Hello High School Seniors and Even My Middle School Students!

In my earlier posts and videos, I discussed the holistic approach utilized by many colleges to review your application.

Click to view College Application Tips

There are many factors considered in evaluating your college application, including application essay(s).  While students don’t need to be writing their college essay in 8th or even 10th grades—I encourage implementing a student-led path of exploration of both personal and academic pursuits throughout middle and high school.  Experiences both within and outside the classroom are transformative and help to shape a young adult’s unique academic and personal identity.  Experiences involve connections with family and members of “communities” and the essay based on these experiences provides readers an idea of the potential impact you’ll have on campus and as a potential alum!  But most important, pre-college experiences build confidence, motivation and better prepare each student for a seamless transition to the undergraduate experience.

YOU SAID ESSAYS – How many essays are there exactly?

The short answer – there is at least one college application essay and for some colleges, there are as many as seven required responses to college-specific essay prompts!! Yes, you read that right!

Types of College Essays:

There are two categories of essays – the Common/Coalition Application Core Essay and College Specific Supplemental Essays.  Let’s discuss the differences and how to tackle your essay when you’re ready to begin your college applications.


Whether your application is being submitted through the Common or Coalition portals, nearly every university will require a version of a “Core” essay (Click for prompts) providing the student with an opportunity to reveal and share information that isn’t clearly available elsewhere in your application materials.

The admissions essay is a very critical component of your application as it allows you to distinguish yourself from your competitors and to introduce yourself to the admissions committee.  It is how to share and highlight your unique strengths and experiences in a way that your transcript and test scores cannot fully illuminate.

In my decades of experience reviewing hundreds of undergraduate and graduate applications as a university faculty admissions representative, I can attest to the fact that the content of your essay is often the deciding factor in being admitted, everything else being equal!

A good essay provides readers with a clear understanding of how your experiences have shaped your view of communities and your potential to have an impact on others.  The essay is NOT an annotated resume nor an opportunity to restate the materials already noted on the important ‘Activities” section of the Common and Coalition Application.

Your essay is an invitation to tell a personal story that allows the reader to infer important personal characteristics about you based on the anecdotes and experiences you shared.  Aim to showcase your personal interests and strengths, your character, your personality all by telling a story in an authentic and heartfelt way about people you’ve met, experiences you’ve enjoyed, and lessons earned.

I ask my clients to begin by thinking of experiences that may have brought humor, happiness or even sadness into their lives.  The things you remember most are those that shape you – they make you laugh, cry, they are worth sharing because they tell a story that defines you and provides insights about where you want to go with an emphasis on what you hope to achieve during your collegiate experience.


Above all, connections you’ve made with real people – people you helped in volunteer work, teammates you inspired or who inspired you, family members who influenced you or friends, teachers and coaches who helped shape your values are all opportunities to reveal how you interact with others.

Admissions representative are forming a freshman class and while your transcript and test scores are predictors of your ability to succeed academically, your essay is necessary to determine how you as an individual add to the freshman class. Are you a community member ready to contribute to a vibrant global campus community?


After completing your “Core Essay”, many of the more competitive colleges require unique supplemental essays—some colleges have as many as five to seven additional essay prompts beyond the core essay!  The essay prompts can be as short as 50 words or as lengthy as 800 words, while most of the supplemental essays are 250 – 400 words in length.

These essays are very important to demonstrate “informed interest”.  The prompt is often directed as explaining why the student selected a given major. Moreover, the college is interested in hearing why you’re interested in studying your intended major at a given institution.  Here the student should not only connect the dots between actual courses, summer research and extracurricular activities related to the intended major, but the essay should very clearly provide actual details that demonstrate the student’s understanding of what is unique about the curriculum. Which faculty or specific research institute at “X” University aligns with your given interests in genetics, financial marketing or fashion merchandising? Show that you’ve done your research!

Show not only passion about your intended field of interest by detailing how you became interested in your potential major, but also provide a clear understanding of why “Amazing University’s curriculum fits your intended educational and career plans.  Please be specific- generic comments about a college’s ranking and prestigious faculty or comments that regurgitate the course catalog will land you in the rejection pile.  Quite frankly, if you cannot point to anything beyond the college’s high ranking, you haven’t done your homework! Convince me that there is a mutual “fit” here!


Before you begin crafting your common application core essay, you’ll want to identify and organize your responses across the common application core essay with all the college specific supplemental essay(s).  This entails finalizing your short list of colleges.  By knowing the required supplemental prompts, you are better able to bring balance and blend your experiences across the required core and supplemental essays.  It can save you quite a bit of time to start with a “supplemental template” that can be modified as a response to similar prompts across multiple universities.  You’ll very likely be writing one to three unique essays above and beyond the common application core essay.   STRATEGIZE to minimize your time spent on essay writing during the challenging and demanding senior year!!

While you will want to demonstrate “informed interest, you will want to aim to “recycle” your responses wherever possible.  For example, writing a college specific supplemental essay focused on discussing what motivated you to pursue engineering or business or psychology, you’ll likely discuss your inspirational experiences working with others to learn concepts and engage in team-based problem solving at FIRST Robotics or DECA or your role as a camp counselor.  As noted above, equally important, you’ll want to include college specific information that elaborates and demonstrates your informed interest in attending a specific institution by referring to genuine thoughts about the undergraduate research opportunities, a specific research institute or some unique aspect of the undergraduate curriculum that inspires you.

Colleges are unique and it’s up to you to have a very solid reason for why you want to attend a specific institution.  Proper research will increase the likelihood of application success and finding a college that is your best personalized “fit” both academically and socially.  College is your home away from home—so be clear on why that is the case.  This information needs to be included in your essay and woven into your discussion of the shared experiences noted on the activities portion of your common application.




YOUR ACTIVITIES are not only a subject of your essay, but both the Common and Coalition applications leave space for you to BRIEFLY (within well defined character limits) describe your extracurricular experiences.  How you showcase time spent into 150 characters (yes characters not words) leave little room for error to capture the attention of the reader of your application.

I look forward to guiding you to organizing your extracurricular activities and together we can confirm your list of colleges and brainstorm topics for your core and supplemental essays.

Whether you’re ready to finish your essays and application before Labor Day or just beginning to research colleges and majors, or perhaps you want to create a customized learning plan to address study habits and time management, I invite you to  CONTACT ME to schedule your Educational & College Admissions Assessment.  My clients include students across all academic levels in 7th to 12th grades.

It’s never too early (Middle School) or too late (Seniors) to set educational goals, build solid time management and learning strategies and discover a hidden academic strength. I invite you to learn more about my role in helping to build your student’s Educational and College Admissions Plan!

Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

Seniors- Please reach out to learn more about our Fall Sunday Afternoon Writers Block Series. A dedicated time free of distraction to work on college applications and essays in a small-group and supportive setting.