Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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College Essay Time Management for LD Students

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

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

Enjoy the article.

 

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

 

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College Essay Help: How To Start Writing Your College Essay

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

“I don’t even know where to start.”

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

How Start Writing Your College Application Essay

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

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

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

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

Structure.

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

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

Writing Techniques.

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

Personality.

College Essay Help How to Start Your College Application Essay

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

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

Now, Make It Work for You!

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

Get started! Download my worksheet on Finding Your Positive Qualities. You’ll be on your way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Common Application Essay: 5 Tips Before You Write

Common Application Essay 5 Tips Before You WriteYou’ve got a Common Application essay personal statement to write.

You sit down at the keyboard. Your fingers hover over the keys. You’re about to write your first words when —

WAIT!!!

  • Have you chosen an interesting essay topic?
  • Do you know your best qualities?
  • Can you show the schools how you think and make decisions?
  • Can you put your personality on the page?

If the answer is no, then you’re not ready to write.

HERE ARE FIVE TIPS BEFORE YOU WRITE YOUR COMMON APPLICATION ESSAY: 

1. Be Able to Answer Key Questions

Before you write your Common Application essay, you should be able to answer several important questions about yourself:

  • What are at least three of my most positive qualities?
  • What am I best at?
  • What am I most passionate about?
  • What obstacles or challenges have I faced and how have I gotten through them?
  • What are my saddest/happiest/most embarrassing moments? What did I learn from them?
  • Even if they seem silly or unimportant, what times in my life stand out to me? Why?
  • What do I want colleges to know about me when they’ve finished reading my essay?

Your essay provides a window into who you are.  At first that can seem like a lot to figure out, but it becomes easier when you break the answers down into small steps. It can even help you discover your best essay topic.

2. Stay Loose

Did you ever get so nervous that you couldn’t think? It happens to all of us — you sit down to write and your brain seizes up. Here’s what you can do to prevent your brain from a mini meltdown: 

  • Back away from the keyboard. Trick your brain into thinking it’s not thinking about your essay. Take a shower, walk the dog, play pickup basketball. Let your brain whir in the background while you’re doing other things. You’ll be surprised what kind of ideas can pop into your head.
  • Get creative! What are the craziest, weirdest things that have happened to you? Write them down! (When you lost track of the worms you bought for the compost pile…when you burned the cookies so badly your parents had to replace the stove…when you were thrown out of the museum for talking too loudly.) Even if you think an experience is “unimportant,” put it on the list. We’ve all got experiences that deserve a second look. Let your brain find them. 

3. Become a Fly on the Wall in Your Own Life.  

Are you looking for an essay topic? Are you concerned it could be better? Keep looking. Take a step back and be a fly on the wall in your own life. Become an observer.

Pay attention to what everyone’s talking about at school, how you interact with your family, what you think about when you’re by yourself. (Did your friends say something you disagreed with? Did your class conduct a psychology experiment that interested you in the human brain? Do you wish you could turn your bedroom into an art studio?)

Ask yourself what you were thinking about during those interactions, if you made any decisions, and why the moment was important to you. (Maybe you realized you needed to find a new group of friends, that you wanted to pursue psychology in college, that you’re happiest when you’re being creative.)

Remember, you don’t have to write about anything “big” — meaningful moments can occur anytime. If you take a step back and listen to what’s going on, you might be able to find one.

4. Don’t Stop at the Easy Answer

Your first answer runs the risk of being the easy answer — one that’s more superficial and less meaningful than you could eventually write. So don’t stop at your first answer. Keep digging and keep thinking. Come up with several possible answers before you decide what to write. 

5Jump start your memory

This is fun and easy! Scroll back through old photos, posts and texts and soon you’ll start to remember lots of stories from the past. Even better, you’ll discover tons of details you can use  — like exactly what your sister said to you when you had that fight, or how you felt when you caught that foul ball. Photos, posts and texts will reconnect you with your experiences. They might even inspire an entire college essay.

Take the time to think, and by the time you sit down at your keyboard you’ll be ready to write an interesting and successful essay.

Download a worksheet to help you find your Positive Qualities

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, Facetime, Google Hangouts and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

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Tips for Parents: How to Handle Springtime College Application Stress

Tips for Parents to Handle Springtime College Application Stress

I hear it in a parent’s voice. It’s a friendly phone call, often in early spring, an inquiry about a student’s college application essay.

We chat for a while. I learn about the student’s dreams and accomplishments, and the list of colleges that are sure bets, real possibilities, and merely hopefuls.

But underneath our conversation runs a thread of anxiety. Anxiety about college choices, visits, deadlines, and those looming college application essays.

I hear that, too. And I tell them it’s okay.

I actually love this time of year. I look forward to meeting my students, knowing that I’ll teach them how to find their star power, and that by the end of our time together they’ll have transformed their dreams, goals, and experiences into powerful college application essays.

But it’s the parents I work with now. I help them manage their schedules, anticipate the bends in the road, and reassure them that, when the deadlines do arrive, everything will be ready to go.

And I give each parent 4 Important Springtime Tips:

  1. Anxiety is Normal. If you’ve done your homework and understand the college process, you know there’s a lot to handle. But also have the confidence to know that you’ll get it done.
  2. Essay Writing Can Wait Until June. Junior year of high school is filled with schoolwork, tests, SATs, ACTs, prom, and just life. So while it’s good for your teen to be thinking about which one of the five Common Application essay topics he or she might like to write about, the actual writing can wait until school ends.
  3. Help Your Student Plan Her Time. Teenager’s schedules are crazy, and by nature many students have a poor grasp of time management. Throw in summer activities, sports, and family vacations, and you’ve got a recipe for major stress.
    • If you can help your student find the time to 1. Think (very important) and 2. Write, you’ll be well ahead of the game.
  4. It’s spring. Take a walk. Count the flowers. Count your blessings. And remember that, despite your anxiety, with good planning you and your student will get the job done.

related links:
Common Application 2013 Essay Prompts
7 Tips for Parents to Reduce College Application Stress

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.


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Stuck? 5 Tips to Jump-Start Your College Essay

5 ways to reduce college application essay stressHow are those college application essays coming?
For many students, not well. For many parents, not fast enough. It can be hell out there.

Here are 5 Tips to Reduce the Stress of Writing College Application Essays:

1.  Make a List of All the College Essays You Need to Write

  • The Common Application requires two essays: A “personal statement” of 250 – 500 words, and a shorter essay about an activity or interest (1000 characters, including spaces).
  • If you’re applying to a school that requires supplemental essays, make a list. Write down the exact prompt of each supplemental essay, and the word limit.
  • Some schools don’t accept the Common Application: Write down the exact prompt of each essay, and the word limit.

2. Streamline Your Work

  • Don’t give yourself more work than you need to. Look at all the essay prompts and decide if it’s possible to use an essay you’ve already written, or an idea from that essay, for more than one school.
    • For example: For the Common App, one of my students wrote about a life lesson he learned while playing ping-pong with his dad. But another school, which didn’t accept the Common App, asked him to write about an activity he enjoyed. So he adjusted part of his Common App essay, and wrote about playing ping-pong with his dad as his activity essay for that school.

3. Get Past Writer’s Block

We’ve all been there, staring at the keyboard, waiting for inspiration that never arrives. You can’t relax. You can’t say what you want. It all sounds like garbage, and you might as well toss the whole thing. Here’s how to Stage Your Own Writing Intervention:

  1. Trick your brain: Think about your essay everywhere EXCEPT in front of your keyboard. This works, because it allows your brain to become more creative and relaxed.  Walk your dog, ride your skateboard, take a shower –  let your brain be inspired.
  2. Freewrite: Are you having trouble knowing where to start? Then don’t! Forget about writing “THE ESSAY.”  Instead, try a freewrite. Give yourself 10 or 15 minutes, and write a train of thought paragraph about your topic. Make sure to include the details: who, what, when, where and why. Then move on to sensory details: What you felt, heard, tasted, saw, smelled. What were your emotions? What were you thinking? How did it affect you? You’ll be surprised at the material you come up with. Then, you should be able to move on to writing your essay.
  3. Write Like you Talk. Is your writing too stilted or formal? Talk it out. (Better yet, talk to someone– even if it’s your  dog or cat.)  As you talk, your sentences will start to flow.
    • Tip #1: Don’t feel like you have to speak in finished sentences. Start by talking about what you want to write about, and why.
    • Tip #2: When you say something you like, write it down. Better yet, record it, and then go back and write down the parts you liked.

4.  You Don’t Need a One-of-a-Kind Topic

It’s okay not to have a unique topic, because YOU are what’s unique in the essay.

Your perspective – the lens through which you view your topic – is far more important than the specific topic itself.” (My favorite quote, from a college admissions counselor at Yale)

  • It means, be honest and specific, and write about what’s important about you –  what kind of decision-maker, or leader, or artist you are – what’s inspired you, or how you dealt with a problem, or how your life has shaped you. As long as it’s from your point of view, and says good things about you.

Write your essay from your perspective, and don’t sweat about finding a unique topic.

5. Escape the Family War Zone.

Students:

  • If You’re Overwhelmed, Ask for Help. Never be embarrassed to ask for help. Guidance counselors, teachers and private professionals can answer questions, guide you through the application process, provide feedback on your essays, and work with you on achieving your deadlines. Help is out there – you just have to ask for it.

Parents:

  • Despite a family’s best support, sometimes a student’s stress level can build to overload. If you’re concerned about meltdowns, missed deadlines, and becoming the “application police,” consider enlisting a professional to help with college search, essay writing skills, application filing, etc. The peace and ultimate success will be worth it.

related posts
7 Tips for Parents to Reduce College Application Stress

10 Tips for Students to Reduce College Application Stress

links
Dealing with the Stress of College Applications
Peterson’s: Reducing Stress About College Admission Requirements
New York Times: The Burden of the College Admissions Process (students write about their college application experiences)

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting
Need help? I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, and by computer. Visit my website for more info. Connect with me on Google+, Twitter and Pinterest:

follow Sharon Epstein on Twitterfollow Sharon Epstein on pinterest
Leave a comment — let me know what you think!


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10 Tips for Students to Reduce College Application Stress

10 ways to reduce college application stress

Aarrgh! It’s creeping up on you…you can feel it…it’s reaching out to grab you like a thousand spindly fingers…it’s COLLEGE APPLICATION TIME!

Send that Stress Packing! Here’s how:

1.Get OrganizedStart by:

A. Writing Everything Down

Deadlines.
Dates of tests.
Application due dates for each school.
Any other paperwork you’ll need or deadlines you’ll have to meet (financial aid, etc).
Letters of recommendation you’ll need and who you’ll ask.
The number of supplemental essays required by each school and each essay prompt (write down these prompts exactly as they’re given to you). Then:

B. Make a Calendar

Work backwards from each deadline or task and decide when each one needs to be completed.
**IMPORTANT: Give yourself twice the amount of time you think you’ll need. Trust me on this – everything will take longer than you think.

C. Set up a Filing System

You’ll need both a virtual and real filing system for each school (for email and snail mail).
You might also want to try Evernote, which is an easy way to access photos, documents and notes from any computer you’re on (it’s free).

Don’t want your parents bugging you? Take the initiative and stick to your schedule.

2.Pick a Range of Colleges You Like and Will Like You. Be realistic when you’re putting together your college list. It’s great to have one or two reach schools, but make sure to include schools that you like and that are likely to admit you.

3.Look for Schools that are Test Optional. ACT and SAT scores not your thing? Over 850 colleges are test optional. These schools believe that a combination of grades, recommendations and extra-curricular activities will give them a better picture of how you’ll do in college. For a complete list of schools that are test-optional, go to FairTest.org.

4.Don’t Wait Until School Starts to Write Your Essays. You’ll have homework, homecoming, applications and activities —  how are you going to have time for all those essays? (No, you can’t write well without sleep.)  Start your college application essays during the summer, when you have time to think and write. This goes double if you’re applying early — you may have several supplemental essays due November 1. Plan ahead and put those deadlines on your calendar!

5.Don’t Talk to Other Students About Your College Applications. This is a MAJOR stressor. Your friends come up to you and want to know what your essay topic is, or where you’re applying, or why you haven’t heard yet since theyve all heard. It’s easy to compare yourself to other students, but DON’T GO THERE. Enjoy the search and be confident that you’re applying to the schools that are right for you. When friends ask if your application’s in or your essays are done just say, “It’s coming along, thanks.” Then change the subject. Eventually they’ll get the idea and stop asking.

6.Get Moving. Ride a bike, go for a run, take the dog for a hike. Spend a few hours not thinking or talking about college. You’ll think better and you’ll feel better, too.

7.It’s YOUR College Tour. Enjoy! You’re on a shopping trip. Keep your eyes off your texts and on the sights. Talk to the tour guide and the students you meet –  ask them what they’re studying and what they love about their school. Then try to imagine yourself as a freshman on campus heading to class, the dorm or to dinner. See if your gut says you want to spend the next four years there.

8.Remember That Your Parents Want the Best for You: Your parents helped get you this far in life and they’re probably going to be a bit protective. It might scare them to think that you’re leaving home or even make them sad. So if they hover over you or ask tour guides embarrassing questions, take a deep breath and remember that they just want what’s best for you.

9. Don’t Narrow Your Options Too Quickly. (The College Helper suggested this tip when they commented on my last post, “7 Tips for Parents to Reduce College Application Stress.”) Some students get focused on attending a particular type of university – a large state school, for example – and never look at private universities or other schools that are outside of what they ‘think’ they want. Take time to explore – you can’t really be certain about what you want until you know what the other types of colleges are all about.

10. If You’re Overwhelmed, Ask for Help. Never be embarrassed to ask for help. Guidance counselors, teachers and private professionals can answer questions, guide you through the application process, provide feedback on your essays, and work with you on achieving your deadlines. Help is out there – you just have to ask for it.

related posts:
7 Tips for Parents to Reduce College Application Stress
Organize Your College Search: Try Evernote

links
Dealing with the Stress of College Applications
Peterson’s: Reducing Stress About College Admission Requirements
New York Times: The Burden of the College Admissions Process (students write about their college application experiences)

Sharon Epstein, FIrst Impressions College Consulting..Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting
Need help? I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, and by computer. Visit my website for more info.
Connect with me on Google+, Twitter and Pinterest:

follow Sharon Epstein on Twitterfollow Sharon Epstein on pinterest

Leave a comment — let me know what you think!


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7 Tips for Parents to Reduce College Application Stress

7 ways to reduce college application stressFace it: Applying to college is stressful.

Which colleges should be on your list? Which ones can you afford? What questions do you need to ask? What exactly is the Common Application, and why is your child about to have a meltdown over all those essays???

Here are 7 Tips for Parents to Reduce College Application Stress

Be Realistic.  For most students, getting in to the school of their dreams isn’t a lock. Sometimes it’s because they reach too high, but often it’s because schools receive so many applications that qualified students are turned away.

Work with a guidance counselor or other professional to come up with a realistic range of schools, and encourage your student to find several things about each one that he or she can get excited about. And remember: A rejection letter isn’t a sign of failure. If your student has chosen well, he or she will end up at a school that’s a good fit.

Listen. It’s natural to want to be involved in the college application process, but be careful not to project your own hopes and dreams. Allow your student to discuss what he or she wants from a college experience and listen to those ideas. Provide helpful feedback – and keep on listening.

Be Financially Honest.  If money’s an issue, be honest with your student early on. That way he or she will be able to choose a range of affordable schools and explore scholarship opportunities. Don’t let your student set his or her heart on a school you can’t afford.

Help Your Student Get Organized. Set up a plan with your student early on. Help organize paperwork, create alerts for upcoming deadlines, and set goals for completing essays and filling out applications and financial aid requirements.

Use both real and virtual filing systems for college communications, and try Evernote (which I wrote about in a previous blog). Evernote lets you upload notes, photos, videos, and documents from mobile devices and tablets, and access them anywhere. So, for instance, on college visits students can make notes on tablets and take photos and videos on their phones, and then access everything on their computers when they get home (Great for remembering what to write in the “Why do you want to go to our school” essay).

Don’t Micromanage.  Be a guide, not a leader. Allow your student to take ownership in successfully navigating the college admissions process, and be his or her greatest cheerleader. Your student will engage, feel independent, and ultimately become more informed and confident. Those are great qualities to take to college.

Don’t Write the Essays.  Help proofread and check for grammar and spelling mistakes, but don’t choose your student’s essay topics, “improve” word choice, add phrases, or even write entire paragraphs. College admissions readers know the difference between an essay written by someone who’s 17 and someone who’s 40. Reading an essay engineered by mom or dad doesn’t make them happy; they want to get to know the student.

Escape the Family War Zone. Despite a family’s best support, sometimes a student’s stress level can build to overload. If you’re concerned about meltdowns, missed deadlines, and becoming the “application police,” consider enlisting a professional to help with college search, essay writing skills, application filing, etc. The peace and ultimate success will be worth it.

College Application Time Can Be Smooth Sailing — If You Know How to Navigate the Waters.

related posts
Organize Your College Search: Try Evernote

links
Washington Post: Tips for Maximizing Your College Admissions Visit
Advice for Parents on Surviving College Application Stress
Dealing with the Stress of College Applications
New York Times: College’s High Cost, Before You Even Apply

Sharon Epstein, FIrst Impressions College Consulting..Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting
Need help? I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, and by computer. Visit my website for more info.
Connect with me on Google+, Twitter and Pinterest:

follow Sharon Epstein on Twitterfollow Sharon Epstein on pinterest

Leave a comment — let me know what you think!