Monthly Archives: August 2011

Free Writing in Your Common App Essay | Ivy Eyes Editing

Hi everyone,

We deliver CommonApp essay free critiques by the boatloads here at Ivy Eyes Editing. For the most part, we’re rarely surprised by what we read: college applicants use the same tropes, the same frameworks, and even the same sentences when applying to college. However, recently we read an essay that stopped us dead in our tracks.

The essay wasn’t about a leadership activity, a volunteer experience or an academic accomplishment. It was simply a hilarious, insightful piece on a banal, everyday activity (and no, we can’t tell you what that activity was). It reminded our team that college applicants are becoming increasingly resistant to “just thinking.” The impulse to tell admissions committee members “what they want to hear” has become embedded convention, so much so that students are forgetting (or never tapping into?) precisely what they feel and think. We see this not only when we work with students through our flagship editing services, but also when we prepare them for interviews, or conduct exploratory conversations through our Premiere Editing Service.

If you are challenged by this type of creative, free-thinking communication style now, a roundtable discussion in college will be mildly traumatizing. So how do you fix it? Initially, the toughest part is breaking free from convention, believing in the value of what you have to say, and simply SAYING IT. In the admissions and college seminar context, fear not: your audience wants to hear what you think, they want you to succeed and they want to help you. The most successful applicants are, first and foremost, fearless and bold–and will have mastered this skill long before they matriculate to college. So much about application, academic and even career success is rooted in a fundamental willingness to put yourself out there.

This is your reminder that the best admissions essays are not necessarily the magnification of something fantastic that you’ve done. The best essays–capable of truly engaging the most jaded reader–reveal the thinking and personality of a simply fantastic candidate. So, be fearless. Be bold. And just think.

As always, please consider submitting your CommonApp essays for a free critique! Visit for details.

Ivy Eyes Editing

The ‘I Have Always Loved Science’ Default | Ivy Eyes Editing

Hi everyone,

If there’s one recurring phrase we see in medical school and residency/fellowship personal statements, it’s a variation of the following:

“I have always been interested in the way things work. As I grew older, this curiosity naturally lent itself to a career in medicine.”

“I have always been interested in other cultures and behaviors; therefore, it was only natural that I wanted to become a psychiatrist.”

What’s so wrong with the statements above?

First of all, the phrase “I have always been” is a glaring red flag to any admissions reader. The subtext says, “Prepare yourself to be bored. Very bored. I plan on taking the easy way out.” Who wants to read a personal statement that sets itself up to be impersonal?

Secondly, we do not encourage our medical applicant clients to delve deep into their infant pathologies to identify ‘the root’ of their medical career ambitions. This is unnecessary and impractical for a 1-page personal statement. How many of us can claim that we are doing precisely what aspired to do at the age of 3? A career in medicine is organic and can (and does) evolve over time. You will not be viewed as a more capable physician just because you made a makeshift tourniquet for your childhood friend after his nasty fall from the swingset.

Thirdly, it’s simply implausible to say you’ve always harbored an interest in interventional radiology. We are a product of our experiences. However, even if your father was an interventionalist, there was a moment in time when your fate hung in the balance–and you might have opted for a career in the circus or the ministry instead.

Of course, some applicants may be able to effectively integrate part of their personal histories into their essays. In these cases, it’s equally important to avoid fluffy phrases like “I have always been interested in…” Admissions writing demands that applicants launch a reflective, thoughtful self-appraisal, and this type of language will set you up for failure in that department. A few good rules of thumb: focus on telling stories rather than avoiding them, be careful not delve too deeply into the reservoir of your childhood memories, and simply avoid passive voice. Your reader–the person who holds your admissions decisions in his/her hands–will thank you.

Ivy Eyes Editing

An MBA Admission Director’s Take on Consultants | Ivy Eyes Editing

Hi everyone,

We recently stumbled across some great advice from Soojin Kwon Koh, Director of Admissions at Michigan Ross, in which she discussed her take on admissions consultants (with great, balanced perspective, we might add). In the blogpost, Koh cited some key concerns for any MBA applicant considering hiring an admissions consultant:

1) Beware of consultants who claim “inside” knowledge of the MBA admissions process. All MBA programs’ processes (and even committees) are always in flux, and it’s impossible for any outsider to determine the precise temperature of the AdCom at HBS, Wharton or Stanford GSB.

2) Avoid consultants who want to simply rewrite your essays. “If there’s any hint of an application not being your own work, your chances of admission are doomed,” Koh says. At IvyEyes, we work with MBA applicants through our Advanced Service to generate the content needed for fully realized essays and resumes. In the end, the best content comes from you…and we are the coaches who enable you to tap into that material and even clarify your goals.

3) Avoid consultants who use past templates as a ‘Holy Grail’ for applications that will succeed yet again. As mentioned above, MBA admissions processes not only constantly evolve, they are becoming more competitive and rigorous worldwide! Beware of any consultant who doesn’t know the trends in MBA admissions, and doesn’t leverage a customized, personalized approach to developing your own strongest candidacy.

4) Avoid admissions consultants who inflate their credentials. Typically, the majority of our clients find us not online, but through word-of-mouth and client testimonials. In addition, we provide a free critique for every prospective client to make our process and value more transparent.

We fully support Koh’s perspective on admissions consultants and consider our approach to align with the highest standards which she identifies. So, whether you choose to engage Ivy Eyes Editing, or another admissions consultant, be sure that you are mindful of the caveats above. Not only will your candidacy benefit from it, you’ll view your acceptance letter as a confirmation of your personal intellectual capital, hard work and potential.

What could be better than that?

Ivy Eyes Editing

Embracing Your Past in Admissions Essays | Ivy Eyes Editing

“We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on by body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography – to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.”

— Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient)

Hi everyone,

At Ivy Eyes, it’s no secret that we are fanatics about authenticity in admissions writing (and of course interviews). Sure, there are some things which shouldn’t be shared (perhaps how your social calendar marred your first semester grades); however, more often than not, our clients are surprised by what we encourage them to share. Why give an admissions committee a window into some of the ‘imperfections’ of my application?

Our reasoning is simple: admissions committees have reviewed enough applications to discern glaring and subtle inconsistencies. Dips in grades, major time gaps between jobs, circuitous academic or career trajectories, etc.–sometimes real-life forces affect the criteria being used to measure your college or grad school candidacy. And yet, we’ve worked with clients who hesitate to relinquish details which could legitimately justify their choices.

The key in sharing this information is all in the positioning. Don’t overshare to the point of appearing emotionally raw or psychologically debilitated. Do show resilience and how you regained your footing. The reality of your past can embolden your candidacy, and pave the way toward your future!

Questions on whether your content is refreshingly authentic or an egregious example of overshare? Visit us at for a free initial critique of your materials, including admissions essays, personal statements, statements of purpose, resumes, cover letters and more.

Ivy Eyes Editing

Why Medicine? In 5300 Characters or Less. | Ivy Eyes Editing

Hi everyone,

Recently a client directed our attention to a paragraph written by a previous medical school applicant. Apparently, it is being floated among pre-meds as the Holy Grail for medical school personal statement conclusion paragraphs:

“My medical experiences directly appealed to these personal insights and confirmed my decision to become a physician. I saw the center-stage roles those values — a love for learning, an inclination to lead, and an obligation to serve — held in a physician’s daily work. The technical and intellectual ability involved in making sound clinical judgments despite a fast-paced and often chaotic environment highlighted the importance of knowledge-based decisions and lifelong learning in medicine. The role of the physician in leading a medical team and shouldering the responsibility for a patient’s well-being throughout a case made clear the import of desiring and being capable of fulfilling leadership roles. Of paramount significance, though, was the effect of the physician’s work on his patients and his obligation to serve them. Seeing the immediate relief on a teenage girl’s face after having her bandages removed from a third-degree burn demonstrated the incredible power the physician has to comfort, reassure, and heal his patient through clinical ability and genuine compassion. Experiences like these revealed the extensive overlap between my personal goals and those of doctors, and rather than discovering that the medical profession required certain attributes and seeking to develop those skills and strengths, I realized that becoming a physician would allow me to incorporate the values and beliefs I already hold to be important into my future professional life.”

While this paragraph has its strengths, it’s also inherently flawed. In an attempt to say everything, the author says nothing at all. It could be inserted into any medical school applicant’s application as a catch-all paragraph: Every Single Reason Why Everyone Should Want To Become A Doctor. Furthermore, who wouldn’t want a career path that necessitates ‘knowledge-based decisions?’ That’s on any job applicant’s ‘must have’ list.

In crafting your medical school personal statement and secondary essays, first of all, remember this: there is no ultimate, absolute answer for why one should want to become a doctor. Your personal statement isn’t a pre-defined test to ace; it’s a fluid indicator for your communication abilities and passion for medicine that can elevate your candidacy.

Secondly, your personal statement should have its own authentic angle. Every single medical school applicant is different, and will bring unique strengths and weaknesses to the table. Your draw to medicine may be very different from the next applicant, and it’s vital to use that distinction as a strength.

Last of all, it’s important to tether abstract or philosophical commentary to real-world action. Some of you may resist getting too concrete in personal statements, with the intent of using that information for your activities descriptions. However, remember that your personal statement provides the chance for you to connect the dots between events, and show how you’ve utilized, harmonized and elevated your skills/experiences. The best personal statements act as a compelling candidacy portrait that answers questions AdComs will have BEFORE they can actually ask them.

We hope this helps each of you as you begin to craft your personal statements and secondary essays. Remember, make your essay your own. There’s no right answer.

Ultimately, it’s your personal best answer that will make for the best essay, and enhance your chances of admission.

Ivy Eyes Editing

Nontraditional Med School Applicants, Just Own It! | Ivy Eyes Editing

Hi everyone,

While this post is directed toward medical applicants, it is relevant to other graduate and undergraduate applicants as well. Recently, we’ve worked with a number of clients who are considered ‘nontraditional’ medical school applicants. Some have been out of college for several years before applying to medical school; others have worked in the healthcare field and are now seeking broader responsibilities as a physician. Collectively, these clients’ initial personal statements have raised a number of questions and red flags, including but not limited to the following:

Why is there a gap between high school and college?
Why did the applicant move out of the country?
Why the public health degree?
Why does the applicant truly want to become a physician given his/her career progress to date?
How has academic consistency and pre-med commitment been confirmed/validated over the years?
Why did the applicant deem it necessary to mention—albeit obliquely—a challenging family situation?

Personal statements shouldn’t feel like memoirs, filled with emotionally raw, gritty detail; however, it’s important to connect the dots for your reader and try to be honest about your experience. In the majority of cases, only honest, authentic answers will make a truly disjointed story make sense. Only honest, reflective writing will enable you to tap into your real strengths–and turn around and sell those strengths in an interview context. So, in the majority of cases, we urge our clients to simply share the truth.

Ultimately, nontraditional applicants should show recent success in an academic setting (post-bacc or refresher courses are important to highlight). They must highlight the benefits of real world experience and learning, including recent (and consistent) volunteer work. Most importantly, however, they must work to position their nontraditional status as a real strength. While some may hesitate to provide an honest exploration of their past, trust us–you’ll be thankful that you answered questions surrounding your candidacy BEFORE an admissions committee had to ask them. Don’t gloss over your past. Own it!!!

Are you a nontraditional applicant applying to medical school, college or other graduate school programs? Reach out to us at for a free critique of your application materials.

Ivy Eyes Editing

Point of View In Your Common App Essay | Ivy Eyes Editing

Hi everyone,

A recent article in the New York Times catalyzed widespread panic in the world of college admissions (not really—but it was rather sensational news for this easily excitable crowd). The article, “For A Standout College Essay, Applicants Fill Their Summers,” shared some sterling examples of students using those languid summer days to manufacture the most exceptional life experiences and stories possible.

As cited in the article, one applicant wrote about exploring the ancient tombs of the Ming dynasty: “…trading jokes with long-dead Ming emperors, stringing my string hammock between two plum trees and calmly sipping fresh green tea while watching the sun set on the horizon.”

*Cue gag reflex*

At Ivy Eyes Editing, we take a different approach to college admissions writing. As discussed in our last post — Uncommon Writing in the CommonApp — reflective, authentic writing should be the primary aim of your admissions essay. Harvard and Yale could fill their classes with incoming freshmen who have led the most privileged existences around the country; fortunately, the Ivy League is no longer a finishing program for the top boarding schools in the world.

From our perspective, applicants who choose to write about experiences like these (including the student above, aka College Applicant, Tomb Raider) will have an even tougher mountain to climb. Can your point of view be as unique and exceptional as your experience? Can you distill authentic perspective from the moment when you, along with a crew of Americans, are sipping green tea, next to the plum trees, with the smell of jasmine lingering in the air? (“Honey, let’s take a really ‘authentic’ vacation to China this year.”)

It’s important to remember that experience isn’t everything in your CommonApp essay; point of view is everything in your CommonApp essay. So, for those of you looking out onto the bleak suburban landscape that is your backyard this summer, with the scent of charcoal lingering in the air as Dad fires up the grill for a good ol’ barbecue…fear not.

It’s all about your writerly point of view, not the spot where you’re standing.

Ivy Eyes Editing

Uncommon Writing in the Common App | Ivy Eyes Editing

Hello everyone,

The 2011-2012 CommonApp is now live. Let college admissions season officially commence! In the past few weeks, we’ve written a number of posts about how to choose the best CommonApp topic for you, and this week we’d like to expand upon those tips a bit.

Many college applicants feel there are a limited number of topics to choose from when it comes to tackling the main essay of the CommonApp. This misperception is a major handicap, rooted in the tendency to ‘tell admissions committees what they want to hear.’ Resist the urge! You might write about an epic failure, your unconventional stance against the American fast-food industry backlash, or a new type of diversity you represent (ethnicity isn’t the only choice). The single most important deliverable is sophisticated, authentic writing. We’ve seen tremendous, soulful essays written about the most banal circumstances; we’ve seen lackluster, soulless essays written about earth-shattering life events.

That’s not to say that common topics are off-limits. It’s your perspective that counts! Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly chosen topics for the CommonApp long essay, and some suggestions for how to tackle them in uncommon ways:

-Mom/Dad/Grandma as the person who has influenced you the most. Applicants who select this topic beware. While Grandma pulled herself up by her bootstraps, and Dad was a poor immigrant and is now CEO of a pharmaceutical company, you’d be shocked at how many of your peers tell the same story. Think outside the box. Influences can be positive and negative and multi-faceted. Influences don’t have to be philosophical in nature either (perhaps you’ve adopted Grandma’s hairstyle and Dad’s aversion to technology). Make a conscious decision to keep your writing SPECIFIC, and not diluted by archetypes and cliches.

-A service project addressing an issue of national/international importance. “As I looked around, I saw images of desolation and despair…” This type of life experience is nothing to scoff at or parody. But remember, the goal is to distinguish yourself through your writing. How have you taken action since your service project completed? How did you translate epiphany into concrete progress or advocacy? What might be UNEXPECTED about this service project, and how did the experience unexpectedly change your life?

-A character from required high school reading who has influenced you. First of all, please don’t choose Gatsby or Jane Eyre. However, if you do–think about your own creative spin. How do most of your high school peers (and fellow applicants) think? Take the opposite left-field approach. What really irks you about Jane Eyre? What really inspires you about Jat Gatsby?

-A personal trauma as a significant experience you have faced. Again, this choice is nothing to scoff at: personal traumas may include serious topics like substance or domestic abuse. However, selecting topics like these bears some risk. (The AdCom thought bubble: has the applicant been through too much–can he/she bounce back to face the rigors of college?) Furthermore, wrapping up your essay with a pretty, neat bow and Christina Aguilera lyric (“all of this made me stronger”) will seem forced, half-hearted and unconvincing. The key is deep, balanced self-reflection. Acknowledgement of where you are now, and where any high school student facing your circumstances should be. Finally, you only have 500 words, so resist a pre-packaged happy ending. Some essays don’t need absolute closure.

We hope this advice helps all of you college applicants out there as you tackle the CommonApp this year. Remember to make it your UnCommonApp :)

Ivy Eyes Editing

Ivy Eyes Editing Featured at the Times Union! | Ivy Eyes Editing

Hi everyone,

Ivy Eyes Editing was recently featured at Read below for more details on how IvyEyes began, why IvyEyes began, and what makes IvyEyes unique as an online editing service.

Many thanks to Vincent Barr for a terrific interview!

Ivy Eyes Editing

Telling Your Story: Q & A with Admissions Essay Coach Janson Woodlee

August 4, 2011 at 8:38 am by Vincent Barr

Interview 1 of 2 with Janson Woodlee, Founder and Managing Editor of Ivy Eyes Editing.

A few years back, I offered a one-to-one resume editing service through craigslist. It was a reasonably rewarding side-gig; there’s something a little magical about discussing employment history with strangers, and it was nice to hear when they landed a position.

In comparison to Janson Woodlee’s service, Ivy Eyes Editing, though, my biz was ‘bush league.’ The 31-year old Founder and Managing Editor runs an editing company focused on essay and resume design for acceptance into higher education programs. And it’s pretty impressive.

In May, a candid Twitter conversation between IvyEyesEditing and me led to an unpredicted result: they reviewed my admissions essay for free. What separates Ivy Eyes Editing from more traditional services is its focus; it’s as concerned with developing a good story for the client as it is with expert wordsmithing. Personal stories and career trajectories require internal reflection; this company gets it (probably better than we do on our own).

Later, I spoke with Janson and we talked entrepreneurship, quarter-life crises, and self-actualization. Deep:

So you run a professional editing service geared toward career and academic development. Does that sound about right?

The focus absolutely is working with technicians and applicants at all levels, but in addition to college and MBA applicants, around this time of year we start working with medical applicants. We still do work with businesses.

Is this your first time starting a business?

It is. I came to this business in a pretty unconventional way. I graduated from Yale in 2003 and went to New York and worked for a consulting firm for a couple of years, and I was also an opera singer for a long time. While I was singing opera I was working for one of the biggest online editing companies. So, I had the idea that I should start something. And, I thought, I should put my own angle on something. So I did.

That makes sense. What makes your model different from your former company or the editing market?

The companies I worked for were more about cosmetic changes and sending your work off to a copy editor. To really work with applicants, every change and question asked needs to be considered and worked into the essay with admissions in mind. I firmly believe – and this is what I work with all of the editors on – that the best story comes from the applicant. We get the applicant to generate the content and that’s what we use to refashion and regenerate essays.

So, other companies are a little more automated, more machine-y?

They feel like essay mills to a certain extent. For me, it was ideological and ethical. We can make the subject and verb agree, but the applicant still isn’t telling the best story. In addition to that, it was more about taking on work that was more interesting. The work is most fun when I really get to the heart of the matter for a client about the forces that really drive them, about what they want from their career with no filter. To me, that is the more interesting way of working.

It sounds like Ivy Eyes doubles as a career and life coach. Teen angst has its time and place, but I know that for every couple of whiny teenagers there is at least one 20-something out there hitting a quarter-life crisis.

The quarter-life crisis and admissions writing, even at 28-29, is difficult. That self-actualizing moment where you have to say this is what I want and why; well, there aren’t many contexts where you have to do that, where you have to say what you’ve done and your goals and why they matter to you, which is the central part of being an MBA applicant. It’s an exercise not many people have used.

But how do you compete with craigslist businesses that may try to leverage a similar, individual-focused advantage?

There are a lot of best practices. You can think about your site architecture and the way that you market your business, but what I have been most shocked by is that the more that I learn about all of those different tactics, the more that I’ve found that doing good work is what matters the most. Really trying to keep quality in mind at all times, making sure every client feels completely confident when they walk away from us – that’s what we go for. It has been an organic and viral growth. Word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tactic that we have.

As advertised, is your company really only Yale graduates? Aside from academic excellence and achievement, what does this mean to others?

Originally my partner and I graduated from Yale in the same year. But, absolutely, as we continue to grow, we have some editors who went to other grad schools – all of them very competitive and rigorous grad schools. It means something just in that these people have applied to these schools and have been accepted, but it’s more about the work itself. We’re absolutely open to hiring from different pools.

Utilizing Medical School Secondary Essays | Ivy Eyes Editing

Hello everyone,

Many of you have already received notifications about secondary applications. This will come with a new wave of essays which have the potential to influence your admissions results. Notice that we didn’t say an excellent essay would guarantee admission. Your acceptance to a top medical school will also rely on other application criteria and your interview. That being said, essays are a great barometer for your communication skills, your analytical capabilities and your general personality. A great essay breathes life into a one-dimensional CV. So, how do you use the secondary essays to your full advantage?

Consider the following questions for Mount Sinai School of Medicine:

1. What makes you unique? How will you add to the medical community? How will you contribute to the diversity of the incoming class? (250-300 words)

2. Indicate the reasons for your specific interest in Mount Sinai. (250-300 words)

With Question 1, it’s important to dig deep into your experience. You may have shared your strongest stories in your AMCAS application, but that doesn’t mean they are off-limits here. Consider providing new details or magnifying your AMCAS stories to reveal something new. Also, remember your strengths cannot be fabricated. If you have a dearth of research experience, your ‘lab skills’ and/or ‘passion for research’ are not viable strengths–desperate attempts to ’round out’ your application will be transparent to any seasoned AdCom member. Additionally, think outside the box. Most applicants will explore the strengths that seem most relevant to medical school or a medical career; however, consider other qualities which will make you a great student contributor as well. Lastly, remember the content of these essays may be revisited by your interviewer, so only include information that you can authentically, honestly speak to in person.

With Question 2, it’s time to really do your research. Claims about ‘Mount Sinai being your top choice’ will inevitably fall short if you aren’t obviously informed about the curriculum design, research opportunities, program ethos and student culture. Dig for information beyond the website. Many of our clients find speaking to current students (the medical school community is small–and most current students will be open to talking and/or venting) provides a powerful lens into the interior of a school. While this may seem like a bold gesture to some applicants, MBA applicants have been doing it for years. Get the real story, beyond the website, and make a nuanced, compelling case for why Mount Sinai is the ultimate medical school for you. Lastly, remember nobody likes a sycophant! Avoid excessive flattery and keep your ‘case’ objective and concrete.

Ultimately, your secondary essays can play a vital role in your medical school applications. Take your time to polish your essays and ensure they present the strongest, most well-rounded application possible. However, don’t take too long–secondary essays should IDEALLY be submitted within 2 to 3 weeks of receiving your formal invitation to apply.

Need another set of eyes on your medical school secondary essays? Try IvyEyes :) Email us at for a free critique of your materials.

Ivy Eyes Editing

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