Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


Best College Town – Ithaca, New York

Cornell University McGraw Tower.

Cornell University McGraw Tower.

I’m about to brag. Ithaca, New York was recently chosen Best College Town in the U.S.A.

Ranked by the American Institute for Economic Research, Ithaca (home to Cornell University and Ithaca College) was followed by Ames, Iowa (Iowa State University), and State College, PA (Penn State University).

I went to Cornell. My best friend Stephanie went to Ithaca College. The schools sit atop two hills that rise above the town of Ithaca – Cornell to the east and Ithaca to the south. When we arrived, much to our delight, we realized we could see each others’ dorm on the opposite hill. So, in a communications experiment of sorts, we tried blinking the lights in our rooms –  as much message to say, “Hello, can you see me?” as “I can’t believe we’re in Ithaca. Isn’t this going to be great?!”

And Ithaca was great. While the schools provide a diverse student population, it’s the town that’s the star. Over the years, Ithaca has managed to maintain a true sense of self. It’s relaxed, bohemian, and green. It overflows with farmers’ markets and food co-ops, theaters, restaurants, a no-cars-permitted Commons, and the ever-present opportunity to walk, hike, bike, sail, climb, and otherwise just inhale the joyous beauty of the Finger Lakes.

USA Today College  has written an article called “What Makes the Best College Towns?” Here’s the excerpt about Ithaca:

About 200 miles northwest of New York City lies Ithaca, home to Cornell University, Ithaca College and what Taylor Long calls “Idealistic Bohemians.”

“There’s a lot of culture and a lot of hip energy, but also this really earnest, small-town vibe,” said Long, who is a senior at Ithaca College. “People fall in love with this city. It’s the sort of place where your weird projects can thrive.”

The city is home to intellects, a Burlesque dance troupe, a newspaper that reports only positive news, an extensive farmers’ market and thousands of ambitious students. In fact, because of the town’s unique energy, The Dalai Lama and other Tibetan monks are frequent visitors.

Despite the eclectic mix of residents, the city’s party scene is fairly tame, another reason Long thinks the college town is unique.

“When I think of college towns, I do kind of think of Penn State or something like that where there’s a row of bars and a row of frats, and everyone is running around naked with their chests painted,” Long said. “I think [Ithaca] may be No. 1 because it is very unique and kind of is actually a college town, not just like a town dominated by one particular college.”

Go Ithaca.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut.
Need help? I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, Skype, and by email. Visit my website for more info. Connect with me on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter:

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How To Build A Great College List

build-a-great-college-listDo you know how to build a great college list? Eric Dobler, founder of Dobler College Consulting, returns as a guest blogger to share his expertise and advice.

Here’s what Eric has to say:

With over 4,000 colleges in the country and an endless supply of rankings touting the best of this and the best of that, your college search can get complicated. And it can happen in a hurry. Your friends will be talking about colleges. Your uncle will wax poetic about his alma mater. You will see all the posters and announcements hanging on the walls of your college counseling office. So many options and yet, you can only choose one to attend.

How do you know which one is right?

While you may never know which ONE is right, you can identify which ONES may be awesome possibilities by doing some homework and building a great college list.

And here’s how you do it:

1. Know Thyself

Before you start looking at colleges, you need to take a good, hard look at yourself. I’m not talking about checking yourself out in the mirror to see if the gear is working today as much as I’m talking about understanding your VIPS – your values, interests, personality style and skills. If you don’t have a good handle of what’s important to you and why, try this exercise suggested in a great book on college admissions called, “Going Geek”, written by my friend, John Carpenter:

Write an assessment of yourself that covers what you are good at, what you struggle with, what is important to you, and how you learn. Then ask a close friend to write an assessment of you and have each of your parents do the same. Once you have all three, compare them and see what common threads exist.

2. Priorities First

Some of the major attributes you should pay attention to when thinking about how you will qualify schools for your college list include:

  • Size
  • Location
  • Major
  • Student life
  • Chance of admission
  • Types of admission
  • Graduation rates
  • Cost

But now that you have a good handle on your VIPS, you should be able to qualify these attributes even further. Forget the US News. Forget your uncle’s drawn out stories of the good ol’ days. Forget about the school that your best friend daydreams about. In other words, realize that you now have the power to create your own rankings based on what is important to you.

3. Channel Your Inner Sherlock Holmes

Okay, you now have a good idea of what’s important to you and why. You’ve created a list of attributes that you want to find in a college. Now, it’s time to do some investigating. Since you can’t visit all 4,000 schools individually, turn to some search engines to identify schools that match up with your most desired attributes. The College Board’s Big Future, College Navigator and Princeton Review each have very extensive databases that allow you to search for schools. is another great website with very helpful information. Produced and maintained by the Education Trust, this website allows you to look up a college’s four-, five- or six-year graduation rates and then compare the school’s rate to those of its peer institutions.

As you identify schools of interest, research them more thoroughly, schedule campus visits, meet with admissions reps at local college fairs and check with your college counseling office to find out when these schools may be visiting your high school. Another great way to get to know a school is by connecting with them through Facebook and Twitter.

4. Edit, Edit and Then Edit Some More

Initially, your college list may contain any number of schools. Ideally, you want to get it down to roughly 10 schools. As you visit and learn more about each school, try to narrow the list down to down to 5-6 finalists where you would be happy enrolling. Some people will tell you to pick a range of schools where admission for you may be a reach, very likely or a sure thing. My opinion is that you should be picking schools at which you can see yourself being happy. Don’t include a school just because you know you can get in but have no intention of ever enrolling.

5. Don’t Be a Sloppy Joe

Building a great college list is one thing but if you fail to keep it organized, the list will lose its value.

Get a binder where you can keep a checklist for each school, notes from campus visits and brochures and other materials. You want to be able to compare apples to apples – keeping your information updated and fresh will help you do that.

6. College Lists are Made of Paper, Not Stone

Be flexible and keep an open mind. If you get soured on a school for a reason that is important to you (the school is too far away, too expensive or just didn’t feel right when you went for a visit) and want to take if off your college list, then feel free to do so.

Same rule applies when you learn something about a school that makes you want to add this school to your list. Spend some time qualifying the new school and if it feels right and matches up with your priorities, add it to your list.

Questions? Email Eric at

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Common Application News and Statistics

The Common Application has come out with some interesting statistics for this past year (2011-12)

Total Number of Applications

  • 2.75 million (up 16% from the previous year)

Who’s Using the Common Application?

  • 56% female
  • 52% white
  • 8% international students
  • 32% are the first generation to apply to college
  • 71% of applicants go to public school
  • Less than 1% are home schooled

Member Schools

Change is Coming

  • Next year (2013-2014) the Common Application will introduce Common App 4.0
  • College essay topics will change annually, although students will still be able to write on a topic of their choice.
  • Essay topics will be announced each March instead of August, which will give students the opportunity to begin writing earlier.
  • The Common App is also talking about putting a firm limit on the number of words that can be uploaded for the personal essay, although whether that means the current Common Application essay 500 word limit will remain at 500 words is still undecided.
  • Common App 4.0 will launch August 1, 2013.

related articles:
Peterson’s: Using the Common Application as Your College Application
U.S. News: Should I Use the Common Application?

Sharon Epstein, FIrst Impressions College Consulting..Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting
Need help? I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, and by computer. Visit my website for more info.
Connect with Me:

follow Sharon Epstein on Twitterfollow Sharon Epstein on pinterest

Leave a comment — let me know what you think!


College Admissions Information: University of Connecticut

uconn husky

Welcome to an Ongoing Series on College Admissions

If you’re starting the college admissions process you’ve probably discovered that it’s not always easy to find answers to your college admissions questions. That’s why I created a place where you can hear directly from college admission counselors about applying to college, interviewing for college, writing the college application essay and financial aid.

I developed these questions with help from families who’ve recently been through the college application process. Because each school answers the same questions you’ll be able to compare information with other schools.

I hope you find this a valuable resource for college admissions information. Who knows? You might even find yourself considering options you hadn’t thought of before.

UConn logo

With the introduction out of the way, let’s find out about the University of Connecticut.

Founded in 1881 and set in the beautiful unspoiled forests of the northeast, the University of Connecticut is located in Storrs. There are 5 regional campuses: Avery Point, Greater Hartford, Stamford, Torrington, and Waterbury.

UConn is one of the premier national public universities in the country, recently ranking in the Top 20 Public Universities by U.S. News & World Report. It offers world-class faculty and academics, as well as vibrant activities and NCAA Athletics, including recent national championships in Men’s and Women’s Basketball.

UConn students come from diverse backgrounds: More than a quarter of students represent ethnic minorities, and the student body is selected from countries and cultures around the globe. The school’s proximity to Boston and New York City affords students easy access to internships or simply a weekend escape.

This post focuses on UConn’s main campus at Storrs. Look for information on the regional campuses in a later post.

Facts about UConn/Storrs Campus

  • Undergraduate enrollment: 17,815 (2011)
  • Entering freshmen enrollment: 3,327 (2011)
  • Connecticut residents: 75% of undergrads
  • Undergraduate costs 2012-13: In State: $22,382 (Tuition & Fees: $11,242; Room & Board: $11,140) Out of State: $40,214 (Tuition & Fees: $29,074; Room & Board: $11,140)
  • Average SAT score: 1216
  • Students receiving financial aid: Over 75 percent
  • Athletics: NCAA Division I


Nathan Fuerst, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, answered the following questions during a recent interview:

Q: What percentage of applicants does UConn admit?

A: Approximately 45% of applicants are successful in gaining admission to UConn’s Storrs campus.

Applying to UConn

Q: Does applying early decision/action improve a student’s chances for admission?

A: For the Fall 2013 term, UConn will no longer facilitate an early action/decision program.

Q: How important are extracurricular activities in admissions decisions?

A: Involvement beyond academics is important and is considered.  We encourage students to focus on investing themselves heavily in a limited number of activities and demonstrate the impact from their activity on both the community as well as their development as young adults.

Q: How important is taking advanced, accelerated, or honors courses?

A: It’s important that students take the appropriate opportunities to challenge themselves academically.  Therefore, we do consider advanced and honors courses.  However, it’s just as important for students to remain in course levels that are appropriate for their level of skill and aptitude for the particular subject.

Q: Which teachers should write a recommendation?

A: Recommendations that make the most impact come across as authentic and personal.  Students should approach teachers with whom they have strong relationships.  Teachers who contribute beyond just academic performance provide the most revealing and helpful information in the recommendation letters. 

Q: Do you look for what is not said in a recommendation?

A: We avoid drawing conclusions or speculating on what may or may not be omitted from a recommendation.  However, it is often apparent when there is inconsistency in message between the recommendations that we receive.

Q: Is the quality of an applicant’s high school taken into consideration?

A: The application review is a holistic one that allows us to take any and all factors in to consideration.  Strength of school is something that could be considered in the context of how the student has performed given the educational opportunities and challenges that are available within a particular school. 

Q: What is the relative importance of grades versus board scores?

A: Both factors are critical pieces in our review of applicants for admission for different reasons.  Therefore, it is difficult to cast one against the other.  Grades provide great insight on a student’s capacity for academic success, but using board scores remains the only reliable method of comparing applicant performance that transcends an individual school. 


Q: Does UConn offer interviews with admissions counselors?

A: Given the size of our applicant pool and staff, we are unable to offer interviews.

Essay Writing

Q: What qualities do you look for in a well-written essay?

A: We challenge students to write on a unique subject that has either defined who they are as a person or demonstrates the impact of their contributions through their activity in their environment.

Q: Is there a type of essay you would recommend against?

A: Applicants should consider their subject matter more globally and how it sets them apart from other students in the applicant pool.  For example, when writing on a life event, consider what makes this a unique life event compared to other applicants.

Q: Can an essay make or break an admission?

A: Yes.  I recall an applicant whose subject and style was so profound and unique that I felt honored to offer such a talented author admission.  Another example included a student who wrote about community contributions that had incredible global impact.  The subject of this essay was driven by extremely hard work that impacted the lives of students in villages in India and Africa.  It was very inspiring!

Q: Should a student discuss or explain a poor grade or marking period(s)?

A: When a grade is out of character, it may justify the student addressing this.  However, we encourage students to use their personal statements as an opportunity to present their unique qualities, contributions and achievements.  A single grade should not be made the focus of an application.

Q: Where do you stand on the 500 word limit on the Common Application’s personal statement? Can a student go over the Common Application’s 500 word limit?

A: We do have some amount of flexibility. We want students to express themselves as best they can. If that means that they go a few words over — about 100 — that’s okay. But we also want the student to be cognizant of the Common Application’s 500 word limit because some students can carry on for a while.  I’d say to students write your college application essay as briefly and succinctly as you can, but don’t feel like you need to leave out any major pieces, either.

Financial Aid at UConn

Q: How has the economic climate affected the admissions process and the availability of financial aid at UConn?

A: This year (2012)  seems to be an improvement over the past several years.  When the economy struggles, it forces families to take a closer look at finances and seriously consider their educational options based on cost of attendance.  Over the past several years, there has been an increase in the number of students submitting the FAFSA to us. UConn has a priority of providing as much financial assistance as possible to students who demonstrate financial need.

Q: What part of the admissions process is most misunderstood?

A: I think the financial piece of going to college is most misunderstood, as it can vary dramatically from one institution to the next. Eligibility for scholarships varies widely from school to school. Different schools have different policies, different requirements and different ways to apply, and that can make the scholarship process difficult to understand. If students or families need help understanding the scholarship opportunities at UConn, they should visit our undergraduate admissions page, student financial aid web page, or contact the Office of Student Financial Aid Services at (860) 486-2819.

Connect with UConn

Q: How can people connect with UConn?

A: Students can connect with us via Facebook and our YouTube channel. We also have a Twitter account and student bloggers.  Students who connect with UConn via these channels get regular updates on deadlines as well as updates on relevant activity at UConn.


Q: Please ask and answer a question that you’d like students and families to know about UConn.
Question: What is the retention rate of first year students returning in their second year?

A: Ninety-three percent of first year students and 92% of students of color return for their sophomore year, exceeding the national average of 72.9%.

To Contact the University of Connecticut:

Office of Undergraduate Admissions
2131 Hillside Road, Unit 3088
Storrs, CT 06269-3088
Phone: (860) 486-3137

other posts in this series:

Housatonic Community College
Ithaca College
Quinnipiac University
Sacred Heart University
University of Bridgeport

Sharon Epstein, FIrst Impressions College Consulting..Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting
Need help? I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, and by computer. Visit my website for more info.
Connect with me on Google+, Twitter and Pinterest:

follow Sharon Epstein on Twitterfollow Sharon Epstein on pinterest

Leave a comment — let me know what you think!

Leave a comment

University of New Haven Extends its Scholarship Challenge

The University of New Haven’s College of Business has extended the deadline for its Dean’s Scholarship Challenge to Sunday, March 18, to allow more students to take part in its national online competition.

Four students will win full-tuition scholarships, each worth more than $120,000.

Participants are asked to create a Facebook page for a business they wish to launch. The competition is open to any incoming freshman or transfer student who has been accepted to UNH College of Business.

For more information visit


Interviews with College Admissions Counselors: Housatonic Community College

Have You Considered a Community College?

If you haven’t, you might want to think again. More higher-achieving students are opting for two-year community colleges as a less expensive way to start their four-year degrees.

In an earlier blog, I focused on Connecticut’s Dual Admission program, which lets students complete two years at a community college and then automatically transfer to either a state school or UConn. In this post, I’ll focus on the specifics of attending a community college, including admission, quality of education, and financial aid.

For answers, I spoke to Earl Graham, Assistant Director of Admission at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport. Let’s learn about Housatonic:
Located in Bridgeport, Housatonic Community College is one of 12 community colleges in Connecticut. The school offers Associate Degree programs in preparation for transfer to four-year schools, as well as occupationally-oriented Associate Degree and Certificate programs.


Tuition: Approximately $3,500 (in-state)
Student enrollment: 6200
Students receiving financial aid: 90-95%
Admission: Open


Q: Earl, tell us about Housatonic Community College.

A: We’re an open admission, higher education institution. We admit all students regardless of race, creed or color. We have opportunities not only for students to get college level credits, but we also have a wide variety of non-credit programs through our Continuing Education and Business & Industry department.

Housatonic Community College


Q: What is an open admission policy?

A: An open admission policy simply means that graduation from a secondary program is all that’s needed for admission.  We don’t look at GPA or SAT or ACT scores. Almost all community colleges in the country work this way.

Q: What kind of students choose community college?

A: In the past it was the traditional age student who didn’t achieve the highest grades, as well as older students who wanted to wrap up a degree or get into continuing ed. programs. But now we’re finding more and more 18 year olds who’ve done really well in high school who are looking at us.

Q: Why do you think you’re attracting higher-achieving students?

A: Four main reasons. 1. Our tuition. For 2011-2012 it’s about $3,500 for the year. 2. We have good relationships with the state schools and UConn. 3. Our credits transfer to just about anywhere in the country, like Sacred Heart, Fairfield University, Connecticut College, and Sarah Lawrence. 4. We have really good relationships with Fairfield, Stratford, and Bridgeport high schools, and those counselors are recommending us.

Transferring to Four-Year Schools

Q: Explain the transfer agreements you have for students to transfer to four-year state schools.

A: Connecticut’s community colleges recently signed an agreement with the state’s four-year programs (Central, Southern, Eastern and Western Connecticut State University) called the Dual Admission Program. What it means is that students come to a community college, and within the first fifteen credits complete an application to their desired four-year program. So let’s say they want to go to Central Connecticut State. They come here and within the first fifteen credits they complete an application. Then their counselor, our counselor, and the student work together to ensure that the classes they’re taking will all transfer. All that’s needed is a 2.0 GPA, and they’re automatically admitted as juniors after they’ve graduated from us.

Q: Do you have the same transfer agreement with UConn?

A: Yes. The criterion is a 3.0 GPA.

Q: Does Housatonic have agreements for students to transfer to other schools?

A: Yes. We have an agreement with the University of New Haven, where there’s also a reduction in the cost of attending. There are also transfer agreements for graduates in certain programs, such as education (NYU and Wheaton), and engineering (Fairfield University). Many schools come to our campus and recruit. (Note: Each community college has different transfer agreements with private colleges, so check their websites.)

Q: That says a lot about the level of education at Housatonic.

A: I talk all the time about one of our famous grads who came out of Central High School, graduating 297 or so out of 300, at the very bottom. He went on to Fairfield University, Temple Law, and is now a superior court judge in the City of Bridgeport.

These schools wouldn’t be coming back every year if the students who matriculated weren’t performing. Students are leaving here well-educated and well-situated to excel at the schools that they go to for their bachelor degrees.

Support Services for Students

Q: What kind of support do you offer students?

A: We have excellent support services. We’ve always been there for the students who need us the most; students who struggle, who may need some more guidance and assistance.

We have a very small student-teacher ratio and small classes. Most classrooms are capped at 22 or 25 students. As you get into the 200 level courses, they’re down to about 10 or fewer students,  so there’s a one-on-one relationship that takes place automatically.

We have a tutoring center that’s available to all of our students completely free of charge. It’s staffed by upper level students and staff as well as by faculty, adjuncts, and full professors. There are full-time staff who will assist in writing and mathematics. We have something called “mega math” which is all-day math tutoring on Fridays. We have another program called “e Tutoring,” which is the assistance of tutors online, pretty much 24-7. You submit work and get feedback almost immediately, or at least within a day.

An important part of our success is correct placement. Unless they’ve scored 500 on the math and 450 on the verbal, all students must take a placement test. That test determines what classes they start with. They may start off in some pre-college courses, which gives them the footing to be successful. In some of those pre-college courses the tutoring center is required. They must attend a couple of hours a week and learn how to use the center.

Financial Aid

Q: What kind of financial aid is available?

A: What’s great about attending a community college is, let’s say you get $5,500 from a Pell grant. Our tuition is about $3,500, so it leaves the student about $2,000. They can use that $2,000 for books and other things, and any money that’s left over is given to the student. So a student can come to a community college and have tuition paid for, books paid for, and may even have a couple of bucks left in their pocket at the end of the day.

Q: Does a Pell grant always take care of tuition?

A: If it doesn’t, we have a scholarship office for students who may need other funds to further their education.

Q: Has the recession affected admissions?

A: Yes. In the past it’s been the students who didn’t achieve the highest marks in high school who’ve come to a community college, but it’s shifting because of the financial situation in the state. We’re attracting more and more traditional age students (18-19 year olds).


Q: What part of the community college experience most is misunderstood?

A: We can do everything in the first two years that any school can do. We are a real college with real professors and real classes. We’ll get you going, we’ll move you on to the next level. We don’t compete with any four-year school. We want you to graduate from any one of those schools; we just want you to start with us. The reciprocal agreement, the level of education, our campus  – we’re right off the highway, the bus runs right in front of our campus, we’re right next to the train station. We’ve got to say to folks we’re just as valid as the first two years in any four-year program.

To contact Housatonic Community College:

900 Lafayette Blvd.
Bridgeport, CT 06604

Connecticut’s community colleges:

Asnuntuck (Enfield)
Capital (Hartford)
Gateway (North Haven)
Housatonic (Bridgeport)
Manchester (Manchester)
Middlesex (Middletown)
Naugatuck Valley (Waterbury)
Northwestern Connecticut (Winstead)
Norwalk (Norwalk)
Quinebaug (Willimantic)
Three Rivers (Norwich)
Tunxis (Farmington)

other posts in this series:

Ithaca College
Quinnipiac University
Sacred Heart University
University of Bridgeport

University of Connecticut


Sharon Epstein, FIrst Impressions College Consulting..Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting
Need help? I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, and by computer. Visit my website for more info.
Connect with Me:


follow Sharon Epstein on Twitterfollow Sharon Epstein on pinterest