We’ve talked a lot about the college essay, but today we’re putting it all into perspective. College admissions professional and author Cynthia Muchnick joins us to talk about her book, “Writing Successful College Ap-plications: It’s More Than Just the Essay” and we discuss what not to overlook, and how to use the book to set yourself up for success.
Later, we will also discuss a question on student loan repayment – how soon do you need to start paying, what options are out there for loans as well as repayment and when you should even start to research it.
Student, Admissions Volunteer, Admissions Professional
Cynthia Muchnick has spent 20 years in education, first as a student tour guide at Stanford University, then as a volunteer in the admissions office. There she became interested in the process, which led her to pursue it as a career. She’s worked as a counselor at the University of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology before starting her own business in college counseling.
She sees her role as a cheerleader for her clients, going through the high school years to going to college, anywhere. Her book is a result of what she’s taught her students, as well as what she’s learned from them.
More Than Just the Essay
Families zero in on the personal statement or essay. It’s what they fear most, but Cynthia stresses that there are multiple factors that colleges consider when they’re sizing up a student.
- Teacher Recommendations
- Test Scores
- Any jobs held
In addition, there is more writing involved than just the essay, and these opportunities should not be over-looked:
- Activities and academic statements
- The “Why do you want to go to this school” question
- Short answer questions
- Additional full supplemental essays needed for specific schools within a college
- “Anything else you’d like to add” questions
Parents: Be Helpful, But Know Your Limits
Cynthia cautions that it’s a fine line between help and hinderance, so here are a few tips for parents to keep their students on track while keeping the peace.
- Know your child – what works and what doesn’t work to motivate them
- Add support that involves a counselor or other adult
- Understand this is a rite of passage process; your job is to help facilitate and guide your child through it
Navigating Through to a Successful Application
Students can help themselves out, too. To stay on track and stay calm, Cynthia advises
- Walk away from the essay if you’re running up against a writing roadblock; work on other portions of the application instead, like the bio or resume
- If you’re finished or at a stopping point, let the essay rest for a few days or a week before you reread it and make revisions. Fresh eyes can make all the difference.
- Have trusted adults look at the finished application to REVIEW it. No one else’s voice should be in the essay except the person who is applying.
- Print out a draft of your essay and recite it out loud – it should be your voice you hear in the words
- Explore the breadth of possibilities of topics you can write about; what stories or moments do you want to share?
- Remember the simplest essays can often be the most honest; don’t just write what you think someone wants to hear.
Sample Essays: Do’s and Don’ts
There are a host of sample essays in “Successful College Applications: It’s More Than Just the Essay” and Cynthia is clear what they are for.
- Each essay is a success – these worked to get students into college, and should be read to understand the style and voice in them; they should serve as examples to emulate when you start to write
- Samples of activity paragraphs are also included for the same reason
- Structure and style of writing that has been drilled in high school pretty much is out the window here – the same rules don’t apply when writing your college application; in other words, use first person, write using your five senses, include humor, dialogue, quotes – whatever reveals who you are.
- DO NOT use the sample essays to plagiarize – it’s too high of a risk, and most counselors will know
Additional Tips for Writing
- Be careful if you think you want to write about a sport – it’s rarely effective in telling a counselor who you are
- Review the list in the book to ‘get your juices flowing’: it includes various topics that you might identify with, including teachers who inspire, ‘bulletin board’ ideas that allow you to jump around within a theme, or a meaningful conversation you recall
- Be revealing – write so the reader can climb inside your brain, your body, your shoes
Can You Recycle Your Writing?
Yes – the goal is not to write the most! However, whatever you ‘recycle’ from school to school, please proofread carefully to make sure any reference to another school isn’t in your answer.
Cynthia explains that while the “Why do you want to attend…” question isn’t a good question to recycle an essay for, it can be formatted to plug in certain specific aspects about the school. However it’s done, questions like this make it necessary to do your research on a college to present specific answers.
Cynthia’s 3 Quick Tips
- Manage your time wisely – find chunks of time, either in the school year or over vacations to get the work done
- Read the book – it may seem promotional, but there are hundreds of great tips and advice between its covers
- BREATHE: this process can be intense, even combative; take a step back to keep things in perspective
TODAY’S QUESTION: What are the options for repaying college loans?
Let’s take a look first at the types of loans there are:
- Federal Loans – available through the college
- Private Loans – Usually obtained through your bank or credit union
- Outside Loans – home equity lines of credit, loans against a 401(k) or investments
Then, let’s explore what each type of loan offers as far as repayment options.
- Direct, Perkins, or PLUS loans: these generally can be deferred until the student graduates.
- Repayment plans over the 4-year college term can be consolidated, however Parent loans cannot be con-solidated with Student loans, and vice versa
Under repayment, there are many options, including
- Income Based
- Income Contingent
- Income Sensitive
- Just which options are available for repayment will depend on the type of loan you have
- Standard terms are 10 years, but can be extended to 15, 20 or 25 years
- For more information on these types of loans, visit the Federal Student Loan website.
- Offered through banks or credit unions
- Vary widely, and can require immediate repayment, deferred or interest only until graduation
- Home equity lines, and other loans against assets like 401(k) or investments
- • Most will likely require immediate repayment, as they don’t recognize the borrowing as a college loan
LINKS AND RESOURCES
Visit Cynthia’s website
Read Cynthia’s book, “Writing Successful College Applications: It’s More Than Just the Essay”, which can be found on Peterson’s Books, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Target and Walmart, Kindle and Nook users can also download it!
Like her Facebook page
Cynthia is on Twitter, too!
Visit the Federal Student Loan website
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