Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


Leave a comment

How to Write 2015 Common App Essay #4: Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve

how to write 2015 common application essay problem you've solved or would like to solveThe Common Application essay topics are out.

How do you choose which essay to write?

This 5 part series helps you figure out which question on the 2015 Common Application essay is right for you.

Ready for number 4? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #4:

Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Problem you’ve solved or would like to solve”“Personal importance”“No matter the scale”

Do the Keywords Apply to You?

Answer yes IF

  • You’ve identified a problem with meaning and importance to you.
  • You can see down the road from problem to possible solution.
  • You have actively worked on a solution OR you have plans for a solution but haven’t put them into action yet.

how to write 2013 common app essayPitfalls to Avoid:

  • The problem isn’t meaningful enough to you. Sure, you could write about lobbying for longer lunch periods at school, but so what? Don’t be superficial. Your story should tell the colleges what you value and give them an idea of your outlook on life.
  • Vague or generic essays. Essays should never be generic, but keep a special eye out if you’re writing about “larger” problems. For instance, if you say, “The world has too many people and I want to do something about it” — that is not specific enough. Gather your facts and know what you’re talking about.
  • Don’t forget the question has three parts: (1) Describe a problem; (2) Explain its significance to you; (3) Identify a solution. You must answer all three parts.

Great News! This Question is Broad — There are Many Ways to Answer:

  • You saw a problem and implemented the solution. (“When I saw that the kids at the teen center didn’t always have enough nice clothes to wear, I set up a “free clothes” rack inside the door. Now they can take anything they want.”)
  • You haven’t implemented the solution, but you can explain it. (“Now that my partners and I have identified the source of the pollution flowing into the river, I plan to work with local authorities to set up a better monitoring system to prevent future spills.”)
  • Your topic is small in scope. Don’t mistake small for mundane, boring, or unimportant. If you’ve found a solution to an everyday problem of personal importance, write about it! I always tell my students, “You don’t have to have something big to write about. The topic just has to have meaning for you.”
  • Your topic is large in scope. If you prefer to tackle bigger problems, this prompt lets you do that. If you’re not sure, ask yourself, “If I had the power, what kind of lasting change would I like to see in the world or in my community, and how would I achieve it?” It’s okay to dream big with this essay — just make sure to include a possible solution and be as specific as you can. (“After I saw how locusts destroyed the harvest, I realized that if scientists could understand more about insect life cycles, then we might be able to save the crops and even combat hunger. That’s why, in college, I want to set up a research study and use mathematical applications to help predict these terrible years.”)

What Colleges Learn About You From This Question:

  • Your problem-solving skills.
  • How you think when you’re faced with challenges.
  • An idea or experience you truly value. Hooray! This is a major part of what colleges look for. Did you devote one of your birthday celebrations to raising funds for an animal in need of medical care? They’ll see you’re compassionate. Did you find a new meeting place for seniors after fire destroyed their first venue? They’ll see you’re determined. The problem and solution you choose to write about tell the colleges who you are.

Write a Winning Essay — Tell a Story

This essay prompt lends itself to story telling, which is one great way to write a winning essay. Here’s an example of how you might structure this essay:

  • Begin with the action in your story. (This is an excellent way to draw in your reader.) Start at the moment you discovered or realized the problem.
  • Set the scene for the reader. Explain where you were, why you were there, and what you were doing.
  • Discuss who/what was affected by the problem and why that was meaningful to you.
  • Explain how you came up with a possible solution (Research? Thought? Talking to people?) Colleges like to see how you think, so include your decision-making process.
  • Make sure you identify your solution, or what you might like to see as a solution.

Next time: How to Write Common App prompt #5.

Also in this series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: A Time you Experienced Failure
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills

Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


Leave a comment

How to Write 2015 Common App Essay #3: Reflect on a Time When You Challenged a Belief or Idea

how to write 2015 Common Application #3 Time You Challenged a Belief or IdeaHooray! You’re applying to college!

How do you choose which Common Application essay to write?

In this 5 part series I’ll help you figure out which question on the 2015 Common Application essay is the right one for you.

  • In my last 2 posts I covered Common Application Essay Prompt #1 and Prompt #2.
  • In coming weeks I’ll cover #4 and #5.
  • For the entire list of 2015 Common Application essay prompts click here.

Ready for number 3? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #3:

Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Challenged a belief or idea” “Prompted you to act”…”Would you make the same decision again?”

When Should You Choose This Essay?

Answer this question ONLY IF:

  • You were confronted with a belief or idea which you felt compelled to challenge or change.

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid:

  • Understand the keywords. “Challenged a belief or idea” means that you took some kind of action either on your own behalf or on the behalf of someone or something else.
  • This question has THREE parts — don’t leave one out. Discuss what prompted you to act, then reflect on your decision and say whether you’d do it again.
  • Don’t forget to include a learning experience. What did you learn? How did you grow?

Is this Question Only About Religion? No.

It certainly encompasses religion. I’ve had students who chose to write about different aspects of their spiritual journey, whether it was trying to conform to their parents’ religion, or searching for their own truth. But don’t run from this question! Give it some thought.

Not Sure This Question Relates to You?
Here are 3 ways you might answer this question:

  • Were you told by an adult that you wouldn’t be successful in an activity, but you chose to pursue it anyway?
  • Did you challenge what a group of friends told you to do because you thought they were wrong?
  • Did you see someone being treated unfairly (perhaps even yourself) and attempt to rectify it?

Example of a Successful Essay Topic

  • A student’s elementary school teacher wasn’t a kind woman and picked on many of the children in her class. As a result, the student’s self esteem suffered and her grades dropped. It took a long time for the student to learn to stand up for herself. When she did, she began not only to excel; she also became a leader and a mentor. The student spoke to groups of teens about prejudice and discrimination. She taught them about the harmful power of words, and how to use words in a positive way.  In her essay she explained why she would make the same decision again: “My passion for making a difference stems from my own experiences where negative criticism created a lasting effect on me…Becoming emotionally and physically independent and having the confidence to challenge social norms have become the most powerful tools in my possession.”

Is This Topic Successful? Yes.

•    All the keywords are addressed. The student told her story, described what prompted her to act, and explained why she would make the same decision again.
•    She included a learning experience. Once she learned to stand up for herself, the student took on the role of a mentor and leader, and worked to combat bullying and discrimination.
•   She conveyed positive qualities. This student turned out have personal strength and moral character. She was able to pull herself out of a difficult situation to personally excel and to help others.
•  She gave colleges excellent reasons to admit her: She was a leader, a compassionate human being, and someone with high standards who wanted to make a difference.

Why This Essay Prompt Could be a Good Question for You

  • You can communicate your level of maturity.
  • You can show that you have critical thinking skills.
  • You can demonstrate that you are open-minded and have respect for the beliefs and ideas of others.
  • You can show that your choices or ideas had an impact.

Make sure to find as much honesty and depth to your answer as you can and look for an original approach. That will make your essay stand out.

Tip: It’s okay to say you wouldn’t make the same decision again. Colleges want to see that you have the maturity and perspective to understand your actions.  Just remember — by the end of the essay you should be saying positive things about yourself!

For more information on the Common Application visit their website. They also have a very helpful Facebook page.

Next time: How to Write Common App prompt #4.

Also in this series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: A Time you Experienced Failure

For the entire list of 2015 Common App essay prompts click here.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills


Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


Leave a comment

Essay Writing Program Thursday May 14

Bethel Teen Center - Pro AccessJoin me on Thursday, May 14 at 7pm for “How to Write a Great College Application Essay.”

I’ll be talking about what colleges look for in winning college application essays. Students will learn how they can create unique and original college essays, I’ll go over this year’s Common Application essay prompts, and talk about why (or why not) specific essay prompts might be right for them.

During the second half of the program, everyone is invited to pull up chairs and get feedback on possible essay topics.

The event takes place at Pro Access, Bethel’s Teen Center. The address is 1 School Street. The phone number, if you need more information, is 203-482-1732.

Return for Interviewing Techniques!

Return the following week to learn interviewing techniques, including mock interviews with members of the business community. The interviewing program is Wednesday, May 20 at 7pm.

Both events take place at Pro Access, Bethel’s Teen Center. The address is 1 School Street. There is a small fee: $10 for both programs, $5 for one. The phone number, if you need more information, is 203-482-1732.

I hope to see you there!

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills


Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


1 Comment

How to Write 2015 Common App Essay #2: Failure

Ahow to write 2015 common app failure essayre you looking for advice on how to write a great college application essay?

You’ve come to the right place.

In this series of posts, I show you how to figure out which 2015 Common Application essay prompt is right for you.

To recap:

  • In my last post we covered Common Application Essay prompt #1.
  • In coming weeks I’ll cover prompts 3, 4, and 5.
  • For the entire list of 2015 Common Application essay prompts click here.
  • If you’re not familiar with the Common Application, click here for more info.

Are you ready? Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #2:

The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Lessons”…”Failure”“Affect you“...”Learn”

Do the Keywords Apply to You?

Answer yes IF

  • You tried something and failed, took a risk that didn’t pay off, or made a decision that turned out to be faulty.
  • AND you learned from your experience.
  • AND you can examine (analyze) your failure objectively.

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid:

  • Don’t wallow in your failure. This answer isn’t really about failure; it’s about how the failure affected you and what you learned from it. Mention the failure and move on.
  •  Don’t overlook keywords. This question has three parts: Your experience, how it affected you, and what positive lessons you learned.

Example of a Successful Topic:

A student started a snowplow business using his ATV. But the ATV couldn’t plow deep snow, and one night, when eight inches of snow fell, the plow got stuck in his driveway. The student knew his customers were counting on him, so he worked all night to shovel out the ATV.  After that, he realized he needed to better serve his customers by upgrading his equipment. Eventually, the student traded his ATV for a truck with a plow, which in turn made his business more successful. He also decided that he wanted to pursue a business career.

Is This Topic Successful? Yes.

•    All the keywords are addressed. The student told his story, examined how his failure affected him, and then wrote about the positive lessons he learned.
•    It also showed that he had good character (see the next paragraph).

Are You Uncomfortable Discussing a Failure? DON’T BE.

•     Colleges look for character-building stories and problem solving skills. You’re going to face some significant challenges in the next four years and beyond, and schools want to understand how you might handle them. Of course, they don’t have a crystal ball, so they’ll look to see how you’ve dealt with previous obstacles. Now, if you write your essay on why your personality is like all the colors of your shoes (please don’t), they probably won’t have a clue about how you’ll manage when the going gets tough. But, if you write about the lessons you learned from failure, that’s an excellent way to demonstrate that you’re ready to handle a college — and professional — career.
•     Showing colleges how you’ve weathered adversity can give them a good reason to want to accept you.
•      As the prompt says, the lessons learned from failure can be “fundamental to later success.Remember, it’s not about the failure; it’s about what you learned from it. 

TIP: Stay away from failures that include anything illegal (such as drugs and underage drinking) and very risky behavior.

Next time: How to write Common Application essay prompt #3.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills


Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


Leave a comment

How to Write 2015 Common App Essay #1: Background, Identity, Interest or Talent

how to write 2015 common app background identity interest or talent essayIt’s that time of year again — college application season.

I love it.

Why? Students start to envision themselves as college freshmen. The next step of their lives is on the horizon. It’s almost here.

But first…

You’ve got a college admissions essay to write.

Don’t worry. Help is on the way.

In this series of posts, I’ll give you tips on how to write the 2015 Common Application essay.

I’ll tell you how to choose a college essay prompt, what colleges look for in college essay answers, and how to avoid college essay pitfalls. I’ll give you essay examples, too.

First — an overview.

  • The 2015 Common Application has five prompts.
  • You answer one of them. 250-650 words.
  • For a complete list of the 2015 Common Application questions, click here.
  • Not every school accepts the Common Application, so check your list. Some schools require different essays.

Okay, ready? Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #1:

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Is This Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2015 common app essay

Background — Identity — Interest — Meaningful — Incomplete without it.

Do these Keywords Apply to You?

  • “Background, identity, interest.” These words are meant to spark your imagination. Think about what’s shaped your life – who you are, how you think, your hobbies. You can write about almost anything, as long as it’s important to the person you’ve grown to be.
  • “Meaningful” means that this experience has molded you in a fundamental way. It has influenced your choices, outlook, perspective and/or goals.
  • Your application would be “incomplete without it.” You need to tell this story in order for people to understand you. You also haven’t told it anywhere else in your application.

Why Choose this Prompt?
1. This experience helped shape who you are.
2. If you didn’t tell this story, the school wouldn’t fully understand you.
3. Your topic doesn’t fit any of the other prompts.

Possible Pitfalls:

  • This isn’t “topic of your choice.” You can’t write about anything you’d like. You have to satisfy the keywords.
  • Always Say What You Learned. Even though the prompt doesn’t specify it, make sure to include what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown from your experience. This is essential for a complete answer.

Example of a Successful Essay Topic:

A young woman was such an accomplished ballet dancer that she studied with the prestigious Bolshoi ballet in New York. Everyone, including her family, assumed that she’d turn professional. Instead, she decided to become a nutritionist. The student wrote about her love of ballet and how it exposed her to a hidden world of young dancers with eating disorders. Ballet led this student to a new goal: helping dancers stay healthy.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Succeed?

  •  All the keywords are addressed. This student couldn’t tell her story without writing about dance. It was central to her identity and her application would be incomplete without it.
  • She learned from her experience. From her perspective as a dancer, she realized what she wanted from her future.

Example of a Poor Essay Topic:

A student enjoyed driving his car. He liked to ride for hours listening to his favorite music and taking twists and turns he didn’t know, just see where he would end up. Sometimes he drove so far that he had to use his GPS to get home.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Fail?

  • The keywords are not addressed. This is a nice story, and probably would be interesting to read. But the student doesn’t indicate anywhere how or why it’s central to who he is or what his talents are.  If he didn’t write about this activity, no one would miss it.
  • There is no learning or growing experience.

If you’re not familiar with the Common Application, go to their website. They also have a very helpful Facebook page.

Next time: How to write Common Application essay prompt #2.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills


Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


1 Comment

College Application Essay Tips for International Students

College Application Essay Tips for International StudentsFrom Greece to Vietnam, I hear from students who have questions about how to write college admissions essays and especially how to write the Common Application personal essay.

International students face unique challenges. Many aren’t writing in their native language. Others aren’t sure what colleges look for in an essay or if they’ve chosen the right story.

That’s why I’ve written Writing College Admissions Essays — An International Student’s Guide. I’m delighted that it has been published by both i-studentglobal and Magoosh.

Please visit these sites to read the article, or download a copy of it here. Enjoy!

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills


Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

 

 


1 Comment

2015 Common Application – Your Essay May Be Optional!

Common App optional essay 2015

The Common Application just released this information:

“Starting with the 2015-2016 application year, Common Application Member colleges and universities will have the choice to require or not require the Common App Personal Essay.”

This change means that it is possible some students may not be required to write a Common App personal essay.

Do I hear cheering?

Hold on a sec…

The Common App also says that students will always have the option to submit the personal essay.  

So if you’re faced with the choice – to write or not to write – what do you do?

WRITE, of course!

The Common App essay gives you the chance to stand out. Schools get to know you apart from your test scores, grades, and activities list.

So, take the time. Write a story about yourself that highlights your unique qualities and shows how you’re growing into a mature young adult.

Give the schools another reason to know you’re the kind of student they can’t afford to be without. 

Find more information about the Common App’s new essay changes on their blog.
For a list of the 2015-2016 Common Application Essay Prompts, click here.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills


Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.