Expert SoFlo Tutor Julia Luyten wrote her college essays on a wide variety of topics in her life – from her experience at an addiction treatment center to her outdoor hobbies of skiing, hiking, and running. With these essays, she got into Stanford during the Regular Decision round and chose to attend partly because of all the unique school traditions.

Read on to learn about Julia’s approach to applying to colleges, as well as advice for students crafting their own stories and studying for the SAT!

Julia Luyten, Stanford ’25

How did you approach your college applications?

I took a “cast a wide net” approach to college applications. I applied to more than 20 schools. I applied to all the Ivies and Stanford, about 10 schools I would still like to attend, and then five safety schools, many of which I chose because they were close to home in Denver. In choosing schools, I looked at majors and programs I was interested in, both to see if the school was a good fit and to also have content to write about in the inevitable “why ___” essay.

I did EA to a school which I did not end up attending and got into Stanford RD (Stanford was actually the last school I ended up hearing back from). I also paid a fair amount of attention to researching non-academic aspects of student culture because being able to express exactly why you think you are a great fit in certain places really helps your chances of getting in.

Why did you choose Stanford?

I chose Stanford because I was excited by the major I ended up choosing (Symbolic Systems, which is essentially a mix of computer science and philosophy). I was also really excited by all of the quirky, fun elements of school culture: Full moon on the quad (a tradition where everyone gathers at midnight and kisses strangers – crazy, I know), Big game week (where Stanford goes all-out in our anti-Berkeley rivalry), beautiful co-ops to live in with peers and cook meals for entire houses, fountain hopping around campus in the spring, and more. I love California and preferred the warmer west coast to any East Coast option before me. 

What was your testing journey like?

I prepared for the SAT by putting special emphasis on repetition and practice. I believe that studying concepts is useful, but until you put your nose down and practice the actual test environment (time pressure, real problems, forcing yourself to do questions all the way through and then check them), I don’t think you are making as much progress towards preparing for the actual test. The most helpful resource for me was the practice books of hundreds of tests that one can just cycle through with or without a tutor. 

What did you write about in your college application essays? What aspects did you think made your application stand out?

For my common app essay, I wrote about the development and growth of my practice with mindfulness and meditation throughout high school. For other mini-essays, I wrote about my work at an addiction treatment center, my life growing up as a violinist, my learning of Mandarin Chinese, my best friendships, my dog, skiing, hiking, and running. I don’t believe there is anything that makes a topic the “right” thing to write about. Choose something authentic to you, fitting in the scope of the question, and write about it well. Try to come up with a fresh new perspective on the topic you are writing about. Present yourself as someone curious about the world and eager to learn. Be yourself!

Do you have any advice for students applying to colleges and taking the SAT/ACT?

Try to find a balance between applying to a broad range of places (so you don’t get stuck on the wrong side of bad luck) and not burning yourself out and lessening the quality of your apps. Don’t be afraid to repurpose essays that you really love across applications. What worked for me was picking an hour every day of junior summer/senior year to work on applications and trying to not let it seep into the rest of my life too much. Ask for help with proofreading from as many people as possible, if you are comfortable with it! In terms of taking the SAT/ACT, repeated practice is what I think is most helpful. That being said, we all know our study styles best, so speak up for your needs with a tutor. We are here to help you! 

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