Archive for April, 2010

Top 5 Things to Avoid on the SAT Essay

Knewton: Online Prep for the SAT, GMAT, & LSAT

This blog post was brought to you by Josh Anish, Senior Editor at Knewton, where he grades essays as part of the company’s SAT course.

1) Don’t write too little. Many scorers grade on perceived effort, which they often judge—for better or worse—on the number of words written. Use most if not all of the space allotted. Write at least 4 paragraphs (5 is even better), with at least 3 sentences per paragraph.

2) Don’t be controversial. Not even a little. You may think that the United States’ invasion of Iraq was super whacky, or that the Tea Party Movement is brilliant—but keep those kinds of topics far, far away from the SAT essay. Write about things like heroism, generosity, and kindness. In other words, play it safe. You’ll have plenty of time to share provocative thoughts in college.

3) Don’t use first-person pronouns (“I” or “me”) in the first paragraph. The graders of the test know who wrote the essay. You don’t need to say “I think peanut butter is the best thing since sliced bread.” Just go ahead and assert, “Peanut Butter is the best thing since sliced bread.” It’s a stronger statement anyway.

4) Don’t be vague. We get it; these essay topics are super broad and boring (almost by design). But that doesn’t mean you should respond in a super broad and boring way. Home in on specifics. Don’t use words like “society” or phrases like “in this day and age.” Besides, it’s easier to be specific. Draw on concrete examples. For example, if you’re asked to write 400 words about “honesty,” drill down the topic to talk about honesty in business, or the honor code at your school.

5) Pick a thesis and stick to it. Don’t make too many concessions to the other side. If the essay prompt asks whether a penny saved is a penny earned, and you think the answer is an emphatic “Yes,” don’t waste any time making the case for spending a lot of money. Think of yourself as a lawyer advocating for a perspective, not a historian summarizing the full spectrum of events.


College Admissions: Dealing with Rejection

Well this sucks...time to consider my other options.

“To allow other people’s assessment of you to determine your own self-assessment is a very big mistake.”

Columbia University President, Lee Bollinger

After seeing a headline in the newspaper reading THE ANSWER IS NO: The Zen of Dealing with Rejection, we at Vocab Videos were reminded of just how rough students applying to college these days have it. You never want to open a letter from one of your colleges that begins “It is with regret that I must inform you…” but in the increasingly competitive world of college admissions, the unfortunate reality is that not all of you will gain admission to your top choice college. In fact, at most top schools, the acceptance rate is below 10 percent. Rejection is never easy, but it is a test of our resilience.

If you receive a rejection letter from your top-choice college, it’s completely normal and natural for you to go through a period of mourning. Yes, you’ll be disappointed, and it will more than likely be difficult to decide on an alternative course of action when you already had your ideal college plan mapped out in your mind. But as hard as it is, this crucial period is not the time to wallow in feelings of rejection and sadness. Katie Malachuk, author of “You’re Accepted: Lose the Stress, Discover Yourself, Get in to the College That’s Right for You,” advises students in this tough spot to “turn a negative into a positive by taking charge of your life.” And we have to say she’s giving some pretty spot-on advice. Take this time to self-reflect and really evaluate what you want out of your college experience. Look to the schools in which you were offered admission and weigh in on what they have to offer you academically and socially. Often times, we get our mind so fixed on our one dream school that we fail to see some of the meaningful things other colleges have to offer. As Ms. Malachuk would say, be open to the notion that “sometimes ‘not your first choice’ is your best choice.” Re-evaluating your college options and ultimately your future may very well lead you to making the choice that is right for you.

And no matter what happens, remember to stay positive. It’s not easy to take the negativity out of rejection, but do your best to keep an open mind. In the end, if you do choose to attend your second or third choice school, give it a real shot. You’re not locked into anything; if it’s not working out or if it doesn’t feel like the right fit, you always have the option to transfer or take some time off to reconsider your alternatives. But it’s never in your best interest to waste a valuable learning experience, and not giving a college a chance will only hurt you in the end.

*Click here to meet a few well known “rejects” who found extraordinary success after being rejected from their first choice colleges.

*The stress associated with college admissions is one of the reasons the Vocab Videos team is doing its small part to make the task of taking the SAT and applying to colleges a little bit easier. Sure we can’t make taking the SAT itself any more amusing, but we can make preparing for it more fun with our hilarious SAT vocabulary videos. Learning your SAT vocabulary can raise your SAT score up to 200 points, so be sure to give Vocab Videos a try!


College Admissions: Applications to Selective Colleges Rise as Admission Rates Fall


Let Me In!!!

The New York TimesThe Choice college admissions blog recently published statistical admissions data to some of the nation’s most selective colleges. The Vocab Videos team encourages you to check out this 2010 admissions tally that will be regularly updated.

The article gives us some insight into just how difficult it is for students to get into top colleges these days. The Choice shares that undergraduate applications to Harvard rose nearly 5% to 30,489 with only 6.9% (or 2,110 students) admitted—that’s down from 7.5% in 2009. This trend, however, doesn’t stop at the Ivy Leagues. With more and more students trying to gain admittance to college, it’s growing more difficult for students to get accepted into all colleges in this increasingly competitive college admissions atmosphere.

But there are things you can do to make yourself a more “desirable” candidate. Consider the important admissions criteria below:

  • SAT/ACT Scores: Whether we like it or not, standardized tests continue to play a significant role in students gaining admittance to college. Be sure to fully prepare for whichever college entrance exam you’re planning to take. Whether you have a tutor, are enrolled in a course, or are preparing on your own—do some test prep as often as possible. Whether it’s a few questions a day or a practice test a week, practice more than anything else, is going to help you master and feel comfortable with the exams. To get an early start on SAT and ACT prep, start up on your vocabulary; it’s something that can be easily incorporated into your daily test prep routine.
  • Get Involved: If you’ve ever seen a college application, you’ll know that somewhere it’s going to ask you for your principal extracurricular, community, volunteer and family activities and hobbies.” Here, it’s your chance to show that you’re about more than grades and SAT scores. Because you know they’re going to be asking you for it, you should be aware of the importance of getting involved—in some way. You don’t have to join every club and sports team in addition to spending your weekends volunteering, but showing commitment to a few activities is imperative. (And if you’ve never volunteered, give it a shot, we’re sure that you’re going to find it quite rewarding).
  • College Essay: The college essay is also crucial, and it’s something you can get an early start on. You’re generally given some degree of choice when it comes to essay topic (take a look at the Common App’s essay options below), so this is an opportunity for you to share something about yourself that you’d like colleges to know. The essay helps to distinguish you as an individual and proves that you’re more than a test score. Be sure to write about something you’re passionate about and take your time with the essay writing process. A thoughtful, well-written essay can make a big difference in distinguishing you as a candidate.
    • 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
    • Topic of your choice.

Getting a head start on these items is going to make the college admissions process far less stressful for you, and doing each of them well is going to improve your chance of gaining admission to your top-choice colleges.