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So, you’ve brainstormed. You’ve found a topic that excites you. Now your job is to present it clearly and humbly. Don’t waste any time insisting to your reader that this particular moment with your grandfather, or this curious hobby of yours is important or unique or interesting – simply treat it as such.
Your reader already assumes that what you’ve chosen to write about in your Common Application essay is meaningful to you. Let your language, the precision of your sentences, and the vividness of your descriptions do the persuading. The poet Charles Reznikov puts it this way:
You start with something that moves you and you state it as simply and as directly as possible, without saying you’re moved, but in such a way that the reader will also be moved by it.
I am finishing my Freshman year of college and am in the process of transferring away from Columbia University in NYC to UCLA in Los Angeles. While this is a change of climate, institution type (private to public) and a geographic separation of more than 3,000 miles, there’s is another reason why I decided to transfer out of the Ivy League.
I knew from the first day I arrived at Columbia that it wasn’t the right fit for me. Sometimes, you can just feel it. I had applied early decision and gotten in and I was thrilled about getting a spot at one of the top universities in the world. I got a decent financial aid package and, although only 40 minutes away from home, NYC might as well have been a world away from my suburban life. But as I started to take classes, as I learned more about the philosophy of the college, I grew more disenchanted. The campus was steeped in tradition. It felt like the institution of the college itself was held hostage to the past, was hopelessly deadlocked in bureaucracy and simply too stringent and inflexible when it came to rules and regulations.
Its hard to put into words, but I just did not mesh well with the general Columbia atmosphere. I wanted something that emphasized practical solutions to practical problems rather than intellectual solutions to philosophical ones.
If you’re looking to transfer make sure you give yourself plenty of time (I had to apply to UCLA by November 30, but most other school’s have a February/March deadline). If you are a Freshman, don’t forget that the colleges you apply to will only have your first semester grades to look at so make sure that you take a wide range of challenging classes and put the work in to do well. Think about how much your new college will cost and and your living arrangements for the next year. Above all, keep your options open. My personal view is that it is probably easier to transfer between colleges than getting into college the first time, but still, you cannot guarantee that you will get in to where you want to go. Once you’ve made your decision to go, act quickly to leave your original college, the longer you wait, the more the fees add up (as I am unfortunately finding). If you really want to up your chances, you may want to specify a semi-obscure major on your application (transferring as a political science major will be much harder than as a gender studies major), but just make sure that the college you are applying to will let you switch if you are accepted.
I couldn’t be happier with my decision to transfer. You only get 4 years to get college right, and so you got to do what it takes to get the best experience for you out of it. For me, I love that UCLA is a public institution, I love that its 3,000 away from my home (even if my mom doesn’t) and I love that I am getting to try something new now that I know what I’m looking for in college. What I’ve found is that the Ivy league will give you a great education, but that it is by no means the only place to receive it. The Ivy league isn’t for everyone, it’s not some mythical ticket to success and it wasn’t for me.
Simon Levinson UCLA ’17
I just wanted to let you know that I have been accepted to both Harvard and Yale for the class of 2016, as well as to UPenn. I am so excited and I wanted to thank you for all of your help. Your experience, ability, kindness and patience really helped me get through and succeed in the college admissions process. I couldn’t have done it without you.
My parents have a friend whose son is applying to the US colleges next year. I’m recommending him to you right away!
I GOT INTO STANFORDDDDD. OH MY GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE IT RIGHT NOW. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR GUIDANCE! You’re THE FIRST PERSON I THOUGHT OF. Thank you so so much Debra