Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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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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“Seven Secrets of College Admissions”

An interesting and quick read from Forbes.com gives seven pointers on choosing the best college and raises interesting questions. Is college choice about prestige? Should it be about a journey of self-discovery? Do we do a disservice to both the school and the student by labeling it a “safety school”?

A few of the article’s answers may seem obvious. (“When touring colleges visit differences. Compare an urban campus…to a quieter campus.”) But another does not: “Scan the rankings of best colleges and ignore them.” Should we do that?

Eventually everyone’s going to have a college list. Some of these lists have been prepared years ahead of time, groomed to be Ivy League or other prestigious schools. Once you’ve got the list it’s good to step back and take an objective look. What’s not on the list?

College choice needs to be a good match with the student’s interests, both academic and non-academic. I worked with a student from Stamford who excelled in math and science, and won a science scholarship. But he also liked music and art, and knew himself well enough that he didn’t want to limit his choices. So while he applied to a couple of prestigious science-heavy schools, he also applied to schools that were well-rounded in the arts. He chose one of those schools and it turned out to be a great fit. Last year he took a heavy load of science. And he also took banjo lessons.

Look for the best fit possible, not necessarily the best name possible. Sometimes that may mean a bit of a different choice.

Read the entire article at: www.forbes.com/2010/08/24/college-admissions-secrets-best-colleges-10-lifestyle-marcus.html