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Dr. Jennifer B. Bernstein

(516) 362-1929


Click on the blue text to access my blog posts on these topics.


“Guide to Common Application Essay Topics (2018-2019)”:  Get my tips on the new application essay prompts (and revisions to existing topics).

“Common Application Essay Topics for 2016-2017 ”: This post is still useful. You’ll learn more about what actually goes on when members of admissions committees get together and the importance of considering your audience.

“Common Application Instructions & Essay Topics ”: Receive strategies that empower you to come up with creative approaches to the Common App essay prompts.

“Techniques Used in the Best College Application Essays”: Get tips on writing compelling opening paragraphs and conclusions, introducing twists and variations, how to show admissions officers your process (not just your products), and revealing shifts and perspectives on experiences. We look very closely at an actual college application essay.

“How to Find a Unique Angle for Your Common Application Essay”: Learn innovative strategies for discovering just the right angle and scope for your Common App essay. I give you a case study of how a student could adapt her specific interest and conflict to come up with interesting ways of responding to different Common App essay topics.

“Harvard Can Help You Write an Amazing Common Application Essay”: Scroll down in this article to access “Goose Creek,” “Dad’s Girlfriend,” and “Exposed”–powerful personal narratives by Harvard students. I explain what makes these narratives so compelling and how to use them as a creative springboard for your own essays.


“Writing a Great Common App Essay on an Experience that `Sparked a Period of Personal Growth”: This prompt asks you to “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”

Learn why choosing this essay topic can help you get to the heart of something that matters a great deal to college admissions officers. Access a case study of a student (now at Stanford) who was originally going to write her essay on a failure and how we transformed it into a powerful narrative about how an experience with a judge triggered major “personal growth.”

“Common Application `Problem’ Essay Topic”: This prompt asks you to “Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.”

Learn what kinds of problems matter to admissions officers, how to expand your sense of what constitutes a problem, and how to avoid oversimplification. I’m also sharing questions to help you start coming up with ideas for your essay.

“Should You Write About `a Time When You Questioned or Challenged a Belief or Idea?'”: This prompt asks you to “reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?”

Many students have avoided writing application essays in response to this prompt. In 2015-2016, for instance, only four percent of students wrote their essays about challenging a belief or idea, perhaps because the original wording of the prompt was intimidating.

Discover why you shouldn’t be intimidated by this essay prompt and get my tips on creative ways of responding to it.

“Why You Should Write About Failure In Your Application Essay ”: The new version of this Common App essay prompt is: “The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

Get the inside scoop on why colleges value students who are capable of handling setbacks. Learn what the admissions team at MIT has to say about the significance of failure. Discover what you should avoid doing if you write about “a challenge, setback, or failure.” Get my strategies for structuring essays on this essay topic.

“How to Successfully Apply to Engineering Programs at TUFTS, MIT, PRINCETON, STANFORD, and UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA”: Learn more about what really matters to admissions officers when they are reviewing applications from students applying for engineering programs. This post also covers issues related to recommendations and extracurricular projects, but if you’re working on your application essays read it through that lens. Think about how you can apply what I’m telling you about specific character traits and experiences to the content and structure of your Common Application essay as well as your supplemental essays.


“How to Write Great Supplemental Application Essays for BROWN, CALTECH, COLUMBIA, CORNELL, NYU, and the UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA”: Get my tips on how to develop compelling “Why us?” application essays that avoid the cliches often found in supplements for Brown, Columbia, and NYU. Learn how to demonstrate your intellectual curiosity, the evolution of your interests, and how you’ll pursue them through the resources available at the specific universities.

“How to Write a Great Cornell Supplement and Strategies for Younger Students Considering Cornell”: Learn why positioning yourself in relation to Cornell’s specific undergraduate colleges is very important, get the Cornell supplement topics for each of the schools and advice on how to approach them. Case studies included. UPDATED FOR 2018-2019.

“Do Coursera and edX Classes Matter in College Admissions?”: Scroll down in the post to get creative strategies for how you can integrate these free online courses into your supplemental application essays.

“Can an Essay on Pizza Really Get You Into Yale?”: I bust some myths associated with Carolina Williams’ Papa Johns pizza essay, explain what’s really so important about her essay, and help you understand Yale’s supplemental essays.


“Write a Better College Application Essay in Just 16 Minutes ”: Watch me review a student’s application essay and learn how to transform a boring essay into an interesting one, what to do if your application essay seems cliché, how to find the right angle, how to write exciting opening paragraphs, and more.

“Should You Read This PRINCETON Application Essay?”:  Learn why you need to take risks in your Common Application essay and how read sample college admissions essays. Watch me critique a Princeton supplemental essay.

“Read a STANFORD Student’s Essay & Write a Better Common Application Essay”: I point out the strengths of this personal narrative and how you can use it as a source of inspiration.