Personal Essay Options on the Common Application


The first step to writing a stellar personal essay on your college application is to understand your options. Below is a discussion of the six essay options from the Common Application. Also be sure to check out these 5 Applicaion Essay Tips.

Option #1. Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

Note the key word here: evaluate. You aren’t just describing something; the best essays will explore the complexity of the issue. When you examine the “impact on you,” you need to show the depth of your critical thinking abilities. Introspection, self-awareness and self-analysis are all important here. And be careful with essays about the winning touchdown or tie-breaking goal. These sometimes have an off-putting “look how great I am” tone and very little self-evaluation.

Option #2. Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.

Be careful to keep the “importance to you” at the heart of your essay. It’s easy to get off track with this essay topic and start ranting about global warming, Darfur, or abortion. The admissions folks want to discover your character, passions and abilities in the essay; they want more than a political lecture.

Option #3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

I’m not a fan of this prompt because of the wording: “describe that influence.” A good essay on this topic does more than “describe.” Dig deep and “analyze.” And handle a “hero” essay with care. Your readers have probably seen a lot of essays talking about what a great role model Mom or Dad or Sis is. Also realize that the “influence” of this person doesn’t need to be positive.

Option #4. Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

Here as in #3, be careful of that word “describe.” You should really be “analyzing” this character or creative work. What makes it so powerful and influential?

Option #5. A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.

Realize that this question defines “diversity” in broad terms. It’s not specifically about race or ethnicity (although it can be). Ideally, the admissions folks want every student they admit to contribute to the richness and breadth of the campus community. How do you contribute?

Option #6. Topic of your choice.

Sometimes you have a story to share that doesn’t quite fit into any of the options above. However, the first five topics are broad with a lot of flexibility, so make sure your topic really can’t be identified with one of them. Also, don’t equate “topic of your choice” with a license to write a comedy routine or poem (you can submit such things via the “Additional Info” option). Essays written for this prompt still need to have substance and tell your reader something about you.


Build the Perfect High School Resume


Build the perfect resume with these helpful tips.

A good resume is vital. It’s your calling card to a prospective employer – one that lays out your qualifications and hopefully gets you a job interview. Remember, most employers will spend less than five minutes reviewing your resume. Follow these guidelines to make sure your resume gets you noticed.

Be sure to include these basics:

  • Contact information: Full name, phone number, school and permanent addresses, email address.
  • Education: School, degree, date of completion, honors, special course work. If you’re still in school, provide your expected date of completion.
  • Experience: In addition to work history, include relevant non-professional experience, such as internships, extracurricular activities and significant volunteer work.
  • Skills: List any computer systems, office equipment and software programs you are experienced with.
  • Other categories: If they are relevant, include publications, awards, leadership positions or other notable achievements.

The two most popular formats are:

    • Chronological: To emphasize your work history, list your jobs and activities, beginning with your most recent experiences.
    • Functional: To emphasize your skill sets, group your experiences under categorical headings, such as Leadership or Technology Support.

The key is to pick a format that presents your achievements effectively, and is easy to read and comprehend. See below for samples of a number of resume formats.

Tips for a Winning Resume:

  • Keep it brief. Try to keep your resume to one page. There are cases where a resume might be longer but one page should suffice for students and recent graduates. Write lean sentences and use bullet points to be succinct.
  • Provide meaningful descriptions of your experiences. When detailing your job history, use short sentences or fragments to demonstrate your relevant experience.
  • Use strong action words. For example: “developed and implemented a new filing system”; “created two new membership programs.”
  • Use formatting to help you out. Capitalize and use boldface, italics or underlining to help organize the information.
  • Proofread. Use spellcheck, doublecheck your contact information and make sure your formatting is consistent. Ask a friend or family member to proofread it as well. Check  for errors that spellcheck programs miss (i.e. there vs. their; to, too or two).
  • Custom fit your resume. Revise your resume for each job application to make sure it fits the opportunity at hand.

The final test: Take a look at your resume from arm’s distance. Is it confusing and text-heavy? Or is it easy to find the information you need? Do whatever is needed to make your resume reader friendly.

Living with a Roommate: 10 Tips for a Good Roommate Relationship


Learn 10 Easy Ways to Have a Good Roommate Experience

You may have grown up living with lots of siblings, or this may be your first time sharing your living space with someone else. While having a roommate inevitably has its challenges, it can also be a great part of your college experience. Follow these ten tips to make sure you and your roommate keep things pleasant and supportive throughout the year (or even years!).

1. Be clear from the beginning. Do you know in advance that you hate it when someone hits the snooze button fifteen times every morning? That you’re a neat freak? That you need ten minutes to yourself before talking to anyone after you wake up? Let your roommate know as soon as you can about your little quirks and preferences. It’s not fair to expect him or her to pick up on them right away, and communicating what you need is one of the best ways to eliminate problems before they become problems.

2. Address things when they’re little. Is your roommate always forgetting her stuff for the shower, and taking yours? Are your clothes being borrowed faster than you can wash them? Addressing things that bug you while they’re still little can help your roommate be aware of something she may not otherwise know. And addressing little things is much easier than addressing them after they’ve become big.

3. Respect your roommate’s stuff. This may seem simple, but it’s probably one of the biggest reasons why roommates experience conflict. Don’t think he’ll mind if you borrow his cleats for a quick soccer game? For all you know, you just stepped over an uncrossable line. Don’t borrow, use, or take anything without getting permission first.

4. Be careful of who you bring into your room — and how often. You may love having your study group into your room. But your roommate may not. Be mindful of how often you bring people over. If your roommate studies best in the quiet, and you study best in a group, can you alternate who hits the library and who gets the room?

5. Lock the door and windows. This may seem like it has nothing to do with roommate relationships, but how would you feel if your roommate’s laptop got stolen during the ten seconds it took you to run down the hall? Or vice versa? Locking your door and windows is a critical part of keeping safe on campus.

6. Be friendly, without expecting to be best friends. Don’t go into your roommate relationship thinking that you are going to be best friends for the time you’re at school. It may happen, but expecting it sets both of you up for trouble. You should be friendly with your roommate but also make sure you have your own social circles.

7. Be open to new things. Your roommate may be from someplace you’ve never heard of. They may have a religion or lifestyle that is completely different from your own. Be open to new ideas and experiences, especially as it to relates to what your roommate brings into your life. That’s why you went to college in the first place, right?!

8. Be open to change. You should expect to learn and grown and change during your time at school. And the same should happen to your roommate, if all goes well. As the semester progresses, realize things will change for both of you. Be comfortable addressing things that unexpectedly come up, setting new rules, and being flexible to your changing environment.

9. Address things when they’re big. You may not have been totally honest with tip #2. Or you may suddenly find yourself with a roommate who goes wild after being shy and quiet the first two months. Either way, if something gets to be a big problem quickly, deal with it as soon as you can.

10. If nothing else, follow the Golden Rule. Treat your roommate like you’d like to be treated. No matter what your relationship is at the end of the year, you can take comfort knowing you acted like an adult and treated your roommate with respect.

(Don’t think you and your roommate are going to be able to work it out? It can be easier than you think to address your problems and, ideally, find a solution that works for both of you.)

Campus Tour: Observations


Intellectual Atmosphere Of The College

  • What is the student attitude towards learning?  So most seem to enjoy their courses?
  • Does there seem to be an active exchange of ieas outside of classrooms?
  • Does there seem to be a real ‘grind’ atmosphere?  Would the campus be characterized as “cut-throat” or “cooperative”?
  • What are the opportunities of Independent Study, Honors Program, Co-op, Internships, Study Abroad, Exchange Program/Consortia, Independent Majors, Reasearch?
  • Do you feel you would fit in intellectually?

Social Climate

  • Does social life revolve around the capmus or do students leave on the weekend?
  • What social and cultural activites are provided by campus?  Influence of the Greek system?
  • What facilities are provided for socializing?  Is there a Student Center?
  • What range of clubs and organizations are there?  Are these organized predominantly traditional, exotic, artistic, issue orientated?
  • Do the students seem friendly and willing to help?
  • Is there a ‘typical’ student?  Preppy, offbeat, nondescript, clean-cut, messy?

Campus Life

Does the appearance of the campus please you?  Are the buildings and grounds well maintained?

What are the living arrangements for students?

  • Large dorms
  • House or college system
  • Apartments
  • Single rooms
  • Doubles
  • On-campus
  • Off-campus
  • Co-ed
  • After freshman year, how are students housed?  Are upper-class students guaranteed housing?
  • Are there limitations on visiting hours?
  • Are there ‘quiet hours’?  Can you study in your room?  Where do most people study?  Is there adequate living space?
  • Is dining centralized or decentralized?  What dining options do you have?
    • Weekly meal plans
    • Dietary options
    • Hours of service
    • Quality and tastiness of food

Your First Visit Home


Heading Home for the First Time Often Presents Unexpected Challenges

Even though you’ve enjoyed the time you’ve spent away at school, you may be looking forward to heading home for the first time. It may be for a long weekend, for Thanksgiving, or even for Winter Break. Regardless of when you go, you’ll most likely encounter some unexpected challenges.

You’ve Changed

You go out when you want, eat what you want, wear what you want, do what you want. And you love every second of it. While you may have felt pretty independent before you left for school, you’ve undoubtedly become more so since starting classes. Keep that in mind when you head home for the first time. You may walk in the door as a totally different person than who you were when you last walked out. While it’s important to not feel like you have to hide your newly found independence and confidence, it’s also important to remember that it’s new for your parents (and siblings and friends) to see.

Your Parents Have Changed

Your parents raised you for your entire life, and then, one day, you were gone. Understandably, they had to adjust to that absence. You may now come home acting more independently, talking about things they’ve never heard you talk about, and holding a schedule that conflicts with their house rules. Some things are inevitably going to need to be worked out when you return home. (Curfew, for example!)

Additionally, your parents may have really missed you, no matter how good you tried to be about keeping in touch with them. They may want to sit down and talk to you after dinner; you may want to head out to catch up with your high school friends. Just like you want them to be understanding about your needs, try to be understanding of their needs, too. They’ve changed, just like you have, and it’s going to take a little work to make sure everything fits together again.

Your Siblings Have Changed

Since you left for school, your younger siblings may have had to readjust. You may have been the bossy, protective older sibling, and now someone else stepped into your role. Make sure you think about interacting with your siblings in a positive, patient way.

Your Friends Have Changed

Your core group of high school friends is planning on getting together as soon as you all get back into town. When you arrive, though, everyone seems so different! Be realistic about the situation: think about how much you’ve changed since starting college. Isn’t it normal to expect your high school friends to change, too? And, of course, not everyone will change in the same ways that you do. Your quiet, shy friend may come back having joined a very active sorority. Your loud, outgoing friend may have come back much more serious about his academic career. Remember, though, that you can all continue to be your crazy, silly selves amidst the changes that have happened.

Your Relationships Have Changed

No matter whom you’re interacting with — parents, siblings, friends — try to be comfortable with the unexpected shifts that may be happening. It’s totally normal — and even healthy — for things to change the longer you’re in school. If nothing else, try looking back at the changes that happened when you went from junior high to high school. Wasn’t it a world of difference? So why should this transition be any different? Just like all of life’s changes, the shift from high school to college can be what you make of it. Enjoy it for what it is and be patient with everyone — including yourself — as people adjust to your new life.

Going to College While Living at Home?


Four tips on how to make this dorm alternative work for your family


Everyone associates the college experience with dorm life but the truth is, not everyone lives on campus. If your child is going to a community college or a commuter university close to home, chances are he’s going to be rooming with Mom and Dad – and there’s going to be an adjustment period for both of you. There are other options, of course, but the majority of community college kids live at home or in an apartment.

Starting college is a major rite of passage, one that is both exciting and anxiety-producing. So on the upside, your child gets to go through that process from the comfort of home, where the food is vastly better than the dining commons, and the bathroom is shared by just a few people, not 50. There are definite benefits for parents too. Your food bill may stay high, but you’ll still save $10,000 or more a year on room and board bills. You’ll have the company of a bright, interesting student living in your home. And you won’t have to worry about the empty nest blues..yet.

But it can be difficult for commuter students to make new friends and settle into college life without a dormitory’s sense of instant community and the ice-breaking help of an R.A. So here are four tips to help smooth that transition for both of you:

  1. College students enjoy considerably more freedom than high schoolers when they live in the dorms, of course. But when college kids live at home, friction can arise over the hours and company they keep. Alleviate potential friction by sitting down and talking through the major issues – privacy, telephone and computer time, use of the car, alcohol and other substances, and curfews.
  2. It’s tough to feel grown-up in a bedroom with Power Ranger decor. Encourage your child to redecorate his room (or at least replace the posters) or set aside a lounge area so he has somewhere to hang with new friends.
  3. That said, your child’s bedroom may be a quiet place, but encourage him to study on campus, at the library, in the quad or campus coffeehouse or wherever other students congregate.
  4. Urge your child to attend his college’s orientation session. If there is a parent session, plan to go. Your presence sends your child a critical message: that his college education is important to you.
  5. And encourage him to get involved in extra-curricular activities on campus by joining clubs or intramural sports teams.

Finding Colleges You Like: Basic Choices to Make


If you are just starting to think about what kind of college to look for, and are fairly open to all the possibilities, you might find it difficult to focus on what matters most.  Choosing a college is a process that takes time.  It involves making several choices, not just one;and the best way to begin it to think about the really basic, fundamental choices first.

 Below are brief outlines of the “big picture” elements you should consider:

Commute from home or live away

Either way, you can have a great college experience; but it will be a much different experience.  Don’t decide this on your own – talk to your family, friends and anyone else you trust.

Location, location, location

This choice is usually among the first to make and the most decisive.  Do you want to be able to go home whenver you want, or would you rather experience a different part of the country?  Are you excited by what a big city can offer, or do you need easy access to the outdoors or the serenity of a small town?  Do you hate cold weather, enjoy the different seasons, need to be near a beach?

None of this has much to do with college itself, but it has a lot to do with how much you will enjoy it.

Four-year vs two-year

This choice probably depends on three things: what type of degree you are going for, how much you are willing or able to spend, and if you want to commute from home.  Your local community college offers low-cost options either vocational/technical training or the first, two-years of a four-year program. “Junior” colleges are private two-year schools, and are usually more expensive.

Large, medium or small?

This is more than the “big fish, little pond” question.  Size can affect your options and experiences, such as the range of majors offered, the variety of student activities available, the amount of personal attention you’ll receive, and the availability and size of the facilities such as laboratories, libraries, and art studios.  But remember, large universities are often broken up into small colleges or schools, so you can have it both ways…sort of.

 College type

Choosing among these usually depends upon your career goals, and what type of college experience you want.

Liberal arts colleges: emphasize the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, and the development of general knowledge and reasoning ability rather than specific career skills.  Most are private, classes tend to be small, and you are likely to get more personal attention than a large university.

Universities: are generally larger than colleges and offer more majors and research facilities.  Most universities are subdivided into colleges or schools, such as a college of arts and sciences, a school of engineering, a business school, or a teacher’s college, plus several graduate schools.  These subdivisions may all be on the same campus, or spread out over several different campuses.

Agricultural, technical, and career colleges:  offer training for specific occupations or industries.  Examples include art schools andmusic conservatories, business colleges, schools of health science, and maritime colleges.

Religiously affiliated colleges: are private colleges that are associated with a particular religious faith.  The connection may range from being historic only, to being closely integrated into day-to-day student life.

Majors and academic programs

If you have a clear idea of what you want to study, that obviously narrows your college choices to those that offer majors in that field.  But, if you are undecided (like most students), look for colleges that offer a broad range of majors and programs.  That way you can reduce the chance that you’ll have to transfer once you’ve made up your mind.

You might also want to consider a special study option that can enrich your experience, such as study abroad, cooperative education (where you work in the field as you learn), or an honors program.  If experiences like these are important to you, make them part of your college search criteria.


Of course, cost is an important consideration for most students.  But don’t let the “sticker shock” scare you away from colleges that might be a good fit.  Financial aid often makes up the difference between what you can afford to pay and what college costs.  There are several calculators available that will help you estimate the bottom line.