Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #2

Writing Your Essay for Common App Prompt #2This is the second installment in a series of posts I’m doing about the Common Application essay prompts. Now that summer is here, it’s a great time to work on your essay so that you can take your time, let your mind wander and put together something that truly compliments your applications.

Last week I talked about the first essay prompt, what it’s asking you to do and even gave you an example of a student who had written his essay for that prompt. If you missed the post, here it is:

Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #1

Today, I wanted to talk about the second prompt:

Prompt #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?

I like this topic because who hasn’t failed at something in their lives? Failures are the building blocks of character and colleges love applicants with character-building stories. It shows them that when life gets tough at college and you get knocked down – and you will – you’re more likely to get up and keep getting after it. You will work hard to overcome a bump in the road and that you will find success.

Just don’t dwell on the failure itself. In fact, you should briefly introduce the failure and then spend the bulk of your essay talking about how it affected you and what you learned from it.

One former student wrote about her struggles in a ceramics class. She had always excelled in anything artistic but, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get her clay to take shape on the wheel. After failing multiple times to produce a basic clay pot, she took matters into her own hands. She spent hours scouring YouTube watching videos on hand placement, controlling wheel speed and developing the patience it takes to craft such a delicate piece of art. She learned to think creatively in the face of adversity, to look at problems from different perspectives and that with some patience and resolve, that she could solve problems on her own.

Working on a ceramics wheel isn’t an Earth-shattering idea, but for this student it was a key life lesson that transcended into other areas of her life. If something like that hasn’t happened to you, it’s okay. There’s five essay prompts, so if you’re doubting whether or not you have failed at something that has subsequently helped you to grow, then consider going in another direction with your essay.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about the third Common Application essay prompt which asks you to write about a time when you challenged an idea or belief. Stay tuned…

If you would like some assistance with your college essay or any other aspects of your college search, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

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Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #1

Writing Your Essay For Common Application Prompt #1Last week I introduced you to the new Common App essay prompts. If you missed the post, here it is:

Introducing the 2015-2016 Common Application Essay Prompts

At the end of the post, I said I would share some tips on how to approach each of the prompts. Without further ado, let’s talk about the first one:

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.

This is what I call a “big-picture” prompt because it’s about you and your identity.  Because of that, it’s also a prompt which you can completely whiff on if you don’t pay attention to the keywords. First, whatever story you are going to share, you have to make certain it is truly CENTRAL to your identity. This means the story needs to be something big, something that has shaped you as a person, something that sits at the very core of who you are.

The second part of this prompt asks you to demonstrate how your application would be incomplete without the reader knowing this story. This means that, without telling this story, colleges aren’t going to understand the full picture of who you are and why they should admit you.

So, write down the prompt and then start making notes on everything that makes you who you are. What are your VIPS and how did they come to be that way? Has anything happened in your life – again, big-picture ideas here – that admission counselors should take into consideration? Remember, you’re trying to let them in on something about you that will help them say “Yes!” to your application.

A former student of mine wrote a fantastic essay for this prompt. During the winter of his freshman year in high school, he had suffered a rather severe concussion which resulted in intense headaches, short term memory loss, an inability to focus and a complete loss of direction. At times, to get away from it all, he would go on nature walks with his camera trying to capture unique shots of the trees, railroad tracks – anything that caught his eye. For the first time in over a year, he had found something in his life that was both calming and inspirational. He started manipulating the images, turning them into pieces of art and a budding interest in graphic design had been born.

So while majoring in graphic design is no more unique than majoring in English, nursing or accounting, how my student arrived at this place in his life is unique. It’s personal, it’s meaningful and it is absolutely central to his identity. Without knowing his story, you have no idea just how much his design work means to him. As he often told me, finding design changed his life.

Now, not everyone is going to be able to come up with such a story, and that’s okay. There’s five essay prompts so if you’re doubting whether or not you have something that is so revealing, then consider going in another direction with your essay.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about the second Common Application essay prompt which asks you to write about a failure. Stay tuned…

If you would like some assistance with your college essay or any other aspects of your college search, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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How to Write the “Why Us” Essay

college admissions consultant, Dobler College ConsultingYour essay is a big part of your application but the “Why Us” supplemental essays can be even more important especially at the most selective colleges who receive many more applicants than they are capable of admitting. The more you can show a school that you understand who they are and why they are a good fit for you, the more likely your supplemental essay will help you.

1. Do your research. Spend time on the school’s website and look for what they are putting in neon lights. How do your experiences or interests connect to these messages?

2. Utilize social media. Don’t just rely on the school’s website and what other students are saying on popular websites like College Prowler or College Confidential. Instead, check out the school’s social media accounts – Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, among others. Often, you can stumble upon interesting tidbits of information if not gain an entirely more informed opinion of the school’s culture or personality.

3. Make it Personal.Mention something you saw while on a tour or something you heard about the college from a friend or family member who went there. You could even quote a tour guide or a college rep. The key is to focus on a specific detail and why it matters to you.

4. Be specific. Look for specific examples of how what the college offers lines up with what you want out of your college experience. Internships, interesting courses, amazing professors in your major, unique learning opportunities, exciting activities and sports, a new facility in your program – If any of it matters to you, talk about it.

5. Know why. If you truly, madly, deeply love a college you shouldn’t have a problem coming up with a couple reasons beyond the school’s general reputation as to why you would go there. If you can’t easily come up with reasons, this is your chance to do go back to step one and do some research to learn more about them.

6. Open with a bang.These supplemental essays are usually quite short, anywhere from 100-400 words. Make your words count by getting to the point in your very first sentence and grabbing the reader’s attention with your most interesting point or idea. Be descriptive and be specific!

7. Recycle carefully. Chances are you’re going to be writing more than one supplemental essay. If you find that you want to re-use one essay for multiple schools, make sure you proof carefully so that your writing is specific enough to each school. Think of the first essay as a template which you can revise.

If you would like some assistance with your essays, we can talk by phone, email or Skype. Whether it’s a main essay or a supplemental one, I can review it, offer feedback and help you get it to where you’d like it to be.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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Finding The Right Fit

College consultant, Dobler College Consulting

This fall, I’m doing something different with my blog to spice it up a bit. I’ve invited several admission counselors from around the country to contribute posts about topics they feel high school students and their families should be paying more attention to as they go through the college search and application process. As much as I like to share tips and advice, why not get it straight from the horse’s mouth? 

Today’s post is the second in this series and it’s by Grant De Roo, Associate Director of Admissions from Elon University in Elon, North Carolina: 

As much as it pains me to make this comparison, the college search and application process can, at times, feel like speed-dating. You spend a relatively small amount of time with each prospect (college/university) in the hopes of getting to know a school’s “personality” and ultimately find a match (the “right fit”). It’s an embarrassing parallel, I know, but it highlights an important concept in the college search process: each college or university does indeed have its own personality, its own quirks and traits, the collection of which gives you a better idea of whether or not this particular institution is a good fit for you.

As such, it’s important to construct an application for a particular college or university that reflects that personality and suggests that you would be a good fit for the school. Fortunately, the application for any college or university provides ample opportunity for an applicant to do so. Certain extracurricular commitments are going to be better suited to certain schools’ personalities than others. Schools with a specific emphasis on community service (e.g. Jesuit schools) might look more closely at service completed throughout high school while other schools that place particular value on leadership roles such as my own institution, Elon University, might pay more attention to the leadership roles that you have taken on within your organizations. All this is to say that in much the same way that a resume and cover letter can (and should) be tailored to meet the needs of a particular job, so too should an application be designed to reflect the values or distinguishing characteristics of a college. And there is perhaps no better platform for you to tailor your application for a college’s personality than the essay you write for the application.

Even in the age of centralized application systems such as the Common App and the Universal College App, a school’s essays (or supplemental essays) provide applicants with the opportunity to show through their own words why they would be a good fit at a given college or university. It’s important because every college wants to enroll students who will fit well within the culture of the institution. And establishing “good fit” does not mean conforming to the personality of the institution – rather, it means that you genuinely feel like you belong there. When that happens, you’re more likely to be successful; something each college wants to ensure.

So as you set out to submit your applications – whether it’s 1 or 12 – I encourage you to design your application and your essay to reflect the individuality and the personality of the school(s) to which you’re applying. It will help you create a more competitive application and will give you a better chance of finding that golden ideal in the college search process: the right fit.

Grant De Roo is an Associate Director of Admissions at Elon University. A native of Exeter, New Hampshire, he now works for his alma mater and works with students applying to Elon from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

If you want some help and guidance on your college search and application process, contact me today to set up an appointment for a free 60-minute consultation. Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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How To Make Your College Essay Matter

College essays southington ct college consultantNow that summer is here, I have all of my students working on their essays. We start now so that they don’t have to try to work through what is one of the more difficult writing assignments during the beginning of their senior year. In fact, if done right, they should all be done with their essays by mid-August.

Of course, it’s rarely easy to do it right and it does require some time and thought.

If you’re struggling with how to get your essay started, here’s a few things to consider:

1. Your essay is a personal statement, not an academic paper.

Don’t try to impress the reader with an over-the-top vocabulary. Savvy admission counselors who read hundreds of essays each year know what teenagers’ voices sound like. Yes, it’s okay to spruce up your language a bit, but don’t go into a PhD dissertation-worthy dialogue. It will come across as phony and that’s the last thing you want.

2. A strong essay will show how you connected to something and what you learned from it.

And sometimes these moments can be rather ordinary. One of the best essays I read last year was about scooping ice-cream and dealing with a temperamental soft-serve ice-cream machine and how it taught this student about working hard, discovering new ways to do things differently and the value of teamwork. The student was accepted early-decision to Brown and her essay was deemed to be rather heavenly.

3. Seek help.

If you’re stuck and just can’t come up with any ideas that get you excited, ask your friends or parents how they would describe you to someone. What adjectives would they use? What would they say about you? How would they characterize you and your best attributes or traits? Sometimes other people see things in us that we don’t see ourselves and it is these ideas that can open up your perspective on what to write about.

4. Don’t be afraid of talking about a failure.

Sometimes, we learn the greatest life lessons after having failed at something. Remember, it’s about how you learned from the failure, not the failure itself (see #2 again if this point does not sink in) that matters.

Ultimately, you want your essay to compliment the rest of your application and show that you are more than just a combination of grades and test scores. You want an admission counselor to learn something about you that they haven’t learned elsewhere when reviewing your transcript, test scores and activities. You want them to put down your essay and say, “I really like this kid. There’s a lot here and he or she would be an awesome addition to our college.”

So put in the time and effort to make sure that happens.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.


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