The structure is effective: This is a perfect blend of what effective letters contain. On the micro-level, her diction and phrasing are precise and effective. She makes my standing clear with specific statements: This letter was important to complement the overall academic performance and achievements shown on the rest of my application.
My second teacher Mrs. Swift was another favorite. Emotionally she was a reliable source of support for students. You can see right away that her remarks are terser. You might chalk this up to my not being as standout of a student in her mind, or her getting inundated with recommendation letter requests after over a decade of teaching. Regardless, I did appreciate the 3 marks she gave me. Once again, as you read this letter, think: Overall, this letter is very strong.
She also writes with the flair of an English teacher:. These comments most support the personality aspect of my Personal Narrative — having an irreverent, bold personality and not being afraid of speaking my mind.
She stops just short of making me sound obnoxious and argumentative. An experienced teacher vouching for this adds so much more weight than just my writing it about myself. Teacher recommendations are some of the most important components of your application. If you want detailed advice on how to interact with teachers earnestly, check out my How to Get a 4. The first piece of this is reporting your academic status and how the school works overall. So it was pretty distinctive that I got a letter from our Principal, compared to other leading applicants from my school.
This was also a blessing because our counseling department was terrible. Our school had nearly 1, students per grade, and only 1 counselor per grade. They were overworked and ornery, and because they were the gatekeepers of academic enrollment like class selection and prerequisites , this led to constant frictions in getting the classes you wanted. But the counseling department was still the worst part of our high school administration, and I could have guessed that the letters they wrote were mediocre because they just had too many students.
So how did my Principal come to write my recommendation and not those for hundreds of other students? Come senior year I might have talked to him about my difficulty in reaching counselors and asked that he write my recommendation. Since I was a top student he was probably happy to do this. Interestingly, the prompt for the recommendation has changed. It used to start with: Now, it starts with: The purpose of the recommendation has shifted to the specific: This letter is probably the weakest overall of all my letters.
It reads more like a verbal resume than a personal account of how he understands me. I still appreciate that he wrote my letter, and it was probably more effective than a generic counselor letter. This is the same application I sent to every school I applied to, including Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.
If you keep reading to the end, I'll have advice for both younger students and current applicants to build the strongest application possible. For most top colleges like Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, and so on, you will need to complete a supplemental application to provide more info than what's listed on the Common Application. Harvard was and is the same. The good news is that it's an extra chance for you to share more about yourself and keep pushing your Personal Narrative.
This section is pretty straightforward and is similar to what you'd see on a Columbia application. Just as in my Common App, I noted that I was most likely to study biological sciences, choose Medicine as my vocation, and participate in orchestra, writing, and research as my extracurriculars. Want to improve your SAT score by points? We have the industry's leading SAT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and SAT full scorers , the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.
I had the space to list some additional honors, where I listed some musical honors that didn't make the cut in my Common App. The reason was that I was actually pretty mediocre at violin and was nowhere near national-ranked.
I wanted to focus attention on my most important materials, which for my Personal Narrative meant my research work. For the most part, the Harvard supplemental essay prompt has stayed the same. You can write about a topic of your choice or about any of the suggestions.
Even though this is optional, I highly recommend you write something here. Again, you have so few chances in the overall application to convey your personal voice — an extra words gives you a huge opportunity. I would guess that the majority of admitted Harvard students submit a Writing Supplement. After a lot of brainstorming, I settled on the idea that I wanted to balance my application by writing about the major non-academic piece of my Personal Narrative — my music training.
Reading it now, I actually think this was a pretty bad essay, and I cringe to high heaven. I used my violin teacher as a vehicle for talking about what the violin meant to me. You can tell I love the concept of the vehicle in essays. He represented passion for the violin — I represented my academic priorities. Our personal conflict was really the conflict between what we represented. Halfway in the essay, I also explicitly acknowledged the Asian stereotype of parents who drove their kids, and said my parents were no different.
The reader underlined this sentence. By pointing this out and showing how my interest took on a life of its own, I wanted to distance myself from that stereotype. Despite all that, this essay was WAY overdramatic and overwrought.
Some especially terrible lines:. Who really honestly feels this way? This is clumsy, contrived writing. It signals insincerity, actually, which is bad. To be fair, all of this is grounded in truth. I did have a strict violin teacher who did get pretty upset when I showed lack of improvement.
I did appreciate music as a diversion to round out my academic focus. I did practice hard each day, and I did have a pretty gross callus on my pinky. But really the best approach is to be honest. I think this essay was probably neutral to my application, not a strong net positive or net negative.
Harvard lets you submit letters from up to two Other Recommenders. The Princeton application, Penn application, and others are usually the same. Unlike the other optional components the Additional Information in the Common App, and the Supplementary Essay , I would actually consider these letters optional.
The reader gets most of the recommendation value from your teacher recommendations — these are really supplementary. If your Other Recommenders don't fulfill one or more of these categories, do NOT ask for supplementary letters. They'll dilute your application without adding substantively to it. To beat a dead horse, the primary component of my Personal Narrative was my science and research work. So naturally I chose supervisors for my two major research experiences to write supplemental letters.
This letter validates my participation in RSI and incorporates the feedback from my research mentor, David Simon. My mentor, who was at one of the major Harvard-affiliated hospitals, said some very nice things about my research ability, like:. Once again, it's much more convincing for a seasoned expert to vouch for your abilities than for you to claim your own abilities.
My first research experience was done at Jisan Research Institute, a small private computer science lab run by a Caltech PhD. My research supervisor, Sanza Kazadi, wrote the letter.
In the letter, he focused on the quality of my work and leadership. He said that I had a strong focus in my work, and my research moved along more reliably than that of other students. I was independent in my work in swarm engineering, he says, putting together a simulation of the swarm and publishing a paper in conference proceedings. He talked about my work in leading a research group and placing a high degree of trust in me.
One notable point — both supplemental letters had no marks on them. I really think this means they place less emphasis on the supplementary recommendations, compared to the teacher recommendations. Let me beat the dead horse even deader.
Because research was such a core part of my Personal Narrative, I decided to include abstracts of both of my papers. This is why I chose not to submit a tape of my music: I don't think my musical skill was unusually good.
I made sure to note where the papers had been published or were entering competitions, just to ground the work in some achievement. So there we have it — my entire college application. As promised, I showed you every single page and word, in excruciating detail. Once again, the point of my showing this to you is NOT to give you an application to replicate, but rather to talk you through how to craft a compelling, coherent application.
From my advice, you should be able to go through similar thinking and apply the concepts to your own situation. The earlier you are in high school, the more time you have to prepare and implement the right strategies to build a strong, distinctive application.
Here are the most important questions that form the foundation of your application:. If you execute successfully on these three dimensions, you will be on the path to getting admission to schools like Harvard and Princeton. I know, easier said than done. But you can accomplish a lot more than you think if you work hard and strategize smartly. At this point, most of your application is set in stone. Your job now is to package your 3 years of work into a cohesive, compelling application.
Here are the biggest questions for you to answer:. At PrepScholar, we've published the best guides available anywhere to help you succeed in high school and college admissions. How to Get a 4. He's committed to providing the highest quality resources to help you succeed. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and earned two perfect scores on the SAT in , and in and a perfect score on the ACT. You should definitely follow us on social media. You'll get updates on our latest articles right on your feed.
Follow us on all 3 of our social networks:. How to Get a Perfect , by a Perfect Scorer. Score on SAT Math. Score on SAT Reading. Score on SAT Writing. What ACT target score should you be aiming for? Posted by Allen Cheng Apr 25, In this popular guide, I explain: Want to get into Harvard or your personal top choice college?
Download it for free now: Want to build the best possible college application? Check out our 5-day free trial today: Follow us on all 3 of our social networks: Shyu says that this model has allowed AdmitSee to collect a lot of data very rapidly. But in this short time, AdmitSee has already gathered 15, college essays in their system.
Many are from people who got into well-ranked colleges, since they targeted these students first. The vast majority of these essays come from current college students who were admitted within the last two or three years. AdmitSee has a team that analyzes all of these materials, gathering both qualitative and quantitative findings. One of the most striking differences was between successful Harvard and Stanford essays. AdmitSee had essays from Stanford and from Harvard at the time of this interview, but more trickle in every day.
High-achieving high schoolers frequently apply to both schools—often with the very same essay—but there are stark differences between what their respective admissions departments seem to want. AdmitSee found that negative words tended to show up more on essays accepted to Harvard than essays accepted to Stanford. This also had to do with the content of the essays. What we mean is achieving spectacular results with every single product.
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