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1 25 Essay Mist akEs tha t Guarant EE FailurE For EVErY opEN SLoT AT AN Ivy League college, there are 10 to 12 eager applicants vying for it–and you’re one of them. On paper, most applicants appear very similar. All are well qualified academically with high grades and test scores and solid involvement in extracurricular activities. Imagine the admissions officer who must choose which of these well-deserving applications to accept. How will he or she make the decision? Often, it’s the essay. The essay is the one chance for you to share a piece of yourself that is not encapsulated in the dry numbers and scores of the application. It is your opportunity to demonstrate why you’d be a perfect fit at the college, how you’d contribute to the student body, and why the college should accept you over those other 11 applicants. The essay is also the one part of your application that you have com- plete control over. You can write it the night before it’s due and turn in a 12 50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays piece that is half-baked, or you can spend a little time on the essay and turn in one that can set you apart from the competition. The truth is that you don’t have to be a good writer to create a successful admissions essay. nor do you need to have survived a life changing event or won a noble Prize. Writing a successful admissions essay for an Ivy League college is actually much simpler. The secret is that any topic can be a winner but it all depends on your approach. If you spend the time to analyze your subject and can convey that quality of thought that is unique to you through words, you’ll have a powerful essay. It doesn’t have to be beautifully written or crafted as the next great American novel. At its core the essay is not a “writing test.” It’s a “thinking test.” So you do need to spend the time to make sure that your thoughts are conveyed correctly on paper. It may not be pretty writing but it has to be clear. So how do you do this? While we can give you tips and pointers (which is what you’ll read in the analysis section following every essay) the best method is to learn by example. You need to see what a suc- cessful end product looks like. While there is no single way to produce a winning essay, as you will read, there are some traits that successful essays share. You’ll learn what these are by reading the examples in this book as well as the interviews with admissions officers. Then you can write a successful essay that is based on your own unique experiences, world view, way of thinking, and personal style. Why are admissions essays so important to getting into Ivy League colleges? At their most basic level, essays help admissions officers to understand who you are. While grades, test scores, and academic per- formance can give the admissions officers an estimate on how prepared you are to handle the academic rigors of college, the essay offers the only way they can judge how your background, talents, experience, and personal strengths come together to make you the best candidate for their school. For you, the applicant, the admissions essays offer the best opportunity to share who you are beyond the dry stats of your academic record. It’s kind of amazing actually. You start with a blank sheet of paper and through careful selection, analysis, and writing, you create a picture of yourself that impresses the admissions officers and makes them want to have you attend their school.3 Chapter 1: 25 Essay Mistakes that Guarantee Failure Ultimately, this book is designed to help you create a successful essay that gets you accepted. It will guide you toward writing that es- say by sharing with you the successes of others who have written to gain admission to Ivy League colleges as well as other highly selective schools such as MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Duke, and the University of Chicago. If you’re like most students, you would like to know the magic for- mula for writing an admissions essay. Although we would love to be able to tell you, unfortunately, no such formula exists. Writing is so individual and the options so limitless that it’s impossible to develop a combination that will work for every essay. However, this doesn’t mean that we’re going to send you off with laptop in hand, without some guidance. Throughout this book you are going to see the “right way” to do things. We thought it would be useful to start off with a few common mis- takes that other students have made. You’ll want to avoid these. In fact, some of these mistakes are so bad that they will almost guarantee that your essay will fail. Avoid these at all costs 1. Trying to be someone else. This may sound very obvious, and well, it is. But you’d be surprised at how many students don’t heed this simple piece of advice. A lot of students think that they need to be who the admissions officers want them to be; but, in reality, the admissions officers want you to be you. They aren’t looking for the perfect student who is committed to every subject area, volunteers wholeheartedly for every cause, plays multiple sports with aptitude, and has no faults. Instead, they want to learn about the true you. Present yourself in an honest way, and you will find it much easier to write an essay about your genuine thoughts and feelings. 2. Choosing a topic that sounds good but that you don’t care about. Many students think that colleges seek students who have performed a lot of community service, and it is true that colleges value contributions to your community. However, this doesn’t mean that you must write about community service, especially when it’s not something that has played a major role for you. The same holds true for any other topic. It’s critical that you select a 4 50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays topic that’s meaningful to you because you will be able to write about the topic in a complete and personal way. 3. Not thinking before writing. You should spend as much time thinking about what you will write as actually putting words on paper. This will help you weed out the topics that just don’t go anywhere, determine which topic has the greatest pull for you, and figure out exactly what you want to say. It can help to talk yourself through your essay aloud or discuss your thoughts with a parent, teacher, or friend. The other person may see an angle or a flaw that you do not. 4. Not answering the question. While this seems simple enough, many students simply do not heed this. The advice is especially pertinent for those who recycle essays. We highly recommend recycling because it saves you time to write one essay that you use for many colleges, but the caveat is that you need to edit the essay so that it answers the question being asked. It turns admissions officers off when students submit an essay, even a well-written one, that doesn’t answer the question. They think that the students either aren’t serious enough about the college to submit an essay that has been specifically written or at least edited for that college, or that they just don’t follow directions. Either way, that’s not the impression you want to leave. 5. Not sharing something about yourself. As you know, the main purpose of the admissions essay is to impart something about yourself that’s not found in the application. Still, many students forget this, especially when writing about a topic such as a per- son they’d like to meet or a favorite book or piece of literature. In these cases, they may write so much about why they admire the person or the plot of the book that they forget to show the connection to themselves. Always ask yourself if you are letting the admissions officers know something about yourself through your essay. 6. Forgetting who your readers are. naturally you speak differ - ently to your friends than your teachers; when it comes to the essay, some applicants essentially address the admissions officers with a too-friendly high five instead of a handshake. In other 5 Chapter 1: 25 Essay Mistakes that Guarantee Failure words, it’s important to be yourself in the essay, but you should remember that the admissions officers are adults not peers. The essay should be comfortable but not too informal. remember that adults generally have a more conservative view of what’s funny and what’s appropriate. The best way to make sure you’re hitting the right tone is to ask an adult to read your essay and give you feedback. 7. Tackling too much of your life. Because the essay offers a few hun- dred words to write about an aspect of your life, some students think that they need to cram in as many aspects of their life as possible. This is not the approach we recommend. An essay of 500 to 800 words doesn’t afford you the space to write about your 10 greatest accomplishments since birth or about everything that you did during your three-week summer program in Europe. r ather, the space can probably fit one or two accomplishments or one or two experiences from the summer program. Instead of trying to share your whole life, share what we call a slice of your life. By do- ing so, you will give your essay focus and you will have the space to cover the topic in greater depth. 8. Having a boring introduction. Students have started their essays by repeating the question asked and even stating their names. This does little to grab the attention of the admissions officers. Sure, they’ll read the whole essay, but it always helps to have a good start. Think about how you can describe a situation that you were in, convey something that you strongly believe in or share an anecdote that might not be expected. An introduction won’t make or break your essay, but it can start you off in the right direction. 9. Latching on to an issue that you don’t really care about. One of the prompts for the Common Application is, “Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.” The key to answering this question is to carefully think about these words: “its importance to you.” This is what students most often overlook. They select an issue and write about the issue itself, but they don’t really explain why it is important to them or how they see themselves making an im- pact. If you write about an issue, be sure to pick one that is truly 6 50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays meaningful to you and that you know something about. You’ll probably score extra kudos if you can describe how you have done something related to the issue. 10. Resorting to gimmicks. Applicants have been known to enclose a shoe with their essays along with a note that reads, “now I have one foot in the door.” They have also printed their essays in different fonts and colors, sent gifts or food and even included mood music that’s meant to set the mood while the admissions officer reads the essay. A few students have even sent cash While gimmicks like this may grab some attention, they don’t do much to further the applicants, especially those few who’ve sent mon- ey, a definite no-no. It’s true that you want your essay to stand out but not in a way in which the admissions officer thinks that you are inappropriate or just plain silly. If you have an idea for something creative, run it by a teacher or counselor to see what he or she thinks first. 11. Trying to make too many points. It’s better to have a single, well thought-out message in your essay than many incomplete ones. Focusing allows you to go into depth into a specific topic and make a strong case for your position. Write persuasively. You can use examples to illustrate your point. 12. Not being specific. If you think about some of the best stories you’ve been told, the ones that you remember the most are prob- ably filled with details. The storyteller may have conveyed what he or she thought, felt, heard, or saw. From the information im- parted, you may have felt like you were there or you may have developed a mental image of the situation. This is precisely the experience that you would like the admissions officers to have when reading your essay. The key to being memorable is pro- viding as many details as possible. What thoughts were going through your mind? What did you see or hear? What were you feeling during the time? Details help bring the admissions offi - cers into your mind to feel your story. 13. Crossing the line. Some students take to heart the advice to share something about themselves, but they end up sharing too much. They think that they must be so revealing that they use 7 Chapter 1: 25 Essay Mistakes that Guarantee Failure their essay to admit to something that they would never have confessed otherwise. There have been students who have writ- ten about getting drunk, feeling suicidal, or pulling pranks on their teachers. It’s possible that in the right context, these topics might work. For example, if the pranks were lighthearted and their teachers had a good sense of humor about them, that’s ac- ceptable. But for the most part, these kinds of topics are highly risky. The best way to determine if you’ve crossed the line is to share your idea with a couple of adults and get their reactions. 14. Repeating what’s in the application form. The essay is not the application form, and it is not a resume. In other words, the es- say is the best opportunity that you’ll have to either delve into something you wrote in the application form or to expound on something new that doesn’t really fit on the application form. It doesn’t help you to regurgitate what’s already on the application form. 15. Not having a connection with the application form. While you don’t want to repeat information from the application form ver- batim in your essay, it’s usually a good idea to have some con- tinuity between the form and your essay. If you write an essay about how your greatest passion in life is playing the piano and how you spend 10 hours a week practicing, this hobby should be mentioned in the application form along with any perfor- mances you’ve given or awards you’ve won. It doesn’t make sense to write about how you love an activity in the essay and then to have no mention of it in the application form. remember that the admissions officers are looking at your application in its entirety, and they should have a complete and cohesive image of you through all the pieces, which include the application form, essay, transcript, recommendations, and interview. 16. Not going deep enough. One of the best pieces of advice that we give students is to keep asking, “Why?” As an example, let’s say that you are writing an essay on organizing a canned food drive. Ask yourself why you wanted to do this. Your answer is that you wanted to help the homeless. Ask yourself why this was important to you. Your answer is that you imagined your family in this situation. You would greatly appreciate if others showed 8 50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays compassion and helped you. Why else? Because you wanted to gain hands-on experience as a leader. The point of this exercise is to realize that it’s not enough to just state the facts or tell what happened, that you organized a canned food drive. What makes an essay truly compelling is explaining the “why.” You want the readers of your essay to understand your motivation. Keep ask- ing yourself why until you have analyzed the situation as fully as possible. The answers you come up with are what will make your essay stronger. 17. Not getting any feedback. Practically every article that you read in a magazine, book, or newspaper or on the Internet has been edited. The reason is that writing should not be an isolated ex- perience. You may know exactly what you want to convey in your own mind, but when you put it on paper, it may not come out as clearly as it was in your mind. It helps to get feedback. Ask parents, teachers, or even friends to read and comment on your essay. They can help you identify what can be edited out, what needs to be explained better, or how you can improve your work. 18. Getting too much feedback. Asking one or two people for feed- back on your essay is probably enough. If you ask more than that, you may lose the focus of your writing. Having too many editors dilutes your work because everyone has a different opin- ion. If you try to incorporate all of the opinions, your essay will no longer sound like you. 19. Trying to be extraordinarily different. There are some people who are extraordinarily different, but the truth is that most of us aren’t. What’s more important than conveying yourself as the most unique person at your school is that you demonstrate self- analysis, growth, or insight. 20. Ruling out common topics. There are topics that admissions officers see over and over again such as your identity, your rela - tionship with your family, extracurricular activities, and the Big game. While these topics are very common, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t write about them. Your topic is not as important as what you say about it. For example, many students choose to 9 Chapter 1: 25 Essay Mistakes that Guarantee Failure write about their moms or dads. A parent can be one of the most influential persons in a student’s life, and it makes sense that this would be the topic of many students’ essays. So don’t rule out mom or dad, but do rule out writing about mom or dad in the way that every other person will write. Explain how your dad made banana pancakes every morning and what that taught you about family, or how your mom almost got into a fight with an - other mom who made a racist comment. Make a common topic uncommon by personalizing it. 21. Forcing humor. You’ve probably seen at least one sitcom on Tv or one monologue by Conan O’Brien or David Letterman with a joke that fell flat. Maybe you groaned at the Tv or gave it an un-amused expression. Keep in mind that the jokes on Tv are written by professional writers who earn large salaries to be fun- ny. now, remember that the great majority of us are not headed down this career path. What this means is that you shouldn’t force humor into your essay. If you’re a funny writer, then by all means, inject some humor. Just be sure to ask an adult or two to read the essay to see if they agree with you that it is funny. If you’re not humorous, then it’s okay. You don’t need to force it. 22. Writing the essay the night before it’s due. Almost every stu- dent has done it—waited until the last minute to write a paper or do a project. Sometimes it comes out all right, but sometimes not so much. It is not wise to procrastinate when it comes to writing a college admissions essay. It takes time. Even if you are able to write an essay the night before it’s due, it’s still better not to. The best essays marinate. Their authors write, take some time away from it and then return to it later with a fresh mind. 23. Failing the thumb test. As you are writing your essay, place your thumb over your name. Could you put another name at the top because it could be an essay written by many other students? Or is the essay personal to you so that basically yours is the only name that could be at the top? If you fail the thumb test, it’s time to rethink the topic or your approach to it. You want your essay to be unique to you. 24. Forgetting to proofread. Some students put the wrong college name in their essays, a mistake that could easily be avoided by 10 50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays proofreading. Many more students have spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors. While these types of errors usually aren’t completely detrimental, they can be distracting at best and be signs to the admissions officers that you’re careless and not seri- ous about their college at worst. Avoid this by not only using your computer’s spell check but by asking someone else to help proofread your essay. Twice is better. 25. Not writing to the specific college. In addition to learning about you, admissions officers also hope to learn how you would fit in at their college. Be as specific as possible about a college, es - pecially if you are writing an essay about why you’d like to at- tend that particular college. Explain one or two things about the school that make it the best one for you. Make sure that what you are writing is not so general that it could be said of any other college. In other words, it’s good to describe how you visited the campus and had a conversation about Marx with a sociology student. It’s not as good to state that you want to go to Harvard because it offers a high quality education. 26. Not spending time on the rest of your application. remember that the essay is one piece of the application. It can certainly help your chances of being accepted, but you need to have everything else in place as well. Sure, it takes time to work on the applica- tion form, recommendation letters, and interviews, but you are taking actions now that will affect the next four years of your life and beyond. It’s worth the effort. How to Use This Book now that you have a clear of idea of the mistakes to avoid in your essay, it’s time to get some advice on what you should do. Let’s go directly to the source—Ivy League admissions officers. In the next chapter, three former Ivy League admissions officers share in their own words what they seek in applicants and give you tips on how to make the strongest impression on them. Then, see what makes a solid essay through the essays themselves. Of course, the point is not to copy these essays. It’s to gain inspiration. It’s to see what’s worked in the past and to get your creativity flowing 11 Chapter 1: 25 Essay Mistakes that Guarantee Failure so that you can formulate in your mind how you can best approach your topic. We’ve analyzed each of the essays too. You’ll see that even essays written by students accepted at the premier colleges in the country are not perfect and have room for improvement. You’ll also see the strengths of the essays so that you can make sure to incorporate similar characteristics. By learning through example, you can create the most compelling and persuasive essay possible. You’ll know what not to do, you’ll un- derstand what the admissions officers want and, perhaps most impor - tantly, you’ll be inspired to write your own successful Ivy League ad- missions essay.2 ivy lEaGuE adMissions oFFicEr Q&a DR. MICHELE HERNANDEz Former Assistant Director of Admissions, Dartmouth College Author of A is for Admission Q: Can you give students an idea of what happens to their appli- cations and essays after they are received by the college? A: First, admissions officers collect all the different parts of the ap - plication. Then, all the pieces are scanned and date stamped. It’s all done electronically like an electronic file cabinet. Once everything is assembled, admissions officers start to read them one by one (now they often do them on the computer instead of in hard copy). Unlike many colleges, Dartmouth doesn’t sort the applications at first into regional categories or schools. They are placed into complete - ly random groups that correspond with a particular admissions officer’s group of states. 1314 50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays Once an admissions officer reads one application folder, it is passed on to someone else who will also review it. If after two reads it’s a tie, the file goes to committee or to the director. After reading all the appli- cations, the admissions officers start meeting and discussing the merits of each applicant one by one through committee meetings. Admissions officers don’t only look at the applicants at the top end of an academic or extracurricular scale. Every single application is re- viewed through this process. Q: What are some of the most common mistakes that students make when writing their essays? A: Some students simply don’t spend any time on their essays. A lot of bright students think, “I’m number one so I don’t need to take any time on the application.” The result is that it looks rushed. You want to show some reflection, that you thought about your application. You don’t want to have the appearance that you spent only five minutes on it. Some of the more obvious errors have been not spell checking or putting the wrong school down, but more often, it’s that the essays are not interesting. Another mistake is the admissions officer doesn’t learn anything. If I read an essay and think, “That’s nice but I don’t know anything more about this student,” you’ve failed. You have to share something interest- ing about yourself. remember that it’s not just one essay, but there are 5 to 6 smaller essays. It’s not as limited as you think. Q: How important is the introduction? A: Introductions are nice, but the whole essay has to work. It has to grab you from the beginning like a newspaper lead. It has to make you want to keep going. Q: Can you think of an example of when an applicant wrote about an ordinary topic in an extraordinary way? A: One student wrote about shooting a squirrel. I’m sure his guidance counselor told him to not write about that. However, the essay was about growing up to be a man, a meditation on what it means to grow up. While the topic may have seemed like the plot of a bad play, it was 15 Chapter 2: Ivy League Admissions Officer Q&A a slice of life essay that told a lot about his family and about him. The topic doesn’t matter as much as what you do with it. Q: Are there any topics or approaches to topics that students shouldn’t write about? A: Any approach works if it works. Writing is so fluid. There are no hard and fast rules except to be honest about yourself. The magic for- mula is that there’s no magic formula. The truth is that you don’t have to be a fabulous writer either. The admissions officers are reading the essays more for content. They’re almost speed reading them for con- tent. remember that this is not your chance to be Faulkner. This is your chance to write about something you’re interested in. It’ll be a lot more vivid if it’s something you’re interested in. This may sound obvi- ous, but so many kids obsess about the writing style instead of worry- ing about the actual content and that’s a mistake. Q: Do you recommend that students ask someone else to read their essay and give feedback? A: You need some feedback because what you think is funny may not be to other people. You don’t want it to be over-edited where everything’s perfect, and you don’t need a professional editor. The essay could be a little unpolished, but I would have a friend or parent read it for diction and flow. You don’t want an essay in which you can tell that an English teacher went through it 45 times. Q: How important is the essay? In your experience, has it ever made the difference between a student being accepted or not? A: It all depends on where you are. If you are very strong academically, the admissions officers are verifying whether you’re the genius every - one says you are. For you, the essay doesn’t matter as much. Also, if you’re in the low end, it doesn’t matter as much. It matters more for the students in the middle of the pool for that college. If we use the scale of 1 to 9, the essay matters a lot for the students who are rated 5, 6, or 7. The essays have made a difference for students, but there haven’t been 16 50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays many students who have moved from the rejection to the accepted pile based solely on the essays. Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add? A: It’s not just one essay that counts. It’s the whole application. It doesn’t matter how good your essays are if your teachers say you’re not inter- esting. It has to do with how all the information (teacher recs, essays, school support, transcript) fits together. Your essays have to be in line with the rest of your application. The admissions officers are going to be suspicious if you have a brilliant essay but it doesn’t match the rest of your application. Everything has to be in the same vein. Also, if you’ve had extraordinary circumstances, you should write about them in a note. If you weren’t involved in activities, explain that you were taking care of your autistic sister. You want admissions of- ficers to know about anything unusual Dr. Michele Hernandez is the former assistant director of admissions at Dartmouth College and the author of A is for Admission, The Middle School Years, Don’t Worry You’ll Get In and Acing the College Application. She is with the president and founder of Hernandez College Consulting (www. hernandezcollegeconsulting.com). EVA OSTRUM Former Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Yale University Author of The Thinking Parent’s Guide to College Admissions Founder of High School Futures Q: What are some of the most common mistakes that students make when writing their essays? A: Some schools ask students to write about a role model such as ask- ing what single person they would have lunch with. The biggest mis- take that students make is that they spend more time writing about the other person than themselves. I’d suggest starting from your own vantage point. How have you been affected? From my own life, if I were writing an essay, one person I’ve always admired is nelson Mandela. Every day on the first day of school I read an inspiring quote from nelson Mandela. One day a boy looked at me and said, reacting to the quote, “Miss, who are you?” Focus on how your own actions and out-17 Chapter 2: Ivy League Admissions Officer Q&A look have changed as a result of that person whether you’ve met them face to face or only know their writing. Another really common mistake is that students feel they have to write something that makes them look different. When you’re apply- ing to a highly selective college, there’s nothing you can do that looks different based on the actions themselves. Every admissions officer has seen someone who does what you do. Instead, focus on what makes you you. That’s really what admissions officers want to know. Don’t tie yourself in knots to look exotic. It doesn’t matter what your essay’s about. It’s how you write about it. Q: How can you tell if a student’s essay is authentic? A: You look at their critical reading score. If they have a low critical reading and writing score and an essay that looks like it’s written by a college professor or if the essay sounds like a very sophisticated person wrote it and the recommendations don’t present the same image, these can be a red flag. For many years, there’s been an understanding that students in a certain income bracket get coached. If you do nothing, you’re putting yourself at risk. remember though it’s fine to have some - one read your essay and give feedback on how it flows. It’s not fine to have someone read your essay and do line by line edits. That would present you in a way that doesn’t line up. Q: What is one or two of the best introductions you remember? What made them so memorable? A: There was one essay that a student wrote about when his father first took him for karate lessons. The first sentence was about how he had been a complete failure at every other sport. There was another one by a girl who wrote about how she was a comic book artist. She was ap- plying to art school, and some schools don’t consider it to be a serious art form. She grabbed me from the very beginning because her passion was so clear. The essays that grab me give me some kind of hook in the beginning to reel me in. Q: Can you think of an example of when an applicant wrote about an ordinary topic in an extraordinary way? A: One Yale applicant wrote about how every day on her way to school she passed a building where the pigeons rested. You would think that’s 18 50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays a ridiculous topic, but it was so well written and engaging. It was about something mundane, but it really grabbed my attention. It’s important to tell a good story. Think about the stories you listen to in your life that your relatives tell or your friends tell. If they’re well told, that’s what catches your attention. Q: Are there any topics or approaches to topics that students shouldn’t write about? A: Topics that deal with personal tragedy are difficult. Frequently the students are not far enough away from the event to write about it with any distance. They’re not really telling a story. The essay is either a fac- tual narration or therapeutic. I would be very wary of writing about a really serious, heavy topic. It can be done, but I think that the rule of thumb should be if the topic is still sensitive enough that you might wince a little bit, tear up, or cringe, maybe it’s not a good topic. If you can talk about the event and maybe even have a sense of humor about it, that’s a sign you’re far enough away from it. Of course that doesn’t mean you have to write about it with humor. Q: How important is the essay? A: There was at least one student where the essay was very significant. I fell in love with this student because of his essay, and I wanted him to go to Yale. I thought he would add so much to the school, but one of his SAT scores was weak. It’s so competitive that if there’s one chink in the armor, that can end it. I could’ve passed over him and no one would’ve objected, but I made such a case for this student. I fought for him, and he got in. However, it can’t just be on the basis of the essay alone. His teachers also really loved him and thought he walked on water. There has to be some resonance between the essay, the teachers and the classes. Q: Is there anything that a student might find surprising about what you are looking for in the essays? A: I think students would be surprised to know that admissions offi - cers aren’t looking for anything exotic. The more specific examples you can use, the more you can make it a story with very specific details, the better. You want to be able to picture what the person looks like, what 19 Chapter 2: Ivy League Admissions Officer Q&A it would be like to sit in a room and have a conversation with the per- son. The essay should make the admissions officers feel like they’ve had a conversation with you and want to learn more. It’s not more esoteric than that. Eva Ostrum worked as an assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Yale University and wrote The Thinking Parent’s Guide to College Admissions. She also founded and runs High School Futures, an organization that works on educational reform in urban high schools (www.hsfutures.org).