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The College Essay Guy Podcast: A Practical Guide to College Admissions
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The College Essay Guy Podcast: A Practical Guide to College Admissions

Author: Ethan Sawyer

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Practical, up-to-date interviews with experts in college admissions, financial aid, personal statements, test prep and more. Ethan Sawyer (aka College Essay Guy), interviews deans of admission, financial aid experts, and veterans of the admissions field to extract, then distill their advice into practical steps for students and those guiding them through the process. From creating an awesome college list to appealing a financial aid letter, Ethan skips the general advice and gets right to the action items, all in an effort to bring more ease, joy and purpose into the college admissions process.
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Welcome to our special three-part series on mental health disclosures in college applications.  To kick things off, Ethan interviews Chris Loo, Director of College Counseling at The Stony Brook School, where Chris has been working to help students navigate mental health disclosures in their applications for years. In this episode, they explore: Which student populations does Chris see struggle with mental health challenges? When to disclose mental health issues and when it might not be necessary How and where in their applications students can disclose, from their additional info section to the counselor recommendation letter to the personal statement Advice for counselors and an exploration of the question: "Are we discussing this too much?" This episode is informed by conversations with many admission officers over the years and by direct work with students. If you’d like to hear from an admission officer directly, check out episode two in this series with Christina Lopez, Dean of Enrollment Management at Barnard College, and episode three with Emi Nietfeld, who discusses what it was like to navigate mental health disclosures from the student perspective.  Chris Loo immigrated from South Korea at the age of 5 with her parents. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in American History and received her Masters in Clinical Social Work. She has also worked as a music teacher, a campus chaplain and a mental health counselor at a refugee resettlement organization. She also serves as a board director for the National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC).  We hope you enjoy the conversation.     Play-by-Play 2:24 - Chris’ background in mental health and college counseling 6:11 - Should students disclose mental health challenges in their college application? 10:20 - What questions can students ask themselves to help decide? 15:08 - What is the Additional Information section and how could it be used to disclose mental health challenges? 17:20 - Chris and Ethan review an example disclosure from the Additional Information section 24:06 - What information could be shared through the counselor letter of recommendation? 24:42 - Chris shares a sample counselor letter example  34:33 - Ethan reads a personal statement sample where a student chose to disclose  47:15 - What is the role of the counselor in this process for students? 54:44 - Are we talking about mental health too much?  57:27 - Closing thoughts for students and families     Resources Blog post inspired by this episode: Should I Discuss Mental Health in My Personal Statement or College Application? (And If So, How)? How to Use the Common App Additional Information Section: Guide + Examples CEG Podcast Episode 507: What Colleges Want (Part 7A): Recommendation Letter Crash Course for Students and Families CEG Podcast Episode 508: What Colleges Want (Part 7B): Recommendation Letter Crash Courses for Counselors and Teachers NYTimes Article: Are We Talking Too Much About Mental Health?
In today's episode, Ethan connects with Angel Pérez (CEO of the National Association of College Admission Counselors) to discuss identity, his personal journey with self-care, and where he sees the college admission profession heading.  On the episode, you’ll hear Angel and Ethan discuss: Angel’s brainstorming work for his own imagined college essay (yes, really) What Angel’s core values have to do with his self-care journey Strategies and techniques Angel (and Ethan) use for self care How does Angel see the US college landscape (and/or admissions process) changing in the next 5 years?  Fun fact: You’ll find the YouTube video version of this podcast on the College Essay Guy YouTube channel. Check out last year’s conversation, CEG Podcast Episode 401: Self-care for counselors, leaders, and professionals in helping roles. If you haven’t met Angel Pérez, he is CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). In this role, he represents more than 25,000 admission and counseling professionals worldwide committed to postsecondary access and success. Named by a Forbes article in 2019 as the most influential voice in college admissions, he strives to build an educational ecosystem that better represents today’s society. Prior to joining NACAC in July of 2020, Dr. Pérez served in secondary and higher education leadership positions across America, most recently, as Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success at Trinity College in Connecticut. He is an advocate for counselors everywhere, an important ally in the work of increasing access to higher education, and I’m so lucky to call him my friend… Hope you enjoy this episode.    Play-by-Play 2:43 - Introductions and welcome 4:15 - Values Exercise 9:13 - Social Identities Exercise 11:47 - What life experiences have influenced Angel’s identities?  19:58 - How do Angel’s core values connect to identity?  22:46 - How has self-care for Angel and Ethan evolved since their conversation last year? 27:06 - What are Angel and Ethan still working on for self-care? 33:39 - Accountability, pausing, and intention in self-care  39:24 - How does Angel see the US college landscape (and/or admissions process) changing in the next 5 years?  44:14 - How has the ban on race-conscious admission impacted students?  46:07 - Advice for students  48:20 - Is college still worth the cost? 50:56 - Advice for counselors and admission professionals 53:23 - Closing thoughts   Resources YouTube video version of this episode (511) Values Exercise Social Identities Exercise Counting Up vs. Counting Down by Duncan Sabien   30-Day Phone Breakup Course (Catherine Price) Rocket Fuel by Mark C. Winters, Gino Wickman CEG Podcast Episode 401: Self-care for counselors, leaders, and professionals in helping roles CEG Podcast Episode 406: Why You Don’t Have to Write about Trauma in Your College Essay to Stand Out—and What You Can Do Instead  
Today’s episode concludes our 9-part “What Colleges Want” series, where we’ve been walking through the results of the report released by the National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) regarding the factors that colleges deem important. Ethan is joined by Jay Rosner (Executive Director of The Princeton Review Foundation) to talk about standardized testing.  In this episode they get into:  What are the origins of the SAT? What’s changed in the testing landscape in the last year or two?  Does test optional really mean test optional? How much standardized tests matter for colleges? How do students figure out their preparation timeline and which test to take?  Why might testing be considered problematic? As the Executive Director of The Princeton Review Foundation, Jay Rosner has developed programs jointly with such organizations as the NAACP, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, College and Graduate Horizons (serving Native American students) and the Asian Pacific Fund. Jay's career has combined education and law, with an emphasis on student advocacy. He has testified before state legislative committees in California, Texas, Illinois and New Jersey, and as an expert witness in cases involving testing. Before attending law school, Jay was a public high school math teacher. Jay holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, a JD from Widener University, and is the proud father of two grown daughters.   Hope you enjoy!    Play-by-play 2:16 - How does Jay know so much about standardized tests?  4:23 - What are the origins of the SAT? 6:40 - How has standardized testing changed in recent years? 11:25 - Is test-optional really optional?  13:26 - How much do standardized tests matter in the application review? 14:49 - Who should take standardized tests? 20:24 - Is it better to take the SAT or the ACT? 23:30 - What are the benefits of quality test prep?  27:10 - How can students reach their best score?  33:54 - How do students know if they should submit their scores or not?  38:40 - Advice for counselors working with students in marginalized populations   42:05 - Why do some folks find standardized testing to be problematic? 45:00 - Closing advice for students and counselors    Resources List of test-optional and test-free schools CEG's Crash Course to Standardized Testing Add’l Info Sample on Testing   
On today’s episode, Tom Campbell (CEG’s Community Manager) is joined by Carolyn Starks, a former Pomona and Bates admissions officer and Associate Director of College Counseling at Oakwood School (North Hollywood, CA) at the time of recording, to talk about extracurricular activities and the activities list on college applications. They get into, among other things: What are some of the benefits of getting involved in your school community? How can students explore activities outside of their high schools? How do admission officers evaluate a student’s activities list? Frequently asked questions about activities and summer programs And more!  But first, let’s meet Carolyn:  Carolyn Starks followed her father’s footsteps and attended Rhodes College in Memphis, TN where she studied English and Africana Studies. After graduation, she moved to Portland, ME to work at Bates College where she focused on supporting first-generation-to-college, BIPOC, and/or low-income students through the admissions process. After two years, she landed a job at Pomona College’s Office of Admissions where she joined the Access Team, ran the College’s diversity fly-in programs, and learned to be justice oriented in her approach to educational equity. Though at the time of recording Carolyn was Oakwood School in North Hollywood’s Associate Director of College Counseling, she will soon be moving to serve as Co-Director of College Counseling at Santa Fe Prep in Santa Fe, NM. In her free time, Carolyn enjoys indulging in local cuisine and watching Bravo with her husband and her dog, Ms. Pecan Pie.    We hope you enjoy the episode.    Play-by-Play 4:48 - What is Carolyn’s background?  6:20 - What activities was Carolyn involved in during high school? 8:36 - What activities did Tom participate in during high school?  10:45 - How can students learn about the opportunities at their school? 16:50 - Why should students get involved within their school community? 23:09 - How can students be involved in extracurriculars outside their school?  29:57 - What should students keep in mind when applying to highly selective schools? 36:13 - Do colleges have preferred activities or summer experiences? 36:41 - Does placement on an activities list matter? 37:37 - How many years should students participate in an activity?  39:05 - How important is having formal leadership roles?  42:18 - What might not be worth putting on your activities list?  46:25 - How many activities is enough?  51:22 - How can students maintain a balance between their home life, academic, and extracurricular activities? 55:47 - Closing thoughts  Resources Extracurricular Activities: A comprehensive guide with 400+ examples and ideas How to Write a Successful Common App Activities List A List of Activities You May Not Have Considered Including—But That Count! 80+ Real Examples for Writing Your Extracurricular Activity List
Today’s episode is all about writing letters of recommendation for teachers and counselors. Continuing our series on What Colleges Want, Tom Campbell (CEG’s Community Manager) is joined by Hanah Lim (CEG’s Director of Workshops and a former high school English teacher), where they provide their tips, tricks, and hacks to help you write more efficient and effective letters for your students.  Tom and Hanah discuss: How long should letters be and what format works best? How do letters differ between counselors and teachers? What details might be helpful to include, and what should be avoided? How can teachers and counselors efficiently gather more information about their students to include in the letter?  We hope you enjoy the episode! In case you missed it: Students and families, be sure to check out last week’s episode with Ayesha King to learn about what goes into a letter of recommendation, how they are evaluated by colleges, and who students should consider asking.  Hanah Lim is the Director of Workshops at College Essay Guy and a former public high school English teacher. She oversees College Essay Guy's essay and application workshop team and organizes speaking events and college application and essay workshops for students at schools and organizations in the US and around the world. She has presented college essay workshops to thousands of students across diverse settings, including community-based organizations, public, international, and independent schools. She also worked as a college consultant for students in Bangkok, Thailand, directed SAT prep centers in Irvine, California and worked with non-profit groups and as an AVID teacher and coordinator to help close the achievement gap. She holds a B.A. in English with an emphasis in Education from California State University of Long Beach.  Hanah finds joy in watching musicals, visiting Disney parks with her husband, and playing with her two cats.   Play-by-Play 2:19 - Hanah and Tom share their school contexts for writing their letters of recommendation 5:40 - How much weight do letters of recommendation hold in admission?  10:25 - What is the best practice for the length of a letter of recommendation for college?  10:57 - How should it be formatted?  14:03 - Should a letter be customized for each college? 15:38 - What else is submitted with the student’s application from the high school? 16:19 - What is covered in the school profile?  19:44 - What is covered in the counselor’s letter? 25:25 - What is covered in the teacher's letter? 30:46 - How does the Supreme Court ruling on race-conscious admission affect letters of recommendation? 36:29 - What generally might be not as helpful to include in the letter? 40:38 - Hanah shares her process for writing letters of recommendation 49:18 - Tom shares his process for writing letters of recommendation 59:01 -  How to incorporate a student’s essay brainstorming work 1:01:37 - How could generative AI be utilized in the recommendation writing process? 1:07:08 - Closing thoughts   Resources Continued Learning On-Demand Webinar: How to Write Better Recommendations in Less Time  How (and Why) to Uplevel Your School Profile Post-SCOTUS (College Essay Guy) CEG Podcast Episode 507: What Colleges Want (Part 7A): Recommendation Letter Crash Course for Students and Families Sample Recommendation Letters Sample Recommendation Letters by Student Archetype How to Write a Letter of Recommendation: Counselor's Guide + Samples (College Essay Guy) How to Write a Recommendation Letter for a Student: Teacher's Guide + Samples (College Essay Guy) Junior Questionnaires/Recommendation Request Form Questions Sample Junior Questionnaire (for Counselor Recommendations) Hanah Lim’s Teacher Recommendation Request Form Helpful Student Brag Sheet Questions for Teacher Letters of Recommendation (Johns Hopkins University) Working with Recommenders and Advisors (several brag sheets from Common App Ready) College Essay Guy's 100 Brave and Interesting Questions (inspiration for your junior survey/questionnaire) Equity Resources Inequity and College Applications: Assessing Differences and Disparities in Letters of Recommendation from School Counselors with Natural Language Processing | EdWorkingPapers (Brown Unviersity) Avoiding Gender Bias in Reference Writing (University of Arizona) Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Recommendation Letters | Center for Research and Fellowships (Georgetown University) Best Practices for Reading and Writing Letters of Recommendation (Lehigh University) Gender Bias Calculator (TomForth.Co.Uk) Gender-Bias calculator (Github) Bias-Free Letters of Recommendation: MD Education: Feinberg School of Medicine (Northwestern University) Efficiency Resources Google “Save As” Form Publisher (autofills student questionnaire responses from a spreadsheet onto your school letterhead) AI Recommendation Writing Resources (2023 NACAC Presentation) 2022-23 College Recommendation Requirements (College Transition)    
This week, Tom Campbell (CEG’s Community Manager) is joined by Ayesha King (Director of College Counseling at the International School of Los Angeles) to talk about letters of recommendation. They get into: What goes into a letter of recommendation?  How are they evaluated by colleges? Who should students consider asking, and how do they ask? What can students and families do to ensure that their letters are the best they can be? What are FERPA rights and why should you waive them? Ayesha King (she/her) has over twelve years of experience in admissions at the secondary, undergraduate, and postgraduate levels, developing her values of social justice, equity and access. She is currently the Director of College Counseling at the International School of Los Angeles (LILA), a French International school, where she is stretching her skills working with students considering post-secondary options all over the world. She holds her Bachelors degree from the University of Redlands and her Masters degree from California Lutheran University. Ayesha loves spending time with her two boys and two dogs, visiting Disneyland, and talking about pop culture.   This is the next episode in our series on What Colleges Want. Stay tuned for our upcoming episode about writing letters of recommendation for teachers and counselors. Tom will be joined by Hanah Lim (CEG’s Director of Workshops and a former high school English teacher), where they provide their tips, tricks, and hacks to help you write more efficient and effective letters for your students.   Play-by-Play 2:49 - How important are letters of recommendation to admissions officers?  5:55 - Why might it be called a “Letter of Advocacy” instead? 7:19 - When would a letter of recommendation make a big impact on a student’s application? 13:38 - Should students also share this important context if it’s already in their recommendation letter? 15:35 - How can students determine how many letters to request? 19:49 - What is being said in these letters? 26:38 - Which teachers are typically the best to ask for a recommendation letter? 29:51 - Why should students consider asking a teacher from a class they struggled in? 30:47 - What can students do to help their teachers & counselors write the best letter possible? 36:06 - What information should students share with their recommenders? 39:20 - How should students ask for a letter once they have determined who to ask? 44:41 - Do students ever see their letters of recommendation?  48:24 - Closing advice for parents & students   Resources How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation for College: Step-by-Step Guide for Students CollegeTransitions Blog Post - College Recommendation Requirements Podcast Ep. 505 - What Colleges Want (Part 5): A Crash Course in the Supplemental Essays + Application with Ethan Sawyer (College Essay Guy) How to Write a Successful Common App Activities List How to Use the Common App Additional Information Section: Guide + Examples 100 Brave + Interesting Questions Pedro Pascal Cries From His Head While Eating Spicy Wings  
On today’s episode, Ethan is joined by Christine Bowman, Assistant VP for Admission at Southwestern University. In part 6 in our series on What Colleges Want, Ethan and Christine get into: What is demonstrated interest and how do colleges track it?  How important is demonstrated interest to a student’s chance of getting in? How might students find out if a particular school considers demonstrated interest in their admission review? What are some practical ways you can demonstrate your interest to colleges? Christine Bowman is the Assistant VP for Admission at Southwestern, where she oversees the admission department to set enrollment and retention philosophies. She has a Masters in Higher Ed Administration from UT-Austin, was the Co-Chair for the 2007 NACAC National Conference in and has served two terms as the Chair of the Colleges that Change Lives Board of Directors (see last season’s episode with Ann Marano for more on CTCL’s work). She currently serves on the advisory board of ROCA-NM (Rural Opportunities for College Access) and, with almost 30 years of experience in the admission profession, Christine believes in guiding students to find the right college fit and regularly gives presentations encouraging a stress-free college search process. We hope you enjoy the conversation!    Play-by-Play 2:15 - What is demonstrated interest? 5:00 - Why might demonstrated interest be important to colleges? 8:22 - What is yield? 11:24 - How can students demonstrate interest for a particular school?  15:17 - What can colleges track? 18:52 - For whom does demonstrated interest matter most?  23:47 - How to “break up” with a college 27:05 - What are some practical tips for students as they reach out to a college? 30:10 - How might an admissions officer use demonstrated interest? 32:58 - What ways can students demonstrate interest without visiting campus? 37:24 - What is the difference between early action, early decision, and regular decision? 40:25 - How important is the college interview? 48:10 - What can parents do to support their students during this process? 53:02 - Closing advice for parents, students, and counselors    Resources A Behind the Scenes Look at Demonstrated Interest w/Christine Bowman (Southwestern University) What is Demonstrated Interest? A Practical How-To Guide Factors in the Admission Decision (NACAC Report) How to Decide Whether to Apply Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED) College Interview Tips and Strategies - The Ultimate Guide CEG Podcast Episode 411: Finding Your Why, What a Liberal Arts Education Really Is, and How to Figure out What You Actually Want w/ Ann Marano (CTCL)  
On this week’s episode, Tom Campbell (CEG’s Community Manager) sits down with Ethan Sawyer (College Essay Guy) for Part 5 in our What Colleges Want series to talk about some of the other written parts of the application—the activities list, additional information section, and supplemental essays. Tom and Ethan get into: How can students write a great Activities List?  How can you find out what colleges are looking for in the supplemental essays? And what even is the additional information section? What is a ‘Super Essay’ and how might it be useful? How does a student know when their application is complete? Fun fact: You’ll find the YouTube video version of this podcast on the College Essay Guy YouTube channel.   Play-by-Play 1:09 - What are the other writing components of a college application? 5:26 - How can students write a great Activities List?  9:33 - Does the order of the activities matter? 11:41 - Are activities from 9th and 10th grade worth putting in the Activities List? 13:37 - When should students elaborate on Activities in their Additional Info section? 17:05 - What else can go into the Additional Info section?  23:14 - What are some things to avoid putting in the Additional Info section? 24:41 - How should students format the Additional Info section? 26:19 - Why do some colleges have supplemental essays? 27:31 - What are some of the most common supplemental essays prompts? 34:11 - How might institutional priorities impact an individual applicant?  44:14 - What is a ‘Super Essay’ and how is it used? 49:12 - How does a student know when their application is complete?   Resources How to Write a Successful Common App Activities List How to Use the Common App Additional Information Section: Guide + Examples My College List (Research + Essay Topic Tracker) School-Specific Supplemental Essays Why This College Essay Guide + Examples How to Combine Your College Essay Prompts (To Save 20+ Writing Hours) What the Heck are "Hooks" and "Institutional Priorities"? The Values Exercise CEG Podcast Episode 101: Life As an Undocumented Student at Harvard CEG Podcast Episode 504: What Colleges Want (Part 4): A Crash Course in the Personal Statement with Ethan Sawyer (College Essay Guy)
On this week’s episode, Tom Campbell (CEG’s Community Manager) sits down with Ethan Sawyer (College Essay Guy) for Part 4 in our What Colleges Want series to talk about the personal statement. According to the latest State of College Admission report – after grades, course rigor, and positive character traits (see previous episodes), the college essay is what colleges care about most. Tom and Ethan get into:  What is the purpose of the personal statement?  How do you find a topic, especially if you’re not writing about challenges?   Why do I recommend students NOT choose a common extracurricular activity as their main college essay topic?  How do you stand out?  And how do you know when you’re done? Fun fact: You’ll find the YouTube video version of this podcast on the College Essay Guy YouTube channel.   Play-by-Play 1:38 - What is the purpose of the personal statement in the college admission process? 2:53 - How might students use this statement for multiple schools?  3:48 - Should students talk about challenges they’ve faced in a personal statement?  6:47 - Should students talk about their major or career goals? 8:33 - Where is the best place to discuss extracurricular activities?  10:20 - Should students explain red flags in their personal statement? 11:26 - How can students brainstorm potential topics for their personal statement? 17:56 - What is the structure of a personal statement? 21:11 - How can students stand out? 28:57 - Case Study: What does the process look like from brainstorming to final draft? 35:39 - How does a student know when their essay is done? 38:27 - Is there a place for artificial intelligence in the college essay? 41:47 - have personal statements shifted since the Supreme Court ruling on Race-Conscious Admissions? 44:04 - Why does the personal statement process matter? 49:14 - Closing thoughts   Resources YouTube Video version of this episode (504) Sample personal statements 7 Brainstorming Exercises (YouTube video) The “Food” essay (YouTube video analysis) The Great College Essay Test Why You Don’t Have to Write about Trauma in Your College Essay to Stand Out—and What You Can Do Instead Matchlighters Informaiton CEG Podcast Episode 404: Race-Conscious Admission Was Struck Down—What Does This Mean and What Can Students and College Counselors Do? w/ Jay Rosner Is It “Okay” to Talk About Race in Your College Application and Essays—And If So, How Should You Do It?  
In today’s two-part episode, we’re delving into one of the potentially more confusing aspects of what colleges want — “positive character attributes” — which 65.8% of colleges give considerable or moderate importance.  In part 1, I’m joined by Tom Bear (VP for Enrollment at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology) and Bob Massa (former chief admissions/enrollment officer at Johns Hopkins University, Dickinson College and Drew University) to discuss: What are these positive character attributes? Why are they important to colleges? How do colleges decide which qualities to seek and how to evaluate for them? How do students show these qualities in their application?  Part 2 is with Trisha Ross Anderson, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project, and we get into: How Making Caring Common helps colleges figure out what they are looking for How some colleges are working to increase access and equity in admissions Advice to parents as they navigate this process with their students Tom Bear has been working in college enrollment since 1987 at a variety of institutions, including as VP for Enrollment at University of Evansville, Senior Director of Enrollment at Notre Dame and now as the VP for Enrollment at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He joined the Character Collaborative in 2017, served as Board Chair and will chair NACAC’s Character Focus Initiative. Bob Massa got his Doctorate in Higher Education from Columbia, served as the chief admissions/enrollment officer at Johns Hopkins University, Dickinson College and Drew University and Co- founded the Character Collaborative in 2016. Although he has retired from full-time work after 45 years of campus-based work, he is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California’s online masters program in enrollment management. Trisha Ross Anderson has served on research teams at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for the past 13 years. She’s worked with the Making Caring Common (MCC) Project to help write reports including one called Turning the Tide that focuses on reform of the college admission process. She leads MCC’s college admissions initiatives with Richard Weissbourd and currently serves on NACAC’s Character Focus Initiative Advisory Council.    Play-by-Play 0:00 - Meet Tom Bear and Bob Massa (Part 1) 2:12 - What do colleges mean by “positive character attributes”?  3:55 - What are some examples of these “positive character attributes”?   4:58 - Why is it important for students, parents, and counselors to think about these qualities? 7:16 - How do colleges decide what qualities they’re looking for? 12:04 - How do colleges evaluate students for these qualities? 13:09 - Example of a rubric on extraordinary commitment to others 19:10 - Why don’t colleges share their rubrics for what they’re looking for? 21:18 - What can students do to better understand what a particular school is looking for? 24:08 - How do colleges evaluate “character” in an applicant?  29:58 - What is the high school profile and how is it used in a student’s evaluation? 31:20 - Why is it important to think about positive character attributes now? 35:56 - How can students demonstrate these qualities in their college applications?  40:00 - What can parents do to help their students in this process?  42:01 - Meet Trisha Ross Anderson (Part 2) 43:09 - What is the Making Caring Common (MCC) project? 44:37 - How is MCC working with colleges?  46:17 - Why is it difficult to create a rubric for these qualities? 48:16 - How is MCC helping colleges decide on what they are looking for?  52:45 - How is MCC helping colleges to increase equity and access in the college admissions process? 57:33 - Advice for parents on navigating this process with their students 1:01:31 - Closing thoughts    Resources Making Caring Common Character Assessment in College Admission Guide Turning the Tide (2016): Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions Turning the Tide II (2019): How Parents and High Schools Can Cultivate Ethical Character and Reduce Distress in The College Admissions Process How (and Why) to Uplevel Your School Profile Post-SCOTUS: A Guide for Counselors that Predominantly Serve First Generation, Low-Income and/or Underrepresented Students of Color How to Research Colleges Without Visiting a Campus How to Choose a College: A Step-By-Step Guide How to Use the Common App Additional Information Section: Guide + Examples Ideas from Ethan for finding what you care about + finding content for your application:  Values Exercise (2 min) If you really, really knew me… (1 hr)
On today’s episode, Tom Campbell (CEG’s Community Manager) and Nitzya Cuevas-Macias (Director of College Programs at Downtown College Prep) cover: How do students decide which classes to take—and what questions should they ask when deciding? Key recommendations for selecting English, math, science, social studies, language, and elective courses The most frequently asked questions we get asked about courses and grades Nitzya Cuevas-Macias was a first-gen college student at UC Berkeley where she studied History and Legal Studies, and earned her Master’s in Mexican American Studies from San José State. She’s been working in education for 16 years where the majority of her time has been in college access and success, in the CBO, non-profit world, k-12 public and charter, and community college. Currently, she is the Director of College Programs at Downtown College Prep, a free public charter in San José, CA and serves as a board member of the Western Association for College Admission Counseling.  We hope you enjoy!   Play-by-Play: 2:21 - Introductions 6:02 - What are key things to keep in mind when planning your high school experience?  10:21 - Subject area recommendations 11:40 - English  16:04 - Math 21:34 - Science  28:02 - Social Studies 31:11 - Languages 33:06 - Visual/Performing Arts  36:17 - Electives 36:39 - Rapid-fire FAQs about grades 37:43 How do colleges evaluate my course grades and transcript? 38:22 - Is it important to only get Straight-As to have a chance?  40:29 - How do colleges evaluate my GPA? 42:05 - How can students balance a high GPA with challenging courses? 44:28 - Should students increase their rigor every year? 45:23 - Is it a good idea to take additional summer or online courses? 49:43 - How important is class rank? 51:19 - Should I pick Honors, AP, IB, or Dual Enrollment?  54:17 - Are AP and IB scores important if my school doesn’t offer AP courses? 57:28 - How do I know what classes to take if I don't know what I want to study or where I want to go to college? 59:59 - Wrap up / closing thoughts Resources: Coursera UC Scout Episode 403: AP, IB, Honors, Oh My!: How Admissions Officers View Your High School Courses, Rigor, and School Context - Susan Tree Episode 213: Self-Directed Learning (Why You Can Quit HS & Be Okay) What are AP classes? IB vs AP Easiest AP Classes Hardest AP Classes
Show Notes On today's episode, Ethan sits down with David Hawkins, Chief Education and Policy Officer at National Association of College Admission Counselors (aka NACAC), and they get discuss, among other things:  What are the most important factors colleges consider?  What significant changes has he seen in the college admission landscape in the past few years? How has the emphasis on college essays (aka the personal statement) shifted?  Why has the emphasis in standardized testing changed? What have the impacts been of the Supreme Court decision to ban race conscious admission?  How can students, counselors, and parents use the info in this report to make their college admission process easier?  For over 20 years, David Hawkins has worked in enrollment management and admissions to alleviate systemic barriers to accessing higher education. Hawkins has played a key role in setting NACAC's strategic direction, which involved hearing and representing the collective voice of NACAC’s more than 25,000 high school counselors and college admission officers. His priorities include making NACAC a more effective learning organization, with an emphasis on ethics and redefining advocacy.  We hope you enjoy the conversation.   Play-by-Play 2:04 - Introductions 3:03 - What is the State of College Admission report? 5:48 - How can students, parents, and counselors use this report? 9:50 - Which factors of admissions decisions are most important to colleges? 13:34 - How are “positive character attributes” assessed? 18:00 - What are some specific qualities that are important to colleges? 20:46 - How do students show these qualities in their applications? 25:33 - How has the importance of the college essay shifted in recent years? 27:13 - Which colleges seem to value the essay more highly? 28:47 - How does a student’s interest in attending a particular school influence admissions decisions? 32:30 - How are counselor & teacher recommendations assessed? 33:58 - What are admissions officers looking for in extracurricular activities? 37:38 - Why is high school class rank dropping in rank of importance?  39:30 - Do colleges still want to see standardized test scores? 42:52 - Quick thoughts on creative portfolios, interviews, work experience, state exam scores, and subject test scores 44:49 - David shares predictions on shifts in equity and inclusion in the future of admissions 48:57 - Closing thoughts    Resources State of College Admission Report What is Demonstrated Interest? A Practical How-To Guide A List of Activities You May Not Have Considered Including—But That Count! How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation for College: Step-by-Step Guide for Students How to Write a Letter of Recommendation: Counselor's Guide + Samples How to Write a Recommendation Letter for a Student: Teacher’s Guide + Samples Crash Course to Standardized Testing Podcast Episodes: 204: What You Need to Know About Standardized Tests and Mistakes to Avoid 411: Finding Your Why, What a Liberal Arts Education Really Is, and How to Figure out What You Actually Want  
On today’s episode, Ethan is joined by Amanda Miller, who got her start in financial aid through the College Advising Corps at Davidson College in 2014. A few thousand students, several resources, and dozens of financial aid presentations later, Amanda’s an independent financial aid specialist and college adviser who also serves as the financial aid go-to lady for the Matchlighters program and someone we consider to be a part of the extended College Essay Guy family.  Ethan and Amanda discuss:  How do people identify the best ways to pay for college? What are some things that people who win scholarships do differently? What’s the most important thing a student can do to make college affordable and avoid going into tons of debt? How can you learn which colleges are likely to be affordable to you? Myths on topics ranging from financial aid appeals to applying out of state   Play-by-Play 1:45 - Intro 2:49 - How do people pay for college? 4:39 - Where does most of the money come from when it comes to paying for college? 5:28 - What are the three types of scholarships? 7:28 - How do students win scholarships? 10:38 - How does the FAFSA help students pay for college? 15:21 - How do students avoid taking on too much debt? 19:23 - How do students figure out what kinds of colleges will be affordable? 27:30 - What are some of Amanda’s favorite affordability tools for students and parents? 29:43 - Amanda busts some college affordability myths 37:33 - How can families determine if college is truly worth the cost? 41:42 - What is the difference between “cost of attendance” and “net cost”? 44:04 - Why should most people still complete the FAFSA? 47:57 - What is a reasonable amount of debt to graduate with? 50:21 - What steps should students take to figure out their financial plan for college? 51:52 - Closing thoughts Resources Financial Aid Advising with Amanda Miller (The Counselor Lady) Meeting Request Crash Course on How to Pay for College  How to Make College Affordable Mini-Course for U.S. Students and Families How to Make College Affordable Mini-Course for College Counselors and Educators College Scorecard – US Department of Education TuitionFit – Mark Salisbury  CollegeXpress The College Finder: Choose the School That’s Right for You! Fourth Edition – By Steven R. Antonoff, Ph.D. Podcast Episodes: 121: Which Schools Are the Most Generous With Financial Aid? (US Version) – Jeff Levy, financial aid expert 122: Which Schools Are the Most Generous With Financial Aid? (International Version) – Jennie Kent, international financial aid expert 411: Finding Your Why, What a Liberal Arts Education Really Is, and How to Figure out What You Actually Want – Ann Marano (Colleges That Change Lives)
In today’s episode, Tom Campbell (CEG’s Community Manager) and Susan Tree (a college counseling and admissions legend with 40+ years of experience) chat about “intellectual curiosity”: a quality that many colleges actively look for in students, yet is a little more ambiguous and nuanced compared to mapping out a high school course plan. This is part 2 of a series about students’ academic background and interests and how they factor into the admissions process. Part 1 is about all things related to the academic part of a student’s college application— which, at many selective colleges, is seen as the “foot in the door” of their selection process. On the episode you’ll hear Susan and Tom discuss: Identifying an academic superpower and framing it in that way in your college application How coming across as "too complete" to colleges (as in, you have no bigger questions you'd like to solve) can actually make your application less competitive How to infuse intellectual curiosity into your supplemental essays Showing academic and nonacademic alignment for particularly popular majors Hope you enjoy. Play-by-Play 1:38 - Reframing your accomplishments as superpowers 7:12 - Identifying your learning style among Architects, Gardeners, and Explorers 10:22 - Why colleges want different types of learners   13:52 - Why communicating what you’re curious about to admissions officers is a good idea  15:07 - Staying in touch with who you are on your application  19:17 - Understanding the pressure to present a complete version of yourself 22:55 - An example of showing intellectual curiosity through supplemental essays  26:44 - The value of curiosity in non-academic spaces 32:52 - How highly-selective colleges evaluate quality vs. quantity in their applicants 38:51 - What is academic alignment vs. non-academic alignment? How does this impact the way colleges read applications? 43:34 - What if your high school doesn’t offer specialized programs to help you explore your intellectual curiosity?   46:49 - Final thoughts Resources Episode 403: AP, IB, Honors, Oh My!: How Admissions Officers View Your High School Courses, Rigor, and School Context (with Susan Tree) How to Choose a College Major (Step-by-step) How to Write the "Why this Major" College Essay What the Heck are "Hooks" and "Institutional Priorities"?
Hey all, today’s episode is a special one. We had one of our rockstar essay coaches, Shira Harris, sit down with two of her former Matchlighter students, Milena Veliz and Sayem Kamal, to discuss their experiences navigating the college application process as First Generation Low Income Students. At the time of the recording, Milena was an incoming sophomore at Macaulay Honors College at John Jay and Sayem was an incoming freshman at Columbia University. They both received full scholarships at their respective schools.  In the episode, we’ll listen to Shira, Milena, and Sayem discuss (among other things):  Milena and Sayem’s backgrounds and how they found out about the Matchlighters program The process of working with Shira and some of the most helpful resources they used to write their essays Leveraging scholarships to pay for college Difficulties Milena and Sayem encountered in the application process and why having a mentor was so helpful What Milena and Sayem wrote in their personal statements Tips, hacks, and guidance for students going through the process right now If you’ve never heard of Matchlighters, it’s our 1-on-1 coaching support program where we pair students from low-income households with volunteer counselors. We’re in our 8th year of the program with over 2,000+ Scholars supported from 45 states and 5 continents — with our scholars attending more than 150 colleges and universities. Shira Harris, whom you’ll meet in a moment, is an alternative educator, mediator, former civil rights attorney and queer activist who received a BA from UC Berkeley, law degree from New York University, and an international masters on migration and mediation in the Mediterranean region. We hope you enjoy the conversation.    Play-by-Play 2:20 - Milena & Sayem share their backgrounds  5:13 - How they found Matchlighters and what their sessions were like  9:41 - What resources did they find helpful in the college essay writing process?   12:36 - How did Milena & Sayem start to build their college lists?  15:35 - What was difficult or unexpected about this process?  19:45 - What tips do Sayem & Milena have for students going through this process right now?  23:20 - How did they overcome concerns about college affordability as low-income students?  26:35 -What scholarship resources did Milena & Sayem find in their search? 29:29 - How are Milena & Sayem connecting with their college campuses? 33:03 - What parts of the application process have stuck with Milena & Sayem?  36:55 - What advice would Sayem & Milena give to their former selves?  38:45 - Resources for First-Gen, Low-Income students  41:11 - Wrap-up / closing thoughts Resources Matchlighters The Values Exercise Corsava Card Sort CollegeXpress QuestBridge Why Us Guides Super Essays Macaulay Honors Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be by Frank Bruni Reddit - r/applying to college Reddit - r/questbridge CollegeBoard CEG Discord First Gen Support Discord UStrive (mentorship program for FGLI students)  
On Season 1 of the podcast, Ethan had a great conversation with Maria Furtado, then Executive Director of the Colleges That Change Lives organization (also known as “CTCL”). It’s a lovely chat and to date one of our most downloaded episodes.  On today’s episode Ethan had the pleasure of sitting down with her successor, Ann Marano, and they get into:    Where to start when it comes to the college search How to myth bust yourself (a practical exercise) What questions to ask when you’re searching for a college Some things Ann and Ann and Ethan wished they had done differently when they went through the process themselves  Busting some affordability myths What it means to keep a student at the center of the college search  If you’ve never met Ann, you should know that she is a proud first-generation college graduate of Mount St. Mary’s University (CA) who earned her M.A. in Education-Psychology from Pepperdine. She’s served on several counselor advisory boards, including the Common Application Board of Directors and the Johns Hopkins University Access Advisory Board. After 20 years in college admissions counseling at several different universities and high schools and 12 years as the college bound advisor at the first all girls’ public school in the state of Texas, Ann Marano moved into the role of Executive Director for the Colleges That Change Lives. We hope you enjoy the conversation.   Play-by-Play 1:57 - What is CTCL and what is Ann’s role as Executive Director?  3:58 - What’s it like to be a student at a liberal arts college? 8:09 - What kind of student is right for a liberal arts college?  10:01 - What’s a good place to start in the college search process? 14:49 - How to combat myths about colleges  19:04 - What are some questions that are important for students and families to be asking themselves as they go through this process? 25:52 - An exercise for picturing yourself on a college campus  29:45 - What would Ann and Ethan have done differently in college? 32:04 - How does a student get a sense of a school if they're not able to visit the campus? 34:15 - College affordability at private schools 39:17 - What are some tips for parents about keeping students at the center of the search? 43:56 - Another example of what it’s like to be a student at a liberal arts college 48:27 - An exercise students can do to begin this process of finding a great college 52:55 - Final thoughts / wrap-up   Resources CTCL.org CTCL How To Choose A College Brochure The Values Exercise How to Choose a College: A Step-By-Step Guide  How to Research Colleges Without Visiting a Campus Paying for College in Four Steps: The Five College Types U.S. Department of Education College Affordability and Transparency Center College Cost Transparency Initiative The Common Data Set: What It Is and How to Use It in College Admissions   
On today’s episode, Tom Campbell (CEG’s Community Manager) hosts the first installment of a new series called Regional Spotlights, which will bring on college counseling experts who have deep history or knowledge of the exciting college options from (and cultural nuances of) a particular geographic region. We’re kicking off this series with Colleges in The South. Our Southern specialist and special guest today is CEG’s very own Renee Ferrerio.  Renee began her career more than 30 years ago, first as a public-school counselor and more recently as the Director of College Counseling at The O’Neal School. She is Co-Chair for North Carolina’s State and Area Initiatives Committee and might be considered by some as a counselor-fly in connoisseur, having participated in dozens of visit programs at various colleges and universities across the country. On the episode you’ll hear Tom and Renee discuss: The myths and realities of going to college in The South Admissions trends at Southern flagship public universities How to make studying in The South more affordable, including special scholarship opportunities Hidden gems and unique, specialized programs that you may not have heard of before Our hope is that, for students and families, spotlighting some of these “little things” about studying in the South will help you see that there may even be bigger things in store for you there than you originally anticipated… beyond BBQ.   Play-by-Play 0:24 - Welcome & Introductions 2:57 - Why are we doing regional spotlights? 3:56 - Why should geography be a factor in a student’s list-making process? 7:26 - What are some cultural realities students should keep in mind as they're putting together a college list with Southern schools? 15:57 - What are some misconceptions about Greek Life? 24:03 - What should students applying to public flagships know? 31:06 - College affordability in the South 39:50 - Studying STEM in the South 47:51 - Rapid-fire Southern Spotlights 48:34 - Schools in Florida 55:02 - Schools in Georgia 59:16 - Schools in South Carolina 1:02:45 - Schools in North Carolina 1:08:31 - Schools in Tennessee 1:10:39 - Schools in Texas 1:12:01 - Schools in Virginia 1:16:26 - Wrap Up & Closing Thoughts   Resources Academic Common Market Post-Secondary Employment Outcomes (PSEO) Regent’s Engineering Pathway (REP) at Georgia Tech The NC State Engineering 2+2 Transfer Program UNC Asheville 2+2 Engineering Program Scholarships in the South: Davidson College John M. Belk Scholarship Emory University Scholars Georgia Tech Stamps President's Scholars Program North Carolina State University Park Scholars University of Alabama Presidential University of Georgia Foundation Fellowship and Bernard Ramsey Scholarship University of Kentucky Singletary Scholars University of North Carolina Charlotte Levine Scholars University of North Carolina Morehead-Cain University of Texas at Dallas Eugene McDermott Scholars University of Virginia Jefferson Scholars  Washington and Lee University Johnson Scholarship Wofford College Scholars
My guest is Katie Andersen, a former NCAA Division 1 Women’s Soccer player at Duke University, who now advises student-athletes through her organization, College Fit OC. She’s also the co-founder of The Student-Athlete Advisors, which focuses on educating and mentoring educational consultants who advise college-bound student-athletes. Our conversation turned into a veritable crash course in college athletic recruiting. We get into, among other things: How a student can know if they can realistically play their sport at the college level When students should start their athletic recruiting process Can a college coach actually help a student get accepted to a university? How college-list building is different for student athletes Recent rule changes families should be aware of Tips for social media Tips for recruiting videos And lots more!   Play-by-play 0:00 - Intro / Who is Katie Anderson? 1:37 -  Katie shares a little bit about her journey as a student athlete 4:29 - How can a student know if they can realistically play their sport at the college level? 9:00 - When should students start their athletic recruiting process? 12:45 - Should student athletes visit campus?  15:36 - How do students know if a coach is serious about recruiting them?  18:11 - How can students be proactive in their recruiting process?  21:30 - What influence do coaches have on the admissions process?  25:05 - What are coaches looking for in student athletes?  29:51 - How is building a college list different for student athletes? 35:50  - How do early decision applications impact the students' athletic recruiting journey? 39:03 - Are there any recent shifts in athletic recruitment that students should know?  42:18 -  How can social media be used to help a student in the recruiting process? 47:04 - What are some tips for creating recruiting videos?  50:32 - What are some of the misconceptions that students and families have about this process? 52:46 - Advice to families who are considering hiring somebody to help them with this process? 54:46  - What resources are available for families throughout this process?  54:43 - Wrap-Up   Resources Blog for Student Athlete Advisors (Katie’s organization) College Athletic Recruiting Playbook NCAA Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete How to Choose a College: A Step-By-Step Guide Podcast 121: Which Schools Are the Most Generous With Financial Aid? (US Version) - Jeff Levy, financial aid expert Podcast 122: Which Schools Are the Most Generous With Financial Aid? (International Version) - Jennie Kent, international financial aid expert Podcast 123: Should You Apply Early Decision or Regular Decision? (And the Chart That Can Help You Decide) - Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy
On this episode I had the honor of sitting down with Sam and Shannon Bergeron. Sam is a transgender man who transitioned in high school (in Texas) and who now works in college admissions at his alma mater, Hampshire College. Shannon is Founder of Core College Consulting, where she specializes in using a whole child college counseling™ approach. She’s been a school counselor for more than 20 years, a volunteer with Matchlighters Scholars program, and she’s also Sam’s mom, an ally, and an advocate for trans students.  We discuss a number of critical things trans youth, their counselors and caregivers should know as they navigate the college admission process, including: The importance of understanding student information systems at your school How to ensure safety in gendered spaces on campus The value of offering, or improving trans-specific counseling services Conversation starters for teachers, counselors, and administrators How to research colleges And much more   Play-by-play 0:00 - Introduction - Who are Shannon and Sam? 1:43 - Welcome to the podcast 1:55 - Shannon and Sam share their backstories in advocating for trans youth 4:39 - What was Shannon’s experience of Sam’s transition in high school? 6:42 - Why is it important to talk about and advocate for trans youth? 9:57 - Ethan shares his personal ties to trans youth advocacy 10:45 - What are some of trans students' rights at school? 15:19 - What are Shannon’s strategies for identifying places in the school system that protect trans youth?  17:38 - What are some of the impacts of calling a student by the wrong name?  19:20 - How can parents, caregivers, and counselors better support trans students?  21:55 - How do you find and create safe spaces in high school? 28:00 - What is Shannon’s advice for parents in similar situations? 32:15 - The power of grounding techniques   34:38 - What are some ways of sharing your story in a way that is impactful for others? 37:20 - What should counselors keep in mind? 39:25 - Sharing common terminology surrounding LGBTQIA+ identities  44:04 - What is Sam’s experience and advice in the college search process? 49:26 - ICYMI: CEG Podcast Episode 214 - Resources for LGBTQ+ Students from Campus Pride with Shane Windmeyer 49:53 - Advice and considerations for writing the college essay 56:32 - Closing advice for supporting the trans people in your life   Resources:  Blog Article: 10 Critical Things Trans Youth (and Their Counselors and Caregivers) Should Know in High School and When Applying to College The Protect Trans Students Resource 50+ LGBTQ Resources for Students and Their Counselors Grounding techniques resources: https://dialecticalbehaviortherapy.com/distress-tolerance/grounding/ https://www.inclusivetherapists.com/blog/understanding-different-types-of-grounding https://www2.winona.edu/resilience/media/grounding-worksheet.pdf https://www.acesdv.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Grounding-Worksheet.pdf
On today’s episode I got to sit down with Rick Diaz, the Regional Director of Admission for Southern Methodist University (SMU) and someone I’ve known for more than 15 years. We have a pretty wide ranging discussion that covers: A behind-the-scenes look at how SMU reads applications and how they shape a class—and what that even means  Then we dive into supplemental essays — in particular the impacts of the Supreme Court’s decision to ban race-conscious admission — and how that decision has led to a large number of selective schools changing or adding new supplemental essay prompts.  We nerd out on Rick’s favorite supplemental essay—the “Why us” essay—talk a little about college majors and then—I think, Rick maybe has a little a-ha moment about when his interest in his own college major began We play a little game I made up on the chat called “What do students get wrong about…” And finally we discuss dos and don’ts for making a connection with your regional admission officers including (spoiler alert) why you maybe shouldn’t show up at their house with a box of their favorite cookies… unless you kinda’ want to freak them out a little?   I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.    Play-by-play 0:00 - Welcome to the podcast 01:32 - Who is Rick Diaz? 02:35 - What’s Rick’s role at Southern Methodist University (SMU)? 06:04 - How does SMU read applications? 08:44 - How long does Rick spend on reading an application?  10:42 - What are institutional priorities and how do they shape decisions in a college? 13:05 - What is the relationship between supplemental essays and institutional priorities? 16:29 - What are colleges looking for when their supplemental question is “Why us?” 17:21 - This year’s supplemental prompts at SMU 18:14 - Should you talk about your diversity in your college essays? 21:01 - An exercise in diversity 23:32 - What are colleges thinking about right now surrounding supplemental essays? 25:55 - Rick reacts to supplemental prompts from other schools 26:07 - Rick reacts to a prompt about being different 27:34 - Rick reacts to a prompt about your identity and goals 29:41 - How did Rick figure out his major in college? 32:46 - What is demonstrated interest and how important is it? 38:16 - Why do colleges care who is more likely to enroll? 40:25 - Do’s and Don’t’s of reaching out to your admissions officer 43:01 - What students get wrong about admissions 43:14 - How important are extracurriculars & summer planning? 44:41 - What about the personal statement? 47:03 - Is it true that the personal statement or supplemental essay can impact some students more than others? 49:00 - What about Standardized testing? 51:00 - What Rick loves about this work 52:41 - What should families keep in mind during this process? 57:07 - Wrap-up and additional resources   Resources The “If You Really, Really Knew Me” Exercise (Template) This practical, comprehensive exercise helps students generate a list of identities, skills, qualities, and skills they can share with colleges. It’s one of our favorites here at CEG—if you use it, just give us a shout-out. :) The Social Identities Exercise (Template)This exercise is another favorite and is useful for helping students think about diversity and identity in both broader and more nuanced ways. Includes a guide for counselors, facilitators, and parents. How to Answer the “Diversity” (and Other Related) Supplemental Essay Prompts (Blog Article) Colleges and Universities that Changed Their Supplemental Essay Prompts After the SCOTUS Decision Was Released (Blog Article) Why You Don’t Have to Write about Trauma in Your College Essay to Stand Out—and What You Can Do Instead (Blog Article)  
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Comments (4)

Mohammad Afghan

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Oct 17th
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Aug 11th
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Oct 25th
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Nov 11th
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