Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills

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4 College Admissions Myths Debunked

4 College Admissions Myths

Lately, I’ve been speaking to students and families just starting the college process.

The students and parents always have great questions, but I always hear some rumors floating around. So I thought it would be a good time to debunk:


1.  You should make your college list from U.S. News and World Report and accept admission to the college that ranks the highest.

  • Whoa. When was the last time students were cut out of  the same cookie mold? Uh, never. Use rankings as a guide, but do your homework and apply to schools that are a good fit for you.
  • The same goes with admissions — make the decision that’s right for you.  Go to accepted student days, attend class, eat the food, explore the programs in your intended major, and find out how the schools will meet any special needs if you have them. And don’t forget to talk to alums to see how connected they stayed to the school and how beneficial their learning was to their career. You’ll end up at your top-ranked school. No matter what U.S. News and World Report says.

2. Private colleges are more expensive.

  • This isn’t always the case, especially after you receive your financial aid package.

3. The college admissions process is ultra-competitive.

  • Sure, if you apply to the handful of schools who admit less than 30 percent of students. But that accounts for only about 55 out of 2,000 colleges in the country.
  • The fact is that most colleges actually accept over half of the students who apply, and many admit much more. So before you inhale that entire bottle of anti-anxiety medicine, chances are that you can remove the word “ultra” from “ultra-competitive.”

4. Admissions officers don’t read the essays. 

  • I hear this a lot, and it’s not true. Admissions officers read the essays. What’s more, they often give them to others to read. If a student seems like a possible candidate, the essay will be read out loud to the entire admissions team. If the admissions team needs more feedback, they’ll give it to a team of faculty members to review. That’s a whole lot of eyes on your essay.

related links:
Huffington Post: Ten Least Expensive Private Colleges
CollegeData: Understanding College Selectivity
sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. Need help with essay writing, interview skills, and organizing your college search? I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, Skype, and by email. Visit my website for more info. Connect with me on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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May Checklist for Juniors

This past week “The Choice,” the New York Times’ blog on college admissions, published an excellent checklist for college-bound juniors.

Here’s the list:

  • Prepare for Standardized Testing
  • Ask Your Teachers for Letters of Recommendation
  • Review Your Academic Schedule for Next Year
  • Make Plans to Visit Colleges Over the Summer Months
  • Start Thinking About Your College Essays (my favorite – wonder why :))
  • Hold On to Those Papers!
  • Make Your Summer Plans
  • Finish the School Year in Strong Fashion

Read the entire blogpost at

related posts:
College Essay Writing: Make it Easy! Keep a Journal
SAT vs. ACT: Which Test to Take?

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

follow Sharon Epstein on Twitterfollow Sharon Epstein on pinterest

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Organize Your College Search: Try Evernote

Imagine This Scenario:

libe slope Cornell University

You’re visiting a college. You love the architecture. You snap a picture.
You see students playing Frisbee on the arts quad. You grab a video.
You use Dad’s iPad to get more info about that cool looking dorm you saw. You bookmark the page.
You’re home. Where’s your stuff?

Everywhere. Except on your own computer.

Try Evernote. It’s an app that lets you save to different computers, phones, mobile devices and tablets, and then access it anywhere. And it’s free.

I first heard about Evernote when it was mentioned as one of the best free apps around. So I tried it. It was good, but it really proved its usefulness after last August’s hurricane when we lost our power for six days. When my husband needed my laptop, I took my iPod to the nearest library and started writing a new blog. Later, I was able to access those notes on my laptop and keep right on writing.

Here’s how you can use Evernote to help organize your college search:

Create an account on Evernote (with parents’ permission if necessary).
Take pictures, videos, notes.
Create a “notebook” for each college. Drop each piece of information into the notebook.
You’re done.

The best part? Months later, when you begin applying to college and have to write that college application essay on “Why I want to go to _________ University, ” you won’t get stuck writing “It’s so pretty,” or “I love the atmosphere,” or “I just know it’s the school for me.” You’ll know the name of that dorm you loved, and what kind of architecture caught your eye.

You’ll be able to write a great college application essay because you can be specific about what you saw, learned, and heard.
Because you saved it all in one place.


Try Evernote.

Sharon Epstein, FIrst Impressions College Consulting..Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting
I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, and by computer. Visit my website  for more info.

Leave a comment — let me know what you think.

related posts:
College Essay Writing: Make it Easy! Keep a Journal

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College Application Essays: You Don’t Need to Go on An “Adventure” to Write A Great Essay

“For a Standout College Essay, Applicants Fill Their Summers” is a title of an article in the New York Times today. It’s about the extraordinary things high school students are doing to find interesting topics for their college application essays, including traveling to China and studying health care in Rwanda.

Parents send their students on these expensive adventures in the hope that it will “put them in the spotlight” when they apply to college, especially when it comes to competitive schools.

A friend of mine said, “As a mom, I think it is bad news.”

There’s nothing wrong with filling your summers with exotic adventures, or even sports camps, academic camps and volunteer work. But don’t seek out an activity because you think it will make a great college application essay.

Why? Because admissions counselors know you don’t have to travel half-way around the world to find an essay-worthy experience. They look for how students find meaning in the world, wherever they are —  babysitting for neighbors, bagging groceries, or even scooping ice cream downtown.

I recently spoke to Joanne Robertson, Assistant Director of Admissions at Quinnipiac University. For her, exotic summer experiences don’t give students an edge. She says, “As an admissions counselor, I would rather see an essay from a student who could provide a reflection on a summer job than one who sought out a ‘special’ activity just to build a resume. Bringing a creative voice to a simple activity shows more to me than just the significance of the experience.”

A college application essay is a story about you. It asks you to reflect on who you are, what makes you unique, where you’re headed, and what you have to offer.

You don’t have to go on great adventures to answer those questions. You just have to know who you are.

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Looking for Ideas for Your College Application Essay? Look Behind You

Looking for ideas for your college application essay? Look behind you.

Why? Because life moves forward. We don’t stop. What gets our attention is what demands the most of us at any moment —  often the loudest, the biggest, the most entertaining, or the next most important thing we have to do.

What’s not demanding your attention? Pay attention to that. See what you find.

Here’s an example: I was traveling in rural China when our group stopped to visit a preschool. The children at the school often had visitors, and when they saw us they ran toward us, hoping we’d brought toys or candy. As they held up their hands for colorful balloons I took out my camera, knowing this would make a great picture. Then I turned around. Peeking out from behind a tree was a little girl, holding a small washcloth in her hands. Her eyes were focused on her friends. This was the picture I took. A shy little girl, protected by her tree. Her eyes told a much better story.

When I say “look behind you” I’m saying “pay attention.” Look around and see not only the things that demand your attention, but also the things that don’t. You will find ideas in those moments. You’ll find details. You might just find the makings of a memorable college application essay.

little girl

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College Visits: Great Prep for College Application Essays

Planning to visit colleges during spring break? You’re not alone. March is the time many high school juniors (and some sophomores) start their college tours.

On these visits you’ll be looking for answers to questions like “Is this school for me?” and “Will I be happy here?” But let me give you another question to ask yourself: “What can I learn from this visit that will help me write a great college application essay?”


Here are 3 ways to make college visits work for your college application essays:

1. Make contacts

Making contacts is great for two reasons: 1. You can learn a lot from the people you talk to, and 2. You can get in touch later if you have more questions.

There are several ways to make contacts:

  • Schedule an interview for the day you’re on campus. If the school doesn’t offer interviews see if you can get an interview with a professor in a field of study that interests you. Get your contact’s name (correctly spelled) and email, and send him or her a thank-you. That way if you have more questions you can follow up knowing you’ve already made a good impression.
  • Are you an athlete? See if you can meet a coach or a student athlete. Same goes for the thank-you note.
  • Chat with your tour guide when you go on the tour. At the end ask for his or her name and email and ask if you can write if you have more questions.

2. Notice details

Details are important in college application essays. They make your essays personal and separate you from students writing essays so generic that 1,000 others could have written the same one.

When you visit each college notice what makes an impression on you. It can be anything from how you feel walking on campus to the kind of students you meet. The details don’t matter, as long as they matter to you.  Do you see a dorm you might want to live in? Find out its name. Is your tour guide a member of the student council and you think you’d like to join? Ask what her experiences have been.

The more details you collect now the more information you’ll have for your essay later.

3. Write it down:

Take a pad with you and write it down. Let me say it again: write it down. At the end of the day your note pad should have the names and emails of your contacts, and a detailed list of what you saw and liked, and why.

Why go through the trouble? Let me give you an example: A student of mine had to write a short essay about why he wanted to go to college X.  In his first draft he wrote that he went on the tour and liked the campus and dorms. It was too generic, so I asked him to find an alum or someone on campus he could talk to. He surprised me by saying that he’d hit it off with his campus tour guide and had gotten his email. So he emailed him with some questions about campus life and extra-curricular activities, and asked him more about the dorm he’d liked.  When he re-wrote his essay it was full of detail. He also made sure to mention he had corresponded with his tour guide — an impressive fact that was not going be lost on the school.

Prep for your college application essays. Use your college visits as opportunities to make contacts and gather details. The end result will be essays that are detailed, personal, and well worth the effort.