Tips for the Personal Essay Options on the Common Application

Important Note: The Common Application is changing on August 1st, 2013! The tips and sample essays below will still provide useful guidance for the new Common Application, but be sure also to check out these Tips for the 5 New Common Application Essay Prompts.

The first step to writing a stellar personal essay on your college application is to understand your options. Below is a discussion of the six essay options from the Common Application. Also be sure to check out these 5 Application Essay Tips.

Option #1. Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

Note the key word here: evaluate. You aren’t just describing something; the best essays will explore the complexity of the issue. When you examine the “impact on you,” you need to show the depth of your critical thinking abilities. Introspection, self-awareness and self-analysis are all important here. And be careful with essays about the winning touchdown or tie-breaking goal. These sometimes have an off-putting “look how great I am” tone and very little self-evaluation.

Option #2. Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.

Be careful to keep the “importance to you” at the heart of your essay. It’s easy to get off track with this essay topic and start ranting about global warming, Darfur, or abortion. The admissions folks want to discover your character, passions and abilities in the essay; they want more than a political lecture.

Option #3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

I’m not a fan of this prompt because of the wording: “describe that influence.” A good essay on this topic does more than “describe.” Dig deep and “analyze.” And handle a “hero” essay with care. Your readers have probably seen a lot of essays talking about what a great role model Mom or Dad or Sis is. Also realize that the “influence” of this person doesn’t need to be positive.

Option #4. Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

Here as in #3, be careful of that word “describe.” You should really be “analyzing” this character or creative work. What makes it so powerful and influential?

Option #5. A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.

Realize that this question defines “diversity” in broad terms. It’s not specifically about race or ethnicity (although it can be). Ideally, the admissions folks want every student they admit to contribute to the richness and breadth of the campus community. How do you contribute?

Option #6. Topic of your choice.

Sometimes you have a story to share that doesn’t quite fit into any of the options above. However, the first five topics are broad with a lot of flexibility, so make sure your topic really can’t be identified with one of them. Also, don’t equate “topic of your choice” with a license to write a comedy routine or poem (you can submit such things via the “Additional Info” option). Essays written for this prompt still need to have substance and tell your reader something about you.

If you’d like to receive weekly information on application essays, standardized tests, colleges, and the admissions process, be sure to sign up for my free College Admissions Newsletter.

additional resource: How to Minimize The Cost of College Visits

A 3-step ”Action Plan” for Juniors Preparing for College

Dear College Made Simple Reader,

The junior year of high school is without question the most pivotal time for any college-bound student.

To colleges, it’s all about grades, the SAT/ACT, extracurricular activities, and finding out if your child is ready for the realities of the college curriculum.

For juniors themselves, it’s also about proper planning and preparation.

Here’s a checklist we’ve put together, broken down into 3 categories, to help your student be fully prepared…

– Scott

The High School Junior’s “Action Plan” for College

1. Plan Smartly for Testing

A great start for juniors is consulting with their guidance counselor – whether it’s the PSAT, SAT, or ACT (or all of them). That includes times and dates, how to register, and the costs associated with these tests.

Some tips for taking the PSAT:

  • Sign up to take the PSAT in early fall of junior year.
  • By December, students, parents and guidance counselor should plan to review PSAT scores.

Then comes the ACT, which is held every December, February, April, June, September and October.

If your student is taking the ACT, we recommend:

  • Signing up to take the ACT exam by November.
  • Taking the December or February ACT during the junior year.

Finally, the SAT…

SATs are held in only four months of the year – the last date this year is December 7, with absolute sign-up deadline of November 22.

For 2014, the dates and deadlines are as follows:

  • January 25 (deadline January 10)
  • March 8 (deadline February 21)
  • May 3 (deadline April 18)
  • June 7 (deadline May 23)

By the end of February, your student should be registered to take a SAT exam and already studying for it.


2. Research Colleges Efficiently

Choosing the right college begins with gathering information about schools and programs. One of the most important tips I can give you is to stay organized.

Use separate folders for different schools. Label them. Try to organize their contents as identically as possible to compare information more easily.

Some other recommendations:

  • Attend a college fair by October or November at the latest.
  • Also by November, it’s a great idea to have scheduled a few campus visits. A campus tour is the best way to get a feel for what a school is like.
  • By January or February, narrow down ideal colleges. Among things to consider: Tuition costs, proximity to home, large or small school, public or private, academic curriculum, student-teacher ratio, and urban or rural location.
  • By the end of March, the list of schools should be trimmed down considerably (think 5 to 10).
  • By April, begin working on college applications and admission essays.
  • By the end of summer, your child should have visited most colleges they are seriously considering attending.

3. Know all the facts and options when it comes to paying for college

There is well over $150 billion available each year from the Federal Government, states, colleges, universities, as well as private foundations and organizations.

Getting your “fair share” is often just a matter of knowing how to get it.

Here are some of the most important things to do to financially prepare for college during the junior year…

  • In the fall, have a “family talk” about how you’re paying for college: Is your student going to contribute? And if so, what are they willing to help with? Are they expecting to take on loans? Are you expecting to take on loans? This is also the best time to get the know the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); being familiar with it before applying will make the entire process much easier.
  • By the end of November, your student should have searched for and identified some scholarships they intend to apply for. It’s important to do this early because scholarships have different deadlines – some as early as the summer after the junior year.
  • During holiday break, learn about student loan options and eligibility requirements for student loans.
  • By March, as your child narrows down the list of desired schools to at most 10, estimate how much it will cost to attend each. Expand your search for scholarships to include local organizations in your community, organizations related to their desired fields of study, scholarships available only to students (or future students) of schools they wish to attend.
  • By April, contact each school’s financial aid office to see what kind of payment options they have – monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, semesterly.
  • Also in April, as you work on college applications and essays, begin filling out scholarship applications. It is never a bad thing to be the first one in the door.

To your college admissions and funding success,

Scott Weingold
Co-founder, College Planning Network, LLC

Publisher, College Made Simple – The Free Educational Resource of College Planning Network, LLC

New media contest

Students, bloggers, artists and writers can submit their innovative storytelling.

The Media School at Bournemouth University is accepting entries for its New Media Writing Prize (NMWP).

NMWP is looking for innovative and interactive storytelling (fiction or non-fiction) written specifically for delivery and reading/viewing on a PC or Mac, the Web or a hand-held device such as an iPad or mobile phone. It could be a short story, novel, documentary or poem using words, images, film or animation with audience interaction.

The overall winner will receive GBP1,000 (US$1,616). The student winner will receive a three-month work placement at the leading e-learning company Unicorn Training, in Dorset, UK, with a weekly pay of GBP250 (US$404). The People’s Choice winner, voted for by the public, will be awarded with GBP250.

The deadline is Nov. 25. The deadline for students is Dec. 13.

For more information, click here.Students, bloggers, artists and writers can submit their innovative storytelling.

The Media School at Bournemouth University is accepting entries for its New Media Writing Prize (NMWP).

NMWP is looking for innovative and interactive storytelling (fiction or non-fiction) written specifically for delivery and reading/viewing on a PC or Mac, the Web or a hand-held device such as an iPad or mobile phone. It could be a short story, novel, documentary or poem using words, images, film or animation with audience interaction.

The overall winner will receive GBP1,000 (US$1,616). The student winner will receive a three-month work placement at the leading e-learning company Unicorn Training, in Dorset, UK, with a weekly pay of GBP250 (US$404). The People’s Choice winner, voted for by the public, will be awarded with GBP250.

The deadline is Nov. 25. The deadline for students is Dec. 13.

For more information, click here.

Request for Proposals to Funded Project Workshop, Japan

From January 1, 2013, Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organization changed editorial hands to the new team of Ramesh Thakur (editor-in-chief), Brian Job, Mónica Serrano, and Diana Tussie. As part of a portfolio of exciting changes, the journal and The One Earth Future Foundation (OEF), which co-hosts the journal, plan to develop an annual workshop and book series. The editors of Global Governance and the associate director of research at OEF will act as series editors. On an annual basis, the collaborating partners will identify a specific area of interest—global health, environmentalism, security policy, etc.—and select one or two appropriate project director(s)-cum-book editor(s) who will be responsible for convening a workshop, supported by OEF, which will bring together contributors who can provide manuscripts that will speak to the area of interest.


The workshop will be used as a tool for identifying junior scholars and scholars from developing countries. The experience should help them to develop international contacts, expose them to the etiquettes of international publishing, and develop their skill-sets and self-confidence to submit manuscripts to the professional journals in the field—including Global Governance. The workshop will be used to refine the contributions provided and generate an overall collective structure for the eventual book.


The inaugural workshop will be held at the headquarters of the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo in January 2014, on the theme of Weak States, Strong Societies.


Global Governance and OEF now invite scholars and practitioners to submit proposals for a project workshop and edited book that will explore some aspect of the international drug control regime in the twenty-first century. To support this book project, UNU will provide lodging and meals for a 2-3 day workshop at one of its campuses. Economy-class airfares and modest honoraria for the editor and chapter authors will be provided by OEF. Proposals will be judged by the editors; One Earth Future; Lynne Rienner; and Alistair Edgar, ACUNS.


In 1909, the International Opium Commission, with representatives from Austria-Hungary, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, met for the first time in Shangai. As the commission’s call to gradually suppress opium smoking, and the manufacturing and trade of narcotics crystallized in the 1912 Hague Opium Convention, the foundations for a multilateral narcotics control regime were laid down.1


The centennial of the prohibitionist international drug control regime has been marked by mounting discontent. The regime’s aim to codify “internationally applicable control measures” turned into an ever more powerful and expansive industry of control and criminalization. Its promise to guarantee the availability of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes, while preventing their diversion into illicit channels, has floundered in the midst of burgeoning illicit drug markets. Not only have its provisions to tackle illicit drug trafficking and drug abuse come to nothing, but as the evidence gathered in the course of one century has made clear, they have proved catastrophic.


Although the aims of this regime were undoubtedly morally well-intended, its enforcement proved hugely problematic. For too long quantitative criteria were the yardstick of success or failure of drug policy. This has been so, whether we think of hectares sprayed, quantity of drugs intercepted, properties confiscated, drug lords arrested, or even the number of people detained and imprisoned.


A second and equally problematic aspect of the regime concerns the way in which drug policies have too often denied or ignored the interests that have long propelled their enforcement. The historical record of drug control policies has brought a myriad of actors and interests out of the shadows. These range from the use of drug prohibition as an instrument for racial and social control; the electoral logics that have long underpinned aggressive drug control policies; to the economic and financial interests that now drive a flourishing prison industrial complex. Along with these intended and unintended consequences stand the immense risks that coercive drug control policies have entailed for the security and stability of state institutions and the protection of human rights in countries around the world.


For nearly half a century the prospects for a genuine and honest debate were in short supply. Critical voices were systematically silenced and deeply entrenched opinions prevailed. By the turn of the century, two initiatives, one in Latin America and one in Africa, signaled a change. In Latin America three ex-presidents—Fernando Enrique Cardoso, Cesar Gaviria, and Ernesto Zedillo—launched the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy whose report in 2011 called for a change in drug policy. Two years later, the sudden increase in drug trafficking in West Africa prompted former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to establish a Commission on the Impact of Drug Trafficking on Governance, Security, and Development in West Africa. As members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Annan, Cardoso, Gaviria, and Zedillo have systematically called for a more “humane and efficient drug policy” and a “genuinely global conversation on drug policy reform.”

In May 2013 the landmark report on the drug problem issued by the Organization of American States drove a wedge in the century-long global consensus on drug policy. The report, which was originally requested by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and endorsed by all heads of American States, rejects one of the key assumptions that for over 100 years informed the drug control regime: the possibility of a drug-free world. In addition to highlighting the devastating consequences of repressive
1 The conventions and instruments agreed during the interwar period were superseded, in the second half of the twentieth century, by three major international drug control treaties: the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 (amended by 1972 Protocol); the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.



and prohibitionist drug policies, the OAS report persuasively questions the prospects for success in the war on drugs.
Whilst the publication of the OAS report unleashed the most high-level discussion on international drug policy reform, the liberalization of drug laws in countries around the world, including the US, has injected much dynamism to ongoing debates calling for more humane and efficient drug policy. The shift in national and international public opinion, favoring decriminalization and legal regulation, presents a direct challenge to the dominant prohibitionist approach embodied in the 1961, 1971, and 1988 UN drug conventions and the international drug control regime.
As the century-old taboo on drug policy crumbles and the multilateral architecture built around prohibitionist and supply-side formulas is under attack, the need to discuss alternatives is ever more pressing. The findings of this project are expected to contribute to the debates leading up to the 2016 special UN General Assembly session on global drug policy.


Application Procedure and Deadline
Please submit the following documents. Applications lacking any of these items will not be considered.
1. Project Overview: Explain your proposed project and how it relates to drug control regimes in the twenty-first century.
2. Significance of the proposed book:
Please comment briefly on the timeliness, contribution to scholarship, and policy relevance of your project.
3. Potential audience(s): Explain who your intended audiences will be. These may include academics, policy makers, employees of international organizations, or others.
4. Contributors and proposed chapters with short description and an indicative word count: We prefer a clear, coherent framework for the book, not a disparate collection of chapters that could stand on their own. Please list likely contributors and a synopsis of their likely contributions, bearing in mind the objectives of the series as explained above. Provide a short statement on your qualifications and experience to undertake this project and your rationale for the team you propose to assemble.
5. Budget: Please provide an indicative budget that includes travel, honoraria for the project director and authors, and other expenses, but not hotel and meal costs for the workshop. OEF anticipates its budget for this project will be between $40,000–$50,000.
6. Timeline. Decisions on the grant will be announced in March 2014. Provide an indication of your preferred timetable for the workshop, chapter revisions and submission of final manuscript.


Deadline: All submission must be received by January 17, 2014.
Please send submission and any queries to Roberta Spivak, managing editor at:

Nov. 2, 2013 – Redefine your career path: U of M Education Fair

College of Continuing Education - University of Minnesota


Dear Student,

Are you at a career crossroads? Searching for something more in your work life?

Whether you’re looking to complete a degree, gain the skills to be a stand-out candidate in a job search, or build an education portfolio specific to your industry, the College of Continuing Education is ready to help you reach that next level.

Redefine your career path
What: FREE Education Fair
When: Saturday, November 2, 2013, 10 a.m.–noon
Location: Bloomington Center for the Arts

Breakout sessions featuring:

Bachelor’s Degrees

  • Individualized degree completion programs
  • Construction Management/Facility Management
  • IT Infrastructure
  • Manufacturing Operations Management

Master’s Degrees

  • Master of Liberal Studies
  • Master of Biological Sciences
  • Master of Professional Studies in Horticulture
  • Master of Professional Studies in Arts and Cultural Leadership
  • Master of Professional Studies in Integrated Behavioral Health

There will also be information on credit certificates, professional development certificates, taking evening and online courses, and applying for financial aid.

Questions? Contact our Information Center at 612-624-7213. We look forward to seeing you at the November 2 Education Fair!


Julia Dugan
University of Minnesota
College of Continuing Education
Learner Representative

Taiwan Children’s film festival

Creators of dramas, documentaries, animation and television programs for children can participate.

The Taiwan International Children’s Film Festival (TICFF) is seeking entries for its competition. TICFF aims to screen quality productions for children under 12, while furthering children’s multicultural education and media literary.

The categories include dramatic feature or short, documentary, animation and television program. The length of drama, documentary and television program must be 10 to 95 minutes; animations can be 1 to 95 minutes.

Winners will each receive a cash prize of US$4,000 and a trophy, and the festival will cover the round-trip ticket and accommodation for all winners.

Productions must be completed between Aug. 1, 2011 and Oct. 31, 2013. Productions in languages other than English or Mandarin must provide a screener with English subtitles.

The deadline is Oct. 31.

For more information, click here.

National Scholarship Programme of Slovak Republic

Deadline: 30 April / 31 October
Open to: university students, PhD students, university teachers, researchers, artists
Scholarship: covers scholarship holders’ living costs (accommodation, board)


In 2005, the National Scholarship Programme for the Supports of Mobility of University Students, PhD Students, University Teachers, Researchers and Artists was established by the approval of the Government of the Slovak Republic. The National Scholarship Programme of the Slovak Republic (NSP) is funded by the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic.

The National Scholarship Programme of the Slovak Republic supports study/research/teaching/artistic mobility of foreign students, PhD students, university teachers, researchers and artists at universities and research organisations in Slovakia.


The following individuals are eligible applicants for a scholarship in the framework of the NSP:

A) students, who are university students abroad and will be participating on a study stay in Slovakia within their 2nd level of higher education (or will be participating on a study stay in Slovakia at least during the 7th semester of their higher education, i.e. in case that they are students of a joined study programme – joined 1st and 2nd level of higher education), and who are accepted by a public, private or state university in the Slovak Republic to an academic mobility to study in the Slovak Republic;

  • duration of the scholarship stay: 1 – 2 semesters (i.e. 4 – 5 or 9 – 10 months) or 1 – 3 trimesters, if the academic year is divided on trimesters (i.e. 3 – 4 or 6 – 7 or 9 – 10 months)

B) PhD students, whose higher education or research preparation takes place abroad, and who are accepted by a public, private or state university or research organisation eligible to carry out a PhD study programme(e.g. Slovak Academy of Sciences) in the Slovak Republic to an academic mobility to study/conduct research in the Slovak Republic;

  • duration of the scholarship stay: 1 – 12 months

C) foreign university teachers, researchers or artists, who are invited by an organisation with a valid certificate of competence to carry out research and development seated in the Slovak Republic, and which is not a business organisation to a teaching/research/artistic stay in the Slovak Republic.

  • duration of the scholarship stay: 1 – 12 months

Citizens of the following countries are eligible to apply for a scholarship in the framework of the NSP:

  1. Member States of the European Union;
  2. other signatories to the Bologna Process (listed are only countries outside the EU) – Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Island, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Monte Negro, Norway, Russian Federation, Serbia (including Kosovo), Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, Vatican City;
  3. Belarus, Uzbekistan;
  4. Canada, Mexico, USA, countries of Latin and Central America;
  5. Australia, China (including Taiwan), Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Republic of South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam.


The scholarship shall cover scholarship holders’ living costs (accommodation, board, etc.) during their study/ research/ teaching/ artistic stay at higher education institutions, research or non-governmental organisations in Slovakia. Regarding the accommodation and administrative duties related to the entry to the territory of the Slovak Republic, scholarship holders can contact their host institution or they can arrange these issues themselves. In case of applicants from abroad, the NSP does not cover travel costs related to arrival and departure from Slovakia.



  • 30 April by 16:00 CET – scholarship stays during the following academic year
  • 31 October by 16:00 CET – scholarship stays during the summer semester of the running academic year

Scholarship applications are submitted on-line HERE. On-line application system is opened at least 6 weeks before the application deadline.

Original hard copies of the documents must be submitted to SAIA in Bratislava  within 5 working days since the application deadline, to the following address:

SAIA, n. o.
Námestie slobody 23
812 20  Bratislava 1
Slovak Republic

Find more information regarding the scholarship and the application process, as well as required documents for applying HERE.

Read the official call HERE.

DoSomething Financial Education Scholarships


To apply for this scholarship, follow the instructions on the scholarship’s website

To qualify for these scholarships, students must run a financial education workshop. DoSomething will provide students with three pre-made workshops to choose from. Every student who runs a workshop and tells DoSomething about it will be entered to win a $7,500 scholarship. See website for details. Students must be 13 years of age or older. They must also be residents of the United States or Canada OR US or Canadian citizens living abroad.



This scholarship has application requirements that could take a lot of time and effort.



There will be a lot of competition for this scholarship.





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Applications for the 2014-2015 Greenlining Academy are Open!

ApplyBe Part of the 2014-2015 Greenlining Academy Cohort! Apply & Spread the Word!

We’re excited to announce that applications for our 2014-2015 Greenlining Academy programs are now open! We’re looking for bright and talented candidates who are committed to social justice and equity. Learn more about our five programs below, and submit your application today!

About the Greenlining Academy

The Greenlining Leadership Academy has been a transformational space for many of our communities’ young leaders and has a strong legacy of empowering and developing our change agents. The Academy prides itself in delivering its expansive leadership development curriculum, valuable ‘hands-‘on’ learning opportunities, as well as intentional coaching and mentorship to all participants. The Academy is proud to be a part of the leadership development pipeline and is now accepting applications for its Legal and Policy Fellowship, Legal and Policy Summer Associate and Health Equity Fellowship programs. Folks who are committed to social justice, equity and leadership development are encouraged to apply to the program that best fits their interest and background.

Legal Fellows Program:  August 28th, 2014- August 21st, 2015

The Legal Fellows Program is a year-long program that seeks to teach the skills and values necessary to the ethical and competent practice of law utilizing clinical legal education methodology. This opportunity is available to law students who have completed law school and attained their Juris Doctor by the start of the program.

Application Deadline: 5pm PST on January 16th, 2014 – Learn More & Apply Online

Legal Associate Program: June 9th, 2014 – August 15th, 2014

The Legal Associate Program is a 10-week program that seeks to train law students to be skilled, ethical, and reform-minded professionals. This opportunity is available to law students who have completed either their first or second year of law school.

Application Deadline: 5pm PST on January 16th, 2014 – Learn More & Apply Online

Summer Associate Program: June 9th, 2014 – August 15th, 2014

The Academy Associate Program is an intensive, 10-week training program for young leaders that have completed their undergraduate degrees.  Associates manage research and advocacy projects under the direction of Greenlining staff.

Application Deadline: 5pm PST on January 30th, 2014 – Learn More & Apply Online

Fellowship Program: August 28th, 2014 – August 21st, 2015

The Fellowship Program is a year-long training program for young leaders that have completed their undergraduate degrees.  Fellows develop policy expertise under the direction of Greenlining staff and are responsible for managing specific policy initiatives.

Application Postmark Deadline: 5pm PST on February 6th, 2014 – Learn More & Apply Online

Health Equity Fellowship Program: August 25th, 2014 – January 25th, 2016

The Health Equity Fellowship Program is a year-long placement program that seeks to advance equitable health outcomes for all communities in California. Fellows will be placed to work at one of The California Endowment’s regional offices (Sacramento, Oakland, Fresno, Los Angeles and San Diego) to learn about and contribute to the Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities initiative.

Application Postmark Deadline: 5pm PST on February 27th, 2014 – Learn More & Apply Online