Tag Archives: Common Application

For teens who want to write a better college application

Take five, relax, let yourself think about who you want to be.....

Take five, relax, let yourself think about who you want to be…..

 

Before you read further, you need to know this.

I am not a college advisor, consultant, or guru.

But I am a mother of two who gave her kids and their friends some advice in how to best present themselves on a college application.

My experience as a career consultant, evaluating and helping others write thousands of resumes helped prepare me for the task.

Whether due to my editorial help or not, thankfully, my kids got into the colleges of their choice.

I can relate to the intense pressure right about now that teens face in finalizing applications and putting the finishing touches on that all-important college essay.

With the upcoming flurry of activity surrounding Thanksgiving, I’m sure most teens will not be really, truly thankful until the last application has been sent off to the seeming abyss of the college admissions office.

Although much of the focus might be on the college essay, you might want to pay equal attention to how your application (or resume) reflects the story of who you are and what you’ve accomplished.

Yes, you need to squeeze meaning out of every word so your essay (in addition to meeting the new 500 word upper limit for the Common Application) must be attention-grabbing. However, you can be equally thoughtful and creative with factual information.

Many teens overlook how they appear on the application or college resume.  Consider these points before you tackle the job:

  1. Know who you are. This is the most crucial thing you could do right now. Some call this ‘branding’, and although I may not love the term, thinking of yourself in the third person, as a brand so to speak, will help you define more carefully what you want to present. What are your interests, hobbies, skills? Are they reflected accurately in your activities? Could someone figure out what’s important to you by seeing the totality of your activities? If not, you may either have too many activities listed or too few. No one says that you have to write about every single thing you’ve ever done. If need be, edit out those things that don’t add meaning to your presentation. Being a marginal member of a group for a few years won’t add to the portrait you’re trying to paint.
  2. Learn how to write a resume. The experience will help focus you and help you limit your words. Make sure you use action words and show results where possible. For example: “created unique fundraiser that engaged over 70% of students, raising $5,000 as the most successful event that year.” is way better than “planned or chaired school fundraiser.”
  3. What experience can you share that will set you apart from the crowd?  Try to not to list things that are general, but instead show off your specific contributions. For example, “contributed to a monthly blog for the school paper that received regular reader comments….” instead of “wrote for the school paper” or “was a reporter for the school paper”. Similarly, if you list commonplace activities that all of your peers are also listing, well, it’s just ho-hum. Think hard about what you do that others are not doing. For example, taking additional academic courses shows that you’ll be able to handle a challenging course load in college.
  4. Show a commitment over a long-term to some activity, cause, youth group, camp, or educational experience, that perhaps led you to take on a leadership position. If you can articulate that, even better. For example: “participant in youth group for three years, taking on successive leadership positions and am now Vice President of Membership.”
  5. Make sure your language is colorful, descriptive, and not boring. Hopefully your personality will shine through and you’ll get to the college of your dreams!

Please comment if you have additional ideas to add, everyone will benefit!

 


The 500 word college essay

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My blog posts rarely ever make the ideal 250 word count mark.

I read somewhere that the perfect blog contains just that amount for readability and the average attention span. 

I try, really I do, but my posts seem to hover around 320 words no matter how I shave and trim.  When editing, I habitually wince before checking out the word count total at the end of the page.  I slowly drag the scroller thing and catch a glimpse at just how off the mark I am.  Oops, failed again.

 So, I can relate to all those teens trying to squeeze meaning out of every word so their essay meets the new 500 word upper limit for the Common Application, as reported in the NY Times .  

What would you write about in under 500 words that would get you into college? Really, think about it.

What experience would you share that would set you apart from the crowd?  What would you say that would deliver just the right amount of punch and pizzazz? They have a daunting assignment.

We held a program for our students on how to navigate through the college application process.  The college consultant recommended that they not write about the obvious: trips to exotic locations, family drama, emotional trips to Israel, or Jewish camping stories.  That gives you a clue as to how competitive topic choices have gotten.

My undergraduate college essays were not that inspired. I think I wrote about why I wanted to attend that school. What I really did was to purposefully pore over enough promotional material so I could figure out how to tell them what they just told me, only more convincingly.

That seems quite lame when I compare it to the essays students have shared with me. Most have amazing and life changing stories to tell.

So, what would you write about?

Me? I’m glad I’m just posting and not putting my future on the line every time I hit ‘publish’.