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

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

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

The New Student on Campus: 5 Tips to Be the Best Version of You!

Fast forward past the sleepless nights leading up to your arrival on campus. Fast forward past the excitement mixed with anxiety when you say goodbye to your family and friends back home. Fast forward past the flight or drive that it takes to even get to campus. Push play on the reality of what it means to actually “show up”.

One’s arrival on campus as an incoming freshman can be daunting—does the expression “being a little fish in a big pond” ring a bell? Although you may at first feel overwhelmed when having to establish your place at your new school (which is totally normal!), here are five tips on how to make the transition easier along with putting your best foot forward when meeting your roommate, classmates, teammates, professors, and academic advisor.

  1. Be polite and presentable – remember all of the manners that your parents have instilled over the years? This is the perfect time to put them to good use. Hello! How are you? Please, thank you, and nice to meet you go along way. First impressions (fortunately/unfortunately depending on how you view them) mean a lot, too; therefore be well kept when attending your first days of classes, going to ‘Meet & Greet’ student events, and checking out extra curricular activities during club fairs.
  2. Set personal and academic goals – think about certain objectives (and even write them down) as to why you have chosen your major, what you hope to learn/do at your new school, and what you hope to achieve at present and in the near future. In this way, you are putting your intentions into action and forward motion!
  3. Get social (without social media) – ask questions, introduce yourself, attend campus events, join clubs, try out for a sports team, sit with new groups of students in the dining hall, knock on your dorm mate’s door that is opposite of and next to yours…our natural inclination as humans is to sometimes hide when we are out of our comfort zone. Yet don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and make your presence known! In person opportunities to meet others is a sure way of expanding your social circle.
  4. Take care of yourself – it may seem like the last thing on your list of concerns, but one’s health and well-being should always be their first priority. Make sure that you give yourself needed time to keep up with deadlines by staying organized to prevent unnecessary stress, try your best to make healthy choices while in the dining hall (but of course a good junk food binge now and then is also part of the college experience!), avoid too much caffeine because if you consume too much, you are literally drinking up your sleep, and of course, get needed rest so that you can function at a more productive rate during your waking hours.
  5. Meet assignments and take pride in your work – although it’s normal to want to impress your professors, TAs, and even classmates, the person that you should be most concerned with impressing the most is you! Try your best to succeed, even in the face of failure. As long as you know that you have done all that you could have to realize an assignment, study for an exam, and submit a paper, you will develop a positive work ethic and self-image. You will truly surprise yourself! A word to the wise: although one aspires to achieve good grades, there are times that you may work extremely hard but the results aren’t as you have hoped. Remember that we all are human and there is always room for improvement…just as long as you are willing!

By: Marisa De Marco-Costanzo

Real College Stories & Advice for College-bound Students

Read through posts that provide great tips, strategies, and advice about once you get accepted into college and what to expect once you begin your undergraduate journey on campus and perhaps even abroad! For any inquires, please contact us and feel free to comment!

College Admission: Essays

Read through posts that provide great tips, strategies, and advice to calm “essay anxiety” when affronting the admission essay process! For any inquires, please contact us and feel free to comment!