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Feeling stressed out about finding that perfect college? Get a grip!!!

25 Aug

It’s the end of August and I can feel the tension among parents, and their college-bound seniors, starting to build. It’s great they are thinking about their college essays and future schools. But the rising stress levels can actually harm their ability to find the right school next fall.

I’m no college counselor, but as a parent of a college sophomore and a high school senior, I found a couple of guide books that helped me put the crazy process into perspective.

The first was called “Colleges that Change Lives.” (Click this link to go to their super helpful web site!) The author basically highlighted small liberal arts colleges that were under the radar and all had strong academics, a clear sense of purpose and a friendly student body. He was all about finding the “right fit” for students, as opposed to pushing them into the most prestigious school they could get into or afford. Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges

Another book with a similar theme and balanced sense of mission is called, “You’re Accepted.”  (Click this link to view short video of author-and yoga instructor!-Katie Malachuk, talking about the college application “journey.”) It’s about keeping a focus on  the “whole-life” and overall “peace of mind” of students, and keeping the process in perspective for the long-run.

You're Accepted: Lose the Stress. Discover Yourself. Get into the College That's Right for You.

A third title, which I haven’t read but comes highly recommended by reasonable parents I know is called, “Harvard Schmarvard.” Again, it’s about finding the right fit for the student instead of worrying about what is the most impressive school to name-drop to your friends.

Harvard Schmarvard: Getting Beyond the Ivy League to the College That is Best for You

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three great books on how to write college essays

27 May

I have mentioned these titles before, but these are my three favorites:

On Writing the College Application Essay: The Key to Acceptance and the College of your ChoiceThe Berkeley Book of College Essays: Personal Statements for California Universities and Other Select Schools (A Cody's Book)50 Successful Harvard Application Essays, Second Edition: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice

There are a jillion of these how-to books on the market, and all have helpful things to say. However, the advice in these books is spot-on, and they include helpful sample essays and are inspiring to read.  Both are available at Amazon.com and are inexpensive.

Reading sample essays is one of the best ways for students to get ideas for topics for their own essays, as well as get a feel for the more casual style and tone of these pieces. I also believe both authors do a good job of taking some of the pressure off these dreaded assignments. The Harvard collection also includes wonderful analyses at the end of each sample essay.

looking for a great book of sample essays?

26 Sep

Product DetailsHere’s a little book of essays written by graduates of Berkeley High School, which has a truly diverse student population and moves through about 700 seniors every year. (“As you will see from these stories, some live on their own, while others come from well-off families,” states the foreword.) And they all found compelling stories to tell about themselves. The essays, which targeted mostly California state schools, UCs and select private colleges across the country, were collected for this book by a savvy college counselor there named Ilene Abrams.

The book includes the name of the authors of each essay, along with what year they graduated and where they ended up going to college. It’s clear that these students were well-counseled in the process, since almost all the essays met the goal of their advisors: to tell a story “only you can tell.” The stories are rich in details, as diverse in topic, style and tone as their writers, and most tell some type of story. The best thing is that I believe they can help students see that they could write a similar essay!

In case you can’t read the title in the image: The Berkeley Book of College Essays: Personal Statements for California Universities and Other Selective Schools, compiled by Janet Huseby.

Writing Tips: From a Master Storyteller Teacher

8 May

Roy Peter Clark was a famous writing coach when newspapers started directing their reporters to tell the news through a story-telling format in the late 70s and 80s, a genre called New Journalism and made famous by Tom Wolfe. (The main difference between New Journalism stories and your college essays is that your stories are told in the first person, as opposed to the third person. It’s all narrative writing.)

Here’s a link to his 50 tips, and podcasts:  http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=78&aid=103943

writingtoolsimage

My favorite tips, when it comes to writing college essays, are numbers 1, 8, 9, 10,  14, 20, 21, 22, 24, 32 and 34. (With each podcast, Clark elaborates on the tip with examples and further insights–if you have the patience and are a good listener. I’m getting the book!)

Have your searched Youtube yet for insider college search help?

28 Oct

Here’s a cool new web site for college applications and making connections. It has its own search engine, online planners, college counselors, etc. There is even a separate site for parents of college-bound students, and you can subscribe to their online newsletter. And it’s all free! The site featured one college counselor who offers free advice via YouTube videos–which is a great place to search for personal, insider advice about colleges! Click here to check it out: uSphere college admissions portal
U Sphere logo

More on “Show, Don’t Tell”

25 Jul


I remember wanting to improve my writing in high school, and feeling frustrated by all the “tips” in the popular how-to-write books: “Be concise,” “Use action verbs,” and the all-popular, “Show, don’t tell.”
OK, but how do I write better?
Later, I came upon one writing book that made a little more sense, called “Writing Down the Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg. Here is what she said about “Show, don’t tell,” that helped me:

“‘Don’t tell, but show.’ What does this actually mean? It means don’t tell us about anger (or any of those big words like honesty, truth, hate, love, sorrow, life, justice, etc.); show us what made you angry. We will read it and feel angry. Don’t tell readers what to feel. Show them the situation, and that feeling will awaken in them.”
And she goes on: “Some general statements are sometimes very appropriate. Just make sure to back each one with a concrete picture. Even if you are writing an essay, it makes the work so much more lively.”

Where to start

5 Mar


One of the biggest obstacles in writing anything, especially “essays,” is getting started.
The other night, I walked into my 15-year-old son’s room where he sat at his desk, very distraught. He admitted up front that he had blown it. The assignment, to write about homelessness for his human ecology class, was given several weeks ago. But he had been absent and failed to find out what he missed, let alone do the catch up research.
Anyway, the rough draft was due the next day. He said he had just spent the last hour staring at his computer screen, trying to write the introduction. He was totally lost and starting to panic.
I remembered the story that one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, said inspired the title for her popular book on writing, Bird by Bird.
She said years ago her younger brother, then 10, was trying to write a report on birds that he had had three months to write. It was due the next day. Her brother was surrounded by books on birds, binder paper, pens and paper, and was totally overwhelmed and close to tears.
Lamott’s dad, a famous writer himself, put his arm around his son and told him, “Just take it bird by bird.”
My son had a similarly overwhelming assignment. How do you get your arms around “homelessness”? The subject fills thousands of books alone! So I gave my son similar advice: Don’t try to take on the whole subject at once. You need to break it down into smaller ideas. Then plug those into an outline. And never, ever, start with your introduction. You have to know what you are going to say first.
When faced with those open-ended college admissions essay questions–along with the impossible expectation that you define the essence of who you are in 500 words–you probably will experience similar feelings of helplessness, dread and panic.
Just remember: Take a deep breath. Relax. Think “bird by bird.” All you need is a plan!