Tutor Talks: College Essay Help from Princeton’s Peter G.

Summer is officially over, which means the return of school work, extracurricular activities, and after-school jobs. For rising high school seniors, there’s also the looming task of writing college admissions essays. Today we’re back with more college admissions essay writing tips, this time from Peter G., a student at Princeton and InstaEDU college admissions tutor.

Meet Peter: A Princeton student and  college admissions tutor on InstaEDU

Meet Peter: A Princeton student
and college admissions tutor on InstaEDU

On Getting Inspired

I think a lot of my college essay was written when I was not writing… [when I was] running on the track and feeling the turf beneath my feet or speaking Shakespeare for the first time and finding the iambs surprisingly similar to that turf. These natural curiosities and innate observations were swirling around in my head when I sat down in my quiet room to set these ideas on paper. I began thinking of an igloo I built one winter with my dad when I was a little kid, remembering how safe and warm it felt within its walls. I couldn’t stop thinking about this igloo and feeling it again. Then, I began writing — anything, everything that came to mind, realizing in reverse the reason why this igloo was on my mind. It was a place where I felt the same warmth I experienced while reading, the flow of iambic pentameter, the connection of meeting someone’s eyes when acting.

Focusing on a Core Idea

My essay was all about valuing subtle connections, however small: person-to-person connections and connections between ideas. That feeling of connection I had with my father in the igloo was itself linked to others in my mind — how it felt to speak verse, for instance. I was writing about the universally connecting experience of empathy that makes us human. I didn’t state this outright, though, but rather let the images within the essay express what I was trying to say. This felt much more natural. Even after editing the essay many, many times, I chose to leave it like this, only adding one sentence near the end as a summation of the essay’s discovery. I chose to follow this summation sentence by once again bringing it back to the personal, describing the igloo and my father’s face, experiencing that feeling of warmth and happiness on the page through the act of writing.

The Surprise of Writing

And this was the most pleasant surprise of writing the college essay. I had always felt uncomfortable writing about myself. Through writing this essay, though, I discovered that the best way to write about oneself is not to write about oneself. Through describing a central image, the igloo, I was able to write in my own voice, see it through my own eyes.

Closing Advice

My advice to applicants writing college essays would be to settle on a central image — a person, place, object, historical event, anything, which is of great importance to them. For instance, write as much or as little as feels natural about a significant person in your life. Then, write about a significant place. Next, write about an object. These may all wind up in the same essay even. At the very least, you will get a feel for the unique format of the college essay which requires you to write about yourself without writing about yourself. Starting this process early is very important. Common App prompts don’t change that much year to year and you can fit these topics into any essay prompt. The more specific and personal you can be, the better. The more personally you write, the more you will begin to experience again what you recount and in so doing, reveal your own unique perspective.

Princeton snow triangle sculpture

Princeton snow triangle sculpture

Epilogue to the college essay story

I chose to attend Princeton in the fall and encountered many a triangle made of snow outside the dormitories. (For those who aren’t Princeton folklore buffs, these snowy creations were inspired by Princeton Triangle Club, a musical group which once featured F. Scott Fitzgerald). Every time I passed a snow triangle, I would think of home and that igloo from years ago.

If you’d like to read Peter’s college admissions essay, you can find a read-only version of it here.

If you’re looking for more college admissions essay writing help, stay tuned for more posts in the Tutor Talks series on college admissions essay writing — coming throughout this fall on the InstaEDU blog. And make sure to get in touch with Peter G. and our nearly 2,000 college admissions tutors on InstaEDU for one-on-one college essay writing guidance. Be sure to follow us on Instagram @instaedu_tutoring and on Snapchat at ‘instaedu’ to unlock more Tutor Talks content.

Tutor Talks: College Essay Help from UCLA’s Kate K.

August is here and that means it’s just about time for rising high school seniors to start thinking about (and working on!) their college admissions essays. Why start now? It can be difficult to work on your essay once school has started since college essays compete with school work, extracurricular activities, and part-time jobs for your time. That’s why in a new series, we’re giving you behind-the-scenes access to some of InstaEDU’s expert college admissions tutors — how they approached the essay, challenges they faced, and a look at the essays that got them admitted to their dream schools.

This week, we’re excited to feature rising UCLA senior Kate K. an InstaEDU college admissions tutor.


Kate in her high school cap and gown in her small hometown of Three Rivers just south of California’s Sequoia National Park

InstaEDU: How early did you start writing your main college admissions essay?

Kate: I started writing my college admissions essay the summer before I applied to college.

InstaEDU: That’s great that you started early! What was your approach to starting to write your essay?

Kate: I knew the essay needed to communicate who I am as a person. I started thinking about what makes me, well, me. What am I excited about? What is a defining characteristic about myself? Once I answered these questions, it was easy to continue writing.

InstaEDU: So what was your essay about?

Kate: I wrote about how growing up in a small, rural town (a defining characteristic about myself) made me who I am today — someone who loves natural history and science.

Kate K, College Admissions Tutor

At the age of 9, Kate already loved spending time in the wild outdoors near her home

InstaEDU: What do you think the main take away or theme from your essay was?

Kate: The main theme of my essay was passion. I wrote about how, in the beginning, I wasn’t passionate about my town — I hated being in a small town, I took it for granted. Then, as I grew up, I realized I loved the life sciences and wanted to pursue it in the future. My new passion was all because I was surrounded by nature as a child.

InstaEDU: What did you learn through the college essay writing process?

Kate: Writing the college essay really made me think about who I am and what I like about myself. I learned about what fascinates me, what makes me jump up and down with excitement, and I have been chasing that down ever since identifying it.

InstaEDU: What’s one thing you wish you knew before you submitted your college admissions essay?

Kate: I wish I knew that it isn’t about how well you write or what’s happened in your life that makes an essay good. What makes an essay good is having a strong topic and following it throughout the paper. Identify what you love. Talk about what you love. Talk about why you love it. Talk about how it’s made you who you are. If you show you are a passionate person about the world, well, colleges love it when people get excited about things because they know that they will stick with it.

InstaEDU: What tips would you offer students who are starting to try and figure out their essay topics?

Kate: What makes an essay stick out to people is you identifying what makes you, well YOU, and what kind of person that makes you. If you like sports, awesome, write about that, but also you need to bring it around and talk about how it makes you more of a team player or a competitive person (in a good way). If you like playing your oboe, fantastic! Write about what you love about the oboe, but also how playing the oboe takes a lot of practice and you are now a more dedicated individual because of it. You get the picture, I hope. Also, don’t use the synonym option in Microsoft Word. Don’t try and sound smarter or like someone else. You have to communicate who YOU are as best as YOU can. Often times if you try and sound smarter, it can come across as dispassionate.

If you’re looking for more college admissions essay writing help, stay tuned for more posts in the Tutor Talks series on college admissions essay writing — coming throughout this fall on the InstaEDU blog. And make sure to get in touch with Kate K. and our nearly 2,000 college admissions tutors on InstaEDU for one-on-one college essay writing guidance. Be sure to follow us on Instagram @instaedu_tutoring and on Snapchat at ‘instaedu’ to unlock more Tutor Talks content.

5 Ways to Save Money this School Year


There’s no getting around the fact that college is expensive. Beyond tuition and housing, there are tons of expenses … and when you add them all up, they can cost you thousands of extra dollars that you haven’t budgeted for. But just because college is expensive, that doesn’t mean it should be expensive for you. Here are our top 5 ways to save money on campus this year.

Save money on textbooks by renting instead of buying

If you’re taking five classes and each professor requires that you purchase a textbook, you could easily be out more than $1,000 (just for fall semester!). Instead, rent textbooks from Chegg, where you can save up to $500 on textbooks alone. When you’re done with your books at the end of the quarter or semester, just send them back to Chegg.

Score free food (and get smarter at the same time)

Sick of dining hall food? Can’t stand the sight of another grilled cheese sandwich? Check out the lectures and events that academic departments are sponsoring on campus. Not only do most of them have food at the end (think cheese plates, fresh fruit and the occasional glass of wine), but the lectures themselves are often super interesting and a great way to expose yourself to subjects you’d never take a full class on but are still fascinated to hear more about. Often student groups also have free food at events, so pay attention to those Facebook invites and on-campus flyers, and plan your meals accordingly.

Volunteer to get behind the scenes access to big ticket events

Your school may have national champion athletics teams (hello, Stanford) or may regularly host amazing performances (hi, NYU). At some schools, tickets to campus events are free for students, but at others, admission can get pricey. Want to save your cash and attend live events for free? Volunteering is an easy way to get instant access. Selling tickets, manning the door, working on marketing (i.e. chalking and flyering) are just a few ways you can trade your time for free access.

Leave your car at home

Owning a car is a big expense; not only will you pay for gas, insurance and maintenance, but on many campuses you’ll also need to pay for parking permits (and for the inevitable tickets you get when you don’t pay for the right parking permits…). Yes, it’s convenient to have a car. Is it necessary? On most campuses, not really. Buy a cheap bike, get acquainted with the bus options, and spring for the occasional cab or Lyft. Even occasionally taking a cab will still be cheaper than the total expensive for owning and maintaining a car.

Work with an InstaEDU tutor (or work AS an InstaEDU tutor)

If you look around various departmental bulletin boards, you’ll see students advertising their tutoring services for $30-$50/hour. InstaEDU tutoring is available for just $24/hour, and you don’t need to travel to the library to meet up with your tutor. Feel like an expert yourself? Apply to become an InstaEDU tutor and make $20/hour.

What are some other ways you can save on campus this fall? Let us know in the comments below!


Meet InstaEDU’s new lesson space, just in time for back-to-school

InstaEDU Lesson Space

Making online tutoring just as effective as in-person tutoring (if not more!) has always been our goal at InstaEDU. A big part of that is our lesson space, which has come to boast not only video chat, a whiteboard and a text editor, but also a code editor, screen sharing, whiteboard enhancements like a grid and math shapes, LaTeX, and much more.

Today we’re thrilled to introduce the next upgrade to InstaEDU’s lesson space. It has all the features you’ve come to know and love, coupled with some big improvements that will make your lessons more effective than ever before. When you start your next lesson, you’ll see some immediate visual changes (woah! green!), but behind the new colors and new design, there’s big new functionality, too. Curious what we’ve added?

Resizable Whiteboard: Once you’re in a lesson, your whiteboard will scale to fit your browser window. Need more space? Increase the size of your whiteboard by resizing your browser. And, if you’re working on an 11-inch laptop and your tutor is using a large external monitor, our system understands that and sizes each of your whiteboards to fit accordingly. The end result: it will be easier to work on complicated problems that require lots of computation, as well as keep all your work for multiple problems on one page, instead of using multiple whiteboard pages.

Flexible Chat: You can now drag the windows for video/audio chat and text chat around your lesson space. Instead of requiring that both be banked on the left-hand side of your lesson space, you can place video, audio and text chat where you want them (or easily minimize them if you like!). This is super useful if you’re doing a video lesson and don’t need text chat, or a text lesson and don’t need audio — the new lesson space lets you choose how to make the most of the space on your screen.

Full-Size Attachments: If you’re working on a problem set or other document that you’d like to upload to the lesson space, your document will now upload at its full size, making it easy for you and your tutor to see and review it. If the upload is larger than your current whiteboard, just scroll to see the entire attachment.

Shapes & Colors: We’ve added some new shapes (hexagons and pentagons, which are especially useful for chemistry lessons) as well as new colors to the whiteboard.

If you want to play with the new lesson space before your next lesson, you can check it out in the demo lesson space. We’re listening to your feedback, adding the features you ask for most frequently, and continuing to push forward on our goal to make InstaEDU tutoring as effective as it can be. We’d love to hear your thoughts, so let us know in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or over Twitter.

Meet an InstaEDU Intern, Part 2

InstaEDU Intern Xiao XA couple of weeks ago we introduced you to Andre H., one of our summer interns. Today, I’m excited to introduce our second engineering intern, Xiao X., a rising senior from Cornell University. Xiao’s first day was actually the day we announced we were joining Chegg, so he’s definitely had an exciting start to his summer.

Here he gives us a little behind the scenes look at why he chose to intern for InstaEDU, what he’s excited about working on, and his big plans for the summer.

Welcome to InstaEDU! What are you going to be working on this summer? 
Thanks! Very excited to be here. I’m a software engineer, and so far I’ve been fixing little annoying bugs in our code. After getting more familiar, I’ll spin out some cool new features for our tutors and students. Stay tuned…

Why did you want to intern at InstaEDU? What was exciting to you about the company? 
I actually tutor on InstaEDU and made quite a bit of money. Heard about it from a friend and Insta-ntly (hehe) loved it. It’s super easy. Super convenient. Never had a bad experience, and the students are always appreciative. I also wanted to learn how startups are managed, and coming to a startup whose service I use was a no-brainer.

What do you hope to do when you graduate?
No idea.

What was your favorite subject in school growing up? 
History. I love reading about ancient civilizations, especially about dynasties in China and how the country transformed. I’m also interested in the rise of major religions, and how Jesus and Muhammad inspired so many followers (over 3.6 billion today) millennia after their deaths.

Anything you’re excited about checking out in the Bay Area this summer while you’re here?
Coming from a freezing New York, the weather and the beach are a constant lure here. Maybe checkout all the cool companies in Silicon Valley. I’m also hoping to make a trip to Disneyland in L.A. sometime. It’s gonna be a great summer.

Interested in interning or working at InstaEDU? We are hiring!

Exciting news: InstaEDU is joining Chegg!

It’s an exciting day at InstaEDU HQ — we are thrilled to announce that InstaEDU is being acquired by Chegg. Chegg has been a close partner of ours for the past year and shares our mission of improving the lives of students. Through working together, we’ve seen an opportunity to combine forces and build an amazing platform for students and tutors everywhere, one where it’s possible to rent a textbook (digital or hard copy!), ask a quick homework question, research a scholarship opportunity, and then access a tutor, all in the same place.

What does this mean for our current students and tutors? This is just the beginning and we have big plans for InstaEDU. As part of Chegg we’ll continue to operate as we always have, but with their resources behind us, we’ll be able to build out new features and improve the InstaEDU experience even more quickly. With that said, our end goal remains the same; getting students connected to amazing tutors, whenever help is needed.

Read the press release here: http://investor.chegg.com/press-releases/press-release-details/2014/Chegg-Agrees-to-Acquire-a-Leading-Online-Tutoring-Network-InstaEDU/default.aspx

Have questions? We’re here to answer them! Just send an email to support@instaedu.com.

Meet an InstaEDU summer intern (and get to know our entire team a little better)

andreSummer is always an exciting time for us because it means we get to welcome interns at InstaEDU HQ (and of course, make big plans for back to school). This summer, we have two great interns joining us on the engineering side of things and can’t wait to see what they build (hint: interns here do a LOT more than fetch coffee — in fact, we’ve never had an intern fetch coffee for anyone except him or herself). We asked Andre Haas, one of our engineering interns and a rising junior at UC Berkeley, a few quick questions so we could get to know him better. Here we go!
Welcome to InstaEDU! What are you going to be working on this summer?
Thanks! As an software engineering intern, I will be working together with the other developers on tasks to improve InstaEDU’s service.
Why did you want to intern at InstaEDU? What was exciting to you about the company?
I was attracted by the opportunity to participate in sprints and work on tasks to directly improve the product. I believe that InstaEDU will be a great place for me to gain real work experience, since I will be working side-by-side with full-time engineers.
What do you hope to do when you graduate?
Although I have not completely decided on my career path after graduation, I am considering pursuing a Master’s or doctoral degree. On the other hand I see the appeal of directly entering the work force and growing my knowledge and skills that way.
What was your favorite subject in school growing up?
Overall, my favorite subject in school was math; however I particularly enjoyed taking AP Computer Science in high school as well. It really sparked my already growing interest in computer science at the time.
Anything you’re excited about checking out in the Bay Area this summer while you’re here?
Although I live in Berkeley, working in San Francisco is an opportunity to learn about the food here and familiarize myself with the city.
We’re thrilled Andre has joined us for the summer, and we’re always looking for more great people to join the InstaEDU team on a permanent basis. If you’re interested in learning more about the team and what we’re working on over here, make sure to check out our newly updated Jobs page. Our team is growing quickly and we’re currently hiring for a variety of roles in our development and product teams. If you’re as excited about InstaEDU as we are, we’d love to hear from you!