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What I Saw Coaching Students through Early Admission

by Carol Barash, PhD, on Nov 6, 2014 10:00:00 AM

Over the past 30 days, I’ve had a unique window on the Early Admission process, watching nearly 2,000 students work on their essays at our new site, Story2. Over 100 of those students finished their essays on our site, revealing what and how students write about their own experiences when they aren’t poked and prodded continuously by adults. I also spoke with roughly 50 families about various aspects of their early applications and gave 21 students individual feedback and coaching on their essays.


Proactive, organized students applied to multiple colleges via Early Action: They chose mainly schools where they are attracted to core programs and where they have a strong chance to be admitted early--plus maybe one reach school. These students will have great choices by the end of the year. They can apply to a couple more reach schools, now or later, knowing that they have already been admitted to college(s) that are a great fit for them.

Many more parents seem to be doing the work for their children this year--everything from making the list, to completing the Common App, to actually writing the students’ essays. We had one father who asked if he could use Story2 to write his son’s essay for him!

Many more students are sloppy and impatient, preferring to press send and run off to a Halloween party rather than review their work carefully one last time: These are strong, academically qualified students, but they are millennials, crazy busy and constantly distracted, and much of the the time they do not attend to small details.

What can students and families take away for the next 60 days of the 2014 admissions season?

Students, apply to fewer schools and do the work yourself: Pay attention to fit (at what type of college will you thrive?), match (focus on schools where you are academically qualified), and money (how much will you have to pay—or borrow—to attend each school?).

  • Research every college you are applying to: use sites like and to identify colleges that are a strong fit, and to understand what each is looking for in your application.
  • Build authentic connections with those schools through your essays and via social media (visit to learn how).
  • Details matter: make sure that you proofread everything before you press “send,” and check on each college’s website to make sure your file is complete.
  • Good work takes time and iteration. When you push things off to the last minute or do your work in a mindless way, your lack of focus reflects badly on you.
  • And, finally, great essays are real; they are not perfect. They sound like honest, yearning teenagers, not neat and tidy mini-adults. Find topics for powerful, authentic essays using Story2, and then complete them yourself, step by step.

Parents, when you get in the middle, or do the work for your child. you are not helping anyone, especially not your child.  About the essays colleges say again and again they are looking for students’ authentic voice and work in the essays. Do you really think a consultant can create your child’s unique perspective better than your own child? Really? What are the long-term implications of that approach?

The students who do the work themselves—finding colleges that nurture their unique talents and inspire them to take on big global challenges; researching specific programs and opportunities; and figuring out where they can attend without piling up mountains of debt—those students will thrive wherever they land. And not just in college: doing the work of applying to college prepares students to thrive in the continuously changing landscape of work and career ahead of them.

Topics:college admission