By: Phil Ortiz
What’s the Point?
What do I like to do? What would I be good at? How do I even know if I will like what I do? What about college? Should I even go? I don’t even know what i’m going to major in. Would I be wasting money? Maybe i’ll just figure it out when I get there. How am I going to pay for college? Should I just take out loans? What if I don’t like the classes? What if I don’t like the college? How do I know what college is right for me? What am I going to do after I graduate? How am I going to pay off my loans? How do I even know what I would be good at? All my friends are going to this college, maybe I should go…if they like it then I might… My family went to that college, I should just go to the same one. There is no way I could go to college, I could never afford it.
Sounds pretty hectic, but that is exactly what is going on in students heads while in high school and right after they graduate. The facts are that these questions are so difficult to answer and students are so far off from anything they can call an answer that they don’t even think about trying to find an answer. So on the outside it looks as though they don’t care, but in reality, they do, they just don’t have the tools to answer these questions.
Deep within every student there is an immeasurable amount of potential to succeed. Yet that will never be unleashed unless the student knows where and how to apply that potential. Every student coming out of high school was born with strengths. Every student, your son or daughter, or even you holding this book, were defined and wired for a specific purpose. But what is that purpose? What are these “things”? What are these “strengths”? How do I tap in this potential? Are you sure I actually have strengths? Yes, absolutely everyone has strengths. Our strengths were not given to us simply to achieve our own goals. Our strengths were given so we can fulfill God’s purpose and plan for our lives and bring His Kingdom. This is the concept of vocation, or calling. “A job is what you are hired to do, a calling is what you are wired to do.”
What students first need is for someone to “draw out” these inner talents, strengths and gifts then they can be “poured” into with personalized, focused and applicable education according to their strengths. The object of students in high school is to identify these strengths then develop, cultivate and test these strengths in college. Once you better understand and appreciate your personal strengths, you can get a clearer focus on your identity with a more specific direction for your future. This will create a mindset that will not make work seem like an actual task. When you sit down to start a project, or a paper, it won’t feel like a burden, hanging over your head like those fill in the blank worksheets, research papers, or boring reading assignments about topics you don’t understand and subjects you don’t really care about. You will begin to study subjects that excite your mind and will instigate your desire to learn.
Before Writing Your College Admission Essay, Know Who You Are
Article courtesy of Accepted.com, admissions consultancy
Langston Hughes begins his poem “Theme for English B” this way:
The instructor said:
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you-
Then it will be true.
I wonder if it’s that simple?
When colleges ask you to “Tell us about yourself,” it may sound simple, but it is not. Sarah Myers McGinty, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducted a study in 1998 to determine the importance of the college application essay and students’ ability to complete it successfully. She found that while admissions officials viewed the essay as “somewhat important,” students found themselves unprepared to write it. In The Chronicle of Higher Education (1/25/02), McGinty says, “I knew that students felt comfortable talking about the most significant event in the life of Jay Gatsby. But many felt ill-at-ease when asked about the most significant event in their own lives.” A frequent reaction from students: “I’ve never done anything like this before!” Students are rarely asked to write personal narratives.
So how do you tell admissions officers about yourself in a true and convincing way? First, you need to “mine” various areas of your identity to discover what makes you an individual. We’re not talking strip-mining, where you just pull up whatever’s on the surface. We’re talking about digging to see what’s below the surface. That takes time and commitment, but in the end, you may strike gold.
Writing is discovery. You cannot write an essay without first discovering what you have to say. You are setting out to discover what has made you who you are. Keep a journal as you explore; these jottings and written wanderings are not your essay, but some will serve as the essay’s building materials. Some areas of your identity to explore include:
The events of your life: big and small, successes and failures: shape you as individual. This is an overarching area of identity, the one that encompasses most of the others in our list above. “Tell me about an event” or “describe an experience” means “tell me a story,” which is what you will want to do in any personal essay. Storytelling needs to be lively and entertaining. Think about the kinds of details you provide when you tell your friends a story at the lunch table. You tell what the people in the story say; you dramatize events; you bring colors, sounds and smells to life; you transport your listener to the experience and show what it was like. You will need to conjure such details for your essay as well, so pick an event or two and start jotting.
Which experience to pick? Looking at a few colleges’ essay questions may knock some ideas loose in your head (emphases added):
The Common Application asks you to: “Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, or risk you have taken, or an ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.”
Penn’s application says, “First experiences can be defining. Cite a first experience that you have had and explain its impact on you.”
USC instructs: “Tell us a story about yourself that will help us to know you better. Illustrate one or more themes, events, or individuals that have helped shape you. Be clear and forceful.”
Stanford suggests that the applicant “Attach a small photograph of something important to you and explain its significance.”
Your experience does not have to be massively life-altering (not all of us have huge turning points in our lives), but can be one of the many little events in our lives that make us see ourselves and the world a bit differently. The time a classmate offered you a stolen test and you refused it. Seeing the ocean for the first time at age 15. Learning to drive or ski or swim. Notice, too, that all the essay questions ask you both to tell the story of an experience and also to reflect on the significance or impact of the event.
|Stanford’s photograph essay question is a great exercise that can force you to focus on small details. After examining the photo, write in your journal what you look like: what you are wearing, the details of your facial expression, hair, eyes, mouth, arms, legs. Describe who else is in the photo. What is the setting? What is happening around you? Note colors, sounds, and motions that are captured in that still moment. What is the mood and what emotions do you see in yours and others’ faces? What was happening in your life, your family’s life, the nation and the world at the time of the photo? You can use the same thought process to explore not only a photo but also other significant experiences in your life.|
Your passion for certain causes or issues, as well as your hobbies or interests, show who you are. How do you spend free time? What excites you? Concerns you? Enrages you? What have you done to translate this passion into action? I know a student whose concern over the Middle East conflict led him to give bracelents to all of his classmates commemorating those who have died in the conflict. His essay on the topic worked because his passion led him to action, and his writing conveyed his passion. Another student explored how his childhood Lego hobby was a springboard to building robots in national competitions. I taught a young woman whose frustration over male-female relations in her school led her to start a Gender Issues discussion group. I know people who could write fascinating essays on their obsession with beads, their rock collection, or bike riding. Perhaps you think it’s less than admirable to say you spend every Saturday afternoon watching classic movies, but if you can intelligently reflect on why you love old movies and what it shows about you, it could be a worthwhile topic.
Begin by listing people in your life who have nurtured your identity. In addition to your family members, you may list instructors, coaches, teachers, or neighbors. After you make a list, decide which person or people you could write about most engagingly. Some applications ask you to write about a person; some just leave the door open for you by telling you to explore a topic of choice. The Common Application, for instance, suggests that you “Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe the influence.”
You might begin your exploration by reflecting on your family and how it has affected who you have become. Focus on the details of one or two members of your famil: their appearance, their habits, their activities, and their interactions with you. Think of a story that encapsulates a relationship. Consider exploring your family’s cultural heritage, traditions, or foods. Bring the people you depict to life; give them color, personality, a voice. Provide anecdotes about these family members or other important people in your life.
Perhaps a place has gotten under your skin because you’ve spent so much time there. Perhaps you’ve worked on your grandfather’s farm in Wisconsin each summer since you were ten. Perhaps you attend a school unlike most schools in the nation, one in an unusual setting or with an unusual philosophy. Perhaps you spent a semester on sabbatical with your parents in Zimbabwe, and once you came back, everything looked different. Place can be a character, and you can tell a vivid story about how it helped shape you.
For some people, religion is integral to their lives and identities. Even so, you may consider religion a “touchy” subject. You may fear that the reader won’t like your religion. Don’t let that stop you if you have honest stories and reflections to relate. Consider writing a personal essay that reveals your thoughts about religion through a vivid story or series of anecdotes.
You care about your essay because it will help you get in to Wonderful U. Fair enough. But you can also gain a bonus along the way: self-realization as you cross the threshold from childhood to adulthood, a sense of who you are and what made you that way as you go out into the wider world. Happy digging!
For more ideas, visit the Accepted.com website, which offers lots of essay writing tips and sample student essays to help you pull your essay together.
By Alison Condie Jaenicke, Accepted.com Senior Editor
Tips for Students
Understand Your Parents’ Emotions Your parents mean well. They really do. They want the best for you. While your senior year is tough for you-with the stresses of college applications piled on top of academic pressure -it’s tough for parents as well. Their baby is leaving. Part of them already misses you-part can’t wait to shovel all of your possessions into the car. Part of them knows that many great colleges and universities await and that brand names don’t matter: part wants a Princeton sticker on the car.
Take Responsibility Don’t just groan about your parents running the show. Exhibit gumption. Gather information from your college counseling office, from on-line virtual tours of colleges, from guidebooks and websites. Decide what kind of school you’d like to attend (large or small? public or private?), think about geographic location, and look at stats to see where you might realistically expect to get in. Include your parents in the process (they will likely have a stake, especially if they’re chipping in some bucks), but take the initiative. Once you decide where you’ll apply, look at the essay questions and see if you’ll have to write one general personal statement or several essays. Research personal-essay writing at the Accepted.com website, where you can:
- Discover the do’s and don’ts of writing an application essay,
- Read sample essays, and
- Learn tips for improving your writing.
- Find help in choosing and approaching your recommenders.
Speak for Yourself Your essay can’t be your parents’ essay. In his book, On Writing the College Application Essay: Secrets of a Former Ivy League Admissions Officer, Harry Bauld points out the dangers of your parents acting as essay guide: “One warning about parents: They may want you to “sell yourself,” an approach that is dead wrong. Parents have their uses, but reading your college essay isn’t usually one of them. They care too much, and often don’t know quite enough.” Similarly, Linda Abraham of Accepted.com cautions against seeking input from too many editors. Trying to follow the advice of English teachers and college counselors, as well as friends and parents, can drive you crazy and lead to an essay that doesn’t express who you are and what you want to say. Consider an Accepted.com editor, an expert who can help you unearth your topic, establish your voice, write better and better drafts, and prune and polish your writing.
Tips for Parents
Prepare for Stormy Weather I know a mother who drove her daughter from the middle of Pennsylvania to Providence, RI, to visit Brown University earlier this year. When they arrived, the daughter refused to get out of the car. “I don’t like the look of Providence: get back on the highway,” she said. Perhaps you’ve experienced similarly baffling behavior from your child. What’s a parent to do? Your child is facing a sea change, and at times this prospect turns 18-year-olds back into two-year-olds, complete with tantrums. The prospect of independence exhilarates and frightens. Parents find that some of the same guidelines for dealing with pre-schoolers (for example, offering choices and setting clear limits) also apply to teenagers. Life is hard enough when they’ve got one foot out the door: add in the high-stakes, all-or-nothing aspect of the college admissions game, and you have lives in tumult.
Play a Supporting Role While it may seem that you need to take charge of the college application process, it’s really not your ballgame. In a USA Today article (1/5/03), MIT Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones observes how parents overly involved in the admissions process undermine their children’s goals and growth. “Parents write their kids’ essays and even attempt to attend their interviews. They make excuses for their child’s bad grades and threaten to sue high school personnel who reveal any information perceived to be potentially harmful to their child’s chances of admission.” As hard as it is to let your child take the lead (and go in directions you don’t agree with), it’s the best route in the long run. MIT’s Jones continues: “Ultimately, when parents dominate in any way through the admissions process, in attracting attention to themselves, they are detracting from the perception that their child is a young, mature adult ready to leave the nest. Parental over-involvement can also rob a child a chance to develop resilience and self-confidence, two key components for a happy life.”
Recognize How Things Have Changed The bad news: competition to get into college has stiffened. The good news: lots of schools can provide your son or daughter a top-notch education. If your impressions of colleges are based on what it was like when you applied, brace yourself. It’s not uncommon today for students to apply to a dozen schools, and as applications rise, admission rates are dropping at many schools. In a March 2001 Wall Street Journal article entitled “Schools Once Considered Backups Become as Selective as Ivy League,” Elizabeth Bernstein produced an index of the new American Ivies and safety schools. She reports that “parents are still in shock seeing their straight-A children rejected by Duke and fighting to get into Furman University.” Many parents take rejection harder than their children: you will need to be careful about projecting your desires and disappointments if you want to help your child. Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner observes that the obsession with rankings is a sign of the middle- and upper-middle-class urban myth: “That life is a race, that the funnel narrows quickly, and that if you don’t get into Harvard or Stanford, you won’t have any life chances.” The world of colleges and universities is full of gems: your challenge is helping your child find her gem and supporting her choice.
By Alison Jaenicke, Accepted.com Senior Editor
College is about so much more than a degree on the wall, it is about discovering the world you live in, while sharpening your mind. So many people go to school and waste their experience on booze and drugs, or they ONLY study all the time. I might suggest that you need a mixture of social interaction and studying, but don’t waste your college life! Planning for college can be a tedious and frustrating experience, esspecially if you’re doing it all on your own; but in your frustration, don’t just settle. Statistics show that students who attend their first choice school are 63% more likely to graduate!
In short, getting what you want may be a good thingh for you. The question is, do you know what you want? Planning for college life means planning for your future, it means that while you can go to college to “find yourself”, you also must know yourself well enough to know what you want and to effectivly plan ahead for what you might want in your future.
http://www.collegelifeplanning.webs.com (test site)
This blog is intended to provide you with knowledge and me with fulfillment. Right now I work a job that I love to do simply because I get to counsel students all day long in how to develop their life and how to grow personally and professionally. Like any good citizen of the world, I would like to do more however for the good of humanity, and for the glory of God. So as I post and write and write and post, I hope to provide you with information that you may actually like to hear and I hope I can provide a service to you that will benefit your quest for personal growth and help you plan for college and life in general.
I can be reached at: email@example.com and I am more than happy to answer your college questions; from funding to career planning, I am happy to help you light your path and get you where you want to be. Thanks for reading and good luck!