How To Become a Better Writer

Last week I wondered what’s the one thing I’d say to someone who asked me how to be a better writer?

The answer came almost immediately. Read.

Reading makes us better writers. It’s just how it works, like how we pick up a language faster when we travel to a country where it’s spoken. As we read, we effortlessly absorb nuances of grammar, syntax, rhythm, and style along with information and inspiration. And whether you’re writing a paper, an email, a poem, or a statement of purpose, I promise: reading makes it easier (industry secret: it might also make it more fun).

Writing is useful in any career or course of study—from neuroscience to business, pharmacy to architecture. Writing lets us express our unique voices and exchange ideas with others. It helps us to share what’s inside, to participate and collaborate. Reading, then, helps us learn from others and discover ideas. Bonus: reading helps us relax, which makes it easier to write later on (it’s also hard to multitask when we’re reading, which can be a good thing).

Reading is like exercise for the imagination, and imagination makes writing interesting. To exercise this muscle as you read, allow yourself to develop a picture of what you’re reading in your mind’s eye. Pay attention to what grabs you—notice those moments where the writing excites you, draws you in, makes you feel and think. What about the writing do you especially enjoy? What works for you? Notice, too, what turns you off; notice when what you’re reading gets boring or where you stop paying attention. As a writer, what would you have done differently?

Of course, one of the best things about reading good writing is that you don’t have to think about it. The worlds that unfold as you read, the process of learning something new, the emotions that come up—they just happen. Writing can be the same way. Writing can be as enjoyable as reading. Writing can—dare I say—feel good.

If you want to become a better—and possibly happier—writer, then read. Read as much as you can. Read books. Read mysteries, adventure stories, history books, biographies. Re-read the books you loved growing up (this one is especially fun). Read science fiction, read metaphysical books, read poetry. Read online columns, essays, and blogs. Read what you like. Read what compels you. Read in your own language; read in other languages. Read the books your professors assign (as much as you can, at least). Let yourself read something else too. Read random books you see in the library. Read magazines, read music reviews, read the paper. Read whatever you want.

Listen, too. Listen to people talk. Listen to podcasts while you make dinner. On road trips or plane flights, listen to audiobooks. Listen to song lyrics. Listening is like reading, just as speaking is like writing.

Important: let yourself read slowly sometimes. Remember that time spent reading equals better writing. Reading good writing is an investment in yourself as a writer and expressive human being. Reading is like fuel for the gas tank, like food and water for the body. Then, when we sit down to write, the time we spend reading comes back to us amplified. Somehow, almost magically, it becomes easier to write.

By exercising the muscle of the imagination through reading, we get in shape to write. And then it just happens. You sit down at your notebook or computer, ask yourself a few questions, let your mind go empty for a bit—and the words just start flowing. Try it out—for a few days, for a month, for longer. Let yourself read. Let yourself enjoy it. Allow yourself to take that time, at least a little bit, every day. Then see what happens when you sit down to write.

It might, quite possibly, change everything.

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Length Limitations in MBA Essays

Recently an MBA client asked us about word limits in MBA essays – what was the minimum number of words required of a 1000-word essay? Would a 2500 character essay work with a 4000 character max?

Other clients have come to us with length standards they’d heard about among the admissions community, e.g. no essay should leave >5% of the given word limit unutilized.

The truth is variable, and hinges on a variety of factors: How many essays have you submitted? Have you covered every facet of your application? Are your essays ‘tight’ or anemic? Have you fully addressed all aspects of a given prompt?

There is no hard-and-fast rule to length limitations in admissions essays unless stated by a particular admissions committee. We help our clients to present balanced, compelling applications in which every word has value and serves your candidacy. If you can do just that in 350 words, given a 500 word limitation, then there is no admissions committee that would fault you for expediting their decision-making process.

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More Assertive Admissions Writing: Your Vision vs. Your Dreams

Whether we are working with college, MBA, law school or medical applicants, we frequently see people resort to language which is too passive for the admissions space. You are selling yourself and your ability to achieve your goals in admissions writing. Assertiveness is key. Take this sentence for example:

As a physician, I hope to bring the same discipline and determination I have cultivated as an Olympic athlete to the treatment of my future patients.

“I hope” is the key offender here. Instead of phrases that express the slightest possibility of uncertainty, try “I plan” or “I will” instead. Rather than relax into passive, lazy articulations, show how you were the master of your own fate:

I was provided the opportunity to study abroad during my junior year in college, which allowed me to explore my passion for Latin American literature.


Driven by my passion for Latin American literature, I seized the chance to study abroad during my junior year.

This bold sense of clarity really distinguishes a ‘hope’ from a visionary plan. And this is precisely what successful admits will execute on once they are accepted to the program of their choice. Another byproduct of more assertive writing is language that is more crisp. Top programs are looking for visionary, confident self-starters, and the most discreet language choices can better market your candidacy.

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What Makes A Great CommonApp Essay (In The Year 2014)

Applying to college today is nothing like what it was 20, even 10 years ago. Today’s college applicants are more tapped in than ever before. Within a few mouse clicks, an infinite number of sample college essays are available, many of which purportedly gained past applicants admission into schools like Yale, Harvard and Princeton. Additionally, because of social media and mobile devices (a vestigial organ for most of us!), today’s high school students are also more intimately connected to their peers than ever before. This presents challenges – and huge potential benefits – to those of you writing your college essays.

Today’s college applicants are constantly developing their voices as writers whether they realize it or not. What we urge our clients to do is to make the most of that voice in their essays. More than ever, we are noticing that the best essays contain the best writing, not the best content per se. So, what makes a CommonApp essay great?

-Economic writing. Take a page from your juiciest Facebook thread and the voices that inspire you. Keep your thoughts focused and crisp; verbosity will not help your CommonApp essay.

-Personality. Stop trying to be the quintessential applicant robot; you’re not an octogenerian yet. Your essay can be heavy and contemplative, it can be dry and hysterical, it can even be all of those things…but it must be you!

-Honesty. Disingenuous prose is easy to spot, particularly in college admissions writing. Remember your readers have been where you are before, they are (most likely) wiser: your honest point-of-view is the main thing you have to truly ‘teach’ your reader.

Looking for help on your college admissions materials? Let one of your Yale-educated editors help steer you in the right direction, and help get your admissions materials ready for the 2014-2015 admissions cycle. Visit our college admissions page for more details.

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2014-2015 Application Season is Here!

Hi everyone!

Application season is officially here. If you are applying to college or university, MBA, graduate school, law school or medical programs, please check out our updated suite of services:

Essay editing
Interview preparation
Resume/CV and cover letter editing

Our Yale-educated staff is here to support you through your applications, from start to finish. As an added bonus, with our new rewards and affiliate program you can save and earn money on each transaction.

We are looking forward to another highly productive admissions season!

All best,
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Common Application Rundown for 2014-15

Sure, it’s still the season for inner tube river floats, sunset bike rides and cramming your Instagram feed full of magical moments designed to give everyone else FOMO. Whether you’re living it up outside or cramming in a few more volunteer hours, however, that very special time of year is rolling around again. It’s time to fill out the Common Application!

Here are the prompts for the 650-word statement from the Common App site:

• Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
• Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
• Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
• Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
• Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

If one of these topics doesn’t immediately jump out at you, you might be primed for a Premiere Service consultation to glean one of our editor’s insights about which direction to take and how to get there. If you already know which question sparks your fancy, get started on a free write and send it our way for an Advanced Service revision!

Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to navigate potential glitches like website timeouts and payment snafus- this means submitting well BEFORE the 11:59pm deadline of whatever date is listed in the app:!PublicPages/ApplicationRequirements

More details:

Rest easy – no matter what you’ve been up to, you still have plenty of time to write a stellar essay that expresses the idiosyncratic gems of your candidacy. Get a head start with us, and you won’t be scrambling to synthesize the unfathomable wisdom of your life so far in the last moments before the deadline!

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Medical Applicant Portals and Deadlines

You’re probably already familiar with AMCAS, the med school version of the undergraduate common application for most U.S. colleges apart from a handful in Texas. After submitting your initial application through a centralized service such as this one, chosen schools with further interest in your candidacy will invite you to submit a secondary application. Fee waivers are available through most programs, so make sure you get all the support you need!

Here’s the rundown on strict deadlines you need to know:

The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service

May 1st, 2014: AACOMAS portal opened
Starting June 3rd, 2015: AMCAS applications accepted for submission
Final submission deadlines for individual schools available here (ranging from October 1st, 2014 to April 1st, 2015):

The American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine

August 1st, 2013: AACPMAS portal opened
June 30th, 2014: Final submission deadline

American Medical College Application Service

May 1st, 2014: AMCAS portal opened
Starting June 3rd, 2014: AMCAS applications accepted for submission
Final submission deadlines for individual schools available here:

Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA).

April 1st, 2014: CASPA portal opened
March 1st, 2015: Portal closes
Individual submission deadlines are determined by PA programs (ranging from August 1st, 2014 to March 1st, 2015)

Nursing’s Centralized Application Service
Portal open
Individual submission deadlines are determined by nursing programs

Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Service

May 1st, 2014: TMDSAS portal opened
August 1st, 2014: Submission deadline for Early Decision Program
October 1st, 2014: Final submission deadline for medical, dental, and vet programs

Portals not yet open for entry year 2015:

American Dental Association
February 3rd, 2014: Previous cycle closed

Veterinary Medical College Application Service

March 28th, 2014: Previous cycle closed

We’ll keep you posted as other portals open. And as always, we’re here for you when the time rolls around to write your personal statement. It’s sooner than you think!

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Medical School vs. Public Health?

So you’re looking ahead to a career related to medicine, but haven’t yet decided if public health or medical school will serve your visions best. Here are some questions that may clarify the path ahead:

-Are you more excited by the idea of working one-on-one with a patient, or considering the needs of populations?

-Do you hope to enter an established profession with defined and standardized ways of identifying and advancing your specialty? Or does the idea of forging your way into a field with a more complex array of public capacities actually excite you?

-If given the option of choosing a social science for an elective, would you seize the chance or opt for a more traditional science course?

-Do you envision yourself in a hospital working with individuals, or moving between the laboratory and the field?

(If you haven’t guessed already, the first option in every question points toward the focus of a medical career, while the second suggests your aptitude would match the broad vision needed for public health.)

If it feels overwhelming to think about abstract future choices, consider instead what you’ve already felt drawn towards:

-Do you tend to enjoy courses that hone in on specific problem-solving details, or interdisciplinary subjects that provide an overview or survey of large topics?

-Have you excelled in classes that focus more on biology, or on numbers?

-Given your past work or volunteer experience, have you felt most inspired by one-on-one interactions, or by opportunities to work with groups or strategize about a longer-term vision?

Finally, keep in mind some of the qualities that public health programs look for:

-A desire to envision a long-term career in public health, rather than using a degree as an interim step before more clinical work

-A demonstrated interested in the three foundational realms of public health: assessment, policy development, and assurance

-Genuine interest in analyzing large sets of data

-Concrete visions about what umbrella issues you might like to approach, with simultaneous flexibility around future career plans and placement

-A passion for exploring complex subjects, which involve group psychology and behavior, and a wide range of factors from environment to political influence

Take a look at your answers and see if a clear pattern emerges that pulls you in either direction. If it does, let us help you hone the articulation of your goals and vision. If not, a Premiere Service brainstorming session may be in order. We’re here to see you through!

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Reapplication Essay, Part 2

So you’re writing a reapplication essay, and you’ve remembered to stay positive, focus on your recent growth, and be specific about your intended contributions to a medical school program.

Now, for the elephant in the room. Are you wondering how to broach the subject of a major weakness that bared its ugly head in your first application? Answer: keep it short, be honest, minimize overly emotional language, and then move on. These guidelines apply to any explanatory addendum essay, even if you’re applying for the first time.

To start off, be as concise as possible. Say the bare minimum needed to honestly address the reality of a past mistake or weakness, and quickly move on to more detail about how you used that circumstance as a launching point to better yourself. Don’t gloss over past mistakes, but don’t linger on them either.

Next, keep it straightforward; don’t dive too far into a sob story even if you faced extreme extenuating circumstances. Admissions committees are looking for maturity in addition to excellent qualifications, so two applicants who both suffered poor academic performance due to a family sickness may get a completely different result depending on how they describe the experience.

One applicant might load a lot of emotional baggage onto the admissions committee*: “After my grandmother passed away, I was so devastated that it was all I could do to keep my head above water and try to support the rest of my family after the loss. It’s a wonder that I managed to complete my application to school at all, and I wish the admissions committee had taken that more into consideration at the time.”

A more poised and empowered applicant could offer a more positive spin that relates to academic focus and offers a reminder of a strong candidacy: “After experiencing my grandmother’s battle with cancer, I dedicated myself to improving my academic performance so that I could one day study illnesses such as hers in medical school. My record has not yet returned to my usual standards, but it is steadily improving. I am confident that the admissions committee will consider my academic improvement alongside my demonstrated commitment to expanding my knowledge base, pursuing mentorship opportunities, and gaining real-world experience through volunteer work.”

Unsure which side of the self-pity-vs.-empowerment fence your essay falls on? We’re here to help you see more clearly!

Looking for IvyEyesEditing help on your medical school applications (or reapplications)? Email us at for information on our essay and CV editing services as well as our interview preparation services.

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*No direct quotations from clients are used here; we are committed to protecting client confidentiality.

Part 1: Take Me Back! Approaching a Reapplication Essay

Are you reapplying to a program that once rejected you, and aren’t quite sure what tone to strike in your “please reconsider me, for the love of all that is good in the world” statement?

Here’s biggest key that might come across like a new-age self-help manual: don’t focus (too much) on the past. Situate yourself in the present moment, avoid devolving into desperation, and confidently describe the growth that brought you into a state of readiness for the demands of this program. You can touch on your weaknesses briefly (check out Part 2 of this post for more details), but weight the essay towards what you feel you can offer now.

We’ll break those topics down in the rest of this post, but first, here’s one key factor that applies to all of your content: if you treat the admissions committee like a group of popular kids who dissed you because they were mean and awful and weren’t seeing straight when they were looking at your application, they’re probably not going to feel inspired to re-examine your candidacy. Think about it; if someone told you it was your “huge loss” not to spend time with them, would you feel excited about meeting them for coffee the next time they asked? Give the committee some credit for having judged your application correctly the first time around, and also simultaneously extend the invitation to reconsider where you are now.

This means: no talking about the unending heartbreak of not making the cut the first time around, and no referencing the committee’s original rejection of your application as “a huge mistake” or having “crushed your dream.” Above all, don’t undercut the legitimacy of their original judgment. Just tell them why the content of your application has changed, and ask them to take a closer look. Focus on specific steps you’ve taken to improve your application, and delineate what you will contribute to their learning environment.

Let’s break it down further.

First up: what changed?

This could show up in a variety of sectors: academic performance, study habits, personal motivation, or simply a renewed determination to succeed, stoked by the thrilling fire of rejection! If you were excelling academically both before and after you submitted your application, there’s not much of a case in this department. But if your grades were tanking and you brought them up out of sheer force of will and the desire to gain admission to this program, you’ve got something. And go one step further: how did you bring up your grades? Did you develop new study habits? Did you start choosing classes that better fit your academic aptitude? Be specific!

If nothing shifted academically, don’t worry. Maybe you started volunteering in a context that vastly expanded your maturity, or found a mentor who helped you streamline your activities so you could advance your career goals. Or perhaps your first application simply lacked a strong personal voice; now is your chance to reveal your personality!

Second up: what do you have to offer?

Why would your presence at this institution strike others as positive? No one wants to hear that you deserve readmission simply because you believe your career is destined to fail if you don’t get the training you need from this one school. No guilt trips, please!

Instead, consider how your attitude might be a boon to your teachers and classmates. Do you have a proven tendency to encourage people around you? How would your current peers and teachers describe you? Would your unusual background expand your classmates’ perceptions of an issue being taught in class?

Keep in mind that the tone of your essay may reveal just as much as your content; if you’re declaring that you’re a positive classroom presence, but have just finished blaming the admissions committee for making a horrible mistake in rejecting your first application, pay attention to what this discrepancy in this tone might be saying about you.

Remember: keep it simple, assume the best of the admissions committee, and share concrete details about your growth since you last applied. And read on for Part 2!

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