Tag Archives: college essays

A Summer Timeline for Starting Your College Applications

You’re about to finish a hectic junior year of working hard at school and participating in extracurricular activities—not to mention going on college visits, taking standardized tests, and possibly learning to drive! As your summer stretches before you, here are some ways to consider getting a jump start on your college applications so that you are in great shape for early and regular admission deadlines in the fall and winter.

June, July, and August

  • Continue to visit colleges. For an in-depth look at how to make the most out of your summer college visits, read our blog. Take copious notes and research your programs of interest. These noted details will come in handy when writing an academic “match” essay, which will be your persuasive argument about why you are a great “fit” for this school and academic program.
  • Prepare for standardized tests. If you plan on taking the ACT or SAT in the summer or fall to raise your scores, continue your test prep.
  • Research national and local scholarships. Create a list of deadlines and required materials, such as essays or recommendations. See our blog about the benefits of seeking local scholarships.
  • Set up a Common Application account. Even though colleges do not release their supplemental questions until August 1, it is a good idea to set up your account in advance and familiarize yourself with the Common App platform. You can fill out your personal information and begin to create a college list. This information will be saved when account rollover occurs on August 1. Do not begin to answer any supplemental questions specific to a college, as this information will not be saved during account rollover.
  • Draft a College Resume. Not all colleges accept a resume on the Common Application, but it is still a great tool to have for college interviews and for applying to jobs and internships. Additionally, having a resume will also make it easier to complete the Common App Activity Sheet. In your resume, be sure to include high school honors and awards, as well as any summer courses that you have taken for credit or enrichment.
  • Begin to brainstorm your Personal Essay topic and create an outline. Look at the personal essay prompts from the 2018-19 application cycle. These prompts tend to remain the same from year-to-year, with minor changes. You will use your personal essay for every application that you submit, so spend some time thinking about topics that really speak to how you would like to best present yourself.
  • Look at the supplemental essays previously required for your top schools. Check the Common App or a college’s website to see which supplemental essays were required by your top schools for early and regular admission during the previous application cycle. This will give you an idea of how to prepare for the types of essays that you will be asked to write. For example, the University of Michigan has previously required a supplemental match essay, activity essay, and community essay. Occasionally, colleges do change their essay requirements from year to year. Washington University in St. Louis has not required any supplemental essays in the past. However, beginning in the fall of 2019, WashU will now require a supplemental essay about an academic area of your choice. This essay will be used in considering all applicants for merit scholarships.
  • Begin to brainstorm your Activity Essay for use in a supplement. Narrow down which of your activities is most meaningful to you and create an outline with specific accomplishments and leadership moments. Describe why you love the activity and how it has impacted you.
  • Begin to brainstorm your College Match Essay for use in a supplement. One of the most common supplemental essays is the “match” essay, which asks why you want to attend the particular college; in other words, why is the college a good match, or fit, for you? Check the Common App to see if your top schools for early or regular admission had an academic “match” essay for the previous application cycle. If the college has had this type of essay in the past, outline a “match” essay for this school. Think about what you will bring to this institution and what this college will offer you in terms of academics, culture, and activities. Identify the specific features of this school (for example, urban setting, Greek life, strong athletic program/school spirit, or religious affiliation) and discuss why these factors appeal to you.

Research your field of academic interest at the school and mention specifics like courses offered, professors, research, and relate this to your plan for a major/minor and future career goals. Mention activities that you are involved in now, which you would like to continue, as well as new activities offered by the school that you would like to try. The more specific details that you use, the better! You are demonstrating your high level of interest by showing how much you have researched a particular school.

  • Begin to fill out the Common Application. On August 1, the Common App “goes live,” which means that all information, including essays, is ready to be input. If you have not already done so, fill out your personal information and activity list. Complete the Common Application form by September 1.
  • Finalize your College Resume. Ask at least one person to look over your resume.
  • Complete your “core” essays. Draft, create multiple edits, and finalize your Personal Essay, Activity Essay, Community Essay, and College Match Essay (for a favorite college). Many of these core supplemental essays can be tweaked for various colleges.

Enjoy your summer! Completing your college applications in a timely manner can alleviate much of the stress caused by the college application process. Here at Collegiate Gateway, we are always happy to help!

Grammar Tips For Last-Minute College Essays

You don’t have to be a literary genius to write a successful college admissions essay. You do, however, have to master the basics of grammar. While a missing comma or run-on sentence won’t earn you an immediate rejection, the fact is that admissions officers pay a lot of attention to grammatical and stylistic convention. Making mistakes, misusing idioms, or just plain clunky writing will appear sloppy and tarnish admissions officers’ impressions of you. On the flip side, making sure to adhere to some simple rules of writing and rhetoric is an easy way to polish up your application and impress your readers – and prepare for college-level writing!

Below, Collegiate Gateway has developed a list of some of the most common missteps, and explained how to fix them:

Fewer vs. Less

Don’t be embarrassed if you didn’t realize there was a difference – this is one of the most common mistakes out there, and one you probably hear people make all the time. For example, the sentence, “There were less people at the party than we were expecting” is actually incorrect. The rule is this:

If you are describing a countable entity, such as pebbles, people, or poems, use “fewer.”

Ted has written fewer poems since he got a real job.

If you are describing a non-countable entity, such as sand, soil, or sunlight, use “less.”

There is less sunlight in the living room than in the kitchen.

Note: When determining whether something is countable, ask yourself if the thing in question could be considered a unit. For example, the English language considers dollars (a unit of currency) to be countable, but money (the broader concept of wealth) to be uncountable. So you have fewer dollars in your bank account, but less money.


Vary Your Word Choice

This is more of a stylistic issue, rather than a grammatical mistake. Nonetheless, repeatedly using the same word or phrase to refer to something is rarely a characteristic of good writing, especially when you use the same word multiple times in one sentence. This is particularly true when it comes to names:

Colgate is my first choice. I first visited Colgate last fall, and fell in love with Colgate because of Colgate’s rigorous academics and outgoing student body. 

To fix this, just come up with other words that could refer to Colgate, such as “campus” or “university,” and substitute. You can also use “it” (but not too much), or simply write around the need for any word whatsoever:

 Colgate is my first choice. I first visited campus last fall, and fell in love with its rigorous academics and outgoing student body.


Dangling Participles

First things first: a participle is a form of a verb that is used to indicate a past or present action, and that can also behave kind of like an adjective. For example:

 Lying on the beach, I fell asleep staring at the clouds.

In the above, “lying on the beach” is a participle that modifies “I;” the speaker is the one lying on the beach, falling asleep, and staring at the clouds. A dangling participle occurs when the participle latches onto the wrong subject, creating a confusing, sometimes nonsensical meaning:

 After festering in the basement for months, my sister finally threw the potatoes in the trash. 

The intent of this sentence is obviously to describe the potatoes as festering in the basement. Grammatically, however, it is the sister, now presumably among the ranks of the undead, who has been festering in the basement for months.


Punctuation Within Quotations

This one is actually deceptively difficult, as the rule changes depending on the punctuation.

a) Commas and periods (that is to say, full stops) are pretty straightforward: they always go inside the quotation marks.

 “Alice,” she said, “dinner’s on the table.”

 My favorite line in all of Hamlet is: “to be or not to be.”

b) The rules for question and exclamation marks, however, are a little trickier, but ultimately logical: if they are part of the quoted material, they belong inside the quotes. Otherwise, they go outside. For example:

“Where shall I sit?” she asked.

But –

I can’t believe she said “your scarf is so ugly”!

c) Now, to add to the complexity, colons and semicolons are always placed outside the quotation marks. An easy way to remember this rule is that it’s the opposite of commas and periods:

I liked three things about his new book, “My Father’s Dusty Cardigan”: the style, the characters, and the plot.

The Split Infinitive

The infinitive form of an English verb has the word “to” in front of it: “to eat,” “to sleep,” “to dream,” “to wake,” and so on. When you split the infinitive, you stick a word in between “to” and the verb. Generally, it’s best not to do this. For example, what if Shakespeare had written, “to be or to not be”? Not as nice, right? The same applies to more common examples.

I decided to not run for office.


I decided not to run for office

I wanted to quickly run during the race.


I wanted to run quickly during the race.


It is worth noting that this is not a hard-and-fast rule, and there are a few notable exceptions;  “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” for example, sounds much better than “to go boldly.” The same would be true of “I decided to politely decline her offer,” versus “I decided to decline politely her offer.”  When you find yourself in a grey area, let your ear decide.

The Runaway Sentence

Though they might not technically be run-on sentences (see below, under “Comma Splice”), we’ve all written a sentence or two that just sort of, well, runs away from us.

Burdened by too many commas, semicolons, ands, buts, and all manner of other unnecessary clause-creators (which, that, and who) these colossal clunkers are just plain difficult for your reader to get through. The best way to tell if a sentence is too long is to try reading it aloud – if you have to pause to take a breath, your sentence is probably too long. Another good rule of thumb: keep your sentences to around 30 words (or exactly the length of this paragraph’s first sentence).


The Comma

The comma may seem simple, but there are innumerable ways to mess up its usage. Truly, we could’ve written an entire blog three times the length of this one on comma misuse alone. But in the end, nobody wants to read that. Here are some of the more common mistakes.

Missing Comma

You must use a comma after parenthetical phrases or appositives – material that’s self-enclosed in a sentence, but not wholly essential to its meaning. The following sentences are all missing a comma. See if you can figure out where:

My father, who was a very thrifty man never spent more than five dollars on a pair of pants. 

Virginia Woolf, author of “To the Lighthouse” and many other novels is one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.

Commas belong after “man,” and “novels.” A good way to check for these is to read the sentence out loud; often, commas belong where you naturally pause.

The Comma Splice

Though it sounds oddly menacing, “comma splice” simply means linking two independent clauses with a comma. It’s also known as a run-on sentence. And it’s incorrect. Here’s an example:

We’re going to the beach, put on some sunscreen.

This could be resolved correctly in a number of ways. Usually, replacing the comma with a period, dash or semi-colon, is a pretty good bet:

We’re going to the beach. Put on some sunscreen.

We’re going to the beach – put on some sunscreen.

We’re going to the beach; put on some sunscreen.

How do you decide which to use? Read aloud, then make a decision that best suits the context, tone and style of your piece.

Note: This mistake tends to crop up around the word “however,” as people have a tendency to treat the word as equivalent to “but.” But that’s also incorrect.

 I’m good at basketball, however I’m not good enough to play in college.

This could be fixed in two ways:

 I’m good at basketball, but I’m not good enough to play in college. 

I’m good at basketball. However, I’m not good enough to play in college.

While we’re on the topic of independent clauses, it is also worth noting that you must put a comma before “and” or “but” when introducing an independent clause. For example:

I wanted to write the novel, but I ran out of time.


There are, of course, exceptions to these rules; “I came, I saw, I conquered,” for example, is an excusable comma splice. Not to mention that everything that William Faulkner ever wrote contains run-on sentences. In general, the best thing you can do as you write and revise your admissions essays (or really, anything you write) is to read your work aloud. Generally, if something sounds right, it is.

For further help with these or any other challenges (grammatical or otherwise), contact us at www.collegiategateway.com/