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SEC Blog

Nine Hot Tips to Format Your Common Application Essay

Kim Duckworth - Wednesday, November 21, 2018

If you do need to submit a core Common App essay (you pick from one of 7 prompts; 250-650 words), here are some tips on how to format your common application essay:

  1. Compose your draft in either a Word file or Google docs. Do not craft it directly in the Common Application text box (You could lose your work)! If you use Word or Google docs, you can use their word count and, most importantly, the spell check feature. The Common App now allows you to upload Google docs directly from Google Drive. (Hint: If you want to use this feature, you might want to get a Gmail account that you use exclusively for these essays.) You can also copy and paste your Word or Google doc directly into the Common App text box.
  2. The Common Application essay text box does not allow tabbing. So make your paragraphs with block formatting (have a space in between each paragraph instead of an indentation.) You can format this way in your Word or Google doc, but make sure it translates after you either upload your Google doc, or copy and paste from the Word or Google doc.
  3. The Common Application essay text box only has formatting for Bold, Underline and Italics. I would format your essay along MLA guidelines (using italics for things like book titles, foreign words, those types of copyediting rules.), and then make sure they translate or carry over after you upload or copy and paste. If you lose the italics, use the Common App italics formatting to add them inside the text box. I see no reason to use either Bold or Underlining in your essays. Avoid gimmicky formatting, such as ALL CAPS, emojis or #hashtags.
  4. Avoid titles. Even though I think a snappy title can enhance an essay, I see no way to format it at the top of the Common App essay that would center it, and think it could be more of a distraction. If you really love your title, feel free to give it a try, but I think it will only stick on the far left of the first line. (If you go for it that way, maybe put it in Bold to make it clear it’s a title.)
  5. Do NOT include the prompt at the top of your essay. That only eats up precious words. With your Common App essay, you simply check the box that your essay lines up with the best.
  6. Supplemental (shorter) essays have similar formatting options. Use the same rules as above for these. Some do not provide a text box and require you to upload from Google docs or attach a Word file (converting it to a PDF.)
  7. Double check word counts. The Common App text box and text boxes for the supplemental essays show the minimum and maximum word counts, which is very helpful. After you copy and paste an essay, always scroll through it to make sure everything copies (and your formatting carried over) and make sure it’s within the word count requirement shown under the box.
  8. You can go back and make edits after you have submitted your essays. Even after you submit, go back and review to make sure it’s exactly how you wanted it.
  9. General rules for formatting drafts in Word or Google docs: Use a common font (Times New Roman, Arial, Cambria…), write in 12 pt font, double space.

Author, Kim P. Duckworth

Just got ACT or SAT scores from your High School’s Testing Event and need help understanding what they mean?

Kim Duckworth - Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Just got ACT or SAT scores from your High School’s Testing Event and need help understanding what they mean?  SEC can help.

FREE 30-minute consultation to help parents and students understand what the scores from recent ACT or SAT testing events mean.  We can compare ACT and PSAT and SAT scores to help you decide which test is the best one for your student to pursue for college placement and scholarship maximization.  We have already reviewed hundreds of results this year from February tests held on Chaparral, NDP and DMHS campuses.  Would love to help you decipher your results and maximize results and confidence for your student. 

The tests and the percentage of students taking each test is very different than it was when parents were taking the SAT and ACT for college placement.  No more analogies or penalty for guessing on the SAT.  More students in the US have taken the ACT than the SAT for college placement for over the past 7 years. VERY different from twenty-five plus years ago.  The two tests are very different and test very different skills.  One test is better for students with strong analytic skills who are comfortable in the world of “black and white”.   The other tests critical thinking skills and is better for students comfortable answering questions that may be “in the gray.” 

One requires students to complete over one third of the math test section without using their calculator.  One requires that the student answers about 22% of the math questions by calculating the answer on their own… multiple choice option.  Both require math knowledge through Algebra 2 (Algebra 3-4 for PVUSD students) with one having approximately 3 of 60 questions that deal with Trigonometry.  One math test has significantly more Geometry concepts than the other.  Surprisingly, 50% of one test score is driven by the math score, while only 25% of the other test is driven by the math score.  

One test has approximately 25% more reading questions.  One test has a science section.  One test is time sensitive.  One test has 30% more English grammar and Editing questions.  One test has charts and graphs embedded in the Reading section; the other does not.   

 Lots of things to consider when analyzing results.   Timing issues may be easier to fix for some students than trying to increase critical thinking ability.  Math scores can be greatly affected by the level of math that a student is currently taking.  For some students the math level on the test could be very old and for others it could be concepts that they have not yet learned in school. 

 Eleven years of reviewing tests with students and families help greatly in helping students determine the best test for them beyond just percentages, statistics, and percentiles.  Rather than just looking at national percentages, we can individualize the recommendations dependent on a student’s strengths and weaknesses and the likelihood that they can improve their scores with preparation and practice. 

Call SEC.  We can help create a test taking plan and ensure your student is taking the test best designed to help them get into college.  


What is the BEST winter holiday present? Buy your child a book!

Kim Duckworth - Monday, December 04, 2017

Books for Gifts

All ages appreciate a good book. 


Check out some of this year's best book gifts at: Barnes and Noble


  • Nobel Prize in Literature 2017 - Kazuo Ishiguro - 8 Books;  Most recent - The Buried Giant (2015)

  • ManBooker Prize 2017 - Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

  • Hugo Award - Best Novel 2017 - The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemish

  • Pulitzer Prize 2017 - The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

  • Caldecott Medal for Illustration:  Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe

  • Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Sophie Blackall and Lindsay Mattick

  • For students interested in the Legal Field -  The Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

10 adult books that appeal to teens:

  • The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

  • The Next Person You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

  • All Involved by Ryan Gattis

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

  • Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong

  • Girl at War by Sara Nović

  • Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

  • Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton

  • Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia

  • Undocumented: A Dominican Boy's Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League by Dan-el Padilla Peralta

  • The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen

Not sure what you are good at?  Hoping to find your Superpower?  Try Reading:

Strengthsfinders 2.0 by Tom Rath  

The Pulitzer Books:



The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Sweat by Lynn Nottage
Evicted by Mathew Desmond
Blood in the Water by Heather Ann Thompson
The Return by Hisham Matar
Olio by Tychimba Jess

Some favorites from SEC tutors for middle and high schoolers include:

  • Wonder by R.J. Palacia

  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (high school)

  • Night by Elie Wiesel (high school)

  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck....("If you don't cry at the end of this may not be human.")

  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (high school)

  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (middle school/ high school)

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (high school)

  • The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

  •  Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown ( a MUST read)

  • Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

  •  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou


Also don't forget the possibility of a magazine subscription. for an area of interest:  National Geographic,  Astronomy, Psychology Today, Business Week, Chemistry World, Poetry Magazine, etc. 

If your child has a "hero" you can also think about a biography or autobiography on that individual.  There are some fabulous ones out now about several of the country's founding fathers.

What Are The  Eligibility  Requirements for College Athletic  Associations?

Kim Duckworth - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Always talk with your coach about specific requirements for your sport, but following are broad brush eligibility guidelines for the NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA.  If you go to the NCAA site you can also get detailed information about what courses at a specific high school are accepted under their guidelines.  Also do not forget to copy the NCAA on your final transcript and SAT or ACT test score after you graduate to ensure Div. 1 & Div. 2 eligibility. 

NCAA (over 1,000 member colleges) - Division I and Division II colleges can offer athletic scholarships; Division III colleges (mostly smaller, private colleges) cannot. Division III athletes do not need to meet NCAA academic requirements. Athletes going to Division I and II colleges must have a minimum GPA in a specified number of core courses. They must also have the required ACT or SAT score. ACT/SAT requirements for Division I eligibility are based on a sliding scale. The higher a student's core GPA, the lower the test score required. Athletes should plan to take the ACT and/or SAT in or before the Spring of their junior year. To initiate the eligibility process, athletes need to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. This should be done at the beginning of an athlete's junior year. For additional information, go to: 

NAIA (over 300 member colleges) - NAIA colleges can award full or partial scholarships. To play a sport or receive an athletic scholarship, an athlete must meet two of the following three NAIA requirements: 1) have the required ACT or SAT score; 2) have an overall GPA of 2.0 on a 4.0 scale; 3) graduate in the top half of his/ her class. For more information, go to:

NJCAA (over 500 member colleges) - Division I and Division II junior colleges can offer scholarships; Division III colleges cannot. There are no academic eligibility requirements for athletes entering junior colleges. For additional information, go   

Congratulations Ashley Hohaus and Josh Pantier

Kim Duckworth - Thursday, March 24, 2016

Congratulations Ashley Hohaus (Pantier)! Charros Fellowship Winner!

SEC hopes you will join us in congratulating Ashley Hohaus who was one of only two teachers chosen for the Charros 2016 Fellowship Award. The award will help Ashley work towards her Masters degree and even further elevate her teaching prowess. Ashley is available for tutoring on Thursdays from 4 to 6 pm. For more details of this prestigious award please click here.  


Also wish to congratulate Ashley on her recent marriage to another Scottsdale Education Center rock star teacher/tutor, Josh Pantier.  We congratulate them both on their recent nuptials.

New Competitor to the Common Application

Kim Duckworth - Thursday, March 24, 2016

Unveiling in April 2016:

  • University of Washington, University of Florida and University of Maryland College Park will use exclusively for 2017 applicants for admissions

  • New online admissions/application tool will compete with the space now occupied by the Common Application

  • 91 member colleges will use in total. Most will also accept the Common Application 

  • The Locker, the most controversial of the Coalition’s college planning tools is a place for students to store documents for college applications. Examples of what a student might store in “The Locker” would be a resume, a graded assignment, a research paper, a scientific abstract, a video or a recording.

  • Partnered with Naviance in the second year

  • Future for The Coalition application may or may not allow for common essay that can be viewed by all colleges. Some member colleges may individualize their application without a common essay available. 

The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success.

SEC Leadership Scholarship Award

Kim Duckworth - Thursday, March 24, 2016

Scottsdale Education Center is excited to announce their first Leadership Achievement Scholarship of $500 to Marcy Ross.

Marcy RossMarcy is graduating from Paradise Valley High School and will be attending ASU in the Fall 2015 where she will be majoring in Nursing. Marcy is a 4 year varsity swimmer, swim instructor and lifeguard, a gifted musician (violinist) and has worked an average of 20 hours a week since she was 16 years old. She volunteers on a regular basis with Teens in Nursing, Paradise Valley Hospital, the PVHS Nurses Office, and Hospice of the Valley. She is also actively involved with HOSA ( the Future Health Professionals Organization) and received a HOSA scholarship She has passed her Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) certification test and has done all of this while maintaining a 3.9 GPA. She has been actively involved in pursuing a career in nursing for the past three years. Congratulations Marcy Ross.

Good Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities

Kim Duckworth - Monday, February 22, 2016

Good Colleges for students with Learning Disabilities and ADD/ADHD  

Some colleges to consider if your student/child has need for additional academic support in college due to a Learning Disability or ADHD.  This list is from college academic and is listed as schools where students with a learning disability have the highest chances of succeeding. Huffington Post was also instrumental in developing the list:  (alphabetically listed)

  • American University
  • Augsburg College
  • Beacon College
  • Curry College
  • DePaul University 
  • Drexel University
  • Hofstra College
  • Landmark College
  • Landmark College
  • Lynchburg University
  • Lynn University
  • Marist College
  • McDaniel College
  • Mitchell College
  • Muskingum University
  • Northeastern University
  • University of Arizona - SALT program- *Very highly ranked nationally*
  • University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
  • University of Connecticut
  • University of Denver
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Vermont
  • West Virginia Wesleyan College
  • Wingate College

SEC Attended the 2016 Camp Fair AZ

Dave Duckworth - Monday, February 01, 2016
SEC attended the 2016 Camp Fair AZ sponsored by Raising Arizona Kids! Summer camps are now accepting registration. 


SEC Students Score Well on PSAT

Dave Duckworth - Friday, January 01, 2016

Scottsdale Education Center is proud to announce that PSAT scores are in... 
7 students who were prepped at SEC received 99 Percentile 
(almost perfect scores)

Congratulations to: Laura, Maia, Surrein, VJ, Alyssa, Tingting and Eric