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How to Write Common Application Essay 2 lessons we take from obstacles


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How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 2: Lessons We Take From Obstacles

How to Write Common Application Essay 2 lessons we take from obstaclesHave you ever faced an obstacle and had to figure out how to get through it? Did you succeed—or maybe not?

Have you ever failed at something? I mean really tanked.

Did you learn from your experience?

Then Common Application Essay prompt #2 may be for you.

This is the second in my series on how to write the 2018 Common Application essay prompts.  In this post, you’ll discover how to approach Common Application Essay prompt 2 and decide if it’s right for you.

Are you ready? Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #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?

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay
“Obstacles”…”Lessons”…”Challenge”…”Setback”…
“Failure”…”Affect you”…”Learn”

Do the Keywords Apply to You?

Answer yes IF

  • You tried something and failed, took a risk that didn’t pay off, made a decision that turned out to be faulty, achieved something you weren’t sure you could do, figured out a way to succeed without enough resources, persevered in the face of difficult circumstances.
  • AND you learned from your experience.
  • AND you can reflect on how it affected you.

how to write 2013 common app essayPitfalls to Avoid:

  • This question has three parts—make sure you answer ALL of them: Your experience, how it affected you, and what positive lessons you learned.
  • Don’t wallow in the obstacle. It’s not the obstacle that’s important. Colleges are looking for how you responded and what you learned. Don’t spend too much space on what happened. Mention it and move on.
  • Avoid writing about a bad grade or marking period. Lots of students have a bad grade or marking period. If you write about it, the risk is that your essay will sound like a lot of others. (“I worked hard and learned that I could persevere.”) Remember: If your gut says it’s a common topic, sounds boring, or doesn’t differentiate you from other applicants, then choose something else to write about.

Tip: Failure isn’t the only option. Some students think this question is only about failure. It’s not. That’s why the prompt includes the keywords “obstacle,” “challenge,” and “setback.” Your experience doesn’t have to rise to the level of failure for you to write about it. And you certainly don’t have to try and manipulate a setback or challenge to make it sound like one.

Successful Essay Topic Example:

“Snowbound Night”

When he was 15, Andrew started a snowplow business using an ATV he had purchased. But the ATV wasn’t good at plowing deep snow. Andrew knew that, and would plow out his customers two or three times during a big snowfall. But one night his alarm didn’t wake him up, and by morning there were eight inches of snow on the ground. When Andrew started to move the ATV, it got stuck in his driveway. He knew his customers were counting on him, so he worked all night to shovel out the ATV, and plowed out his customers just in time for them to get to work.

After that experience, Andrew realized he needed to upgrade his equipment so he could serve his customers better. Eventually, Andrew traded his ATV for a truck with a plow, which in turn made his business more successful. Now he would like to pursue a business career.

Why this Topic Succeeds:

•    All the keywords are addressed. Andrew told his story, examined how his failure affected him, and then wrote about the positive lessons he learned.
•    It also shows he has good character. He didn’t leave his customers hanging.

But should you really write about a failure?

Absolutely. It’s a character-building experience.

Colleges wonder whether or not you can succeed in college by handling a bad grade, a difficult roommate or another frustration. When they see you’ve already been able to handle a significant challenge, you’ve given them that answer. They start to envision the kind of person you’ll be after college, too.

how to write 2013 Common Application essay

Are You Uncomfortable Discussing Failure?

how to write Common Application how to write essay personal statementDON’T BE.  Remember, colleges look for character-building stories and problem solving skills.

In fact, Christine Hamilton, Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission at Babson College, tells me she sees a lot of failure essays and that’s okay with her. She learns a lot about the character of incoming students by hearing how they’ve coped with failure.

CAUTION: Never write about failures that include very risky behavior or anything illegal (like hanging off a cliff or being caught drinking and driving).

Next time: How to write 2018 Common Application essay prompt #3.

Other posts in Sharon Epstein’s series:
How to write 2018 Common Application Essay 1 – Background, Identity or Interest
sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills

Sharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

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How to Write Common Application Essay 1 Background Identity Interest Talent


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How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 1: Background, Identity, Interest, or Talent

How to Write Common Application Essay 1 Background Identity Interest TalentWriting a Common App essay? You may have heard there are some do’s and don’ts. You may feel ready to write, or a little bit panicky. Or you may just be looking for some extra help.

Welcome! This is your guide to the Common Application essay prompts. It’s the first of a seven-part series that will cover all the prompts. In it, you’ll discover advice and information to help you write your best Common Application essay.

You’ll learn what schools look for in a Common Application essay, how to choose an essay prompt, Common App do’s and don’ts, and how to avoid college essay pitfalls. I’ll give you essay examples, too.

Let’s Start with Common Application Essay Basics:

  • The 2018 Common Application has seven prompts. You answer one of them.
  • The Common App essay must be between 250-650 words.
  • You can’t upload more than 650 words.
  • Not every school accepts the Common Application, so check every college on your list for its essay requirements.
  • Click here for the entire list of 2018 Common App essay prompts.

What Do Schools Look for in a Common Application Essay?

  • Your writing skills.
  • Your ability to communicate your ideas.
  • Your personality on the page. (What do you care about? What makes you laugh, wonder, hope, dream, reflect, set goals, challenge yourself, want to change something? And why.)
  • A learning or growth experience.

Here are the Common Application Essay 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.

Okay, ready? Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #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.

Is this Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:how to write 2015 common app essay

Background — Identity — Interest — Talent — Meaningful — Incomplete without it.

Do these Keywords Apply to You? 

  • “Background, identity, interest, talent.” These words are meant to spark your imagination. Take a minute and think about what’s shaped your life. Is it who you are…where you’re from…what you love…how you think…a cause you advocate…a hobby you just learned? You can write about almost anything as long as it’s important to the person you’ve grown to be.
  • “Meaningful” means that this experience has shaped you in a fundamental way—it has influenced your choices, outlook, perspective and/or goals.
  • Your application would be “incomplete without it.” You need to tell this story in order for people to fully understand you. You also haven’t told it anywhere else in your application.

Choose this Prompt IF:

1. This experience helped shape you in a positive way.
2. If you didn’t tell this story, the admissions committee wouldn’t fully understand you.

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid:

  • It has to mean something.  Sure, you may like to swim or travel, but unless it’s a meaningful experience that helped define you in some way, it doesn’t qualify. You have to satisfy the keywords.
  • Don’t omit what you learned. Even though the prompt doesn’t specify it, make sure the reader sees what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown from your experience. This is essential for a complete answer.
  • Don’t sound like anyone else. Avoid writing about sports or mission trips—they’ve been written about so much most of them sound stale to admissions officers. It’s better to think about what else makes you stand out. If you’ve got the best recipe for chocolate cake or like to hunt for fossils, and you can link that to who you are, that’s going to be a more original topic.

Examples of Successful Essay Topics:

#1 – “Road Trip”

My student, Jeff, was the youngest of three brothers, both of whom were a lot older. (One was a teacher and one was in the Marine Corps.) Jeff was proud that the example his brothers set had helped him become responsible and mature, and he wanted to write about it. So he chose the summer they invited him on their cross-country trip, and the night they found themselves heading into a dangerous storm.

The two older brothers began arguing: One wanted to be safe and stop for the night and the other wanted to make it to their destination on time. Jeff recognized his brothers were at an impasse, so he checked the forecast and radar maps and figured out they could avoid the storm by taking a less direct route to their destination. When they stopped for gas, Jeff got out of the car and presented his solution. When they voiced their concerns, he calmly answered all of their questions. Eventually, his brothers agreed to continue using the longer route. When they got back in the car they asked Jeff to navigate.

By keeping a level head and finding the right way to communicate with his brothers, Jeff was able to facilitate a solution that satisfied everyone. He was proud that he helped lead them safely to their destination, and even prouder that he lived up to the examples of responsibility and maturity that his brothers had taught him.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Succeed?

  •  All the keywords are addressed. Jeff couldn’t talk about his identity without writing about his family. The example his brothers set for him made him expect a lot of himself and become a responsible leader in many of his daily activities. It was central to who he was.
  • He learned from his experience. By being mature and thoughtful he found that he could make a positive difference in a difficult situation.

#2 – “Sharks”

Nina loved animals – the sweet, non-threatening kind. She volunteered with animals at the local zoo, but had always avoided the bigger, “dangerous” ones. But then she watched the movie “Jaws.” And, oddly, Nina fell in love with sharks. As an animal lover, she became interested in their preservation, and concerned about what she felt were inaccurate, overly-negative portrayals.

Then Nina’s teacher assigned student presentations on a subject of their choice. Nina knew what she would do. Even though she was shy, she created a PowerPoint presentation designed to offer facts and to sway opinions. The class favorite was that humans have a greater chance of death by vending machines than by sharks.

Nina writes that while she might not have changed how all her friends think, the person who’s changed the most is Nina. Now when she volunteers with animals, Nina educates visitors about the more “dangerous” animals as well. And she will always argue for shark conservation.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Succeed?

  •  All the keywords are addressed. Nina couldn’t tell her story without writing about her love of animals. It was central to her identity and her application would be incomplete without it.
  • She learned from her experience. As she acquired more information, her perspective about animals grew, as did her perspective on what she wanted her role to be. She learned to be an advocate and discovered a passion she didn’t know she had.

Example of a Poor Essay Topic:

“Friends”

David enjoyed hanging out with his friends. He was a good friend and liked to spend time talking with his friends while they all hung out together. David felt he was a loyal friend and that friends would always be important in his life.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Fail?

  • The keywords are not addressed. It’s not clear why this topic is meaningful to David or why his application would be incomplete without it.
  • There’s no learning or growth experience.
  • Boring. Nothing about this idea stands out or feels original.

If David had thought more about this idea, then it might have become an interesting topic. Perhaps he had made a difficult decision regarding a friendship, or had a made a choice that failed and had to figure out how to make it right. Then this could very well have become a more successful essay.

How Do I Find Topic Ideas for My Common Application Essay?

1. Start by brainstorming. The trick is to make this fun! Scroll through your photos and take a look at your videos. Poll your parents and friends and ask them how they’d describe you. (But don’t let them make the decision for you — their memories and ideas aren’t necessarily yours.) Here’s a fun idea: listen to yourself think. It may sound silly, but how often do we think about something interesting, and then – poof – it’s forgotten. Pay attention to your thoughts. You may find you come up with an interesting insight or two.

2. Don’t stop at the obvious answers. After you think of an idea or two, think of one or two more. It gets harder, but it also forces you to really investigate what lies below the surface. Most important – don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. We all have fears and failures. None of us makes decisions that are right all the time. It’s how you deal with them that’s important. That’s what the colleges like to see.

Tip: If you need more help knowing where to start you Common Application essay, read my post on how to start writing your college essay.

Next time: How to write Common Application essay prompt #2.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills
Sharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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Top Interview Tips for Teens

Do you have a college, job, or internship interview coming up?

Would you like to feel more comfortable and confident?

When you don’t have much, or any, interview experience, there are a few tips and techniques that are especially good to know.

In this post you’ll find my top ten list of interview skills for teens. They’re easy to learn and they work. Use them and you’ll discover how to make a strong and successful impression in your interview.

Top Interview Tips for Teens

1. Arrive Early

Early means early. Being late makes a bad impression. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before your interview. Leave time for traffic jams, red lights, and a lack of parking spaces.

There’s a big bonus to arriving early. You’ll have time to sit down, relax, and get acquainted with your surroundings. You can double-check your notes. You can even take a trip to the bathroom.

If you’re not sure where you’re going, schedule a practice run. Or do it virtually. I tend to get lost, so before I go someplace new I use Google Maps street view and take a virtual trip where I’m headed. That way I can see the building I’m going to and it looks familiar when I get there.

2. Dress Appropriately

Collared shirts, khakis, dress slacks, skirts, button down blouses…this is the stuff people wear to interviews. Leave anything sheer, high cut, or low cut in your closet. Bottom line: This is one time you want to get wardrobe advice from a grownup.

3. Relax. It’s Normal to Be Nervous.

It’s okay to be nervous—in fact, a few nerves can keep us on our toes. But when you’ve got too many butterflies, here’s what to do:

Before your interview:

-Prepare. This may sound obvious, but it’s the thing that works. Know your positive qualities, have four or five examples you can talk about that illustrate your fit and experiences, and practice answering common interview questions. When you get to the interview you’ll feel more confident and in control.

The day of your interview:

-Arrive early so you can settle in.
-Take a brisk walk to shake off any jitters.
-Breathe! We forget to do this all the time.
-Bring a bottle of water. Nerves can give you a dry mouth. (But sip, don’t swig.)

During your interview:

-Remember the interviewer’s not the enemy—he or she wants you to do your best and succeed.
-If you stammer or forget something, don’t worry. It happens to everybody. Just smile and move on. If you’re really stuck, you can always say, “Can I think about it and come back to that question?”
-If you need an extra moment, take a sip of water.
-Smile. It helps you relax inside.
-Breathe.

For more help on how to de-stress, read my post on combating interview nerves.

4.  Know How to Start and End An Interview

Starting Your Interview: Look the interviewer in the eye and greet him or her with a firm handshake. Address your interviewer by name. Be cheerful and complimentary. (“Hello, Mr. Gavin, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”) Smile.

Ending Your interview. Do the same thing: Look the interviewer in the eye, shake hands, and smile. Thank the interviewer for his or her time, and make sure to say that you enjoyed the experience. (“Thanks for taking the time to meet with me, Mr. Gavin. I really enjoyed talking with you.”) Saying you enjoyed the experience is important. It helps leave the interviewer with a positive impression.

Ace your college interview - handshakesTip: A note on shaking hands. Some teens feel uncomfortable about being the first to offer a handshake. Don’t be—it’s a sign of confidence and maturity. The interviewer’s looking at you for adult qualities like maturity, responsibility, and leadership. Your handshake should be firm, but not bone crushing. And certainly not like a limp fish (!). For more information, read my post on the best ways to begin and interviews.

5. Be Able to Answer Common Interview Questions.

There are lots of possible interview questions, but some pop up repeatedly. Here’s a list of common interview questions you should know how to answer:

Tell me about yourself.
Why do you want to work here/Why do you want to go to school here?
How would you be a good fit here?
Tell me about a couple of your strengths.
What’s your biggest weakness?
What are your favorite subjects in school? Why?
What’s been your most challenging subject?
What’s gotten you curious enough to explore on your own outside of class?
How would your friends or teachers describe you?
What book(s) have you read recently outside of class?
Tell me about a time you had to overcome an obstacle or challenge.
Do you get along with your teachers?
Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?

Practicing is one of the best things you can do to get ready for an interview. Enlist a friend or family member to practice with you, and take turns being the interviewer and interviewee so you get a feel for both sides.

For more sample questions, check out my practice interview.

6. Never Give One Word Answers. Add Relevant Examples Instead.

Good interviews are conversations; they’re a give and take of information. That’s why you should never respond to questions with a one-word answer—it‘s like turning a two-way street into a dead end. Check out this “before” example:

Interviewer: “It’s nice to meet you. I see on your resume that you interned for the electric company.”
You: “Yes.”

Crickets. You just slammed the brakes on the conversation and now the interviewer has no place to go. But if you add an example, especially one that shows off your positive qualities, you create flow. Here’s what that answer might sound like:

Interviewer: “It’s nice to meet you. I see on your resume that you interned for the electric company.”
You: “Yes. I started out answering phones, but when I told them I was interested in marketing they let me switch departments and gave me a mentor. Now I’ve discovered how much I like marketing.”
Interviewer: That’s terrific. Tell me more about your mentor and how you work together.

When you include examples, you continue the conversation. The interviewer learns a lot more about you, and gets a much better sense of why you’d be a good fit.

Tip: Come up with 4 or 5 examples you can talk about in your interview. Your examples should help illustrate your positive qualities. Start by finding an example of leadership, an example of your ability to work as a team member, a time you overcame an obstacle, and both a class and an activity that have been particularly meaningful and why. Then, depending on the question you’re asked, choose the example that helps answer the question. (You can probably think of other ones, too.) If you need help figuring out your positive qualities, click here.

7. Research the School or Business.

Pretend you’re an interviewer and you ask two students why they want to go to your school. The first one says, “Because you’ve got lots of fun courses.” The second one says, “I really appreciate the school’s philosophy that to fully succeed you should know more than your single field of study.” Which student is going to stand out to you? The student with the specific answer.

To stand out, you’ve got to have specific, thoughtful answers. For that, you need to research the school or business. (Yes, this is homework, but I promise it pays off.)

Here are the steps you can use to help you ace your homework research:

How to Research a Business: Go to the company’s website. Find out what the company does, such as the products it manufactures or the services it provides. As you look through the website, pay attention to the main ideas the company highlights (Sustainability? Innovation? Connection with employees?). Next, look for news about the company on the website or search for it on Google. This will help you understand what’s new, and where the company is headed. As you go along, jot down the key points, especially the ones that make you feel like you’d be a good fit or excited to work there. You want to be able to answer questions like, “What do you know about our company?”…”Why do you want to work here?”…”Why would we be a good fit for you?”

How to Research a School: Go to the school’s website. You’re looking for two things: Information about the school and information about the students. Start by looking at the home page. What images and words appear on this page? The home page is like the school’s main ad—it’s where they’re going to hit you with a strong message about who they are and what makes them attractive. After the home page, find and read about the school’s mission and academic philosophy. Then follow the links that interest you to learn about academics, student life, activities, etc. As you go along, take notes about what interests you. Jot down the key words used to describe the school and its students (Involved? Globally aware? Research oriented?). Then come up with examples of how you fit those words and interests, so you can talk about it in the interview.

8. Use Good Body Language.

Body language is how we communicate without words. Believe it or not, before you say hello an interviewer is judging you based on your body language. That’s why good body language makes a good impression.

Here are good body language techniques:

– Sit up straight
– Look the interviewer in the eye
– Don’t fidget
– Don’t twirl your hair
Have good energy
– Keep your hands in your lap most of the time
– Smile when it’s appropriate

For more body language techniques, read my post, Six Confidence-Building Body Language Tips.

9. Ask Questions.

You should have two or three questions ready for the interviewer. Your interviewer will expect it. Write your questions down on a notepad and bring them with you. You can refer to the notepad when you ask your questions. (But don’t refer to your notes when you’re answering interview questions.) Make sure your questions are thoughtful. Don’t ask questions easily answered by the website.

Tip: You don’t have to wait until the end of the interview to ask questions. Ask questions when it feels appropriate.

how to write collehow to write college interview thank you note10. Send a Thank You Note.

This is crucial. Send a thank you email right away. If you’d like to, you can also follow up with a handwritten note. When you’re writing, don’t be too casual. Instead of “Hey” or “Hi,” say, “Dear _____.” In the body of the note refer to something the two of you talked about, because that will make it more personal. One final, very important item: Make sure you know the correct spelling of your interviewer’s name, title, and contact information. If you don’t have it, ask for it at the desk when you arrive or ask your interviewer for a business card. If you still don’t have it after the interview, call and ask. Don’t hesitate to do this; you want everything to be just right. Details matter. Mistakes matter, too.

Bonus Tip: Show Your Personality! You want to remain professional—this isn’t the time to try out a comedy routine—but don’t hide who you are. Express your personality and let the interviewer get to know you. You can do that by:

-Greeting your interviewer warmly and with a smile.
-Engaging in conversation.
Having examples and experiences ready to talk about.

Finding connections: If you discover a connection with your interviewer (a book you’ve both read, the same city you grew up in, a shared interest or hobby), discuss it! It will help the conversation flow.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills
Sharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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When Should I Start Writing My College Essay?

When Should You Start Writing Your College Essay

When’s a good time to start writing your college essay? 

Students start asking this question about now, since it’s right after the prompts for the Common Application have been released.

I’ve come up with five commonly asked questions. The answers will help you figure out the timeline that’s right for you.

Let’s get to the questions!

1. It’s February and the Common Application prompts are out. Should I start writing? 

You can — but that doesn’t mean you have to, or that you should feel pressure to get it done. In fact, The Common Application says they release their questions in February to give you time to think and brainstorm — not to stress you out about writing.

So, instead of writing, my suggestion is to read the prompts and start thinking about them. Grease up those thought wheels! You’re stretching your brain in ways it might not have been stretched in a long time (if ever). Reach back into your memory to find those important experiences. You’ll need details. So make the experience fun. Take the time to brainstorm now, and start writing later.  You’ll probably be surprised at the stories you have to tell.

For more advice on brainstorming, check out my blog post on how to start writing your college essay.

2. Can I wait until summer to write my college essay?

Yes. Summer is an excellent time to start writing! It gives you the chance to think about the prompts and then get through junior year (whew!) before you start writing.

Let’s talk about a summer timeline: The best time to start is right after school ends. Give yourself six weeks to write your essay. If that sounds like a lot, remember that college essays aren’t a “one and done.” Count on your essay needing at least three drafts and a polish. (Some students write more drafts than that.) So don’t put it off — start as early in the summer as you can.

3.  What if I’m working or going away for the summer?

Great question. If you’re going away, doing an internship, or working lots of hours, the amount of free time you’ll have to write will be impacted. So do some time management: figure out how much time you’ll have and when you’ll have it. Set up a schedule to keep to your goals.

Tip: Don’t shortchange yourself. It’s easy to think, “I’ll write when I get back,” but if you’ve only got a week or two, that’s going to be a tough hill to climb. You should give yourself several weeks to think, write, rewrite, and polish.

4. Can I wait until senior year to write my college essay?

Yikes! I don’t ever recommend waiting until the fall to start writing your college application essay. Senior year is busy and often filled with tough courses. And applying to college is stressful. Put those together and you’ve amped up your workload and topped it with stress, and that’s not a good combo. You might also have to write supplemental essays, fill out applications, write essays for colleges not on the Common App, and study for late testing dates. All of that will demand your attention like a pack of relentlessly hungry puppies nipping at your feet. (Although I love puppies.)

5. Has my story happened yet?

This is an important question. If you’re stuck for the right story to tell, maybe it hasn’t happened yet. For juniors who are reading this post in February, March, or April — you can grow and change a lot in a few months. You’ve got new experiences ahead of you. So if you’re feeling like your essay topic isn’t the right one yet, and you have some time to spare — wait a little while and maybe you’ll find your essay.

Here’s a Summary:
first impressions college consulting calendar

  • Start brainstorming topics after the essay questions come out.
  • If you want to write during the end of junior year, that’s fine but not required.
  • Most students write their essays during the summer.
  • Manage your time.
  • Aim to finish before senior year starts. Your stress level will thank you.

Get this essay checked off and under your belt and you’ll be in great shape for everything else you need to do.

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 resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

 


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2018-2019 Common Application Essay Prompts

Common Application Prompts 2018-2019

Great news!

The Common Application essay prompts are out for 2018-2019. No changes have been made, so they stay the same as last year.

In the coming weeks I’ll be writing detailed posts on how to answer each prompt. You’ll learn how to understand, think about, and write outstanding college application essays.

In the meantime, here’s what you need you know about the Common Application Essay:

  • You answer one of seven prompts.
  • The maximum essay length is 650 words.
  • You might also hear it called the Common Application Personal Statement.
  • Look for more information on the Common Application website or Facebook page.

2018-2019 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

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 resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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 resumes that work, 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.


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6 Confidence-Building Body Language Tips for Your Next Interview

6 Body Language Tips for Successful Interviews

It takes just a few seconds before we pass judgement on someone we meet. We can’t help it; it’s our nature. Even before a person speaks our brains start to give us the thumbs up or thumbs down.

Body language is how we communicate without words. It can be a look, a smile, a stance, a gesture. It can be a fidget, a crossed arm, a slouch.

Interviewers start to make decisions about you the moment they see you. That’s before you say hello. So if your body is talking, you need to know what it’s saying. Because in an interview, good body language is essential to your interview’s success.

If you’ve got a job interview, a college interview, or an internship interview, here are 6 simple and successful body language tips:

1. Sit up straight. Slouching is a sign that you lack confidence. Leaning back is a sign that you’re defensive or don’t care.

2. Lean slightly forward. When you lean slightly forward you lessen the space between you and the interviewer. It shows increased interest in the conversation.

3. Don’t fidget. Fidgeting is a sign of discomfort or weakness. It’s also distracting. If you twirl your hair, pull it back. If you twist or rub your hands, fold them in front of you or keep them flat in your lap. If you tap your pen, put it away. Fidgeting can be a hard habit to break, but if you work on being aware of when you do it, and stop yourself when you do, you’ll find that over time you’ll be able to control it more easily.

4. Maintain good eye contact. Looking someone in the eye is a sign of honesty and directness. It also shows that you’re engaged in the conversation. It’s okay to occasionally look away — most of us do that, especially when we’re thinking. But remember to bring your eyes back to the interviewer. Don’t stare, though — that can get creepy.

5. No limp fish handshakes. A strong handshake is a sign of confidence, so be firm when you shake someone’s hand. Too strong a handshake can come off as aggressive (and potentially painful). So can holding on for too long. Not sure about your handshake? Find several people to practice with.

6. Smile. A genuine smile lights up your face. It shows the interviewer that you’re happy to be there and that you’re enjoying the experience. So when you meet your interviewer, smile. And when it’s appropriate during the interview, smile (or even laugh). Definitely smile when you shake hands and leave — that’s the last picture your interviewer will have of you.

For more information about interviewing, check out my posts on how to begin and end college interviews and why you might be failing your job interview.

All eyes are on you from the moment you arrive for your interview until the moment you leave. Make sure your body language speaks volumes — in the right way.

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 resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

 


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How to Answer “Why This College?” pt. 2: 5 Steps to Writing a Great Essay

In my last post I wrote about what schools look for in a “Why Do You Want to Attend our School?” essay.

Buckle up! It’s time to start putting pen to paper.

Here are 5 Steps to Writing a Great “Why This College” Essay:

1. Before You Start Writing, Understand What Makes this School Different From Other Schools. Here’s how to collect that info:

  • Pay attention when you visit. Meet students, talk to faculty. When something interests you, ask questions.
  • Read the website thoroughly (not just the home page). Learn about the school’s educational philosophy and traditions.
  • Locate videos on the website to hear students tell you what they’re doing and why they like attending. This can help give you ideas!
  • Find the news page on the school website that relates to your area of interest and read at least one article that catches your eye. Your goals is to get excited about a teacher, a research program, an invention, a new book—something you can refer to in your essay.

Tip: Googling is an excellent shortcut. College websites can sometimes feel overwhelming. When you’re looking deeper for news and information, Googling can often get you there faster.

How to be awesome with Google: Use specific search terms. Let’s say you’re applying to the University of Illinois and you’re interested in bioengineering. Google  “University of Illinois bioengineering.” But a general search will return masses of information, so use the news tab for research and other news. Similarly, if you’re interested in joining a club, such as an outdoors club, Google the school’s name and “outdoor club” or “environment” or “hikes” and see what you find. (Do a general search here, not news.) Search videos too. One of my students discovered a video from a robotics class and wrote about how he’d work as part of that team.

WHEN YOU WRITE:

How to write "why this school" essay2. Don’t Be a Lightweight 

  • Make academics your main focus. It’s okay to mention after-school activities and dorm life as long as you’re knowledgeable about substantial things like courses, instructors, academic opportunities and educational philosophy.

3. Say How You’ll Fit In

  • Visualize yourself as a freshman on campus:  What classes are you taking? Why do you love being there? How are you contributing to the campus community? Why are you a good match? Write about it.

4. If You’ve Talked to People, Say So

  • Whether it’s a tour guide, admissions counselor, coach or professor, making a personal connection shows initiative and enthusiasm. So if you’ve talked to someone, write about it!
  • Mention what you learned from the people you talked to, and be specific about how it pertains to you. For instance, “My tour guide told me he had a great time at school” has nothing to do with you. BUT, if you say, “My tour guide told me how accessible all my professors will be. That’s the kind of atmosphere I’m looking for,” then you’ve written a sentence that is specific and shows how the idea relates to you.

5. It’s Almost Never Too Late to Make a Personal Connection

  • Even if your deadline’s looming you can probably get in touch with a student, alum, or coach.
  • Put on your thinking cap! Take advantage of any connections you have. If you have a friend or relative who attended, get in touch. If there’s a friend of a friend, use that connection! Don’t hesitate to reach out. Ask your friends, parent or relative to be the bridge to help you connect, and then email or give that person a call.
  • If you don’t know anyone personally, it’s still easy to connect. Here’s what you do:
    • Start by locating the email or phone number of the admissions office on the website.
    • Then call or write. They won’t bite—in fact, they’ll be delighted to hear from you. Then ask them to put you in touch with a student in your major so you can learn more.
  • Prepare a few questions so you know what to ask.

    • Here are some suggested questions: What professors do you recommend, what surprised you the most when you got to campus, what’s the best/hardest part about this major, what’s a typical day like at school, what do you do to relax, do you feel like you’re being prepared well to graduate, how do you think you’ll use your degree? Keep asking questions until you find something that gets you excited about going there!

True Story about Making A Personal Connection:

Last year I worked with a student applying to Cornell Engineering. His interests had changed since he’d visited, and now he was interested in pursuing two possible engineering paths, not just one. The problem was that he didn’t know much about the second path and the website wasn’t specific.

I suggested he email Cornell admissions and ask to be connected to a student in that major. When he did, they responded immediately with a contact. Then I helped him create five questions to ask. He emailed the student, introduced himself, and asked his questions. A few follow-up questions and he was done. By the time he was finished, my student had a much better grasp on the second engineering track. Now he could show the school he understood why it would be a good fit and why he was excited by what they had to offer.

It was just that easy.

Everyone who’s writing a “Why This School” essay should try to make at least one personal connection and then use these 5 steps to write a great essay.

NEXT: Part 3—Successful writing techniques, plus examples of essays in action.

Posts in this series:
Part 1: “Why This College”: What Schools Want
Part 2: 5 Steps to Writing a Great “Why This College” Essay
Part 3: “Why This College?” Essay Examples and Successful Writing Techniques

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2012 and has been updated to include additional information and examples.

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 resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


 

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