Seven Mistakes to Avoid on Your Personal Statement

Seven Mistakes to Avoid on Your Personal Statement

Writing the personal statement for your college applications is a daunting task, but choosing a topic is even more challenging. It can be tricky to determine where you want to focus, especially if you don’t know what your readers might be looking for. You’re a complex, unique human being — How on Earth are you supposed to smash your entire being into a few hundred words? Unfortunately, we can’t write your personal statement for you, but we *can* help you avoid some mistakes that students make when deciding their topic!  


1. Spending too much time on various achievements. Remember: This is an essay, not just a second resume. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of impressive achievements, but this is not the place to talk through them all. Your best bet is to choose one topic and dive deep.

2. Choosing a topic that’s too big. All told, you really don’t have that much space. Make sure the story you’re telling is the right size, and not too big (or too small) to adequately cover in the space allotted. Get to the point quickly and stay on topic!

3. Telling a generic story. Stay away from topics that are too common and not unique to you. At worst, it’s plagiarism, and at best, it’s boring. Ask yourself questions like, “What experiences have I had that speak to who I am?” “What essay can I write that no one else could write?” “If I don’t feel strongly about this, why should my reader?”

4. Crossing a line. If you’re choosing a controversial topic, think critically about the subject at hand. Standing out is great, but make sure you don’t cross the line from edgy to offensive, rude, or indignant. Be smart when discussing issues such as race, religion, class, politics, etc.

5. Not being a particularly likable character in your story. Beware of complaining or coming off overly negative, or, on the opposite side, too arrogant. Your reader needs to be impressed by your writing, but they also need to like you. There’s a happy medium in there that will serve you well.

6. Making your reader uncomfortable. Some vulnerability can be powerful, but try to avoid oversharing. We understand the temptation to pour your heart out, but you need to be sure that all of the emotion you’re using is justified. You don’t know the people who will read this and you don’t want to make them uncomfortable for any reason. 

7. Silly mistakes. This shouldn’t even be here on this list, but please please make sure everything is thoroughly edited. Please.


Hopefully, these tips can help you zero in on your perfect topic!

One last piece of advice: If nothing else, think about what makes you, you! Good luck!

2018 Smart Alec Scholarship Winner Announced!

2018 Smart Alec Scholarship Winner Announced!

Smart Alec is very pleased to announce the winner of the 2018 Smart Alec Scholarship is Marlon Josiah Nario. As the winner of the 2018 Smart Alec Scholarship, Josiah will receive a $2000 scholarship and $2000 of private tutoring.

The Smart Alec Scholarship asked students to tell us about who inspired them (in any medium), and for his winning entry, Josiah submitted an audio essay J Dilla’s influence on music production and how he has inspired his own pieces.

You can listen to Josiah’s audio essay here.


If you’d like to listen to more of Josiah’s original music, you can visit his SoundCloud page here.

The SAT vs The ACT: Which test is right for you?

The SAT vs The ACT: Which test is right for you?

“Should I take the SAT or the ACT?” It’s a question most college bound high schoolers will ask themselves at some point and for good reason. The tests are now equally accepted at the nation’s top universities and liberal arts colleges, so there’s no real advantage to taking one over the other (generally speaking).

In fact, the only real reason to take the SAT instead of the ACT or vice-versa, is that there’s a good chance that one or the other is a better fit for an individual student’s strengths, weaknesses and test-taking style. So how do you tell whether the SAT or ACT is a better fit for a particular student? Luckily, our test prep experts have designed a short diagnostic quiz that will do just that. 

By answering these 16 simple questions about how they perform in different conditions and their personal preferences, students can get a baseline understanding of which exam is right for them!

It takes less than 5 minutes and can save students months of prep time for the wrong exam. There are no wrong answers, so just be honest– happy quizzing! 

Results will be email to you at the address provided.
Please reach out to us at with any questions.

Get Started on Your College Essay This Summer

Get Started on Your College Essay This Summer


Summer is here! And rising high-school seniors now is your time to shine. You’ve finally reached the top of the hierarchical high school food chain. I’m sure you’re floating on a sense of mastered self-confidence and appreciation for the academic respite, but don’t get too complacent on these sweltering summer days. Now is the perfect time to consider brainstorming—and even drafting—a few versions of your college application essay(s).

Now, now, I know what you’re thinking. But it’s summer; can’t I just RELAX? And the good news is, yes you can relax. The brainstorming stages for the college application essay can often be kind of fun. Luckily, this writing assignment requires minimal outside research as the subject is… you! So what easy steps forward can you take now to set yourself up for success during college application season this fall?

Firstly, I’d suggest you begin to familiarize yourself with the types of questions being asked of you in order to maximize productivity during your brainstorming sessions. The Common Application—a tool used by nearly 700 colleges around the world—announced earlier this year that personal statement essay prompts for 2016-2017 will be recycled from the year before. This is where you should begin.

After that I’d suggest you identify your colleges of interest, and do a little poking around on their websites or online profiles. Some colleges offer information that sheds light onto exactly what they’ll be looking for in a college application essay and/or from which critical lens the essay will be read.

The college application essay offers an opportunity for you to showcase not only your personality, but also your writing abilities. Ultimately, your essay should provide a clear, succinct and persuasive personal statement that illuminates the person behind your academic transcript. That being said, now’s a great time to begin thinking about the special characteristics possessed or interests maintained that favorably set you apart from others. Additionally, start observing the world around you; what excites you? What ignites you?

Spend 15 minutes each day identifying strengths and connecting these strengths to concrete and vivid examples. It will be easier to substantiate your claims later on if you are able to pull from evidence you’ve already identified in your initial brainstorming process. In a similar vein, it will also be easy to discard claims you find you can’t firmly support with examples. Jot down these daily thoughts in a notebook and revisit them frequently.

Now parents, here’s where you come in: speaking with family members, friends, and teachers to gain sense of best qualities can often help to spark your student’s critical thinking process. Have any family meals planned? Or how about any summer road trips? Use these times to prompt your student to begin reflecting on personal attributes. Often you can provide supporting details your student has forgotten about that can help strengthen essay claims.

Overall, the best thing you as a student can do now to set yourself up for a stress-free college application essay writing process is to reflect early, and reflect often. Use the remainder of these summer weeks to really stew over a few personal details. Relax, reflect, and remember to write everything down.

For more information take a look at the 2016-2017 Common App Prompts.

About the author:

Aniela Wendt is a recent college graduate currently working as a Certified Professional Governess in Manhattan, where she focuses on the creative, cognitive, and physical development of young children.