“Writing Successful College Application Essays”

Ebook written by Andrea Schiralli with contributions made by Marisa De Marco-Costanzo. They are the Executive Directors and Co-Founders of Ivy & Quill. Browse this excellent resource by downloading it for free that features sample admission essays along with quick analyses and tips. UC sample essays are also included. For any inquires please contact us.

The New Student on Campus: 5 Tips to Be the Best Version of You!

Fast forward past the sleepless nights leading up to your arrival on campus. Fast forward past the excitement mixed with anxiety when you say goodbye to your family and friends back home. Fast forward past the flight or drive that it takes to even get to campus. Push play on the reality of what it means to actually “show up”.

One’s arrival on campus as an incoming freshman can be daunting—does the expression “being a little fish in a big pond” ring a bell? Although you may at first feel overwhelmed when having to establish your place at your new school (which is totally normal!), here are five tips on how to make the transition easier along with putting your best foot forward when meeting your roommate, classmates, teammates, professors, and academic advisor.

  1. Be polite and presentable – remember all of the manners that your parents have instilled over the years? This is the perfect time to put them to good use. Hello! How are you? Please, thank you, and nice to meet you go along way. First impressions (fortunately/unfortunately depending on how you view them) mean a lot, too; therefore be well kept when attending your first days of classes, going to ‘Meet & Greet’ student events, and checking out extra curricular activities during club fairs.
  2. Set personal and academic goals – think about certain objectives (and even write them down) as to why you have chosen your major, what you hope to learn/do at your new school, and what you hope to achieve at present and in the near future. In this way, you are putting your intentions into action and forward motion!
  3. Get social (without social media) – ask questions, introduce yourself, attend campus events, join clubs, try out for a sports team, sit with new groups of students in the dining hall, knock on your dorm mate’s door that is opposite of and next to yours…our natural inclination as humans is to sometimes hide when we are out of our comfort zone. Yet don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and make your presence known! In person opportunities to meet others is a sure way of expanding your social circle.
  4. Take care of yourself – it may seem like the last thing on your list of concerns, but one’s health and well-being should always be their first priority. Make sure that you give yourself needed time to keep up with deadlines by staying organized to prevent unnecessary stress, try your best to make healthy choices while in the dining hall (but of course a good junk food binge now and then is also part of the college experience!), avoid too much caffeine because if you consume too much, you are literally drinking up your sleep, and of course, get needed rest so that you can function at a more productive rate during your waking hours.
  5. Meet assignments and take pride in your work – although it’s normal to want to impress your professors, TAs, and even classmates, the person that you should be most concerned with impressing the most is you! Try your best to succeed, even in the face of failure. As long as you know that you have done all that you could have to realize an assignment, study for an exam, and submit a paper, you will develop a positive work ethic and self-image. You will truly surprise yourself! A word to the wise: although one aspires to achieve good grades, there are times that you may work extremely hard but the results aren’t as you have hoped. Remember that we all are human and there is always room for improvement…just as long as you are willing!

By: Marisa De Marco-Costanzo

Accepted! Now What?! 10 Pieces of Advice to Help You Make Your Final Decision

After that dreaded period of anticipation of waiting to see if/when an acceptance letter will arrive after completing the tedious task of applying to college, you finally get your first acceptance letter followed by some others. Ah, a sigh a relief! Yet another dilemma crops up…you ask yourself the burning question over and over again, “Which school should I choose?” Yet it doesn’t end there. Seeking out additional support and advice, you also turn to nearly everyone that will listen including (but not limited to) parents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, and coaches.

Although choosing the school that best suites your wants and needs is one of the most important decisions that you will be faced with while shaping your academic career, it is also one of those rare moments in time in which you should feel a great sense of accomplishment because all of your hard work and efforts have paid off throughout high school and luckily, you have options.

Here are 10 pieces of advice to take both to heart and mind when making your final decision:

  1. Take your time – if you are still waiting for more options, take this time to reflect. Yet be sure to adhere to deadlines that require your response by a given due date. Make a note in your calendar so you don’t forget!
  2. Do your research – look up some information and/or review some previous info that you have already gathered on each school so that when you make your final decision, it is an informed one.
  3. Make a list of “Pros & Cons” – literally sit down with a piece of paper and pen in hand. When comparing and contrasting the various schools that you have been accepted to, write down key factors that are both positive and negative in helping you determine which school has the most “pros”…for you.
  4. Evaluate your finances – conduct specialized research on the cost of each school including tuition, housing, meal plans, and any extra fees (i.e. study abroad, use of facilities). Once you have done this, talk to your family about your financial circumstances. If you have received scholarships and other types of financial assistance, these may be your deciding factors!
  5. Talk to your most trusted group of listeners – ultimately this decision is yours to make, but it is also helpful to have a good network of people that you trust and that you feel can guide you in a positive direction.
  6. Reach out to current students & alumni – once you have narrowed down your top choices, try to reach out to current students (and even alumni) through social media in order to get some feedback about their experiences, both past and present, at your school(s) of interest.
  7. OKAY, time is now up – once the moment has arrived, you should feel confident in your decision and you should proudly be able to confirm your attendance at the school of your choice. Once you have, be sure to follow deadlines that are asked of you regarding filling out information in the school’s portal, addressing any needed documentation, and payment.
  8. Inform the other schools – take the time to let the other colleges and universities know that you will not be attending so that you can give another student the possibility to fill your spot.
  9. Take a deep breath – after making any type of important life decision, it is always helpful to literally take a breath and take some time to “decompress” in order to re-energize. 
  10. Get to graduation – although it may seem like a “done deal” now that you have been accepted to college and have given your response to attend, this doesn’t mean that you are in the clear. Finish out your high school career as best as you can!

By: Marisa De Marco-Costanzo

Paris, Je T’aime (Part 2)

…After settling into my tiny dorm room that evening, I explored the building I would call “home” for the next ten months. In the basement were a foosball table, a pool table, and a TV. Impossible to be bored! My bedroom was simple, the kitchens simpler, yet the colored faces of the students I passed were all smiling. As I moseyed back to my room, I noticed a tall, lanky, dark haired boy opening the door to the room directly across from mine.

“Hey.” I tapped him on the shoulder before he could finish turning his key.

He spun around, evidently surprised.

“I’m Andrea. From New York. Your new neighbor,” I said pointing to my door.

“I’m just saying ‘hi’, since I’ll probably be seeing you a lot. Nice to meet you!” I said in an overly hyper manner.

Gosh. Why did I crumble into total awkwardness when speaking to a cute guy?

An amused grin spread across his fair face, and if hearts could melt, mine must have started to.

He held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Konstantin. From Russia.”

I shook his hand (firm handshake) and smiled. His hazel eyes smiled back.

“What are you doing now, Andrea?”

“Oh, I just arrived. Literally, today. I don’t know.”

“Oh! Come on, I’ll show you around. I’ll take you to the Eiffel Tower! It’s breathtaking at night.”

“Umm…”

This was supposed to be a new start, a new country, a new life. I would grasp every opportunity by the horns and live life with the attitude of my Italian professor, who would respond to any student’s bizarre, malformed sentences with: “Why not?”

Here was a Disney prince come to life asking if he could show me around the most romantic city in the world. Though shy, I was by no means a total idiot.

“Um, why not? Just give me a sec.”

I rushed to grab a light sweater, the whole time praying I wouldn’t wake up.

By: Andrea Schiralli

Paris, Je T’aime (Part 1)

Paris—the city of lights, chocolate, baguettes, art…love. What isn’t Paris known for?

During my junior year of studies at Cornell, I decided to study abroad in Paris. I had fallen in love with the French language through an elective and switched majors during my sophomore year. Although I did not meet the minimum language requirements to study in France (at least 4 semesters of the language plus a writing course), I set up an appointment with the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and promised him that I would try my hardest and not disappoint, insisting that French is a Romance Language just like the others—Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian—that I already speak. How hard could studying French literature in France with minimal grasp of the language be? I was about to find out.

As soon as I stepped foot on Parisian soil, I felt as if I were transported to a land of my “wildest dreams,” to quote the great Western philosopher Taylor Swift. I will never forget walking to the study abroad office—a joint-run Cornell, Emory, Duke, and Harvard program—on my first day in France. The mid-August sun shone upon the hundreds of year old architecture, giving the city an ethereal feel. My steps felt like floating, and I was completely high off of being in what all Parisians proudly and justifiably call “la plus belle ville du monde.”

The thirty other study abroad students and I congregated in the study abroad office—a small, three-room space in a charming, cobblestone street in St. Michel and were introduced to our advisors and then introduced ourselves to each other. 28 of the other students in the program were only staying for one semester—a short three months—and they were assigned to either live with a host family or in their own private apartments. However, a Harvard girl and I were to stay the entire academic year, so we were to live in a francophone dorm in Cite Universitaire, a foundation with over 40 dormitories each representing a different country, as in most of Europe colleges do not have their own campuses, let alone dorms. Although the French House, Monaco House or Canada House would fulfill the francophone requirement, to my surprise I was told we would live in the West African dormitory, as many on the Ivory Coast speak French as their mother tongue.

Another surprise that our advisor told us was that classes would not start for an entire five weeks! In the interim, the study abroad students were to attend daily French grammar classes and had the option to go on scheduled activities and field trips to famous museums and cities outside of Paris. This overall relaxed attitude—five weeks until class began?—set the tone for how life in France is stereotypically (and accurately so) perceived: a little bit too relaxed, yet with artistic and cultural appreciation trumping work or academics.

By: Andrea Schiralli

Real College Stories & Advice for College-bound Students

Read through posts that provide great tips, strategies, and advice about once you get accepted into college and what to expect once you begin your undergraduate journey on campus and perhaps even abroad! For any inquires, please contact us and feel free to comment!

Tackling the Common App – Prompt #2: The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

This essay prompt seems to defy most applicants’ inclinations to brag. It is far easier to bask in success than to tell strangers about a failure. It takes confidence to acknowledge and examine your shortcomings. The description of the failure should be clear and concise. Spend the majority of the essay discussing how you responded to the failure and learned from that experience.

Be honest in describing your reaction to the failure. Were you angry at yourself? Surprised? Did the failure motivate you to act? The lessons learned from the failure is the most important part of this essay. Include a thorough self-analysis and introspection which shows that you are self-aware.

The point of this essay is to show that you can evaluate, learn from, and move on from your failures.

By: Andrea Schiralli

Tackling the Common App – Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

This prompt is very broad, as there are a plethora beliefs or ideas to be questioned. Was the idea you questioned your own, your family’s, or your school’s? Or was it even broader than that, such as a socially accepted or cultural norm? Whatever belief you choose to discuss, make sure it is central to your identity.

The first two parts of the prompt ask you to address why you challenged the belief in the first place. What motivated you to act? The last question basically implies, was your decision worth it? Was your action worth the consequences and efforts? If not, that is okay. College is all about questioning beliefs and testing out ideas.

By: Andrea Schiralli

Tackling the Common App – Prompt # 5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

It is rare that one event will instantaneously transform you from adult to child, but if you have one in mind, by all means write about it. Be sure not to come off as a braggart—rather than boast about the accomplishment, mention it humbly while focusing more on an analysis of your personal growth.

There are so many types of accomplishments you can write about here. Did you reach a personal goal, whether academic, musical, or sports-related? Did you do something alone for the first time, such as travel to a new country or take care of your baby sister the whole day? Did you start your own organization or charity? Did you grow from a moment of failure (see Prompt 2)?

In 1-2 sentences of your conclusion, briefly mention why your accomplishment or event made those within your culture, community, or family start viewing you as an adult. What does it mean to be an adult in these contexts? For example, in the Jewish faith one is considered an adult after his Bat Mitzvah. In many Western families, a child is considered an adult the day he or she turns eighteen.

By: Andrea Schiralli

Supplemental Essay Example #3: 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.

Don’t spend too much time describing. Rather, focus on analyzing a character, person, or work and its influence on you. When did you come across the essay’s subject? What attracted you to it? How and why has it influenced you? The explanation is the core of this type of essay, as it will reveal your personality and passions.

Remember that a “creative work” doesn’t necessarily have to apply to the studio arts or literature. Every field, from engineering and math to psychology and medicine, requires creative thinking for progress.Focus a bit more on the subject’s “influence on you.” After all, admissions officers are reading your essay to learn about you and no one else.

By: Andrea Schiralli