Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills

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College Interview Tips: “I Dunno” and One-Word Answers Won’t Cut It

A college interviewer is looking over a student’s transcript:

College Interviewer:  “I see you really improved your grades over the last few years”
Student: “Yes.”
College Interviewer:  “That’s a nice accomplishment.”
“Uh huh.”
College Interviewer: “Was there something that motivated you?”
Student: “…I dunno. I hadn’t really thought about it.”
College Interviewer: “…Okay, then.  Well, let’s move on to something else.”

Can you hear the sounds of an interview crashing? This student has offered zero information, and the interviewer hasn’t learned a thing. All she can do is move on to the next question. It’s probably going to be a torturous half-hour — for her.

Don’t give one word answers. Do make your college interview a conversation.

Think of a conversation as a circle. You’re responsible for completing half the circle and the interviewer is responsible for completing the other half. One-word answers don’t complete the circle; you need to provide information. And not just any information. Unlike the student in the example who tells the interviewer that he “hadn’t really thought about it,” it should be apparent that you’ve given some thought to many of these ideas before hand. Let’s try that conversation again:

College Interviewer: “I see you really improved your grades over the last few years”
Student: “Yeah. It was tough for a while because I had to learn how to balance school work with being on varsity. But it turned out to be a pretty good lesson. Now I’m more focused with things I want to do.”

Much better. Look at what’s changed. The student has engaged in a conversation by offering information, and the interviewer has learned some interesting (and positive) things about him. Now she has a starting point for her next question and the conversation can continue:

College Interviewer: “That’s right. I remember seeing that you made varsity your freshman year. Tell me more about that.”

The interview is off and running.

Think of your college interview as a two-way street. You’re a participant, and your job is to provide good information and ask good questions. Make it a conversation, and you’ll make a good impression.


College Interview Tips: Combatting Nerves

Let’s face it. For some people just hearing the words “college interview” can be scary.  Like one of those cop shows where the only light in the room blazes on the poor suspect who’s sweating bullets while he tries to come up with the right answers.

Not your college interview.  So don’t worry.

Okay, you say. You get that. The interviewer isn’t your enemy and you’re not entering a torture chamber. You’ve prepared for your college interview. You’ve practiced answering questions and even have some good questions ready to ask. But you still feel your mouth going dry. What do you do?

Here are 6 tips to combat college interview nerves:

1. Arrive early. Give yourself time sit down, relax, take a look around, and get your bearings.

2. Take a short, brisk walk before your interview. You’ll help get rid of nervous energy and be less fidgety once you get inside.

3. Bring a bottle of water. Nerves can cause a dry mouth, so keep water with you and take a sip when you need it.

4. Take a deep breath. Focusing on your breath can be very calming. Try this exercise: Breathe in on a slow count of four, hold it for four, and breathe out on a count of four.

5. Greet the interviewer with a smile and a handshake. Look him or her in the eye, smile, offer your hand, and say hello. You’re taking the initiative to start the interview on friendly terms, and you’ll find it makes a difference.

6. Try “small talk” first. You don’t have to get down to big questions right away. You can ease into the interview with a bit of small talk — how the weather’s nice for a visit, how the directions were easy to follow, etc. This will give you an extra few moments to ease into things.

Every interviewer understands about nerves. You might even tell the interviewer you’re a bit nervous. That’s okay. The trick is to be well prepared for your interview and then to know a few techniques that can help make the experience as pleasant as possible.

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Join Me October 18: Danbury High School College Fair

It’s almost here! Danbury High School’s College and Vocational Fair is October 18 at the Danbury Fair Mall from 5 to 8:30pm. I’ll be there, along with over 200 representatives from colleges and vocational schools from around the country. Wow. That’s a lot of resources at your fingertips — you’ll be able to meet college reps, ask questions, set up interviews, get information on financial aid programs, and begin to get a real sense for which schools feel like a good fit for you. There’s no charge — it’s all free.

I’ll be there to talk about — what else — writing great college application essays and acing your college interviews. Stop by and pick up handouts with interview tips and essay-writing information, and bring your questions. I look forward to seeing many new faces.

For directions and a list of participating colleges and universities:

For more information on the Danbury High School College Fair, check out this article in the Danbury News-Times:


College Interview Tips: How to Interview with an Alum

I used to do alumni interviewing for Cornell University. I enjoyed meeting the students, and I hope they got a good impression of the school from me.

Alumni interviews aren’t going to make or break your college acceptance, but they will add another dimension to your college application and give you a direct connection to the school you might not otherwise have had.

Here are 6 tips to turn an average alumni interview into an excellent one:

1. Dress nicely. Don’t wear anything too short, low-cut, or cut off.

2. Arrive on time. Offer a firm handshake and greet the interviewer by name.

3. Be prepared to discuss why you want to go to his or her school. The more specific you can be the better, so do your homework.  If you’re vamping the interviewer will know it immediately.

4. Be ready with questions. Don’t be shy about asking for information. Part of the purpose of the alumni interview is to sell the school to you. Alumni are very interested in sharing their experience and knowledge and will go out of their way to get your questions answered.  I’ve set up phone calls with sports coaches and found names of specific instructors for students who have asked.

5. Target some of your questions based on when the interviewer graduated. If the interviewer graduated recently you can ask about teachers they’d recommend or the dorms they stayed in. If the interviewer is older you might ask how alumni remain active after graduation, or how they’ve seen the school change.

6. Follow up immediately with a thank you note.

I’ve been greeted at my door by students wearing cut-offs and flip-flops. I’ve been told by students that they don’t have any questions for me. When you’re an alum you know when a student is interested and when they’re not. Be interested.


College Admissions Essays: Finding Your Authentic Voice

If you walked up to your friends and said  “What’s shakin, bacon?” instead of “Hi” would they laugh? Would they wonder what alien abducted their friend, or whose voice you borrowed?

There are lots of ways to say hello: “Hi, How are you, How ‘ya doin’, Yo, Peace, Hey, What’s up…” the list is almost endless. How do you say “Hello”? Whatever way you say it, it’s your own, because you’re speaking in your own voice. And that’s important to remember when writing your college admissions essay. Write in your own voice. Your authentic voice.

How do you know if you’re writing in your authentic voice?

Here are four tips:

1. Read your essay out loud: If it reads easily , you probably have a good handle on your voice. Take note of places you stumble and work on those.

2. Is your writing style too formal? If your essay has a lot of formal language like “thus” and “however” take another look and make sure it’s necessary. If not, choose less formal words. If some of your sentences feel stiff when you read them out loud, try changing the sentence structure around and then read it again.

3. Is your writing style too casual? It is possible to be too casual. Remember, you’re writing your college admissions essay for an adult to read. This isn’t a text message to your bff.

4. If you’re having trouble finding your authentic voice: Try writing a mock letter to a friend who doesn’t know you very well. It can be about anything: school, your friends, what you do for fun, what the dog did yesterday.  Be the narrator and explain what that part of your life is like. As you write, you’ll find you start using more of your authentic voice.

Your college admissions essay needs to reflect you, and who you are. One important way to do that is to write in your own voice.

I’m outta here.

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Danbury College Fair — October 18

If you’re in the area, make plans to go to the Danbury College Fair on October 18. Representatives from more than 250 two-year and four-year colleges, nursing schools, business schools, and trade schools will participate. You’ll be able to ask questions, set up interviews, and get information on financial aid programs. The information is free.

I’ll also be there, giving advice on how to write great college application essays and ace those college interviews. I’ll have free handouts and if there’s time I’ll even set up some mock interviews.

Here are the details from the website:

Monday, October 18, 2010 
5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Danbury Fair Mall
7 Backus Avenue 
Danbury, Connecticut 06810
(203) 743-3247

For directions and a list of participating colleges and universities:

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“Seven Secrets of College Admissions”

An interesting and quick read from gives seven pointers on choosing the best college and raises interesting questions. Is college choice about prestige? Should it be about a journey of self-discovery? Do we do a disservice to both the school and the student by labeling it a “safety school”?

A few of the article’s answers may seem obvious. (“When touring colleges visit differences. Compare an urban campus…to a quieter campus.”) But another does not: “Scan the rankings of best colleges and ignore them.” Should we do that?

Eventually everyone’s going to have a college list. Some of these lists have been prepared years ahead of time, groomed to be Ivy League or other prestigious schools. Once you’ve got the list it’s good to step back and take an objective look. What’s not on the list?

College choice needs to be a good match with the student’s interests, both academic and non-academic. I worked with a student from Stamford who excelled in math and science, and won a science scholarship. But he also liked music and art, and knew himself well enough that he didn’t want to limit his choices. So while he applied to a couple of prestigious science-heavy schools, he also applied to schools that were well-rounded in the arts. He chose one of those schools and it turned out to be a great fit. Last year he took a heavy load of science. And he also took banjo lessons.

Look for the best fit possible, not necessarily the best name possible. Sometimes that may mean a bit of a different choice.

Read the entire article at: