Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills

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Helping Students with Learning Differences Transition to College: A Mom’s 10 Tips

Helping Students with Learning Differences Transition to College Mom's 10 TipsRecently, I participated in a college prep panel at Eagle Hill School in Greenwich, Connecticut, a school that educates children with language-based learning disabilities. My role on the panel was to discuss successful college essay writing techniques for students with learning differences.

Liz Evans was also a panelist. Liz is the mom of six children, five with learning differences. During the evening Liz shared her anxieties and hopes about the college process, as well as some of her experiences with her kids, (some of whom succeeded  and some who did not) in the transition from high school to college.

She gave Ten Tips for Parents of LD Students Who Are About to Embark on a College Search. Liz graciously agreed to let me reprint her comments here:

My comments are totally anecdotal. I’m not a professional, I’m a mom of six kids, five of whom have diagnosed learning differences.

As background, we have six children. Two have graduated from college and are gainfully employed. Two are freshmen in college: one who panicked first semester, left and is now enrolled at a different university and doing well; the other experiencing success from day one.

One never made the transition to college or any post high school program. One floundered in traditional college and became successful in community college…although that is currently on hold.

Each case was unique.

The kinds and amounts of support required were different for each. Each child’s understanding of his or her needs was unique.

Here is What We Learned From Our Kids’ Experiences:

1. First, it goes without saying, but the support program at the colleges our children attend are extremely important.

Before they begin the search process make sure the student is familiar with the recommendations that have been developed from their educational evaluations. Then, when the student interviews with the school’s support program, they should go over each item on the list with the school and write down how they will access that support.

As a parent, I would independently research the support programs at the schools your child is considering. I would allow your student to interview with the support programs and get a feel for their help, but independently from their interviews I would discuss with the school what you see as important support tactics for your child. For example, it is helpful to know whether the school will talk to you if things are not going well academically for your child. Can your child sign a waiver allowing them to speak with you?

Ask probing questions of the support program. Don’t take anything for granted:

  • How many staff members for how many students?
  • How are accommodations explained to professors?
  • Is tutoring and note taking part of the support program or available to anyone? That’s important, because if tutoring is available to anyone, there is often a long lead time to get an appointment.
  • Is it professional or peer tutoring?
  • If tests are to be taken at a different location, what is the process for making those arrangements?
  • Will your child have one main contact or just the office at large?

2. Second, we found that our kids who had internalized their need for support were most successful. Their parents, their high school teachers and counselors, and their educational consultants can try to convince students of their need for support, but they have to believe it and be willing to make accepting that support a high priority.

3. Those students who had grappled with failure were more successful. (They weren’t dejected by the challenges college presented.) One of our kids failed two or three classes, but she kept on going. I believe the ability for a student to allow him or herself to be vulnerable correlates with success. Having a soft landing for those difficult blows helps, however…and that is where a support system that your child will utilize is important.

4. If your student is coming from a high school that caters to students with learning disabilities, they need to be ready for the reality that their roommates and friends will spend much less time on their work and nevertheless be successful.

5. Those students who had a strong work ethic were most successful.

6. Students have to believe that they can be successful. Our son, who was enrolled for all of two months at Rochester Institute of Technology, never saw himself as being able to be successful. He wasn’t ready for college emotionally.

7. Again, this is just in my personal experience, but our kids who chose schools that were a little lower on the competitive scale than others they were accepted to, did better.

8. From my vantage point as a parent, if your kids are transitioning from a supportive, specialized LD program, they may not be  in a good position to realize that the teaching methods and support they are accustomed to is not typical. So that while they may recognize they qualify for extra help, it still can be a wake up call when the class instructional techniques are very different from the techniques that have been used in their LD high school.

9. Visit more than once. Revisit the school’s support program. Spend the night, if possible.

10. If the school your child decides to attend offers a summer program, I highly recommend taking advantage of that opportunity. We didn’t encourage our son, who attended The University of Vermont, to do that. The result was that he found the transition from a small high school to a big university overwhelming and never got past it.

I’m sure this is most likely self intuitive for most of you.  It can be such an exciting time that you share with your kind of adult child. They need to feel in control, but recognize that parents have a role in the process.

Related Posts:
Should I Disclose a Learning Difference in My College Essay?
Questions to Ask About College Services for Learning Differences


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 are award-winning writers and authors. We 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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Junior Year Checklist: 10-Step Action Plan to Prepare for College

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

The answer is plenty.

Junior Year Checklist: An Action Plan to Prepare for College


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Applying to College: Why It’s Important to Know Your College Rep

Why Its Important to Know Your College RepThe parents of a student just called me. Their son was accepted to most of the colleges he applied to, even one of his reach schools. The problem? He was wait listed at a college they thought would be an easy acceptance and now it’s THE place he wants to go.

I was asked to read his letter of continued interest. (A letter of continued interest tells the school you still want to attend and why.) The letter was addressed “Dear Admissions Committee.”

I asked them to address the letter to their local admissions counselor. They didn’t know who that was.

So I asked if the student had interviewed when he visited.

“The school said the interview was only informational,” said his dad. “So we just took the tour and went home.”

By never contacting his admissions representative, the student missed a big opportunity.

Imagine if, in his letter, the student could have mentioned how he had enjoyed his interview or reminded the rep about something interesting they’d talked about. Instead, he hadn’t made a connection at all.

Your local college admissions counselor is the person who will read your application and recommend whether or not to accept you. This is the person who will fight for you (or not fight for you) when the admissions committee discusses your future.

Developing a relationship with your local college admissions representative is one of the easiest things you can do when you’re applying to college.


1. Attend College Fairs. If a college fair is held in your area or at your school, make plans to go.

Tips for making a good impression at a college fair:

  • Dress nicely.
  • Arrive early to avoid long lines.
  • Be mature. Go up to the admissions counselor and introduce yourself. Make eye contact and be the first to offer a handshake. Let him or her know that you’re interested in their school.
  • Be prepared with a few questions. (Do they offer the courses you’re interested in, what majors are most popular at their school, student life, athletics, etc.)
  • Ask for the representative’s business card or contact information. Go home and write a brief thank you note. You will be noticed and remembered.

2. Call or Email Your Local Rep. If you have specific questions during your application process, he or she will be glad to answer. Even if you don’t have questions, send your rep a short email saying hello and that you’re excited about the idea of attending. College reps don’t bite – they’re there to help you through all the stages of your application. Talk to them.

Tip: You can find the name of your local admissions representative on the school’s website or by calling or emailing the admissions office.

3. Schedule an On-Campus Interview. There are several different kinds of on-campus interviews:

  • Required.
  • Evaluative: These interviews aren’t required, but the thoughts and impressions of the person who interviews you will be included as part of the admissions process.
  • Non-evaluative/informational: These interviews aren’t considered in the decision-making process. They provide the school an opportunity to get to know you and answer your questions. (Occasionally, these interviews are conducted by students.)

Tip: If your local rep is busy or interviewing another student, you’ll meet with a different admissions counselor for your interview. Don’t worry — your interviewer will share his or her notes so that your local rep has all the information.


1. You Demonstrate Interest.  Sacred Heart University is a perfect example of how demonstrating interest is valuable. Christina Hamilton, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, says that while Sacred Heart doesn’t offer evaluative interviews, they strongly encourage students to interview.  She says, “We really value the demonstrated interest at Sacred Heart. We’re always encouraging students to be in touch with our staff and admission counselors. We are out in our area doing interviews or on campus hoping to be able to meet with them. The student-counselor relationship is something we definitely like to emphasize. “

2. You Put a Face to Your College Application (hopefully a smiling one).  When you can meet someone face-to-face, or send an email or a thank you note, you add a dimension to your application that isn’t already there.

3. You Give your College Rep Another Reason to Advocate for You. It takes maturity and initiative to say hello at a college fair, to pick up the phone, or to ask intelligent questions. Your rep will appreciate that when it comes time to advocate for you at the admissions table.

4. You Create a Relationship. Valuable from start to end.

So, if you’re applying to college, say hello to your college rep. Develop a relationship (don’t stalk), schedule an interview if you can, and send a thank you note. Even if you do ONE of these things you will give yourself an advantage. And if you are wait listed, you will have that relationship to draw on.

It’s good information to know.


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



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How to Talk to a Rep at a College Fair

How to talk to a rep at a college fair
If you read my last post you know how to attend a college fair.

But what do you say when you talk to a rep? Do you need to make a good impression? (Yes.)  How do you get your questions answered? (Read on.)

Here are 8 Tips for Talking to a Rep at a College Fair:

1. Introduce yourself.

  • Smile, hold out your hand, and say, “Hi, I’m _______. It’s nice to meet you.” 

2. Use this as an opportunity to develop a relationship. Colleges often give preference to students who have shown an interest in attending. The college lingo for this is “demonstrated interest.” Students can demonstrate interest in many ways, such as when they visit, take a tour, talk to a professor, attend a college fair, or get to know their college rep.

  • If you’re interested in the school, get the rep’s contact information. You can contact him or her later in the process if you have questions. It’s also possible that you’ll meet the rep at another college fair or when you visit the college, in which case you want to make sure to say hi. Developing a relationship can give you an edge when you apply, because the school will know you’re really interested.

3. Have questions ready.

  • Jot down a few questions before you go to the fair.
  • Create your questions from these categories: academics, admissions, financial aid, and housing.
  • Ask your most important questions first. If there’s a line behind you, you may not be able to ask all the questions on your list. (You can always get in touch after the fair, or come back to the table when the crowds thin out.)

4. Use these questions to jump-start your list:

  • What are your admissions requirements?
  • Do you offer early decision?
  • Do you accept advanced placement courses?
  • What is the average high school GPA of the entering class?
  • What are some of your strongest academic programs?
  • Do you offer the major(s) I’m interested in?
  • What are the most popular majors?
  • Is there an honors program? What are the requirements?
  • How many undergraduates attend  your school?
  • What is the student to faculty ratio?
  • Do professors teach undergraduates or will I have mostly teaching assistants?
  • Are faculty members easy to reach outside of class?
  • What is the total cost of attending your school for a year?
  • What kinds of scholarships are available?
  • What kind of financial aid is available?
  • What is the average financial loan package?
  • How many students receive financial aid?
  • What sports or other events are popular on campus?
  • Are there fraternities and sororities? How strong are they?
  • Is housing guaranteed? For how long?
  • What do students do in their free time?
  • What percentage of your students graduate in four years?
  • How are roommates selected?
  • What kind of support do you offer for students with special needs?

5. Don’t wait on long lines. Skip the most crowded tables. Make a note on your map to come back later, when the lines are shorter.

6. Don’t hog the rep. This tip comes from Matthew Dempsey, who is a college admissions officer at Fairfield University. Matthew says he loves answering questions, but he has a limited time to meet and talk to people at college fairs. So if you (or your family) have a lot of questions and there’s a line behind you, say hello but come back later in the fair when the rep isn’t as busy and will have more time for you.

7. Let your parents listen. Parents will often have follow-up questions for the rep, especially about financial aid.

8. Say thank you. Make a point to end the way you began: smile, shake hands, and say thank you. You’ll make a great – and memorable – impression.

Read my related post:
How to Visit a College Fair

Print out an excellent one-page list of questions:
Questions to Ask a Representative (From Montana State University)

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.


How to Visit a College Fair

how to visit a college fair Have you added a college fair to your calendar? Great! You’ll meet college reps, find answers to your questions, and learn about the schools that interest you.

But be careful – college fairs can be overwhelming, especially if you plunge in without a plan.

Here’s How to Visit a College Fair:

1. Locate a College Fair in Your Area.

The biggest organizer of college fairs is the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). You’ll find a complete list of college fairs on their website. They also organize Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs.

You can register beforehand for a NACAC fair, which will save time and standing on line.

High schools organize college fairs, too. Every year you’ll find me at the Danbury College & Vocational Fair in Danbury, Connecticut, where I love meeting and talking to students about writing college application essays. (Come see me!)

2. Before You Go to the Fair:

  •  Make a list of the colleges you want to visit. The schools should meet your criteria (academics, extracurriculars, location, size, etc.).
  • Take a notebook and a pen or pencil.
  • Take a bag or backpack to stash the information you’ll collect.
  • If you have access to a computer, print address labels with your name and address to stick on all the requests for information you’ll want to fill out (a time-saver!).
  • Dress decently. You may be meeting the college admissions officer from the school of your dreams.
  • Write down questions for the college reps. Here are a few possible questions:
    • What are the most popular majors at your school?
    • Do you offer the sports or extra curricular activities I’m interested in?
    • What kind of career services do you offer your students?
    • How available are the instructors to the students?
    • Do the best professors teach undergraduates?
    • How many students receive financial aid?
    • NACAC offers a complete list of questions to print out. Find it here.

3. When You Arrive:

  • Pick up a Map. Mark off the colleges that you want to see and lay out a path. That way, you won’t miss any schools or have to backtrack to find them, which will save a ton of energy.
  • Talk to at Least One School Not on Your List. Don’t just look at the schools you think you’ll like or the ones your friends want to attend. If a school seems interesting, say hi. You’ve got reps from colleges across the country at your disposal.
  • Don’t Rely on Memory. After you finish at each table, jot down the answers and your impressions so you can compare schools later. Everything blends together at these events—no matter how great your memory is.

4. For Bonus Points:

  • Bring Your Parents. Really. I’m not saying that Mom and Dad should stand two inches away while you talk to the rep—this is your fair. But parents are another set of eyes and ears, which is helpful when there’s so much information to absorb. They can also get answers to their own questions, like financial aid. Afterwards, make plans as a family to grab a burger and discuss your impressions—it will help you sort out your thoughts.

5. When You Get Home:

  • Organize your materials so you can find them when you need them.

Next Time: How to Talk to a Rep at a College Fair (and make a great impression while you do).

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.


helpful links:
NACAC: Tips for Attending a College Fair
NACAC: What to Do at a Performing Arts Fair
Danbury College & Vocational Fair

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Beginning the College Search – Round 2

College search - College search - second time around

Spencer and Holly Manners at Holly’s graduation from GW last spring

Applying to College welcomes a new series of guest posts by Beth Manners, whose son Spencer is beginning his college search. This is Beth’s second time conducting a college search; her daughter Holly graduated from George Washington University last spring. Follow Beth as she shares her advice and experiences conducting a college search, the second time around.

Pass the baton – or more like pass the Fiske Guide.  My daughter Holly just graduated from George Washington University and it’s time to begin the college search with my son Spencer – a junior in high school.

In truth, the search began when Spencer was eleven and tagged along on all of our college visits.  Who would think that from behind that Game Boy an impression was being made?

My husband and I are planning to take Spencer to visit colleges during February break.  I’ve found that it’s important to visit when school is in session. You want to meet students, peek into actual classes, have a meal in the cafeteria, and get a general feel for the energy and personality of the campus.

Even though Spencer says he prefers a large city school, we are going to experience a variety of schools – so that as a sixteen year old he can take it all in. Our trip will include Boston University, Penn State, Franklin and Marshall, Lehigh, and Lafayette. Many different impressions will be made.

As a parent who’s done this once already, I want to share my experiences on how best to start your college search:

  • Consider a variety of schools. Try to visit a large school, a small school, a city campus and a more remote rural campus. From the initial visits, you can then develop preferences, which will guide you in putting together a broader list of schools to research, visit and consider.
  • Save the airfare for later. Even if you have no geographic restrictions, you may want to limit the initial visits to within a day’s drive of your home. No sense in flying across the country, just to discover that small schools are not what you want.  Save the airfare for later on in the process.
  • Contact the college admissions office in advance and schedule an information session and a college tour.  Down the road, when your application is being read, the college will value “demonstrated interest” as one consideration. Many schools track whether you have visited campus – so be sure they have your name.
  • Keep notes on each school and take some pictures. After many visits, it is easy to confuse schools.  Jot down your initial impressions and also some specifics.  What do you like about the school and what is unique about it?  In addition to helping you decide where to apply, you can use this information to answer application and interview questions.
  • After the campus tour, you may want to dig deeper.  Holly met with the captain of the riding team at Boston University, a marketing professor at UCONN and the study abroad office at GW.  We scheduled these meetings before visiting campus.  Ask the admissions staff how to make arrangements.
  • Ask questions. Is it easy to change majors? Is campus housing guaranteed? Is the admissions process need-blind?  Does student social life center around the campus – or the city? Do they have vegan options in the cafeteria?  Gather as much information as you can and reach out and speak to current students.  Read the college’s newspaper and have a look at bulletin boards, to learn even more.
  • Is the school a keeper? Right now, you’re starting to discover your preferences and map out a direction.  If the school has subjects you want to study, recreational activities you want to be involved in and people you want to meet – and you connected to the campus, put it on the list.  Yes, you should be excited!

And so it begins…

Beth Manners college search
Beth Manners is a Tufts University Alumni interviewer and is currently enrolled in the UCLA College Counseling Certificate program. She lives in Westport, Connecticut.