Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


Leave a comment

Writing College Admissions Essays -Trying to Stand Out

Writing Common Application essay personal statement how to stand outI just ran across a blog I wrote and never posted. It’s about how to help your college application essay get noticed. When I discovered it yesterday, sitting in my files, patiently waiting for me to recall its existence, I realized it’s the perfect post for this time of year. The 2017 Common Application essay prompts have just been published, and while February’s too soon to start writing it is time to start thinking about how you can make your essay stand out.

After a bit of tweaking, this is the post:

A lot of students ask me this question:

How do I get colleges to notice me? There are so many qualified applicants, how do I stand out?

Here’s what I—and lots of my colleagues—say:

It’s got to be about you. Not just what you do, not necessarily what you’ve accomplished. You.

What does that mean?

In an Ivy Admissions article posted on College Confidential, Karl Furstenberg, former Dartmouth College Dean of Admissions, says that in order to separate well-qualified candidates he looks “at the intangibles.” Intangibles go beyond what you can quantify (measure), like grades, accomplishments, or even an activity list.

It’s like judging a music competition where all the competitors play the correct keys. In order to choose the best, the judges must look beyond the notes. They look for what moves them

College applicants must display their “musicianship”—“those personal aspects that add nuance and passion to the application.” In pianistic terms, the article says, “they must perform the notes that lie between the keys.”

“Between the keys” is who you are: What are you values? What do you stand for? What do you care about? Where does your heart lie? These are the intangibles that schools look for in your college application essays. This is what will separate you from the crowd.

Do This!how to write Common Application how to write essay personal statement

If you want to stand out, start by figuring out “who am I?” and “what do I want the colleges to know about me?” Make a list of your positive qualities. Write down examples of how you’ve demonstrated them in your life. List what you love, from your rock collection to your family to your dream of flying in space. Everyone’s list will be different. That’s the point. It needs to be about you.

Make sure you take the time to think, brainstorm, and understand why you care about what you do. Take the time to find yourself between the keys.

Because the difference probably isn’t going to be your grades. It’s going to be you.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills


Find your story. Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She’s a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee who teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. I work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype, Facetime and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


1 Comment

2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts

2017-2018 Common Application essay prompts

Great news!

The Common Application personal statement essay prompts are out for 2017-2018. They’re new and improved: There are now 7 questions instead of 5. Best of all, there are more possibilities for writing an essay that has impact and lets your personality shine through.

Juniors: This absolutely doesn’t mean you have to amp up the stress and start writing in February. But do read the Common App prompts and give yourself time to think. Write stuff down. Take photos. Brainstorm ideas. Then, when it’s time to start writing, you’ll have you’ll have exciting places to begin.

Common App essay requirements:

  • You answer one of seven prompts.
  • The maximum essay length is 650 words.

Here are the 2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts:

Instructions: What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response.

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 obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

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, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. 

Tip: Check out this article on the Common Application prompts by Scott Anderson, Senior Director at The Common Application. He provides excellent insight into how to think about these questions.

 College Essay Writing helpInteresting Stats from 2015-2016 Applications:

  • More than 800,000 applicants submitted a Common Application
  • 47 percent chose to write about their background, identity, interest, or talent – making it the most frequently selected prompt
  • 22 percent wrote about an accomplishment
  • 10 percent wrote about a problem solved

For more information, go to the Common Application website or The Common App’s Facebook page.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing insights, question by question, to help students understand, think about, and write outstanding college application essays.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills


Find your story. Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She’s a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee who teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. I work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype, Facetime and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


Leave a comment

College Essay Time Management for LD Students

college essay time management for LD studentsSmart Kids with Learning Disabilities just published an article in their newsletter about time management for kids with LD.

While it’s not specifically about writing college application essays, a lot of the same advice applies—such as breaking down tasks down into manageable pieces, making tasks achievable and keeping track of time. I’ve also found that if students are taking medication for a condition that affects learning (such as ADHD), that it’s helpful if they’re on the medication when they sit down to write—it can make the process more successful.

Enjoy the article.

 

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee. First Impressions tutors are award-winning writers and authors who teach students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. We work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype, FaceTime and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


Leave a comment

How to Write 2016 Common Application Essay Personal Statement 1-5

How to Write Common Application Essay Personal Statement 1-5

Are you looking information about how to write your Common Application essay? This is the place to start. I just finished writing a series of posts about the 2016 Common Application essay questions. Each one explains the prompt, examines the keywords and tells you what the colleges are looking for. PLUS you’ll read successful essay topic examples and get lots of ideas about how to approach your own essay.

Here are the links:

2016 Common Application Essay #1: Background, Identity, Interest or Talent
2016 Common Application Essay #2: A Time You Experienced Failure
2016 Common Application Essay #3: A Time You Challenged A Belief or Idea
2016 Common Application Essay #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
2016 Common Application Essay #5: An Event that Marked Your Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

You’ll also like How to start writing your college application essay.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee. First Impressions tutors are award-winning writers and authors who teach students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. We work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


6 Comments

College Essay Help: How To Start Writing Your College Essay

how to start writing your college essayNot long ago a student called me. His guidance counselor asked him to write his college application essay and he wanted to brainstorm ideas. But then he confessed:

“I don’t even know where to start.”

That’s when I realized I needed to write this post. Because by the time you’re finished reading it, you’ll know how to start writing your college application essay personal statement—and have lots of ideas as well.

How Start Writing Your College Application Essay

1. Read Other College Application Essays. Get a feel for college essays by reading samples you can find online and in books. Some schools post their best essays online, including Hamilton College, Tufts, and Johns Hopkins. I especially like Johns Hopkins because you can read comments from their admissions officers, who tell you what they like about each essay.

Tip: Google the schools on your college list and see if they post college admissions essays. A good search term is “Essays that Worked.”

2. Use What You Read as Inspiration, Not Competition. This comment is for all the students who read sample essays and think they can “never write anything as good.” What makes an essay good is that the author has dug deep and put a part of him or herself directly on the page—it’s honest and written from the heart. That’s exactly what you need to do with your story—be honest and write from your heart. So get inspired, not intimidated.

3. Here Are Three More Things You Can Learn From Reading Essays:

Structure.

College Essay Help How to Start Your College Application EssayThere are lots of ways to structure an essay. An essay can be one story or a series of events; it can take place in one moment or over a longer period of time; it can be told chronologically or out-of-order; it can take place in the past or present tense (Or, if you want to get fancy, both.)

Find an essay or two you like and take a look at how they’re structured. If you find one that inspires you, that may be the structure for you.

Writing Techniques.

College Essay Help How to Start Your College Application Essay Good essays use good writing techniques. Pay special attention to how the writer grabs your attention from the beginning. (Read 3 Ways to Start an Interesting College Essay.) Focus on how the writer uses detail to illustrate the story’s look, feel, sound, taste and smell. Then read it out loud. (Yes, really!) I want you to notice that when sentences are different lengths the essay flows better. These are all super writing techniques you can use.

Personality.

College Essay Help How to Start Your College Application Essay

Everybody has a personality. (Okay, almost everybody.) But if your personality’s not in the essay, how’s the college going to get to know you? More important, how will they separate you from the next student, or the next 50 students?

Take this essay personality quiz: When you’re finished reading a sample essay ask yourself these questions: Did you get a sense of the writer’s personality and values? Could you strike up an interesting conversation with this person? Do you think he or she has told you one of the most important things about him or herself? Would the writer make a good college student? You should be able to answer yes to all of those questions. That’s what your essay should do, too.

Now, Make It Work for You!

4. Identify Your Positive Qualities. Are you kind? Compassionate? Determined? One of the best ways to create a unique essay is to showcase your positive qualities. Identifying your positive qualities can often help you find a topic, too.

5. Brainstorm Every Possibility. Get creative! Never set limits on your ideas until you’ve thought of everything.

6. Display Your Passion. What do you love? What do you care about? What motivates you to learn and be curious outside the classroom? Get excited to write about what puts a fire under your feet and you’ll make your college reader excited, too. Passion is contagious!

7. You Don’t Need a Unique Topic, Just a Personal Approach. If you have an original topic, go for it. But the truth is, lots of students are passionate about similar events like travel, family and sports. If that’s the case, you must, must, must find an approach that’s unique to you. How do you do that? Show us the world from your point of view. If you want to write about sports, for instance, don’t write about winning “the big game”—think about why that sport matters to you. One of my students wrote about her love-hate relationship with her workout routine and used it to show her passion for rowing. Your essay should reflect your personality—no one else should be able to write it but you.

8. Be Someone Colleges Want to Accept. Colleges want students they feel will succeed now and far into the future. So show them you’re the person they’re looking for. Have you been through a tough situation? Show you’re resilient. Have you had to make decisions? Show you’re responsible. Write about your curiosity, your courage, your problem-solving skills—whatever is special to you. Get colleges excited in what you care about, and give them a great reason to accept you.

So…put your passion and heart on the page. Present it from your point of view. Show the colleges you’re ready to head into your future.

Now that you know how to start, you’re on your way.

Related post:
3 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Start Writing Your College Application Essay

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills
Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting. She is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee. Contact Me for more information or to schedule an appointment. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

First Impressions tutors teach students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. We work with students around the world. 

Save

Save


Leave a comment

Helping Students with Learning Differences Transition to College: A Mom’s 10 Tips

Helping Students with Learning Differences Transition to College Mom's 10 TipsRecently, I participated in a college prep panel at Eagle Hill School in Greenwich, Connecticut, a school that educates children with language-based learning disabilities. My role on the panel was to discuss successful college essay writing techniques for students with learning differences.

Liz Evans was also a panelist. Liz is the mom of six children, five with learning differences. During the evening Liz shared her anxieties and hopes about the college process, as well as some of her experiences with her kids, (some of whom succeeded  and some who did not) in the transition from high school to college.

She gave Ten Tips for Parents of LD Students Who Are About to Embark on a College Search. Liz graciously agreed to let me reprint her comments here:

My comments are totally anecdotal. I’m not a professional, I’m a mom of six kids, five of whom have diagnosed learning differences.

As background, we have six children. Two have graduated from college and are gainfully employed. Two are freshmen in college: one who panicked first semester, left and is now enrolled at a different university and doing well; the other experiencing success from day one.

One never made the transition to college or any post high school program. One floundered in traditional college and became successful in community college…although that is currently on hold.

Each case was unique.

The kinds and amounts of support required were different for each. Each child’s understanding of his or her needs was unique.

Here is What We Learned From Our Kids’ Experiences:

1. First, it goes without saying, but the support program at the colleges our children attend are extremely important.

Before they begin the search process make sure the student is familiar with the recommendations that have been developed from their educational evaluations. Then, when the student interviews with the school’s support program, they should go over each item on the list with the school and write down how they will access that support.

As a parent, I would independently research the support programs at the schools your child is considering. I would allow your student to interview with the support programs and get a feel for their help, but independently from their interviews I would discuss with the school what you see as important support tactics for your child. For example, it is helpful to know whether the school will talk to you if things are not going well academically for your child. Can your child sign a waiver allowing them to speak with you?

Ask probing questions of the support program. Don’t take anything for granted:

  • How many staff members for how many students?
  • How are accommodations explained to professors?
  • Is tutoring and note taking part of the support program or available to anyone? That’s important, because if tutoring is available to anyone, there is often a long lead time to get an appointment.
  • Is it professional or peer tutoring?
  • If tests are to be taken at a different location, what is the process for making those arrangements?
  • Will your child have one main contact or just the office at large?

2. Second, we found that our kids who had internalized their need for support were most successful. Their parents, their high school teachers and counselors, and their educational consultants can try to convince students of their need for support, but they have to believe it and be willing to make accepting that support a high priority.

3. Those students who had grappled with failure were more successful. (They weren’t dejected by the challenges college presented.) One of our kids failed two or three classes, but she kept on going. I believe the ability for a student to allow him or herself to be vulnerable correlates with success. Having a soft landing for those difficult blows helps, however…and that is where a support system that your child will utilize is important.

4. If your student is coming from a high school that caters to students with learning disabilities, they need to be ready for the reality that their roommates and friends will spend much less time on their work and nevertheless be successful.

5. Those students who had a strong work ethic were most successful.

6. Students have to believe that they can be successful. Our son, who was enrolled for all of two months at Rochester Institute of Technology, never saw himself as being able to be successful. He wasn’t ready for college emotionally.

7. Again, this is just in my personal experience, but our kids who chose schools that were a little lower on the competitive scale than others they were accepted to, did better.

8. From my vantage point as a parent, if your kids are transitioning from a supportive, specialized LD program, they may not be  in a good position to realize that the teaching methods and support they are accustomed to is not typical. So that while they may recognize they qualify for extra help, it still can be a wake up call when the class instructional techniques are very different from the techniques that have been used in their LD high school.

9. Visit more than once. Revisit the school’s support program. Spend the night, if possible.

10. If the school your child decides to attend offers a summer program, I highly recommend taking advantage of that opportunity. We didn’t encourage our son, who attended The University of Vermont, to do that. The result was that he found the transition from a small high school to a big university overwhelming and never got past it.

I’m sure this is most likely self intuitive for most of you.  It can be such an exciting time that you share with your kind of adult child. They need to feel in control, but recognize that parents have a role in the process.

Related Posts:
Should I Disclose a Learning Difference in My College Essay?
Questions to Ask About College Services for Learning Differences

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills

Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee. First Impressions tutors are award-winning writers and authors. We teach students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. We work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


1 Comment

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

How to write Common App prompt 5 discuss an event that marked your transition from 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 2016 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

“Dance Studio”

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. She is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee. First Impressions tutors teach students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. We work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.