By Deb Coco 
College Admissions Coach
The College Advisor of New York, Inc.

Fall is in the air.  School is back in session, the days are a bit cooler and the pumpkin spice obsession is back.  And, at The College Advisor of New York, our seniors are hard at work selling themselves.

It may seem strange to look at your college application process as a marketing campaign, but indeed it is.  For most students, this is probably the first time you’ve ever launched such an important sales pitch. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” and at no time is this more true than when you hit the submit button on your college applications.

This is not the time to be shy about your achievements; you are now in the company of some stiff competition for spots at colleges and universities all over the country.  How do you make yourself stand out?  Here are a few tips on to make sure your application is noticed.

The most important components to a stellar application are still (and always have been) a strong GPA and high standardized test scores.  At this point in your high school career, your critically scrutinized junior year has passed, but it is very important to not “slack off” during your senior year either.  Colleges will want to see that you’ve kept up your work standards and they may even accept you with the provision that they review your spring transcript as well.  Gone are the days of senior year being all play.  Be sure your teacher recommendations are ready to go; at The College Advisor, we recommend our students connect with teachers before leaving for their senior summer so as to avoid the “glut” the best teachers experience in the fall.  If you already did that, then great!  If not, make sure you don’t let September slip away before you’ve met with two core course teachers and verify that they are willing to write a letter for you.

In my last blog I discussed the importance of the main essay.  This is an extremely unique piece of writing;  it is YOUR chance to tell the admission committee who you are outside of the facts.  All of your accolades will be well represented on your Common Application; the essay wants you to dig deeper so please do not regurgitate information from your Activities section.  Be authentic and give the reader a glimpse of who you are when no one else is looking.  What makes you tick?  What brings you joy? What do you want them to know about you that your application does NOT show?  If you ask yourself these questions, you’ll be surprised how words begin to flow.

The Activity section of the Common Application is your chance to share what you’ve done outside the classroom — be sure it is complete and list activities in order of importance to YOU.  Tell the reader what you’ve done and why it mattered.   Did you hold a leadership role?  List it!  Were you the youngest member ever elected to the Latin Honor Society?  Let them know!  And remember, list only activities from freshman year forward . . . colleges do not care (nor do they have time to review) what you did in 8th grade.  If you want to add a resume to your application, many colleges will allow you to do so.  We still do not recommend you go back to junior high school even on the resume, but if you are so compelled, that is the only place anything beyond high school should be mentioned in your application.

Last but not least, proofread!  Your application is a representation of you – is it sloppy?  Did you remember to capitalize letters in your Activity section?  Do not use acronyms when describing anything on your application – your reader cannot decipher them.  So, if you are a member of the New York State Student Musical Association, do not list NYSSMA – that will not mean a thing to the admission committee.

Finally, use the Common Application’s print preview option before you actually submit!  Reviewing on a computer screen is still no substitute for seeing the application on paper – you will catch “typos” you might have otherwise missed.

Good luck and congratulate yourself that you’ve come so far!  This process is a journey and you are just about at the finish line.

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By Deb Coco

The lazy, hazy days of summer are slipping by quickly.   At The College of Advisor of New York, one of our goals for our rising seniors is to complete their main college essay by Labor Day.  By Labor Day you say?  Your friends aren’t even thinking about college applications yet!

There is a method to our organizational madness, and it has your best interests at heart.  Although buckling down to write in July may not be on par with a trip to the lake, you’ll see the payback once fall rolls around and you aren’t (like all of your friends) trying to brainstorm a top-notch essay while also going to class, playing a sport and taking your final SAT.

Here are some pointers for how to brainstorm and craft an essay to get you noticed:

The main essay is a critical component of your complete college application.  Along with test scores and GPA it is the most important part.  Your application will be reviewed holistically, so we advise every student to put your “best foot forward” approaching this important and unique piece of writing.

First, let’s address what this 650 word essay is not.  It is not intended to summarize your high school activities or accomplishments; the Common Application devotes specific sections to academic performance and awards, sports achievements and extracurricular activities.  Parents and students can rest assured that this essay should not be a regurgitation of those facts.  The goal of the main essay is to illustrate (and we use that word deliberately) who you are outside of the facts.  What makes you tick?  What brings you joy?  What have you learned about yourself?  What do we NOT know about you?  Your application is chock-full of facts about every slice of your life in school and your activities, but this essay is looking for something deeper.  Most students will never participate in a college interview, so this makes the essay the primary opportunity for colleges to learn something more personal about you.

Many students find this introspective process to be the most challenging part of their college application.  Although you may have done extensive writing in high school, most of you have not been required to share something so personal.  However, the college essay does NOT need to be complex.  In our work with students, we’ve found that the simplest subjects often reveal the deepest truths.

In our many combined years of coaching experience, there is no topic that is off-limits, with a few minor exceptions.  This is not a forum for discussing a romantic relationship, nor is it the best place to highlight your athletic prowess.  Dig deep and let the admissions reader get to know another side of you.

The main essay can be intimidating because most students have never done this type of writing, and the first few words are the most difficult.  You’ve written research papers, persuasive essays, and book reports and answered SAT essays, but the main essay is much different  – it’s personal – and that can be the most difficult part of the process.  We brainstorm with our students to find just the right topic  — and as a coach I’ve seen literally hundreds of different ideas.

After you find a topic, don’t put off until tomorrow what you can write today!  JUST DO IT.  Your first draft won’t (and shouldn’t) be your last, but once you begin you may be surprised how quickly the words flow.  I know when my students have found the right topic because the piece reads authentically.  And the word authentic is important.  Admission readers are PROS at seeing through phony essays.  Don’t try to wow them with tales of trips you’ve not taken or knock off someone else’s idea – they’ve seen it all and are on the look-out for students who plagiarize or make up stories.  I cannot stress enough that you need to be your most genuine self.  You don’t need to have climbed Mt. Everest or done original research to produce a stellar and engaging essay.  In fact, even if you’ve done those things, we suggest you write about something else.

Ask yourself what you want the admissions counselor to know about you that they did not learn from your application and search out an example that demonstrates this.  That is the simplest way to move forward and begin to get words on paper (or a screen).  Read it aloud when you’re done (you’ll be surprised how many needless words you find!) and cut, cut, cut – the best advice I’ve ever received in a writing class.

By following this simple road map, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of your friends and can breathe a sigh of relief when you head back to school.  And while it’s not nearly as fun as water skiing, it will put you ahead of your competition!

 

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It Does Not Take A Village . . .

June 17, 2017

By Deb Coco, College Admissions Coach, The College Advisor of New York If you’ve watched a newscast within the last few years, you’ve probably heard some depressing news about the future of the next generation:  they are categorized as “lazy,” “out of touch with reality,” or “unfocused.” As college admission coaches, each of us spends […]

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Free Tuition? The Fine Print on New York’s Excelsior Scholarship

May 31, 2017

By Deb Coco, College Admissions Coach, The College Advisor of New York Free is an enticing word and it grabs our attention.  So when New York unveiled its Excelsior Scholarship or “free” tuition program, the buzz began in earnest.  And with good reason.  Parents of prospective college students are especially vulnerable right now as the […]

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Tune In To Life Happens Radio this Saturday

May 28, 2017

Set Your Graduates Up For Success Upcoming Show – Saturday, June 3 Lou Pierro and Dean Skarlis   As we celebrate the achievements of our high school graduates in June, families should also be laying the groundwork for their child’s legal transition to adulthood. Tune into Life Happens Radio on June 3, when Lou Pierro […]

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The Campus Visit: According To The Experts

April 28, 2017

By Erin Wheeler, College Admissions Coach, The College Advisor  of New York I love a good road trip!  Sunny weather, loud music, junk food and good company.  It’s always fun to hit the open road and see new places, meet new people and enjoy new experiences.  Taking those trips with family or friends to visit […]

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Decisions, Decisions!

April 12, 2017

By Deb Coco It’s finally that time of year.  Our students have visited, visited again, applied and of course, WAITED.  May 1 is just a few weeks away. If you are like most students, you’ve received offers from several schools and now it’s time to buckle down and weigh your options.  It’s more difficult than […]

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How Do You Survive Junior Year? Start The Process In Your Sophomore Year

April 5, 2017

By Deb Coco Parents – do you remember your junior year of high school?  My recollections revolve around a pack of girlfriends, Friday night football games, dances and the dreaded curfew.  I have to think hard to recall SAT prep (I’m not even sure I did any, and the ACT was virtually unknown in Boston). […]

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The College Admissions Interview

March 10, 2017

By Erin Callahan Wheeler The interview outfit. I remember it well. Blue flowered jumper, pink shirt and pink sweater. Simple brown flats and a simple brown bag. That was my uniform. But that doesn’t mean I left the house looking that put together! I would crawl into my parents’ mini-van in a hoodie and mesh shorts, […]

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Attend Dr. Skarlis’ course: “Finding The Right College At The Right Price” – Wednesday, March 22 6:30 pm

February 9, 2017

Register today for Dr. Skarlis’ Continuing Education Course “Finding The Right College At The Right Price” – at Shenendehowa High School on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 from 6:30 pm – 8 pm.  Dr. Skarlis will discuss how to begin the college search, maximizing scholarships and financial aid, the most important factors admissions officers consider when […]

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