Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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3 Ways to Start an Interesting College Essay

3 Interesting Ways to Start a College EssayHow do you start your college essay in an interesting way?

I’m asked this question a lot. It’s an important question to consider because if you put your reader to sleep in the first few sentences, well…

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..

So how do you make your first paragraph interesting?

Easy. Grab the reader’s attention. Entice him into wanting to read more. Make her excited enough to read beyond your first few sentences.

You just have to know three solid writing techniques, then choose the one that’s best for you.

Here are 3 Interesting Ways to Start Your College Admissions Essay:
how to write an interesting college application essay

1. Ask a Question.

Why did I quit the football team?”

 

 

Asking a question grabs the reader’s attention. Why?

Because when you ask a question, the reader will want to know the answer. (We’re all curious creatures, after all.) The reader wants to keep reading to see how it all turns out. (Hooray!)

Let’s take the example I gave you, “Why did I quit the football team?” This question works because:

  • The question itself is interesting.
  • The writer hints at only part of his story (which is sometimes called a “tease”).
  • By not revealing why he quit, the writer builds anticipation for the story he’s about to tell.

When you ask a question, you grab the reader’s attention. You entice the reader into wanting to read more. It can be an interesting and effective way to begin your college essay.

animal-number-two

2. Start With an Intriguing Statement.

I’m done giving up.”

“I hate taking showers.”

 

What do you think about these statements? Do you want to know why the student stopped giving up (or why he gave up in the first place)? And what kind of person hates to take showers anyway????

Just like starting your essay with a question, an intriguing statement works because: 

  • The statement itself is interesting.
  • It tells the reader only part of the story.
  • It builds anticipation for the story to come.
  • It grabs the reader’s interest, and makes the reader want to keep reading to find out more.

animal-number-three-hi

2. Start Where Your Action or Conflict Begins.

My body tenses, the anticipation prying doubts from my head, forcing me to tighten my grip and lock my jaw in preparation.”

I plant my Giant Slalom poles into the snow and push my shivering body through the starting gate.”

 

Starting with your action or conflict is a super way to start your essay.

It works especially well when you’re telling a story.

But I’ll tell you something — many students make a mistake. They start writing their stories from the beginning — at the first day of school, when they get into the car to drive to a friend’s house, or when they walk in the doors for the robotics contest. 

Yawn.

Nothing interesting is happening yet. 

When you start your story at the beginning, that’s like reading a fairy tale that starts at “Once upon a time.” You’re forced to wade through the descriptions of the deep, dark woods and the creatures that live there before you get to the interesting stuff — when Little Red Riding Hood meets the wolf, or the witch shoves Hansel into her oven.

Shove Hansel into the oven right away — start where the action begins. (Hint – that’s usually somewhere in the middle of your story.)

Here’s a Before and After Example:

Before (no action is happening): “I spent my summer vacation interning in the emergency room of a hospital in Seattle.”

Blah.

What’s wrong with this example? There’s no action. There’s no interest. The writer doesn’t engage his reader. He doesn’t give the reader any reason to want to see what happens next.

After (starting with action): “The bloody gurney wheeled past me. I closed my eyes and prayed for the strength not to pass out.”

Fantastic! The student located the start of the action in his story and rewrote his introduction. Now, the reader is plunged into the middle of what’s happening. There is both physical action (a rolling cart), and there’s mental conflict. (He’s trying hard not to faint.) The student paints a vivid picture of being in the E.R. Any reader would want to see what happens next.

Tip: If you’re not sure where your action begins, write down your story from the beginning to the end, then take a look at what you’ve written. Find the place something interesting starts to happen, and begin your essay there. It’s often several paragraphs after the beginning.

Grab your reader’s attention right away. 

And that’s a great way to write an interesting essay.

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.


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How to Write 2015 Common Application Essay Prompts #1-5

How to Write 2015 Common Application Essay Prompts #1-5How do you write a great Common Application essay?

Start here.

I’ve written a five-part series that gives you:

  • The exact Common Application essay questions
  • What the questions mean
  • How to brainstorm topics for each idea
  • What the colleges are looking for in your answers
  • How to know if an idea is right for you
  • How to avoid the pitfalls.
  • Plus examples of essay topics!

Here are the links to the posts in the 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
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

Write what you’re passionate about and always ask yourself: What positive experiences, values, qualities, ideas, goals, relationships or accomplishments do I want the colleges to know about me? Then have fun writing!

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.


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How to Write 2015 Common Application Essay #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

how to write Common Application  essay 5 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 2015 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” is a very broad phrase. 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.  
    • 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? Does your family or community ask you for advice on an issue you’ve become knowledgeable about? Have you been through a religious or cultural rite of passage that was meaningful to you? There are many ways we grow into adulthood.

Still Looking for a Topic?

  • Here are a few more questions you can ask yourself: Did you set a goal for yourself that you achieved? Did you work hard at a task, hobby, or skill that you eventually were able to master? Did you have a relationship with an important person that helped shape you? Did you have a life event that forced you to take on more responsibility? Did you have an experience that helped you become more compassionate or understanding? Did you experience a traumatic event that made you see the world in a different way? Did you need to find a way to get yourself out of a difficult situation? Did you start your own business? Did you learn how to allocate your own money? These are just a few ideas — make sure to keep thinking!

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid: 

  • Don’t forget to include a learning experience. Although the prompt doesn’t specifically ask for it, colleges want to know how you grew or what you learned from your experience. How did your experience shape your attitude, outlook or actions? How did it help you become the person you are today? Make sure to tell them.

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 outside of dance. As she has matured, the student 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.
    • The student writes about an accomplishment in her community.
    • 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 has matured and become more responsible.

What Can Colleges Learn About You From This Question?

  • Your level of maturity.
    • Schools can get a feeling for how well you will interact with your peers and instructors, your decision-making abilities, and even your possible leadership skills.
  • Your ability to develop important relationships within your family, culture, or community.
    • Schools can learn what kind of community member you will be at college.
  • The kind of idea or experience that’s truly meaningful to you.
    • Your essay topic tells the school a great deal about what’s important to you. Make sure you choose a topic that is meaningful to you and says good things about you.

We’re done! We’ve covered all the prompts. If you’ve read the blog posts I’ve written on how to answer each question, 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.

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

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.

 


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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
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

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.


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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.

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
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

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.


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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.


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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.

 

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 could face some significant challenges in the next four years and schools want to understand how you might handle them. They don’t have a crystal ball, so they’ll look to see how you’ve dealt with previous challenges. 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, you can 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.

Also in this series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

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.