Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


Leave a comment

Junior Year Checklist: 10-Step Action Plan to Prepare for College

Copy of Junior Year Checklist 10-Step Action Plan to Prepare for CollegeThe other day I was at lunch with two of my favorite college counselors, Betsy Bell (in Wilton, Connecticut) and Jennifer Soodek, owner of Head 4 Success in Westport, Connecticut, when we started talking about what high school juniors can be doing now to start planning for college.

The answer is plenty.

Junior Year Checklist: An Action Plan to Prepare for College

 

1.  Create a Common Application account. When you create your account, you have a choice of checking “applicant planning to enroll in the next 12 months” or “other.” Check “other.” (Although, Betsy and Jennifer assured me that if you check “applicant planning to enroll in the next 12 months” you’ll be fine—this is only for Common App record keeping, so it’s not a problem if you don’t click “other.”)

2. Fill Out Your Application. After you create a Common Application account, you can fill out most of the application. You can’t enter your GPA or your senior classes yet, but you can fill out the rest.

Tip: When you’re filling out your activities, remember to pretend that it’s September and that you’re filling them out as a senior, not as a junior.

3. Brainstorm Topics for Your Common Application Essay. If you have time, you can start writing your Common App essay now. Otherwise, start writing when school ends and aim to finish before senior year starts. You can find all the Common Application essay prompts here.

4. Get to Know Your Essay Supplements. In the Dashboard section of the Common App, enter the colleges you’re interested in and look at last year’s supplemental essay questions. (Most colleges haven’t published their new supplemental questions yet, but many keep the same questions.) If you visit, ask about the current questions. If you’re not visiting and want to know, call the admissions office.

5. Visit Colleges. Schedule a tour and an on-campus interview. (Even if it’s just informational, you want to make contact with a college rep and start to let them get to know you.) Walk around (take time by yourself if you can manage it) and imagine yourself as a freshman on campus. Say hi to students on campus and ask them what they like about the school and what surprised them when they arrived on campus. Get a feel for the atmosphere, the culture and the students. Take notes about what you like and don’t like and collect the business cards of all the people you talk to on your trips—you may want to contact them later if you have more questions.

6. Email Your Schools. Begin to contact all the colleges you’re interested in. Contact them through Naviance or email them from each college’s web site. If you work with Naviance, it makes it very easy to do.

When you send your email, introduce yourself and ask questions that will require an admissions person to answer, so you don’t get an auto reply response. You can ask questions such as: Will you be the reader of my application? If I submit my application early, will it be read early and will I receive a decision notification early? I want to get a head start on my supplements, so could you tell me if your supplemental questions will be the same for my class as they were for the previous year? Will you be visiting my high school in the fall? If you will be visiting could you please email me your visiting date?

Tip: Include your email, cell number, phone number and address in the body of the email so the school has all your contact information and they know how to reach you.

7. Get Your Testing Done by the End of Junior Year. Leave the fall for any additional testing you want to do. Plan to take each test twice.

8. Arrange for Recommendations. Decide which teachers you want to ask for recommendations and ask if they’d be willing. Your recommendations should come from teachers in your sophomore or junior year academic classes—these will be the teachers who know you. 

Ask your teachers now, in the spring. Set up an appointment to talk to each teacher; it’s not only polite, but it will also give you the chance to tell the teacher what you’re like outside of class.

Do you need your recommendations early? If that’s the case, ask your teachers about their time frame and if they would be willing to write a recommendation over the summer. You’ll need them early if colleges have rolling admissions or if you’re applying certain places early decision. For instance, Wake Forest is rolling ED, so if you send in an application July 1 you’ll learn by August if you’re admitted.

9. Know if You Have Extra Application Requirements. If you’re an athlete or an artist, be aware that there are additional levels of preparation necessary to apply to college. Actors and musicians may need to schedule auditions, athletes may need to meet with coaches, and artists may need to submit portfolios. Know how that will affect your time frame for preparation. Also make sure to know exactly what’s required—for instance, if you need to submit a portfolio, ask what that portfolio should contain.

10. Finish Junior Year Strong. Colleges will be looking at your success (or lack of success) junior year. Don’t give them anything to dock you for, especially a poor marking period. Finish strong.

Related post:
4 College Admissions Myths Debunked
Why It’s Important to Know Your College Rep

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. 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. We work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Questions to Ask About College Services for Learning Differences

Guest blogger: Joanna NovinsQuestions to Ask About Colleges' Disability Services

I’m a professional writer and analyst by training, but the challenges facing students with learning differences is a topic that is near and dear to my heart; I teach writing to students with learning differences and I am the proud parent of a smart, successful, and highly independent college student with a learning difference.

The information contained in this article is derived from interviews with administrators and disabilities professionals from a range of colleges including Union College, Williams College, Adelphi University, University of Connecticut, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI); and with LD students.

Students with Learning Differences – What You Should Know (Or Ask) When Applying to Colleges

Applying to colleges involves a lot of research, and questions like the kinds of programs a school offers, its academic philosophy or mission, its academic and social reputation, and the size and location, culture and feel, to name but a few. But if you’re a student with learning differences, or the parent of a student with learning differences, there are even more questions you should be asking.

First, Know Your Rights.

Students with learning differences are protected against discrimination in colleges and universities by the Americans with Disabilities Act and its subsequent amendments. The law requires that an LD student’s accommodation’s file be reviewed and that professors be informed that they have a student requiring accommodations in their class. When applying to college, it’s important to understand how different schools handle this process.

Whom Should You Talk To?

While the admissions officers I spoke to were eager to help, I found the majority weren’t particularly well-informed about disability services and often immediately routed me to a college disabilities office or center. (In one instance I was routed to an administrator who no longer worked at the school.)

Your best bet is to check the campus website for an office providing disability or student support services and start your research there. For the best response, I’d advise against calling during lunch time…

Be sure and ask about the background of the person you’re speaking with; just because a school has an office or center for disability support services, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s staffed by professionals (you may be talking to a student) or by people with a background in special education.

Who Should Call (Or, When is it Okay to be a Helicopter Parent)?

In general, when applying to colleges, admissions officers prefer that students make the call because they want to know it’s the student who is interested in their school, not the parent, and because they want to know that they’re dealing with a student who is able to operate independently.

In the case of disability programs, however, I found that while college disability professionals were delighted to speak with students, they preferred to speak with the parents. As one noted, “I’m impressed when students call, but they don’t always know what information to ask for.” Parents are usually better informed about their student’s learning differences and current accommodations and know what support services to ask about.

When It’s Not Okay to Be a Helicopter Parent.

Bear in mind, that after a student is admitted to a college or university and is registered as having a disability that requires accommodations, it’s up to the student to self-identify and ensure that appropriate accommodations are in place. (If a student doesn’t come in to the disabilities office and ask for the accommodations, nothing happens.) This is a point administrators repeated and that I’ll repeat throughout this blog. Most colleges cannot, or will not, speak to parents about academic issues or problems with accommodations; indeed, the University of Connecticut requires students create a list of people the school is permitted to disclose information to—it’s up to the students to put one, or both parents on the list. [1]

What Should You Ask? (Or, What I Asked)

I started by asking administrators how many LD students they had registered. I found that not every school had that information easily at hand, but when they, did roughly 10% of the student body was registered. Shelly Shinebarger, a disabilities professional and Director of the Accommodative Services Office at Union College, estimated that 200 of the college’s 2000+ students are registered as learning disabled. A staff member at UConn’s Center for Students with Disabilities estimated that 3000 of their over 30,000 students are registered, noting that the number is “increasing dramatically every year.” A staff member at Adelphi University estimated that about 400 of their 5000+ member student body were registered. Williams College’s Director of Accessible Education, G.L.M. Wallace, had no solid numbers, but also estimated that 10% of the college’s 2000 students have learning differences.

However, when I asked how many of their registered students were self-identified, the numbers dropped precipitously. Shelly Shinebarger said, “This year I have about 35 students, of them about 20 or 25 have contacted me.” UConn’s representative said, “We have some students who are registered but who’ve never used the accommodations, others who register and seek regular support.”

Both administrators stressed that the level of support a school provides depends on how actively the student seeks it out.  

I’d add, however, that the level of support a school provides also depends on the school’s willingness and ability to commit resources. As Shelly Shinebarger pointed out, “It does make a difference what school you apply to—private schools are smaller and more personal, but have fewer resources. Larger schools have more resources, but you may be just a number to them.”

Ask About Numbers and Do the Math:

Shinebarger said that she has one part-time social worker and a part-time resident director (a young professional who works about 10 hours a week), as well as one or two seniors who typically have learning disabilities. Shinebarger matches the seniors with the students and then encourages them to meet weekly (basically executive function coaching). (Remember, that’s for roughly 200 registered students, 25-35 self-identified.) Williams College, which is in the process of revamping its program, employs a director, an assistant, and two students.

In contrast, a student employee who described UConn’s Center for Students with Disabilities said that the center has six case managers, professional staff members, a project manager, office manager, exams coordinator (all students requiring extended time on exams take them at the Center, unless they negotiate different accommodations with their professors), a technology manager, interpreter coordinator, as well as strategy instructors tailored to each student’s needs. (Basically, that’s 6 case managers for 3000 students; assuming 300 self-identify, that’s 6 for 300.) She encouraged me to check out the Center’s website, which is impressive. UConn is less expensive than a private school like Union, but if you look at the Center’s website, some of the services, such as strategy instructors, require additional fees.

Every LD student is different, so be sure to ask about specific services, including:

  • What mechanisms the college uses to determine appropriate accommodations
  • What means they have of providing these accommodations
  • What mechanisms they provide the student to keep professors informed of his/her accommodations
  • Whether the accommodation letter system is online or manual, and if is there a “reminder system” for students

Helpful Links for Services for Students with Learning Disabilities:

Rensselaer Disability Services for Students (DSS)
Union College Accommodative Services Office
Adelphi University Disability Support Services
Williams College Disability Support Services
UConn Center for Students with Disabilities

[1] For more information about student and parental rights, look into The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99). FERPA is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.

Joanna NovinsJoanna Novins holds a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a bachelor’s degree with honors in history from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. She is an independent writing consultant for First Impressions College Consulting, teaching college essay writing to students of all abilities.

 

 

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


1 Comment

2015 Common Application – Your Essay May Be Optional!

Common App optional essay 2015

The Common Application just released this information:

“Starting with the 2015-2016 application year, Common Application Member colleges and universities will have the choice to require or not require the Common App Personal Essay.”

This change means that it is possible some students may not be required to write a Common App personal essay.

Do I hear cheering?

Hold on a sec…

The Common App also says that students will always have the option to submit the personal essay.  

So if you’re faced with the choice – to write or not to write – what do you do?

WRITE, of course!

The Common App essay gives you the chance to stand out. Schools get to know you apart from your test scores, grades, and activities list.

So, take the time. Write a story about yourself that highlights your unique qualities and shows how you’re growing into a mature young adult.

Give the schools another reason to know you’re the kind of student they can’t afford to be without. 

Find more information about the Common App’s new essay changes on their blog.
For a list of the 2015-2016 Common Application Essay Prompts, click here.

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


Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


Leave a comment

Read My New Interview on i-Student Global

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

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

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

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

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


Leave a comment

10 Tips for College Admissions Video Essays

10 Tips for College Admissions Video Essays

10 Tips for College Admissions Video Essays

Hey – check it out – I’m quoted in the latest issue of Hartford Magazine on how to submit video essays!

Have you heard about video essays? Several colleges, including George Mason and Tufts, give students the option of submitting a video essay.

They don’t replace written essays (sorry), but if a school gives you the option and you’re interested – go for it!

Here are 10 Tips for Creating Video Essays:

  1. Dream it, Do it. The sky’s the limit when it comes to deciding how your video will look. I’ve seen students talk directly to the camera, create time-lapse photography, and even use no dialogue at all. One student spent her entire time eating and another took the admissions committee out on a “dinner date” to get to know him. Bottom line: Be original (and don’t copy).
  2. Take risks, BUT. Be creative, silly, funny, intense, emotional  – you can be anything you imagine in a video essay.  Just remember, like your written essays, you want the final impression to be positive.
  3. Create a plan. Brainstorm, then write an outline or a script so that you know the direction you’re headed and how long it will take.
  4. Answer the prompt. This is critical. Read the entire prompt and make sure you answer the question.  Stick to the time limit.
  5. It’s about content, not quality. If you’re tech savvy show off your skills, but you don’t need high tech equipment – a phone will do. You do need: 1. Enough light to see your face. 2. Clear audio.
  6. Energy up.  Do you know that cameras can seem to sap your energy? (I spent a long time in the TV biz)  So keep your energy level up when you’re recording.
  7. Is it me?  When you’re done, look at your video with an objective eye. Ask yourself, “What will the college think about the person who made this video? Is this me? Have I shown myself in the way I want to be seen?”
  8.  Be appropriate.  While you may have made some funky YouTube videos in your lifetime, remember that this video will be screened by adults at the college you want to attend. Speak, act, and dress in a manner that will make the admissions committee think well of you.
  9. Privacy alert. If you’re using YouTube and you don’t want the world to be able to see your admissions video, use privacy controls.
  10. Sending in a video is optional.  You won’t be penalized if you don’t submit a video essay.

Related links:

Hartford Magazine: You Can Be A Video Star
Washington Post: Video Essays are a Hot Topic

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


Leave a comment

Advice for Graduating High School Students: The View from My Inbox

Advice for graduating high school seniors

This is an interesting time of year for me.

In my email I find notes from students excitedly telling me where they’ll be headed in the fall.  I’m also hearing from new students, often apprehensive about the college process, needing to figure it out.

The intersection of two worlds.

It’s a year-long cycle. Head down, one foot in front of the other, schools visited, essays written, applications completed, interviews done, flying toward something new and oh-so-fabulous.

At times it can be tough to see through the slog, but it’s inevitable: After June comes November. After November comes acceptances. After acceptances, graduation.

So, for my 2013 graduates – here’s to you. You did it. And as you leave for adventures yet to be imagined, remember:

Be joyful.
Try new things.
Speak up.
Take risks.
Never lose sight of your dreams.

In a few years I look forward to discovering more notes from my students, excitedly telling me their post-college plans: internships, grad school, work, family, adventures yet to be imagined. And then I’ll turn to the other emails in my inbox, the ones from my new students, and assure them it can all work out.

Graduating this year? Here are helpful links and good advice:
Credit Card Insider: College and Your Credit
5 Pieces of Advice Every High School Graduate Should Get
The Best High School Graduation Advice No One Ever Told Me

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy nominee, Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


Leave a comment

4 College Admissions Myths Debunked

4 College Admissions Myths

Lately, I’ve been speaking to students and families just starting the college process.

The students and parents always have great questions, but I always hear some rumors floating around. So I thought it would be a good time to debunk:

4 COLLEGE ADMISSIONS MYTHS

1.  You should make your college list from U.S. News and World Report and accept admission to the college that ranks the highest.

  • Whoa. When was the last time students were cut out of  the same cookie mold? Uh, never. Use rankings as a guide, but do your homework and apply to schools that are a good fit for you.
  • The same goes with admissions — make the decision that’s right for you.  Go to accepted student days, attend class, eat the food, explore the programs in your intended major, and find out how the schools will meet any special needs if you have them. And don’t forget to talk to alums to see how connected they stayed to the school and how beneficial their learning was to their career. You’ll end up at your top-ranked school. No matter what U.S. News and World Report says.

2. Private colleges are more expensive.

  • This isn’t always the case, especially after you receive your financial aid package.

3. The college admissions process is ultra-competitive.

  • Sure, if you apply to the handful of schools who admit less than 30 percent of students. But that accounts for only about 55 out of 2,000 colleges in the country.
  • The fact is that most colleges actually accept over half of the students who apply, and many admit much more. So before you inhale that entire bottle of anti-anxiety medicine, chances are that you can remove the word “ultra” from “ultra-competitive.”

4. Admissions officers don’t read the essays. 

  • I hear this a lot, and it’s not true. Admissions officers read the essays. What’s more, they often give them to others to read. If a student seems like a possible candidate, the essay will be read out loud to the entire admissions team. If the admissions team needs more feedback, they’ll give it to a team of faculty members to review. That’s a whole lot of eyes on your essay.

related links:
Huffington Post: Ten Least Expensive Private Colleges
CollegeData: Understanding College Selectivity
sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. Need help with essay writing, interview skills, and organizing your college search? I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, Skype, and by email. Visit my website for more info. Connect with me on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.