Are you supposed to tell people where you’re applying to college?
It’s a hard question. Because on the one hand it’s on your mind and it’s all you want to talk about. On the other hand you don’t want to jinx yourself or let everyone know you didn’t get in where you wanted to go.
No matter what you choose to do, the best strategy is to be polite, humble, and realistic.
How to Talk
I was a talker, I really really wanted to go to my first choice school and I was open about what school it was. The payoff when I got in was huge because pretty much anyone I had spoken to in the last few months knew I really wanted to go so they were all excited with me.
However, the lesson you learn as a talker is to not only talk about one school. Talk about all of your schools, and do it positively. And above all else be really careful talking about your safety. Remember, don’t yuck somebody else’s yum. Your safety might be someone’s dream or reach school.
Example: “Yeah I really love [School A] but I’m also applying to [School B, C, D] and I’d really be happy with any of them.”
Avoid Saying: “Worst case scenario, I’ll go to [school]” “I’m definitely going to [school you haven’t been accepted to yet”
How to Stay Quiet
The choice to not talk about where you’re applying is just as valid as talking about where you want to go. You might be nervous, or you might just not consider it anyone elses business. And that’s okay. But it’s hard to field questions when you don’t want to give the answers.
I recommend telling people you don’t want to jinx anything. Even if it’s not 100% the truth (and lets be honest, we’re all worried about jinxing ourselves), most people will leave you be after that.
Example: “Oh I’m not sure about my list yet, it changes every day you know?” or “I know it’s silly but I’m really superstitious about this stuff,”
Avoid saying: “Why do you want to know, does it have any effect on you in any way?”
(You may feel like saying this, I know I did).
Above all remember that talking about your list is your decision and your list is yours
Supplement best case scenario: You get asked the same five questions over and over again.
But of course, where there is ease in the process, there is also a catch.
Annoyingly, supplements are not a universal length. While most will hover around 250 words, sometimes there are straight-up weird word counts.
You might have the same question, but one answer has to be 250 words and the other is limited at 500 characters.
Even schools that ask for a personal statement might throw a wrench into your easy, “Oh I can just use my commonapp essay” plans by making the limit something absurd (perhaps a hard 500 word cut off when the commonapp lets you run to 650).
So what do you do? You learn to expand and contract.
Recycling essays is a no-brainer, but hitting word counts will take some work.
Here’s a few ways to do it.
Easy: Add or develop an example
The show don’t tell principle rules the college essay. So just show a little bit harder. Where your original supplement had a short example to get the point across as briefly as possible, now you have room to expand. If you didn’t fully develop the idea of your example, add some more detail to it. If you have enough room, add another example to explain the same point further.
Hard: Add another point
If you need to add a hundred words or so, you might have room for another point. Keep your focus, but widen the lens. So if you’re writing about a book that made an impact on your life by mentioning how a specific quote works as your life motto. If you have room for another point, mention another aspect of the book that has impacted you. Perhaps the life of the author inspired you, or the book made you take a road trip with your best friends. If a topic is meaningful enough for you to write about, there are a bunch of ways to find another thing to say about it.
Easy: Cut out an example (or two or three).
Most of the time you have one more example than you actually need to get your point across. Though it might make an essay seem less polished, having one story will generally accomplish what you’ve set out to prove.
Hard: Slash your sentences
If you’re dealing with an absolutely draconian word count it’s time to slash and burn. Boil down to your thesis, and then add the very minimum detail possible. Go through every sentence with a fine tooth comb and ask, “What is this saying?” Its extremely annoying but it works. Don’t repeat yourself, every sentence should add something new.
A phone call I received this afternoon started, “We left halfway through the tour.”
It happens. Sometimes you go tour a school that you think you’ll love, and you end up hating it. And if it’s one that’s far enough away that you’d rather use the last half hour of the tour beating traffic back home than spending any more time at the school, then you may even duck out.
So what do you do when that happens? Theoretically if you took the time to go and tour you were interested in the school.
For some this is a blessing. You needed to narrow an already way too long list, so here’s a quick and easy way to narrow. Or you knew it was a little bit of a reach, or you couldn’t really afford it anyway.
For others this is a major setback. If you have a shorter list, taking off a school can feel like a big risk.
So it’s really about weighing the pros and cons.
If your list is already long, or you had reservations about the school, take it off your list. A campus tour is probably the best way to gauge if you’ll like a school or not (barring, of course, actually attending).
If your list is short, or this school had a lot of big perks (maybe you were in the running for an awesome scholarship, or your parents attended), try to focus on what youdidn’t like exactly and try to find pros to match them.
After a little pressing, the person I spoke to this morning had three big reservations.
1. The info session was obnoxious and pretentious
This has been a big turn-off for this student’s entire application process, but usually the tour made up for it. Not so today.
2. The educational focus of the school doesn’t align with this student’s interests.
We knew this going in, but the student wanted to consider it anyway. As it turns out, it’s a bigger deal than they thought.
3. The school was totally in a city, no green space at all.
This one was the big red flag. This school was the only total city school on their list, so it is a totally real reason to leave it off. They don’t feel comfortable in a city. Fine. Good to know going forward.
The pros of this school were huge, so the student was scared to take it off the list.
Their major program is highly specific and this is one of the only schools that has it.
The decision was made that they would still apply because of the program, but it was now dead last on their list. If their other two big contenders don’t work out, then they’ll go and tour again (and this time, they’ll take a full tour).
It’s hard to know if you don’t like a school from only a few hours, but it can be really scary to make those kinds of snap decisions “to apply, or not to apply”
Some people are genuinely lucky and don’t have a huge awful thing that has had a profound impact on their life.
They weren’t bullied, they didn’t deal with tangible oppression, they haven’t been seriously ill. It happens. You’re lucky, relish it.
Or you might have a struggle you’re not comfortable writing an essay on.
That’s okay. Never write about something because you feel you have to.
So if this sounds like you, how do you write an essay asking about something you’ve overcome or struggled with?
I think the best way to frame it is “The Show Must Go On. ”
Just because a big thing hasn’t happened doesn’t mean you don’t have a small story about dusting yourself off after something bad happened. It could be having an event you wanted cancelled, or a grandparent passing away. It could be moving away from your childhood best friend.
Just because the event doesn’t look major from an outsiders perspective doesn’t mean that you, the insider, shouldn’t write about it. Show them why this big event is symbolic to you, and why the action you took to overcome it shows your optimism, craftiness, or resilience.
I wrote my “struggle” essay on hating to do political debates in high school classes. Small things can be interesting and important if they’re interesting to you.
I’m going to break the news now… Group projects don’t end in high school.
I’ve been reliably told that they don’t end after college either, which is why our professors force them on us in the first place.
So if you can’t beat them, join them. I went from a project-hater to someone who genuinely looks forward to the inevitable group project in every class, every semester.
Here’s three big things that have changed my perspective on group work.
1. If you want to lead, step up. If you don’t want to lead, take ownership of something.
I will be the first to admit that I am the team leader 99.9% of the time in a group. I’m organized and I can get the ball rolling, so I step up and start doing things.
But not everyone is super type A and that’s okay. When you’re figuring out the work required, take ownership of at least one part of it. In a project I did last year we had an accounting major who wasn’t great with the sociology part of sociology. But he was great at making the budget and expense report that was required for our project. He contributed his skills to something that the rest of us would have struggled with.
There will always be something you can do, so contribute in the ways you think you’ll be most useful. Everyone gets annoyed with the member who sits around and does nothing, but nobody gets pissed at the person who did a small part but did it really really well.
2. Decide on your angle early, and then figure out what needs to be done.
This is where nearly every project goes over the cliff. Simply figuring out what you’re going to do is always a struggle. So have an idea going in, even if it’s not great. If you have a seed of an idea your group can develop it into something better. This will save you the initial meeting of sitting around with nothing to do.
Then figure out what your plan is and hash it out early. Make sure every part has someone who is responsible for it. Set these tasks very clearly.
3. Pick your battles
Group projects aren’t meant to be fair. They’re meant to teach you how to work with people in a world that isn’t fair. So if someone is detracting from the group, talk to your teacher or professor about it early on. If someone isn’t doing their job, or is doing it poorly, talk to them about what you expect of them.
Sometimes there will be parasites in your group, it happens. Decide if you’d rather take the bad grade than do their part of it. Sometimes you’ll end up doing someone else’s work. Just make sure whoever is grading it knows that someone in your group didn’t do anything. Even if “everyone gets the same grade” sometimes they’ll take it into consideration and make an exception.
The 2014 PSAT is being given on October 15th and 18th.
Now there’s no reason to put a lot of pressure on the PSAT. If you do well there are perks, if you don’t do as well as you’d like you have plenty of time to improve.
However, it doesn’t hurt to have an idea of what you’re in for in terms of the PSAT.
Ask your guidance office if they have a practice packet for the test (Collegeboard gives them to high schools for free so most offices will have them). It will have example questions to get an idea of what the test looks like.
There’s also practice questions on Collegeboard’s website (HERE). Take a look, practice the questions, and if there’s anything that is new to you, look up the explanations.
Finally, get used to reading at speed and the stamina necessary for a test. If you’re not the type to read books or articles for pleasure, set aside 45 minutes to an hour every day to concentrate on sitting and reading without any breaks. It seems silly, but seriously, reading the newspaper every morning made a huge difference in my ability to sit through the test.
Mental health is something that is near and dear to my heart.
It is important. Deeply, deeply important. It doesn’t get enough attention. It’s definitely not understood or respected enough.
So here’s three very important things about mental health and college applications:
1. Your mental health is more important than your grades, your essays, your commitments. Take care of yourself. Colleges will still be there in a year or two, you only have your one body and brain.
2. If you have had previous struggles and it had an effect on your grades or high school performance, write an “Additional Information” essay explaining what the problem is, how you’ve grown, and detailing exactly how you will be able to manage your issues and succeed in college.
3. If the stress of applications is getting to you in a way you think might be more severe than normal talk to someone. Get help. I was not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder until college and my one regret is that I did not seek out help earlier. Seriously. I cannot express to you what a big impact treatment had on my life and how much easier it has made things.
If you need a signal that having a disorder is okay, that getting help is normal and healthy, that something being wrong with your brain doesn’t mean something is wrong with you this is it.
Being in school involves asking a lot of your teachers and guidance counselors.
While they’re usually wonderful and helpful, sometimes you get that dreaded “no”
There’s a few steps to dealing with that “no” and turning it into a “yes”
1. Ask for Clarification
Sometimes a teacher cannot give you a yes because they’re not allowed to confirm anything, it’s not time yet, or they didn’t understand your question.
So ask what that “no” means. Ask why it’s a no. You may be able to resolve the issue with just one conversation to clear the details.
2. Negotiate and Ask for Ideas
Okay, so they’re holding firm on their no. They won’t sign off on your independent study or make you captain. This isn’t the end of it. Tell them why it’s important to you, and ask what they think you should do. Ask for advice. If they think you don’t have the leadership ability to be captain, ask for a smaller leadership role to learn the ropes and prove you can do it.
3. Be Polite, but Persistent
Lets say that you asked your guidance counselor if they’ve sent your transcripts, and they’ve repeatedly said “No, not yet.” You’ve asked why they haven’t been sent yet, and they haven’t budged or given you a good reason why it isn’t done. Be persistent, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Ask every time you see them. Send them an email once a week. Show up at their office if need be. Either they’ll tell you why, or they’ll get it done.
4. If need be, bring in a bigger power.
This is only to be used in the most extreme of cases and when you’re 100% sure you’re undeniably in the right.
Again, be polite. Don’t come in yelling. But come in prepared. Look at any official policies or documents your school has.
I recently had a meeting with a professor who was being unreasonable about me taking an absence for a religious holiday. I went into her office with the equality clause from the Dean of Student’s office open on my computer. I was very clear that if she did not comply with the rules I would go to the Dean. I was firm, I was polite, I was prepared and I got what I needed.
Don’t be afraid to try to turn your no into a yes.