How to Write an Amazing SOP and Gain Admission to Top Schools



Defining questions to get you started

We’ve compiled a set of questions that we want you to think about while working on your Statement of Purpose (SOP).

These questions also work well for your CV, Essays and Letters of Recommendation (LOR). All of these documents should support your story in a coherent, easy-to-understand and memorable way.

These questions are meant to help you bring out your story and show the Admission Committee why you are special. The crisper, clearer and well-backed your story is, the better your chances at gaining admission into their university.

  1. What is your dream for the next 10 years? What is your road-map to achieve the same? How will this specific program in these specific institutions, in this specific country, help you?
  2. What are your 3 biggest strengths? What achievements demonstrate these strengths?
  3. What is your biggest weakness? How has it affected you till now? What have you done about it?
  4. Who are your 3 biggest fans at work and in college who are writing your LOR? If they met me at a restaurant, what are the 3 strengths, achievements and weaknesses that they will each tell me about you? (Each one’s answer may be different based on their experience with you)
  5. What are the 3 biggest achievements at college and/or work? What were the situations, complications and results in each of those events?
  6. What are the 3 biggest challenges you have faced in your life? How did you overcome them?
  7. What did you learn from them and how has it changed you personally or professionally?

How to Write a Great Statement of Purpose


Remember your statement of purpose should portray you as

  1. passionately interested in the field
  2. intelligent
  3. well-prepared academically and personally
  4. able to take on the challenges of grad school
  5. able to establish good rapport with professors and fellow grad students
  6. able to finish the graduate degree in a timely fashion, and
  7. a potentially outstanding representative of that grad school in your future career
Do you want to make your SOP better?


  1. Get advice from several of your professors — philosophical advice as well as specific writing advice
  2. Proof-read and edit; ask friends to proofread and edit as well
  3. Keep working on the statement of purpose, even after you have already sent it to school(s) with earlier deadline(s)

Your essay is terrific if we get a strong YES for these questions:

  1. Is your SOP a terrific story that people love? [send it to at least 5 people and get enthusiastic nods from each]
  2. Do you have a great opening paragraph that grabs attention? [oftentimes, the admission committee will not go beyond your first paragraph if you cannot hook them with your opening]
  3. Have you showcased the most life-changing event in your life and how it is affecting your career and academic aspirations?
  4. Is ‘Why you?’ clear ? Keep in mind that the admission committee looks at thousands of applications from other students.
  5. Does the university feel you have really done your research on the program and university and not just copied whatever you’ve read on their website onto the SOP? [have you read research papers of professors in the stream you are applying to? Which ones do you like? What did you like about them?]
  6. Is it really clear why you have selected a particular university and program, and why is this university and program the best option for your profile?

Sample of an interesting opening – Passionate Hook

When I was eleven, my great-aunt Gretchen passed away and left me something that changed my life: a library of about five thousand books. Some of my best days were spent arranging and reading her books. Since then, I have wanted to be a librarian.

Comments: Quite interesting, direct, new spin to reading and catches your attention in a unique way and professors will remember this student who had her own library!

Sample of boring opening

I am honored to apply for the Master of Library Science program at the University of Chicago because as long as I can remember I have had a love affair with books. Since I was eleven I have known I wanted to be a librarian.

Comments: Boring because they know which program you are applying for. You are saying nothing of great value, and this is a boring start!

Sample of interesting writing

One Thursday, I had soldered the 112th green wire on the same place on the 112th TV remote, and I realized the solder fumes were rotting my brain. I decided college would be my salvation.

Sample of boring writing

I used to work on an assembly line in a television factory, and one day I decided that I had to get out of there, so I went to college to save my own life.

Organization of SOP


  • A “hook” that demonstrates your passion for the field
  • Explain your background in the field
  • Description of your academic background in the field
    • Specific classes you have taken, given by name
    • Specific professors you have had, especially if well-known in that field
  • Extracurricular activities in the field
  • Publications or other professional accomplishments in the field (perhaps conference presentations or public readings)
  • Explanations about problems in background (Only if needed)
  • Explanation of why you have chosen the specific grad school
    • Mention one or two professors in that school and what you know of and appreciate about their work/research papers
    • Specific features of the grad program that attract you

It is always useful to read other people’s work to get a sense of what good essays are. To assist you, TopAdmit provides you some SOP samples written by counselors and editors hailing from prestigious schools including Harvard. This page contains personal statement samples, statement of purpose samples, and application essay samples for college. But please remember, these are for your reference only; it is not to your benefit to copy their style or concepts. It not only violates academic ethics and could lead to an automatic rejection by the admissions committee — the point of our service is to help you construct a unique essay — not one similar to other essays.

6 Tips to Write an MBA Application Essay



MBA Application essay tipsMBA applications require a number of essays to be answered. Different essay topics require different approaches while answering them. But all essays need the applicant to follow some basic approaches. Read on to know about some key MBA application essay tips.

The toughest part is writing the essay with clarity. The applicant should have clarity regarding issues or anecdotes while drafting the essays. The MBA Application Essays require applicants to showcase qualities essential for pursuing a programme in management.

The essential traits of an MBA applicant are motivation, leadership, team player, perseverance, integrity, analytical as well as innovative. These traits are to be showcased and substantiated in various essays. MBA aspirants compete with numerous applicants with similar backgrounds. You should, therefore, understand how to write an MBA application essay to ensure an admit. Follow these MBA application essay tips to ensure that your essay shines in the competitive admissions process.

MBA Application essay tip: Stick to the question 

MBA application questions are very specific. Analyse the prompt thoroughly. The clue to the questions lies in the question itself.

UC Berkeley asks in one of its optional questions, ‘Describe a difficult decision you have made and why it was challenging.’ (250 words)

The key to this question is

1. Describe

2. Why

3. 250 words

There are two parts in this question and the word count is given. The two parts are to be given equal importance and, therefore, ideally should be answered in approximately equal word counts, which in this case is 125 words.

MBA Application essay tip: Plan your essay 

One of the most important MBA application essay tips is to ‘Organise your thoughts’. Brainstorm ideas and anecdotes. List down all the points you want to mention in your MBA Application essays. A good planning will save you last-minute additions and eliminations from your essays. Do this well in advance to give you time to update and refresh the list. It will also help in removing redundancy from essays. Pick anecdotes which you can elaborate well. Also, one which gives you an opportunity to express our ideas and what you have learned. The admission committee is not only looking for a good story but also your perspective and analysis of the events.

MBA Application essay tip: Never go beyond the prescribed word count

The online application space will not accept more than the prescribed word limit making your application incomplete if you try to add more. At places, they allow you to input more than the prescribed word count, however, a longer essay creates a wrong impression.

MBA Application essay tip: Show not tell

A very important part of any writing exercise — show, do not tell. Rather than mentioning that you worked hard for a project, mention what steps you took to achieve your results. Also, elaborate on the learning of the incident, and if required, realisations for improvement.

MBA Application essay tip: Vocabulary and language

MBA aspirants have completed at the least their undergraduate degree and therefore the vocabulary of the essays should show the education level of the aspirant. Care should be taken to avoid colloquial words in the MBA Application essays. Keeping that in mind, avoid extremely advanced vocabulary which would require the admission committee to either open a dictionary or overlook your essay. Too many big words make the applicant look pompous instead of impressive. Check the various online language resources like dictionaries, thesaurus to learn the correct shade of meaning and usage of a word.

MBA Application essay tip: Second opinion

As creators of essays, we believe that we have done a perfect and flawless job. To be extra sure, ask friends, family, teachers and other professionals to review your essay before you submit MBA Application essay. A useful MBA application essay tip is to look for a second opinion as it always helps to identify issues with the content.

MBA application essays questions are framed around topics like goals, diversity, ethics and failure. Though the topics are different, your approach to all the essays should be same. The most important point to remember is to practice. Write, review, improve, re-edit your essays. MBA Application essays can make or break an application.

By: Shivani Bhatt

How to write the best SOP for Master of Science Program



SOP tips for MS (Master of Science Program) – The Statement of Purpose (SoP) is one of the most important elements of the application package for admission to MS programmes in universities abroad.In fact, an SOP is the vital aspect that decides whether your application for the MS programme will be accepted or rejected. The reason behind this is that the SoP reflects your intentions for pursuing the programme. Best thing about an SOP is that you are given a chance to explain yourself through it. More often than not, transcripts and certificates highlight only your academic prowess and that too, not to the full extent of your capabilities. A Statement of Purpose for MS gives you the chance to take the admission panel into the world of your aspirations and the ideas that influence you.

For MS programmes abroad, an SOP is a mandatory element. Hence, it is important that you perfect your SOP.

Here we bring you some important SOP tips for MS programmes with samples attached to drive home the point.

1.  Keep your MS specialization in mind:

As part of the application package, one of the important things to consider before writing a statement of purpose for MS is your specialization. Make sure you highlight your specialization in the beginning of the SOP itself. Let’s say, you plan to pursue MS in Computer Science. In that case, your SOP should highlight elements which reflect your intention and reasons for wanting to join the MS course.

Here are a few samples how to start your SOP:

MS in Computer Science:

A few areas of my education have stimulated me to think as much as my undergraduate studies in Computer Programming and applied science. I was awestruck by the potential of a computer; in the way it’s faster and more powerful versions revolutionized the working of mankind.

“The computer is the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with. It’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”- This quote by Steve Jobs reverberated in mind every time I entered the computer library to learn programming languages as well as concepts that explain the core of the computer and the infinite possibilities that we can explore through this medium.

 MS in Civil Engineering:

In this ever-changing world of engineering, where each new day sees birth of new concepts and applications, civil engineering, I believe, is the only field where your idea can be seen and understood directly. It is civil engineering which has made modern bridges, high-rise buildings or ultra-modern condominiums possible in today’s world. I am fortunate to be the daughter of a civil engineer, whose professional influence contributed to my engineering orientation early on.

2. Reflect your intention:

It is always important that you reflect your intention to be a part of the institution for the particular course. Start with your undergraduation- your subjects of interest and move forward with what propelled you to choose the particular course and why do you think the particular university you are applying to will help you serve your purpose.

Here are a few examples:

a.  During the four years of my undergraduation in *****, I explored the academic as well as practical aspects of ***** in the classroom, as a research assistant and through internships with companies.

Past summer, I worked as an intern for the engineering technology company ***** I worked on many projects, broadening my understanding of this field.

SOP for sociology:

b. My interest in ***** was sparked off by a lecture by the influential author, ****. It was in his class that I got to ideas and theories that govern us and also understand about sociological influences that affect our daily lives. In fact, the valuable experiences I have gained through my classes in ***** have encouraged me to enrich my academic background in sociology further through joining your institution.

3. Choose your angle:

 Before starting the SOP, write the most important points that have impacted your decision to join an MS course in the particular subject. Once you have jotted down the points, analyse them and select the best point to create an angle for your SOP. You can definitely use other points but there should be one critical point that defines your reasons for joining the course. This point could be anything- family, personal, academic. It could also be about a particular incident in your life that influenced you to explore the course further.

Here are a few examples:

a. During my school, I worked on a Physics project where I had to construct logic gates and latches using circuit elements. I was so astounded by the Power of Electrical & Electronics that I knew if there is one thing that I would give up anything to understand this.

b. I began a round of soul searching, trying to understand my aspirations in life after graduating with excellent grades in computer science from one of the best institutes in (country): (institute). I suddenly got the answer one day, when I realized that I wanted to know how can I learn to apply my knowledge in this field to the daily lives of people. I want my knowledge in Artificial Intelligence to be part of the world’s evolution. Therefore, I believe (university), the world’s leading academy, will be my best next step to pursue my aspirations.

4. Highlight your experiences in the field: 

Sometimes, universities in the USA, UK, and Australia, among others, demand work experience for admission to their MS courses.Whether you have internship experience or actual work experience in the field, it is always advisable to express your learning experiences in your Statement of Purpose. Point out what you learnt from each experience and how it influenced you to take up further studies. You can also highlight any performance appreciations you might have got in your job to prove your knowledge and interest in the job.

Here are some examples:

a. My need to understand the requirements of the industry propelled me to accept an employment opportunity after my undergraduation. My employment as a Software Engineer at ***** was a very good opportunity to gain training and work experience in the Information Management domain.

5.  Answer the major questions:

A Statement of Purpose is basically like an internal assessment of your personality and your desires- whether you are good enough for the course or not. It is, therefore, important that you should have answers to all the basic questions that could crop up in in the admission panel’s mind. Here are some of the points that you should definitely mention:

a.  What was your previous qualification?

Under-graduation or Masters or any other degree which makes you eligible.

b.  What is the programme of interest?

While this is highlighted in the application form, it is necessary that you highlight your course of interest in your SOP.

c.  Why do you want to pursue the programme?

Give reasons in detail about your intention to join the programme. What are the factors that interest you, what inspired you to join the programme?

d.  Projects

Mention the projects you have worked on. Ideally, they should be related to the programme. But you can also mention projects that reflect other skills.

e. Events and clubs

Try to mention the important clubs or events that you have been part of. The idea here is to show the aspects that influenced you and brought out some quality in you.

f. Work experience

For those who have work experiences, it is advisable to mention the same with the kind of skills you have learnt in the organization.

g.  Aspirations

Take advantage of your SOP to mention your dreams and desires. Highlight ideas which you want to turn into reality through the programme.

6. Share examples through personal experiences: 

The important thing to remember about an SOP is that it is a personal statement of intent to join the programme with the university. Hence, it should highlight your personal experiences and how they have shaped you as a person. Maybe, you had some experiences when you were a child which were major turning points in your life and pushed you toward this field or your family members already working in the said field which influenced you to be a part of it.

Try to mention fascinating experiences which deliver on your purpose to join the programme.

Here are a few examples:

a. Through the opportunities I have had through my college projects, I have found an interest in research work and a strong understanding of problem solving that this field involves.

b. Many factors have influenced my decision of pursuing a Master’s of Science degree in Civil Engineering. During my undergraduate days, I took classes from (mentor name), who provided deep insights into many aspects of the civil engineering.

By: Bedasree Das

Don’t be stressed over your SOP



A statement of purpose (SOP) is an essay that you send along with your application to various schools. These essays help the admission committee know you better. They tell the admission officers what is important to you, and what your values and career goals are. Now, most students tend to be frightened about writing these essays. Don’t be.

No big words or flowery language

The admission’s committee prefers essays that are well thought of and reflect what’s important to you. Be honest and straightforward in your essays. Admission officers are well-trained professionals and can spot a fake easily. Don’t try and bluff your way and exaggerate your achievements. And don’t second guess what the university wants, so you can tailor your essay accordingly. Admission officers have several years of experience and can easily figure out if you are trying to make them hear what they want to hear.

Be original

It’s not wise to copy material from internet or books. Also, beware of people who claim to write your essays for you. If a university suspects that your essay or SOP is not your work, you can be certain that your admission will be denied. Universities have your GRE and GMAT AWA writing score and will know your true writing potential and hence if you submit essays that are not your true writing style, you are jeopardizing your chances of admission. Also, the new SAT has a writing component, so my advice to school students is be original, be yourself.

SOP for MBA programmes

Most business schools require a set of essays rather than a single statement of purpose. Your essays to business schools have to be insightful and have to talk about who you are, the impact your work experience has had on your career goals, and what your work experience means to you. You must include all relevant work experience, teamwork and leadership experiences and post-MBA career goals in the essays.

Remember that excellent academic achievements, GMAT scores and work experience may still not get you into your dream school. You have to support your application with well thought of essays that adequately represent who you are. Don’t be another face in the crowd. Make your application stand out.

Dos and Don’ts of SOPs and essays

  • Be honest in what you write
  • Check and recheck your essays and SOP and avoid obvious grammar and spelling mistakes
  • Follow a logical flow in your essays
  • Analyse information rather than just stating it
  • Use words that you normally use
  • Don’t try and be someone you are not
  • Don’t sound too pessimistic in your essays
  • Don’t ever plagiarise information from internet or books
  • Write a separate SOP for each university that you plan to apply to or at least modify your SOP to ‘fit’ each university’s requirements
  • Always write the SOP in the 1st person because it is your story that you are telling the admissions committee
  • The tone and language in the SOP should be direct and straight forward.
  • Don’t make the SOP too long and generally a 500 to 750 word SOP is sufficient
  • SOPs can be uploaded on your application form or printed and sent along with your application

Writing your SOP may seem overwhelming unless you use this opportunity to do some soul searching and understand your reasons to study further. This can be an enriching process if you want it to be.

Example of a BAD SOP

As Erudite says, “Sky is the limit” as far as achieving something in the field of education is concerned.  It is a never-ending story.  “The less I know, the more I gain, there is still more..” I yearn to do my masters in Chemistry from your esteemed university – a very challenging step for me.  I have been one of the more fortunate Indian children.

Comments: Never start with quotes which have nothing to do with your goals and what you are applying for. Avoid strong words like “yearn”, and never ever put your own country down. It’s in bad taste.

After I completed my Bachelors degree I worked as a Customer Relationship Associate for Providian Financial. Thanks to technology we would interact with customers based in the United States.These activities helped me develop as a person and I learned invaluable qualities such as teamwork and leadership. All round development of a person is extremely important and can be achieved only by perseverance.  Opportunities will keep coming our way, but it’s up to us to make the most of it!

Comments: This experience has nothing to do with Chemistry, should not be described in the SOP.

I look forward to be a part of the programs and services offered by your university, which are designed to make my experience enriched and rewarding.

Here, I did like to quote Robert Frost who said;

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

And I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep..”

Comments: Avoid being philosophical. The conclusion should talk about why you are applying to a particular university and not a random poem, which has no relevant to the SOP!

Example of a good SOP

I think one of my most distinguishing characteristics is the diversity of experiences I possess. I am a science student with a flair for the arts. I am a woman with technical aptitude and an interest in management. I also have a passion for travelling and understanding different cultures of the world.

Review: A good introductory paragraph. This summarises the next couple of paragraphs and also has a certain intriguing appeal – it arouses the reader’s curiosity and impels him to read further.

 I believe that this unique blend of experiences has made me a woman with an original point of view. Among other things, I have this diversity of experience to offer to Utah University. My most substantial accomplishment has been the success of the software upgradation project that I managed at SnMTech Systems Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, where I have been working as a part-time Associate Intern – Management Information Systems since 1994.

Review: We come to a shift in focus with this paragraph. The writer wraps up the ‘diversity’ thread well. Saying that she has a diversity of experience to offer, ‘among other things’, is a good idea as it implies that there is much more to her  that could not be described here because of space limitations

A good manager is one who can figure out where the problem lies, deal with it effectively by involving all the members of the company and improve the overall culture of the company. The problem I saw at SnMTech had to be resolved to sustain the company’s image. The fact that I was able to pull off this task alone has boosted my confidence in my abilities.

Review: Reflective paragraph on what she has gained from the project. Good ending paragraph.

 By: Team Careers


How to write the best SOP for MBA



SOP for MBA – Masters in Business administration is perhaps one of the most sought after programmes for international students worldwide. In fact, after STEM, MBA is one of the preferred courses by students pursuing their studies abroad. A report by Bloomberg establishes that MBA graduates who switch careers can get an increase of as much as $55,000 over their pre – MBA salary. This is the reason what makes MBA the best investment that a business aspirant can make. SOP is one of the important elements in the application process for MBA. Hence, one should always make sure that the SOP for MBA highlights the aspirant’s experiences and intentions for pursuing the course. For MBA programmes abroad, SOP is a mandatory element. Hence, it is important that you perfect your SOP. Here we bring you some important SOP tips for MBA programmes with samples attached.

Focus on your professional qualifications:


SOP for an MBA course is very important compared to SOPs for other courses. Most of the universities offering MBA look for candidates who have experience in a professional environment. Therefore, your Statement of Purpose should definitely reflect your professional qualifications. Since, many aspirants might have also held managerial positions before applying for MBA course, these should be prominently highlighted. SOP Examples: After graduation, I sought employment in a field in which I could utilize my skills to the best of my potential. I began working in the Marketing Department of (organization name), where I learned how to devise marketing strategies and develop lasting relationships with customers besides developing a host of major cost cutting skills. In more than 4 years into the organisation, my work has taken me from across places and levels and, now, I feel that the next logical direction in my career is an MBA program.

 State your reasons for pursuing MBA:


There should be clarity about your reasons to pursue an MBA course. Unlike other programmes, MBA is taken up by people from various backgrounds as it does not require technical knowledge specific to any field. Therefore, the aspirant’s background can be anything from engineering to banking. In that case, it is very important that you provide a strong explanation for pursuing MBA and how the degree will help you in fulfilling your long-term goals. SOP Examples: My Engineering degree has given me a strong foundation to build a variety of skills through different experiences. Working in a start-up IT firm for over 2 years exposed me to other aspects of running an organisation. As I walked deeper, I found myself getting engrossed in the strategies applied in marketing and relationship development. I believe a degree in business administration will further help in honing my skills in these areas.

Share an idea:


It is always helpful to express entrepreneurial ideas in your Statement of Purpose. MBA involves a rigorous training in all aspects of business which require innovative strategy making. As such, the admission panel is always on the lookout for people with fresh entrepreneurial ideas. Remember, you need not specifically share any details of your plan but present an idea which interests the panel enough to call you for the interview round. SOP Examples: Working for over 5 years in the healthcare sector, I have been fascinated by the insurance industry and its potential in healthcare. So, along with a friend, I set up a venture to introduce innovative insurance plans that has minimum risks and easy insurance payments.

 Provide reasons for seeking a specific MBA specialization:


Most of the business schools show deep interest in knowing the reason behind an aspirant’s choice for an MBA specialization. It is always beneficial for you to talk about the experiences which encouraged you to apply for a specific specialisation.

For example: If you want to pursue MBA in Finance, it will be helpful if you write about the work you have done in this field or why finance interests you. In some cases, the aspirant even wants to change his field. For example, you have an Master of Science Programin engineering background but want to pursue MBA in marketing. The right way to go about is by explaining what  you learnt in engineering and how certain projects or experiences pushed you toward management. It may be organizing a fest or field work, whatever makes the strongest reason for you to change tracks.

SOP Examples: During my IIT days, we organized a charity drive for (reason). I took the responsibility of arranging the event and the campaigns around the locality. So, the plan was to promote the campaign in such a way that it made a strong impression on people. I led my team toward garnering contribution from over a massive 10,000 people for our cause. Needless to say, the campaign was a huge success. But what I learnt from it was how using simple strategies of promotion we managed to move so many people into contributing.

It is always useful to read other people’s work to get a sense of what good essays are. To assist you, TopAdmit provides you some MBA essay samples written by counselors and editors hailing from prestigious schools including Harvard. This page contains personal statement samples, statement of purpose samples, and application essay samples for college. But please remember, these are for your reference only; it is not to your benefit to copy their style or concepts. It not only violates academic ethics and could lead to an automatic rejection by the admissions committee — the point of our service is to help you construct a unique essay — not one similar to other essays.


By: Bedasree Das

4 Frequently Asked Questions | College Coach


At the start of this year’s application season, we released a series of articles on what to expect with the 2014-2015 Common Application. In response, we received many great Common App questions from our readers and thought it might be helpful to share the most frequently asked questions to help you put the finishing touches on your applications.

4 Common App FAQs
Q: Can a recommendation from one teacher be sent to multiple schools on my list?

A: Each teacher can write one letter of recommendation for you, and this same letter gets sent to all of the schools to which you have assigned him/her on the “Recommenders and FERPA” section of the Common Application. If you decide to apply to more schools later on in the process, your teacher’s letter will be sent automatically to those schools as well, as long as you have assigned him/her as the recommender for those new institutions.

Q: If I report my SAT/ACT scores on the Common App, do I still have to send the official scores through College Board and the ACT?

A: Yes! After requesting that your official score reports be sent out, it can take 3-5 weeks for colleges to receive them. Be sure to submit your SAT/ACT requests early so that your scores get mailed well before application deadlines.

Q: Will it reflect poorly on my application if I don’t self-report test scores via the Common App?

A: Not at all! Feel free to leave the test section blank on the Common App. Most colleges will only use official test scores sent by the testing agencies and will not focus on your self-reported scores on the application.

Q: If I submitted the Common App to one school for Early Decision/Early Application, how to I make changes to my application before I send it to my regular decision schools? Do I need to create a separate version?

A: There’s no need to start from scratch. Once you submit the application to your ED/EA school, you’ll be able to edit any section of the application before you submit to the other schools on your list. Just be aware that you are only allowed to make changes to your main essay a total of two times before the Common App “locks” you into your third and final version of the essay.

Discussing: Scholarship Renewals, College Essays, and the New Common App Prompts


Beth Heaton returned as host for this episode of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation, incorporating a wide range of timely topics. Covering information about scholarship renewal, the new Common Application essay prompts, and how to begin the essay writing process, this episode is packed full of great information!

Renewing College Scholarships

Did you know that not every scholarship is necessarily good for all four years of college? Cheryl Hunt joined Beth for her inaugural Getting In: A College Coach Conversation show to discuss this tricky subject. Cheryl is a 27-year college finance veteran, including work at both Azusa Pacific and Chapman University in California. In this segment, Cheryl walked listeners through the questions they need to ask now, at the time of the award offer, in order to make great decisions. Spoiler alert: there are many scholarships that might last for just one year, or need to be renewed each year—tune in to learn how to handle these!

Common Application Essay Prompts for 2017-2018

Lauren Randle joined Beth in the show’s second segment to discuss the recently released and updated Common Application essay prompts. Going prompt by prompt, Lauren and Beth highlighted the updates and analyzed the new prompts. Students applying in the 2017-18 application cycle will reap the benefits of these updated (and additional!) prompts, but only if they’re prepared to scrutinize the questions and attack them in the way they were meant to be written. Tune in to hear Beth and Lauren share their expectations for how students might address the old, updated, and new prompts—and to decide which prompt might be best for you!

Starting the College Essay

Finally, in the third segment, Mary Sue Youn joined Beth to discuss getting started on your college essays. With such a daunting task, where do you even begin? Beth and Mary Sue shared their “go-to” methods for helping students pick a topic and choose their writing angle. They also shared valuable insights for students who are feeling really stuck—make sure to listen to the full segment to hear all of their tips and tricks.

10 Biggest Changes to the 2017-18 Common Application | Part 2


What the 2017-2018 Common App Changes Mean for You – Part 2

Welcome back to Part 2 of our blog that highlights ten of the biggest changes to this year’s Common Application. In Part 1, we revealed tips on who exactly needs to complete the new Courses and Grades section of the application, and the dangers of using Google Drive when transferring your essays from Google Docs into the Common App. But now, let’s turn our attention to six additional Common App changes.
5. Sex/Gender Clarifications

To be more sensitive to those students who do not comfortably fall into the male-female binary, the Common App no longer asks students to indicate their “sex assigned at birth” during the account creation process. Rather, on the Profile page of the application, students will be asked to bubble in either a male or female sex and then immediately be given the opportunity to clarify their gender identity in the space below.

Common App Changes

Insider’s Tip: Students have 100 characters (including spaces) to provide details about their gender identity on this optional question.

6. Two New Activity Headings

There are now 30 different activity types available on the Activities page of the application, thanks to the addition of internship and social justice options on the dropdown menu.

Common App Changes to Activity Headings

Insider’s Tip: Think critically about whether your volunteer efforts would best be categorized as community service or social justice on the dropdown menu. Picking up trash in your local park or spending time with seniors in a nursing home are prime examples of community service. Raising money for new immigrants in your community or serving meals to the homeless illustrate a commitment to human rights and equality.

7. Easier Activity Removal

Staying right here on the Activities page, students will notice a little trash can icon in the bottom right-hand corner of each activities listing. If you need to delete an entire activity, simply click on the trash can. (You might be wondering how this is an improvement on last year’s application because it seems so basic, right? Trying to explain the old method would take far too long, so let’s all just be glad that this process has been streamlined!)

Common App Changes Activity Removal

Insider’s Tip: Once you delete an activity, you cannot get it back. None of the information you previously entered will be saved, so think twice before you remove it.

8. Two New Personal Essay Prompts (and Three Revisions)

We love the two new essay choices available to students on the Common App, especially number six, which reads: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? To learn more about the changes to this year’s essay options, and to determine which one might be the best choice for you, be sure to read our blog and take this quiz.

9. Advisor Account

Students who would like a trusted adult (such as a mentor, college counselor, or teacher) to review a copy of their application now have two options. As in previous years, students can opt to share their Common App username and password with the advisor, or—thanks to a new feature of the Common App this year—students can invite the adult to create an advisor account via the Recommenders and FERPA page of the application. There are pros and cons to both of these options. While some advisors prefer to proofread applications by directly logging into their students accounts, be aware that by giving an advisor your login credentials, you’re essentially granting them full and unrestricted access to the application itself. If they make any changes to your application or mistakenly delete an entry, you’ll need to review and potentially correct those errors yourself. On the other hand, by allowing an advisor to see a read-only version of your application, they won’t be able to conduct a line-by-line review of each Common App page and catch potential omissions.

Common App Changes Advisor Account

Insider’s Tip: Students can invite up to three advisors at a time to review a read-only version of their application, and this invitation can be revoked at any time by clicking on the trash can icon.

10. Word Count Limits

Thank you, Common App, for developing this oh-so-simple tool for showing students the minimum and maximum word counts for all essays. Sometimes colleges neglect to inform applicants of a suggested word limit (leading to frantic questions of “how ‘short’ should a ‘short paragraph’ be?”), and at other times the text box actually provides more room than the essay instructions would imply. Now students can easily see both the high and low end ranges for all text box entries.

Common App Changes to Word Counts

Insider’s Tip: Just because a text box may allow you to exceed the recommended maximum word limit, don’t be tempted to go overboard. “Roughly 250 words” can comfortably mean up to 275 words, but submitting an essay of 300 words may be pushing it.

The Common App has done it again! Every year they continue to make practical and useful enhancements to their platform that all seek to enrich the user experience. And students can expect to see continued improvements year after year, especially now that there’s another major player competing in the college application market—the Coalition Application. But one million students can’t be wrong. Thanks to the dynamic versatility of the application, the wide range of colleges that accept it, and its easy-to-use interface, the Common Application continues to be our number one choice for students applying to college.

10 Biggest Changes to the 2017-18 Common Application | Part 1


What the 2017-2018 Common App Changes Mean for You

The Common Application, which is accepted by nearly 730 colleges and universities across the country and around the world, underwent a bit of a makeover this summer. Students who created a Common App account prior to August 1 will notice several enhancements to the application as they navigate their way across the online platform over the next few months. Some of the changes are minor, perhaps better viewed as timesavers or user-experience upgrades than major developments. But some of the modifications are significant and provide students ever greater opportunities for self-expression and reflection. Below are our picks for the 10 biggest changes to the 2017-18 Common Application.

1. Courses & Grades

Chapman University ● New York School of Career and Applied Studies (a division of Touro College) ● Ohio State University ● Purdue University ● The George Washington University ● University of Southern California ● West Virginia University

Students applying to at least one of the seven colleges above will be required to complete a brand new section of the application titled Courses & Grades (C&G). Located just under the Writing section on the application menu, C&G is essentially a self-reported transcript. Students (a) who have access to their high school transcript, (b) whose transcripts provide final grades, and (c) whose school operates on a traditional semester, trimester, quarter, or block schedule will be prompted complete detailed course information for all classes taken in grades 9-11. The first time you enter the C&G module, you’ll be taken through a Course Assistant Wizard. Here you must indicate:

  • the grading scale used by your high school 100-1, A-F, etc.),
  • the frequency which your grades are reported on your transcript (semester, yearly, etc.),
  • the level of the class (standard, honors, AP, etc.),
  • the number of credits you earned in each class (usually 1.0),
  • and, finally, the course titles and grades themselves.

As long as you have a copy of your high school transcript close at hand, completing the C&G section is relatively straightforward. Of course, there are always special circumstances that slightly muddle the process, such as students who attended more than one high school during a single academic year, or students who earned high school credit while still in 8th grade. Not to worry, for the Common App’s Solutions Center has you covered! You can learn more about the nuances of completing the C&G section by watching these YouTube videos or searching for “courses and grades” on the Solution Center’s homepage.

Common App Support Courses and Grades

Insider’s Tip: If you are not applying to any of the seven colleges listed above, do not waste your time filling out the C&G section. Colleges that do not require C&G won’t even be able to see the completed form on your application, so you can’t submit this self-reported information even if you wanted to.

2. Google Drive Integration

Students who utilize Google Docs to write and edit their essays may be pleased to learn there is now a process to transfer the contents of their Google Docs directly into the Common Application. Anywhere you’re asked to respond to an essay question, expect to see the Google Drive icon in the header just above the text box itself. After granting the Common App permission to access your Google Drive account, you’ll be able to transpose the text of your Google Docs into text fields of the application.

Common App Support Google Drive

Insider’s Tip: Please note that any formatting features in your Google Docs that are not supported by a basic text field (such as colors, hyperlinks, charts, etc.) will be removed when the text is transcribed into the Common App. And sometimes, paragraph breaks or spacing issues appear during the transfer process. You will absolutely want to double-check your essay’s appearance in the preview screen of the Common App to ensure that the appropriate formatting has been preserved.

3. Preview Button for Supplements

Nothing helps a student spot application typos more readily than a careful review of the Common App’s preview screen. And up until this year, preview screens were only available on the six main pages of the Common App. Now, however, thanks to feedback from Common App users last year, the application’s developers have included preview buttons on all school-specific questions and writing supplement forms.

Common App Support Preview

Insider’s Tip: The preview screen will only work after students have answered at least one question on a college’s supplement.

4. More Convenient Resend Button for Recommenders

Let’s imagine that you virtually invite a teacher or coach to complete a letter of recommendation on your behalf via the Common App, but they insist they never received the email. Instead of having to search for the original request deep inside the Recommenders and FERPA page of the application, students can now easily access a simple request button right on the main screen of the Recommenders page.

Common App Support Recommendations

Insider’s Tip: Before you click resend, however, be sure to confirm that the email address you initially entered is correct. It’s possible that a mere misspelling (and not a hyperactive spam filter) is the reason for the missing email.a



So you’re working on your college applications and just can’t seem to come up with a good topic for your essay! You hate all of your ideas and you know a good topic is the foundation for a fantastic essay! Don’t panic! Your predicament is quite normal and you’re one of many students sweating your essay topic right now!! The good news is we can help! Here are some tips for using your memories to find the perfect topic:

  • Go through old photo albums (or your Instagram feed) and brainstorm using pictures as your triggers.
  • Look around your bedroom – what items jump out to you as things that have meaning? Do this exercise in any place you spend a lot of time. The locker room. The school bus. The library. Your best friend’s house. Your favorite ice cream shop.
  • Try and jog your memory for the most meaningful events in your life thus far. Think about birthdays and anniversaries. Special visits from long lost friends. Competitions you won (or lost).
  • Take your nostalgia for a ride. Up to this point in your life, what have been your most cherished memories and why? You might not end up writing about your seventh grade science fair, but you could unearth a smaller, more significant story to tell.
  • Don’t be afraid to consult mom and dad. Even if you’re wary of letting your parents in on the brainstorming process, they often remember details you don’t remember or bring up stories you have totally forgotten. (Ours remember many we would like to forget.)

Your golden idea might be right in front of you. Maybe you see the blue ribbon pinned on your bedroom wall that you earned after competing in your swim meet while battling the nastiest cold you’ve ever had. Maybe you want to write about being a team player and a hard worker. Perhaps your dad loves the story of the time you fell flat on your face while dancing on stage at your annual talent show. Perhaps that was the exact moment you realized that performing was your dream and that maybe you shouldn’t wear four inch heels while trying to whip and nae nae. The perfect topic is somewhere in your brain, you just have to know where to look.

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