Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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How to Write Common Application Essay Prompt #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

How to write Common App prompt 5 discuss an event that marked your transition from childhood to adulthoodThe Common Application essay prompts are out.

How do you choose which essay to write?

In this 5 part series I help you figure out which question on the 2016 Common Application essay is right for you.

We’re down to the last one. Whew!

Ready for #5? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #5:

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

Is this Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Accomplishment or Event” … “Transition from Childhood to Adulthood” … “Culture, Community or Family”

What the Keywords Mean:

  • “Accomplishment or event” is a very broad phrase. That’s good! It means you can choose almost anything you’ve done, experienced or accomplished.
  • “Transition from childhood to adulthood.” Don’t feel quite like an adult yet? That’s okay—you can still answer the question. The Common App really wants to know how you’ve become more mature or responsible over time.  
    • Ask yourself these questions: Have you taken on more responsibility? Do you make decisions in a more mature way? Are you more dependable? Do you teach younger students what you’ve been taught? Does your family or community ask you for advice on an issue you’ve become knowledgeable about? Have you been through a religious or cultural rite of passage that was meaningful to you? There are many ways we grow into adulthood.

Still Looking for a Topic?

  • Here are a few more questions you can ask yourself: Did you set a goal for yourself that you achieved? Did you work hard at a task, hobby, or skill that you eventually were able to master? Did you have a relationship with an important person that helped shape you? Did you have a life event that forced you to take on more responsibility? Did you have an experience that helped you become more compassionate or understanding? Did you experience a traumatic event that made you see the world in a different way? Did you need to find a way to get yourself out of a difficult situation? Did you start your own business? Did you learn how to allocate your own money? These are just a few ideas—make sure to keep thinking!

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid: 

  • Don’t forget to include a learning experience. Although the prompt doesn’t specifically ask for it, colleges want to know how you grew or what you learned from your experience. How did your experience shape your attitude, outlook or actions? How did it help you become the person you are today? Make sure to tell them.

Essay Topic Example

“Dance Studio”

A young woman began dancing before she could tie her shoes. The tradition at her dance studio was that the older dancers mentored the younger ones. As she grew older and became more accomplished, she started teaching the younger students. Now she helps them in the studio and outside of dance. As she has matured, the student has learned what it takes to be a friend and mentor, and is helping continue her dance studio’s tradition.

Is this Example Successful? Yes.

  • All the keywords are addressed.
    • The student writes about an accomplishment in her community.
    • Her transition from child to young adult is marked by taking on more responsibility and becoming a teacher and mentor to the younger dancers.
  • She learned from her experience.
    • The student has matured and become more responsible.

What Can Colleges Learn About You From This Question?

  • Your level of maturity.
    • Schools can get a feeling for how well you will interact with your peers and instructors, your decision-making abilities, and even your possible leadership skills.
  • Your ability to develop important relationships within your family, culture, or community.
    • Schools can learn what kind of community member you will be at college.
  • The kind of idea or experience that’s truly meaningful to you.
    • Your essay topic tells the school a great deal about what’s important to you. Make sure you choose a topic that is meaningful to you and says good things about you.

We’re done! We’ve covered all the prompts. If you’ve read the blog posts I’ve written on how to answer each question, you should be able to choose the right topic and write an essay that makes you shine. If you have any questions, drop me a line and let me know.

Also in this series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
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: Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve

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

Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee. First Impressions tutors 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 and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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How to Write 2016 Common App Essay #4: Problem You’ve Solved or Problem You’d Like to Solve

How to write 2016 Common App essay prompt 4 Problem You've Solved or a Problem You'd Like to SolveAre you good at problem solving? Then Common Application essay prompt #4 may be for you.

It’s one of a five-part series on how to write the Common Application essay prompts.

Ready for number 4? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #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.

Is this Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Problem you’ve solved or would like to solve”“Personal importance”“No matter the scale”

Do the Keywords Apply to You?

Answer yes IF:

  • You’ve identified a problem with meaning and importance to you.
  • You’ve actively worked on a solution OR have an idea about what steps you’d take to work toward a solution.

What Can Colleges Learn About You From This Question?

  • Your problem-solving skills
  • How you think when you’re faced with challenges
  • An idea or experience you truly value
    how to write 2013 common app essay

    Pitfalls to Avoid: 

  • The problem isn’t meaningful enough to you. You could write about lobbying for longer lunch periods at school, but so what? Don’t be superficial. Choose a topic that tells the colleges who you are and what you care about. The problem and solution you decide to write about tell the colleges who you are.
  • Vague or generic essays. The prompt says you can write about anything “no matter the scale.” But broad topics still need to be of personal significance, with the emphasis on personal. So, you could write about world peace—but can you demonstrate your passion and connection? Be specific about how a topic has touched you or meant something to you—and put your personality squarely on the page.

  • Don’t forget the question has three parts: (1) Describe a problem; (2) Explain its significance to you; (3) Identify a solution. You must answer all three parts.

  • Part three isn’t strong enough. I’ve had students spend much of their essay describing the problem, but only devote a couple of sentences to what they’d do about it.  Don’t skimp on this section—it’s where the schools see your critical thinking skills. It also helps them visualize the kind of problem solver you’ll be at college (and you want them to know you’ll be a darn good one).

Essay Topic Examples:

  • A student recognized that some of the kids at his teen center didn’t always have enough nice clothes, so he worked with the staff to set up and manage a “free clothes” rack. Now teens can take anything they want and always have something to wear. He saw a problem that was meaningful to him, and created a solution.
  • A student conducting a school research project helped identify the source of pollution flowing into a local river. This project meant a lot to her because it affected her community. Now, she plans to work with local authorities to set up a better monitoring system to prevent future spills. She hasn’t implemented the solution yet, but can explain the steps she’d take.
  • A student who broke her leg rigged up a solution that allowed her to turn the light in her room on and off while she was in bed, giving her more independence. This student found a creative solution to her everyday dilemma.
  • A student from China saw locusts destroy an entire community’s harvest. She reasoned that if scientists could understand more about insect life cycles, they might be able to save the crops and even combat hunger. To work on the problem, she planned to set up a research project in college and use mathematical applications to help make these predictions more accurate. This student dreamed big, but at the same time her story was specific: She had a personal connection and a passion for solving a large-scale problem.

Colleges like to see how you think, so include your decision-making process. Explain how you came up with a possible solution (Research? Thought? Talking to people?) Identify your solution, or what you might like to see as a solution. Make sure you convey why this topic is meaningful to you. And write a great problem solving essay.

Next time: How to Write Common App prompt #5.

Also in this series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: A Time you Experienced Failure
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea

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

Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee. First Impressions 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 and work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, video and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

 

 


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How to Write 2016 Common Application Essay #3: Reflect On a Time When You Challenged a Belief or Idea

How to write 2016 Common App essay prompt 3 reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea Hooray! You’re applying to college!

How do you choose which Common Application essay to write?

In this 5-part series I help you figure out which 2016 Common Application question is right for you.

Ready for number 3? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #3:

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

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Challenged a belief or idea” “Prompted you to act”…”Would you make the same decision again?”

When Should You Choose This Essay?

Answer this question ONLY IF:

  • You were confronted with a belief or idea which you felt compelled to challenge or change.

What are Colleges Looking For?

Colleges are looking for your critical thinking skills. Show them your thought process (the steps you took to make your decision) and then reflect on your experience (which will show them maturity and insight).

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid: 

  • Understand the keywords. “Challenged a belief or idea” means that you took some kind of action either on your own behalf or on the behalf of someone or something else.
  • This question has THREE parts—don’t leave one out. Discuss what prompted you to act, then reflect on your decision and say whether you’d do it again.
  • Don’t forget to include a learning experience. What did you learn? How did you grow?
  • Caution: You never want to offend your reader. Remember that a belief or idea you disagree with could be one that your reader accepts, so always watch your tone and be respectful when needed.

Not Sure this Question Relates to You?
Here are 3 ways you might answer this question:

  • Were you told by an adult that you wouldn’t be successful in an activity, but you chose to pursue it anyway?
  • Did you challenge what a group of friends told you to do because you thought they were wrong?
  • Did you see someone being treated unfairly (perhaps even yourself) and attempt to rectify it?

What Other Kinds of Beliefs or Ideas Can You Consider?

  • It can be a belief or idea held by others (including friends, schoolmates and family).
  • It can be a belief or idea you’ve been taught (including your attitude or action toward others, or how something should or shouldn’t be done).
  • It can also be your own belief—something that’s unique to you. What if you thought your sister came from Mars? (Okay, that’s silly.) But sometimes we have our own ideas: Consider the student who thinks being loudest is the best way to gain attention, or the girl who thinks she’s happiest being alone. What if the student realized he’d rather have friends than negative attention, or the girl pushed herself out of her comfort zone to find out she enjoyed being a leader at school? Think about what you believed when you were younger, and if your ideas changed, why. If your experience is meaningful and says positive things about you (and answers the question), this prompt could be for you.

Which brings me to:

Should you write about religion? You can. I’ve had students who’ve written about different aspects of their spiritual journey, whether it was trying to conform to their parents’ religion or searching for their own truth. But remember the caution: You don’t want to offend your reader. So along with topic choice, consider the tone of your writing. For instance, it’s a lot different to say you felt a need to find your own spiritual path than to say you hated a specific religion and couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Tip from College Admissions Officers: Some admissions officers tell me that many essays about spiritual journeys are starting to sound very similar to them. So if you want to write about your spiritual journey, find an original approach that makes your essay stands out. If it starts to feel generic, dig deeper into who you are and how this topic reflects your values, your ability to problem solve, or your goals. (Give the colleges good reasons to want to admit you.) If you’re not sure it will stand out, switch topics.

Example of a Successful Essay Topic:

A student’s elementary school teacher wasn’t a kind woman and picked on many of the children in her class. As a result, the student’s self-esteem suffered and her grades dropped. It took a long time for the student to learn to stand up for herself, but when she finally did she started to excel. In high school, she became a leader and mentor and spoke to teens about how to combat bullying. She taught them the harmful power of words, and how to use words in a positive way.  In her essay she explained why she would make the same decision again: “My passion for making a difference stems from my own experiences where negative criticism created a lasting effect on me…Becoming emotionally and physically independent and having the confidence to challenge social norms have become the most powerful tools in my possession.”

Is This Topic Successful? Yes.

  • All the keywords are addressed. The student told her story, described what prompted her to act, and explained why she would make the same decision again.
  • She included a learning experience. Once she learned to stand up for herself, the student took on the role of a mentor and leader, and worked to combat bullying.
  • She conveyed positive qualities. This student exhibited personal strength and moral character. She was able to pull herself out of a difficult situation to personally excel and to help others.
  • She gave colleges excellent reasons to admit her: She was a leader, a compassionate human being, and someone with high standards who wanted to make a difference.

Reasons Essay Prompt #3 Can Work for You: 

  • You can communicate your level of maturity.
  • You can highlight your critical thinking skills.
  • You can demonstrate that you’re open-minded and have respect for the beliefs and ideas of others.
  • You can show that your choices or ideas had an impact.
  • Interesting Fact: Last year, this was the least-answered Common App essay prompt. Since admissions officers won’t read as many of these essay answers, your topic could have a better chance of standing out.

Tip: It’s okay to say you wouldn’t make the same decision again. Colleges want to see that you have the maturity and perspective to understand your actions.  Just remember—by the end of the essay you should be saying positive things about yourself.

For more information on the Common Application visit their website. They also have a very helpful Facebook page.

Next time: How to Write Common App prompt #4.

Also in this series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: A Time you Experienced Failure
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve

For the entire list of 2016 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. She is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee. First Impressions teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. We work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, video and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

 

 


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How to Write 2016 Common Application Essay #2: The Lessons We Take From Failure

2016 Common Application essay prompt 2 2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success Recount anHave you ever failed at something? I mean really tanked.

And when you look back on that experience, did you learn from it? Or know what you’d do differently the next time around?

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

In this post, I’ll teach you what you need to know to write Common Application Essay prompt #2 (The lessons we take from failure).

This is the second in my series on how to write the 2016 Common Application essay prompts. Click here to read how to write Prompt 1, Prompt 3 and Prompt 4.

Are you ready for Common Application Prompt #2? Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #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?

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Lessons”…”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, or made a decision that turned out to be faulty.
  • AND you learned from your experience.
  • AND you can examine (analyze) your failure objectively.

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid: 

  • Don’t wallow in your failure. This answer isn’t really about failure; it’s about how the failure affected you and what you learned from it. Mention the failure and move on.
  • This question has three parts—make sure you answer ALL of them: Your experience, how it affected you, and what positive lessons you learned.
  • Academic failures don’t often make the best essays. Many students end up with a bad grade or marking period, but is the Common App essay the place to write about it? The pitfall here is that if you’re not careful, your essay can sound like a lot of other students’ essays. (“I worked hard and learned that I could persevere.”) Remember: always look for an original approach to your essay—fully explore why this topic is meaningful to you and show how you pushed through this challenge. If your gut says it’s a common topic, sounds boring, or doesn’t differentiate you from other applicants, then choose another topic. If you need to explain a bad grade or marking period and decide not to do it in your Common App essay, you can use the additional information section of your application instead.

Essay Topic Example:

A student started a snowplow business using his ATV. But the ATV couldn’t plow deep snow, and one night, when eight inches of snow fell, the plow got stuck in his driveway. The student knew his customers were counting on him, so he worked all night to shovel out the ATV.  After that, he realized he needed to better serve his customers by upgrading his equipment. Eventually, the student traded his ATV for a truck with a plow, which in turn made his business more successful. He also decided that he wanted to pursue a business career.

Is this Topic Successful? Yes.

•    All the keywords are addressed. The student told his story, examined how his failure affected him, and then wrote about the positive lessons he learned.
•    It also showed that he had good character (see the next paragraph).

 

how to write 2013 Common Application essay

Are You Uncomfortable Discussing Failure?

DON’T BE. Colleges look for character-building stories and problem solving skills.

In fact, Christine Hamilton, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Sacred Heart University, says she sees a lot of failure essays, and that’s okay with her. She learns a lot about the character of incoming students when they write about failure. As the prompt says, the lessons we learn from failure can be “fundamental to later success.

how to write Common Application how to write essay personal statementSeeing How You’ve Weathered Adversity Can Give Schools a Good Reason to Want to Accept You.

Think about it—when you get to college you’ll probably face some bumps in the road. You might have a tough class, want to change your major, or even have a roommate that’s not exactly what you expected. And since schools don’t have a crystal ball to see how you’ll handle challenges, they’ll look to see how you’ve dealt with them in the past.

So consider this—if your college essay compares your personality to the types of shoes in your closet (please don’t), schools won’t have a clue about how you’ll manage when the going gets tough. But! If you write about the lessons you learned from failure, you’ll be demonstrating your ability to handle unexpected obstacles. And bingo—the schools will be able to envision how you could successfully handle college and beyond

 

CAUTION: Never write about failures that include very risky behavior or anything illegal (such as drugs and underage drinking). 

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

Read the entire series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
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

For the entire list of 2016 Common Application essay prompts click here.
If you’re not familiar with the Common Application, click here for more info.

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


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

 


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What the CIA and Romance Novels Taught Me About Writing (Part 3): Beware Disconnected Ideas

Guest blogger: Joanna NovinsCopy of What the CIA and Romance Novels Taught Me About WritingPart 3 Beware Disconnected Ideas

As I write this blog, a Sesame Street song keeps running through my head, “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things is not the same…”

The third lesson in this series is a lesson as simple as the Sesame Street song. It’s so simple that I almost hesitate to write about it. And yet, it’s a mistake I see made by both seasoned professionals and students.

Connecting Disconnected Ideas

In my experience, people connect disconnected ideas because they have a lot of facts or ideas they’re trying to get down on the page. When you read through your drafts, examine each paragraph carefully. Ask yourself if all of the ideas or sentences in the paragraph have a common theme. If they don’t, to paraphrase the Sesame Street song, remove the ideas that are not like the other ones. If they do have a common theme, double-check your introductory sentence. Make sure it’s consistent with your common theme. If it isn’t, or you’re having trouble coming up with a first line, the problem may be that you have too many unconnected ideas in your paragraph.

At this point, you may be thinking, I’m an experienced writer, I know how to group “like” things together. But take a look at the following sentences:

  • Vlahos, who has been president for the last six years, likes strawberry ice cream.
  • Stringer, 82, plays basketball and soccer.
  • Chen, a lawyer, is twenty-nine.

If they sound correct to you, consider them more closely. Unless Vlahos is the president of Strawberry Land, his fondness for ice cream has nothing to do with his office. Stringer’s age has nothing to do with his interests. Similarly, Chen’s vocation has nothing to do with his age.

There are a couple of reasons for these all-too-common, disconnected connections:

  • You’ve reached the end of paragraph and you’re left with a few facts that are “interesting” or “nice to have,” so you dump them into one sentence.
  • Your ideas are related, but you’ve failed to include qualifying information. For example: Despite his advanced years, Stringer, 82, plays basketball and soccer on a regular basis.
  • You know the ideas are not related, but you’ve included them in a single sentence because you think short sentences sound flat: Vlahos has been president for the last six years. He likes strawberry ice cream.

Don’t fear the short sentence…exploit it!
Yes, I said it in my previous blog, and I’ll say it again, short sentences can be powerful. Admittedly, the examples I used were of important information summarized concisely for maximum impact, i.e. I shot the sheriff.

So what do you do if the information, by itself, has minimal impact?

Try changing up your verbs, adding an adverb, or a qualifier:

  • Vlahos has been president for the last six years. He enjoys strawberry ice cream.
  • Vlahos has been president for the last six years. He’s obsessed with strawberry ice cream.
  • Vlahos has been president for the last six years. Though lactose intolerant, he’s been known to sneak strawberry ice cream.

Words like “obsess” and “sneak” add tone to the writing. In this case, since they’re my choices, you’re also getting a sense of my voice as a writer. The choices you make will allow you to set the tone of your essay and showcase your voice as a writer.

A final word of warning: Beware the Ands
A good way to catch disconnected ideas is to look closely at your sentences with the word “and” as you’re editing. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the sentence too long? If it takes up more than three lines of your paragraph, consider shortening it. “And” is often a good place to break a sentence. (If you break your sentence in two and both say the same thing, you’ve found a redundancy—delete the weaker sentence.)
  • If the ideas are connected, will breaking them into two sentences strengthen the point you’re trying to make? Two sentences may give you the opportunity to reveal more about yourself.
    • Consider: A competitive athlete, I like running and basketball.  vs.  A competitive athlete, I like running because it tests me as an individual. I like basketball because I enjoy working as a member of a team.
  • Is the connection between the ideas unclear? If you’ve written something along the lines of, I like soccer and neuroscience, ask yourself what is it about these different activities that appeal to you. Is it something they have in common? Or do you like them for different reasons? If you have lots of disconnected reasons you like both, consider whether your essay would be more powerful if you focus on the activity that is truly your passion.

Read the first two posts in this series:
Part 1: The Hook
Part 2: Keep it Simple, Stupid (K.I.S.S.)

Joanna NovinsWith over two decades of writing experience for the Central Intelligence Agency and the commercial fiction market, multi-published author Joanna Novins understand the importance of hooking the reader with the first line. She also understands the importance of telling a great story, whether it’s about manufacturing solid propellant missiles, happily-ever-after, or how to present yourself.  She has extensive experience working with writers of differing skill levels, from senior intelligence analysts and published authors to aspiring authors and high school students. Joanna holds a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and was awarded a bachelor’s degree with honors in history from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

 

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Writing College Application Essays: The Failure of Faking It

writing college essays - the failure of faking itLet’s get this out of the way – Never fake it.

Don’t make stuff up when you’re writing your college application essay.

I could spout off like a stuffy old aunt and tell you it isn’t right and that it’s not the assignment (it’s not), but let me give you a better reason – it can affect your chances of getting into the college of your dreams.

Why? Colleges can tell?

Yes. Often. If you’ve read thousands of college essays, you’d develop a nose for these things, too.

So let’s talk about the obvious question: Why do some students feel like they need to make it up?

1. They think it’s what colleges want to hear.
2. They think they don’t have anything to say.
3. Writing is hard! Making it up sounds better.

Here’s the truth:

1. Colleges want to hear about YOU. They want to discover the world through your eyes – who you are and how you think. So take them on that journey, not some warmed-over version of what you think they want, or who you think they want. Just give them you.

2. You are important enough and you do have something to say. College essay writing can be intimidating. Often, students think they don’t have anything to say because they’ve never had anything “big” happen to them, like a life-changing event or a special vacation or trip. But that’s a myth. You don’t need anything big to write about. Colleges get that. They just want to learn what’s meaningful to you.

3. Writing IS hard. That’s the assignment. You’re not going to polish it off in one draft. Making it up might speed up the process, but it won’t make it a successful one. You’ll miss important details you could only write about if they happened. Unfortunately, the colleges will miss those details, too.

 An Example of Why Faking it Fails:

 A student didn’t want the colleges to think he was part of a losing football team. “We’re having a great season!” he wrote. “The offense is like a brick!”

That’s what he thought the schools wanted to hear.

The truth was, the team was having a poor season and the student was affected by that. He even thought about quitting but decided to stick with it and worked to improve the team.

Since he faked it, the student didn’t have a chance to show how he helped his teammates work through a bad situation.

If you were a college reader, what would help you decide to admit this student – hearing him brag, or learning how he demonstrated resolve and teamwork during a tough time?

Real life is better when you don’t fake it.

Really.

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


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Real Life Story: College Essay Rejection

This is the story of a young man who made a mistake in one sentence of his college application essay and it cost him admittance to Amherst.

Here’s how it goes:

Recently an NPR reporter went behind the scenes at Amherst College in Massachusetts to see how college admissions decisions are made. The admissions committee was having one of their final meetings; they’d narrowed it down to the top 15 percent of applicants and now, one by one, they were presenting each student’s grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and essays.

The Essay is Discussed

The committee turned to the application of the young man in question. His college application essay caught the attention of a dean, and not in a good way. She was troubled by a sentence that read ”I rarely get truly fascinated by a subject.” The student went on to say that music was his exception. No one was pleased.

“That was flabbergasting,” commented one of the admissions readers.

“Intellectual passion is a must,” said the Dean of Admissions. Everyone agreed. The student was not admitted.

What Went Wrong?

The student clearly intended to write about his passion for music. So why did the college admissions committee care more about what he said first: “I rarely get truly fascinated by a subject”?

The Student Violated 2 Major Rules:

1. Know Your Reader

Amherst is a small, prestigious liberal arts college. If you go to their website and read the school’s philosophy it’s all about intellectual curiosity. Did this student visit Amherst’s website? I don’t know. But when he said he wasn’t fascinated by anything other than music he certainly seemed not to understand.

Remember you’re not writing your college application essay for you — you’re writing it for college admissions readers to read and like. You want them to finish your essay and want you to go to their school. You have to figure out what makes you a good fit and how you’re going to convey that.

One way to begin is to visit the school’s website. You can get a lot of information from a website. What’s their educational philosophy? What kind of students do they want to attract? Then you can begin to decide how to show them you’re that kind of person.

2. Don’t Cast Yourself in a Negative Light

I’m sure this student had no idea he was saying anything negative about himself. After all, he was writing about his love of music. But by saying “I rarely get truly fascinated by a subject” he casts himself in a negative light. He’s telling the college admissions reader “I really don’t care much about stuff, except I like music.”

One other thing I want to point out is his use of the present tense: “I rarely get truly fascinated by a subject” By writing in the present tense he’s talking about now. It’s not something that used to be — he’s not interested now.

What if the sentence were changed slightly? What if this college application essay began, “I started getting fascinated by new ideas when I fell in love with music”? Doesn’t that sound more positive? Instead of the word “rarely” I used the word “started” — something has begun. A transformation. A journey. That might get the attention of the Amherst admissions committee. I’m not saying it would have been right for this student, but you can see the difference it makes. This sentence is now about someone who loves the idea of learning, and is completely positive.

You always want to showcase yourself in a positive light. That’s not to say you shouldn’t write about a personal journey or a learning experience; we all make mistakes or come to important realizations in our lives — that can make a powerful essay. But you don’t want to give a negative impression. Not a smart way to portray yourself.

Remember:

  • Know your reader
  • Don’t cast yourself in a negative light

If you’re not sure,  have someone read your essays. Find someone who understands what colleges are looking for, and where the pitfalls lie, and ask them for constructive criticism. Make sure to give yourself time to make adjustments.

Ultimately, the admissions process is not an exact science. But college admissions committees don’t take the process lightly; they struggle with knowing they hold each student’s future in their hands.

Make sure you hold as much of your future in your own hands as you can. Write a great essay.