Secrets to the College Application Essay Process

What are the Top Five Mistakes students make on their college application essays? How does a student highlight his unique qualities and set himself apart from other candidates?

Why are you telling me this now?

Topics for the college common application come out August 1st. Throughout August and September I will give you tips and insight on the college application essay process.

Why should I listen to you?

I don’t know. My wife and children don’t.

Who are you?

Thanks for asking.

  • I am a former HS English teacher who worked in high achieving districts on Long Island’s north shore.
  • I have a MA in English and a MFA in Creative Writing.
  • I am a published writer, an editor, and have written HS curriculum on persuasive writing.
  • I ran resume and interview workshops for the NYS Dept of Labor. (Many of the principals apply in terms of making the candidate stand out from the huge field of candidates.
  • I have spoken with enough college admissions officers from a variety of schools to know exactly what they are looking for.


Nope. I’m not smart enough to know that much. I concentrate on ONLY ONE thing…college application essays…. In this…I am an expert. (Just ask my mother). Did I mention all my former clients either made it to the Ivy League or other prestigious colleges?

FINE. I’ll LISTEN…but only for a minute.

It is important to first understand the purpose of the college application essay. A student’s transcripts as well as his academic and extra-curricular achievements do not give any unique insight into the student as a person. Yes….they will illustrate hard work, intelligence, drive, aptitude, etc. However, these are the same attributes reflected in 28,000 other applications for the same institution.  (I know that grandpa says, “No one is as perfect as my granddaughter…she’s going to be a brilliant surgeon, winner of American Idol and Ms. Universe I tell you.”) But in this arena….the obvious is commonplace.

“Yale received 28,870 applications for [Fall 2012]…a 5.8% increase over [2011]…
Yale expected to admit approximately 2,100 students…the same total as last year…Yale’s rate of admission for this fall is expected to drop slightly below last year’s 7.7%.


Simply put, essays help the admissions office evaluate your teen’s potential to fit into their school’s community and culture as a person. (Not as a student….not as club president….not as the driving force for raising money with a dance-a-thon or relay-for-life team and not as a swimmer who placed first in his county). Once again…the 28,000 other students….many of whom were driven to get 2400 on their SAT were also club presidents and competitors who gave their time to charity work….if not a kidney.

Just remember, you aren’t the only parent with a bumper sticker that reads, “My child is an Honor Student.”



Randy Levin has a MA in English and a MFA in Creative Writing. He is a published writer and was a high school English teacher in high achieving north shore Long Island school districts for close to ten years. He works with students on their college application essays through his company: Persuasive Writing Services. The vast majority of his clients are accepted to the Ivy League or other prestigious colleges.



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The College Whisperer™ July 31, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Great advice, Randy. College-bound students and their parents should listen up before they write it down! And for other aspects of and insights into the college application and admission process, readers should check out The College Whisperer on Patch. [Hint to Great Neck Patch to cross-post. :-)] http://malverne-lynbrook.patch.com/users/the-college-whisperer-as-quietly-spoken-into-the-ear-of-sd-bykofsky/blog_posts?logout=true Write on!
Randy Levin July 31, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Coming from you, I take that as a compliment. Everyone interested in the soup to nuts admissions process should check out the college whisperer who has been in the business for many years.
Camille July 31, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Second Child applying in the fall. I cant wait to read more.
Randy Levin July 31, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Thank You. Feel free to explore my site at www.persuasivewritingservices.com for additional information. More with certainly come here at Patch
fred July 31, 2012 at 08:35 PM
When a school receives 28,000 applications do they really have time to read all those essays? Or just the few borderline ones?
George Mulligan July 31, 2012 at 09:49 PM
One of my daughters graduated from HS in 1998. She wrote a fantastic essay (in my humble opinion) and was accepted at seven of the eight colleges to which she applied. The essay allows the college to evaluate you as a person and not just a number. She was a hard striving student and explained that while not as "gifted" as some, she worked very hard to achieve her goals and managed to excel in academics, sports (track) and music. I thought the essay was very poignant, and I am sure some admissions departments did too.
Randy Levin August 01, 2012 at 12:35 AM
From what I have been told by numerous admission officers, the crazy answer is YES. They read them all. Not only that, there are multiple readers so one essay could be read up to ten times. My assumption is that colleges eliminate candidates based on a variety of reasons before they get to essays so it probably isn't 28,000. Still it's a LOT OF ESSAYS. :)
Randy Levin August 01, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Sounds like she nailed it right out of the gate. It's not easy to do....as you'll see in upcoming entries, students make a number of mistakes in calculating what they think they should write about. Where did you end up going?
George Mulligan August 06, 2012 at 12:38 AM
This daughter went to Providence College in Rhode Island. It was a perfect setting for her. She loved the school and the environment and graduated in four years with a degree in marketing. She has had continous employemnt for ten years and now works for Morgan Stanley. And to this day she still runs track. She has completed a NYC marathon and three half marathons in the last year. Today she did a "leisurely" workout of twelve miles. That's after a four mile run yesterday. I get tired just thinking about these activities.


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