Friday, September 26, 2014

Tips for writing your personal statement or college application essays

A personal statement or essay for a college application is a unique genre—a kind of autobiographical essay many students have not written before.  I define it as a kind of “story plus” with the “plus” being a reflection or self-evaluation of a pivotal experience in one’s life.
Here are some important considerations for students as they begin drafting their personal statements this college application season:

1) AUDIENCE---Who will read your personal statement?
Well, the admissions committee of every school you apply to, of course.  Generally there are two kinds of admissions officers—the recent grad and the seasoned director.  The recent grad is in touch with the current student body—and he/she can easily project how a candidate might you fit in. The veteran admission officer has no doubt seen or read it all.  It’s hard to impress him/her with an original or crazy story—so that should free you to write your own story without trying to find something extraordinary to write about.

2) VOICE---Consider the importance of writing in your own “voice.”
--Each writer’s sentence style and structure, choice of adjectives, and imagery is unique.  Writers communicate about themselves through content and style.  Both reveal personality.  Be authentic as you write.  Don’t try to imitate anyone else’s style or use sophisticated vocabulary if it’s not natural to you.
--Do be careful with a humorous tone or approach (in consideration of your dual audience, especially). 

3) STRUCTURE—Narrow your focus to write about on ONE incident or experience, not several.
--At least as important as the story you tell is how you evaluate it.  It’s not necessary to have sky-dived or invented a new video game—how you reflect on, or what you learned from the experience is more important.
--You are answering the prompt and “proving” an implicit thesis using specific examples from your own life to illustrate.  Avoid generalizations, quotations, narratives about other people.  Instead use details, action, dialogue. Admissions officers want to know about YOU.

General tips for writing an effective personal statement:
1)   Narrow and focus your topic to one incident or example.
2)    Answer the prompt.
3)    Be conscious of your audience.
4)    Use SPECIFIC examples and details throughout the essay.
5)    Save space for reflection.
6)    Be concise.
7)    Begin and end memorably.
8)    Edit carefully.

Finally, it’s a good idea to find someone who can be a trusted proofreader to catch the errors and typos you might overlook being too familiar with the draft.

Friday, September 12, 2014

News from the UC Counselors’ Conference Fall 2014

Today I attended the UC Counselors’ Conference sponsored by UC Berkeley and held at the San Jose Convention Center.  High school and community counselors as well as IECs (Independent Education Consultants) and non-profit program directors from all over the greater Bay Area attended. 

The information we gathered was similar to last year: a growing applicant pool, lower admission rates, new majors and facilities, and high rankings for UC professors in research.  An added concern among counselors seemed to be the increasing percentage of international and out of state applicants and acceptances—as high as 20% at UC Berkeley, lower at 7% for UC Santa Cruz, and an overall system average of 13%.  Our plenary speaker, Associate VP for Undergraduate Admissions Stephen Handel explained that these students bring both more diversity and money to the UC system.  Of course counselors, students, and parents are worried that this increase only makes the schools even more selective for in state applicants.

Still, there was a lot of good news to celebrate.  Many more resources are being devoted to attract low income and first generation college students and programs are being added for undocumented students, students for foster care, veterans and students with learning disabilities.  Several of the campuses are offering exciting new majors among them: Materials Chemistry at Berkeley, Sustainable Environmental Design at Davis, Exercise Science and Education Science at Irvine, Public Health at Merced, and Global Health at San Diego.  By the next application cycle all UC campuses will be using holistic review, which is a more flexible approach to evaluating student achievement and potential.

Here is a summary of advice for student applicants offered by VP Handel:

--Academics always matter.  Take the most rigorous—but balanced course load—you can handle at your high school.
--Take reasonable educational risks.
--For the personal statement be authentic rather than strategic.
--“If you shoot for the moon, plan for a campus on Earth.” (I paraphrase this to mean: Apply to schools for which you have a good chance of acceptance.  Have a Plan “B” if your top choice doesn’t work out.  You might even consider a gap year or applying to your chosen UC after attending community college.)

It’s always a good idea to visit a few or several UC campuses if you have a chance.  Several of the campuses are offering Fall Visit or Preview Days:
--UC San Diego: September 27, October 11 and November 1
--UC Merced: October 18
--UC Riverside: October 18, November 15
UCLA: September 20
Santa Cruz: October 25

Check the UC Admissions Website for more information about visiting and about each campuses academic programs and admissions advice.