Education Consulting

Boutique is an education consultancy that specializes in editing and enhancing the admissions application essay, as well as other education services. Founded by Juli Min, Harvard and Andover alumna.

Filtering by Category: college admissions

The "Why Us" Essay

Almost every college will ask you to answer the question "why us?" at some point or another - in written form on the application, or perhaps in person in an interview. 

This question is difficult because it's basically been asked of every applicant since the beginning of time. Which means that the admissions officers have heard all the typical, vague answers: beautiful campus, great location, great classes, great professors, my dad went there, my friend went there, my cousin's friend's wife went there.

The key is to be specific when you answer. That means you must think about who you are and how your needs are met by the college, and also how the college's needs are met by admitting you. You want the short answer to read like a mini personal essay. By that, I mean: you want it to reveal something new and very unique about yourself that isn't showcased elsewhere in your application. Remember, you don't want different parts of your application to be repetitive - you want to take every opportunity to show as many different sides of yourself as possible.

Here are some specific ways to be specific

  • School traditions: these can include annual traditions or festivals, social groups, or interest groups. Some examples might be prestigious music ensembles, an annual technology summit, etc. Make sure to elucidate how you would add to these traditions and groups.
  • School culture: If you are particularly academic, entrepreneurial, professional, or intellectual, and the school matches your personality, interests, and goals, explain how you are a good match. If you aren't the typical student for that school, explain how you might be able to mix things up a bit and bring something new to the school culture. 
  • Specific majors: Many universities have designed unique majors or courses of study, and take pride in that. If their custom-built curriculum is perfect for you, explain why. Again, explain what you'll also bring to the table in terms of new ideas, energy, and enthusiasm.
  • Curriculum: Does the idea of core classes appeal to you? Does a quarter system appeal to you over a semester system? In what style do you like to learn - fast vs. slow? professionally immersed vs. isolated academically? How does the school's system suit your learning style, and as always, how can you add value? 

Two Examples

For Middlebury College:

I remember vividly the time the Dissipated 8 from Middlebury College came to my school to give a performance. I fell in love with their a cappella rendition of the song Satellite. It was the first time I was exposed to Middlebury, as well as a cappella music, and the first time I'd heard contemporary songs arranged and sung so beautifully. I was hooked on the idea of a cappella, and the group gave me a great impression of the school.  

This is a personal anecdote about Middlebury that very few students can also have. If I were to write a Why Middlebury essay, I might start off with the performance of Satellite, perhaps describing how the song grows and expands, relating that to how I first was enamored with the college and then later came to learn more about it over the years. Then I could write about my love of language and Russian literature, and Middlebury's own Language schools and the wealth of opportunities they have to study language and culture. 

For Harvard: 

I could again mention my love of music, especially jazz and a cappella and how the Radcliffe Pitches are such a professional group with a long history and great opportunities to tour the world singing (disclosure - I sang for them in college, so I'm a little biased). Academically, I could write about the unique and also variable concentrations available at Harvard for studying literature, and why I want to study lit theory and languages through their Comparative Literature track. 

The "Why Us" essay is not easy. It requires you to know a lot about the college to which you are applying, and it also requires you to know a lot about yourself and your worth to an institution. Start off by looking deeply into both the college and also into yourself. Best of luck, and always reach out if you have questions.

China Lecture Tour - Spring '16

This winter things have been a little slow on the blog because I've been getting married in New York and away traveling on my honeymoon. :) Huge life changes, and I'm really excited for this next stage of my personal life. 

I've returned to Shanghai now, and in addition to preparing for a Chinese wedding in early April with my new Chinese in-laws and extended family, I'm happy to announce that I'm starting some work in the education consulting sphere on this side of the Pacific. 

I've partnered with one of the largest education consulting companies in Asia to prepare a speaking tour through eight cities next month, after the wedding. I'll be going from Beijing to Guangzhou lecturing on the value of a humanities education. If you're in China mid to late April, and you're interested in hearing my talk, please send me a message and I'll give you more information. I'll also post more details as the dates approach. 

What I'm looking forward to most is the opportunity to get out on the ground, so to speak, and meet and talk with students and parents from many of China's biggest and diverse cities. It's a great chance to learn about the questions, concerns, and issues Chinese families are facing today when thinking about education both abroad and at home.

See you out there!

Boutique Education: How I Work

My goal is to help essay writers analyze personal experience and transform it into compelling narrative. 

That being said, how does it happen? Below is an outline of what I do (and also what I don't do) to help writers on their quest to produce the best essays they can.

1. Preliminary Call. You've heard about me, usually through a reference. Once you reach out, we will arrange a time to talk and discuss your situation, your needs, my services, your preferred method of communication, and my fees. This conversation is usually 1 hour long, either with a parent or with the writer. There is no charge for this first conversation.

2. Brainstorm. If you have no idea what to write your essay about, we discuss possible topics by having brainstorm sessions about your interests, experiences, activities, hobbies, etc. All brainstorming notes and subsequent writings are saved on shared electronic documents.

3. Structure. Once several topics are selected, we discuss possible structures for the flow and organization of essays. 

4. Writing. The writer will produce a first draft. Once the draft is submitted, the next session can be scheduled.

5. Comments (Written Comments Only). I will make detailed comments and notes via the shared electronic document. My comments could include:

  • suggestions for improving overall structure and flow
  • suggestions for thematic improvement & impact
  • suggestions on how to improve style (e.g. humor, tone)
  • ideas for adding or removing or moving elements
  • pointing out where phrasing and wording could be stronger
  • highlighting grammar errors
  • noting inconsistencies and confusing sections 

Note that my comments will suggest the type of thematic, structural, stylistic, or grammatical change that could be made for improvement, but I will never offer written content to be used in the essay itself. I will advise on the essay; the writer must write every word.

6.  Comments (Video/In Person). I will meet with the writer either via video or in person and discuss the above improvements, typing out notes throughout the session. During this session, the writer may begin to work on changes or ask any questions about direction.  

7. Repeat. Until the writer is satisfied with the product, we repeat steps 4, 5, 6. Sometimes, if there is a change of heart about essay topic, we may return to step 2.


Johns Hopkins Essays That Worked

Johns Hopkins provides a set of essays from prior years' applicants that helped gain the students admission to JHU. See the list from their page Essays That Worked, here. As with my analysis of a successful essay that was published as part of a series on the NYTimes, I will here analyze one of JHU's. This essay is less sophisticated, or "crafted" than the NYTimes featured essay, but it is still good in its own right. 

I'm going to focus on the essay How to Become an Adult. The numbers beneath paragraphs refer to movements of thought (not necessarily sentence by sentence). It's pretty detailed, so I encourage you to open up the essay in another tab and follow along line by line as I go through what is working and how. Of course, experiment with this essay's structure and themes if you need help with your own. 

Paragraph A: Introduction of Subject, using hook, shock, and humor

  1. This essay opens with a fact that reflects the essay's title, but then moves quickly to confidently express the author's opinion - always a good move in a personal essay, and one that transforms a boring fact into a statement that says something about the writer.
  2. The next section shocks the reader - this college applicant is already a parent! Extending the function of the hook.
  3. The writer does not drag on the joke too long - that might even be alarming. In fact, the writer quickly acknowledges the truth that "children" are plants, and does so in a humorous way.
  4. The paragraph has a bit of a stiff close, wrapping up the intro, but it gets the job done. 

Paragraph B: Background Context and Introduction of Conflict and Personal Shortcoming

  1. The first three sentences function as background. Note that the author explicitly mentions that she is a teenager, assuaging any lingering doubts (or slow to realize readers) that she is not a non-traditional applicant with kids.  
  2. Introduction of a conflict.
  3. Analysis of conflict and what the writer's own actions reveal about herself.

Paragraph C: Resolution & Additional Benefits from Resolution

  1. Writer's initiative in solving the problem, while continuing the metaphor of parenting thereby emphasizing and reiterating the essay's theme.
  2. Other initiatives to solving the problem.
  3. Additional benefits to solving the problem.

Paragraph D: Growth and Relevance to Life at Large

  1. Note the writer opens this paragraph with the phrase "true reward," signaling a shift from the specific situation's effects and towards a more personal, academic direction.
  2. This paragraph is essentially a list of additional "life lessons" gained from being parent to plants.
  3. The essay ends by expounding on the writer's love of learning, obviously appropriate for a college essay. 

Ultimately this essay works mainly because of the uniqueness of the subject matter and the humorous somewhat shocking way the author introduces it to the reader. This essay is not about a national award, a leadership role, or even a fancy extracurricular. In fact, it is a private, personal experience (indeed, there is no way to "prove" she even had these plants!). Yet it works because, well, who writes about carnivorous plants? And how many essays written by teens start out with the topic of parenting? It's cleverly done, charmingly written, and circles back in the end to academics and learning.

I Said We’d Never Hire a College Admissions Adviser. Then We Did.

A fun article in the NYTimes about a mother who always swore she would never hire a college advisor then ended up hiring one. A lesson in never saying "never." The writer highlights the less obvious reasons why parents might want to hire help: a third party pushes and prods and questions the student, allowing the parents to play the role of support as opposed to nagging adversary. An adviser can hear the student objectively, talk to him objectively, and offer a new and better informed perspective.

See the article here.