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By Robert LeVine

Every year, students and families fall prey to the siren call of colleges and universities across the U.S. “Apply early” they say. “Look at the statistics” they say. But those are words for their purposes, not yours. We represent the applicant, not some educational institution. And trust me: what they say is usually not true, at least not for you.

Still, there are reasons to apply early (especially for graduate school, where early really is better). Even so, do not get too hooked on the drug of “I may get in!” In our experience, filing early won’t increase the chances of most college applicants (likely including you).

But … that’s ok!

For future undergraduates, the admissions season is (basically) split into two stages: what you do before Nov. 1, and what you do after Nov. 1. Yes, most people apply somewhere early. However, every year we tell our students not to hibernate after submitting their first applications. That’s not only bad karma; it also ignores an advantage you gain in your later work …

As the season progresses, you’re going to get better at writing application essays.

Better essays lead to better results. By reason of more intelligent thought – not repetition – students who “work smart” after Nov. 1 invariably achieve amazing schools.

Yes, there is technique to writing better essays, but the real difference between great and not-great writing is not better writing. The real difference is more intelligent research.

Many admissions offices will want to know why you wish to attend their institutions. They want to collect (“yield”) students, not just make offers, so they often require “why” essays to hear your rationales.

“Why” essays are by far the most challenging of the bunch. While the world focuses on Personal Statements, admissions officers focus on why you wish to attend their school. In an uber-competitive admissions environment – for both sides – you better convince them that you have a good reason to attend.

Unfortunately, most of you do not have good reasons. Oops!!!

The starting point for a superior “why” essay is understanding that these are schools, and schools develop and adjust and evolve their educational paths constantly. They are not the same. Curricula aren’t even the same in the same college. One major will have different requirements than another, both in quantity, quality and type of learning. Distribution requirements are not the same. Truth? Upon so many potential paths, nothing is really the same.

So, go to the admissions website and look deeply. By “deeply,” I do not mean find a college motto, or name a professor, or list some classes or a club or a study abroad opportunity. Dig! Take a close look at all their required courses. Do they make sense for you? How many electives can you take? How flexible is the curriculum? In short, how does your path merge well with their specific teaching structures?

But going to the admissions website should not be the end of your inquiry. Dig! If you know that you want to major within a particular department, study that department’s website. Find their internal newsletters. Check out what they are presenting on social media (after all, they have decided what to put out there).

But even that is not enough.

Dig! Do you want to attend a school? If so, perhaps considering talking to the school.

After researching the admissions website and whatever else you can find online, look for their telephone numbers. Call them. Seriously, call them. They want to talk with you. They bring in people for the purpose of talking with you. They have information that you will not find online. They can help you understand their school better.

By calling them, you can ask them intelligent questions that may help you understand their education better. With better knowledge comes better writing.

We see it every year. Those who dig as deeply as possible tend to achieve better admissions results. They write better essays. They convince admissions officers of their desire to study at that school. And perhaps most importantly, those who better understand the schools can make more sophisticated decisions about which school is best for them. Your decision about where to study can lead to lifetime success, or not.

Guess what? Almost nobody digs hard enough for their earliest applications. You have time to improve your work for your upcoming applications. Dig!

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit

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