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May 15, 2022

5 Minutes Read

Hi friends,

Greetings from Philadelphia!

Peter and I are here attending our second in-person conference this year. It's a few days of meeting college reps, discussing admissions trends, and—equally important— spending time with colleagues and old friends.

Missing aspects of our connection to community took its toll on all of us, but there's no doubt that it's been especially hard on teens. In light of May being mental health awareness month (and now that AP exams are over), I want to encourage you to take a beat and "check-in" with yourself—What am I feeling right now? In general?

For context and comparison, I recommend Derek Thomson's article in The Atlantic analyzing the 4 biggest forces impacting teens' well being. 

Thompson's article will challenge you to reflect on our cultural moment and think through the nuances of what may be complicated and contradictory feelings. That's not only good for your health, it's part of building the emotional intelligence that selective colleges are looking for in their students. 


🔥Savvy Applicants recognize that their EQ can distinguish themselves from peers more than their grades and standardized test scores. 


If you have a question about this, 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 what I want to share this week:


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🧠 EQ Admissions Cont'd

What exactly is emotional intelligence? I've heard a lot of definitions, but it's mainly about understanding and managing our emotions. Yale professor Mark Bracket offers a few tenets of EQ in a short Character Lab post. Do these sound like you:
  • I notice how I am feeling and think about why I feel that way.
  • I look at others’ facial expressions and body language to know how they are feeling.
  • I generally understand what causes my feelings.
  • I have a wide and specific vocabulary for talking about my feelings.
  • I am comfortable expressing my feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant ones.
  • I have a lot of different strategies for handling my feelings.
🤷🏻‍♀️ Why do colleges care?
Selective colleges are looking for students who are not only going to be successful academically in the classroom, but also socially in the dorms and dining halls, and professionally in your chosen careers well after you graduate. Recent research all points to EQ as a major factor. 
📓 What Helps Me:
Recognizing EQ is not something that we have or don't have; it's something we can continually learn and practice. To that end—I'm a big proponent of keeping a journal. There are so many benefits, but one of the biggest has been becoming more self-aware by reflecting on what triggers particular emotions and how they effect my actions.
I'm certainly not perfect, but I feel I've become more able to "witness" my emotions in the moment and make more active choices about how I react. I like to journal first thing in the morning (before checking my email or reading news).  Experiment to see what works best for you...
🔥 If journaling is meaningful to you, don't forget to list it and describe its significance in the "Activities" section of your college applications. 
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✍️ Writing is Rewriting


This is part 4 of the 5-part "How to ACE Your College Essay" series

Now, you are ready to level up your story. Within this stage of the writing process there is an order of operations. Start with big picture macro-editing like questioning the focus of your story and making important connections. Save the micro-editing of stylistic choices for later. 

Adjust Your Focus. In early drafts, it's easy to have an essay that is either too broad or too narrow in scope. The right level of focus will highlight your character strengths in a meaningful level of depth without getting lost in the weeds of details that don't advance the story.

Add Intellectual Vitality. One of the most important character strengths selective colleges look for in an applicant is curiosity.  Read through your essay and look for opportunities to explore how your experience may be connected to historical, literary or philosophical ideas you care about.

Get Emotional. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable in your essay.  Demonstrate emotional intelligence by expressing how certain experiences made you feel and your awareness of the deeper need underlying the feeling.

Ask Rhetorical Questions. How do you sound smart in your essay without showing off? How do you communicate your personality or sense of humor? Ask yourself or your reader interesting questions within the essay. This is a secret weapon of essays that stand out.

Use Literary Language. Metaphors and similes can bring your writing to life. Shakespeare was a master. To explain human behavior he said, "All the world's a stage." Just beware of mixed or dissimilar metaphors used in rapid succession which may confuse the reader.

Vary The Rhythm. Adjust sentence structure to create a flow throughout each paragraph. Include a mix of longer and more concise sentences. Use brevity to emphasize points. This trick allows you to control how your readers digest and remember your story.

Avoid Clichés. It's easy to fall into the trap of using phrases that are unoriginal. That you should, “avoid them like the plague” is true, but also an example of a phrase I would revise. An exception is if you are going to explore one in more depth or actually disagree with the received wisdom it offers.

Be Specific. Details and vivid descriptions are more engaging than generalities. Strive for "le mot juste" (the exact right word). Sometimes a snippet of actual dialogue can convey meaning, drive the narrative, and reveal character better than summary.

Avert Verbose Locutions. Roughly translated: stay away from excessively wordy phrases. Many students use extravagant words hoping to sound smart; it usually has the opposite effect. This doesn’t mean you can’t use your colorful vocabulary; just don’t sound like a thesaurus.

Prefer Active Voice. Active voice is deliberate; it flows, emphasizes the subject, forges a stronger connection with the reader, and evokes emotion. Rather than “mistakes were made,” it’s usually better to own up to “I made mistakes.”

Use Adverbs Sparingly. Instead of “He ran quickly.” try “He sprinted.” Precise language also evokes emotion. It paints a picture. Remember, “precise” isn’t synonymous with “extravagant.” In addition, when it comes to moderators (e.g. very), proceed with caution.

Kill Your Darlings. In each subsequent draft, sentences that were once essential may no longer be necessary. Even if you are proud of these sentences, don’t keep them if they no longer enhance the narrative. Be disciplined. As Truman Capote understood, the scissors are your partner.


To see a summary of the entire series including part V, check out our guide "How To ACE Your Personal Statement"

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A few more things...


  •  🥊 Scandal @USC: For a progressive critique of elite private universities in general, and USC in particular, check out the latest issue of The Drift. You may not agree with everything, but if you're going to apply to an elite school, you should at least understand the argument. Instead of rehashing the debate on student debt, this article focuses more on what universities owe us. 

  • 📚 Banned in the USAThere is a long history of reactionary school districts banning books from being taught in the classroom and even existing on the shelves of school libraries. Banning is never a good idea, but when it gets to Toni Morrison's Beloved, one of the most important American novels of all time, something has gone horribly wrong. Some teens have fought back by founding Banned Book Clubs

  • 🧐 1550 and Bust The Wall Street Journal profiled Kaitlyn Younger, an academic all-star with 3.95 GPA and a 1550 on her SAT who was optimistic she would be admitted to one of the Ivies. She wasn't. The article is bait for identity politics, but Kaitlyn's own takeaway is insightful: If she had it to do over again, she would still work hard and have high standards for herself, but would try not to stress out so much. Read the full article here. Then read my my extended comment on Linkedin


And I'll leave you with a pop star's quote about our emotions, and an image of my current journal and today's morning coffee...

🗣️ Quote: "We have to make it cool to feel again"  - Lady Gaga 


📸  Image: Combining two of my favorite things is a morning ritual

Journal Pic-1