Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills

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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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5 More College Visit Tips for High School Sophomores

5 More College Visit Tips for High School Sophomores

Student Studies in Uris Library, Cornell University

My last post, 10 College Visit Tips for High School Sophomores, turned out to be a big hit.

I even received some great suggestions for more college visit tips, including a note to tell parents that they should share these posts with their students.

Note for Juniors! The tips in both posts will help you, too. So here they are:

5 More College Visit Tips for High School Sophomores:

  1. Besides taking notes, take video so you’ll have a visual history later on.
  2. Think about splitting from your parents and taking a separate tour. You can be independent as well as safe (if that’s a concern).
  3. Ask other students questions. Don’t just hear what the tour guide and admissions office want you to hear and see (although speaking with an admissions rep is a good thing to do).
  4. If there is a student from the same high school enrolled, contact him or her and see if he or she would take you to the cafeteria, eat the food and meet and greet, and get treated like a real person.
  5. Parents – Reading your student is important. If your student isn’t ready, don’t visit. Dragging someone to a place he or she doesn’t want to be will only cause irritation all around. (Or, as a colleague of mine put it, “Leading a horse to water when he’s not thirsty will often aggravate the horse and the horse’s parents.”)

Do you have more tips for college visits? Let me know! I’ll include them in future posts.

Recommended blog posts:
10 College Visit Tips for High School Sophomores
5 Questions to Ask Students on Your College Visit

Best College Town – Ithaca, New York

Other recommended links
US News & World Report: Get a Head Start on College Visits
The Choice: Making the Most of a Campus Visit

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.


10 College Visit Tips for High School Sophomores

10 College Visit Tips for High School Sophomores

Summer on the Arts Quad – Cornell University

A friend of mine just called. Her son’s a high school sophomore and she was wondering if she should take him on college visits this year. She thought she’d start with schools that are nearby so he could get a feel for what college visits are like.

Is sophomore year too early to visit? Not at all. If you visit early, however, and then decide to apply, you may want to go back for a second visit. You also might find you’ve forgotten some key details, such as the names of the tour guide, admissions officer, and instructors you met (although notes and photos are good reminders).

Early visits can be helpful when a student:

  • Can’t get a good sense of schools online
  • Isn’t sure what size school would be best
  • Needs to get a feeling for rural, suburban, and urban environments
  • Is uncomfortable or shy about asking questions
  • Will be visiting different parts of the country
  • May need extra help or time to organize the college search

Here are 10 Tips for Sophomores to Make the Most of College Visits:

  1. Put down the phone and look around. This visit is for YOU and you won’t get much out of it if you’re answering texts and checking Instagram. Pay attention – you’re about to choose where you’re going to spend the next four years of your life.
  2. Relax. No one is watching you. Even better, you’re a year ahead of many students on the tour who are feeling the pressure to decide where they’re going. So take a deep breath and just let it all sink in.
  3. Keep an open mind. Forget where your friends want to go. (Most of it’s just talk anyway.) Forget about what kind of school you think is “prestigious.” (Lots of schools you never heard of have the best programs in the country.) Keep your options open – you can’t find the best school if you don’t give it a fair shake.
  4. Go with your gut. A big part of the college search is figuring out what schools will be a good match for you. So look around campus. Eavesdrop on students’ conversations. Grab a cup of coffee and hang out wherever there’s a hangout. Try it on and see if it fits.
  5. Listen to questions. Pay attention to the questions students and parents ask on the tour. You may want to ask some of those same questions next time.
  6. Ask questions. There’s no downside to asking questions of anyone –  tour guide, students, college admissions officers, even the security guard at the dining hall.  So if you’ve got a question, ask it. (“How do students get around in all that snow? Is the food edible? Is there really a course called ‘Brownies with the Dean’?”)
    • If you’re shy, plan to ask one question and then make sure to ask it. Start getting comfortable now.
  7. Explore. Go “off-road” and find the places that aren’t on the tour. Duck in to the dining hall and the library. Size-up the gym facilities, the radio station, the theater – whatever interests you. Ditch your parents and take a walk by yourself.
  8. Debrief. On the way home, review your experience with your parents. Discuss what you learned, what was exciting, what you’d change, and what you didn’t like. As you talk, your college search will not only begin to take shape, but your parents will also become better equipped to help you navigate your way.
  9. Make notes. If you haven’t made notes while you were on campus, do that now, while it’s fresh in your memory.
    • Include General notes: Your overall impression, including the size of the school, types of classes that are offered, and if you felt it might be a good fit.
    • Include Specific notes: Details, including the names of buildings you want to remember (a dorm you thought you’d like to live in, for example), as well as the people you met and the names of courses, activities, or instructors that were recommended.
    • Get organized. Start a file for each college you visit.
  10. Think of questions to ask next time. Now that you’re starting to get a sense of what appeals to you, make a list of questions for your next trip. After each college visit, remember to debrief and refine your questions. Soon you’ll be way ahead of most of the other students, because you’ll have learned how to figure out which school is right for you.

Recommended blog posts:
5 Questions to Ask Students on Your College Visit

Best College Town – Ithaca, New York

Other recommended links
US News & World Report: Get a Head Start on College Visits
The Choice: Making the Most of a Campus Visit

Related links:

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.


Best College Town – Ithaca, New York

Cornell University McGraw Tower.

Cornell University McGraw Tower.

I’m about to brag. Ithaca, New York was recently chosen Best College Town in the U.S.A.

Ranked by the American Institute for Economic Research, Ithaca (home to Cornell University and Ithaca College) was followed by Ames, Iowa (Iowa State University), and State College, PA (Penn State University).

I went to Cornell. My best friend Stephanie went to Ithaca College. The schools sit atop two hills that rise above the town of Ithaca – Cornell to the east and Ithaca to the south. When we arrived, much to our delight, we realized we could see each others’ dorm on the opposite hill. So, in a communications experiment of sorts, we tried blinking the lights in our rooms –  as much message to say, “Hello, can you see me?” as “I can’t believe we’re in Ithaca. Isn’t this going to be great?!”

And Ithaca was great. While the schools provide a diverse student population, it’s the town that’s the star. Over the years, Ithaca has managed to maintain a true sense of self. It’s relaxed, bohemian, and green. It overflows with farmers’ markets and food co-ops, theaters, restaurants, a no-cars-permitted Commons, and the ever-present opportunity to walk, hike, bike, sail, climb, and otherwise just inhale the joyous beauty of the Finger Lakes.

USA Today College  has written an article called “What Makes the Best College Towns?” Here’s the excerpt about Ithaca:

About 200 miles northwest of New York City lies Ithaca, home to Cornell University, Ithaca College and what Taylor Long calls “Idealistic Bohemians.”

“There’s a lot of culture and a lot of hip energy, but also this really earnest, small-town vibe,” said Long, who is a senior at Ithaca College. “People fall in love with this city. It’s the sort of place where your weird projects can thrive.”

The city is home to intellects, a Burlesque dance troupe, a newspaper that reports only positive news, an extensive farmers’ market and thousands of ambitious students. In fact, because of the town’s unique energy, The Dalai Lama and other Tibetan monks are frequent visitors.

Despite the eclectic mix of residents, the city’s party scene is fairly tame, another reason Long thinks the college town is unique.

“When I think of college towns, I do kind of think of Penn State or something like that where there’s a row of bars and a row of frats, and everyone is running around naked with their chests painted,” Long said. “I think [Ithaca] may be No. 1 because it is very unique and kind of is actually a college town, not just like a town dominated by one particular college.”

Go Ithaca.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut.
Need help? 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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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.


5 Questions to Ask Students on Your College Visit

Ask questions on college visits. Don’t just talk to adults — ask the students who go there.


Campus Tour at Cornell

Campus Tour at Cornell

1. You’re going to choose where you’ll spend the next four years of your life. It’s an important decision. Don’t choose a college because you “think you should go there” – choose it because you see yourself living – and thriving – there.

2. Many colleges require a “Why Do You Want to Go To Our School” essay when you apply. This is an important essay – one that could even determine if you get in. Ask good questions on your visit and you’ll be able to write an impressive answer when you apply.

USA TODAY College just published 5 Questions to Ask Current Students on Your College Visit. Check it out. The questions include asking about the best professors, what you can do in town, who to get to know, and what things to avoid. I’m sure you can think of a few of your own.

When you visit, find current students and ask questions. If you can see yourself becoming one of those students, it might just be the school for you.

related links:
“Why This College”: What Schools Want
5 Steps to a Great “Why This College” Essay

Part 3: “Why This College?” Essay Examples

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 email. Visit my website for more info. Connect with me on Google+, Twitter and Pinterest:

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