Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


Best College Town – Ithaca, New York

Cornell University McGraw Tower.

Cornell University McGraw Tower.

I’m about to brag. Ithaca, New York was recently chosen Best College Town in the U.S.A.

Ranked by the American Institute for Economic Research, Ithaca (home to Cornell University and Ithaca College) was followed by Ames, Iowa (Iowa State University), and State College, PA (Penn State University).

I went to Cornell. My best friend Stephanie went to Ithaca College. The schools sit atop two hills that rise above the town of Ithaca – Cornell to the east and Ithaca to the south. When we arrived, much to our delight, we realized we could see each others’ dorm on the opposite hill. So, in a communications experiment of sorts, we tried blinking the lights in our rooms –  as much message to say, “Hello, can you see me?” as “I can’t believe we’re in Ithaca. Isn’t this going to be great?!”

And Ithaca was great. While the schools provide a diverse student population, it’s the town that’s the star. Over the years, Ithaca has managed to maintain a true sense of self. It’s relaxed, bohemian, and green. It overflows with farmers’ markets and food co-ops, theaters, restaurants, a no-cars-permitted Commons, and the ever-present opportunity to walk, hike, bike, sail, climb, and otherwise just inhale the joyous beauty of the Finger Lakes.

USA Today College  has written an article called “What Makes the Best College Towns?” Here’s the excerpt about Ithaca:

About 200 miles northwest of New York City lies Ithaca, home to Cornell University, Ithaca College and what Taylor Long calls “Idealistic Bohemians.”

“There’s a lot of culture and a lot of hip energy, but also this really earnest, small-town vibe,” said Long, who is a senior at Ithaca College. “People fall in love with this city. It’s the sort of place where your weird projects can thrive.”

The city is home to intellects, a Burlesque dance troupe, a newspaper that reports only positive news, an extensive farmers’ market and thousands of ambitious students. In fact, because of the town’s unique energy, The Dalai Lama and other Tibetan monks are frequent visitors.

Despite the eclectic mix of residents, the city’s party scene is fairly tame, another reason Long thinks the college town is unique.

“When I think of college towns, I do kind of think of Penn State or something like that where there’s a row of bars and a row of frats, and everyone is running around naked with their chests painted,” Long said. “I think [Ithaca] may be No. 1 because it is very unique and kind of is actually a college town, not just like a town dominated by one particular college.”

Go Ithaca.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut.
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Beginning the College Search – Round 2

College search - College search - second time around

Spencer and Holly Manners at Holly’s graduation from GW last spring

Applying to College welcomes a new series of guest posts by Beth Manners, whose son Spencer is beginning his college search. This is Beth’s second time conducting a college search; her daughter Holly graduated from George Washington University last spring. Follow Beth as she shares her advice and experiences conducting a college search, the second time around.

Pass the baton – or more like pass the Fiske Guide.  My daughter Holly just graduated from George Washington University and it’s time to begin the college search with my son Spencer – a junior in high school.

In truth, the search began when Spencer was eleven and tagged along on all of our college visits.  Who would think that from behind that Game Boy an impression was being made?

My husband and I are planning to take Spencer to visit colleges during February break.  I’ve found that it’s important to visit when school is in session. You want to meet students, peek into actual classes, have a meal in the cafeteria, and get a general feel for the energy and personality of the campus.

Even though Spencer says he prefers a large city school, we are going to experience a variety of schools – so that as a sixteen year old he can take it all in. Our trip will include Boston University, Penn State, Franklin and Marshall, Lehigh, and Lafayette. Many different impressions will be made.

As a parent who’s done this once already, I want to share my experiences on how best to start your college search:

  • Consider a variety of schools. Try to visit a large school, a small school, a city campus and a more remote rural campus. From the initial visits, you can then develop preferences, which will guide you in putting together a broader list of schools to research, visit and consider.
  • Save the airfare for later. Even if you have no geographic restrictions, you may want to limit the initial visits to within a day’s drive of your home. No sense in flying across the country, just to discover that small schools are not what you want.  Save the airfare for later on in the process.
  • Contact the college admissions office in advance and schedule an information session and a college tour.  Down the road, when your application is being read, the college will value “demonstrated interest” as one consideration. Many schools track whether you have visited campus – so be sure they have your name.
  • Keep notes on each school and take some pictures. After many visits, it is easy to confuse schools.  Jot down your initial impressions and also some specifics.  What do you like about the school and what is unique about it?  In addition to helping you decide where to apply, you can use this information to answer application and interview questions.
  • After the campus tour, you may want to dig deeper.  Holly met with the captain of the riding team at Boston University, a marketing professor at UCONN and the study abroad office at GW.  We scheduled these meetings before visiting campus.  Ask the admissions staff how to make arrangements.
  • Ask questions. Is it easy to change majors? Is campus housing guaranteed? Is the admissions process need-blind?  Does student social life center around the campus – or the city? Do they have vegan options in the cafeteria?  Gather as much information as you can and reach out and speak to current students.  Read the college’s newspaper and have a look at bulletin boards, to learn even more.
  • Is the school a keeper? Right now, you’re starting to discover your preferences and map out a direction.  If the school has subjects you want to study, recreational activities you want to be involved in and people you want to meet – and you connected to the campus, put it on the list.  Yes, you should be excited!

And so it begins…

Beth Manners college search
Beth Manners is a Tufts University Alumni interviewer and is currently enrolled in the UCLA College Counseling Certificate program. She lives in Westport, Connecticut.