Help! I’m stuck on my essay and don’t know what to do

essay Nov 20, 2017

The college essay is one of the most painstaking aspects of the college process for many students. Remember, most of the time, the essay will not be great if you don’t get any feedback. So don’t keep it all to yourself. If you get stuck, just do the following steps: 

•       Just start. Turn off your cell phone and computer. Pull out a pen and paper. Write for 15 minutes once per day for a week. Don’t be surprised if the topic comes to you in a surprise inspiration while in your writing session.

•       Get a brainstorming buddy. A college counselor or friend who knows you well can help you come up with topics if you’re having trouble getting started.

•       Don’t over-edit your essay. If you follow one of the systems to write your essay, you will get it done to high-enough quality. Each edit you do after the first several will have diminishing...

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How to Write Your Common App Essay in 7 Steps

essay Nov 13, 2017

It may not be what you want to hear, but it’s true. The only way to make your essay great is by taking a deep dive into yourself. Admissions officers want to know how you work. Particularly, what motivates you and what you’ve learned along the way in life so far.

The Common App essay helps admissions officers get to know you and your worldview.

Taking a deep dive into yourself is easier said than done. The good news is, you don’t have to take the dive alone and without support. Follow these 7 steps to complete your essay, and the deep dive will happen along the way:

1. Compare your 7 Common App prompt options. Which prompt strikes you as most like you? I wrote a blog on the strengths and pitfalls of the essay topics to help you make a choice.

2. Assess your strengths. You can use a free survey (you have to register your email) like the VIA survey.  After learning about your strengths, answer for yourself: What’s an example of a scenario...

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How to Write An Essay that Kills (in a Good Way)

essay Nov 06, 2017

Standup comedians either “kill” (win over audiences) or flop (get no laughs, or get booed). While the reaction of the admissions officer may not be so dramatic, their reaction will fall somewhere on the spectrum between “kill” and “flop.” 

There are three components of a great essay:

1) Clear Context. Have you ever picked up a book and turned to page 53 out of 200? No one usually does – why? Because you the reader won’t understand what happened before or what will happen after without some kind of introduction. This introduction orients a reader to what’s going on. Similarly, you need to make sure your essay is understood by an outside reader without asking a lot of questions about how and why this story came to be.

2) Persuasive voice. Many students fall into the trap of finding the “smartest” sounding words in the dictionary without an understanding of what they mean (Microsoft Word...

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What to Do When You Contact Admissions Officers

I mentioned last week that there are four “places” from which you can build relationships with college admissions officers, professors, alumni, and administrators. These were:

1) College tours. Some Regional admissions reps will be willing to meet face-to-face with students. JHU, for example, has admissions officers who offer admission interviews.

2) Email. To request a meeting (if you go on a tour) or an informational phone call. You can ask your questions over email and offer them the chance to talk with you at their convenience.

3) School and regionally-based college fairs. Regional reps will show up to your local area to represent their college. Before these events, come prepared with questions and do your research ahead of time.

4) Local alumni networks. Learn about campus life by connecting with alumni in your community. This also includes alumni of your high school who may attend colleges you’re interested in.

Now, I’ll tell you about a few...

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How to Build Relationships with Admissions Officers

If you read the title of this post and got a shiver down your spine, a racing heart, or a tightness in your body, you’re not alone. Many students are afraid to approach professors, admissions officers, and other personnel of the college. I totally understand your pain, but if you don’t work through the fear, you’re going to miss out on the opportunity to learn something important and to make a positive impression,


So why build relationships? Three main reasons:

1) You want to be more than a number, especially in competitive college admissions. All admissions officers have is the information you have provided to them on paper. Imagine if they could get to know you personally how much of a difference it could (and does) make. You’ll be most likely to get an advocate on the admissions committee if you know someone—even if you’ve only met the person once or twice.

2) To learn the culture of the college. If you don’t like what you...

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Platforms for Positive College Admissions Sharing

portfolios social media Oct 16, 2017

You’re talented, we know this. Maybe you’re an artist, a musician, a leader, a writer, or all of these things. You want to not only be all of the things you are, and get credit for the who you are by making a portfolio for college applications. It’s an important and often-overlooked step.

I’ll cover here what platforms are helpful for sharing and which platform to use for what kind of work.

*If you’re applying to a specific art or music program, you might have to go through the college directly—there’s something called Slideroom where students will submit their work.

Many students have talents, but don’t want to major in an artistic subject – still, you should find a way to display your work if the college doesn't provide a platform for you to do so.

*For art projects, singing, instrumentation or film, YouTube is the best way for admissions officers to easily see what you are doing. If you don’t want your link to be...

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Don’t Make An Admissions Officer Check Your Instagram

I promised this week to help you make good use of your social media. Students and parents are rightfully concerned about how social media will or will not be used in college admissions. These concerns are even more intense with the recent story out of Harvard where several students had admissions offers revoked due to inappropriate use of memes on social media.

Let me allay your fears right away about this instance; it is the exception, not the rule. In my experience on the admissions committee, we checked social media (and used Google) only when: 1) We had a question about something an applicant wrote and wanted to see what else we could find on his/her background. For example, we would sometimes check on certain activities to see if the student’s claims could be verified. 2) We found something listed on the application fascinating and we looked it up for more information.

So will your social media be checked or not? We’re not sure. But best to use good judgment:...

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How to Find Funding for College

Last week, I told you about the financial information you need to gather for the Net Price Calculator and the FAFSA. 

Now, I’ll show you a broader view of all the ways that you can get money for college:

Scholarship search engines: e.g. this one

Institution-based merit-aid (at specific colleges): May need to search specifics on admissions office website or on financial aid website

State-based grants (programs available through state government)
e.g. NY State; Washington State: Many states invest in their students to attend college within their home state (and sometimes other places)—so check to see what your state has available for students with your background!

External organizations: Like a workplace, for-profit company, or foundation.

A “money mentor” at NextGenVest: Or someone that can help with filling out FAFSA.

As I told you previously, scholarships are often based on merit, not on need. There are many search engines out there where...

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How to Use Net Price Calculators and What To Do If You Can’t Afford It

I’ve shown you how to narrow your school list, what to consider in choosing colleges based on money, and how to prepare for college. My goal is to help you maximize your opportunity and target your efforts strategically.

Now that you have a shorter list of colleges to work with, I’m going to show you how to use the Net Price Calculators (NPC) on the colleges’ website. 

First, you need to gather financial information in advance of using these calculators. The more info you input into the NPC, the more accurate your tuition price quote will be.

Then, you can take this information back to your family to confirm their ability to help you pay for your cost of attendance, and what it might cost you personally in terms of loans after college. 

 To use these (and other) Net Price Calculators, gather the following information in advance:

Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)
Income losses
Untaxed income & benefits
Child support paid
U.S. income tax
Parent 1 wages
Parent 2...

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Finding the TRUE Cost of College

Today, I promised to share my method with you for learning about college costs. You can use this method as a foundational basis for forming your college list. There are several indicators that you should use to compare college costs other than the sticker price:

1) Graduation rate. On the surface, public colleges may appear to be more affordable, but if we dig into these numbers you may find that this is not the case. At some public colleges, the graduation is a little bit lower, if not much lower than private colleges. For example, at Rutgers University (considered to be a top-tier public university!) approximately 49% of students graduate in four years. That’s less than half of students graduating on-time! Even if on the surface the sticker price looks more affordable for a public college, it could actually cost more if you don’t finish on time. You don’t have to be a slacker for this to happen to you: You could change your major, take credits in study...

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