Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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Common App 2013 Essay Prompts

Common Application essay prompts 2013

The 2013-2014 Common Application won’t formally launch until August 1, but  the Common Application essay prompts are already out.

There are changes from last year:

650 word limit (up from 500)
All-new prompts
No “topic of your choice”

Here are the 2013 Common Application Essay Prompts with Instructions:

Instructions: The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and
helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to
know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you
answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and
structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.)

  1. Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

In future posts I’ll give you easy-to-follow tips on writing your 2013 College Application essay.

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

follow Sharon Epstein on Twitterfollow Sharon Epstein on pinterest

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College Essay 500 Word Limit: 5 Simple Ways to Pare it Down

college-essay-500-word-limitMany college essays, including the essay for The Common Application, limit you to 500 words.

It can be tough to write an interesting, creative essay and keep it short, but if you know a few simple tips you can deliver an essay that will impress.

Here are 5 Ways to Succeed with the 500 Word Limit:

1. Think Small Instead of Big. Don’t try to tackle a big topic like world peace or what you did for your entire summer vacation. Choose a shorter span of time and a topic that’s not too broad.

2. Write About a Moment. A moment is a brief period of time when you learned something meaningful to you. Moments can make powerful essays.

Here’s an Example of a Moment:

  • A student working in a store noticed that a customer had dropped some change. It wasn’t a lot and he almost didn’t stop to pick it up, but then he did. The customer was extremely grateful and told him she was counting on that money. The student wrote about how he’d never forget that something insignificant to him could make such a big difference to someone else.

3. Begin in the Middle of Your Story, Where the Action or Conflict Starts. This technique will not only save you words but it’s also a great way to draw the reader into your story. Here are two examples of introductions that were changed to start with action:

Example #1:
Before:
“I spent my summer vacation interning in the emergency room of a hospital.”
Changed: “The bloody gurney wheeled past me. I closed my eyes and prayed for the strength not to pass out.

Example #2:
Before: “I always wanted to climb a mountain, so that’s what I decided to do my freshman year.”
Changed: “Hurry up!” my dad yelled, as I scrambled to collect myself for another day of mountain climbing.

4. Use Adjectives and Adverbs Wisely. If your essay is too long try to edit out some of your adjectives and adverbs. Here are two examples of edits and the reasons behind them:

Example #1:
Before: As Andrew walked his large legs made heavy, thumping sounds. He turned to stare at the dawning sunrise.
Changed: As Andrew walked his legs made heavy, thumping sounds. He turned to stare at the sunrise.
Why the Change? 1. Size adjectives, like “large,” are often too general. “Heavy” and “thumping” are specific and convey the idea of being large. 2. “Sunrise” is dawn. Look for these kinds of redundancies.

Example #2:
Before: “He walked convincingly.
After: “He strode.”
Why the Change? One word conveys the same idea.

5. Edit Your Essay. Here are 4 ways to eliminate words:

  1. Eliminate any details or explanations that don’t move you toward your conclusion.
  2. Don’t repeat your ideas.
  3. Pare down adjectives and adverbs (see tip #4).
  4. Ask someone else to read you essay. Sometimes, as writers, we get attached to our material and it becomes difficult to know what to cut. Ask one or more people who know you to give you suggestions.

Can you submit an essay that’s over the limit? Check with the admissions office at the college(s). They’ll be able to guide you.

related posts:
How to Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit: Pt 1 (7 Tips to Remember)
How to Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit: Pt 2 (Think Small and Still Tell a Big Story)
How to Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit: Pt 3 (Essay Samples )
How to Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit: Pt 4 (Ideas that Work)

Read Time.com on the Common App Essay Word Limit

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting, and is the recipient of a Writers Guild Award and two Emmy nominations for her work in television. I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, and by computer. Connect with me on Google+, Twitter and Pinterest:
follow Sharon Epstein on pinterestfollow Sharon Epstein on Twitter


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Common App 2012 Essay Prompts

The 2012-2013 Common Application won’t formally launch until August 1, but  the Common Application essay prompts are already out.

Don’t forget, if prompts 1-5 don’t interest you, you can always write on #6: topic of your choice.

Here are the 2012 Common Application prompts:

Please write an essay of 250 – 500 words on a topic of your choice or on one of the options listed below:

  1.   Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have
  2.   Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
  3.   Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
  4.   Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.
  5.   A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that .illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
  6.   Topic of your choice.

Tip:
Having trouble knowing where to start?
Write down anything that immediately comes to mind. Ask yourself what experiences in your life have been important to you, and what you’ve learned from them. Mull your ideas over, then write a little bit on the one or two topics that interest you. You’ll be well on your way to writing your college application essay (and beat the friends who’ve waiting until fall).

related posts
How to Succeed with the Common Application 500 word limit, part 1
How to Succeed with the Common Application 500 word limit, part 2
How to Succeed with the Common Application 500 word limit, part 3
How to Succeed with the Common Application 500 word limit, part 4

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 on Google+, Twitter and Pinterest:

follow Sharon Epstein on Twitterfollow Sharon Epstein on pinterest

Leave a comment — let me know what you think!



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College Application Essay Writing: Putting the “I” in Essay

Don’t be silly. There’s no “I” in the word essay.

Wrong. It’s everywhere.

Your teachers may have told you not to use the word “I” when you’re writing a paper. It may have been drummed into you for years. That’s because most high school papers are not about you; they’re about defining a topic, discussing it, and convincing the reader that you’ve made your point. Not much room for “I.”

Your college application essay is all about “I.” Or rather – you. You are what the college admissions officers want to know about. Not 500 words about how your mom cooked pancakes on Christmas Day or the time you went bowling with your dad and how bad he was. They want to know about YOU.

They want to see how you’ve grown, and what you’ve learned. Yes, you might write about the time you went bowling with your dad. But that essay needs to be about YOU. What did you learn that day?

So you have to use the word “I.” Or “me.” Don’t be afraid: “I” will tell you a lot. “I” will give you the direction to write a great college application essay.

Here’s why:

1.    You need to be able to summarize the point of your essay in one sentence using “I” or “me.” For instance, “It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable with my multi-cultural roots, but now I celebrate each culture because I know they all belong to me. (Were you counting? That’s two “I’s” and 2 “me’s.”)
2.    A good essay is about a personal journey. You should be able to fill in this sentence: I learned _________.
3.    A good essay represents you in a positive way. You should be able to fill in this sentence: I want the college admissions reader to know that I am _________. (Thoughtful? Mature? Sensitive? Compassionate?)
4.    A good essay is one that only you can write; it’s specific to you and your experiences. When you write your essay, you need to use specific examples from your life. You’re going to need some “I’s.”

Caution: Too many “I’s” are a bad thing. You don’t want to be writing “I”, “I”, “I” in every sentence.  Boring, not to mention bad writing. Change it up a little. Add some details. Describe a few things. Include some dialogue or a quote. In other words, make your college application as interesting as you can.

But don’t forget the “I.”


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Writing College Application Essays: How to Choose a Topic, Part 2

It can be tough deciding on a topic for your college application essay. Many students just can’t think of an idea.

That’s why, in a recent post, I suggested 3 questions to ask yourself if you’re having trouble choosing a topic for your college application essay:

1. Is there a time in my life I’ve taken a risk?

2. Is there a time I’ve turned a failure into a success?

3. Has there been a difficult choice I’ve had to make, but I’m glad I made it?

Here’s another way to choose a topic for your college application essay:

Do this: Close your eyes and think of 2 or 3 moments in your life that stand out. Don’t think too hard! What comes to mind first? Is it a success? A failure? An embarrassment? An opportunity? Maybe it’s a moment spent with a family member, friend, or even someone you briefly met and never saw again. Be honest with yourself. Don’t toss a memory under the rug because it’s painful or embarrassing. Write it down.

Now: Ask yourself why that memory stands out. Did you learn anything from it? Did it change you in any way? Did it influence your actions or thoughts, the choices you later made, or how you see the world somehow?

Sometimes first thoughts are best thoughts. Take the time to figure out why these memories have made an impact on you. They might just make a great college application essay.


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Writing College Application Essays: How to Choose a Topic

I was speaking to the Joel Barlow High School PTSA in Redding today (thanks, PTSA!) about writing college application essays, and was asked a great question: Do I have any suggestions for the student who’s having trouble deciding what to write about? Yes!

Choosing a topic for a college application essay can be a daunting, if not downright intimidating experience. Many students think that because nothing big or dramatic has happened to them in their lives they don’t have anything to write about. Wrong!

You don’t have to be the best athlete, have won lots of awards, or had a big “moment of revelation” to write a great college application essay. Far from it. While big experiences can make good essays, the small things can be just as powerful, if not more so.

Remember, colleges look for 3 main things in a college application essay:

  • How well you write
  • How well you organize your thoughts
  • You. What makes you unique? What kind of person are you? What kind of choices do you make?

When you’re choosing a topic you want to find an experience — a story — that will reflect what’s unique about you. You never want 100 other students to be able to write the same essay you’re writing. It should only be able to come from you.

Here are 3 questions to ask yourself if you’re having trouble choosing a topic for your college application essay:

1. Is there a time in my life I’ve taken a risk?

2. Is there a time I’ve turned a failure into a success?

3. Has there been a difficult choice I’ve had to make, but am glad I made it?

Notice that these questions deal with a personal journey —  they ask you to discuss and reflect on some way that you’ve grown into the person you are.

Start with these questions. If you can’t think of an answer, ask your parents. Parents are excellent resources when you’re looking for college essay topics because they know you well, have seen you grow, and may remember something that you don’t.

Always remember that no matter what topic you choose, you want to represent yourself in a positive light. But that light can shine just as brightly on the small things as the big ones — as long as it reflects you.


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Looking for Ideas for Your College Application Essay? Look Behind You

Looking for ideas for your college application essay? Look behind you.

Why? Because life moves forward. We don’t stop. What gets our attention is what demands the most of us at any moment —  often the loudest, the biggest, the most entertaining, or the next most important thing we have to do.

What’s not demanding your attention? Pay attention to that. See what you find.

Here’s an example: I was traveling in rural China when our group stopped to visit a preschool. The children at the school often had visitors, and when they saw us they ran toward us, hoping we’d brought toys or candy. As they held up their hands for colorful balloons I took out my camera, knowing this would make a great picture. Then I turned around. Peeking out from behind a tree was a little girl, holding a small washcloth in her hands. Her eyes were focused on her friends. This was the picture I took. A shy little girl, protected by her tree. Her eyes told a much better story.

When I say “look behind you” I’m saying “pay attention.” Look around and see not only the things that demand your attention, but also the things that don’t. You will find ideas in those moments. You’ll find details. You might just find the makings of a memorable college application essay.

little girl