US Universities – the Essay!

Advice from Kathy Compagnon –

When you look over the topics of essays, you will probably feel daunted and a bit at a loss. You’re 17 or 18, you haven’t done anything to save the world: what can you possibly say? Fear not. You have lots to say; you have to be brutally honest with yourself, unembarrassed about revealing yourself, a bit creative, but never phoney, and willing to brag without sounding obnoxious or pretentious.

Bottom line: these schools want to know that you have an interesting mind and a lot of intellectual curiosity. They view learning as a two-sided affair, an exchange or a social contract. They know what they have to offer you; they want to know what you have to offer in return. You have to convince them that you’re worth it.

While all the topics sound slightly different, they are all asking basically the same question: What makes you different and intriguing. The answer comes not so much from what you’ve done, but from how you THINK about it, how your mind works. What you write about might be simple and banal (an argument with a friend, someone you met on a train, tripping in the hallway); what makes it interesting is what you learned from it and how you express yourself.

A good way to start is to make three columns:

Column one: The school’s questions.

Column two: Adjectives that honestly and genuinely describe you. Think in terms of what you really want them to know about you.

Column three: events or activities that mean something to you (sports, school, activities, multiculturalism, languages, friends). For general activities, try to find an aspect you can focus on.

Match up the columns.

Writing: You want your reader to want to read your essay. Remember they are reading literally thousands of them. Take pity on them and write something that is a pleasure to read. By doing so, you will make yourself an interesting candidate. It is often wise to start with a short narrative scene to draw them in. Then build on the basis of that scene a larger statement about yourself, using the ideas developed in your column work. The narrative part will also give validity to your larger statements.

Give yourself time to write several drafts. Have other people you trust read it, preferably someone familiar with US universities, but remember this is YOUR statement. Make sure you believe what you are saying, and that even if your accomplishments sound somewhat embellished, the overall image is indeed you.

US – Early Decision and Early Action

Advice from Kathy Compagnon –

For most schools, the complete application must be in their hands by December 30 of the year before you plan to attend. Check dates for each school.

You will receive a decision by early April, and it will NOT depend on your baccalaureate results. Many schools offer Early Decision or Early Action programs.

Typically, for early decision, a student applies to ONE school, his or her clear first choice, the application is in by November 1, and a decision (accepted, deferred or rejected) made by mid-December. If accepted, the student is obliged to enrol and must withdraw applications to all other universities; if deferred, the student maintains that application and applies to other universities in December. It is a smart option if you are absolutely certain of your choice and if your school record is clearly superior in light of the university’s standards. In general, acceptance percentages work in favour of early admissions candidates, so give Early Decision some serious thought.

Early Action or Notification programs follow the same timetable, but the decision is not binding. If your heart is set on an Early Action school, use that option. It will still improve your chances. And acceptance makes for a very merry Christmas holiday.

Applying to the US – How to Use your Summer Holidays!

More advice from

Use your summer vacations for more interesting adventures than lying on the beach with your cousins, especially the summers after 2nde and 1ere. It is better to pursue one or two activities in depth than a lot of activities superficially. Do not be cynical about volunteering. You will be amazed by how much it brings you.

Think long and hard about how you spend your time outside of the classroom. Babysitting? Cooking? Toying with cars? Watching movies? See if you have less obvious activities and use them in your application to give a fair representation of who you really are.

Writing Essays for US Universities

Kathy Compagnon gives the following advice:

ESSAYS –This will surely be one of the most challenging writing tasks you have ever encountered, and it can make a big difference in the success of your application. It is not the same exercise as the Personal Statement for a UCAS form or a lettre de motivation in tone or style. These schools are not simply looking for the brightest students; they want interesting minds, and to sense that your creativity, passion and curiosity are going to take you far in your intellectual journey and add a lot to the dynamics of the classroom and the school community.

This is the place for you to shine. Do not be shy. Do be honestly yourself. Remember that your foreignness is a plus, provided that you know why it makes you special. Remember also that you do not have to have had brilliant and extraordinary moments in your life to be interesting. The event itself can be banal; what makes it distinctive is how you think about it, understand it, and use it to reveal your compelling self.

The Common Application asks for a short essay (150 words): “Please briefly elaborate on one of our activities (extracurricular, personal activities, or work experience).”

The main essay is longer, about 500 words, and on a topic of your choice or one of the following:

– Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

– Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.

– Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

– Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

– A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.”

Mull over all of these topics. Think. Talk with your parents and friends. Realise that the focus is you. Write. Put it aside. Come back to it later. Rewrite – a lot, until you are completely satisfied. Let other people read it. WRITE A FIRST DRAFT DURING SUMMER VACATION BEFORE TERMINALE. You will sorely regret not making the effort.

Individual schools will also ask you to write an essay explaining why that specific school is the right choice for you. Work hard on your answer. If you can’t visit the school, study its website and talk to alumni if you know any.

Read the article on essay writing, “Writing the Essay: Sound Advice from an Expert” by Parke Muth from the University of Virginia, which you can find at: Excellent advice.