Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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College Essay Help: How To Start Writing Your College Essay

how to start writing your college essayNot long ago a student called me. His guidance counselor asked him to write his college application essay and he wanted to brainstorm ideas. But then he confessed:

“I don’t even know where to start.”

That’s when I realized I needed to write this post. Because by the time you’re finished reading it, you’ll know how to start writing your college application essay personal statement—and have lots of ideas as well.

How Start Writing Your College Application Essay

1. Read Other College Application Essays. Get a feel for college essays by reading samples you can find online and in books. Some schools post their best essays online, including Hamilton College, Tufts, and Johns Hopkins. I especially like Johns Hopkins because you can read comments from their admissions officers, who tell you what they like about each essay.

Tip: Google the schools on your college list and see if they post college admissions essays. A good search term is “Essays that Worked.”

2. Use What You Read as Inspiration, Not Competition. This comment is for all the students who read sample essays and think they can “never write anything as good.” What makes an essay good is that the author has dug deep and put a part of him or herself directly on the page—it’s honest and written from the heart. That’s exactly what you need to do with your story—be honest and write from your heart. So get inspired, not intimidated.

3. Here Are Three More Things You Can Learn From Reading Essays:

Structure.

College Essay Help How to Start Your College Application EssayThere are lots of ways to structure an essay. An essay can be one story or a series of events; it can take place in one moment or over a longer period of time; it can be told chronologically or out-of-order; it can take place in the past or present tense (Or, if you want to get fancy, both.)

Find an essay or two you like and take a look at how they’re structured. If you find one that inspires you, that may be the structure for you.

Writing Techniques.

College Essay Help How to Start Your College Application Essay Good essays use good writing techniques. Pay special attention to how the writer grabs your attention from the beginning. (Read 3 Ways to Start an Interesting College Essay.) Focus on how the writer uses detail to illustrate the story’s look, feel, sound, taste and smell. Then read it out loud. (Yes, really!) I want you to notice that when sentences are different lengths the essay flows better. These are all super writing techniques you can use.

Personality.

College Essay Help How to Start Your College Application Essay

Everybody has a personality. (Okay, almost everybody.) But if your personality’s not in the essay, how’s the college going to get to know you? More important, how will they separate you from the next student, or the next 50 students?

Take this essay personality quiz: When you’re finished reading a sample essay ask yourself these questions: Did you get a sense of the writer’s personality and values? Could you strike up an interesting conversation with this person? Do you think he or she has told you one of the most important things about him or herself? Would the writer make a good college student? You should be able to answer yes to all of those questions. That’s what your essay should do, too.

Now, Make It Work for You!

4. Identify Your Positive Qualities. Are you kind? Compassionate? Determined? One of the best ways to create a unique essay is to showcase your positive qualities. Identifying your positive qualities can often help you find a topic, too.

5. Brainstorm Every Possibility. Get creative! Never set limits on your ideas until you’ve thought of everything.

6. Display Your Passion. What do you love? What do you care about? What motivates you to learn and be curious outside the classroom? Get excited to write about what puts a fire under your feet and you’ll make your college reader excited, too. Passion is contagious!

7. You Don’t Need a Unique Topic, Just a Personal Approach. If you have an original topic, go for it. But the truth is, lots of students are passionate about similar events like travel, family and sports. If that’s the case, you must, must, must find an approach that’s unique to you. How do you do that? Show us the world from your point of view. If you want to write about sports, for instance, don’t write about winning “the big game”—think about why that sport matters to you. One of my students wrote about her love-hate relationship with her workout routine and used it to show her passion for rowing. Your essay should reflect your personality—no one else should be able to write it but you.

8. Be Someone Colleges Want to Accept. Colleges want students they feel will succeed now and far into the future. So show them you’re the person they’re looking for. Have you been through a tough situation? Show you’re resilient. Have you had to make decisions? Show you’re responsible. Write about your curiosity, your courage, your problem-solving skills—whatever is special to you. Get colleges excited in what you care about, and give them a great reason to accept you.

So…put your passion and heart on the page. Present it from your point of view. Show the colleges you’re ready to head into your future.

Now that you know how to start, you’re on your way.

Related post:
3 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Start Writing Your College Application Essay

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills
Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting. She is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee. Contact Me for more information or to schedule an appointment. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

First Impressions tutors teach students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. We work with students around the world. 

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How to Write 2016 Common Application Essay #3: Reflect On a Time When You Challenged a Belief or Idea

How to write 2016 Common App essay prompt 3 reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea Hooray! You’re applying to college!

How do you choose which Common Application essay to write?

In this 5-part series I help you figure out which 2016 Common Application question is right 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.

What are Colleges Looking For?

Colleges are looking for your critical thinking skills. Show them your thought process (the steps you took to make your decision) and then reflect on your experience (which will show them maturity and insight).

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?
  • Caution: You never want to offend your reader. Remember that a belief or idea you disagree with could be one that your reader accepts, so always watch your tone and be respectful when needed.

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?

What Other Kinds of Beliefs or Ideas Can You Consider?

  • It can be a belief or idea held by others (including friends, schoolmates and family).
  • It can be a belief or idea you’ve been taught (including your attitude or action toward others, or how something should or shouldn’t be done).
  • It can also be your own belief—something that’s unique to you. What if you thought your sister came from Mars? (Okay, that’s silly.) But sometimes we have our own ideas: Consider the student who thinks being loudest is the best way to gain attention, or the girl who thinks she’s happiest being alone. What if the student realized he’d rather have friends than negative attention, or the girl pushed herself out of her comfort zone to find out she enjoyed being a leader at school? Think about what you believed when you were younger, and if your ideas changed, why. If your experience is meaningful and says positive things about you (and answers the question), this prompt could be for you.

Which brings me to:

Should you write about religion? You can. I’ve had students who’ve written about different aspects of their spiritual journey, whether it was trying to conform to their parents’ religion or searching for their own truth. But remember the caution: You don’t want to offend your reader. So along with topic choice, consider the tone of your writing. For instance, it’s a lot different to say you felt a need to find your own spiritual path than to say you hated a specific religion and couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Tip from College Admissions Officers: Some admissions officers tell me that many essays about spiritual journeys are starting to sound very similar to them. So if you want to write about your spiritual journey, find an original approach that makes your essay stands out. If it starts to feel generic, dig deeper into who you are and how this topic reflects your values, your ability to problem solve, or your goals. (Give the colleges good reasons to want to admit you.) If you’re not sure it will stand out, switch topics.

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, but when she finally did she started to excel. In high school, she became a leader and mentor and spoke to teens about how to combat bullying. She taught them 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.
  • She conveyed positive qualities. This student exhibited 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.

Reasons Essay Prompt #3 Can Work for You: 

  • You can communicate your level of maturity.
  • You can highlight your critical thinking skills.
  • You can demonstrate that you’re open-minded and have respect for the beliefs and ideas of others.
  • You can show that your choices or ideas had an impact.
  • Interesting Fact: Last year, this was the least-answered Common App essay prompt. Since admissions officers won’t read as many of these essay answers, your topic could have a better chance of standing 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

For the entire list of 2016 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. She is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee. First Impressions teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. We work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, video and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

 

 


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How to Write a Great College Application Essay: Infographic

When it comes to writing the Common Application essay personal statement, or any college essay for that matter, the basics remain the same: Know what colleges want, know yourself, and put in enough time and thought to find the topic that best reflects you.

So this week I’m reposting an infographic I created about how to write a great college application essay. It gives you an overview of the college essay writing process from beginning to end. If you’d like to download it, you can do that here.

Plus I used a lot of purple when I made it, which is my favorite color. Enjoy.

how to write a grea gret college essay infographic

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, Facetime, Google Hangouts and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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Common Application Essay: 5 Tips Before You Write

Common Application Essay 5 Tips Before You WriteYou’ve got a Common Application essay personal statement to write.

You sit down at the keyboard. Your fingers hover over the keys. You’re about to write your first words when —

WAIT!!!

  • Have you chosen an interesting essay topic?
  • Do you know your best qualities?
  • Can you show the schools how you think and make decisions?
  • Can you put your personality on the page?

If the answer is no, then you’re not ready to write.

HERE ARE FIVE TIPS BEFORE YOU WRITE YOUR COMMON APPLICATION ESSAY: 

1. Be Able to Answer Key Questions

Before you write your Common Application essay, you should be able to answer several important questions about yourself:

  • What are at least three of my most positive qualities?
  • What am I best at?
  • What am I most passionate about?
  • What obstacles or challenges have I faced and how have I gotten through them?
  • What are my saddest/happiest/most embarrassing moments? What did I learn from them?
  • Even if they seem silly or unimportant, what times in my life stand out to me? Why?
  • What do I want colleges to know about me when they’ve finished reading my essay?

Your essay provides a window into who you are.  At first that can seem like a lot to figure out, but it becomes easier when you break the answers down into small steps. It can even help you discover your best essay topic.

2. Stay Loose

Did you ever get so nervous that you couldn’t think? It happens to all of us — you sit down to write and your brain seizes up. Here’s what you can do to prevent your brain from a mini meltdown: 

  • Back away from the keyboard. Trick your brain into thinking it’s not thinking about your essay. Take a shower, walk the dog, play pickup basketball. Let your brain whir in the background while you’re doing other things. You’ll be surprised what kind of ideas can pop into your head.
  • Get creative! What are the craziest, weirdest things that have happened to you? Write them down! (When you lost track of the worms you bought for the compost pile…when you burned the cookies so badly your parents had to replace the stove…when you were thrown out of the museum for talking too loudly.) Even if you think an experience is “unimportant,” put it on the list. We’ve all got experiences that deserve a second look. Let your brain find them. 

3. Become a Fly on the Wall in Your Own Life.  

Are you looking for an essay topic? Are you concerned it could be better? Keep looking. Take a step back and be a fly on the wall in your own life. Become an observer.

Pay attention to what everyone’s talking about at school, how you interact with your family, what you think about when you’re by yourself. (Did your friends say something you disagreed with? Did your class conduct a psychology experiment that interested you in the human brain? Do you wish you could turn your bedroom into an art studio?)

Ask yourself what you were thinking about during those interactions, if you made any decisions, and why the moment was important to you. (Maybe you realized you needed to find a new group of friends, that you wanted to pursue psychology in college, that you’re happiest when you’re being creative.)

Remember, you don’t have to write about anything “big” — meaningful moments can occur anytime. If you take a step back and listen to what’s going on, you might be able to find one.

4. Don’t Stop at the Easy Answer

Your first answer runs the risk of being the easy answer — one that’s more superficial and less meaningful than you could eventually write. So don’t stop at your first answer. Keep digging and keep thinking. Come up with several possible answers before you decide what to write. 

5Jump start your memory

This is fun and easy! Scroll back through old photos, posts and texts and soon you’ll start to remember lots of stories from the past. Even better, you’ll discover tons of details you can use  — like exactly what your sister said to you when you had that fight, or how you felt when you caught that foul ball. Photos, posts and texts will reconnect you with your experiences. They might even inspire an entire college essay.

Take the time to think, and by the time you sit down at your keyboard you’ll be ready to write an interesting and successful essay.

Click here for the 2016-2017 Common Application essay prompts

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, Facetime, Google Hangouts and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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2016-2017 Common Application Essay Prompts

2016-2017 Common Application Essay PromptsThe news is in!

The Common Application personal statement essay prompts for 2016-2017 will be the same as last year.

Juniors: This absolutely doesn’t mean you have to amp up the stress and start writing in February. But start brainstorming, and when you have time to write you’ll have lots of ideas.

Common App essay requirements:

  • You answer one of five prompts.
  • The maximum essay length is 650 words.

Here are the 2016-2017 Common Application Essay Prompts:

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.

2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

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 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.

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

 College Essay Writing helpInteresting Stats from Last Year’s Applications:

  • More than 800,000 applicants submitted a Common Application
  • 47 percent chose to write about their background, identity, interest, or talent – making it the most frequently selected prompt
  • 22 percent wrote about an accomplishment
  • 17 percent wrote about a lesson or failure
  • 10 percent wrote about a problem solved
  • 4 percent wrote about an idea they challenged

For more information, go to Common Application website or The Common App’s Facebook page

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing insights, question by question, to help students understand, think about, and write outstanding college application essays.

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, Facetime, Google Hangouts and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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3 Ways to Start an Interesting College Essay

3 Interesting Ways to Start a College EssayHow do you start your college essay in an interesting way?

I’m asked this question a lot. It’s an important question to consider because if you put your reader to sleep in the first few sentences, well…

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..

So how do you make your first paragraph interesting?

Easy. Grab the reader’s attention. Entice him into wanting to read more. Make her excited enough to read beyond your first few sentences.

You just have to know three solid writing techniques, then choose the one that’s best for you.

Here are 3 Interesting Ways to Start Your College Admissions Essay:
how to write an interesting college application essay

1. Ask a Question.

Why did I quit the football team?”

 

 

Asking a question grabs the reader’s attention. Why?

Because when you ask a question, the reader will want to know the answer. (We’re all curious creatures, after all.) The reader wants to keep reading to see how it all turns out. (Hooray!)

Let’s take the example I gave you, “Why did I quit the football team?” This question works because:

  • The question itself is interesting.
  • The writer hints at only part of his story (which is sometimes called a “tease”).
  • By not revealing why he quit, the writer builds anticipation for the story he’s about to tell.

When you ask a question, you grab the reader’s attention. You entice the reader into wanting to read more. It can be an interesting and effective way to begin your college essay.

animal-number-two

2. Start With an Intriguing Statement.

I’m done giving up.”

“I hate taking showers.”

 

What do you think about these statements? Do you want to know why the student stopped giving up (or why he gave up in the first place)? And what kind of person hates to take showers anyway????

Just like starting your essay with a question, an intriguing statement works because: 

  • The statement itself is interesting.
  • It tells the reader only part of the story.
  • It builds anticipation for the story to come.
  • It grabs the reader’s interest, and makes the reader want to keep reading to find out more.

animal-number-three-hi

3. Start Where Your Action or Conflict Begins.

My body tenses, the anticipation prying doubts from my head, forcing me to tighten my grip and lock my jaw in preparation.”

I plant my Giant Slalom poles into the snow and push my shivering body through the starting gate.”

 

Starting with your action or conflict is a super way to start your essay.

It works especially well when you’re telling a story.

But I’ll tell you something — many students make a mistake. They start writing their stories from the beginning — at the first day of school, when they get into the car to drive to a friend’s house, or when they walk in the doors for the robotics contest. 

Yawn.

Nothing interesting is happening yet. 

When you start your story at the beginning, that’s like reading a fairy tale that starts at “Once upon a time.” You’re forced to wade through the descriptions of the deep, dark woods and the creatures that live there before you get to the interesting stuff — when Little Red Riding Hood meets the wolf, or the witch shoves Hansel into her oven.

Shove Hansel into the oven right away — start where the action begins. (Hint – that’s usually somewhere in the middle of your story.)

Here’s a Before and After Example:

Before (no action is happening): “I spent my summer vacation interning in the emergency room of a hospital in Seattle.”

Blah.

What’s wrong with this example? There’s no action. There’s no interest. The writer doesn’t engage his reader. He doesn’t give the reader any reason to want to see what happens next.

After (starting with action): “The bloody gurney wheeled past me. I closed my eyes and prayed for the strength not to pass out.”

Fantastic! The student located the start of the action in his story and rewrote his introduction. Now, the reader is plunged into the middle of what’s happening. There is both physical action (a rolling cart), and there’s mental conflict. (He’s trying hard not to faint.) The student paints a vivid picture of being in the E.R. Any reader would want to see what happens next.

Tip: If you’re not sure where your action begins, write down your story from the beginning to the end, then take a look at what you’ve written. Find the place something interesting starts to happen, and begin your essay there. It’s often several paragraphs after the beginning.

Grab your reader’s attention right away. 

And that’s a great way to write an interesting essay.

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 Application Essay Prompts #1-5

How to Write 2015 Common Application Essay Prompts #1-5How do you write a great Common Application essay?

Start here.

I’ve written a five-part series that gives you:

  • The exact Common Application essay questions
  • What the questions mean
  • How to brainstorm topics for each idea
  • What the colleges are looking for in your answers
  • How to know if an idea is right for you
  • How to avoid the pitfalls.
  • Plus examples of essay topics!

Here are the links to the posts in the 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
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

Write what you’re passionate about and always ask yourself: What positive experiences, values, qualities, ideas, goals, relationships or accomplishments do I want the colleges to know about me? Then have fun writing!

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.