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July 11, 2022

4 Minutes Read

Greetings from Poughkeepsie!

I'm two hours north of New York visiting colleges in the Hudson Valley area this week. First stop: Vassar. Always take rankings with a grain of salt, but it's long been one the country's most prestigious liberal arts colleges. Originally one of the "Seven Sisters", Vassar became co-ed after turning down a merger with Yale. 

Just down the road is Marist. Sometimes referred to as an A plus school for B students because it's less selective than its neighbor, savvy applicants know there is a lot to like there including merit-based scholarships that bring tuition in line with some state schools.

Later in the week, I'll be at West Point, the selective service academy that produces many of military's top officers, and The Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA), which is responsible for training many of the country's best chefs. 

I'll certainly be eating at the excellent student run restaurant and combining this trip with some family fun, which I highly encourage on college visits. One of the mistakes I often see is families plowing through college visits way too fast. 


⚡️One college a day is best. In addition to the standard info session and tour, you can take advantage of opportunities to sit in on a class, attend a professor's office hours, have lunch in the dining hall, talk to other students, and, if offered, interview with an admissions officer. You might also check out an extracurricular club and even stay over in the dorm. 


🔥 While I'm here in summer, I've been to these schools before. If it's your first time on campus, and you're trying to decide if it's somewhere you can see yourself spending the next four years, I would do everything in your power to visit on a day the school is in session. Like many things in life, advanced planning is the key to meaningful (and enjoyable!) visits


If you have a question about visits, or any other aspect of preparing for college, just hit reply and let me know. If you want to share this newsletter with friends, you can use the link at the bottom of this email 🙏.

Here's more that I want to share this week:


✍️ Write Now!


A story about one of our students.

John was a highly intelligent and a talented writer (with less than stellar grades and test scores). A Native Texan, due to unique family circumstances John went to one of the most well known boarding schools in the Northeast. He could talk for hours about the Roman Empire and current political issues. John was also kind, funny, and resilient. 

He wanted to write something that represented the complexity of his experiences and who he was. The issue was John had so much to say and was very nuanced in his writing. His story was long, his paragraphs were long, and his sentences, sometimes with half a dozen commas—plus dashes—were long:)  We never worry about length at the beginning of the writing process, but his first draft was over 1500 words! It was a process, but ultimately everything he learned from the ACE Method and feedback from his counselor came together beautifully.

💯 ACE is an acronym for Accumulate, Create, and Elevate. 

In the first stage you accumulate interesting story ideas and then choose the best topic and theme for your essay. In the second stage you create the first draft with a compelling narrative structure and key elements of all good personal essays. In the final stage you elevate your essay from good to great. After learning to do large scale revision, students make use of literary devices that bring polish to their ideas and resonate with their audience.

True to the ACE method, John asked himself the right questions at the right time: "Is my theme too common for this topic? Is my story focused on the right level of detail? Which intellectual touchstones add value and which are superfluous? Where can I vary the complexity of sentences to make my story more digestible and highlight my most important insights?”   

Because of his systematic approach, John didn't expect perfection along the way. He approached his essay with the humility and patience necessary during the writing process and knowing he was following a proven strategy allowed him to be confident during times of uncertainty.

John’s finished essay, “Rubicon Crossing,” helped him earn admission to a top liberal arts college (#1 according to US News), not to mention one of the most prestigious and valuable scholarships. Deconstructing how and why the essay works so well is often enlightening for our students. 

What can you learn from John’s success? Writing a great essay is a process.

College admissions committees reward students like John, who may not have the best grades or test scores, but are able to tell a story that is highly compelling. Well written college essays will never guarantee admission, but they significantly increase the odds of serendipity.


So, what will you write this week❓ Try the ACE Method.

— — —


A few more things...


  •  😱 Columbia Unbound:  The Ivy League university accused of manipulating data to move up in the rankings (last year's #2) refused to provide requested documentation. It has now been "unranked." Shame on them and good for them. Columbia is an outstanding university regardless of what they are ranked or not ranked. Savvy Applicants know this is true for other schools as well. 
  • 🌿 Reading Harvard:  The campus novel is a revered genre that often provides a good story and lots of interesting insider info. If you are looking for summer reading that is both significant and fun, try Elif Batuman's The Idiot and its recently released sequel, Either/Or. They follow a witty and hilarious young woman through her freshman and sophomore year at Harvard. If you recognize the titles as references to Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard you're ahead of the game.  
  • ⌛ Testing the SAT: The first time the College Board will be administering the new digital SAT is less than a year away. Deciding what tests to take (or not take), when to take them, and how to best prepare is unique to students based on circumstances. Read more from our long-time tutoring partner Arborbridge and consult your counselor. Not to sound like a broken record about advanced planning, but if the shoe fits...I'll wear the mixed metaphor.


And I'll leave you with a quote that underscores the importance of character in your college applications and a pic from the road...

🗣️ Quote: "Not everything that matters can be measured" —Albert Einstein


📸  Image: The archway at Taylor Hall is just on the side of the main entrance to Vassar's beautiful campus.

me at vassar