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College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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Writing College Admissions Essays -Trying to Stand Out

Writing Common Application essay personal statement how to stand outI just ran across a blog I wrote and never posted. It’s about how to help your college application essay get noticed. When I discovered it yesterday, sitting in my files, patiently waiting for me to recall its existence, I realized it’s the perfect post for this time of year. The 2017 Common Application essay prompts have just been published, and while February’s too soon to start writing it is time to start thinking about how you can make your essay stand out.

After a bit of tweaking, this is the post:

A lot of students ask me this question:

How do I get colleges to notice me? There are so many qualified applicants, how do I stand out?

Here’s what I—and lots of my colleagues—say:

It’s got to be about you. Not just what you do, not necessarily what you’ve accomplished. You.

What does that mean?

In an Ivy Admissions article posted on College Confidential, Karl Furstenberg, former Dartmouth College Dean of Admissions, says that in order to separate well-qualified candidates he looks “at the intangibles.” Intangibles go beyond what you can quantify (measure), like grades, accomplishments, or even an activity list.

It’s like judging a music competition where all the competitors play the correct keys. In order to choose the best, the judges must look beyond the notes. They look for what moves them

College applicants must display their “musicianship”—“those personal aspects that add nuance and passion to the application.” In pianistic terms, the article says, “they must perform the notes that lie between the keys.”

“Between the keys” is who you are: What are you values? What do you stand for? What do you care about? Where does your heart lie? These are the intangibles that schools look for in your college application essays. This is what will separate you from the crowd.

Do This!how to write Common Application how to write essay personal statement

If you want to stand out, start by figuring out “who am I?” and “what do I want the colleges to know about me?” Make a list of your positive qualities. Write down examples of how you’ve demonstrated them in your life. List what you love, from your rock collection to your family to your dream of flying in space. Everyone’s list will be different. That’s the point. It needs to be about you.

Make sure you take the time to think, brainstorm, and understand why you care about what you do. Take the time to find yourself between the keys.

Because the difference probably isn’t going to be your grades. It’s going to be you.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills


Find your story. Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She’s a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee who teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. I work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype, Facetime and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

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How to Write 2015 Common Application Essay #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

how to write Common Application  essay 5 childhood to adulthoodThe Common Application essay prompts are out.

How do you choose which essay to write?

In this 5 part series I help you figure out which question on the 2015 Common Application essay is right for you.

We’re down to the last one. Whew!

Ready for #5?

Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #5:

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Is this Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Accomplishment or Event” … “Transition from Childhood to Adulthood” … “Culture, Community or Family”

What the Keywords Mean:

  • “Accomplishment or event” is a very broad phrase. That’s good! It means you can choose almost anything you’ve done, experienced or accomplished.
  • “Transition from childhood to adulthood.” Don’t feel quite like an adult yet? That’s okay — you can still answer the question. The Common App really wants to know how you’ve become more mature or responsible over time.  
    • Ask yourself these questions: Have you taken on more responsibility? Do you make decisions in a more mature way? Are you more dependable? Do you teach younger students what you’ve been taught? Does your family or community ask you for advice on an issue you’ve become knowledgeable about? Have you been through a religious or cultural rite of passage that was meaningful to you? There are many ways we grow into adulthood.

Still Looking for a Topic?

  • Here are a few more questions you can ask yourself: Did you set a goal for yourself that you achieved? Did you work hard at a task, hobby, or skill that you eventually were able to master? Did you have a relationship with an important person that helped shape you? Did you have a life event that forced you to take on more responsibility? Did you have an experience that helped you become more compassionate or understanding? Did you experience a traumatic event that made you see the world in a different way? Did you need to find a way to get yourself out of a difficult situation? Did you start your own business? Did you learn how to allocate your own money? These are just a few ideas — make sure to keep thinking!

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid: 

  • Don’t forget to include a learning experience. Although the prompt doesn’t specifically ask for it, colleges want to know how you grew or what you learned from your experience. How did your experience shape your attitude, outlook or actions? How did it help you become the person you are today? Make sure to tell them.

Essay Topic Example 

A young woman began dancing before she could tie her shoes. The tradition at her dance studio was that the older dancers mentored the younger ones. As she grew older and became more accomplished, she started teaching the younger students. Now she helps them in the studio and outside of dance. As she has matured, the student has learned what it takes to be a friend and mentor, and is helping continue her dance studio’s tradition.

Is this Example Successful? Yes.

  • All the keywords are addressed.
    • The student writes about an accomplishment in her community.
    • Her transition from child to young adult is marked by taking on more responsibility and becoming a teacher and mentor to the younger dancers.
  • She learned from her experience.
    • The student has matured and become more responsible.

What Can Colleges Learn About You From This Question?

  • Your level of maturity.
    • Schools can get a feeling for how well you will interact with your peers and instructors, your decision-making abilities, and even your possible leadership skills.
  • Your ability to develop important relationships within your family, culture, or community.
    • Schools can learn what kind of community member you will be at college.
  • The kind of idea or experience that’s truly meaningful to you.
    • Your essay topic tells the school a great deal about what’s important to you. Make sure you choose a topic that is meaningful to you and says good things about you.

We’re done! We’ve covered all the prompts. If you’ve read the blog posts I’ve written on how to answer each question, you should be able to choose the right topic and write an essay that makes you shine. If you have any questions, drop me a line and let me know.

Also in this series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: A Time you Experienced Failure
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve

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 how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. 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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How to Write 2015 Common App Essay #4: Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve

how to write 2015 common application essay problem you've solved or would like to solveThe Common Application essay topics are out.

How do you choose which essay to write?

This 5 part series helps you figure out which question on the 2015 Common Application essay is right for you.

Ready for number 4? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #4:

Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Problem you’ve solved or would like to solve”“Personal importance”“No matter the scale”

Do the Keywords Apply to You?

Answer yes IF

  • You’ve identified a problem with meaning and importance to you.
  • You can see down the road from problem to possible solution.
  • You have actively worked on a solution OR you have plans for a solution but haven’t put them into action yet.

how to write 2013 common app essayPitfalls to Avoid:

  • The problem isn’t meaningful enough to you. Sure, you could write about lobbying for longer lunch periods at school, but so what? Don’t be superficial. Your story should tell the colleges what you value and give them an idea of your outlook on life.
  • Vague or generic essays. Essays should never be generic, but keep a special eye out if you’re writing about “larger” problems. For instance, if you say, “The world has too many people and I want to do something about it” — that is not specific enough. Gather your facts and know what you’re talking about.
  • Don’t forget the question has three parts: (1) Describe a problem; (2) Explain its significance to you; (3) Identify a solution. You must answer all three parts.

Great News! This Question is Broad — There are Many Ways to Answer:

  • You saw a problem and implemented the solution. (“When I saw that the kids at the teen center didn’t always have enough nice clothes to wear, I set up a “free clothes” rack inside the door. Now they can take anything they want.”)
  • You haven’t implemented the solution, but you can explain it. (“Now that my partners and I have identified the source of the pollution flowing into the river, I plan to work with local authorities to set up a better monitoring system to prevent future spills.”)
  • Your topic is small in scope. Don’t mistake small for mundane, boring, or unimportant. If you’ve found a solution to an everyday problem of personal importance, write about it! I always tell my students, “You don’t have to have something big to write about. The topic just has to have meaning for you.”
  • Your topic is large in scope. If you prefer to tackle bigger problems, this prompt lets you do that. If you’re not sure, ask yourself, “If I had the power, what kind of lasting change would I like to see in the world or in my community, and how would I achieve it?” It’s okay to dream big with this essay — just make sure to include a possible solution and be as specific as you can. (“After I saw how locusts destroyed the harvest, I realized that if scientists could understand more about insect life cycles, then we might be able to save the crops and even combat hunger. That’s why, in college, I want to set up a research study and use mathematical applications to help predict these terrible years.”)

What Colleges Learn About You From This Question:

  • Your problem-solving skills.
  • How you think when you’re faced with challenges.
  • An idea or experience you truly value. Hooray! This is a major part of what colleges look for. Did you devote one of your birthday celebrations to raising funds for an animal in need of medical care? They’ll see you’re compassionate. Did you find a new meeting place for seniors after fire destroyed their first venue? They’ll see you’re determined. The problem and solution you choose to write about tell the colleges who you are.

Write a Winning Essay — Tell a Story

This essay prompt lends itself to story telling, which is one great way to write a winning essay. Here’s an example of how you might structure this essay:

  • Begin with the action in your story. (This is an excellent way to draw in your reader.) Start at the moment you discovered or realized the problem.
  • Set the scene for the reader. Explain where you were, why you were there, and what you were doing.
  • Discuss who/what was affected by the problem and why that was meaningful to you.
  • Explain how you came up with a possible solution (Research? Thought? Talking to people?) Colleges like to see how you think, so include your decision-making process.
  • Make sure you identify your solution, or what you might like to see as a solution.

Next time: How to Write Common App prompt #5.

Also in this series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: A Time you Experienced Failure
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

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 how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. 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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How to Write 2015 Common App Essay #3: Reflect on a Time When You Challenged a Belief or Idea

how to write 2015 Common Application #3 Time You Challenged a Belief or IdeaHooray! You’re applying to college!

How do you choose which Common Application essay to write?

In this 5 part series I’ll help you figure out which question on the 2015 Common Application essay is the right one for you.

Ready for number 3? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #3:

Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Challenged a belief or idea” “Prompted you to act”…”Would you make the same decision again?”

When Should You Choose This Essay?

Answer this question ONLY IF:

  • You were confronted with a belief or idea which you felt compelled to challenge or change.

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid:

  • Understand the keywords. “Challenged a belief or idea” means that you took some kind of action either on your own behalf or on the behalf of someone or something else.
  • This question has THREE parts — don’t leave one out. Discuss what prompted you to act, then reflect on your decision and say whether you’d do it again.
  • Don’t forget to include a learning experience. What did you learn? How did you grow?

Is this Question Only About Religion? No.

It certainly encompasses religion. I’ve had students who chose to write about different aspects of their spiritual journey, whether it was trying to conform to their parents’ religion, or searching for their own truth. But don’t run from this question! Give it some thought.

Not Sure This Question Relates to You?
Here are 3 ways you might answer this question:

  • Were you told by an adult that you wouldn’t be successful in an activity, but you chose to pursue it anyway?
  • Did you challenge what a group of friends told you to do because you thought they were wrong?
  • Did you see someone being treated unfairly (perhaps even yourself) and attempt to rectify it?

Example of a Successful Essay Topic

  • A student’s elementary school teacher wasn’t a kind woman and picked on many of the children in her class. As a result, the student’s self esteem suffered and her grades dropped. It took a long time for the student to learn to stand up for herself. When she did, she began not only to excel; she also became a leader and a mentor. The student spoke to groups of teens about prejudice and discrimination. She taught them about the harmful power of words, and how to use words in a positive way.  In her essay she explained why she would make the same decision again: “My passion for making a difference stems from my own experiences where negative criticism created a lasting effect on me…Becoming emotionally and physically independent and having the confidence to challenge social norms have become the most powerful tools in my possession.”

Is This Topic Successful? Yes.

•    All the keywords are addressed. The student told her story, described what prompted her to act, and explained why she would make the same decision again.
•    She included a learning experience. Once she learned to stand up for herself, the student took on the role of a mentor and leader, and worked to combat bullying and discrimination.
•   She conveyed positive qualities. This student turned out have personal strength and moral character. She was able to pull herself out of a difficult situation to personally excel and to help others.
•  She gave colleges excellent reasons to admit her: She was a leader, a compassionate human being, and someone with high standards who wanted to make a difference.

Why This Essay Prompt Could be a Good Question for You

  • You can communicate your level of maturity.
  • You can show that you have critical thinking skills.
  • You can demonstrate that you are open-minded and have respect for the beliefs and ideas of others.
  • You can show that your choices or ideas had an impact.

Make sure to find as much honesty and depth to your answer as you can and look for an original approach. That will make your essay stand out.

Tip: It’s okay to say you wouldn’t make the same decision again. Colleges want to see that you have the maturity and perspective to understand your actions.  Just remember — by the end of the essay you should be saying positive things about yourself!

For more information on the Common Application visit their website. They also have a very helpful Facebook page.

Next time: How to Write Common App prompt #4.

Also in this series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: A Time you Experienced Failure
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

For the entire list of 2015 Common App essay prompts click here.

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 how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. 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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How to Write 2015 Common App Essay #1: Background, Identity, Interest or Talent

how to write 2015 common app background identity interest or talent essayIt’s that time of year again — college application season.

I love it.

Why? Students start to envision themselves as college freshmen. The next step of their lives is on the horizon. It’s almost here.

But first…

You’ve got a college admissions essay to write.

Don’t worry. Help is on the way.

In this series of posts, I’ll give you tips on how to write the 2015 Common Application essay.

I’ll tell you how to choose a college essay prompt, what colleges look for in college essay answers, and how to avoid college essay pitfalls. I’ll give you essay examples, too.

First — an overview.

  • The 2015 Common Application has five prompts.
  • You answer one of them. 250-650 words.
  • Click here to read my posts on Common Application Essay Prompt #2, Prompt #3, Prompt #4, and Prompt #5.
  • For a complete list of the 2015 Common Application questions, click here.
  • Not every school accepts the Common Application, so check your list. Some schools require different essays.

Okay, ready? Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #1:

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Is This Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2015 common app essay

Background — Identity — Interest — Meaningful — Incomplete without it.

Do these Keywords Apply to You?

  • “Background, identity, interest.” These words are meant to spark your imagination. Think about what’s shaped your life – who you are, how you think, your hobbies. You can write about almost anything, as long as it’s important to the person you’ve grown to be.
  • “Meaningful” means that this experience has molded you in a fundamental way. It has influenced your choices, outlook, perspective and/or goals.
  • Your application would be “incomplete without it.” You need to tell this story in order for people to understand you. You also haven’t told it anywhere else in your application.

Why Choose this Prompt?
1. This experience helped shape who you are.
2. If you didn’t tell this story, the school wouldn’t fully understand you.
3. Your topic doesn’t fit any of the other prompts.

Possible Pitfalls:

  • This isn’t “topic of your choice.” You can’t write about anything you’d like. You have to satisfy the keywords.
  • Always Say What You Learned. Even though the prompt doesn’t specify it, make sure to include what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown from your experience. This is essential for a complete answer.

Example of a Successful Essay Topic:

A young woman was such an accomplished ballet dancer that she studied with the prestigious Bolshoi ballet in New York. Everyone, including her family, assumed that she’d turn professional. Instead, she decided to become a nutritionist. The student wrote about her love of ballet and how it exposed her to a hidden world of young dancers with eating disorders. Ballet led this student to a new goal: helping dancers stay healthy.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Succeed?

  •  All the keywords are addressed. This student couldn’t tell her story without writing about dance. It was central to her identity and her application would be incomplete without it.
  • She learned from her experience. From her perspective as a dancer, she realized what she wanted from her future.

Example of a Poor Essay Topic:

A student enjoyed driving his car. He liked to ride for hours listening to his favorite music and taking twists and turns he didn’t know, just see where he would end up. Sometimes he drove so far that he had to use his GPS to get home.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Fail?

  • The keywords are not addressed. This is a nice story, and probably would be interesting to read. But the student doesn’t indicate anywhere how or why it’s central to who he is or what his talents are.  If he didn’t write about this activity, no one would miss it.
  • There is no learning or growing experience.

If you’re not familiar with the Common Application, go to their website. They also have a very helpful Facebook page.

Next time: How to write Common Application essay prompt #2.

Also in this series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: A Time you Experienced Failure
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

For the entire list of 2015 Common App essay prompts click here.

 

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 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.