Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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2015 Common Application – Your Essay May Be Optional!

Common App optional essay 2015

The Common Application just released this information:

“Starting with the 2015-2016 application year, Common Application Member colleges and universities will have the choice to require or not require the Common App Personal Essay.”

This change means that it is possible some students may not be required to write a Common App personal essay.

Do I hear cheering?

Hold on a sec…

The Common App also says that students will always have the option to submit the personal essay.  

So if you’re faced with the choice – to write or not to write – what do you do?

WRITE, of course!

The Common App essay gives you the chance to stand out. Schools get to know you apart from your test scores, grades, and activities list.

So, take the time. Write a story about yourself that highlights your unique qualities and shows how you’re growing into a mature young adult.

Give the schools another reason to know you’re the kind of student they can’t afford to be without. 

Find more information about the Common App’s new essay changes on their blog.
For a list of the 2015-2016 Common Application Essay Prompts, click here.

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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 and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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Common Application News and Statistics

The Common Application has come out with some interesting statistics for this past year (2011-12)

Total Number of Applications

  • 2.75 million (up 16% from the previous year)

Who’s Using the Common Application?

  • 56% female
  • 52% white
  • 8% international students
  • 32% are the first generation to apply to college
  • 71% of applicants go to public school
  • Less than 1% are home schooled

Member Schools

Change is Coming

  • Next year (2013-2014) the Common Application will introduce Common App 4.0
  • College essay topics will change annually, although students will still be able to write on a topic of their choice.
  • Essay topics will be announced each March instead of August, which will give students the opportunity to begin writing earlier.
  • The Common App is also talking about putting a firm limit on the number of words that can be uploaded for the personal essay, although whether that means the current Common Application essay 500 word limit will remain at 500 words is still undecided.
  • Common App 4.0 will launch August 1, 2013.

related articles:
Peterson’s: Using the Common Application as Your College Application
U.S. News: Should I Use the Common Application?

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:

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Resumes and Activity Sheets: Good Idea When Applying to College?

Are resumes or activity sheets a good idea to use when applying to college?

This question recently sparked a lively debate among admissions professionals on LinkedIn.  Interestingly, the answers were split.  Here’s a representative sampling:

Admission CounselorsAdvice:

Joanne Robertson, Assistant Director, Transfer Admissions at Quinnipiac University, says yes to activity sheets but no to resumes: “Although it is a great icebreaker for the student to provide us with an activity sheet, unless they are applying for one of our majors that need documented hours for the admission requirement, a resume is definitely overkill. I have had the unfortunate experience of talking to parents who overwhelm us with details on “internships” etc. Seriously, then why is your child applying to college? Sounds like they are already set.”

Warren Harman, Admission Professional at Clarkson University, says yes to resumes and activity sheets:  “Every time I open an application I ask “Who are you?” Hopefully, the student’s application will answer that question. The resume gives our team a better idea of what the student is most passionate about. Call it what you will, a resume or activities sheet gives us a better feel for how happy the student would be to attend our school.”

Ken Higgins, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Sacred Heart University, also says yes to resumes and activities sheets: “Oftentimes I’ll ask a student if they have any sort of resume or an activities sheet so we can go over that and discuss each bullet or topic. That gives me a sense of their extracurricular activities as well.”

Opinions differ, so what should you do?

  • When admissions professionals didn’t like resumes it was usually because of their unnecessary detail and length (some they saw were six pages long). If your resume is more than a couple of pages, try putting together an activities list that doesn’t include the typical resume stuff like where you go to school, GPA, scores, etc.
  • Don’t include huge explanations and don’t include every single thing you did in the past four years.
  • Don’t be fooled into thinking you definitely need a resume/activity sheet. If everything you want to say is easily conveyed through what they ask on the application, then don’t include anything extra.
  • Don’t duplicate information already provided in the application.

Look for part two: “Attaching Resumes or Activity Sheets to an Application – The Right Way”


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College Admissions: Competitors to the Common App

Got applications? Maybe you’ll be using the Common Application. Then again, maybe not.

A recent article in the New York Times, entitled “More Than One Way to Apply to College,” discussed competitors to the Common Application, including the Universal College Application, the Common Black College Application, and a portal called Xap. Here’s some information you should know:

COMMON APPLICATION
www.commonapp.org

The Common Application is the granddaddy of the one-stop application, allowing students to apply to multiple schools with one form. Currently, the Common App has 414 member schools. But the requirements it makes of its members, including requiring a college application essay, have excluded many institutions from joining. Public schools are especially under-represented.

UNIVERSAL COLLEGE APPLICATION
www.universalcollegeapp.com

Universal doesn’t ask its schools to require a college application essay. In fact, if you’re applying to one that doesn’t, you won’t see that requirement pop up in your application. For schools that do require a college application essay, Universal suggests a maximum of 500 words. That’s much different from the minimum 250 required by the Common App, which often means essays go far beyond 500 words.

The Universal College Application is accepted by over 80 colleges. The hope is that as this number grows, schools will gain access to a broader range of students who are applying to both public and private colleges, thereby increasing the diversity of their applicant pool. A wide range of schools accept Universal, including the University of New Haven, Johns Hopkins, Duke, and Harvard.

XAP
www.nationalappcenter.com

According to the New York Times, this portal processed 4 million college applications last year. From here students can apply to over 900 colleges and universities.

One section on the site connects to state-wide “Mentor systems.” What’s great about this system is that it imports information from one application into all the other applications in that same state. Several dozen, including Connecticut, participate. You can access this section from Xap, or from each school’s website (although not all schools have it listed). For UConn, go to http://admissions.uconn.edu, click “apply online” and you’ll see info for creating a CT Mentor  account.

There’s no charge for using the Mentor system, other than the application fee.

COMMON BLACK COLLEGE APPLICATION
www.eduinconline.com

From here a student can apply to 35 historically black colleges and universities at once. There is a $35 fee which covers all the schools, replacing the individual application fees charged by each institution. That can save a lot of money.

Which to use? That’s up to your college choices. If you’re applying to a lot of schools in-state, Xap can make the process easier. If you’re applying to primarily public schools, the Common App might be your best bet.


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College Interview Tips: Combating Nerves

How to stop interview nervesLet’s face it. For some people, just hearing the words “college interview” can be scary.  It can feel like you’re starring in one of those cop shows where the subject’s being interrogated, sweating bullets while he tries to come up with the right answers.

Not your college interview.  So don’t worry.

Okay, you say — you get that. You know the interviewer’s not your enemy. You’ve prepared for your college interview. But you still feel your mouth going dry. What do you do?

There are some easy-to-learn techniques that can help.

Here are 6 Tips to Combat Interview Nerves:

1. Arrive early. It will give you time to sit down, relax, take a look around, and get your bearings.

2. Take a short, brisk walk before your interview. Walk off the jitters. You’ll get rid of nervous energy and be less fidgety once you get inside.

3. Bring a bottle of water. Nerves can cause a dry mouth, so have water with you and take a sip when you need it.

4. Take a deep breath. Focusing on your breath can be very calming. Try this exercise: Breathe in on a slow count of four, hold it for four, and breathe out on a count of four.

5. Greet the interviewer with a smile and a handshake. Look him or her in the eye, smile, offer your hand, and say hello. You’re taking the initiative to start the interview on confident, friendly terms, and you’ll find it makes a difference.

6. Try “small talk” first. You don’t have to get down to big questions right away. You can ease into the interview with a bit of small talk — what you’ve seen of the campus, how the directions were easy to follow, even how the weather is. This will give you an extra few moments to ease into things.

Every interviewer understands about nerves. The trick is to be well prepared for your interview, and then to use the techniques that can help make you shine.
sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills
Sharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

 


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Join Me October 18: Danbury High School College Fair

It’s almost here! Danbury High School’s College and Vocational Fair is October 18 at the Danbury Fair Mall from 5 to 8:30pm. I’ll be there, along with over 200 representatives from colleges and vocational schools from around the country. Wow. That’s a lot of resources at your fingertips — you’ll be able to meet college reps, ask questions, set up interviews, get information on financial aid programs, and begin to get a real sense for which schools feel like a good fit for you. There’s no charge — it’s all free.

I’ll be there to talk about — what else — writing great college application essays and acing your college interviews. Stop by and pick up handouts with interview tips and essay-writing information, and bring your questions. I look forward to seeing many new faces.

For directions and a list of participating colleges and universities:

http://www.schoolguides.com/danbury_college_fair.html

For more information on the Danbury High School College Fair, check out this article in the Danbury News-Times:
http://www.newstimes.com/news/article/Danbury-High-s-annual-college-fair-shows-path-to-693957.php


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College Interview Tips: How to Interview with an Alum

I used to be an alumni interviewer for Cornell University. I enjoyed meeting the students, and I hope they got a good impression of the school from me.

Alumni interviews aren’t going to make or break your college acceptance, but they will add another dimension to your college application and give you a direct connection to the school you might not otherwise have had.

Here are 6 Tips for Interviewing with an Alum:

1. Dress nicely. Don’t wear anything too short, low-cut, or cut off. Pull out the khakis, collared shirts, dress slacks, skirts and dresses instead.

2. Arrive on time. Offer a firm handshake and greet the interviewer by name. When you leave make sure to say thank you.

3. Be prepared to discuss why you want to go to that school. The more specific you can be, the better, so do your homework.  If you’re vamping, the interviewer will know it.

4. Be ready with questions. Asking questions shows curiosity and interest, so don’t be shy about asking for information. Prepare two or three questions in advance that you can ask at your interview. Alumni are very interested in sharing their experience and knowledge, and will go out of their way to get your questions answered, even if they don’t know the answers themselves. I’ve set up phone calls with sports coaches and found names of specific instructors for students who have asked.

5. Target some of your questions based on when the interviewer graduated. If the interviewer graduated recently you can ask about specific teachers he or she would recommend or the dorms to stay in. If the interviewer is older you might ask how alumni remain active after graduation, or how his or her degree helped prepare for a career.

6. Follow up immediately with a thank you note. Email is, and handwritten note is always a nice addition. Don’t be too casual when you write. Say “Dear ____.” Mention something the two of you talked about, and say that you enjoyed the experience — that will leave the interviewer with a good impression.

I’ve been greeted at my door by students wearing cut-offs and flip-flops. I’ve been told by students that they don’t have any questions for me. When you’re an alum you know when students are interested in your school and when they’re not. Be interested.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills
Sharon 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 around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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Danbury College Fair — October 18

If you’re in the area, make plans to go to the Danbury College Fair on October 18. Representatives from more than 250 two-year and four-year colleges, nursing schools, business schools, and trade schools will participate. You’ll be able to ask questions, set up interviews, and get information on financial aid programs. The information is free.

I’ll also be there, giving advice on how to write great college application essays and ace those college interviews. I’ll have free handouts and if there’s time I’ll even set up some mock interviews.

Here are the details from the website:

When:
Monday, October 18, 2010 
5:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Where:
Danbury Fair Mall
7 Backus Avenue 
Danbury, Connecticut 06810
(203) 743-3247

For directions and a list of participating colleges and universities:

http://www.schoolguides.com/danbury_college_fair.html


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Writing College Admissions Essays: A TV Lesson in Good Planning

I was watching TV today (I do that a lot). It was a program about a do-it-yourself bathroom renovation disaster, one of those shows where an expert arrives just in time to help the hapless homeowner.

The homeowner (let’s call him Dave) had started to renovate his basement bathroom, which included a laundry. First he put in a new washer and dryer. Then he put in the trap for the toilet (the opening in the floor for the toilet). Next, he wanted to put a wall between the toilet and the washer and dryer. That’s where Dave’s project had stalled.

I watched as the expert looked at the trap, then at the washer and dryer. Then he turned to Dave and asked, “How far from the wall should the toilet be?”

Dave paused. “Maybe about two and a half feet?”

“That’s right,” the expert said, as he measured the distance to the washer and dryer. “Unfortunately, that’ll put your new wall about a foot from your washer and dryer. You won’t have any room to do your laundry.” Silence. “I get the feeling you didn’t make a plan here,” the expert said.

“Not at all,” said our helpless homeowner.

“Well,” replied the expert, “You’ve got to have a plan. If you don’t know where you’re ending up you won’t have an idea how to get there.”

Simple, right? You might even be saying, “How dumb is this guy? He went ahead without even thinking.”

You can’t do that with your college admissions essay.

You need to have a plan before you start writing. Make an outline. Know where you’re starting with your college essay, where you’re heading, and where you want to end up. Spend time thinking about your conclusion. (Don’t forget it’s the last thing your college admissions reader sees.)  What will you say you experienced or learned? What will the admissions reader learn about you? Do all that before you start typing.

If you don’t know where you’re ending up you won’t have an idea how to get there.

You can go back later to add details, rearrange sentences (even paragraphs if necessary), and edit until you’re satisfied. But first build your structure.

Take it from our hapless homeowner. Make a plan. Otherwise you may not have any room to do your laundry.

For more help outlining and organizing your college admissions essay, read my previous post  “Organizing Your Thoughts.”


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Writing College Admissions Essays: Organize Your Thoughts

My college roommate Vera used to do a remarkable thing. She’d sit down and write a paper. Not one paragraph. Not two paragraphs. The entire thing. Start to finish, introduction to conclusion.

And then there was me, writing my outline, then writing, revising and editing.

How could she do that so fast? (Okay, besides the genius factor. I mean, who sits down and writes an entire college paper from their head? ) Here’s the answer: She didn’t. While I wrote my outline, Vera was thinking. I wrote it down, but she didn’t. We did the exact same thing in two different ways. We both spent time thinking before we started. We organized our thoughts.

When people ask me what college admissions readers are looking for in an essay I say three things:

  • How well you convey what’s unique and interesting about you
  • How well you write
  • How you structure and organize your thoughts

That’s the top three. If your thoughts are rambling and your ideas are scattered you might as well save the money for your application fee. So how do you organize your thoughts for a college admissions essay? The best way to start is with an outline.

If you need help getting starting, use this tried and true method: Divide your essay into three parts: introduction, body, and conclusion.

Your introduction needs to be compelling enough to propel the reader into the rest of your essay. For example, you can ask a question that needs to be answered, or present an event in a way that reveals itself as the essay unfolds. In the body you answer that question or reveal that information. This is where you present your facts, tell your story, and include your details. You end with your conclusion.

Don’t know where to start with your outline? I’m with you. It can be tough to get going. So brainstorm. Take a quiet moment and think about your topic. Write down all the thoughts that come to you. All of them. Don’t edit yourself. Be creative. Ask yourself questions, and answer them. Think about details and write them down. Think about humorous things or sad things or what people said, and write that down, too. Let your mind take you and go there. You’ll have a treasure trove, I promise you. Then edit and organize those thoughts, and you’ll have a starting place for your outline.

The work that takes place before you begin to write is the hard part. Work on your outline. Make sense of your essay. Organize your thoughts. You’ll be well on your way to success.