Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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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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How to Answer “Why This College?” Essay – pt. 1: What Schools Want

how to answer why this school essay

“Dear Student,
Please respond to this question: ‘Why do you want to go to OUR GREAT SCHOOL U?'”

How do you answer this question?

In this series of posts we’ll tackle this question. I’ll tell you what colleges look for (part 1) and then we’ll dig deeper so you can start writing (part 2). You’ll read essay examples to learn what works and what doesn’t work (part 3). I’ll even take you step-by-step through a “Why this school” essay sample that shows you how to write a successful essay even if you don’t know much about the school. 

Ready? Let’s do it!

First
This is an important essay
. Give it some time and thought.

Your Goal
Use specific examples to show that you understand what makes the college special and why it’s a good fit for you.

Schools Want to Know
1. That you “get them.” This means that you understand what makes them different from other schools. Take into consideration their academic philosophy, traditions, student life, etc.
2. Why you’re a good match for them. How will you fit in? How will you contribute? How will you take advantage of what they have to offer? Tell them why their school matters to you.

Schools Don’t Like
1. Vague answers such as “Your school really inspires me”… “I like cold weather”…“The campus is amazing.”

2. Hearing information they already know. Here’s an example: “I’m looking forward to going to OUR GREAT SCHOOL U because it has a Division I Soccer Team.”

Good right? No. They know they have a Division I soccer team. Personalize it instead: “I’ve been following Division I soccer for years and was excited when OUR GREAT SCHOOL U made it to the NCAA Soccer finals last December. I’ll be in the stands cheering when I get to campus next fall.”

Here’s a similar problem I see a lot: “Your Great School U. offers xxx number of majors and over xxx number of clubs.”

Again, they know how many majors and clubs they have. They care about why that matters to you.

Find a way to personalize it. For example: “At Your Great School I’ll be able to explore my diverse interests knowing I’ll be able to find the major that’s right for me. Outside of class my interests range from Cricket to tutoring, and with so many clubs I’ll be able to find the ones that I enjoy.”

Tip: When you state a fact about the school, that’s your cue to follow it with how it relates to you.

Don’t Use the Same Essay for Different Schools

Sometimes it’s possible to use the same first sentences for more than one essay (see part 3 for an example). But this isn’t a “fill in the blank” essay where you can plug in the name of a dorm or professor—the admissions committee will catch that.  Remember, the more specific you are the more successful you will be.how-to-answer-why-this-school

READ THE REST OF THE SERIES:
Part 2:
  5 Steps to Writing A Great Why This College Essay
Part 3:  “Why This College” Essay Samples

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

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.

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Common Application Essay Quiz – Are You Ready To Write?

common-application-essay-quiz-first-impressions-college-consulting

Are you ready to write your Common Application essay? Take this quiz and find out.

It’s a fun way to collect some important info before you sit down at the keyboard. Because writing a great college essay isn’t just about getting something written—you need to know what you’re writing and why.

quiz-nightsTest yourself! See how many answers you know.

Ready? Here goes—

  1. What’s the maximum word length of a Common Application Essay?
  2. Name at least three things colleges look for in a Common Application essay.
  3. How important is it to write about a big event in your life?
  4. Can you name at least three of your positive qualities?
  5. What’s sensory detail and why is it important?
  6. If you’re having trouble writing or finding a topic, where can you get help?
  7. Should you let someone read your essay when it’s finished?
  8. What if you’re not inspired by the Common Application prompts—are you stuck?
  9. Can you revise your essay after it’s been uploaded?
  10. Why is it important to capture your reader’s attention at the start?
  11. What’s the most important thing to do before you write?
  12. BONUS QUESTION: How many Common Application questions are there this year?

http://clipart-library.com/clipart/56782.htm

Answers:

1. What’s the maximum word length of a Common Application Essay? 650 words. You can’t upload more than that.

2. Name at least three things colleges look for in a Common Application Essay. Colleges look for several things, including:

  • Your writing skills
  • Your communication skills
  • Your personality on the page
  • Some of your best qualities or values
  • How you think or make decisions
  • And often, what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown from your experience

3. How important is it to write about a big event in your life? Not at all. In fact, some of the best essays are about smaller moments in life. How do you find your smaller moments? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Have you made a decision or have a personal accomplishment not many people know about?
  • Is there a hobby or interest that shows off your personality?
  • Is there an object in your room, garage, or coat pocket that means a lot to you and has a story behind it?
  • What do you do, or where do you go, when you’re curious and want to learn more?
  • What do you think about when you’re by yourself?
  • What do you dream about?

Keep thinking! Lots of ideas can make original, interesting essays and none of them have to be “big.”

4. Can you list at least three of your positive qualities? If you can’t, download my positive qualities worksheet. Schools want to learn about your good qualities and you can’t tell them unless you know.

5. What is sensory detail and why is it important? Sensory detail explains how something smells, feels, tastes, sounds or looks. Using sensory detail will make your essay pop–it will help it stand out and sound original. 

Try this experiment with sensory detail: Think of adjectives that describe how your dinner tasted last night. The adjectives should convey a sense of taste. Here are a few: spicy, bland, warm, mushy. Now, think about the difference between these two sentences: “I ate meatloaf last night”/“The meatloaf was so dry it was crispy.” The first sentence says you ate dinner. But the second sentence lets your reader taste that awful meatloaf. Dry and crispy are examples of sensory detail. Using sensory detail will help transform your essay from bland to knockout.

6. If you’re having trouble finding a topic or writing your essay, where can you get help? 

  • You can find more info on my blog. Try starting with How to Start Writing Your College Essay.
  • Look for resources in your school, like a writing center.
  • Ask a guidance counselor or an English teacher who’s read a lot of essays.
  • Read essays online for inspiration. I like Johns Hopkins because it includes comments from college admissions officers. Connecticut College is another good site.
  • Google the school(s) you’re applying to. Many have admissions blogs with essay advice.
  • Some students opt for private tutors (like me).
  • And finally, don’t forget the library—there are lots of books that will give you step-by-step guidance.

7. Should you let someone read your essay when it’s finished? Yes, especially to proofread. Ask a teacher or adult who is good with writing (and with English if English is your second language). Ask for help even if you’re a good proofreader—mistakes are easy to miss. Another reason to share an essay is to get feedback. Just be aware that when you ask for opinions you’ll get them. So take all the comments into consideration and then choose what to add or change, if anything. Remember, it’s your essay.

8. What if you’re not inspired by the Common Application prompts—are you stuck? No. This year (2017) the Common Application includes a topic of your choice. You can create your own topic, answer another college’s prompt, or use an exceptional essay you’ve already written. This prompt is brand new, so it will be interesting to see how students respond.

9. Can you revise your essay after it’s been uploaded? Yes. You’re allowed unlimited edits to the essay after your first application submission.

10Why is it important to capture your reader’s attention at the start? Your college reader has read lots of boring essays. Don’t be that person. Help your essay stand out. To learn three different ways to capture your reader’s attention, read 3 Ways to Start an Interesting College Essay.

11. What’s the most important thing to do before you write? Think. Give your brain time and space. Mull over ideas. Think in the shower, walking to class, or playing with the cat. Dislodge memories you haven’t thought about in forever. Get excited about what you love and what you care about. Only after you brainstorm should you sit down to write your Common Application essay.

12. How many Common Application questions are there this year? There are 7. These are the Common Application prompts for 2017-2018. You can also find the prompts on the Common App’s Facebook page.

For more information:
How to Start Writing Your College Essay
3 Ways to Start an Interesting College Essay.
Huffington Post: The Common App Essay Prompts are Changing

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.

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How to Write 2017 Common Application Essay Prompts 1-7

Here it is, all in one place—My 2017 series on How to Write the Common Application Essays.

In it, I tell you what the prompts mean and discuss their important keywords, plus let you know why you should choose (or not choose) a specific prompt, and how to find your best topic. I also give you successful examples and ones that aren’t so successful, so you can understand why.

My goal is to help you find and tell YOUR story. Because everyone has a story to tell.

If you need more help, I hope you’ll contact me for a one-on-one session or for an essay review. You can reach me through the contact form at the end or at my website.

Thanks!

Here are the links to posts in the series:

How to Write Common App Essay #1: Background, Identity, Interest or Talent
How to Write Common App Essay #2: The Lessons We Take from Obstacles
How to Write Common App Essay #3: A Time When You Questioned or Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Essay #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Essay #5: Accomplishment, Event or Realization
How to Write Common App Essay #6: What Makes You Lose All Track of Time
How to Write Common App Essay #7: Topic of Your Choice

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 College Consulting teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. Our tutors are award-winning writers and published authors who work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, video and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

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Writing College Essays: How to Start with Action

When I updated my blog post, 3 Ways To Start An Interesting College Essay, I realized I had a lot to say about how you can use action to grab your reader’s attention. So I’ve given “Action” its own post. It deserves it.

First, let’s recap: When you write the intro to your college application essay you need to grab your reader’s attention.

Why is it important to grab the reader’s attention?

Easy. If you’ve ever flipped a channel or looked for another video because the first one didn’t catch your attention right away, you know the answer.

Dull. Click. Moving on…

You’ve got one chance to draw your reader in and create enthusiasm and excitement for what’s to come. Take it!

Why Use Action?

Here’s a great example: Picture the opening scene from the movie “Scream.” The film begins when Casey, a teenage girl, is home alone and the phone rings. At first it seems like a wrong number and she starts chatting with the caller. But then the caller whispers that Casey never told him her name. When Casey asks why he wants to know, he replies, “Because I wanna know who I’m looking at.” That’s the moment Casey realizes that the caller is watching her.

Does that scene grab your attention? Sure. Here’s why:

    • You’ve been plunged into the story
    • You have details but you don’t have all the pieces
    • You can’t wait to find out what’s about to happen
    • Something is happening NOW

The Takeaway:

Create intrigue, excitement or suspense in your intro and you’ll make the reader excited to see how your story unfolds. You’re not writing a horror movie of course (I hope not!)—but you get the idea—Find the most interesting parts of your story and use them. Start when something interesting is happening and let the rest of the story unfold. Your reader will want to learn how it turns out.

Just to be clear: You don’t have to be the best writer ever. You don’t even have to use action to start your college application essay. (Remember, I’ve written about three ways to start an essay.) But you do want to interest your reader in your first few sentences.

So now let’s get serious about action.

Starting with the action in your story is probably the most common method students use to write college admission essays and personal statements. It’s almost a sure-fire way to succeed. Why? It’s personal. It’s unique (it only happened to you). And it can create immediate excitement and interest.

There Are Two Kinds of Action or Conflict

There are two kinds of action or conflict: physical and mental.

Physical Action or Conflict: This is the kind of action you can see. Something physical is happening. You’re breaking through the starting gate, tearing apart your bedroom, discovering a fossil, etc.

 

Mental Action or Conflict: This is something you’re thinking about. You’re struggling with a decision, solving a problem, figuring out if you can go outside of your comfort zone, etc.


Examples of Starting with Action

Here are two opening sentences that use action.

Physical action:I plant my Giant Slalom poles into the snow and push my shivering body through the starting gate.”

Physical and mental action:My body tenses, the anticipation prying doubts from my head, forcing me to tighten my grip and lock my jaw in preparation. It’s time.”

Notice how they both start in the middle of what’s happening. Something is happening NOW.

Start in The Middle of Your Action

Writing chronologically isn’t an attention grabber. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t start your story at the very beginning, like the day you started school or when you came down the stairs on Christmas morning. Start at the moment you broke your arm at recess or a puppy popped out of the Christmas gift. It’s much more interesting!

Tip: If you’re not sure where your action begins, write your story from beginning to end, then find the place something interesting starts to happen. It’s often several paragraphs from the beginning.

Give Background Info Later

Don’t worry about not giving background information right away. In fact, that’s good! In the above examples the students don’t reveal many details in the first sentence. That helps create interest and intrigue. (A little mystery is exciting after all.)

Start where the action begins and give the background information later. You’ll make you reader WANT to keep reading to find out more.

Sample Essay Structure

Here’s how to start with action and give background info later:

Paragraph one: Start with the action in your story.

  • I plant my Giant Slalom poles into the snow and push my shivering body through the starting gate. My heart is racing as I dash past the crowds, listening now only to my frost-covered breaths coming in quick succession, and focused only on my goal ahead….”

Paragraph two: Add some background and context to your story.

  • I’ve been skiing in the shadow of Mt. Hood since I was six years old… “

Paragraph three and on: Continue to tell your story, revealing important details as you go along.

Start with the action. It will help you write your college application essay in an exciting and original way. If using action doesn’t fit your topic, read about other ways to start an interesting college essay. And THAT is one way to help get your college essay personal statement noticed.

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

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.

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How to Write Common Application 7: Topic of Your Choice

Which Common Application prompt should you choose? In this seven-part series I help you answer that question.

This is the last prompt. Hooray! (My fingers are tired!)

For the complete list of 2017 Common Application essay questions click here.

Ready for #7? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #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.

Is this Prompt for You? Answer Yes IF:

  • The other prompts don’t speak to you
  • You’re inspired by another school’s prompt
  • You want to ask and answer your own question
  • You’ve already written an essay that showcases you as an excellent college candidate

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Don’t Stress Over this Prompt. This prompt is meant to reduce your stress, not add to it, says Scott Anderson at The Common Application. Anderson adds, “Topic of your choice doesn’t mean default choice.” If the prompt feels too unstructured use one of the other prompts.
  • Don’t Submit Less Than Your Best. If you’re submitting an essay you’ve already written, make sure it’s well written and showcases you as an excellent potential college student.
  • Don’t Forget the Fundamentals. Prompt #7 doesn’t provide as much guidance as some of the other prompts. So this a good time to recap what schools look for in a Common Application essay:

    • Your writing skills
    • Your ability to communicate your ideas.
    • Your personality – what makes you laugh, think, hope, dream, care. In other words, what’s meaningful to you and why.
    • Schools like to see how you think, so show them that process.
    • Most of the best essays don’t have nice, easy stories. They’ve got an obstacle thrown in your path, a problem you have to solve, a decision you have to make, a realization you came to, or some other circumstance that’s helped shape you into who you are.
    • Essays include reflection—you need to be able to take a step back from your experience to understand how it’s shaped you and/or your goals.

A word in support of some of my favorite prompts from the University of Chicago.

If you’re still looking for essay inspiration, check out UChicago’s essay prompts. UChicago prides itself on uncommon, fun essay questions. Even if the questions don’t speak to you, read the ones I’ve listed below to see how, with a little imagination, you can create your own question and let your imagination and personality fly.

A Sampling of UChicago prompts:

  • Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.
  • History and art are full of heroes and their enemies. Tell us about the relationship between you and your arch-nemesis (either real or imagined).
  • How did you get caught? (Or not caught, as the case may be.)
  • Chicago author Nelson Algren said, “A writer does well if in his whole life he can tell the story of one street.”…Tell us the story of a street, path, road—real or imagined or metaphorical.
  • “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”—Miles Davis (1926–91)
  • Susan Sontag said, “The only interesting answers are those that destroy the questions.” We all have heard serious questions, absurd questions, and seriously absurd questions, some of which cannot be answered without obliterating the very question. Destroy a question with your answer.
  • Click here to read more UChicago prompts.

#7  is a new prompt this year. I’m excited to see what students write for their college essays!

Read the entire series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: The Lessons We Take From Obstacles
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: An Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
How to Write Common App Prompt #6: Topic, Idea or Concept that Makes You Lose Track of Time
How to Write Common App Prompt #7: Topic of Your Choice

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 College Consulting teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. Our tutors are award-winning writers and published authors who work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, video and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

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How to Write Common Application Essay 6: What Makes You Lose All Track of Time

How To Write 2017 Common App Essay 6 what makes you lose all track of time

You’re writing a Common Application essay.

How do you choose which essay to write?

In this 7-part series I’m helping you figure out which question on the 2017 Common Application essay is right for you.

For the complete list of 2017 Common App essay questions click here.

Ready for #6? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #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?

Is this Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Topic, Idea or Concept”…”Lose All Track of Time”…”Why”…”What or Who Do You Turn To”

Do the Keywords Apply to You?

  • “Topic, Idea, or Concept” is a very broad phrase. That’s good! It means you can choose almost anything, large or small.
  • “Lose All Track of Time” is self-explanatory. You’ve found yourself so engrossed in something that you didn’t realize how much time had passed.
  • “Why Does it Captivate You?” The key word here is why. You need to figure out why you find this topic so engaging, exciting, or thought provoking.
  • “What or Who Do You Turn To When You Want to Learn More?” Ah! This means you’re an independent learner. It doesn’t really matter how you learn on your own—whether you ask a teacher, search Google, read books, watch videos, etc. What matters is that you find a way to satisfy your curiosity.

What Can Colleges Learn About You From This Question?

  • Your curiosity
  • Your resourcefulness
  • Your level of independence
  • The type of learner you’ll be when you get to college
  • The ideas or issues that are meaningful to you

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • This Question Has 3 Parts—Don’t Leave Any Out. They are: 1. Topic, idea, or concept; 2. Why it captivates you; 3. Who or what you turn to when you want to learn more.
  • Don’t Shortchange “Why.” Discussing “why” is one of the most important things you can do in an essay. Through why, schools learn a whole lot about you—they see how you think, what you care about, what concerns you. This is the part that helps differentiate you, that helps show what makes you, you.

how to write Common App essay 6CAUTION!
DON’T GET CAUGHT IN THE BORING TRAP!

Do you lose track of time when you’re in your room or with your friends? Do you zone out when you go for long walks in the woods?

Be careful of the Boring Trap.

Because this question can lead you down that path, no question about it.

Quite frankly, most of the best essay answers don’t have nice, easy stories. They’ve got an obstacle thrown in your path, a problem you have to solve, a decision you have to make, or some other circumstance that’s helped shape you into who you are.

This question doesn’t remind you to think about that. It should.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you want to write about how you lose track of time with your friends. You’ve got great qualities—you’re friendly and loyal—and being with your friends captivates you because you love the discussions you have. You turn to your friends when you want information or help, and they support you. And that might be your essay.

It’s nice, but it’s “so what.” It doesn’t show a journey, an obstacle, a decision, a realization or growth. It doesn’t show how you started in one place and finished in another, or how you’ve built your character. It’s not going to be a memorable essay. You’ve been caught in the Boring Trap.

Here’s an example of How To Get Out of the Boring Trap:

Boring Essay—Before and After

Boring: Joanne loses all track of time in her room when she’s painting. It captivates her because she loves art and color. She likes to paint alone, and be alone with her thoughts and her imagination. She enjoys being surrounded by the paintings on her walls because it feels homey, and she’s made her room her hideaway. When she wants to learn more she takes a painting class at the art barn down the street. Next month she’s going to try watercolor.

Let’s look at what the reader learns: Joanne is artistic and loves color. She’s imaginative and likes feeling homey. She takes painting classes to learn more. Not much else. The essay doesn’t have a story. We don’t get a sense she’s grown at all or been shaped by her talent.

Same Topic, Not Boring: Joanne loses all track of time in her room when she’s painting. It captivates her because she loves art and color. As a matter of fact, she’s been influenced by two famous painters, Grandma Moses and Georgia O’Keefe, two artists who used color in very different ways. Joanne tries to figure out why they chose the colors they did and how they interpreted their worlds, and then she tries to find an original way to interpret hers. Joanne’s first grade teacher tried to make her draw people with proper fingers and toes, and at first she did. But then she rebelled. She decided she didn’t have to be like anyone else and has been drawing people and things the way she wants to ever since. Art gives her an expressive outlet for her thoughts and her imagination. It’s helped her develop her sense of personal expression. She also loves to learn, and whenever she can she takes art classes at the art barn down the street. She reads about her favorite painters and she’s learning about new ones. Next month she’s going to experiment with watercolor. She’s not sure what subject she’ll be painting or what she’ll learn about herself, but she can’t wait to get started.

What does the reader learn? Much more.

  • We learn how she thinks: Joanne discusses how other artists have influenced her and made her think about her own style.
  • She adds interesting detail: By discussing other artists, she shows that she has detailed knowledge about a subject that interests her.
  • She adds more “why.” Besides saying she loves art and color she says that art gives her an outlet for her thoughts and imagination and helps her find her own personal expression. This adds more insight and meaning to her essay.
  • She tells a story of a formative experience that shaped her character.
  • She adds more qualities that express her personality. Besides being artistic and loving color, we learn she has an independent nature and is always learning and thinking of ways to improve.

Everything Joanne added helps her essay be more original and interesting. It’s uniquely her. It shows how she’s grown, how she thinks, and what’s meaningful to her. She’s avoided the boring trap.

#6 is a brand new prompt and I’m excited to see the essays students will write this year!

Read the entire series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: The Lessons We Take From Obstacles
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: An Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
How to Write Common App Prompt #6: Topic, Idea or Concept that Makes You Lose Track of Time
Coming Soon:
How to Write Common App Prompt #7: Topic of Your Choice

For the entire list of 2017 Common App essay prompts click here.
If you’re not familiar with the Common Application, go to their website. They also have a very helpful Facebook page.

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 College Consulting teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. Our tutors are award-winning writers and published authors who work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, video and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

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