Activities, Activities and More Activities: The Best “10” for Common App & How to Effectively Express Them

When I work with students on filling out the “Activities” section on Common App (and on Coalition – which asks for eight activities rather than ten), many times I am met with a range of concerns and uncertainty as to what should be included, what shouldn’t, and how to effectively describe each activity. Based upon my years of experience in commenting upon, editing, and actually meeting with college-bound students to generate the best list possible that highlights their strengths, talents, participation, and commitment, I have come up with some helpful advice to make the process more efficient and successful.

1.First of all, an undergraduate personal statement is not the place for a resume or an activity-list style composition. It is a place to express a personal narrative that reflects growth, self-awareness, and perspective based upon a meaningful life event/experience.

2. Therefore, the “Activities” section is where students have the chance to highlight all of their academic, extracurricular, sports, and career-driven achievements.

3. Students should approach the “Activities” section with some thoughtful preparation beforehand. It can be daunting to go directly onto Common App, add “10 activities” which asks for title, position, organization (if known) followed by a description that asks for 150 characters (which is about 25 words) followed by questions pertaining to grade level participation and activity frequency. Therefore, students should create an Excel spreadsheet or spreadsheet on Google docs to gather their thoughts.

4. The spreadsheet should include columns that list the following information:

  • Activity type (academic, sports, community service, research, etc.)
  • Activity title (including position held/organization)
  • Activity description (a brief description that states responsibilities, leadership roles, what is/was accomplished, prizes won, etc.)
  • Participation grade level (9-12)
  • Hours spent per week (one whole hour – no explanations are allowed)
  • Weeks spent per year (same as above)
  • Possible college participation in the activity or one that is similar (a simple yes or no answer is needed)

5. SO, what types of activities are important? Those relating to research, leadership roles, academic competitions, career-related pursuits, internships, work related experiences, science/math achievements, performing arts, sports (especially at the JV/Varsity levels), participation in school clubs, and community service. IF a student feels that they can’t reach “10” of the above activities, then they can think about travel, family responsibilities, independent studies, hobbies/interests, and school spirit.

6. Once the spreadsheet is established, students can fill out their activities (preferably from most impressive to least impressive) – even if they come up with twenty ideas, it’s fine! Process of elimination can then follow. When it’s time to then input the information into Common App, they are more relieved and less overwhelmed when having their spreadsheet alongside of them.

7. The “Activities” section description (150 characters max) should preferably be written in third person singular (like a resume) and in the appropriate tense depending on if the activity has concluded or if it is ongoing.

8. Once all the information is entered, students should go into “preview mode” on Common App and copy and paste all the information into a Microsoft Word document for a spelling/grammar check. They should also read their activities and descriptions out loud to pick up on any strange phrasing—proofreading always matters! If anything needs to be adjusted, they should do so first in the word doc and then update the corrections on Common App.

9. Afterwards, students can use the “up and down” arrows to adjust their activities in the order of importance (the 1st being the most impressive to the 10th as being the least impressive on the list—even though indeed it is probably still important).

By: Marisa De Marco-Costanzo

Five Common Misconceptions About Writing the Personal Statement (as believed through the eyes of rising seniors)

Of course it’s normal and natural to want to put your best foot forward when making a positive first impression—especially when it comes to crafting a personal statement that college admissions officers will read in order to learn something about your life.

When I coach students through the personal statement development process, I have come to realize that time and time again, their thoughts on how to present themselves don’t really match up with the reality of how they should tell a personal narrative that is thought provoking, memorable, reflective, and creative.

5 Misconceptions + Advice

1. The personal statement should be a resume or an activity sheet

Advice: The Common App gives students the opportunity to list their 10 most important/impressive activities for colleges to review. Furthermore, there are many schools that provide supplemental essay prompts regarding extracurricular achievement or may even request a formal resume. However, the personal statement is NOT a resume or an activity sheet – a specific event or an accomplishment can be recounted based upon a guiding prompt but the accomplishment itself is not the heart of the essay, rather the steps and process it took to arrive at the outcome which demonstrate reflection, problem solving, and facing challenges.

2. The personal statement should reveal EVERYTHING about “me”

Advice: A gut reaction held by many students is to try and fit 20+ personal attributes and characteristics into their personal statement so they can demonstrate all of their positive qualities to the admissions officers in order to “win them over”. Instead of listing them without context, students should try to focus on a couple of strong attributes that they possess and weave them through their story by “showing” how they are out-of-the-box thinkers or why they are sympathetic to the needs of others rather than overtly stating it.

3. The personal statement isn’t a place to reveal failure

Advice: Contrary to popular belief, many of the Common App prompts encourage students to reflect on a time of personal growth, challenges and failures that they have faced, and mistakes that they have made. Throughout the course of the narrative, admissions officers are looking for a student’s vulnerable side and how they navigated a difficult situation regardless of the outcome – what is important here is what the student has learned from the experience and how it has helped them grow as a person.

4. The personal statement must take on a serious tone

Advice: Although writing conventions should be respected to show a strong command of written expression and knowledge of English grammar and punctuation in a flawless manner, students are usually concerned about revealing their sense of humor or creativity in fear that may come off as being too casual or too “out there”. In essence, the personal statement can be beautifully translated into a piece of creative writing that shows wit and even one’s quirky side by taking the reader on twists and turns as the plot develops.

5. The personal statement should reveal study and career aspirations

Advice: If the student’s narrative is based around a research query, internship experience, or an academic event that marks an important learning experience or a pivotal moment in which they have found their “calling”, then discussing study and career aspirations is fine. Yet of course told in the context of a story that shows how they were inspired or “guided” in the direction that they desire and relate it back to life experiences that have shaped them to take this path. However, essays that are written as a statement of purpose (like those postgraduate degree candidates would write) would not be appropriate here.

By Marisa De Marco-Costanzo

Why You Need to Brainstorm at the Beach

Coauthored by Jason Vallozzi, Founder, Campus to Career Crossroads & Marisa De Marco-Costanzo, Executive Director and Co-Founder, Ivy & Quill. This blog has been re-posted from Jason Vallozzi’s blog: https://campustocareercrossroads.com/why-you-need-to-brainstorm-at-the-beach/ For further information regarding comprehensive college consulting services, please contact Jason Vallozzi directly at Campus to Career Crossroads.

As the summer beach season is in full swing, many rising seniors struggle with why they need to brainstorm at the beach about their personal statement for their college application.  Some rising seniors may even have supplemental essays to write for college admissions or honors colleges.  As the college admissions process is more competitive than ever for all students, a one draft script is not sufficient. 

The personal statement is the heart and soul of the college application.  One critical aspect of an effective personal statement is thoughtful and reflective brainstorming. It allows a student to bring forward his/her story in a unique and distinct manner.  It is so amazing to read a developed student personal statement that is not over-edited or parent influenced, allowing the student’s voice to resonate. 

Marisa De Marco-Costanzo, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Ivy & Quill Admission Essay Consulting and Editing Services, has assisted thousands of students domestically and internationally to have their best voice come forward in their personal statement and additional required essays.  I have asked her to share some helpful advice on how rising seniors can start the brainstorming process. These are her suggestions:

“When students are faced with the daunting yet exciting task of developing their personal statements, they honestly don’t know where to begin and tend to put it off since it may be intimidating to start an essay—especially one about their lives. Time and time again, students have expressed to me that they feel a great sense of pressure to tell a poignant and memorable story to college admissions officers yet they have no idea where to begin and they don’t really know what to say.

In order to put them at ease, I always start off our initial brainstorming and background information meeting by letting them know that the process of developing their personal statement can be broken down into steps, which leads to the final draft. Instead of thinking about the “big picture”, it’s better to approach it in smaller parts that organically come together. In this way, students can put their energies into becoming reflective, deep thinkers and storytellers rather than being too overwhelmed, which impedes their creative thinking processes and memory recall.

If a student doesn’t have the possibility to work with an independent consultant, they can go through the brainstorming process on their own and can partake in a “stream of thought” journaling activity that becomes enjoyable and most importantly, informative. One can either write their ideas down on a piece of paper or type them up on the computer so later on, they can refer back to their thoughts.

A student can start out by reflecting upon some guiding questions that they can respond to in order to start the brainstorming process. These questions include:

  1. What are my academic areas of interests and why am I drawn to these areas?
  2. What has been a major academic challenge for me and what steps have I taken to make improvements?
  3. What do I intend to study at college and why do I want to pursue this area? Why is this area important to me?
  4. What is my most enjoyable and/or important extracurricular activity and why have I committed to it? How has this activity positively impacted me and shaped my character?
  5. What is one of the most memorable experiences that I have ever experienced? Why is this experience important to me? How has it impacted me?
  6. What is something that I would never change about my life and why?
  7. How has my family upbringing impacted my life choices and who I am as a person as a result?
  8. What is the most meaningful and important thing about my life?
  9. What has been a major obstacle that I have had to face and how did I overcome it or what steps I am taking at present to overcome it?
  10. Was there ever I time where I felt excluded from a group? If so, how did it make me feel and what did I do to navigate the situation?

Once the student gets their ideas down, they will go back and read through them in order to “pull out” some possible topic ideas for their personal statement. Yet ultimately, they will settle on a topic that can best be adapted to match one of the Common App prompts and that can be translated into a personal narrative essay that shows creativity and dynamic storytelling.”

Writing is a classical communication skill that stands the test of time.  So instead of looking at your upcoming personal statement as another “college to-do item,” take the time to consider it as an opportunity to enhance your writing abilities.  Perhaps, sharpening your writing skills may even launch you back to the beach in a professional position that affords you a generous salary and paid vacation days.

About the guest coauthor, Jason Vallozzi, Founder, Campus to Career Crossroads:

The mission at Campus to Career Crossroads is to develop a supportive and individualized partnership with students and their families in order to help them successfully navigate the transitional and complex stages from high school to career.  Jason possesses over fourteen years of experience in post-secondary admissions and over four years of high-level talent acquisition in the retained executive search world which brings valuable insights to his clients.

Jason is an active member of numerous professional associations such as the Independent Educational Consultants Association, National Association for College Admission Counseling, and Pennsylvania Association for College Admissions Counseling. He is the Regional Leader for the Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan chapter in the Independent Educational Consultant Association.  Jason is also involved in continuing professional development courses through the UCLA Extension College Counseling program. He is a magnum cum laude graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications. 

For inquiries about one on one college to career planning services, please visit www.campustocareercrossroads.com

Where Thoughts Meet Words: Guiding Questions & Statements to Make the Brainstorming Part of the Personal Statement (Much) Easier

One of the most challenging things about writing is sitting down to a “new” word document or to a piece of lined paper. If the piece of paper or doc were to have eyes, chances are it would stare blankly at you, waiting for you to make the first move. It may even snicker at your inability to come up with an idea. Thankfully though, this horrifying scene is 0% true since a piece of paper or a word doc is simply a surface that allows us to transform our thoughts in a concrete matter when recording them into written words.

Although the process of starting something from scratch can be exciting, it could also be quite overwhelming. Luckily, writing is an expressive and creative medium that allows for one to engage in a process of stream of thought (the process of writing down the first thing or things that come to mind) or brainstorming (literally partaking in the process of thinking in order to come up with ideas and solutions) in a way that feels safe. This sense of safety is because you, the writer, have the freedom to think about and write down what you would like to without fear of being judged.

Insider tip: the first step in any good writing practice is to brainstorm—whether it be to address a research question, write a personal narrative, or to develop an expository essay…just to name a few.

When faced with the task of starting on the personal statement, one may be too caught up with self-doubt as to if their story is worth telling or not. For this reason, by jotting down, recalling, or reflecting upon various life events and experiences that are important and/or memorable to you is the perfect place to begin. By engaging in this type of activity, you give form to your thoughts that can lead way to a really great personal narrative in which can later be transformed into your final personal statement!

Here are some key questions/guiding statements that you can use to help you when faced with the initial step of getting some ideas down on paper – feel free to write short hand notes or an extensive paragraph; remember that this process is about you and you only. Therefore, enjoy it, you may really surprise yourself!

  1. What is my favorite academic subject and why? What was one of the key memories that sparked my interest in this subject area?
  2. What has been my greatest success to date? What were the steps I took to achieve success? How did I feel within the moment in which I accomplished what I set out to do?
  3. What has been my greatest challenge so far and how did I overcome it or what steps I am taking to overcome it?
  4. What is one of my most unique and special talents? How did I discover that I have this talent?
  5. The extracurricular activity that I pursue with passion is….I do this because….
  6. What are my best three character traits and why?
  7. How would I describe my family life? How has my family life shaped who I am as a person?
  8. How has my background/religion/culture/country of origin shaped who I am as a person?
  9. The three things (can be: people/places/things/animals) in my life that are most impacting to me are….because….
  10. One of the biggest life lessons that I have learned thus far has been…I learned this lesson by…it has made me more….

By: Marisa De Marco-Costanzo

10 Tips to Prepare for the College Interview (5 Dos and 5 Don’ts)

You have applied to 15-20 schools and finally you can let out a sigh with relief, right? Well, yes and no. The first part of the college application process is now behind you. So now, phase two begins—otherwise known as the anticipation phase. My father has always told me that anticipation is a (metaphorical) killer and in my own life, I have seen this to be true as I am sure you have too. Therefore instead of waiting around to be called for a college interview or for acceptance letters to start rolling in, you can actually take this time to be proactive in preparing yourself for the real possibility that you have a formal interview with an admissions officer at your top choice school. With that said, let’s take that nervous energy and transform it into something good and productive…

5 Dos

  1. Do your school specific research – if you think that you have a chance at being called for an interview, go online and do some research about the school’s mission/philosophy/motto, specific major of study that you have applied for along with learning about research possibilities or campus life activities that nicely compliment your areas of interest. You may discover that there is a professor that you would love the chance to study under.
  2. Do some research about commonly asked questions and school specific questions – simply do a quick Google search (i.e. “common college interview questions”) and you’ll find great resources such as Top Interview Tips published on The Princeton Review that gives sample questions from a discussion of your successes and failures to your favorite subject. Keep a document on your computer or even make a note on your phone of key questions and type up some possible responses to them in your own words. In this way, you can give a concrete form to your thoughts and responses. 
  3. Do your part in being well prepared to speak about yourself – other than doing some research, focus your attention inward. Think about your positive qualities, in what ways you can be a solid asset both in the classroom and on campus, what is something special or unique about you that your admissions officer should know, and how you are self-aware about your strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Do some practice rounds of mock interviews – perhaps you and your friend (who is also waiting to be called for an interview) can help each other out by switching roles of admissions officer and interviewee. In this way, you can both become more comfortable with carefully listening to the questions asked while having to collect your thoughts when responding. Parents, family members, and even a teacher at school can perhaps help you out, too. If you even want to go a step further, a trusted educational consultant (like ourselves!) is here to help make this process as authentic as possible while giving you excellent and individualized strategies to ace your interview.
  5. Do some meditation or breathing exercises – although you may be thinking that this advice is absurd, it can actually be applied to all aspects of your life. By learning how to calm your nerves, this will allow to stay clear and focused on the day of your interview (also during your move into your dorm room, on your first day of class, the first few times you engage in new social events, when you have to give a major presentation, and when taking exams to name a few…three long breaths work magic).

5 Don’ts

  1. Don’t be afraid – although the idea of being interviewed by an admissions officer at the school of your choice seems incredibly terrifying – think of this as an opportunity to share what you have to offer your prospective college/university! If you go into the interview with this perspective, you will feel more in control of the journey.
  2. Don’t be late – if you are to meet in person, be sure to show up to the specified location 15-20 minutes ahead of time. In this way, you will give yourself time to check in and settle down. You will also make a punctual impression. If you are going to meet online, make sure that your computer is fully charged and you are logged into the platform (i.e. Skype) 15 minutes ahead of time checking that your audio and camera work just fine.
  3. Don’t be too casual – can you recall one of the first expressions learned in grade school, “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, this is one of those times in life where you actually will be judged on initial first impressions. Therefore, dress the part – CollegeVine offers a great guide for appropriate attire for young men and young women. Stand up tall and upon meeting your interviewer, politely introduce yourself and shake hands. Manners go a long way so don’t forget to say nice to meet you, please, and thank you.
  4. Don’t loose your focus – during the interview (especially at the start) your nerves may get the best of you to the point where you are too much in your own head being afraid of being judged by your interviewer. This is not the time to let your insecurities take hold of you, rather think of this experience an opportunity to reveal the best version of yourself by staying present and in the moment.
  5. Don’t forget to thank your interviewer – although this may seem obvious, sometimes the smallest gestures get forgotten in the moment. Therefore, make it a point to thank your interviewer for their time in meeting with you and you can also thank them for their consideration of your application.

By: Marisa De Marco-Costanzo

College Admission: Acing the Interview

Read through our comprehensive guides that provide great tips, strategies, and advice about how to ace the college interview. For any inquires, please contact us and feel free to comment!

Call to All Juniors: Get a Jump Start on the Personal Statement

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.”

School is almost out and the idea of taking in some sun, traveling, hanging out with friends, reading a great book, going to concerts, seeing an awesome summer flick at the movie theater, or even earning some money by doing a summer job or taking on an internship are all valid thoughts that should rightfully be on the forefront of your mind. Yet for better or for worse, there is something else to add to this list…and that is plan for the personal statement.

For those of you who don’t know what the personal statement is or you have kind of heard about it but don’t really fully grasp why it is important, this essay is considered to be your true moment to shine when applying to college. Of course schools will highly consider your grades, SAT/ACT scores, honors and achievements, and extracurricular participation. In theory, admissions officers will see you in terms of stats rather than as the individual that you truly are. Yet, once they read your personal statement, they start to get a sense of how you live your life, perceive the world, and how you have been shaped into the person you are. (Helpful reference: a personal statement is a personal narrative essay that is about 650 words which tells your unique story that nicely matches up with one of the given Common App or Coalition App prompts.)

The personal statement essay (along with the supplemental essays required by some schools) may seem challenging at first and quite frankly, it could come off as being intimidating. Yet once you digest the fact that this essay is about YOU, you should start to feel more confident since you actually know yourself/your story best. At this point, this is when you can start to do some “soul searching” and inner reflection through the form of brainstorming. Once you start to reflect on various life events and experiences that could be worth telling, you can then go into developing an outline that could help you organize your thoughts written down on paper (or of course typed out).

From there, you can flow into the drafting process once you have settled upon your idea. After you have roughly written down your story, you will go back to clarify the essay’s content. This self-revision process will take multiple rounds of review and making changes. Once you feel good about how your essay has developed, it is a wise idea to ask a trusted friend and/or family member to look over your personal statement so that they can give you feedback. Or even better, you can always reach out to a professional admission essay consultant, who is truly a valuable resource (we’re here to help you, just reach out and ask how to learn more).

Once the content and structure of the essay are set, you have arrived at the final step, which is the editing and proofreading process. This entails carefully evaluating language/word choices, the stylistic tone, ensuring that you have spelled all words correctly, and that you have used English grammar and punctuation correctly.

As expressed above, the process of developing an outstanding personal statement takes time. Therefore, give yourself the summer before senior year to go through these steps without feeling the immense pressure that the start of school brings.

By: Marisa De Marco-Costanzo

The Key to Unlocking the Personal Statement: Understanding How to Write A Personal Narrative

When applicants learn that they must write a personal statement as part of their college application, one of the first (and natural) thoughts that comes to mind is, “Am I all that interesting to talk about in 650 words?” Although it may come as a surprise, the response to this inner reflection is “YES!” This is because in the course of one’s life, countless things and events happen from the mundane to the most grandiose experiences. Therefore, personal narrative essay writing lends itself beautifully to storytelling through written expression.

In the simplest of terms, a personal narrative essay is a story that has a beginning, middle, and end that flows both logically and chronologically so that the reader can follow it with ease. There is also a key statement (also known as a thesis statement) that demonstrates to the reader why the story is worth reading and why it is important to you (the writer). You, the writer, must convey how the story you are telling has impacted you in some way, which has led to a shift in perspective on how you now see the world through a new set of eyes. Think of it as a “cause and effect” relationship. What is so great about this type of essay is that it allows you to reveal something unique, personal, or special about yourself while at the same time, giving you the chance to form a connection with your reader.

Some writing constructs that help writers to develop successful personal narratives are to include an introduction with a strong “hook” and clear thesis statement, body paragraphs (three are perfect), and a conclusion that ends with a powerful “clincher”. Within the course of the essay, descriptions, setting, plot, climax, and key players (characters) should be addressed. This type of essay is truly one of the most creative and freeing for a writer to develop…therefore, have fun when telling your story!

By: Marisa De Marco-Costanzo

Acing the College Interview

What is the purpose of the admissions interview? The interview gives the college you’re applying to another opportunity to get to know you better, and should hence be embraced rather than feared. The interviewer will likely ask you questions about your academic and personal interests, your intended major, and how you can contribute to the school. Here, you also have the chance to ask about the school and/or the local community to further show that you have done your research. After your interview, the interviewer will write notes on your conversation, providing the school with another means of evaluating you.

What are the forms of the interview? Not all colleges offer interviews to prospective applicants, and those who do can either offer the interviews on-campus, near where you live, or online through Skype or Google Hangout. As the college applicant pool is increasingly globalized, online interviews are becoming more common. Interviews are usually 15-25 minutes long, though they may be shorter or longer.

Does the interview help international students, or does it lower their admission chances? Whether an international or American applicant, whether or not the interview increases or decreases your chances of admission fully depends on how you perform. It is thus important to fully know yourself and your interests so that you feel confident speaking about them. It is also important to possess basic conversational skills (remembering that a conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue; being polite and poised; speaking fluidly; sounding enthusiastic rather than indifferent or listless).

If the school offers the option for an interview, you should definitely take it because it shows that you are truly interested in attending. If your non-native English skills are making you hesitate in signing up for the interview, immediately vanquish such thoughts! Don’t worry about making small grammatical mistakes or that your pronunciation isn’t up to par—the interviewer wants to evaluate you as a person, not as an English speaker! Interviewers and admissions officers alike are well aware that once you spend a few months studying and living in America, your English will skyrocket anyway.

Sample Interview Questions (and what they’re really asking)

Tell me about yourself.

This deceptively simple command speaks volumes about its respondent. How do you define yourself? Do you define yourself by your ethnicity, your (religious) beliefs, your personal characteristics, your interests, your strengths, your goals, or your dreams? Your response will probably incorporate many of these elements. How you choose to convey yourself to others indirectly shows your priorities or character traits that you value the most. Don’t use hackneyed adjectives such as “persistent” or “empathetic” or a “global citizen.” In fact, don’t even describe yourself with adjectives-ever! Your actions should speak for themselves.

Why do you want to apply XX University?

Schools want to know that yes, you have done your research and that you aren’t simply applying for the school’s location, reputation, or prestige. Is the major or academic program unique from how it’s typically offered at other colleges? Is there a specific course or curricula requirement you’re itching to take? Does the department boast prominent researchers, some of whose work interests you enough to consider joining their team? Check out the website for your major’s department to get clues. Are there any special academic opportunities such as academic fraternities or dual Bachelor-Master’s programs? Also browse the college’s clubs listing and see if anything interests you. Is there an intramural sport you would like to join? Or an international club? Do any of the school’s mottos, values, or traditions speak to you? By mentioning specific aspects of the university, you show that you have put ample thought into where to spend your prime youth years.

What do you like to do for fun?

Rather than repeating interests already evident in your essays or activity’s sheet, what else do you enjoy? Are you a bookworm? An avid gardener? A promising baker who likes to create meticulous desserts? A hardcore gamer? No matter what you choose, be sure to mention what you enjoy about each activity. And as always, be specific. Don’t tell me you like to read. Tell me you’re obsessed with 19th century Russian literature. Don’t tell me you like to watch movies on the couch with your sister. Tell me your favorite moments are watching chick flicks with her while bingeing on ice cream—and then list some movies you guys adore and/or some of your favorite ice cream toppings! If you are so passionate about an interest already mentioned in the rest of your application package, you can mention it again but simply gloss over it and expand on something else. Remember, in your overall application package you want to showcase different facets of yourself to prove that you’re a multidimensional human rather than a one-trick pony.

Why do you want to major in XX?

I’m sure that you’ve already spent significant time already thinking about your intended major. Now’s the time to share what spurs your interest in this field with others. Don’t choose shallow reasons such as job security or a high salary. Rather, think about what fascinates you about this field. What about it makes it worth devoting four full years and perhaps even a lifetime to? Will the major be a stepping-stone to graduate studies or toward achieving certain career goals?

What are your academic strengths?

When discussing your academic strengths, explain how you’ve capitalized on them. If you’re an excellent organizer, how have you applied this to scheduling your activities and coursework? If you’re an excellent leader, how have you demonstrated these abilities through group projects? If you’re an excellent chemist, what particularly challenging experiments have you completed? How do you plan on continuing to use your strengths?

What are your academic weaknesses?

Colleges are aware that all humans are flawed, and they want to see that you have the drive and intelligence to succeed despite challenges. Try revealing strategies or specific approaches you’ve taken to improve your academic weaknesses. Maybe your pronunciation or grammar was skewed and you started watching more American television series to get a more natural feel for the language. Maybe learned how to make use of fragmented time to cram in more activities. Most applicants choose procrastination, which is not something you want to admit to a college who’s hoping that at least some of its students will make achievements in their field. A lot of students also choose perfectionism as a flaw, which is an obvious humble brag. Don’t be that person.

What will you contribute to this school?

Colleges want to admit students who will not only take in terms of academic resources, but who will also give to the school. How can you improve the campus community? Play upon your strengths. Are you a talented violinist who wants to join the school orchestra? Do you want to serve as a peer tutor in any subject? Do you bring a fresh cultural perspective to the table? What would the school gain in accepting you? Be specific.

Where do you see yourself five/ten years from now?

Of course, no one expects you to have your whole future figured out, and colleges understand that plans are likely to change. What they do want is students with direction, students who set goals and are motivated to achieve them. Don’t speak in general, idealistic terms such as: “I hope to positively contribute to my community and improve this world through a fulfilling career.” What’s your dream job? What are some specific activities you’d like to do? Do you want to have your own family? Do you want to travel to certain countries? Do you want to regularly see your college or high school friends? Don’t limit your plans to professional goals.

What would you change about your current school?

Think about the strengths and weaknesses of your high school. What are some of its specific problems? What are the consequences of those problems? What steps would you take to make improvements? With this question, colleges are looking for your ability to identify problems and get a better understanding of what you’re looking for in a school. By learning what you’d change, they get a chance to learn more about what matters to you. Be specific and respectful, and never talk badly about your own teachers, school, or country’s educational system.

Whom do you most admire?

From this question, colleges can get a sense of your values. Many students choose a historical figure, teacher, or parent for this response. You can be a bit bold and choose a character from a novel, a celebrity, or even a superhero if your reasons for admiring that individual are solid. What has that person done that is so worthy of your respect? What admirable traits do they possess?

What’s your favorite book?

Your entertainment interests (e.g., favorite books, movies, television shows) reveal a lot about you. When you’re answering this question, think about why you enjoyed this particular book so much. Was the plot stimulating, full of twists and turns? Was the protagonist a positive role model? Was the writing style humorous? Was the dialogue hilarious? Did you particularly enjoy the writer’s tone? Did one of the characters resonate with you? Has this book exposed you to a new genre, literary movement, author, or writing style? Has it shaped your perspectives or beliefs?

Tell me about a challenge or failure you’ve faced. Did you overcome it? How did it affect you?

Throughout your life, it is unavoidable that you will experience challenges, setbacks, and failures. As the educator Dewey used to say, “failure is just a learning opportunity.” Admissions officers want to see that you can mess up here and there but that more importantly, you can assess and grow from your mistakes. The ability to objectively consider the consequences of one’s actions and in turn learn from them is a sign of a mature individual, the type of student any college would desire in its student body.

When responding to this question, quickly and clearly describe the challenge/failure and then focus on how responded to and what you learned from that experience. Be honest in describing your reaction to the failure. Were you angry at yourself? Surprised? Did the failure motivate you to act? The lessons learned from the failure are the most important part of this essay. Include a thorough self-analysis and introspection that demonstrate your self-awareness. The point of this question is to show that you can evaluate, learn from, and move on failures.

Do you have any questions for me?

Remember that the interview is a two-way street, and don’t be afraid to show up to your interview with a small list of questions. Some things you could ask: What was most memorable about your time at the college? If you could do it all over again, would you change anything about your college experience? What was your favorite course or professor? Is there any event or activity I should definitely not miss out on? If you can’t find the answers on the school website, you could also ask questions about academic programs, specific courses, the “vibe” on campus, tidbits about the school’s customs and history, or highlights in the local community.

By: Andrea Schiralli

“Writing Successful College Application Essays”

Ebook written by Andrea Schiralli with contributions made by Marisa De Marco-Costanzo. They are the Executive Directors and Co-Founders of Ivy & Quill. Browse this excellent resource by downloading it for free that features sample admission essays along with quick analyses and tips. UC sample essays are also included. For any inquires please contact us.