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July 24, 2014

How NOT to Write a College Essay

Here are some of the most common mistakes students make, and why you should avoid them:

Repeat info covered in another part of the application.
Students often repeat themselves in the college essay "just to be safe." However, admissions officers have already read, or will read, the rest of your application. Reading the same thing twice is boring. Trust them to do their job and read the application as thoroughly as necessary. Give them some insight into your motivations and how they indicate your abilities. If you mentioned something briefly on the application, you can go into it in more detail in the essay.

Don't do this:
"In freshman year I was in Key Club. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot about helping others. I also joined the lacrosse team, which took up a lot of time. However, I still found time to volunteer at a soup kitchen every weekend. All of this demonstrates that I am responsible and capable."

Whining about circumstances instead of explaining why/how you overcame them.
Nobody likes a sob story, no matter how true or heartbreaking it is. Don't look for pity. Instead, show admissions committees how you surpassed difficulties to achieve a high GPA, leadership position, or some other accomplishment. Impress them with your determination.

Don't do this:
"Because my parents had to get rid of the babysitter after we had money issues, I had to quit the soccer team to watch my little sister. It was a real shame to have to leave my teammates and give up the chance of being state champions, but family comes first, so I didn't mind making the sacrifice."

Talk about how you want to go to a particular college because it has a great reputation or you want to make money.

Many students want to go to a top school and make money. Why does this make you special and different? Self-promotion is a given. Instead, distinguish yourself through your desire to intensively study the subjects that interest you or to expose yourself to a wide range of ideas.

Don't this this:
"University X is well-renowned, and many famous people like _____, ____, and ____ graduated from there. With a degree from University X, I'll be sure to be a success in life and make my friends and family proud."

Misrepresent your achievements and goals in the essay.
If you graduated in the middle of your class and have no extracurriculars/recommendations to back up the following...

Don't do this:
"I was one of the top students in my school and hope to reduce world hunger or find a cure for cancer."

The following need no example:

Use "cute" techniques to stand out.
Covering your essay in glitter and perfume, enclosing a link to a YouTube video of yourself performing goofy antics, or writing the entire essay in Pig Latin.

Say you want to go to College X in College Y's application.
It'd be a shame to mix up the two essays and get into neither one as a result. Double check.

Include careless grammatical errors, overly wordy phrases, and clichés.
You already know the stakes are high when it comes to college admissions. Show admissions officers that you care enough about the process to write an amazing college essay.

July 18, 2014

College Interview | Tips to Prepare for Questions They Ask

or “Tell Me About Yourself…”: Dos and Don’ts for Answering that Inevitable First Question

They say that first impressions are everything. Perhaps, then, it's good that you can prepare well for that first question of the college interview because it's almost always the same one: “Tell me about yourself.”

This question may seem like a no-brainer---obviously, you know yourself pretty well. Still, you should give some thought now to what you'll say, because your answer will set the tone of the interview and determines the first impression you'll leave. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you prepare to answer this question, and examples of good and bad responses to use as guidelines.

DO be confident. I know talking about yourself can be hard, and you might worry about seeming boastful. However, the truth is that interviewers like people who are comfortable with themselves and proud of their accomplishments. So, please, be confident, or at least fake it! Practice talking about yourself in a self-assured voice and channel that pretentious guy in your chem class. While these cocky people may not make any friends in the lunchroom, the sad truth is they are the ones who do best in interviews!

DON’T be too brief or vague. Just stating your year in high school and where you are from will not intrigue anyone. You want to captivate the interviewer’s interest, and make him/her fascinated by you. If you give details that the interviewer can ask follow-up questions about, it makes their job easier, and they will like you better for that! So, don’t be afraid to be specific.

DO give a hook. Your answer to this question should be like a teaser, making the interviewer want to know more about you. Talk about what makes you tick and be sure to include one or two of your main passions. Paint a picture for the interviewer. Make him or her feel like he already knows you, and make him want to get to know you better.

DON’T recite your resume. Yes, I said to give specifics, but this does not mean reciting your resume! If you do this, you're wasting your interviewer’s time—they have the resume in front of them, and they do know how to read. Worse, it will bore your interviewer. Instead, focus on a couple main passions, with specific details about those. Questions about the rest of your resume will come, don’t worry.

Now, for the examples of what not to do:

Bad response #1: “Um, I’m a senior at Springfield High.”

This makes you seem shy and uninteresting, and gives the interviewer nothing to work with.

Bad response #2: “I am a senior at Springfield High, on the volleyball team, in the Eastern dance troupe, a volunteer at the soup kitchen, on the yearbook committee and am Vice President of Students for Economic Justice. I have a 3.72 GPA and a 2160 on the SATs. I am in the top 10% of my class.”

This is boring, and despite all the activities listed, makes the speaker seem like a drone. Focus more on your passions, and who you are. Don’t present yourself as a bunch of stats, and don’t mention your SATs or GPA unless asked!

Good response: “I was born in Egypt, but grew up in Springfield, and am currently a senior at Springfield High. I spent every summer since I was two in Egypt. These experiences have made me obsessed with ancient history and archeology, and I hope to double major in anthropology and history in college. I loved my summers, but one consequence of them was I saw the depths of global poverty. During the year, I have spent a lot of time addressing poverty right here in Springfield, through volunteering at a soup kitchen and being Vice President of Students for Economic Justice. I have also gotten into Egyptian dance, and have performed with a belly dancing troupe at the Springfield theatre!”

This response gives insight into what makes the interviewee tick, and it gives specifics the interviewer can work with, without boringly reciting the resume. The interviewee seems self-assured and confident. They will probably wow their interviewer, as will you after you apply what you’ve learned here in the interview!

July 17, 2014

College Admissions: Financial Aid Award Letter

Financial Aid Award Letter Sample

Consider private student loans from Citizens Bank

July 16, 2014

College Application Supplemental Material | What to Include, What to Leave Out

Aside from all the required parts of the college application, there are the supplemental / optional parts. One of these is the option to include something extra that will give the admissions committee added insight into who you are, beyond the main parts of the application. Examples of extra material that you might include: poems, pictures, stories, tapes, and articles you've written — the sky really is the limit. But, how do you decide what, if anything, to include?

First of all, remember that less is more. I know that this can be frustrating — you are a complex person, and a few pieces of paper can hardly begin to sum you up. It might be tempting to add as many extras as possible, to try to show the admissions committee every facet of yourself. However, please, do not give in to this urge.

Admissions officers only have a limited amount of time to spend on each application, and if you add too much, they will be more annoyed than impressed. One Ivy League admissions officer I knew had a mantra, “the thicker the application, the thicker the applicant.” Don’t be that thick applicant—be selective about what you include.

What should you include in your college application, then? The best things are those that show off a creative talent or important aspect of your personality that can not be captured by the main parts of the application. Have you been playing piano since you were two, and your piano teacher thinks you are the next Beethoven? Include a CD of your best song. Are you a gifted photographer/painter/writer? Great! Include a photo/painting/poem/short story. Just don’t include your whole portfolio---choose one or two of the best!

What should you leave out? Articles detailing awards you won are unnecessary—you can list those in your application and on your resume. Also, if your talent is something you dabble in and not a real passion, it might be better not to bother. You can still list whatever it is on your resume. Be conservative about extra materials that you include. The last thing you want is for the admissions officer to wonder, “Why is this applicant wasting my time?”

Remember that including supplementary materials is exactly what it sounds like—optional. The application is designed to include al the information that the committee really needs to know. There is no harm in not including anything at all. Only include things that you consider to be really important and special. Do not include things just for the sake of it!.

Finally, if you decide to include something, make sure it represents your very best work. This is your one shot---put your best foot forward. Good luck!

July 10, 2014

10 Tips To Prepare For College Interviews

Many students tell me that the interview is the most nerve-racking part of the admissions process. No longer are you hidden behind a computer screen or manila envelope; it's just you and the interviewer. You don't even get to bring 3x5 note cards!

With proper preparation, you can ace the interview and leave an impression that can make the difference between a thin envelope and that glossy folder delivered by the FedEx truck. Here are 10 tips to reduce your anxiety and help you shine:

1. Practice, practice, practice.

You may have plenty of interview experience if you've applied for many summer jobs or internships, or this may be your first time in the interview chair. Either way, you will come across as more confident and articulate if you've practiced beforehand. Let a friend, sibling, or parent be your interviewer and grill you with their toughest questions. You'll thank them later.

2. Brainstorm possible questions you may be asked.

Of course there may be some unexpected questions, but much of what the interviewer asks you shouldn't be a surprise. Think up some possible questions and you'll be comfortable and prepared when they come up.

3. Think about ways to answer those questions.

Write your answers out as if they were like any other part of the application. Edit your answers, think them over, and rewrite.

4. Don't try to memorize the answers from #3.

You don't want to sound like a tape recording. It's okay to pause and think before answering a question, and you will sound more natural than if you're repeating back a speech you prepared and memorized.

5. Make sure you're familiar with the school.

In most cases, the interviewer will be a proud alumnus of the school who volunteers his time as a service to his alma mater. He wants to help the school by playing a role in selecting the best applicants, but he also wants to help you get in if you can convince him that the college he loves so much is the perfect fit for your aspirations. Learn as much as you can about the college and talk about how excited you are to experience particular things that make the school special.

6. Prepare questions to ask the interviewer.

You don't want to sit there silently when the interviewer asks if you have any questions for him. Prepare 2-3 things that you'd like to know, and make sure they're not straight-out facts listed on the front page of the college's website. Also, don't ask something that's not particularly important or relevant to your college experience (i.e. "How many books are in the college's library?"). The best questions to ask are ones that involve the interviewer's own experience at the college. Since he's a proud alumnus, he'll enjoy telling you what he loved most about his experience there. Turn things around and let him try to sell *you* on the school!

7. Practice that firm handshake.

It shows confidence, maturity, and professionalism.

8. Take a deep breath.

You've made it through the hardest parts of the application process already. Your GPA, test scores, teacher recommendations, and essays are all done. Along the way, you've been involved in extracurricular activities, maybe had some summer jobs or internships, and you've learned a lot about yourself and about the world along the way. All you have to do now is tell the interviewer things you already know and about which you've already written. If you can be relaxed, that's great, but also know that they're used to nervous students. If that's you, you won't be alone.

9. Just be yourself.

In most cases, the interviewer writes a few paragraphs to the admissions committee sharing his thoughts about you. He doesn't usually make any actual decision as to whether or not you'll be accepted. Don't worry about trying to prove anything or explaining deficits in your application. Instead, let the interviewer get to know you. Share experiences and accomplishments that you're really proud of. Talk about your future plans and goals. Let your excitement be contagious.

10. Smile.

Someone who knows your dream school very well is taking the time to speak with you and learn about your best qualities. They love meeting students and getting to know them. Enjoy the experience!

July 4, 2014

“Any Questions?”: The Final College Interview Question

The last question of every college interview is always the same: “Any questions?” If you are unprepared, this part can be scarier than the interview itself. However, if you’re prepared, this can be a chance to shine.

Interviewers can get as much information about you from this part as from the rest of the interview. If you ask good, thoughtful questions, you will seem smart, prepared, mature, and curious. On the flip side, if you look around nervously, stall, and say “ummmm….no, I think that covers it,” you could undo the gains made by an otherwise good interview.

The best approach is to think about, and write down, some questions before the actual interview. That way you’ll be prepared before they pop the inevitable question. Here are three types of questions you can ask. Feel free to mix it up, and ask one or two questions of each type.

Type 1: Research-Based

The first type of question asks for more information about the college’s offerings. This type of questions shows that you did your homework and care about the school, and that you are ambitious and motivated. If done right, it can also emphasize your interests and strengths.

In order to think of topics for these questions, look at the website and college catalogue for facts about the school. Find out the things the school prides itself on, whether it’s the broad liberal arts curriculum, the massive internship program, or the host of study abroad options. Think about which of these things are most relevant to your interests and goals, and then ask about it.

Now that you have the topic, it’s time to think of the actual question. Do not ask anything that is answered on the college website, or that the interviewer could answer with one word. The best question of this type shows you researched the school, highlights your personal attributes, and displays thought. The interviewer should need at least a few sentences to answer it. (Bonus: This takes up time and you don’t even have to say a thing!)

Here is an example:

“College A’s career development program is very attractive to me. As a future engineering major, I was wondering whether you knew of what types of internships other engineering students have held, and how this helped them academically and on their career path?”

This question shows you’ve done your homework, are ambitious, focused, and motivated.

Type 2: Personal Questions

It’s a fact of human nature that everyone loves talking about themselves. Since the interview is basically about getting your interviewer to like you, this is a good tactic.

No, I’m not saying you should ask them about their relationship with their wife or whether they’re self-conscious about that bald spot. However, asking about their personal experiences at the college makes you seem interesting and engaged, and allows them to open up to you.

This works best if it’s a student or alumni interviewer, but you can even use this tactic on an admissions officer.

For a student interviewer, you can say something like, “I’ve done a lot of research on College X and it sounds like a great fit, but I’m interested in hearing your perspective. What are some of your favorite and least favorite things about College X?”

For an alumni interviewer, you could say something like, “My dad always says it’s not students, but alumni, who can give you the most valuable information on a college. How did your experiences on campus shape your career and life experiences after graduation?”

For an admissions officer, it’s a little trickier. You can’t ask about their experiences as a student, but you can ask about their views on the college at which they work. For example: “Your viewpoint is especially valuable because you work at College X. How would you describe the campus culture and student and faculty community at the college?”

Type 3: “I Listened” Questions

These questions follow up on something the interviewer already talked about to show that you are engaged and a good listener. If they talked about sports, the mentoring program, the libraries, whatever, ask for more details. Just make sure to ask for more information on something they already talked about, not to ask a question that they already answered.

June 27, 2014

5 Reasons Not to be Discouraged by a Low SAT Score

Every time SAT scores are sent out, I hear from many of you. Many of you will do great (congrats in advance!), but others might not do so great (congrats on having a few more months of SAT fun!).

Enough doom and gloom, right? You want to hear the good news. Here are 5 reasons that a low SAT score on can actually be a good thing.

Reason #1: You have at least a few months to study for an SAT retake.
The SAT's given several times each year: October, November, December, January, March, May and June. You'll have plenty of time to prepare, especially since you're already familiar with the exam.

Reason #2: You can still be the early bird when you submit your college application.
You can study hard and take the SAT in June or in the fall. You'll still be able to submit your application on the day colleges begin accepting them. Applying early to college gives you a better shot because more seats are available.

Reason #3: You have more time to plan your applications and future.
Being forced to retake the SAT in June or in the fall means that you'll have at least another few months to master the exam. You can still work on your personal statement, get recommendation letters, and cultivate relationships with alumni who can help you.

Reason #4: An addendum might help.
If your PSAT score (or high school entrance exam score) wasn't an accurate indicator of your high school GPA, you can submit an addendum explaining that the SAT may not accurately reflect your potential in college either.

Reason #5: I'll be there with you every step of the way.
As you study for your retake, you'll have several months of Get Into College Blog posts to read, memorize, and share with your friends. All 100% free!