Applying to college can be a stressful process for high school seniors and their parents. In addition to the many forms that need to be filled out and submitted by various deadlines, long-form answers, including personal statements and supplemental essays, require extra attention to detail. And, now more than ever, every word counts.
For the past several years, Jacob Katz of JKEssays has been helping students with their college applications—advising them on personal statements, helping them research school-specific essays and creating comprehensive schedules revolving around deadlines. He helps them brainstorm and strategize the most effective ways to present their application and essays while helping them figure out which parts of their candidacy they should accentuate.
Helping students navigate and succeed at this process is something Jacob finds to be fulfilling because he too went through it. “I enjoy watching people slowly conquer this overwhelming process and realize it is something that they can do. A few of my students last year even told me they enjoyed it, and that was an incredible feeling,” he explained. “High school students are usually—and reasonably—stressed out about the whole admissions process. My goal is not to ignore the stress, but to overcome it with tangible results. Because I have gone through the process many times, I’m in a position to help them see it as a step-by-step journey,” Jacob explained. “And, when you’re led in the right direction, you take fewer steps, and each stride makes a greater impact.”
“I also think that I am particularly well-suited to work with students who are in Jewish private schools, because that’s where I come from…I felt the pressure, the angst, and I know how important it is to them and to their families—both today and down the line,” he added. “On a macro level I think this is an important job, because test scores matter less and essays matter more. It isn’t enough to just be a brilliant student and a talented writer. You need somebody who has gone through it, read hundreds of essays, like I have, to just help frame the student. Parents know their child is extraordinary, and it’s my job to help convey that to admissions officers. I love it.”
“I keep up with the news, the latest literature in the college admissions world, so that my clients can laser-focus on what matters. … If you ask any parent or student who has applied to college, it can feel like a full time job.”
So how exactly did Jacob come to be so familiar and comfortable with the laborious college-application process? Back in 2015, Jacob applied for and was accepted to a prestigious university in the United States. During his gap year in Israel studying at Yeshivat Orayta, he decided to enlist in the IDF, where he became a tzanchan (paratrooper) and spent the next two years in Israel. Because the university would not allow him to defer for another two years, he had to reapply to college during his military service. This time, he applied to almost a dozen more schools. But something peculiar happened: He started to “get the hang of it.”
Among the many schools he was accepted to, he chose to attend Princeton University. By the following year he had gained a following and began formally helping other students apply to college. Several of his students have written about their experiences working with Jacob, now posted on his website.
Currently a junior majoring in philosophy with a focus in creative writing, Jacob grew up traveling between Boca Raton, Florida and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He admits how he has always been interested in college essays and recalls how back in ninth and 10th grade he would regularly discuss college essay questions with his friends, and they would challenge each other to see how they might respond to the obscure prompts.
“On the one hand it challenges your ability as a writer, but it also challenges your ability to think critically about yourself, your identity. I encourage my students to ask themselves: How does my character shine through my experiences? What do I have that is unique, have I done something ordinary in a remarkable way and how else have I showcased my personality in related realms? These questions aren’t easy to answer. That’s what makes it so exciting, so rewarding,” he said.
Having worked with students from schools including Frisch, Ramaz and Hillel, Jacob charges $110 per hour and can assist clients not only with the essay portions of their college applications, but with the entire process, from creating an account to the final submission.
While the process varies by client, Jacob makes sure to maximize his time with each one.
Before every session, he knows what he needs to focus on and the specific topics they’ll cover together. After each meeting, he makes note of exactly what he expects from his student.
“Especially at this point in the admissions season, each student is at an entirely different stage. Some are just getting going, and others have already written eight supplements. I’ve had productive sessions with seniors—and ambitious juniors—at every juncture. There is always something that can be improved, and until your deadline passes, it’s never too late to start,” he said.
When it comes to writing essays, Jacob will sit with his students via Zoom and Google Docs and explain to them how to structure and present themselves in a way that captures their voice and will make them stand out. For clients who have limited time for Zoom calls, he will give his initial thoughts via Google Docs, making targeted suggestions and grammatical corrections in commenting mode. Once the client makes his or her corrections, the process can either repeat or proceed to a virtual meeting.
“Some students find it helpful to talk aloud, and others like thinking to themselves in a quiet room. I cater our time together to fit each student’s preferred, most productive mode of learning,” he expressed.
Jacob also assists with supplemental sections on college essays that applicants might take for granted, including the activities sections or cover letters for specific school disciplines, including art. He has developed a number of comprehensive resources on how to format and present activities. Knowing that an applicant has a limited number of characters in these sections, he gives examples on how to order them, describe them and title them.
Because colleges typically ask applicants why they are applying to their school in particular, Jacob has also developed resources to help his clients answer those questions in a step-by-step process that helps them formulate and structure the information in a way that is original and true to the applicant. “It’s a dance that you have to do, and I took time to lay out all the steps in a way that, at least I hope, makes sense.”
He feels strongly that we need to work together as a community to help our children gain admission into the schools they wish to attend; this kind of collaboration helps the community, as a whole, grow and thrive.
“When I was applying to college, I benefited tremendously by speaking and working with students a few years ahead of me. I think JKEssays serves an important function, and I know for myself that I’m working with a purpose.”