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Accepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy
Related Resources:

• Get to know our admissions consultants
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Tips For Answering Common Application Essay Prompts

Find out how to do it right by downloading our special report, Ivy League and Common Application Tips: How to Get Accepted!

Give yourself time to think about the information you are conveying and what it reveals about you.

If you are beginning your senior year of high school, this is the prime time to write your Common Application essay. The sooner you get started, the better. If possible, use the summer to focus your efforts on writing your essay. There are over 500 Common Application members in 47 states and the District of Columbia, as well as in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Qatar, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. All these institutions have a common commitment to a holistic approach to the admissions process. This commitment means they look at more than just your test scores and GPA. They also give significant weight to your essay responses.

Keep in mind your essays help round out the picture of who you are and what is important to you. They also provide insight into the sort of student you might be in college. Regardless of which essay prompt you address, it is essential to give yourself time to think about the information you are conveying and what specifically it reveals about you. It is also important to invest the energy to revise your responses. Each rendition of your essay should work to clarify your intentions while projecting something meaningful about yourself. Your goal is to tell the admission committees something that is not already conveyed elsewhere in your application.

In addition to the main Common Application essay, many of these schools require additional supplemental essay responses. Those are the subjects of other blog posts.

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.

Describe your unique background, identity, interest, or talent and explain in detail what it reveals about your values. Why is it so meaningful to you? This is an opportunity to talk about various topics that are unique to you—cultural heritage, burning interests, outstanding talents, sense of identity, or unusual circumstances. Then discuss how this information/revelation/reflection/experience/talent/interest plays out in who you are and the way you look at the world. What motivates you? In short, why is the information you selected significant to you and how is it central to the way you view yourself? How does the meaningful information you shared help to prepare you for your future?

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?

How do you deal with adversity and what does that say about you? Clearly describe the specific failure you experienced. Discuss what you learned from the experience and how it affects you in your day-to-day life as well as its impact on your way of thinking. Don’t focus on the setback itself; rather emphasize what you learned about yourself and how that changed your perspective or behavior. Maybe you learned that hard work pays off? Or that balance is important in your life? Or that you want to make different decisions in the future? As you reflect on this experience remember your goal in this response is to demonstrate resilience.

Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

Recount a time when you stood up for something. Explain what created the conflict that motivated you to take action. Discuss why this so meaningful to you. What do your actions reveal about you? Then think about whether or not you would make the same decision again and why. Make sure you clearly communicate your values and beliefs. What did you learn from this experience?

Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Clearly articulate the problem. Remember the scale is not a factor, it is important to focus on why it is significant to you. This could be an issue on a personal level, in a local community, or with worldwide impact. Did you learn anything in particular about yourself as you reflect on this problem? Consider what your concerns about this problem reveal about the kind of person you are or hope to be. Discuss what you did or what you might do to find a solution. The essence of this question relates to your values, character, creativity and sense of identity. It also examines how you problem-solve and your ability to conceive solutions. Your response demonstrates a number of personal characteristics—What is important to you? How do you process the world around you? What are some of your perceptions and assumptions? To what extent do you actively engage issues? How do you overcome challenges? Can you come up with creative/effective/unique solutions to problems?

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

This prompt asks how you gained independence and became more self-aware. Provide a rich context as you detail your selected accomplishment or event and then focus on how it demonstrates a significant transition in your life. Why was this event so important to you? Take it a step further and discuss how this new phase or different status can serve as a foundation in the future.

If none of the essay prompts immediately jump out at you, give yourself some time to reflect on your life experiences. Talk with your parents and teachers about your ideas. Eventually you will discover a topic that excites you and reveals something significant about you. The subject of your essay doesn’t have to be completely novel. However, it should reflect your unique perspective while clearly communicating your best self. Think about what is important to you and why. This is your opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants.  Remember, all the Common Application member schools are interested in learning more about you through your essays!

Find out what you can do NOW to make applying to college go as smoothly as possible!

Marie Todd By Accepted’s college admissions specialist. Marie has worked in college admissions for over twenty years. She has both counseled applicants and evaluated applications. Most recently she evaluated 5000+ applications for the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts; College of Engineering; School of Kinesiology. She is available to assist you (or your child) with your applications.

Related Resources:

• The Quick Guide to Admissions Resumes
College Application Tips for Parents
• 4 Ways to Show How You’ll Contribute in the Future

Record-Setting Donation For Harvard Engineering School

Click here for more info about Harvard Business School.Billionaire hedge-fund manager John Paulson has donated $400 million to Harvard for its engineering school—the largest donation in the university’s history. The engineering school will be renamed the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. According to the university, the gift will be used to fund research, teaching, financial aid, and faculty development at the school of engineering.

Paulson is an alumnus of Harvard Business School who has made billions operating Paulson & Co, his hedge fund.

Harvard is the world’s richest university, with an endowment of $36.4 billion. The university is two years into a 5-year, $6.5 billion fundraising campaign, that has already brought in significant gifts (totaling over $5 billion by the end of 2014).

Admissions Resume GuideAccepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy

Related Resources:

The Quick Guide to Admissions Resumes
Harvard’s School of Public Health Receives $350 Million Gift from Hong Kong Group
• UCLA Anderson Bags $100 Million Gift

An Interview With Our Own: Marie Todd

Read Marie's Bio to see why she's the consultant for you!Curious about the life and times of our spectacular admissions consultants? Please enjoy our newest blog series in which we interview the fabulous people who make up the staff. Next up is…Marie Todd.

Accepted: Where and what did you study as an undergrad?

Marie: I studied Communication Arts with a minor in Cultural Anthropology as an undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego (Muir College).

Accepted: Where do you currently live?

Marie: Currently I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I have also lived in San Diego, CA, Los Angeles, CA, Madison, WI, and Philadelphia, PA.

Accepted: Can you share 3 fun facts about yourself?


1. I have traveled to: Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, India, Nepal, Israel, Ireland, Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

2. I went scuba diving on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef prior to El Nino.

3. I went skydiving over Lake Taupo in New Zealand.

Accepted: Can you walk us through the experiences that led you to become an admissions consultant?

Marie: I have always gravitated toward working with students and parents in educational settings. During my time in college, I was an Orientation Leader, Resident Advisor and Assistant in the Academic Advising Office.

My professional experience is primarily in higher education in capacities that allow me to work closely with faculty, staff, and undergraduate students. These roles include: academic advising, teaching, and mentoring. I took several years off to be home with my children and indulge in school-related volunteer activities.

Beginning in 2009, I spent five seasons reviewing applications for undergraduate admissions to the University of Michigan. Becoming an admissions consultant brings my work experience around full circle. Now I have the opportunity to work with and guide students as they approach the undergraduate application process.

Accepted: Do you hold any graduate degrees?

Marie: MS, Curriculum and Instruction: Educational Communications and Technology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Accepted: What’s your favorite thing about consulting/editing?

Marie: I like helping students and their parents to gain a better understanding of how the college admissions process works. I also enjoy guiding students as they craft their essays to better represent their unique voice and perspective.

Accepted: What are your top 3 admissions tips?


1. Identify appropriate range of schools that are a good fit for you and will help you achieve your long-term goals.

2. Start working on your applications early to allow time for reflection and revision.

3. Ask for help when you need it!

Learn more about Marie and how she can help you get accepted!

View our catalog of college admissions!

Accepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy
Related Resources:

• Preparing for College in High School: A To-Do List for Eleventh Graders
• Why Is The SAT Scored From 600 To 2400?
• College Application Tips for Parents

5 Mistakes To Avoid In A Cover Letter

Click here to download your quick admissions guide

Think of your cover letter as the appetizer for what you know will be a great meal.

You only have one chance to make a first impression. If the first impression you need to make is through a cover letter to a prospective employer, school admissions office, or internship sponsor, make sure it shines a light on your qualifications and displays your enthusiasm for the position or that seat in the class. Unfortunately, too many cover letters I see are dull as dust, containing only generalities or jargon and lacking confidence. These letters hurt your cause.

Here are 5 common mistakes in cover letters. Don’t make them in yours!

1. Sound as if you’re bored.

“I am writing in response to your opening for a marketing manager, listed on Job Site website.” This response is honest and to the point, but it also lacks a sense that you really want this gig. Better: “I am enthusiastically applying for the position of marketing manager for Best Company Ever. My experience as a top saleswoman for the last three years for an organic beauty supply is an ideal match for your needs.” Feel the energy of the second sentence? The reader will, too.

2. Don’t make any effort to get inside knowledge about the company or school, or explain why you want to attend their program/get hired by them. Also omit your most relevant experiences that should make them want to give careful consideration to your resume.

There could be a dozen different reasons why you’ve chosen to apply for this job or to attend this program. For example, if it’s a start-up, you’ll have more opportunity to perform multiple roles and gain a broader view of small businesses. In a larger company, you may have more chances for travel or longstanding career growth. Perhaps the company has innovated a technology, product type, or employee-friendly atmosphere that you strongly admire. Identify these things, as well as your most relevant experience/qualifications that match what they are looking for. Don’t go into too many details; keep it short. For example:

“My friend Bonnie V. told me how much she learned about digital media sales and marketing as a result of her internship with Best Company Ever last summer. My experience with the Streaming Live Network in building their salesforce over the last year will make me an ideal fit for your team.”

“As a future entrepreneur in green technology, I admire Live Green Now’s innovations in environmentally friendly plastics and am eager to learn more about these innovations from the inside. My master’s degree in Environmental Studies and research into new techniques for recycling plastics without water makes me a strong candidate for this position.”

3. Ignore the stated requirements for acceptance or position.

If a company says that knowledge of a particular software knowledge, skillset, or academic record is required for a position, don’t waste your time or theirs by submitting a letter if you don’t have it. If you feel you are still qualified, you had better have a compelling explanation and say so up front. Otherwise move on. Pay attention to what companies and schools say they are looking for. They mean it.

4. Sound needy or wishy-washy about getting a call back for an interview. 

A recent cover letter I edited – by someone whose professional experience spanned more than 20 years, numerous awards and 10 patents in his name – ended his letter like this: “If after reviewing my materials you believe that there is a match, please contact me.” This sentence is passive and sounds insecure, as if he doesn’t really expect them to call. And they probably wouldn’t.

I suggested he end the letter like this: “I look forward to the opportunity to meet you to discuss this position and how I can add value to Best Company Ever.” See how the simple change of writing in active voice (“I look forward. . . “) exudes confidence in his ability to demonstrate value.

5. Make them take the extra step of going back to you to get references.

This is one of the mistakes that drives me crazy every time I see it, which is often. Why in the world would you write “References available upon request” instead of providing the actual references in the letter, and/or the resume? List names, titles, phone numbers and emails. If a reference doesn’t have a title, put the person’s relationship to you so the caller will know in what context he or she is providing the recommendation.

Finally, keep the letter short – preferably only a half to three-quarters of a page. This is an appetizer only to get them to want to give your resume careful review, and then call you for the next step. Using active voice, specific facts about your qualifications and the reasons you like the company or school, will demonstrate you are not sending cover letters in a scattershot way, but in a thoughtful, carefully considered manner. And this should help you bring your job search to a swifter and happier conclusion.

Download your free copy of the Quick Guide to Admissions Resume now!

Judy Gruen

By , MBA admissions consultant since 1996 and author (with Linda Abraham) of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.


Related Resources:

5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Application Essay or Personal Statement
Ten Do’s and Don’ts for Your Resume 
Sample Resumes and Cover Letter