Posts under Essays

<<< Back to Blog Home
Search Our Blog

How To Answer the "Why Our School?" Essay

December 24, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, Why Us?, Georgetown


Writing the "Why Brown?" or "Why Stanford?" or "Why Harvard?" essay is the same as writing pretty much any "Why this school?" application essay: no one can tell you why to choose a school but you.

For example, when writing my "Why Georgetown?" essay, I talked about a nose bleed I got in their school store when visiting.

This was a pretty bad nose bleed that caught me by surprise and went all over the floor, even on the jacket I was attempting to buy.

Already nervous about visiting the school, causing such a problem was the most embarrassing possibility to add to the mix.

To my delight, though, store workers (who were students) rushed over and brought me tissues and showed me where the bathroom was to clean up.

Upon coming out, I was ready to help with the cleaning, but the students had already done so and even had grabbed a new jacket for me.

Needless to say, this left an incredible mark on me of how caring and kind the students at Georgetown were. Rather than making a big deal out of an already bad situation for me, they took off the stress and just thought to help me.

That story could never be told by any other applicant. It was unique to me and shared a light-hearted anecdote that highlighted what I valued in a school community, and how Georgetown would provide that.

Even my interviewer expressed appreciation of my story and wrote about it even more in his report to the school. Telling stories like these awakens readers’ own love for their school.

The importance of this example is that I did not write about how many resources are at the school, or how great their faculty are. Georgetown already knows that it is great; the admissions officers don’t need nor want you to tell them about that.

These schools want to know why their specific campus fits who you are and your life journey.

Personal stories will always be more effective at this than generic encomia.

Answers about how great the academic program is, how beautiful the campus is, or how generous the financial aid is will not win over readers, even though that’s what many schools point out on their “About Us" webpages.

Answering "Why Us?" requires introspection about what makes you love that school.

It can be a particular program that fits perfectly into your passions, or maybe it’s how students make you feel accepted unlike any other place in the world. Until you find this answer, the best essay will not come out of you.

At the end of the day, "Why Us?" is really "Why You and Us?," and can only be answered by a story so personal to you that no other applicant could have written it.

How to Overcome Writer's Block and Ace Your College Essays

October 06, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, Guide, How To, Brainstorming, Personal Statement


What is the scariest part of writing an essay from scratch?

Take it from the King of Horror himself, Stephen King:

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.

After that, things can only get better.”

Brainstorm

The first draft of your college essay will be unspectacular - and unspectacular is perfect!

If, at first, no particular topic jumps out as the perfect essay topic, don’t worry. Most people don’t get so lucky!

Plus, some of your best potential subjects might be the ones that won’t readily come to mind. In my experience, the best way to unearth some old memories or kickstart your creativity is through a guided brainstorm.

If you're looking for a place to begin, The New York Times has a great list of questions to help you get started on the right path!

Put Words on the Page

After you get a few ideas down, here's the good news: you’ve already done the hardest part of your essay!

When it comes to college application essays, the idea is paramount.

If you enter the writing process with a strong idea, your exact words and phrasing can be sculpted and revised until they accurately reflect the quality of the idea.

Now you just need to get the words down - they don’t need to be pristine, in fact, they don’t even need to necessarily be good.

The idea is that as you get words on paper, as you edit, rework, and rearrange, you will naturally hone in on the “right words.”

Odds are, your first draft will come out better than you anticipate. However, there’s no way of knowing that until you take that leap of faith and start writing. For guidance on how to start specific essays and specific prompts, one-on-one guidance from an experienced mentor can be an incredibly effective form of assistance.

As for a general approach to starting your essays, you need to be able to trust yourself and the writing process .

You’ve formulated the idea, so you know that you have the right words somewhere. Now, you need to commit yourself to trial and error in order to tease the proper verbiage out.

Be Brave

Remember that traditional isn’t better when it comes to your college essays.

Chances are, when you apply to college you'll have little to no previous experience writing college admissions essays. Most of your formal essay writing experience will have come from English class.

This time, though, you’re not trying to decode Fitzgerald’s prose or explore the themes of 1984. The goal of a Personal Statement or supplemental essay is to give admissions officers a sense of what makes you you .

You want your personality to shine through! And it doesn’t hurt if it’s an entertaining read - these officers are reading hundreds of essays every week.

Don’t be afraid to add some humor , experiment with less formal language, or open with a unique introduction .

Don’t be afraid to pick a topic that’s out-of-the-box , or to pick a topic that’s seemingly “boring” and explore it through an engaging or unexpected lens.

If you need proof that ~almost~ anything goes as an essay topic, check out this excellent essay on Costco that got its author into 5 Ivy League schools and Stanford.

Remain Focused

One final note: With every ounce of strength in your body, force yourself to avoid procrastination.

Writing an essay is hard enough on its own. The last thing you need is another excuse not to write.

As novelist Peter De Vries once wrote,

"I only write when I’m inspired, so I see to it that I’m inspired every morning at nine o’clock."

The writing process is long and tedious, and spontaneous bouts of motivation can be few and far between. Sometimes you just need to tell yourself to open up the computer and type!

It’s natural to put pressure on yourself to produce a perfect first draft.

As a result, though, you’ll get caught in the minutiae, constantly self-editing and deleting.

Don’t fall into this trap! It’s okay for your first draft to be too long, too short, too ridiculous. What’s more important is to get your ideas down and give yourself material to work with. It won’t all be usable, but chances are, some of it will stick.

A great (and somewhat scary!) way to write a first draft quickly and without being able to self-edit is this writing tool . It will prompt you to write for a given amount of time and erase your work if you stop writing.

Summary

To summarize a few of the key takeaways from this post:

  1. Don’t be afraid of a bad first draft

  2. Trust the writing process

  3. Take advantage of an experienced mentor

  4. Make the time to sit down and write

Good luck!

How to Write the "Tell Me About Yourself" Essay

October 03, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, Advice, Personal Statement


You've probably seen some form of this prompt a million times:

"Tell us about yourself. What makes you you?

Be careful — this prompt is a trap!

You should very rarely be telling a college how great you are. Instead, do what’s worked for countless successful applicants and show them!

By the time an admissions reader has reached your personal essay, they’ve read about all of your activities and accolades, skills and strengths.

The “tell me about yourself” essay is the opportunity to put the resume away and begin revealing more personally insightful information.

Many applicants can fill-in correct bubbles on a Scantron sheet just like you, many applicants can sit down at a piano and play Debussy’s Clair de Lune just like you, and many applicants can recount their high school service projects just like you.

But these other applicants don’t handle adversity just like you.

They don’t have a special relationship to their father just like you.

They don’t interpret moments of formative introspection and personal development just like you...

These types of experiences and, especially, relationships, are fantastic insights into your character, your identity, and the exact sort of personality-sculpting topics which university admissions officers are dying to know about.

Here’s a personal example of my own successful application to Harvard: I have a tremendously special relationship with my brother.

Although we grew up sleeping just three feet away every night, eating breakfast at the same kitchen counter, the unpredictable and often regrettable events of life have granted each of us vastly different arrays of opportunities, capacities, and limitations.

My closeness with him has guided me to reshape how I define and am aware of my privilege, and he inspires me to approach every day with an enhanced sense of gratitude and a desire to become a champion for the improvement and support of special education programs.

The key in an essay such as this one was to show rather than tell about this relationship through anecdotes and concrete instances that shaped how I view the world.

In my essay, I focused on demonstrating a capacity for introspection, gratitude, empathy, and selflessness, and the vehicle by which I did that was through this personal subject and the lens of my brother and my relationship.

I emphasized how I was striving towards a better version of myself rather than arrogantly stating that I was always that better self.

I demonstrated vulnerability that neared on self-deprecation in revealing the often difficult realization that I benefited from a host of great privileges that I have not outright earned but rather have been arbitrarily granted.

These themes of humility, gratitude, vulnerability, personal progress are essential for a strong personal essay.

These ideals are often best achieved, almost counterintuitively, by writing about someone else.

The personal essay should transcend arrogance without arriving at self-pity, and writing about a significant relationship allows you to walk that line tactfully.

Here’s a condensed but generally effective set of guiding questions:

  1. What is an experience or relationship that significantly changed the course of your personal development?

  2. What path were you on before?

  3. What path have you made efforts to follow now?

Yale's Admissions Office Reveals the Secrets of Writing a Great College Essay

September 13, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, Admissions Officers, Yale, Podcast


Yale’s Admissions Office did an eye-opening series of podcasts last month on what really goes on in the admissions committee when acceptance/rejection decisions are being made.

The most frequently covered topic in this series?

Essays, with half of all episodes dedicated to them.

Let’s analyze why that is the case, and what makes essays such a critical (and often misused) component of the application.

1. What makes essays so important?

Here’s an excerpt from the Yale Admissions Office’s 6/11/20 podcast:

"Essays are one of the first things that we see in the application. It's not the first piece, we are going to get some information on where you go to school, we'll probably see what your courses look like. We will see what activities you're involved in. And then we go straight to the essay.

We love essays because [they] introduce[] us to those folks... So, by all means, the essays as you say are the first impressions ...

It's like the opening scenes of a movie or the first page in a book, it sets the table not only for the rest of the movie, or the book, but in the case of these essays, it often sets the table for the person we meet.”

2. What makes for a great essay?

In that same podcast episode, the Yale Admissions Officers explain what the best essays all have in common across the 1,000’s of essays they’ve read:

“For most students, the greatest sort of effect that [the essay] can have is in tying the pieces together, drawing together the other parts of the application where we feel like you know what, I'm meeting the same person consistently throughout here.

So think of it as a kind of piece of glue that's going to bind together the other parts of the application.”

Being able to tell this story and capture the uniqueness of your candidacy is incredibly important for the overall strength of your application — it’s the "glue" that holds together your case for admission.

But yes, this can be a difficult task for high school students who have never had to write this sort of essay before, which is why it’s one of the key things that we have our mentors prioritize when advising students.

3. Why are essays the best place to “make or break” your application?

The essays collectively comprise the part of your application that you have the most control over as a senior in high school. As the podcast continues to explain:

“Honestly, when you get to fall of your senior year of high school, and you're starting to put together your college applications, most of the work is done.

You've got three years of high school grades behind you, you've put in hours to your extracurricular pursuits, you've made positive relationships with teachers...

The essays are your big task right now when it comes to actually putting together that college application. So appreciate the fact that this is something that's in your control.”

If you want Ivy League students who've successfully gone through this daunting process themselves to help you strengthen your own essays, click here to see some of the services that we offer for 1-on-1 mentorship.

COVID and College Admissions: What Admissions Officers Have to Say

September 10, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | COVID, Common App, Essays, Admissions, Admissions Officers


Over 300 Admissions Deans published an open letter in June detailing the most significant ways that they see college admissions changing because of COVID-19.

Here is a brief summary of 5 key takeaways.

1. Increased Community Service Expectations

It sounds like volunteer work will be more highly valued/expected this cycle for students who are in a position to help others.

Here is the exact wording that the admissions officers use in their letter:

We value contributions to one’s communities for those who are in a position to provide these contributions.

We recognize that while many students are not in this position because of stresses and demands, other students are looking for opportunities to be engaged and make a difference.

This pandemic has created a huge array of needs, whether for tutoring, contact tracing, support for senior citizens, or assistance with food delivery. We view responding to these needs as one valuable way that students can spend their time during this pandemic.

We also value forms of contribution that are unrelated to this pandemic, such as working to register voters, protect the environment, combat racial injustice and inequities, or stop online harassment among peers.

2. Decreased Extracurricular/Summer Activities Expectations

Here is what the admissions deans have to say about extracurricular activities affected by COVID-19:

No student will be disadvantaged for not engaging in extracurricular activities during this time.

We also understand that many plans for summer have been impacted by this pandemic, and students will not be disadvantaged for lost possibilities for involvement. Potential internship opportunities, summer jobs, camp experiences, classes, and other types of meaningful engagement have been cancelled or altered.

3. Increased Emphasis on “Family Contributions”

Contributing to your family, whether that is working a job or caring for a relative, also counts as a form of service.

If you have spent a significant amount of time providing for your family, then you should make sure this comes across in your application and doesn’t get overlooked by your admissions reader.

Here’s what the admissions deans have to say:

Far too often there is a misperception that high-profile, brief forms of service tend to “count” in admissions while family contributions—which are often deeper and more time-consuming and demanding—do not.

Many students may be supervising younger siblings, for example, or caring for sick relatives or working to provide family income, and we recognize that these responsibilities may have increased during these times.

We view substantial family contributions as very important, and we encourage students to report them in their applications. It will only positively impact the review of their application.

4. SAT/ACT Test Optional

Many schools have gone ACT/SAT optional. Here is the official statement from Princeton’s Admissions Office:

Though standardized tests results will not be required for the 2020-21 cycle for an application to be considered complete, we still value these results and will evaluate them within the context of our holistic review. However, if you do not submit standardized testing, you will not be at a disadvantage.

And here is MIT’s :

Updated requirements. We will not require either the SAT or the ACT from first-year or transfer applicants applying this cycle…Students who do not submit SAT/ACT scores will not have any negative inferences be drawn from their absence.

5. New COVID-19 Essay on the Common App

The Common App added an optional 250-word prompt for students to use to shed light on how the pandemic has affected them.

Because this prompt is separate from the Personal Statement, it is strongly suggested that your primary Personal Statement essay not focus on the pandemic, something that we stress to the students we mentor while helping them develop strong Personal Statements.

Three Tips for Improving Your College App

September 09, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Applications, Essays, Early Action, Early Decision, ECs


Here are three simple strategies to make your college application stronger, more unique, and stand out from the rest of the pile.

1. Invest the Time to Write Essays that Stand Out

Your college essays offer the highest impact for the least amount of time.

Unlike your GPA and extracurriculars, you won’t need to spend 4 years carefully developing this aspect of your application.

With the right preparation and mindset, you can craft an exceptional suite of essays within a month of starting.

And it doesn’t need to be Nobel Prize-winning literature. Check out one of our Quora answers here to read about how a friend got into UChicago by writing about the magazines you always see on planes. In the hands of a skilled writer, any topic can stand out.

The core purpose of the essays is to inspire your admissions reader to advocate strongly for you during admissions committee discussions.

It’s as simple as that.

Standing out has less to do with being overly exceptional and more to do with being exceptionally thoughtful.

You need to be memorable, and for the right reasons.

Admissions officers agree

2. Apply Early.

OK, I may have lied earlier about the highest impact decision for the least amount of time.

Not counting the time needed to get your materials ready sooner, the real winner is deciding to submit your application early.

Ivy League colleges and other top universities have an almost 2–3x higher early acceptance rate than regular acceptance rate, a gap that continues to widen every year.

Overall , the early decision acceptance rate of all US colleges is 12% higher than their regular admit rates, according to a survey of US colleges by the National Associate for College Admissions Counseling .

3. Craft Your Narrative

A “well-rounded” applicant dabbling in several unconnected things is not nearly as compelling as someone driven by one central passion. Your past activities and future aspirations need to be tied together in a single, unified narrative.

Otherwise, it looks like you were just doing stuff for the sake of getting into college , which can sink your application.

  • Do you compete in debate and also program websites in your spare time? Then combine these passions and say that you have an interest for studying policy at the intersection of technology and law in college.

  • Do you compete in linguistics competitions and also lead your school’s Science Olympiad team? Then share how these two activities demonstrate your deep (and unique!) interest in pursuing ethnolinguistics or human evolutionary biology from the lens of language and migration.

The College Admissions Myth of Being a Well-Rounded Student

Why is being "well-rounded" a disadvantage in college admissions?

August 04, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | GPA, ECs, Spike, Essays


What does it mean to be a "well-rounded" candidate for college?

In elite college admissions, “well-rounded” is code for “not getting in.”

Selective colleges have historically shown a tremendous preference for students who demonstrate depth of ability rather than breadth of ability.

Here is former Stanford Admissions Officer Grace Kim to explain:

“They are looking for a well-rounded class even if not each individual student is well-rounded.

You can think of it like a dinner party.

You want to invite people to the party who you know are going to add value to the conversation, people who are going to bring their perspectives and experiences and enrich the dining experience for the people around them. People who are going to ask interesting questions and really are curious to get to know about the experiences and stories of the people around that dinner table.”

Do schools want a well-rounded student body?

Of course! Their goal is to get as many future leaders of business, science, politics, arts, humanities, etc. as possible.

But do well-rounded students make up such a class?

No. This is where many people get confused.

Colleges want students with "spikes," not “spheres.” Students who poke and prod and create change and achieve greatness, not students who are merely good at most things they do.

As Jeff Selingo, former editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, writes:

“The problem with well-rounded students is that they usually don’t focus on any one thing for a prolonged period of time.

Too often they seem to participate in activities just to check off a series of boxes, instead of showing the deep and sustained involvement…and dedication that employers seek. Their résumés are filled with what some recruiters refer to as ‘sign-up clubs.'”

For students who excel in a lot of different areas but not at a world-class level, your application essays can be one of the best opportunities to frame your application in a way that gives you that oft-desired “uniqueness” and “spike.”

As Stanford Admissions Officer Grace Kim continues:

“We always said when I was an admissions officer, we want [the essay] to be so personal to the student that you couldn’t put anyone else’s name on that essay and have it still be true about that other student”

Now, this is easier said than done for most students. In my personal experience mentoring students 1-on-1 through their college essays, framing that authentic voice in the format required for college applications (formats for which most students have never had to previously write) can be challenging.

As college admissions expert Danny Ruderman writes:

“I think the essays are the most stressful part of applying to college. Because the kids know that they count, and they don’t fully understand what colleges want to see.”

Hopefully, though, you’re now prepared to avoid at least one common mistake — Now that you understand why selective colleges don’t want to admit “well-rounded” students, use it to your advantage when crafting your essays by emphasizing your spikes and not your rounded edges.

Common App 2020-2021 Updates: What You Need To Know

August 02, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | COVID, Common App, Essays


Common App, the non-profit organization that provides the eponymous college application tool, launched its 2020-2021 application on August 1st. Below, we cover the three main changes you need to be aware of if you are applying this cycle:

1. COVID-19 Question

Due to the unprecedented global pandemic coinciding with this years college application cycle, the Common App has included a new, dedicated question allowin students to elaborate upon the impact of COVID-19 on their lives.

With any new application questions, students are often confused as to the best way to approach them. Luckily, we published a blog post with guidance on how to answer this question, which you can find here.

2. Additional Schools

In improving upon the Common App's goal to provide students with a frictionless application to a variety of colleges, 42 new colleges and universities have been added to the Common App. These include Texas Tech, Clemson, and Georgia Tech -- a full list is reproduced below.

  • Bryn Athyn College (PA)
  • Carlow University (PA)
  • Holy Family University (PA)
  • Point Park University (PA)
  • Medaille College (NY)
  • Baker College (MI)
  • Buena Vista University (IA)
  • Bethel University (MN)
  • Cornerstone University (MI)
  • Lake Superior State University (MI)
  • Indiana Wesleyan University (IN)
  • Loyola University Chicago (IL)
  • Northern Illinois University (IL)
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (WI)
  • Wilmington College (OH)
  • Arkansas Baptist College (AR)
  • Auburn University (AL
  • Augusta University (GA)
  • Clemson University (SC)
  • Coastal Carolina University (SC)
  • Lees-McRae University (NC)
  • Milligan University (TN)
  • Palm Beach Atlantic University (FL)
  • Richard Bland College of William and Mary (VA)
  • Spalding University (KY)
  • Texas Tech University (TX)
  • Trevecca Nazarene University (TN)
  • University of Georgia (GA)
  • University of Louisville (KY)
  • University of Texas at Dallas (TX)
  • University of Texas at San Antonio (TX)
  • University of South Florida (FL)
  • Virginia Tech (VA)
  • Winthrop University (SC)
  • Fresno Pacific University (CA)
  • University of Colorado Denver (CO)
  • University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (CO)

3. User Experience Updates

Common App has updated the technical side of the application, including a "new recommender system, a new mobile app coming this fall, and an update of the transfer application personal statement prompt to align with first-year application essay prompts."

Help on Writing the COVID-19 Common App Essay Question

July 18, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | COVID, Common App, Essays, Personal Statement


The questions that are likely on every applicant's mind this year are:

What will college admissions officers do in 2020 when everyone's application essays are about COVID-19?

How do I address COVID in my Common App essays?

And how do I stand out from the crowd?

Thankfully, the company behind the Common Application has anticipated these concerns by adding an optional, dedicated prompt for students to address the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. The prompt has a maximum length of 250 words.

By including this new prompt, the Common App is strongly suggesting that your primary Personal Statement essay not focus on the pandemic.

Instead, students should:

  1. Proceed normally on their Personal Statements as they would in non-pandemic application years, writing a Personal Statement that sheds light on the qualitative aspects of themselves and their candidacy that aren't conveyed elsewhere in their applications.

  2. Take advantage of this extra essay prompt to provide information on how COVID has affected them and their families.

What is the COVID Essay?

As stated in a blog post from the Common App in May of 2020:

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives and postsecondary plans for many students. We want to reduce anxiety for applicants affected by these events and provide them with a way to share their experience with colleges and universities.

Next year, on the 2020-2021 application, Common App will provide students who need it with a dedicated space to elaborate on the impact of the pandemic, both personally and academically. We want to provide colleges with the information they need, with the goal of having students answer COVID-19 questions only once while using the rest of the application as they would have before to share their interests and perspectives beyond COVID-19.

Below is the question applicants will see:

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.

Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N

Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

The question will be optional and will appear in the Additional Information section of the application. The response length will be limited to 250 words .

What’s more, the Common App has added an additional question to the school counselor section of the Common App, providing your counselor with the opportunity to elaborate on changes to grading scales, graduation requirements, course offerings, or other circumstances that have been brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

You should make sure that your counselor is aware of this question and uses the opportunity to provide relevant academic details for your candidacy.

How to Write the COVID Essay

The next question is how to answer the COVID-19 prompt .

The biggest piece of advice I have for applicants is avoid trying to do too much on this essay.

It may be tempting to simply list everything that has happened to you over the past 6 months.

But within a 250-word allowance, it will be impossible to tell all of those stories at once in the detail needed to leave an impression on an admissions reader who will be reading hundreds of the same exact essay.

Select two or three of the most concrete impacts that the pandemic has had on your life.

Whether a parent lost a job and you were forced to pick up work, you faced the death of a close friend or loved one, or you started a new hobby during your quarantine, your application reader wants to get a sense of how you deal with an adversity that has affected everyone to varying degrees, and the depth of that shared adversity in your individual case.

Stylistically, this essay can be written as a straightforward list of events with the usual beginning, middle, and end structure:

  • Beginning: How were you/your community impacted?

  • Middle: How did it challenge you, and what did you do to push through that adversity?

  • End: What did you learn from this experience, or will continue to work on?

Alternatively, your essay could take a more creative/story-telling approach and focus on the show, don’t tell principle, most commonly used in the larger 650-word Personal Statement essay.

In this approach, the focus might be centered on a specific anecdote of how you/your community were impacted by the virus. You could tell a short story about this one instance, and how it changed your relationship with a particular person or how you view yourself in the world.

While this may be hard for some students to accomplish successfully within 250 words, it may be more appealing to read for an overworked admissions officer who has seen more essays of the aforementioned "list" variety than the latter "story-telling" approach.

5 Tricks to Get Accepted with a Low GPA

Is it possible to get into a top college with a low GPA?

July 10, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | How To, GPA, Admissions, Chances, B Student, Ivy League, AP Exams, SAT, Essays


Can low GPA (i.e. "B" students) get accepted into a top school?

The answer is a bit more nuanced than a hard "yes" or "no."

Are you a "B" student, or have you gotten B's?

Though these questions sound the same, their answers have very different consequences for the purposes of college admissions.

I went through every top university that reported the distribution of unweighted GPAs for its admitted students, and plotted them below.

Chart

The small black sliver at the top represents students with a “ B ” average or worse (3.0 GPA).

These are students with extremely extra-ordinary circumstances, so unless you have a building named after you or can throw a 95mph fastball, a “B” average is likely disqualifying. Thus, averaging a straight “B” is likely a death knell for top colleges.

All is not lost, however, if you generally do well in school but have a handful of B’s (e.g. a GPA between 3.6–3.8).

Having a lower GPA will require you to play your cards more thoughtfully, but you are still very much in contention for a spot at a top university.

Here are 5 tricks for making your application stand out despite a lower GPA.

1. Take more APs

Since they are graded on a 5-point scale, you can raise your weighted GPA to appear more in-line with a college’s admissions standards. The average weighted GPAs of Ivy League admits, shown in the USA Today chart below, is quite attainable:

Chart

2. Ace your standardized tests.

A high SAT or ACT score can help offset a lower GPA by demonstrating that you have the intellectual ability to perform at a high level.

3. Shine elsewhere in your application.

Your essays, for example, are a fantastic place to explain or indirectly shed light on personal circumstances that may have caused your lower GPA.

They also allow you to directly frame your application and convey why you — and only you — can add something uniquely meaningful to the incoming class.

As Logan Powell, Dean of Admissions at Brown University, writes:

“The essay is one of only two places where the student can tell us exactly who they are, in their own words (the other place is the interview).”

And Mitch Warren , Director of Admissions at Purdue University, adds:

"We receive about 54,000 applications from high school students each year, and despite that really large number, [the essay] truly is an individual and holistic review...[it] helps us to better understand the life of the applicant, especially things with grit, humor, motivation. I think also it helps tell stories that we may not have picked up on elsewhere in the application."

This is something that our Ivy League mentors specialize in.

4. Show an upward trajectory

If you got straight B’s freshman year but gradually worked your way up to consecutive semesters of straight A’s as a senior, then colleges will look much more favorably upon your transcript, as it demonstrates growth as a student.

As Dartmouth Assistant Director of Admissions Ariel writes,

[W]hen we review an applicant's transcript, we look at grade trends that will help us understand a student's academic trajectory in his or her secondary school.

We see transcripts that show steady grades throughout a student's high school career or a positive/upward trend from 9th-12th grade. We see transcripts where a student has bounced back from a transition or dip in grades. We also see downward trends in grades.

We use the rest of the application to try to fill in WHY the trend looks the way it does. If you have a particular reason for, say, a dip in grades in your junior year, please let us know about it in the "Additional Information" section of the Common Application.

Keep in mind that we will be looking to see how you have done in your most recent coursework since this will be a good indicator of how ready you are to move into a rigorous academic environment at Dartmouth.

5. Take the hardest classes offered

The negative impact of lower grades can be partially softened if they occurred while taking the hardest classes your school offers.

In the eyes of admissions officers, taking a rigorous course-load and challenging yourself, even if you do get a B or B+, can be equally as important as acing your classes.


An aside: These high GPA cut-offs are largely due to (1) increasingly high numbers of applicants and (2) rising grade inflation at the high school level.

Chart

The 7 Common App Essay Prompts for 2020

July 02, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, Common App, Essay Prompts


The seven 2020 Common App essay prompts have been reproduced below.

The Common App essay word limit is 650 words, and requires a minimum of 250 words. The submission portal can be accessed here . The Common App deadline is the same as whatever the deadline is for the institution to which you are applying.

To get advice on how to best attack these Common App prompts from students who have successfully done so, check out our companion article here .

Prompt 1

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Prompt 2

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Prompt 3

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Prompt 4

Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Prompt 5

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Prompt 6

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Prompt 7

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

It's never too early to get started on perfecting your application! If you want direct feedback on your essays from Ivy League students, or want to work 1-on-1 with an experienced mentor to craft your application, learn more about us here or click here to schedule a free 20-minute consultation

How to Write a Common App Personal Statement

Personal Statement Examples, Tips, Tricks, and Advice

June 01, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, Common App, How To, Essays


This article discusses the seven Common App essay prompts, analyzes how to write a Personal Statement, and offers suggestions on how to go about conquering this critical essay.

The Common App Personal Statement is the centerpiece of your college application.

It will be sent to every school to which you apply.*

It is extremely broad, allowing you to write on literally any topic you want.

It is also the longest unfiltered, uninterrupted stream of information in your application (650 words).

This makes the Common App Personal Statement the perfect place to fill in any holes in your application, round yourself out as an applicant, and showcase a side of your personality that doesn't come through elsewhere.

With so much that can be accomplished and such broad license to write whatever you want, however, your Personal Statement for college can seem overwhelming at first glance.

The Personal Statement is an essay of no more than 650 words, and no less than 250 words, that should tell a story about yourself that is not included elsewhere in your application.

As the Common App's instructions for the Personal Statement state:

"The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don't feel obligated to do so. (The application won't accept a response shorter than 250 words.)"

Right away, the first piece of advice to prospective applicants is to ignore the Common App's obligatory note and use the full range of space .

Of course, there is no need to hit exactly 650 words.

But if you are hitting anything less than 620 words, then you are putting yourself at a substantial disadvantage to students who do fill their entire allotted space.

By not getting as close to 650 as possible, you are potentially leaving out several sentences or descriptive phrases that could add significant weight and polish to your essay.

Thus, you should always write your Common App drafts over the word limit , then cut to get your essay to 650 words.

If you find yourself stuck at, for example, 600 words and can't come up with 50 more words to say about whatever story you are telling, then that is probably a bad sign for how interesting that story is going to be for your admissions reader.

The seven 2020 Common App essay prompts have been reproduced below and grouped together for ease of analysis.

Personal Traits

Personal Background

1) Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Prompt #1 is the broadest prompt offered by the Common App, and thus can offer the best launching point for a variety of powerful personal stories.

PROs

This Prompt offers a great opportunity to round out your application by discussing something not mentioned elsewhere in your application.

You can talk about your family, your heritage, a hobby, an interpersonal relationship that's impacted you, or any interests that were deemed too "non-academic" to make it into your Extracurriculars List.

Alternatively, you could choose to write about something already covered in your application (e.g. your experience doing research at a hospital, or working a part-time job), but in a way that sheds light on your personal motivations/connection to the subject rather than the scope of your achievement.

CONs

A common pitfall with this Prompt is to simply rehash an "interest or talent" that has already been covered in your application.

If you do decide to spend these 650 words on an activity mentioned elsewhere in your application, you need to constantly ask yourself: What new information does the reader gain that couldn't already be inferred from my transcript/rec letters/extracurriculars list?

For example, let's imagine you do debate. A Personal Statement about how you overcame the competition and won the National Championship would be interesting, but likely doesn't break any new ground in the mind of the admissions officer.

They already know you are great at debate, so unless this essay were tweaked to focus more on your personal growth or relationship with others, it likely won't help your admissions chances.

Overcoming Challenges

Overcoming Adversity

2) The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3) Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

5) Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Prompts #2, 3, and 5 all ask for you to describe an episode in your past that spurred some sort of personal growth.

PROs

These Prompts may require a bit more brainstorming effort on your part.

However, don't feel stumped if nothing immediately strikes you.

If you've lived on earth for more than 16 years, then I guarantee you have faced and overcome at least one obstacle or challenge that is worth reading a 650-word essay on.

Don't be afraid to ask family members, friends, or teachers/mentors for their thoughts; you'd be surprised how effective the recollections of others are at jogging your memory.

The best part about writing an essay around one of these Prompts is that it naturally avoids the major pitfall of Prompt #1 (re-listing accomplishments detailed elsewhere on your application). It forces you to focus on an instance of adversity you've faced in life, and to build your narrative arc around your own personal growth.

The three universal components of any story are (1) a beginning, (2) a climax, and (3) a resolution.

By using one of these Prompts as a start, you've already guaranteed that your essay will hit at least two of these three core elements of story-telling; namely, the "obstacle[]" or "time" or "accomplishment, event, or realization" that you discuss will be your Personal Statement's climax, and "what...you learn[ed] from the experience" will be its resolution.

CONs

Starting with one of these prompts is more restrictive than starting with Prompt #1.

You may find it limiting at first to brainstorm ideas that fit these Prompts, so it may be helpful to first start brainstorming ideas for Prompt #1 and then seeing if any of them fit under these Prompts.

These types of essays can be among the most compelling when executed properly.

However, there are a couple common mistakes that students commit when writing stories about overcoming personal adversity, pitfalls that you should work hard to avoid when crafting your own essay.

First, at the brainstorming stage:

There are millions of high school students across the US applying to college every year. Relatively speaking, the vast majority of these students will have shared similar experiences and overcome similar challenges.

Did you place first in an athletic competition? Did you win a debate tournament? Did you conquer your fear of public speaking? Odds are, so have millions of other students your age.

That's not to say that your situation wasn't unique, or that the lessons you learned weren't meaningful.

But when an admissions officer is reading 100's of essays a week, the nuances get blurred and only the highest-level themes stay fresh in the mind.

If your essay can be summed up as, "I practiced hard, overcame adversity, and won X competition," then you likely will not stand out from the pack.

So when choosing the "accomplishment, event, or realization" that you discuss, make sure it is unique enough that an admissions officer will not be able to readily group it into an abstract category of essays that other high school-age students have written.

Courage Poster

Second, at the execution stage:

The experience of overcoming adversity and subsequently undergoing a period of reflection and personal growth is a very abstract, nuanced phenomenon that can be difficult to properly articulate.

It is also an experience that has been written about by almost every writer on earth. But not every writer has the ability to distill these experiences into words.

Thus, there have been hundreds -- if not thousands -- of cliches, trite imagery, and hackneyed phrases that have been developed in the English language and recycled ad nauseum .

"It was at that moment that I truly understood the saying that you can't judge a book by its cover..."

"But I knew that my actions would speak louder than my words, so I..."

"Losing the Spelling Bee may have knocked me down momentarily, but I understood that failure was only the first step towards success..."

If a phrase in your essay could be trademarked and hung on a motivational poster, you should probably remove it. Make sure to avoid cliches when writing about your experiences, otherwise the full weight of how you are such a unique and special person will not come through in your writing.

Describe a problem you've solved

Describe an Intellectual Issue

4) Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

6) Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Both of these Prompts ask you to describe an intellectual "problem" or "concept" that you are interested in, as well as your personal connection to that concept.

PROS

If you've done academic research, been involved in political advocacy, did debate, founded a business or charity, or developed a product, these could be the perfect Prompts for you.

Prompts #4 and #6 allow you to show the admissions officers what truly makes you tick by showcasing aspects of your personality that might not come through elsewhere in your application.

Is your GPA lower, or do you think you're fighting an uphill battle to show the admissions committee that you're a serious scholar? Use these 650 words to dispel their doubts by showing how knowledgeable about a topic you can be when you've set your mind to it.

Human intelligence takes forms, and the problems you're interested in solving may not be reflected on your transcript. These Prompts allow you to really highlight the "spike" of your application and show why you are THE person for topic X or issue Y.

CONs

These essays tend to verge on the impersonal, as students get caught up in describing the minutiae of the intellectual challenges they are tackling.

Given free rein to "describe a topic...so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time," many students also lose track of the word count, and end up with an essay that is 500-words of Wikipedia-summary-level content on an academic topic, and 150 words about the author herself and her passion for the subject.

The admissions reader is not looking to admit a class of textbook authors.

Given the very nature of the Common App Personal Statement (literally a "Personal" Statement), the most important part of Prompts #4 and #6 are actually their second halves; namely, how you relate to and have addressed the topic that you write about.

For example, if you are writing about a controversial topic like immigration or criminal justice reform, remember that you're not writing an Op-Ed for a newspaper advocating for your side.

The Personal Statement is not an exercise in persuasive writing. Rather, you should discuss your own involvement in these issues, the people you've met through your experience, and how they have collectively shaped your worldview.

Anything is possible

Anything Goes

7) Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

If you can't think of an essay that falls under any of the other Prompts (which would be quite an accomplishment), then Prompt #7 serves as a catch-all that lets you write about literally anything you want.

PROs

You can write about anything.

CONs

You can write about anything.

Unless you already have a very well-written essay that doesn't fit under any of the other Prompts, I would not recommend that you choose this Prompt.

First, it will make it harder for you to focus your essay.

The 6 Prompts offered by the Common App are very good, very broad prompts.

They offer tremendous flexibility while also putting the necessary bumper rails on your essay that ensure it is at least passable.

Writing a Personal Statement that doesn't address anything covered by the 6 aforementioned Prompts means that your essay does not include an instance of personal growth, an interest/passion, an achievement, or an obstacle you've overcome.

If your essay does not have any of these elements, 99.99% of the time it will either be (a) uncompelling to the reader or (b) fail to add positive information to your application.

Another issue with choosing this Prompt is that the admissions officer reading your file will also not know what prompt your essay is trying to address.

Choosing one of Prompts #1-6 will immediately flag for the admissions reader what your essay is about, and what she should be looking for.

Neglecting to specify a Prompt puts an additional burden on the reader to sift through your writing and assess what its key themes are, taking attention away from your actual writing.


* Even for schools that do not require it, you are still given the option to submit your Common App Personal Statement with your application.

If you found this post helpful and want direct feedback on your essays from top Ivy League students, or want to work 1-on-1 with an experienced mentor to craft your application, learn more about us here or click here to schedule a free 20-minute consultation

How to Write a Good College Admissions Essay

December 02, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, How To


Here are 5 tips that helped me when I was struggling to write the essays that ended up getting me into Harvard:

1. Read your previous school essays/assignments.

No one understands you better than your past self. Though you’ve probably matured as a writer since sophomore or junior year, you may be surprised by how well you were able to write on school assignments.

This was how I personally ended up coming up with my college admissions essay to Harvard. I had written a short essay in my English class about a fairly personal event that had recently happened in my life, and my teacher said she really loved it.

I wasn’t feeling that tied to any of the Common App essay drafts that I had written and was revising at that point. So, I decided to limit myself to an hour and try to re-tailor my English essay for the Common App.

Even though I had spent less than 1/10th the amount of time on that essay as the other Common App essay drafts I’d been laboring over for the past month, there was something about this essay that just clicked.

I brought the reworked essay into my college counselor the next day, and thankfully he absolutely loved it.

The key lesson I learned from this experience is that there’s absolutely no downside to leveraging work you’ve already done for your college essays — rather, it can actually help shortcut the ideation and essay writing process.

A lot of people come into the college essay writing process thinking they need to create something entirely new from scratch, something that will be so unique and expertly crafted that it was destined for greatness from the moment the pen hit the paper.

That’s an unrealistic expectation, however, and sets you up for failure by forcing you to start your college essay from the most intimidating part of the writing process — staring at a completely blank page without anything to build off of.

Build off your past success and take advantage of your previous hard work. Take inspiration from the 3 years of hard work you’ve already done during high school.

And, last but not least, basing your college essay off of a school assignment also comes with the additional benefit of having already submitted and received feedback on that writing, which gives you a head-start in refining and revising your message.

2. Look over your resume, or any previous academic/job applications you’ve written.

It’s easy to forget how much you’ve done and accomplished over the years. Thankfully, a condensed, one-page summary of all that information has already been created — it’s your resume.

Your resume tells the story of your professional and academic life. Leverage it to find inspiration for your college essays — oftentimes we forget some of the most interesting things we’ve done, or fail to draw connections between our life experiences until they are literally sitting on a page directly under our nose.

If you do not have a resume yet, don’t fret — going through the process of creating a resume can also be an invaluable exercise in reviewing and reflecting on your accomplishments throughout high school. Crafting your resume could be a valuable first step in deciding on the personal story that you want to convey in your admissions essay.

50 Successful Harvard Admissions Essays

3. Find inspiration in others’ essays.

I would definitely recommend 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays . It is a book published by Harvard’s student newspaper, The Crimson, and contains 50 essays that actual students used to get into Harvard.

Around the web, this excellent post by PrepScholar contains 120 essays for 14 schools, along with expert analysis, while this article by College Essay Guy contains another 21 free examples of essays that worked.

As easy as it is to read someone else's successful essay, however, it's 100x more important to get someone else to read your essay. It's like the difference between watching sports on TV and playing professionally.

It is essential to get as much feedback from as many experienced people as possible while you're crafting your essays, and is something I am very glad I prioritized when going through the process myself.

Which brings us to...

4. Ask family/friends/teachers/counselors for suggestions.

Your close friends, family, and teachers know you best, maybe even better than you know yourself. They have also seen you at your most impressive and can probably tell when you’re putting your best foot forward.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice if you’re feeling stuck on your essays. And when you’ve completed a draft it can be extremely helpful to get a second set of eyes on your writing. Getting an outsider’s perspective can be extremely helpful in refocusing your essay for a broader audience.

Especially if your essay covers a more personal or intimate topic, you’ll definitely want to get someone else to read it before submitting since you may be too close to the topic to give it a fair read/interpretation, and won’t be able to tell how your story impacts another person.

And if you don't feel like you're getting the quality feedback you need, don't miss your chance to get a team of Harvard student editors to read your essays and provide direct, personalized feedback.

Take a break

5. Take a break.

Taking a break can be a great way to reset your mental state and give yourself a more clear-eyed view of the messages you’re trying to convey in your essays. Continuing to spin your wheels aimlessly can be counter-productive and just add to your frustration, further clouding your judgement.

If you find yourself unable to concentrate or put words on the page after staring at your prompt for more than 10 minutes, go outside and take a walk or stretch or move on to your other school work for the day.

Tl;dr:

  • Read your previous school essays/assignments for inspiration. You’ve already done the heavy lifting of coming up with the idea and writing out these essays, you’ve already revised and reviewed them, and you’ve already gotten feedback on them. Why let all this good work go to waste?
  • Look over your resume or any previous job applications you’ve filed, for these have already succinctly captured your professional/academic experience and can serve as a valuable reminder of what you’ve accomplished.
  • Find inspiration in previously successful students’ essays. There are dozens of books and websites online that offer free essay examples of admitted students.
  • Ask close friends/family/teachers/counselors for guidance. They know you better than you know yourself in many ways, and by providing an outside perspective may help you view your life in a novel way.
  • If all else fails, take a break. When you’re in a hole it does no good to keep digging. Trust your abilities enough that you can take a break without irrevocably interrupting any momentum you had while writing your essays.

Tips for Writing your College Essays

November 29, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, How To


Your essay is what rounds you at as an applicant.

It is the only chance you have to speak directly to the admissions officer tasked with deciding whether to admit you to your dream college or not.

Make sure to follow these tips to ensure that your essay showcases the depth of your talents, accomplishments, and personality.


Spring semester

1. Start early but not too early: Junior Spring is ideal

Though people have different personal preferences, and you should write when you feel your able to produce your best work, Junior Spring tends to be the best time for most students to start their college essay writing process.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. You have the luxury of being able to try out many different ideas and essay formats, completely scrap a draft and start fresh, and get many people to review and comment on your essays.
  2. If you procrastinate, at least you have a few months to get back on track. If you procrastinate in December, well, you'll have the next 4 years to regret.
  3. Unless something incredible happens your Junior Summer, you’ve likely already experienced the story that you’ll write about for your college essays.
  4. And, unless you magically become possessed by the spirit of John Steinbeck during your Senior Fall English class, you probably are already in peak writing form.

Try everything

2. Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks

No idea is too dumb or too risky to try out. 650 words is not a lot — it takes about an hour to get that much onto a page, so what do you have to lose?

Experimenting with style and what story you want to tell will help you refine your thoughts and perfect your narrative.

Imagine you are a writer on the staff of a popular comedy TV show, and imagine what some of those brainstorming sessions must be like. You’ve probably seen some really funny, really wacky stuff on TV, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg — what about all the even wackier ideas that got filtered out during those brainstorming sessions? If people didn’t feel comfortable throwing out bad ideas for feedback and refinement, then you’d never get the quality of TV that gets delivered to you, the end consumer.

Extending this analogy, the end consumer for your college application is an admissions officer, and they’re going to spend a maximum of 5 minutes watching your TV pilot. It's much better to get all your ideas out during the brainstorming sessions and see where they naturally go than risk delivering a half-baked essay built around one of those bad ideas.

Narrative arc

3. Your essay is a story with a beginning, conflict, and resolution

Your essay should tell the reader something unique about yourself that is not captured elsewhere in your application.

If your essay simply restates the extracurriculars listed on your Common App, then the reader gains nothing from reading your essay. Instead, you’ve just wasted 650 precious words that could have added an entirely new dimension to your application.

Admissions officers read 100's of essays every year. Multiplied over a 10-year career, and they’ve seen pretty much every cliche. To get a sense of truly how bored real admissions officers get, see this Quora thread .

Their eyes will glaze over and skim paragraphs the second your essay loses steam. You need to keep things compelling and interesting enough to ensure that your essay gets fully read, as well as memorable enough to not be instantly forgotten.

Get inspired from the success of others

4. Read other successful admissions essays for inspiration

Good artists copy, great artists steal.

For college essays, this only applies to high-level concepts and stylistic suggestions -- Obviously, don’t plagiarize. However, there are many resources online and in bookstores that contain past examples of successful essays.

For example, The Crimson (Harvard's student newspaper) published several books containing successful Harvard essays .

Other books have also been published for other Ivy League schools and for Stanford University


If you want direct feedback on your essays from Harvard students, or want to work 1-on-1 with an experienced mentor to craft your application, visit us here.