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The letter, essay and interview

Applying to a US college? Get your teacher to give you a great recommendation report Arjun Seth

education Updated: Sep 08, 2010 09:24 IST
Arjun Seth
Arjun Seth
Hindustan Times

In the last two articles we have discussed the importance of a student's high school academic record and extra curriculum. This week, we'll highlight the importance of getting distinctive teacher recommendations, writing personal essays and interviews.

Letter of recommendation: 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, it should also share stories that highlight your 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. A general statement from the teacher is not enough. 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 students' 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 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 an application essay is around 600 words. While bigger may fit in the field, best to get it to about 600-700 words.

Interviews: Find out when college admission officers are visiting India and request them for an interview 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, its offerings and strengths - one the keys will be to show them how well informed you are about the school! You should also be able to describe what you are looking for in your undergraduate school.

Make it a point to go through 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 articulate about what you feel you would individually bring/contribute to the specific college and also talk about how you could add a new cultural and global dimension to the college.

The author is an independent college admissions counsellor and can be contacted by email at He also runs, a blog assisting students write college application essays.

First Published: Sep 07, 2010 11:27 IST