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


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

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

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

Did you learn from your experience?

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

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

Are you ready? Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #2:

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

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

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

Do the Keywords Apply to You?

Answer yes IF

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

how to write 2013 common app essayPitfalls to Avoid:

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

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

Successful Essay Topic Example:

“Snowbound Night”

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

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

Why this Topic Succeeds:

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

But should you really write about a failure?

Absolutely. It’s a character-building experience.

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

how to write 2013 Common Application essay

Are You Uncomfortable Discussing Failure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Write Common Application Essay 1 Background Identity Interest Talent


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

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

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

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

Let’s Start with Common Application Essay Basics:

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

What Do Schools Look for in a Common Application Essay?

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

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

Okay, ready? Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #1:

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

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

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

Do these Keywords Apply to You? 

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

Choose this Prompt IF:

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

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid:

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

Examples of Successful Essay Topics:

#1 – “Road Trip”

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

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

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

Why Does this College Essay Topic Succeed?

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

#2 – “Sharks”

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

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

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

Why Does this College Essay Topic Succeed?

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

Example of a Poor Essay Topic:

“Friends”

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

Why Does this College Essay Topic Fail?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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When Should I Start Writing My College Essay?

When Should You Start Writing Your College Essay

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

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

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

Let’s get to the questions!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Has my story happened yet?

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

Here’s a Summary:
first impressions college consulting calendar

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

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

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

 


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2018-2019 Common Application Essay Prompts

Common Application Prompts 2018-2019

Great news!

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

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

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

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

2018-2019 Common Application Essay Prompts:

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

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

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

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

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

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

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

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

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

 College Essay Writing helpInteresting Stats from 2015-2016 Applications:

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

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


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


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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
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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Common Application Essay Quiz – Are You Ready To Write?

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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?

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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

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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