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4 Ways to Know if You’ve Written a Good College Essay

July 21, 2014

4 Ways to Know if You've Written a Good College Application EssayHow do you know if you’ve written a good college application essay?

Do you  just cross your fingers, hope for the best, and hit upload?

Wait! Don’t hit that send button yet!

Here are four ways to check if you’ve written a good college applications essay:

1. Put the essay away for a day or two. Then read it again.

Reading your essay with fresh eyes will help you be more objective about your writing. You should:

  • Make sure the essay flows well from one paragraph to the other.
  • Make sure it holds your interest from beginning to end.
  • Make sure it says positive things about you.
  • Make sure you’ve answered all parts of the question.
  • Make sure you still like it.

2. Read your essay out loud.

  • You shouldn’t stumble over words or phrases when you read your essay out loud.
  • If you do stumble, look at your sentence structure and word choices, and revise the bumpy places.
  • Read your essay out loud again to double-check it’s okay.

3. Ask yourself if your essay says everything you want it to say about you.

  • This is a very important question to ask. Why?

    • Sometimes college essays go through so many drafts and changes that ideas can actually get lost or buried along the way.
    • Sometimes an idea that you think is clear is actually not clear to the reader. Which means you have to go back and find a way to explain it better.
  • Tip: Make a list of the ideas or values you want the colleges to know about you when they’ve finished reading your essay. (For example: “I’m thoughtful and creative, and would go out of my way for a friend.”) Then ask one or two adults to read your essay and say whether or not they learned those things from your essay.  If they didn’t, go back to your essay and clarify those ideas.

4. Pretend you’re a college reader.

For the next few minutes we’re going to give you a promotion. For example’s sake, we’ll pretend you’re a college admissions officer named Dave. Dave doesn’t know you. Dave has already read 50 essays today, and some of them have been really boring. But, like every essay Dave reads, he hopes he’s going to like it.

Here is what you have to ask yourself:

  • When Dave starts to read my essay, will my introduction capture his attention?
  • Did I find an interesting way to tell my story, or will Dave think it’s a cliché he’s heard a hundred times? (“I’m so glad I won the big game.”)
  • Is this a story that only I can write?
  • Does my personality jump off the page?
  • Did I include interesting details?
  • Does it say good things about me?
  • What will Dave know about me when he’s finished with my essay? How would he describe me?
  • Will Dave think that I would be a good member of his college community?

Dave’s got a lot to think about when he reads your essay, and so do you. So before you hit that send button, take time to re-read your essay, make sure it says what you want it to say, and put yourself in your college reader’s shoes. 

Be sure your essay has done its job.  And then you can hit upload.

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 nominee, Sharon teaches students how to write memorable college application essays, write outstanding resumes, and master interview skills. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more information and connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Choosing the Right Words for Your Resume

July 16, 2014

Job vs. Work?

Experience vs. Skills?

How do you choose the best words to use on your resume?

Grammar checker Grammarly looked at 500 job postings, and then examined the language those companies used to express their hiring priorities. What did they learn?

The words that companies use in their job listings can convey the companies’ values and the type of employee they’re looking for.

Knowing that can be a big plus when you’re crafting your resume and cover letter.

Take a look at the infographic. You may find your resume is ready for an update.

Watch Your Words in the Job Search!

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 nominee, Sharon teaches students how to write memorable college application essays, write outstanding resumes, and master interview skills. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more information and connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

How to Write 2014 Common Application Essay #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

July 1, 2014

How to Write Common Application Essay 5: Transition from Childhood to AdulthoodThe Common Application essay prompts are out.

How do you choose which essay to write?

In this 5 part series I help you figure out which question on the 2014 Common Application essay is right for you.

We’re down to the last one. Whew!

Ready for #5?

Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #5:

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Is this Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Accomplishment or Event” … “Transition from Childhood to Adulthood” … “Culture, Community or Family”

What the Keywords Mean:

  • “Accomplishment or event” and “transition from childhood to adulthood” are two very broad phrases. That’s good—it means you can choose almost anything you’ve done, experienced or accomplished.
  • “Transition from childhood to adulthood.” Don’t feel quite like an adult yet? That’s okay—you can still answer the question. The Common App really wants to know how you’ve become more mature or responsible over time.  So ask yourself these questions: Have you taken on more responsibility? Do you make decisions in a more mature way? Are you more dependable? Do you teach younger students what you’ve been taught? There are many ways we grow into adulthood.

 

how to write 2013 common app essayPitfalls to Avoid:

  • Don’t forget to include a learning experience. Colleges want to know how you grew, what you learned, or why it’s important for you to tell this story.

Essay Topic Example 

A young woman began dancing before she could tie her shoes. The tradition at her dance studio was that the older dancers mentored the younger ones. As she grew older and became more accomplished, she started teaching the younger students. Now she helps them in the studio, and also with their problems outside of dance. She has learned what it takes to be a friend and mentor, and is helping continue her dance studio’s tradition.

Is this Example Successful? Yes.

  • All the keywords are addressed. 1. She writes about an accomplishment in her community. 2. Her transition from child to young adult is marked by taking on more responsibility and becoming a teacher and mentor to the younger dancers.
  • She learned from her experience. The student matured and became more responsible.

We’re done! We’ve covered all the prompts. You should be able to choose the right topic and write an essay that makes you shine. If you have any questions, drop me a line and let me know.

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 nominee, Sharon teaches students how to write memorable college application essays, write outstanding resumes, and master interview skills. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more information and connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

How to Write Common App Essay Prompt #4: Place or Environment

June 29, 2014

How to Write Common App Prompt #4: Place or Environtment You're Perfectly ContentThe 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 2014 Common Application essay is right for you.

Ready for number 4? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #4:

 Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.

  • What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Place or environment”“Perfectly content“…“Experience”“Meaningful”

Why Choose This Prompt? 

  • You’ve found a place – real or imagined – where you are content.
  • You’re able to discuss in detail what you experience there and why it’s meaningful to you.

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid:

  • It’s not just about the place. This essay is about your experience and its meaning.
  • If you can’t discuss why your experience is meaningful to you, don’t choose this essay.
  • You must ask yourself WHY. Schools care much less about where you like to spend time and much more about why. Asking yourself “why” will help you find the meaning to your essay.

Not Sure This Question Relates to You?
Here are 4 Scenarios to Think About:

  • Is the chess club, ski slope or band room the place where you feel most in your element?
  • Is there a room in your school where you grab some alone time?
  • Do you have a place where you meet friends to talk about things you might not discuss anywhere else? Or with anyone else?
  • Is there a place you’re alone with your thoughts? Your art? Your books? What do you think or dream about there?

How Asking “Why” Led to a Successful Essay:

A student told me she was happiest in her room, but she thought it would be boring to write about. So I asked her why she was happy there.

Without pausing she answered: Her room was where she liked to draw. She spoke in detail about her art, what kind of art she preferred, what artists she admired, and who her artistic influences were. Then she paused, and said that when she was drawing her room fell away, almost like it didn’t exist, and that’s why she was able to concentrate on her art.

This was her essay. Because she had asked herself why.

Tip:  An “experience” doesn’t have to last for an extended amount of time. For instance, the moment before you walk onstage for your dance recital may last only seconds, but writing about it might make a great essay.

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 #5.

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 nominee, Sharon teaches students how to write memorable college application essays, write outstanding resumes, and master interview skills. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more information and connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

 

How to Write Common App Essay #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea

June 26, 2014

How to Write Common Application Essay 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 2014 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 2014 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?

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 and attempt to rectify it?

 

Tip:  Don’t worry if 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.

For the entire list of 2014 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 nominee, Sharon teaches students how to write memorable college application essays, write outstanding resumes, and master interview skills. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more information and connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

How to Write Common App Essay Prompt #2: Failure

June 17, 2014

AHow to write Common App prompt 2 a time you experienced Failurere 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, you’ll learn how to figure out which question on the 2014 Common Application essay 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 2014 Common Application essay prompts click here.
  • If you’re not familiar with the Common Application, click here for more info.

Are you ready?

Great! Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #2:

Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure.
How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Failure”“Affect you“…“Lessons.”

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 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 lessons you learned.

Example of a Successful Topic:

A student started a snowplow business using his ATV. But the ATV wasn’t good at plowing 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 raced all night to shovel out the ATV. Eventually, he traded his ATV for a truck with a plow, which made his business more successful. He also learned that he wanted a business career.

Is this topic successful? Yes.

•    All the keywords are addressed. The student examined how his failure affected him. His determination to reach his customers showed an excellent example of character.
•    The student learned several lessons. He realized he needed to better serve his customers by upgrading his equipment. The experience also helped him come to the conclusion that he wanted to pursue a business career.

Tip:
Are you uncomfortable discussing a failure in your life?
Don’t be. Schools can get a good sense of your character when they see how you handle adversity. Just remember that by the end of the essay you should be saying positive things about yourself!

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 nominee, Sharon teaches students how to write memorable college application essays, write outstanding resumes, and master interview skills. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more information and connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

How to Write 2014 Common App Essay Prompt 1: Story Central to Your Identity

June 8, 2014

How to write Common App essay 1 story central to your identityI know… I hear the moans and sighs. Summer’s calling. You can feel the sun on your face and the sand between your toes. Oh, wait—

You’ve got a college application essay to write.

Don’t worry. Help is on the way.

In this series of posts, I’ll give you I’ll give you tips on writing the 2014 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 up—an overview.

  • The 2014 Common Application has five prompts.
  • You answer one of them. 250-650 words.
  • For a complete list of the 2014 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 or story that is so central to their identity that 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:

A background or story that is “so central to their identity” your “application would be incomplete without it.”

Do the Keywords Apply to You?

  • “Central to your identity” means that this experience has shaped you in a fundamental way. It’s influenced your choices, outlook, perspective and/or goals.
  • Your “application would be incomplete without it” means that you must tell this story. There’s something important you want the colleges to know that you don’t have the opportunity to tell them anywhere else.

Why Choose this Prompt?
1. You’re so passionate about a story you must tell it.
2. You are who you are because of this experience.
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, however, she decided to become a nutritionist. The essay was about the student’s love of ballet and how it exposed her to the often 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 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 his identity. If he didn’t write about this activity, no one would miss it.
  • There is no learning 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-skillsSharon Epstein is founder of First Impressions College Consulting. 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. She works with people world-wide, in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more information. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter or call her at +1 203-938-9199.

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