Tips on getting effective recommendation letters, essay writing and interview prep

Letter of Recommendations

You should approach teachers who know you personally. A good letter of recommendation validates the student’s academic interests, learning preferences and achievements but more importantly shares stories that highlight his or her personality and character traits. Recommendation letters should be professional, honest and well-balanced review of the student. Go prepared with a copy of your resume and list of colleges when you meet with teachers. Discuss things you liked in his or her class. List the topics that you enjoyed the most or found most challenging and remind them of any additional co- curricular work you have done related to that subject. It is not enough if your teacher mentions a general statement about you. The letter needs to be specific and reveal something substantive about the teacher’s personal relationship with you.

Personal Essays

Colleges require personal essays from students and very often the quality of these writing samples make or break the student's admissions. Students who spend time thoughtfully planning and writing their essays are usually rewarded in the process. The topic choices provided in the Common Application are so varied because colleges do not want students to feel forced to write on one topic but give them the freedom to express themselves by choosing any topic of their choice. There are no rules that define a good personal essay. However, you must be wary of the common mistakes. Big Picture mistakes in essays:

• Trying to cleverly disguise a list of all activities and interests into an essay. This is fine for the statement of purpose for UK applications, but literally drives US admission officers up the wall.

• The first part of an essay is usually the student just trying to figure out what they are going to write about. You can almost always immediately cut out the first paragraph or reword it to something much more efficient.

• Is there a main point to the essay? What is it? Has it been introduced in the beginning somewhere? Has it been adequately addressed without going on a meandering path to the resolution at the end?

• Way too long! A good size for application essay is around 600 words. While bigger may fit in the field, best is to get it to about 600-700 words.

Interviews

College Admission Officers visit India and you should request for an interview with them if possible. Alternatively many colleges arrange interviews with alumni and you should go prepared to meet with them if given a chance. You need to get a good feel for the school, it’s offerings and it’s strength, one of the keys will be to show them how into the school you are! Be able to describe what you are looking for in your undergraduate school. You should have thoroughly read the website links of some of the more recent activities at the school you are interviewing with. See if any faculty really interests you and take the initiative to talk about them. Have stories about something you are proud about. Be prepared to have questions and to be confident to articulate your successes and your failures. Be able to articulate what you feel you would individually bring/contribute to the specific college. Be able to articulate how you could add a new cultural and global dimension to the college.