A good college essay, advises College Advisor (Princeton Review), is smart without being superior. Funny not cutesy. Honest and appealing. And fudge if you have to (no, honest and fudging are not mutually exclusive). In short, a good college essay is much like College Advisor itself, which gracefully handles an otherwise intimidating process with humor, in-depth information, and an ever-optimistic outlook. These people are sympathetic to your needs, fears and desires as they cheerfully slam the SAT makers and college admissions process with gusto (something that is particularly appealing to frustrated, frightened teenagers). Know your enemy. Their advice is unflinching and invaluable (no, the X-Files fan club you founded is probably not the best thing to put down on an application, while being editor of the school newspaper most certainly is.) Despite some harsh revelations, the supportive tone throughout leaves you more uplifted and encouraged (with some serious thinking to do) than wallowing in despair. A Roadmap shows what lies ahead in the junior and senior year with flags indicating what still needs to be done. Like similar programs, finding the college that fits you is accomplished by answering a series of standard questions, but here, instead of asking you how selective you want the college to be (leaving it up to you to determine the value of your credentials), College Advisor asks you about your grades, extra-curricular activities, and SAT scores. Then you’re evaluated objectively, and a realistic list of colleges is generated; you then have the option of adding or deleting colleges. The college profile section is also superior to that of other programs. In addition to the normal information, it includes written summaries of extensive surveys that cover the student body, atmosphere (both on and off campus), academic quality, and overall impressions. Often including actual responses, these sections are unique and commendable for the insight they give on the school and the students. The information in “Getting In” and “Paying For College” seems endless, but reading it will be to your advantage. Some other helpful advice includes how to avoid the typical answers to the typical questions, eleven things not to do on the college essay, and managing your debt. For college prep, College Advisor is the best of the bunch.
– September 1996
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