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.

  • For the complete list of 2016 Common App essay questions click here.

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.


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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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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Disastrous email snafus and how to avoid them

How To Handle Email Snafus

How To Avoid Embarrassing Email Snafus

We’ve all made email mistakes (typos, wrong names, hitting “reply all” when you don’t want everyone to see your personal business), but some are worse, and far more embarrassing than others.

If you’re applying to college you need to make a good impression. Here’s a great article from USA TODAY on how to avoid email mistakes:

Disastrous email snafus and how to avoid them | USA TODAY College.


sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon 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 on Google+, Twitter and Pinterest:

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