Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


Resumes and Activity Sheets: Good Idea When Applying to College?

Are resumes or activity sheets a good idea to use when applying to college?

This question recently sparked a lively debate among admissions professionals on LinkedIn.  Interestingly, the answers were split.  Here’s a representative sampling:

Admission CounselorsAdvice:

Joanne Robertson, Assistant Director, Transfer Admissions at Quinnipiac University, says yes to activity sheets but no to resumes: “Although it is a great icebreaker for the student to provide us with an activity sheet, unless they are applying for one of our majors that need documented hours for the admission requirement, a resume is definitely overkill. I have had the unfortunate experience of talking to parents who overwhelm us with details on “internships” etc. Seriously, then why is your child applying to college? Sounds like they are already set.”

Warren Harman, Admission Professional at Clarkson University, says yes to resumes and activity sheets:  “Every time I open an application I ask “Who are you?” Hopefully, the student’s application will answer that question. The resume gives our team a better idea of what the student is most passionate about. Call it what you will, a resume or activities sheet gives us a better feel for how happy the student would be to attend our school.”

Ken Higgins, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Sacred Heart University, also says yes to resumes and activities sheets: “Oftentimes I’ll ask a student if they have any sort of resume or an activities sheet so we can go over that and discuss each bullet or topic. That gives me a sense of their extracurricular activities as well.”

Opinions differ, so what should you do?

  • When admissions professionals didn’t like resumes it was usually because of their unnecessary detail and length (some they saw were six pages long). If your resume is more than a couple of pages, try putting together an activities list that doesn’t include the typical resume stuff like where you go to school, GPA, scores, etc.
  • Don’t include huge explanations and don’t include every single thing you did in the past four years.
  • Don’t be fooled into thinking you definitely need a resume/activity sheet. If everything you want to say is easily conveyed through what they ask on the application, then don’t include anything extra.
  • Don’t duplicate information already provided in the application.

Look for part two: “Attaching Resumes or Activity Sheets to an Application – The Right Way”

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College Admissions: Competitors to the Common App

Got applications? Maybe you’ll be using the Common Application. Then again, maybe not.

A recent article in the New York Times, entitled “More Than One Way to Apply to College,” discussed competitors to the Common Application, including the Universal College Application, the Common Black College Application, and a portal called Xap. Here’s some information you should know:


The Common Application is the granddaddy of the one-stop application, allowing students to apply to multiple schools with one form. Currently, the Common App has 414 member schools. But the requirements it makes of its members, including requiring a college application essay, have excluded many institutions from joining. Public schools are especially under-represented.


Universal doesn’t ask its schools to require a college application essay. In fact, if you’re applying to one that doesn’t, you won’t see that requirement pop up in your application. For schools that do require a college application essay, Universal suggests a maximum of 500 words. That’s much different from the minimum 250 required by the Common App, which often means essays go far beyond 500 words.

The Universal College Application is accepted by over 80 colleges. The hope is that as this number grows, schools will gain access to a broader range of students who are applying to both public and private colleges, thereby increasing the diversity of their applicant pool. A wide range of schools accept Universal, including the University of New Haven, Johns Hopkins, Duke, and Harvard.


According to the New York Times, this portal processed 4 million college applications last year. From here students can apply to over 900 colleges and universities.

One section on the site connects to state-wide “Mentor systems.” What’s great about this system is that it imports information from one application into all the other applications in that same state. Several dozen, including Connecticut, participate. You can access this section from Xap, or from each school’s website (although not all schools have it listed). For UConn, go to, click “apply online” and you’ll see info for creating a CT Mentor  account.

There’s no charge for using the Mentor system, other than the application fee.


From here a student can apply to 35 historically black colleges and universities at once. There is a $35 fee which covers all the schools, replacing the individual application fees charged by each institution. That can save a lot of money.

Which to use? That’s up to your college choices. If you’re applying to a lot of schools in-state, Xap can make the process easier. If you’re applying to primarily public schools, the Common App might be your best bet.

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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: Free Talk on College Essay Writing Oct. 28

Join me for “The ABC’s of Writing a Great College Application Essay,” Thursday, October 28th at 7:30 pm at the Mark Twain Library in Redding, Connecticut. I’ll be joined by Matthew Dempsey, Assistant Director of Admission at Fairfield University. This is a program for both students and parents.

I’ll give an overview of the college application essay writing process — what colleges generally look for, essay writing style and tips, and time management. Matthew Dempsey will share his role as an admission counselor and essay reader, and also talk about Fairfield University’s new test-optional policy, which requires a second long essay.

Come — have fun — learn — and bring your questions!

There’s no charge for this program. Please contact the library to register at (203) 938-2545

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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.