Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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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: “I Dunno” and One-Word Answers Won’t Cut It

A college interviewer is looking over a student’s transcript:

College Interviewer:  “I see you really improved your grades over the last few years”
Student: “Yes.”
College Interviewer:  “That’s a nice accomplishment.”
Student:
“Uh huh.”
College Interviewer: “Was there something that motivated you?”
Student: “…I dunno. I hadn’t really thought about it.”
College Interviewer: “…Okay, then.  Well, let’s move on to something else.”

Can you hear the sounds of an interview crashing? This student has offered zero information, and the interviewer hasn’t learned a thing. All she can do is move on to the next question. It’s probably going to be a torturous half-hour — for her.

Don’t give one word answers. Do make your college interview a conversation.

Think of a conversation as a circle. You’re responsible for completing half the circle and the interviewer is responsible for completing the other half. One-word answers don’t complete the circle; you need to provide information. And not just any information. Unlike the student in the example who tells the interviewer that he “hadn’t really thought about it,” it should be apparent that you’ve given some thought to many of these ideas before hand. Let’s try that conversation again:

College Interviewer: “I see you really improved your grades over the last few years”
Student: “Yeah. It was tough for a while because I had to learn how to balance school work with being on varsity. But it turned out to be a pretty good lesson. Now I’m more focused with things I want to do.”

Much better. Look at what’s changed. The student has engaged in a conversation by offering information, and the interviewer has learned some interesting (and positive) things about him. Now she has a starting point for her next question and the conversation can continue:

College Interviewer: “That’s right. I remember seeing that you made varsity your freshman year. Tell me more about that.”

The interview is off and running.

Think of your college interview as a two-way street. You’re a participant, and your job is to provide good information and ask good questions. Make it a conversation, and you’ll make a good impression.


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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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Writing College Application Essays: Overcoming Procrastintation

So it’s almost the end of October and your college applications are due soon. You’ve written some of your short essays, but haven’t started the long one. You know it’s got to be done — it’s niggling away in the back of your brain, slightly annoying, starting to become more and more persistent, but you keep pushing it back, thinking you’ll start it tomorrow, or the day after, or sometime after that. So when are you going to start writing your college application essay?

Let me ask that question another way. Why haven’t you started? Here are some common reasons I hear:

1. Too busy
2. No topic
3, Too nervous
4. Writer’s block

Let’s tackle these problems one by one:

Too Busy? Divide your essay writing into manageable pieces. Do it in small bites. Take a look at your schedule and see where you can give yourself a half hour at a time. Then divide up what you need to do. The first half hour choose a topic and jot down some thoughts.  The next make an outline. The next begin to flesh it out, and so on. You’ll have an essay before you know it.

No topic? Try these exercises:

  1. List 3 or 4 people who have influenced you. Then write down what you’ve learned from them and how that’s made you a better, more interesting or different person in your life.
  2. Ask your family to help you try and remember a time when you struggled with something that you learned from or helped you grow as a person, and then jot down some of your own feelings about that time.

After you’re done, take a look at what you’ve written. You’ll probably find a good college application essay waiting for you in one of your answers.

Too Nervous? Nerves are common, but too many nerves can stop you in your tracks. The trick is to start writing. Even if you don’t have a topic, just write. Don’t know where to start? That leads me to the last problem:

Writer’s Block: Writer’s block can be caused by lots of things, including nerves, but if you’ve got it you’ve got to find a way to get rid of it. I like free-writing. Go to a quiet place and write for five minutes.  Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what to write, just do it. It can be about anything, or nothing. You can write about the pieces of lint on your carpet or how your little brother is annoying or anything that comes to mind. The trick is don’t stop. If you’re writing and draw a blank, write the last sentence over again until something new comes to mind. Have fun and try to enjoy it. After you’re done, free-write again, this time about the topic you’ve chosen for your college application essay. But don’t write your essay. Write about one aspect of your topic, one detail, or one emotion. When you’re done, look it over. If it’s awful, toss it in the trash. It’s okay to do that. Not everything we write is for keeps. But keep on with this process and you can be well on your way to overcoming your writer’s block and moving ahead.

Figure out why you’re procrastinating and you can get on with the business of writing your college application essay. I hope these tips help speed you on your way!


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Writing College Application Essays: 5 Editing Tips

You’ve chosen the topic for your college application essay and written a draft or two. It’s a bit longer than you’d like and feels like it rambles in places. Now what? Edit.

Editing your college application essay will help make your thoughts flow more easily and your ideas stand out. It will certainly make it a more enjoyable reading experience for the college admissions reader.

Here are 5 tips for good editing:

1. Be objective. Take a step back and pretend you’re the college admissions reader. You’re looking for how well the student (you) writes, organizes your thoughts, and presents a picture of what makes you unique.

2. Don’t fall in love with your prose. You may have written the best sentence of your life in your college application essay, but if it doesn’t fit it has to go. Just to be clear: If it’s not helping you make your point, let it go. Cutting a great sentence can be painful, but take heart in knowing that you’re not alone. All writers have had to press that delete key, and hesitated a long time before doing it. It’s tough, but it’s necessary. Just remember, it’s the strength of what’s left that counts, and how your essay finally comes together as a whole.

3. Read your essay out loud. Reading your essay out loud is a great way to see where you need editing. You should be able to read your college application essay easily, without stumbling or stopping. If you stumble it’s possible your sentence structure is too formal. Or perhaps you’ve gone overboard with a string of adjectives, or used words that sound like they came from a thesaurus instead of directly from you. Take note of the rough spots, work on those areas, and then read it out loud again. This is an editing tip that works wonders.  (For more tips on how to write in your own voice, read my previous blog post, “Finding Your Authentic Voice.”)

4. Editing can be about adding as well as subtracting. Often we think of editing as removing something that’s not wanted. But when you re-read your essay you might find that an idea or transition doesn’t work not because there’s too much prose, but because there’s too little. If that’s the case then you need to add a sentence or two. If you’re not certain, ask someone who hasn’t read your essay to read it and make sure they understand the points you’re making. If they’re not as clear as you’d like them to be, you may be missing something.

5. Sleep on it. Put at least one night’s sleep between you and your college application essay. Then go back and read it again. It will do wonders for your objectivity and your editing.


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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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College Admissions Essays: Finding Your Authentic Voice

If you walked up to your friends and said  “What’s shakin, bacon?” instead of “Hi” would they laugh? Would they wonder what alien abducted their friend, or whose voice you borrowed?

There are lots of ways to say hello: “Hi, How are you, How ‘ya doin’, Yo, Peace, Hey, What’s up…” the list is almost endless. How do you say “Hello”? Whatever way you say it, it’s your own, because you’re speaking in your own voice. And that’s important to remember when writing your college admissions essay. Write in your own voice. Your authentic voice.

How do you know if you’re writing in your authentic voice?

Here are four tips:

1. Read your essay out loud: If it reads easily , you probably have a good handle on your voice. Take note of places you stumble and work on those.

2. Is your writing style too formal? If your essay has a lot of formal language like “thus” and “however” take another look and make sure it’s necessary. If not, choose less formal words. If some of your sentences feel stiff when you read them out loud, try changing the sentence structure around and then read it again.

3. Is your writing style too casual? It is possible to be too casual. Remember, you’re writing your college admissions essay for an adult to read. This isn’t a text message to your bff.

4. If you’re having trouble finding your authentic voice: Try writing a mock letter to a friend who doesn’t know you very well. It can be about anything: school, your friends, what you do for fun, what the dog did yesterday.  Be the narrator and explain what that part of your life is like. As you write, you’ll find you start using more of your authentic voice.

Your college admissions essay needs to reflect you, and who you are. One important way to do that is to write in your own voice.

I’m outta here.