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March 14, 2021

3 Minutes Read

Hi friends,

Greetings from Princeton, and happy Pi day!

Spring of 11th grade is an intense period of high school in any year, let alone during a continuing pandemic. Many students are following our 9-month schedule for writing college essays, but with more immediate responsibilities, starting the essays can sometimes take a back seat.
It's for that reason Peter and I run a spring session of our personal statement class, Write Your Way into College. Starting April 12, it's a 3 week course that kickstarts the application season. While this upcoming session is limited to 20 students, we want to support as many of you as possible. Our [How to ACE Your Personal Statement] email series helps you discover your best topic, structure a compelling story, and add the kind of polish that stands out.


To receive the 5-part [How to ACE Your Personal Statement] email series simply email me with "ACE" in the subject line— I'll personally add you to the list.

I'll be sending it in advance of Spring Break. If you want a sneak peak you can read part I, Finding Gold.



📲Get Social For College

As I wrote about last week, "switchtasking" is a time-management disaster.  Not only does it slow us down, but it also lowers the quality of our work and makes us anxious.  For some of us, social media is the main culprit. The neuroscience of its addictiveness is quite interesting (if you haven't seen The Social Dilemma I highly recommend it). 
Beyond that, colleges are using digital footprints against students. At least this is one of the narratives in the media. The stories warn that colleges are not necessarily searching for dirt, but if they stumble upon some it could be a problem. There is truth to this. A large percentage of admissions officers feel your online life is fair game and bad behavior (particularly intolerance toward others) does not bode well for your admissions chances. 
This week the Washington Post published an article by our colleague Brennan Barnard on how to sabotage your chance of getting into college. It sounded an alarm, but also highlighted what we know is a major opportunity for students. Rather than hide, strategically cultivating an authentic online presence is advantageous.
Savvy students understand that what they do online is part of their personal brand. It can complement and enhance—or contradict—the stories in your application. You don't need to curate perfection however. In fact, documenting your journey, including reaction to setbacks, can be highly compelling.
As we often say, colleges want to enroll people of character, people who are kind and good citizens. This is equally true of in-person and online communities.

Here's what else we want to share with you:


  • 🤔America's "Best" High Schools: Paying too much attention to college rankings can be harmful, but it's worth noting that colleges evaluate you in the context of your high school. Aside from Caitlin Flanagan's recent criticisms of elite private high schools, her article for The Atlantic highlighted some undercover research on admissions.  More tracking than ranking, the website  PolarisList collects data on a single measure: how many students from a particular high school matriculate at Harvard, Princeton or MIT. 


  • 😎Summer Re-Do: The pandemic changed almost everyone's 2020 summer plans. It's not going to be "back to normal," but summer 2021 is shaping up to be less restrictive. TeenLife recently published a list of their 100 most popular summer programs. While attending formal programs isn't necessarily what impresses colleges, they can be used as part of a plan to explore interests in more depth. 

  • 😷Coming of Age: What has it been like to be a teenager during a historic year? Through their writing and art, teens across the country let the New York Times know how they have met life's challenges in the midst of a pandemic. Their combined resilience and political awakening is inspiring. 


Last week's video and featured image struck a chord with many of you. Seeing the pyramid with the 15 elements of character evaluated on letter of recommendation forms often makes the entire holistic admissions process easier to grasp.  The earlier students "get it" the more runway there is maximize your potential. If you are in 11th grade it is urgent, but even if you are younger  Watch Peter break down how to get great letters of recommendation and then check out our Ultimate Guide to the 15 character strengths colleges care about most.