This is the follow up post to “What You Can Learn from the ‘Costco Essay.’” While some applicants hit the mark with a brilliant essay that takes an ordinary instance and shines extraordinary perspective on it, others fall in the trap of rehashing their accomplishments in a way that adds little, if anything, to their application. Take the example of the applicant who decided to write his personal statement about acing the SAT. You can access it here. The author of this article laments the fact that this applicant, with amazing SAT scores, was not admitted to his top choice colleges.
College admissions officers see an applicant's entrance exam scores as part of the application. There is no need to write a personal statement about them, no matter how amazing they are. The most selective colleges can fill their entire class with applicants who have perfect SAT/ACT scores many times over. A great personal statement can help separate an applicant from other talented applicants.
Instead of using the personal statement to rehash an accomplishment that does not add to the application, encourage your child to focus on an instance that demonstrates perspective and candor. Showing an admissions officer how your child thinks and what is important to her help separate her from the other talented applicants.
High School senior Brittany Stinson’s Costco Essay has gone viral. The essay, accessible here, uses Costco as a metaphor to explain her intellectual curiosity. The essay was a hit—Stinson was accepted to five Ivies and Stanford.
Her success--the essay is spectacular--underscores a fundamental rule for the personal statement: the importance of focusing on one instance in the life of the applicant and expanding on its meaning or importance. Stinson earns brownie points for tying her Costco metaphor to how she would add value to a college campus.
For those aspiring to earn admission to colleges like Yale, and Columbia, take comfort knowing that even the most selective colleges in the country appreciate an essay that focuses on a day-to-day activity like going to Costco as long as you can demonstrate why that instance you choose to write demonstrates value to an admissions officer.
Your child is incredibly busy with classes, sports, community service, and any clubs she is involved with in high school. Take a moment, and ask if your child is developing as a leader. Leadership experience will not only give your child the confidence to thrive in college and beyond, but is highly regarded by college admissions officers.
College admissions officers reward leaders, not followers. Admissions officers look for the next generation of student leaders to propel their college forward. Make sure your child is demonstrating that she is a strong leader throughout high school. If your child is involved in any service organizations or clubs through her high school, she must hold a leadership position. Your child is better off starting an organization than joining one as a member.
Make sure your child keeps track of her accomplishments as a student leader in a notebook. College applications will ask your child to list the amount of time she spent in each activity. Your child will also have the opportunity to share any notable accomplishments leading an activity on her applications as well.
This year is flying by, and before you know it, summer will arrive. Now is a good time to ask what child will do to maximize summer break. Summer is an opportunity for your child to prep for the SAT without the pressure of classwork, intern at a local nonprofit or university to develop skills in an area she is passionate about, volunteer for a cause that is meaningful to her, or take a summer school class at a local college in a field that excites her. Whatever your child does this summer, encourage growth opportunities that benefit your child and her college applications.
Finding the right summer plans depends on your child’s college goals. One of the most important parts of the college application is the SAT/ACT. If your child needs additional time to prepare for it, consider a prep program during the summer. If your child has additional free time, consider internships or activities that will give your child perspective or skills that college admissions officers value. For example, a future psychology student would benefit from an internship in a psychology lab at a local university, or from volunteering with an organization that provides counseling services.
Whatever your child does this summer, make sure it supports her eventual application theme and adds to the essays, activities, grades, and test scores that will make up her applications.
Finding the right SAT/ACT prep program for your child can be challenging. It is hard to identify which tutors/programs are worth the (high) cost. Competitive students and parents can also be guarded with information that makes anyone else a competitive applicant. Consider the following strategies for finding a program that can raise SAT/ACT scores to a competitive level for the colleges your child would like to attend:
Congratulations! Your child is in. Until now, college has been a sellers’ market. Everything your child has done in the application process was to convince selective colleges to admit her. Now, it is a buyer’s market as colleges compete to get your child to enroll. As the joy of earning admission gives way to the anxiety of figuring out how to pay for college, consider the following to reduce the cost of your child’s college education:
Determine if the college is offering your child real aid
Colleges will send financial aid packages either with their admission offers or in the following days. Colleges classify loans as “financial aid.” These loans are not aid, as they will leave your family or child with debt. Identify in the financial aid package any loan offers. Your goal is to reduce the cost of your child’s college education by converting these loans to merit scholarships and/or need-based grants that do not need to be repaid.
Negotiate larger merit scholarships
The size of a merit scholarship your child has received is not set in stone. Colleges can match scholarships from colleges that are similar with respect to ranking and admission requirements to entice your child to enroll. Your child should adopt a hard bargaining position, schedule a call with her designated admissions officer, and tell that admissions officer that she requires a larger scholarship that matches other scholarships she has received to enroll at that college. As an admitted student, your child has the leverage to negotiate.
Ask for more need-based grants
With a college education costing as much as $120,000 for a public university and over $280,000 for a private university, who doesn’t demonstrate a need for help with paying for college? If your child’s financial aid package does not reflect your family’s ability to pay for that college, call your child’s assigned financial aid officer, explain your family’s financial situation, and ask for a reevaluation of grant award it has offered. Financial aid officers may require additional documentation for a reevaluation, but filling out supplemental aid applications may result in additional grants.