreover, a mediocre SAT/ACT score does not suggest that your doomed to fail nor does a stellar SAT/ACT score guarantee a perfect GPA in college. That’s partly influenced by your attitude and work ethic.

So work hard, study wisely, and good luck! You got this!

 


Written by Jenny Huang

This article was written by Insight Counselor Jenny Huang.

Jenny graduated from UC Berkeley after transferring from UC Santa Barbara. Her unique “inter-UC transfer” experience inspired her to become a mentor and a college admission counselor.

Transferring Between UC Campuses…Wait, That’s Possible?

You’ve probably heard about transferring from a community college to a UC institution, but did you know it’s possible to transfer between UC campuses?  This is the path I took—I spent my first two years at UC Santa Barbara before transferring to UC Berkeley for my last two years of undergraduate studies. If you’re interested in hearing about my experience at both universities, please read my Insight Alma Mater: UC Santa Barbara and Insight Alma Mater: UC Berkeley blog posts. 

 

As someone who has successfully transferred between two UC institutions, I want to share my experience; however, I do not want to downplay the potential challenges (and rewards!) students who choose this path may face.

 

 Ultimately, this blog post aims to give an honest account of my experience and things you should be mindful about if you’re considering this option in the future.

 

Transferring Between UC Campuses: Who, What, and Why?

 

What Does This Mean & Who Is Eligible: As alluded to previously, students who attend one of the nine UC campuses can apply to transfer to a different UC campus and finish their degree, as long as they meet the transfer prerequisites to do so.

 

(The requirements to transfer are beyond the scope of this article; however, I strongly recommend consulting Insight counselors if you’re interested in pursuing this option).

The degree conferred is from the latter UC.  In my case, I have a BA in Linguistics and a minor in Chinese from UC Berkeley. 

 

Reasons for Considering This Option: A few notable reasons to consider this path include a student’s ideal major is not offered at their UC campus; a student feels that another UC institution may fit them better; personal reasons; or special circumstances.  However, please read the full article to better understand what this may entail.

 

 

10 Things To Know Before You Transfer

 

Now that you hopefully have a better idea of what it means to transfer between UC campuses, I’ve compiled ten things you should be aware of if you’re interested in pursuing this option.

 

#1 From My Experience, Transferring Between UC Institutions is Not Easy 

Like I said, I want to provide an honest account, and from my experience, IT IS NOT EASY to transfer between UC institutions. During my sophomore year of college, I had to complete the UC application again and take college-level courses while balancing my other commitments, which was a lot to handle.

 

What’s more, the official University of California, Office of the President website states, “we give the highest priority to California community college students transferring as juniors—who make up over 90% of our transfer class.”

 

With few spots available for students transferring from 4-year universities, a strong profile at your original UC institution will only benefit you if you plan on pursuing this seriously.

   

 

#2 Try to Make the Most of Your Time at Your Original UC Institution

While transferring is an option, I also strongly encourage you to make the most of your time at your original UC institution by building community; being engaged with your professors, TAs, and the material you’re learning; and exploring all that your school has to offer. 

 

After all, college will pass by quickly, so take advantage of it! Your school could potentially grow on you, and you might prefer completing all four years there.  

 
You now know that you need to work hard at your original school and that you should make the most of your time there. What happens if you’re still looking to transfer in the future? Keep the following in mind:

 

#3 You Might Feel Like a Freshman…But with University Experience and Less Time  

When I transferred to UC Berkeley, I felt like a freshman all over again in some ways, even though I was technically an upperclassman.  I got lost multiple times during the first few weeks of school and knew very few people. On the flip side, I already had a sense of how lectures and discussions section worked; I knew how clubs and organizations generally operated; and I had experience living in the dorms from UCSB. 

 

This could possibly be viewed as an “advantage” of transferring from another UC institution—you already have a sense of what being at a 4-year university is like. Nonetheless, this dichotomy of being an upperclassman but feeling like a freshman was something I had to grapple with.  

 

In addition, as I will explain in more detail below, you inherently have less time than freshman by nature—less time to get acclimated, less time to make friends, less time to join clubs, and less time to explore all that your new school has to offer. This will be the reality you will face should you choose to transfer.

 

#4 People Might Not Understand What It Feels like to Transfer Between UC Campuses

As previously mentioned, California community college students make up the vast majority of transfer studentsEven within the transfer community, you’ll likely be in a unique position if you transfer from another UC campus, which can feel isolating. I would strongly encourage you to reach out to your support system as you try to build a community at your new school. 

 

#5 There is a Big Difference Between Quarter System & Semester System 

I spent my first two years in the quarter system before transferring to a school that uses the semester system.  From my experience, that was an adjustment. I had to learn how to pace myself so that I wouldn’t burn out by the end of the fifteen weeks.  So, if you plan on applying to schools with a different system, I suggest taking that into account. Also, your units might not transfer, as I will elaborate on below.  

 

#6 You Might Need to Retake Classes  

I had to retake many of my major classes, perhaps partly because quarter system units and semester units might be weighted differently. On one hand, this was a chance to solidify the information in my major classes or see the information presented in a different way.

 

On the other hand, I also had to decide if I wanted to take all the classes I was interested in and risk not graduating in four years, or focus on taking the mandatory classes which would give me a higher chance of graduating “on time.” 

 

This is something that would be imperative for those seeking to transfer between UC institutions to consider. To better understand your specific major, I recommend reaching out to the major adviser of the schools that you are interested in transferring to and asking if you would need to retake your major classes should you decide to transfer.

 

#7 You’ll Likely Experience Activities You Wouldn’t Have Had the Chance to 

While I had to retake many of my classes, one thing I appreciated about transferring was the amount of extracurricular activities present at UC Berkeley. As I mentioned in my Insight Alma Mater blog post, I taught Taiwanese; joined a dance club for a semester, which was something I’ve always wanted to try; and mentored some community college students. Take advantage of these organizations and experiences that were not present at your old school, especially when you theoretically only have two years to do so. 

 

#8 You Will Gain Some & You Will Lose Some

To sum up, you will gain some and you will lose some if you decide to transfer in case that wasn’t already clear. However, a few years from now, you will ideally have a stronger sense of your values and what you are willing to compromise on if you choose to reapply, given that school culture, environment, weather, relationships, extracurricular activities, academic rigor, research opportunities, and future job prospects are just a few areas that can change should you choose to transfer.

 

#9 Understand Schools from the Perspective of a Transfer Student

If you receive acceptance as a transfer student, it’s imperative to not only try to understand the school and environment but also understand the school from the perspective of a transfer student.

 

How big is that particular school’s transfer population? What specific resources are available for transfer students and students transferring from another UC institution? How much support is given to the transfer population? What courses can you transfer over, and what courses do you need to retake? Know the answers to these questions.

 

#10 You Will Get a More Holistic College Experience 

I learned quickly that UC campuses, at least the ones I attended, are unique schools in many ways, even if they’re all classified under the UC system. From noticing the difference in school culture down to the nitty-gritty of how students get to and from campus, you’ll gain a more holistic experience and nuanced perspective of what university is like that other students don’t experience should you decide to transfer. 

 

After witnessing what culture and learning environment best fits you, this could be incredibly valuable insight if you plan on applying to graduate school in the future.   

 

Since it’s uncommon to transfer between UC campuses, I hope this blog post has provided some insight into what this may entail should you pursue this in the future.

 

However, your Insight counselor is a great resource who can provide more details about the process and offer suggestions given your individual circumstances, so please consult your Insight counselor if you’re interested in hearing more about this path.

Thanks for reading! Good luck, and you got this!

Authored by Jenny Huang.