Category Archives: College Admissions

As a freelance writer, I create blog content on college admissions issues. I have written for various test prep and educational consulting companies. Through my website, I also offer advice and reviews for students writing college essays, personal statements, and resumes/CVs.

Need a blog on college admissions for your website?

If so, ask me to be your freelance writer through UpWork.

My personal experience with college admissions:

As a senior in high school, I was accepted to 10 different US colleges for undergraduate school. However, I ended up not attending college right away. Instead, I spent a gap year with Rotary International in Bolivia. I am a big fan of gap years because they can give you much-needed time to think about your college admissions options!

Thanks in part to my gap year, I received the Eugene McDermott scholarship to attend UT Dallas tuition-free with a monthly stipend. It was a great decision.

In my senior year of college I applied for the prestigious Fulbright Award. I received the award and left for Spain for one year. While I was there, I taught high school students and learned more about the concerns facing college applicants.

After my year with Fulbright, I was accepted to Sciences Po — one of Europe’s most prestigious universities for international affairs — for my graduate studies. I also received the Boutmy scholarship for my degree.

During my graduate studies, students began to contact me through my website for advice about college admissions. That is when I began working as a freelancer. At first I helped students by reviewing their Sciences Po essays. Now, I write blogs about college admissions for a larger audience.

Sciences Po: How to Write Your Personal Statement for Sciences Po

Wondering how to write your personal statement for Sciences Po? How long should it be? And what it should cover?

You won’t get to see the essay prompt or required word count until you actually start an application.
Well, unless you’re reading this post!

International undergraduate admissions personal statement prompt for Sciences Po:

"Please introduce yourself. Describe the reasons that led you to apply to Sciences Po’s Bachelor’s Degree program. Explain how and why the educational environment at Sciences Po will help you achieve your professional and personal ambitions. You may also want to articulate how you foresee your engagement in campus life beyond the walls of the classroom. Please be specific and do not exceed 1,000 words."

International graduate admissions personal statement prompt:

"Your personal statement is where you can distinguish yourself from other candidates. What motivates you to take this course at Sciences Po? Mention how your interest developed, what you have done to pursue it and what your longer term goals are."
Once you have a rough draft, ask me to review your work.

In both cases, you are limited to only 1000 words. You cannot go beyond 1000 words as there is an actual word counter within the application.

word counter personal statement sciences po

Stumped on responding to these prompts? Check out:
Sciences Po: 4 Tips for Writing Your Motivation Letter

Language requirements for your personal statement

“The statement must be written in the language of instruction of the programme.

If you are applying for a dual degree programme, please write at least one paragraph in one of the other languages of the programme (i.e. English, German, Russian). If you are applying for more than one programme, please explain each choice in a separate statement."

If you are applying to any program at PSIA, you will need to write your personal statement in English. As a student at PSIA, 70% of your classes will be offered in English and only 30% will be offered in French. Therefore, it is easy to do the degree entirely in English. However, it is not possible to do it entirely in French. Thus, English is the “language of instruction” and you must write you personal statement in English.

Other Writing Requirements

In addition to your personal statement, you will also have to submit a copy of your CV.

"You must include a CV in French or English, according to the language of the programme for which you apply, except for the dual degree programmes for which all required documents must be submitted in English."

Making a good CV is a challenge that tests both your language skills (grammar and the like) and formatting abilities. You’re not applying to become a graphic designer, so there’s no need to use fancy visual icons. Nevertheless, consistent formatting and clear logic are key.

Use the Five-Point Resume Check before sending off your CV or resume.

And if you’d like, you can get my help editing your CV to make sure that everything looks alright.

Related links

Discussing Yourself in an Interview

One of the topics you can be sure to discuss in your college interview is yourself. Talking about yourself might sound easy, but in fact it can be quite difficult. Here are a few tips to decode the questions and make sure you are prepared:

“So, tell us about yourself…”

Often the interviewer will ask you just to talk a bit about yourself. If you’ve already written a good personal statement, make sure you review it beforehand. That way, you’ll remind yourself of any qualities or stories that you want to accentuate. This will also help you to stay true to your editorial line.

Keep in mind those things you should not include in your college essay. You will also generally want to avoid them in your interview.

The hidden meaning behind ‘so tell us about yourself’ is ‘tell us why this college is a good fit for you?

In order to respond appropriately, you’ll need to have done your research. What does the college have that you need?

EXAMPLE: “Although I am interested in engineering in general, I am also particularly interested in working for the defence industry. In fact, one of the reasons I decided to apply to this program is because I have read some of Professor Johnson’s work on radar systems, and I’m hoping to take a class with her.”

You want to show that your relationship with the school will be reciprocal.

In other words, you want to make it clear that not only you will benefit from the school, but the school will also benefit from you. Of course, this can be difficult to do if you don’t have a lot of experience. One good tactic, though, is to discuss how you plan to get involved on campus.

EXAMPLE: “I’m excited to join the Robotics Club! I like to tinker with robots at home.”

Read the rest of this blog post here

Dealing with a College Rejection

Hopefully you’ll be accepted to every school you apply to, but you might also receive a rejection or two.

If you applied mostly to top-notch Ivy Leagues, then you are very likely to get rejected. This can be hard to accept, and telling your friends and family the bad news can be a challenge.

Initially, you may be asking yourself if you even have to tell them at all! However, if you’ve been raving about how you’re certain to get your degree from Harvard, then it’s probably impossible to keep it a secret.

Read 5 simple tips to help break the news about a college rejection and help refocus your energy on what really matters.

Out with the old – in with the new!

Yesterday I received my diploma from Sciences Po!

Given that my graduate ceremony (class of 2016) was held over 6 months ago, you’d think the thing would be embossed in gold. But alas! Twas not the case.

So – in case you were wondering:

How long does it take to get your Sciences Po diploma after graduation? About 6 months.

In fact, although the diploma itself says it was given to me on December 15, I only received it on January 5.

I might also add that, despite vehement disagreement and letter-writing from my class, the diploma is only distributed electronically.

Apparently the internet is the future! And to be honest, I’m not sure it will ever matter. That said, when I get my own office space set up one day I will definitely print and frame my own diploma.

January 13 Sciences Po Deadline

Over the past three days, I’ve received three new requests to review motivation letters for Sciences Po applicants!

That’s a pretty hefty increase from what I’m used to (which is about one every 1-2 weeks).

The reason? Well, beyond the fact that everyone must just now be waking up from the stupor of the holidays, PSIA has an application deadline set for January 13.

I am more than happy to help out anyone who contacts me with their letter of motivation.

And of course, I understand procrastination. That said, if you’re reading my blog and thinking about contacting me later, go ahead and send me a message now so that I can be sure to set aside time to help you out!

Sciences Po applications: Is it bad to submit at the last minute?

A reader and college application review client recently asked me about applying to Sciences at the last minute:

Yesterday I finally submitted  my application. I am worried to be so close to the deadline as Sciences Po always advises people to not to submit at the last minute.  It that because of the amount of work they receive or because doing it says something negative about you?

At Sciences Po, the earlier you submit your documents, the earlier you will hear if you were accepted or not. Those who apply early are likely to get a decision in just 2-3 weeks. If you apply later, you can expect to wait up to 3 months!

This is because of what’s called “rolling admissions.” With rolling admissions, applications are reviewed as they are received.

For Sciences Po, you can submit your application anytime between December and mid-June. (Of course, keep in mind that there are various deadlines if you want to apply for a scholarship or dual degree program.)

Rolling admissions gives flexibility both to applicants and to the school.

Above all, it allows the school to reduce their work of last-minute application reviewing.

The people who review college applications are, after all, only human. And there are only so many university officials who are willing to sludge through and evaluate hundreds of applicants. (Trust me — after helping with scholarship applicants for the McDermott program at UT Dallas, I can assure you that it can be a grueling process. Although, it’s always a pleasure when you come across the really good applicants!)

But, is there a disadvantage to sending in your application at the last minute?

First of all, deadlines are there for a reason. There can really be no punishment for respecting the deadline, even if you submit at 11:59pm on the last possible day.

Of course, I know what you are thinking.

If the number of students is capped, then surely some good students who apply at the last minute will be turned away. Right?

What you might not realize is that colleges generally have a very good idea about what students they want to admit. They also tend to have some flexibility when it comes to numbers.

In 2014, Sciences Po decided to admit an additional 104 French students and 120 international students to their Master’s programs. Sure, the decision to admit more students was strategic, but the decision to admit exactly 224 more students? I’m sure that number could have easily been 225 if another talented student had applied — even if they’d submitted their application at the last possible second.

Here are the real disadvantages to applying at the last minute:
  • Your internet could crash or a file could be deleted, barring you from meeting the deadline.
  • You might miscalculate the time in the French time zone.
  • You’ll wait significantly longer to find out whether or not you are accepted. (Which, as an international student, can be significant if you might need extra time to plan for your visa, finances, or other arrangements.)
In my experience with other programs (not specifically Sciences Po), I know that students who submit their documents early tend to have a higher % chance of acceptance.

HOWEVER that is probably because applicants who apply early tend to be better applicants.

Students who are seriously interested in a school are less likely to procrastinate. In contrast, an applicant who is clearly not a good fit might feel more hesitant to submit.

Inevitably though, many, many good applicants will also apply at the last minute. And it may not be because of procrastination so much as perfectionism.

Maybe you are reading and re-reading that essay before submitting. Maybe you are working with me to get your work reviewed and increase your chances of acceptance. Far from making you a bad applicant, that would make you top notch!

If that’s your case, then relax.

Ultimately, the very best applicants will get an offer. Regardless of when they hit “send.”


College Essay: What to Leave Out

Your college essay should be open and honest. With that in mind, almost any story can be appropriate to include in your college essay if it helps to explain your motivations.

However, there are some things that you do NOT want to include in your college essay:

Below are some examples.

EXAMPLE: “Even though I did poorly in math in high school, I will work harder in college because I really want to be a doctor.”

Click to read why this shouldn’t be included.

EXAMPLE: “Throughout high school, I kept a 4.0 GPA. I was also on the Honor’s list and received a scholarship for my academic excellence. That’s why I am confident in my decision to be pre-med.”

Click to read why this shouldn’t be included.

EXAMPLE: “My parents always encouraged me to study law.”

Click to read why this shouldn’t be included.

EXAMPLE: “I want to be a doctor so that I can pay off my student loans easily, help to support my parents, and be a leader in the community.”

Click to read why this shouldn’t be included.

Why is hands-on education important?

Many school programs claim to provide hands-on education for their students. Of course, participating in lab experiments and building things with your hands sounds fun. But are there additional reasons why hands-on education is important?

Personally, I grew up attending a school that really championed the importance of learning by doing. As a student at the Clear Spring School in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, I crafted a handmade desk for my studies. (See the Wisdom of the Hands blog for information on the benefits of woodworking in hands-on education.) I also picked up litter from community roadsides, camped with classmates, and tutored younger students in Spanish.

The Clear Spring School aims to leave children:

“with a love of learning instilled in their hearts and with the knowledge and skills that will empower them to pursue their interests.”

One of the ways they achieve this is by allowing students to pursue independent studies. They don’t force children to follow cookie-cutter programs. Not every student achieves the same progress in the same topics at the same time. Rather, they allow the child to develop skills in areas that interest them.

During a recent visit to the Clear Spring, I spoke with teacher Jessica Fitzpatrick.

I asked her why is hands-on education so valuable.
“Hands-on learning is valuable because most humans need to practice what they ‘learn’ in order to integrate knowledge into the self,” she told me.
Actually, the concept is far from rocket science. Everybody learns somewhat differently, but most humans learn (and remember things!) quite well by doing them.
For example, Fitzpatrick explained that you can research tennis for years and learn all about the physics of a good hit. But, “until you step out onto a court and try to play, you wont be a very good tennis player.”
So, how can a hands-on education help a high school student get accepted to college?

“A hands-on education ideally helps an individual connect knowledge to their own life,” she told me. “This means they understand the process of learning. They know how to seek out what they need in order to learn.”

You may be thinking — but why do I need to seek out something to help me learn? Isn’t that the job of the college I’m applying to?

College can be a very hands-off process compared to high school, so the skill of knowing how to seek out needed resources for learning can make the difference between a successful college freshman and one that fails out after the first semester.

“Students who have an understanding of the process of learning are more likely to make good choices of ‘fit’… meaning seeking out institutions that match their interests and desires. They will be better at explaining who they are, and what their educational interests are. Universities are interested in admitting students who are likely to complete their programs, and they know that students who have an interest and drive are more likely to stick it out.”

In other words, receiving a hands-on education in high school can help you to both identify the university of your choice and get admitted.

I believe that the same goes for a hands-on education in college. It will help you to both identify the job of your choice and get hired.

Curious how to use your hands-on education to write a top-notch college essay? I work with students to help them perfect their personal statements.

Studying Development VS Studying Economics

A reader wrote me a question about choosing a major. Specifically, she was concerned about how studying development vs studying economics would have an effect on her future. She said:

“As my main focus is the sustainable (economic) development in emerging countries in public sectors, I am confused and wonder if I’d better choose International Economic Policy whose name contains “ECONOMIC” which may largely increase my job opportunity, as the notion INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT is not popular in China.”

There are a lot of misconceptions around the word “development.”

This can be both a good thing and a bad thing.

Regardless of whether you are attending Sciences Po, LSE, King’s College or another school, this word brings to mind a plethora of questions.

If you are looking at Sciences Po specifically, see my post: What is the difference between the different PSIA programs at Sciences Po?
For example – Exactly what does it mean?

Economic development is about learning to effect (hopefully improve) financial situations within a country. It’s about allocating resources to pay for scarce public goods and services. It’s about GDP.

However, “international development” is a much broader field, as it also looks at things like human development — including human rights, for example.

A degree in development can be very versatile.

Personally I was glad to study International Development precisely because people don’t always clearly understand what that means, which ultimately suggests that my career options are still quite broad. Are you developing people? economies? businesses? marketing strategies? translation programs? new types of bread yeast?

In this sense, development can lead you to more potential jobs than economic studies. But if you plan to work in economics specifically, an employer might be much happier to see the word economic on your resume.

Studying development is also sometimes poorly regarded.

It’s true that in some circles the word “development” can bring to mind negative feelings about Western dominance and cultural imposition. This may, for example, be the case in China. Identifying the best ways to implement development without an ethnocentric viewpoint is, in fact, a major focus of development studies, and a good reason to study this field at an academic level.

If you are going to be applying to jobs that specifically claim to work within the arena of international development, they will probably be quite pleased to know that you have studied — and thought about — ethical and ethnocentric dilemmas in the field. However, jobs that do not specialize in this area may be less sure what your degree was really all about.

How is development seen in your country or by your potential future employers?

Ultimately, the question of how your country or potential employer will see your degree title is quite difficult to judge. After all, once you have 2 more years of studies under your belt, you might not even want to apply for the same jobs that you once did.

Plus, depending on the hiring personnel’s personal experience with economics and development, they are likely to view your resume differently.

In the long run, though, either degree should set you up for a future career in economic and/or development work. And once you have significant work experience, well, the exact title of your degree will be considerably less important. So, rather than worrying about the title of your degree, focus on what classes interest you.

If you are looking at Sciences Po specifically, see my post: What is the difference between the different PSIA programs at Sciences Po?