Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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How to Write 2015 Common App Essay #1: Background, Identity, Interest or Talent

how to write 2015 common app background identity interest or talent essayIt’s that time of year again — college application season.

I love it.

Why? Students start to envision themselves as college freshmen. The next step of their lives is on the horizon. It’s almost here.

But first…

You’ve got a college admissions essay to write.

Don’t worry. Help is on the way.

In this series of posts, I’ll give you tips on how to write the 2015 Common Application essay.

I’ll tell you how to choose a college essay prompt, what colleges look for in college essay answers, and how to avoid college essay pitfalls. I’ll give you essay examples, too.

First — an overview.

  • The 2015 Common Application has five prompts.
  • You answer one of them. 250-650 words.
  • Click here to read my posts on Common Application Essay Prompt #2, Prompt #3, Prompt #4, and Prompt #5.
  • For a complete list of the 2015 Common Application questions, click here.
  • Not every school accepts the Common Application, so check your list. Some schools require different essays.

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 — Meaningful — Incomplete without it.

Do these Keywords Apply to You?

  • “Background, identity, interest.” These words are meant to spark your imagination. Think about what’s shaped your life – who you are, how you think, your hobbies. 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 molded 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 understand you. You also haven’t told it anywhere else in your application.

Why Choose this Prompt?
1. This experience helped shape who you are.
2. If you didn’t tell this story, the school wouldn’t fully understand you.
3. Your topic doesn’t fit any of the other prompts.

Possible Pitfalls:

  • This isn’t “topic of your choice.” You can’t write about anything you’d like. You have to satisfy the keywords.
  • Always Say What You Learned. Even though the prompt doesn’t specify it, make sure to include what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown from your experience. This is essential for a complete answer.

Example of a Successful Essay Topic:

A young woman was such an accomplished ballet dancer that she studied with the prestigious Bolshoi ballet in New York. Everyone, including her family, assumed that she’d turn professional. Instead, she decided to become a nutritionist. The student wrote about her love of ballet and how it exposed her to a hidden world of young dancers with eating disorders. Ballet led this student to a new goal: helping dancers stay healthy.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Succeed?

  •  All the keywords are addressed. This student couldn’t tell her story without writing about dance. It was central to her identity and her application would be incomplete without it.
  • She learned from her experience. From her perspective as a dancer, she realized what she wanted from her future.

Example of a Poor Essay Topic:

A student enjoyed driving his car. He liked to ride for hours listening to his favorite music and taking twists and turns he didn’t know, just see where he would end up. Sometimes he drove so far that he had to use his GPS to get home.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Fail?

  • The keywords are not addressed. This is a nice story, and probably would be interesting to read. But the student doesn’t indicate anywhere how or why it’s central to who he is or what his talents are.  If he didn’t write about this activity, no one would miss it.
  • There is no learning or growing experience.

If you’re not familiar with the Common Application, go to their website. They also have a very helpful Facebook page.

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

Also in this series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: A Time you Experienced Failure
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

For the entire list of 2015 Common App 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.

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College Application Essay Tips for International Students

College Application Essay Tips for International StudentsFrom Greece to Vietnam, I hear from students who have questions about how to write college admissions essays and especially how to write the Common Application personal essay.

International students face unique challenges. Many aren’t writing in their native language. Others aren’t sure what colleges look for in an essay or if they’ve chosen the right story.

That’s why I’ve written Writing College Admissions Essays — An International Student’s Guide. I’m delighted that it has been published by both i-studentglobal and Magoosh.

Please visit these sites to read the article, or download a copy of it here. Enjoy!

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.

 

 


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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.


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2015-2016 Common Application Essay Prompts

2015-2016 Common Application Essay PromptsThe news is in!

The Common Application just announced The Common Application essay prompts for 2015-2016.

  • There are five questions to choose from.
  • The maximum essay length is 650 words.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing insights, question by question, to help students understand, think about, and write outstanding college application essays.  I have lots of ideas to pass along.  In the meantime —

Here are the 2015-2016 Common Application Essay Prompts:

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 failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

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 or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

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.



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4 Ways to Know if You’ve Written a Good College Essay

4 Ways to Know if You've Written a Good College Application EssayHow do you know if you’ve written a good college admissions essay?

Do you just cross your fingers, hope for the best, and upload?

Wait! Before you hit that send button —

Here are 4 ways to check if you’ve written a good college essay:

1. Put the essay away for a day or two. Then read it again.

Reading your essay with fresh eyes will help you be more objective about your writing.

Make sure:

  • The essay flows well from one paragraph to the other.
  • It holds your interest from beginning to end.
  • It says positive things about you.
  • You’ve answered all parts of the question.
  • You still like it.

2. Read your essay out loud.

  • You shouldn’t stumble over words or phrases when you read your essay out loud.
  • If you do stumble, look at your sentence structure and word choices, and revise the bumpy places.
  • Read your essay out loud again to double-check it’s okay.

3. Ask yourself if your essay says everything you want it to say about you.

  •  Make a list of the important points you want the colleges to know about you when they’ve finished reading your essay. (For example: “I’m thoughtful and creative, and would go out of my way for a friend.”) Then go through your essay slowly and carefully and make sure those ideas are included. If they’re not, find a way to incorporate them.
  • Sometimes an idea that you think is clear is actually not clear to the reader. This can be tricky for writers, because sometimes we’re so close to what we’ve written that it’s hard to tell. So make your list of important points and ask one or two adults to read your essay. Ask them whether or not they learned those things from your essay. If they didn’t, go back and clarify those ideas.

4. Pretend you’re a college reader.

For the next few minutes we’re going to give you a promotion. You’re a college admissions officer named Jordan. Jordan doesn’t know you. Jordan has already read 50 essays today, and some of them have been really boring.

Here is what you have to ask yourself:

  • Will my introduction capture Jordan’s attention?
  • Did I find an interesting way to tell my story, or has Jordan heard it the same way a hundred times? (“I’m so glad I won the big game.”)
  • Is this a story only I can write?
  • Does my personality jump off the page?
  • Did I include interesting details?
  • Does it say good things about me?
  • What will Jordan know about me after reading my essay? How would Jordan describe me?
  • Will Jordan think that I would be a good member of the college community?

Jordan’s got a lot to think about and so do you. So before you hit that send button, take time to re-read your essay, make sure it says what you want it to say, and put yourself in your college reader’s shoes. 

And then you can hit upload.

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 nominee, Sharon teaches students how to write memorable college application essays, write outstanding resumes, and master interview skills. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more information and connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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2014 Spring College Fairs

2014 college fairs spring
Looking for a college fair in your area?

Here is the list of  spring 2014 national college fairs sponsored by National Association for College Admission Counseling.  For more information about each fair, click on the name of the college fair or visit National College Fairs.

MARCH 2
Louisville National College Fair
Kentucky International Convention Center
Louisville, KY
2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

MARCH 9
The Park Expo and Conference Center
Charlotte, NC
12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
MARCH 11
Raleigh Convention Center
Raleigh, NC
4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

MARCH 16
Atlanta National College Fair
Georgia World Congress Center
Atlanta, GA
12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

MARCH 16 & 17
Rochester Riverside Convention Center
Rochester, New York
March 16: 1:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
March 17: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
MARCH 18
Syracuse National College Fair
SRC Arena
Onondaga Community College
Syracuse, New York
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. – 8 p.m.
MARCH 30 & MARCH 31
Eastern States Exposition (The Big E)
West Springfield, Massachusetts
March 30: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
March 31: 9:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

MARCH 31 & APRIL 1
Metro Detroit National College Fair
Suburban Collection Showplace
Novi, Michigan
March 31: 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
April 1: 8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
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Grand Rapids, Michigan
8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.

APRIL 3 & 4
Hartford National College Fair
Connecticut Convention Center
Hartford, Connecticut
Thursday, April 3: 9:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m., 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Friday, April 4: 9:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.


APRIL 5
Columbus National College Fair
Greater Columbus Convention Center
Columbus, Ohio
1:00 p.m. – 4 p.m.

APRIL 6
Cleveland National College Fair

Wolstein Center
Cleveland, Ohio
1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

APRIL 6
New York National College Fair
Jacob K. Javits Convention Center of New York
New York, NY
11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

APRIL 8 & 9
Buffalo Niagara Convention Center
Buffalo, NY
April 8: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
April 9: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

APRIL 9 & 10
Montgomery County National College Fair

Montgomery County Agricultural Center
Gaithersburg, MD
April 9: 9:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
April 10: 9:45 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

APRIL 10

Honolulu National College Fair
Hawaii Convention Center
Honolulu, HI
8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.


APRIL 11
Prince George’s County National College Fair

Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex
Landover, Maryland
9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

APRIL 23
San Diego National College Fair
San Diego Convention Center
San Diego, CA
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

APRIL 23 & 24
New Jersey National College Fair

Meadowlands Exposition Center (at Harmon Meadow)
Secaucus, NJ
April 23: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
April 24: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

APRIL 24
Ventura/Tri-County National College Fair

Ventura County Fairgrounds
Ventura, CA
5:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m

APRIL 26
Providence National College Fair

Rhode Island Convention Center
Providence, RI
12:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

APRIL 27
Nashville National College Fair
Music City Center

Nashville, TN
1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Anaheim Convention Center
Anaheim, CA
1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

APRIL 29
Ontario Convention Center
Ontario, CA
9:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.

MAY 1
Greater Los Angeles National College Fair
Pasadena Convention Center
Pasadena, CA
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

MAY 1 & 2
Boston National College Fair
Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC)
Boston, MA
May 1: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
May 2: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Cow Palace
San Francisco, CA
1:30 p.m.–4:30 p.m.
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Enjoy!

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform 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 information. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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2014-2015 Common Application Essay Prompts

2014-2015 Common Application essay prompts

The news is in!

The Common Application just announced that The Common Application essay prompts for 2014-15 will be the same as last year.

The essay length will continue to be capped at 650 words.

Last year, nearly 70 percent of Common Application member colleges and 90 percent of school counselors said that the prompts were effective in helping students represent themselves to colleges. So they’re doing it again.

That’s good news. Last year my students wrote terrific essays using these prompts. And in the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing what I learned, and writing about how students can answer them.  I have lots of ideas to pass along.

In the meantime, here is the list:

The 2014-2015 Common Application Essay Prompts:

  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure.  How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.  What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

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 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.