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

3. 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 #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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2015-2016 Common Application Essay Prompts

2015-2016 Common Application Essay PromptsThe news is in!

The Common Application just announced The Common Application essay prompts for 2015-2016.

  • There are five questions to choose from.
  • The maximum essay length is 650 words.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing insights, question by question, to help students understand, think about, and write outstanding college application essays.  I have lots of ideas to pass along.  In the meantime —

Here are the 2015-2016 Common Application Essay Prompts:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

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?

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

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.

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

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 lectures extensively on essay writing. 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 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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Choosing the Right Words for Your Resume

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.


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2014-2015 Common Application Essay Prompts

2014-2015 Common Application essay prompts

The news is in!

The Common Application just announced that The Common Application essay prompts for 2014-15 will be the same as last year.

The essay length will continue to be capped at 650 words.

Last year, nearly 70 percent of Common Application member colleges and 90 percent of school counselors said that the prompts were effective in helping students represent themselves to colleges. So they’re doing it again.

That’s good news. Last year my students wrote terrific essays using these prompts. And in the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing what I learned, and writing about how students can answer them.  I have lots of ideas to pass along.

In the meantime, here is the list:

The 2014-2015 Common Application Essay Prompts:

  • 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.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure.  How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.  What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. 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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Best Ways to Begin and End College Interviews

Best Ways to Begin and End College Interviews

How you begin and end your college interview makes a difference.

Your college interview begins even before you say hello. It starts when the interviewer sees you for the first time and notices how you hold yourself, how you dress, if you smile.

Make a great impression: know how to begin and end your college interviews.

  • Be the First to Offer a Handshake. When you meet your interviewer, make eye contact, smile and hold out your hand. The interviewer will see someone who’s enthusiastic, confident and mature.

    Ace your college interview - handshakes
  • Greet the Interviewer by Name. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr./Mrs./Dean _______.  Thanks for taking the time to see me.”
    • Wait! Do you even know the interviewer’s name?? If you’re meeting an alum and you were contacted by email, check there. If you’ve made an appointment to see an admissions officer during a college visit, either ask for the name when you make the appointment or ask politely at the desk when you arrive.
    • Use the interviewer’s correct title, such as “Dean Johnson.”
    • What if the name is difficult to pronounce? Here’s what to say:  “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Dzubak. Did I get the pronunciation right?” Give yourself triple bonus points for trying – because most students probably won’t.
    • Want to remember your interviewer’s name? Take a notepad with you and write it down before you go.

  • Confidence Counts. I’ve answered my door to many students who look like they want to disappear into the woodwork. But it’s the student who stands tall and greets me with enthusiasm that has a head start. That’s the student who appears ready for college.
    • You can be one of those students – all it takes is practice.
    • Practice having an adult greet you. Work on your confidence level and greeting skills until you’re comfortable enough to handle the real thing.
  • When It’s Over, Say Thank You. You’d be surprised how many students (and adults) miss this important step.how to write collehow to write college interview thank you note
  • You Can Also Say:
    • “I really appreciate the opportunity to meet with you.”
    • “I learned a lot today – it’s made me even more interested in attending.”
    • “I really enjoyed talking with you. I appreciate the time.”
    • “Would it be okay to get in touch if I have any more questions?”

These sentences are courteous and thoughtful. You’re letting the interviewer know that you’re aware he or she made time for you. When you appreciate that effort out loud, you make a good impression.

  • Send a Thank You Note.
    • Send an email thank you right away. Follow up with a snail mail thank you within a week.
    • In your note, mention something that you spoke about during the interview. For instance:

“Dear Dean Hart, Thank you for taking the time to speak with me last week. After we spoke, I researched the study abroad program you suggested and I agree with you—it looks like it could be an excellent match with my major.”

When you mention what you spoke about in the interview, or even include additional material that relates to your discussion, you’re creating a good impression. Your interviewer will take note, and that’s the way you start to build a relationship. Relationships can make a difference when colleges decide which students to admit.

Begin and end your college interview by using these steps. Your interviewer will be impressed.

Related blog posts:
5 Best Tips for College Interview Success
College Interview Tips: Is it Okay to Ask for Something to Drink?
College Interview Tips: How to Interview with an Alum
College Interview Tips: Combatting Nerves
Interview Tips: How to Interview with a College Sports Coach

Other helpful links:
From Go See Campus: Make A Great Impression In Your College Interviews
From Princeton Review: College Interviews

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. 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 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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Read My New Interview on i-Student Global

I just finished an interview with i-student global:A Cup of Tea with Sharon Epstein.” (Yes, I’ve been outed – tea is my drink of choice.) It gives an overview of college essay writing from my point of view. 

If you haven’t heard of it, i-student global is an in-depth resource for students who want to study abroad. For the past several years, I’ve been a contributor to i-student global. The site’s packed full of information, resources, college scholarships, student blogs, and expert advice from college counselors.

Even if you’re not a prospective international student, you’ll find loads of college admissions resources that can be helpful in your own college application process.

While you’re there, check out the articles I’ve written for the site: “7 Tips for a Great ‘Why This School’ Essay,”10 Tips for Writing a Successful College Application EssayandWriting Personal Essays in 500 Words or Less.”

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. 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 students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.