Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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Writing College Essays: 3 Words to Ditch

college essay writing: 3 weak wordsSome words shouldn’t find their way into college application essays. I’m not talking about words that make you sound like a thesaurus (I’ll get to that at a later date) – I’m talking about words that are weak.

Weak words are like limp handshakes – a little damp, a little icky – you wish the person shaking your hand had the confidence to do it right. Maybe nobody told them. Which is why I’m telling you.

3 of the Weakest Words in College Essays:

1. Things
2. Get
3. This

What Makes These Words Weak?
They’re all vague. (What “things” are you talking about, anyway?) They’re also BORING.
Please, don’t bore your college reader (zzzzzzzz).

How Do You Get Rid of Weak Words?
Easy. Learn to recognize them, and then substitute stronger, more interesting words. Interesting words are often more specific words.

Here are examples of how to change weak words to strong:

1. Things

Weak: “I enjoy learning about certain things on my own.”
Strong: “I enjoy learning about science and math on my own.”
Weak: “I frequently hear things like, “Hey Smart Girl, I bet you know everything.”
Strong: “I frequently hear comments like, “Hey Smart Girl, I bet you know everything.”

2. Get

Weak: “The day after getting the ping-pong table, I asked my dad to play with me.”
Strong: “The day after the store delivered the ping-pong table, I asked my dad to play with me.”
Weak: “If snow was predicted, I’d head out in the middle of a storm to get the driveway cleared.”
Strong:If snow was predicted, I’d head out in the middle of a storm to clear the driveway.”

3. This

Weak: “I’ve been working on this since last summer.”
Strong: “I’ve been working on my carpentry skills since last summer.”
Weak: “I didn’t pursue this expecting to become a professional.”
Strong: “I didn’t pursue dance expecting to become a professional.”

Find the weak words in your essays and substitute stronger ones. You’ll show off your writing skills, and impress your college reader.

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 computer. 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 Writing Workshops in August

Do you have a student who needs to learn how to write a memorable college application essay? Sign up for one of my intensive four-day college essay writing workshops in August and let an award-winning writer guide your student toward success.

Students will learn:

  • What colleges want
  • What types of essays are successful
  • How to choose the right topic
  • How to write a great introduction
  • How to transform their life experiences into an interesting and memorable story that’s unique to them

 

It won’t be like pulling teeth, either, because I believe writing should be fun. I’ll share my stories as a professional television writer for ABC, CBS and NBC, and teach “insider” writing techniques that can make college essays stand out and get noticed.

Students will leave with a rough draft of their college application essay (the long essay on the Common Application).

Students and parents will have less stress come application deadline time.

The workshop will be held August 13 – 16 and again August 20 – 23 at the Redding Community Center, Redding, Connecticut, from 6:30 to 8:30pm. Each session is limited to 6 students so there will be lots of individual attention and feedback.

The fee is $400 and the deadline to sign up is two weeks before the first session. Bring your laptop. Minimum 3 students per class. For more information call 203-938-9199 or email info@u-can-write.com.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut, and is the recipient of a Writers Guild Award and two Emmy nominations for her work in television. She works with students everywhere. Connect on Twitter and Pinterest:

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10 Tips for Students to Reduce College Application Stress

10 ways to reduce college application stress

Aarrgh! It’s creeping up on you…you can feel it…it’s reaching out to grab you like a thousand spindly fingers…it’s COLLEGE APPLICATION TIME!

Send that Stress Packing! Here’s how:

1.Get OrganizedStart by:

A. Writing Everything Down

Deadlines.
Dates of tests.
Application due dates for each school.
Any other paperwork you’ll need or deadlines you’ll have to meet (financial aid, etc).
Letters of recommendation you’ll need and who you’ll ask.
The number of supplemental essays required by each school and each essay prompt (write down these prompts exactly as they’re given to you). Then:

B. Make a Calendar

Work backwards from each deadline or task and decide when each one needs to be completed.
**IMPORTANT: Give yourself twice the amount of time you think you’ll need. Trust me on this – everything will take longer than you think.

C. Set up a Filing System

You’ll need both a virtual and real filing system for each school (for email and snail mail).
You might also want to try Evernote, which is an easy way to access photos, documents and notes from any computer you’re on (it’s free).

Don’t want your parents bugging you? Take the initiative and stick to your schedule.

2.Pick a Range of Colleges You Like and Will Like You. Be realistic when you’re putting together your college list. It’s great to have one or two reach schools, but make sure to include schools that you like and that are likely to admit you.

3.Look for Schools that are Test Optional. ACT and SAT scores not your thing? Over 850 colleges are test optional. These schools believe that a combination of grades, recommendations and extra-curricular activities will give them a better picture of how you’ll do in college. For a complete list of schools that are test-optional, go to FairTest.org.

4.Don’t Wait Until School Starts to Write Your Essays. You’ll have homework, homecoming, applications and activities —  how are you going to have time for all those essays? (No, you can’t write well without sleep.)  Start your college application essays during the summer, when you have time to think and write. This goes double if you’re applying early — you may have several supplemental essays due November 1. Plan ahead and put those deadlines on your calendar!

5.Don’t Talk to Other Students About Your College Applications. This is a MAJOR stressor. Your friends come up to you and want to know what your essay topic is, or where you’re applying, or why you haven’t heard yet since theyve all heard. It’s easy to compare yourself to other students, but DON’T GO THERE. Enjoy the search and be confident that you’re applying to the schools that are right for you. When friends ask if your application’s in or your essays are done just say, “It’s coming along, thanks.” Then change the subject. Eventually they’ll get the idea and stop asking.

6.Get Moving. Ride a bike, go for a run, take the dog for a hike. Spend a few hours not thinking or talking about college. You’ll think better and you’ll feel better, too.

7.It’s YOUR College Tour. Enjoy! You’re on a shopping trip. Keep your eyes off your texts and on the sights. Talk to the tour guide and the students you meet –  ask them what they’re studying and what they love about their school. Then try to imagine yourself as a freshman on campus heading to class, the dorm or to dinner. See if your gut says you want to spend the next four years there.

8.Remember That Your Parents Want the Best for You: Your parents helped get you this far in life and they’re probably going to be a bit protective. It might scare them to think that you’re leaving home or even make them sad. So if they hover over you or ask tour guides embarrassing questions, take a deep breath and remember that they just want what’s best for you.

9. Don’t Narrow Your Options Too Quickly. (The College Helper suggested this tip when they commented on my last post, “7 Tips for Parents to Reduce College Application Stress.”) Some students get focused on attending a particular type of university – a large state school, for example – and never look at private universities or other schools that are outside of what they ‘think’ they want. Take time to explore – you can’t really be certain about what you want until you know what the other types of colleges are all about.

10. If You’re Overwhelmed, Ask for Help. Never be embarrassed to ask for help. Guidance counselors, teachers and private professionals can answer questions, guide you through the application process, provide feedback on your essays, and work with you on achieving your deadlines. Help is out there – you just have to ask for it.

related posts:
7 Tips for Parents to Reduce College Application Stress
Organize Your College Search: Try Evernote

links
Dealing with the Stress of College Applications
Peterson’s: Reducing Stress About College Admission Requirements
New York Times: The Burden of the College Admissions Process (students write about their college application experiences)

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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Connect with Me on Pinterest! Tips for Writing a Great Intro to Your College Application Essay

Connect with me on Pinterest! I’ll be posting easy-to-follow tips on writing successful college application essays as well as grammar, funny bits to help you through the tough times, etc. Then create your own Pinterest board — repin my posts and find other inspiration to help you with your college application and essay writing. I’ll see you on Pinterest!

how to write a great introduction to your college application essay

related post on writing great college essay introductions:

How to Succeed with the Common App Essay 500 Word Limit: Essay Samples

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:

follow Sharon Epstein on Twitterfollow Sharon Epstein on pinterest

Leave a comment — let me know what you think!


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College Essay Topics: Try A “Mindful” Day

Today I found college essay writing inspiration in the New York Times ‘Dining & Wine’ section. The article is about Mindful Eating.

The idea, from Buddhist teachings, is to place a forkful of food in your mouth. Then put your fork down. Chew slowly. Take the time to experience the pleasure of what you’re eating. As the writer says, “the texture of the pasta, the flavor of the cheese, the bright color of the sauce in the bowl, the aroma of the rising steam.”

This is called mindful eating.

Most of us eat pretty mindlessly. We’ve got our hand in a bag of chips, or we’re snatching something off the counter or shoveling that next bite of food into our mouths. Before we know it, it’s been swallowed and forgotten. 

That got me thinking about the other mindless things that fill our lives.

What else do we do that’s mindless?

Plenty. I’m just as guilty as anyone, starting from getting up in the morning, to plowing through lunch, to surfing the internet and talking on the phone and watching tv all at the same time.

How about you? Do you text and talk and do homework and listen to music at the same time? Do you rush from home to school to sports to dinner? Do you really pay attention when you say hi to people? Or listen to what they say back?

What if you didn’t speed through your days?

What would you notice? What would you see or hear or taste or appreciate that you don’t even think about now?

Live a mindful day.

Try it. Slow down. Be mindful about what you’re doing and saying. What do you notice? What do you appreciate? How did you live this day differently? How might it change your future days?

The answers might just make a great college essay topic. If you stop and think about it.

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.

Leave a comment — let me know what you think.

related posts:
Looking For Ideas for Your College Application Essay? Look Behind You
Writing College Application Essays: How to Choose a Topic


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Organize Your College Search: Try Evernote

Imagine This Scenario:

libe slope Cornell University

You’re visiting a college. You love the architecture. You snap a picture.
You see students playing Frisbee on the arts quad. You grab a video.
You use Dad’s iPad to get more info about that cool looking dorm you saw. You bookmark the page.
You’re home. Where’s your stuff?

Everywhere. Except on your own computer.

Try Evernote. It’s an app that lets you save to different computers, phones, mobile devices and tablets, and then access it anywhere. And it’s free.

I first heard about Evernote when it was mentioned as one of the best free apps around. So I tried it. It was good, but it really proved its usefulness after last August’s hurricane when we lost our power for six days. When my husband needed my laptop, I took my iPod to the nearest library and started writing a new blog. Later, I was able to access those notes on my laptop and keep right on writing.

Here’s how you can use Evernote to help organize your college search:

Create an account on Evernote (with parents’ permission if necessary).
Take pictures, videos, notes.
Create a “notebook” for each college. Drop each piece of information into the notebook.
You’re done.

The best part? Months later, when you begin applying to college and have to write that college application essay on “Why I want to go to _________ University, ” you won’t get stuck writing “It’s so pretty,” or “I love the atmosphere,” or “I just know it’s the school for me.” You’ll know the name of that dorm you loved, and what kind of architecture caught your eye.

You’ll be able to write a great college application essay because you can be specific about what you saw, learned, and heard.
Because you saved it all in one place.

Evernote

Try Evernote.

Sharon Epstein, FIrst Impressions College Consulting..Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting
I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, and by computer. Visit my website  for more info.

Leave a comment — let me know what you think.

related posts:
College Essay Writing: Make it Easy! Keep a Journal


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Medical School Admission Essay How-To: From Ordinary to Extraordinary

CaduceusIf you’re applying to medical school, you may be wondering how to write a powerful personal essay.

One technique is to tell a story. Relating an event or experience that’s unique to you and which has shaped your decision to become a physician will help you stand out from the crowd.

Differentiate Yourself

The medical school personal essay (AMCAS calls it the Personal Comments essay) is your advertisement. The essay has to speak for you, differentiating you from other candidates and showcasing your strengths. It should illustrate not only your hard skills (specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured), but also your soft skills (self-management and people skills), such as a strong work ethic, positive attitude, and ability to work well under pressure.

If your essay does its job, the reader will feel that he or she knows you and understands the special strengths that will make you an excellent physician; someone who deserves a closer look by the admission committee.

So how do you stand out in a sea of applicants?

Create Instant Impact

Consider who is reading your essay. In a busy week, admission officers might read forty or fifty applications per day. Your goal is to get your medical school admission officer to take notice. Your goal is to draw him or her into your essay from the first sentence and maintain that interest until the last word.

Start with a Story

One of the best ways to differentiate yourself and create instant impact is to start your essay with a story.

A well-chosen, well-told story will establish a framework for your essay, and serve as an interesting place to start and engaging way to end. It will showcase your hard and soft skills, and create immediate and compelling interest.

Medical School Essay Example: From Boring to Extraordinary

Here’s an example of how a story transformed a medical school essay. I worked with a young man who planned to be an emergency room physician. This is how his essay began:

“When I was in high school I had the privilege to take an honors Emergency Medical Technician course as part of my regular course work. I had recently joined the fire department in town as part of my community volunteer service and was quickly thrust into the world of emergency medicine. Soon I gained my certification and began running calls to help protect my friends and neighbors: one of my first motor vehicle accidents involved a longtime friend and one of my first calls working a cardiac arrest was a close friend’s mother. Dealing on a daily basis with patients whose ailments range from psychiatric issues to severe traumas gave me a whole new perspective on life. Spending a considerable amount of time interfacing with nurses and physicians in the emergency rooms of local hospitals gave me firsthand experience in the world of emergency medicine, particularly trauma surgery.”

There are three major problems with this medical school essay:

1. It doesn’t grab the reader’s attention.
2. It’s too generic. No other student should be able to write your essay, especially the first sentence. How many medical school applicants can write that they took an EMT course? Plenty.
3. There’s no story.

For his second draft, I asked the student to think about an event that portrayed him at his best, one that compelled him to act in a way that showed he’d make an excellent physician and co-worker. I wanted the experience to have a powerful emotional connection for him, because that would generate greater interest for the reader. I also wanted him to use dialogue to bring his experience to life.

As we talked, he realized the story he wanted to tell was already in his essay. Its mention, however, was so fleeting that he hadn’t even given it a sentence: “…one of my first calls working a cardiac arrest was a close friend’s mother.”

With that story in mind, here’s how the student re-worked his essay:

“3:24 am. Drowsy, trying to wake up. Redding Ambulance for an unresponsive female… Adrenaline kicking in. EMS pants on… CPR in progress.
Damn.
For the past six years, I have immersed myself in the world of emergency medicine. When I was sixteen I joined the fire department in town and began running calls to help protect my friends and neighbors. Dealing on a daily basis with patients whose ailments range from psychiatric issues to severe traumas gave me a whole new perspective on life and spending time interfacing with nurses and physicians in the emergency rooms of local hospitals gave me firsthand experience in the world of emergency medicine, particularly trauma surgery. I was able to help my patients not only in the field but also in the critical early stages of emergency stabilization in the ER. My level of competence became extremely important to me as my patients lives depend on it. I enjoyed being able to help my neighbors and make a positive difference in their lives; something told me that this was the field I should be in.
3:31 am. Sirens. I recognize my friend’s house as soon as we arrive. I walk inside to find chaos: my friend’s mother on the ground, police performing CPR… struggling to untangle AED wires. I evaluate the officer’s compressions and prepare to drop an oropharyngeal airway. Stand clear.”

In the rest of his essay, the student intersperses more punches of time as he and the team try unsuccessfully to resuscitate his friend’s mother; until finally:

“3:38 am. My earlier drowsiness is long gone. I spike an IV bag while the paramedic searches for a vein. I pick epinephrine from his bag and hand it to him. No time to dwell on the tragedy at hand. The ambulance slams towards the hospital.”

Does the story grab you from the beginning? You bet. Specifics? No one else can tell this story. Emotion? We feel like we’re right there, experiencing the student’s compassion for his friend and his friend’s dying mother as he works with the other medics to save her life (examples of both soft and hard skills). More than one admission officer commented on this essay during the student’s interviews.

What’s Your Story?

What event made an impact on your life and your choice to be a physician? Tell it. Use your story to frame your essay. Incorporate detail that’s unique to you, and gives the reader an understanding of who you are, what you’ve been through, and what you’re capable of.

Don’t leave your medical school essay in need of CPR. Breathe life into it. Tell a story.

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 or blog for more info.

Leave a comment — let me know what you think.

related posts:
College Admission Essays: Finding Your Authentic Voice
Writing College Application Essays: 5 Editing Tips
links:
2012 AMCAS Instruction Manual