College Prep Tips: Start Early!

Here are some thoughts…

College Prep Tips

It’s never too early to start thinking about the college application process.

1. Keep a calendar and timeline. Map out the next year so that you keep track of deadlines that are coming up.

2. Create a college spreadsheet with deadlines, pros, cons, and information that help you weigh the costs and benefits of each college. Information that would be helpful to have on the list might be: requirements, fees, and any other information that may help you decide later (e.g., size, location, cost, etc.).

3. Establish a filing system for important academic documents.

There are a lot of files that start to accumulate and you’ll need them handy when you apply for colleges. Create a filing system and keep copies of your test scores, transcripts, essays, and application materials. Keep transcripts, AP, SAT and other exam scores, as well as a list of people who might be good letter writers.

4. Find out more personal, in-depth information about colleges and their alumni experiences. Don’t be afraid not only to  read more about colleges (online or through application materials) but also talk to people who recently graduated from or are attending those colleges. Most people love to talk about their college experience and will be honest about the pros and cons of their experience.

Make sure to talk to many alumni and current students at the colleges you are interested in. You can find out a lot by asking simple questions about both professional, career, and residential life at college, such as

– “What did you like about your college experience at ____?”

– “How do you think going to ____ college influenced your career? direction in life? personal life and friends?”

– “How did you like living in ____?”

If you are interested in a specific field already (e.g., film studies, biomedical engineering), find out if the college has those fields available and how it fits into the required curriculum.

Also, strongly consider visiting colleges and keeping a list (on the spreadsheet- tip #2) of the pros and cons of your reactions and thoughts after the experience since you might not remember when it comes time to decide.

5. Request recommendation letters early (i.e., at least one month in advance) and provide the people who are writing your recommendation letters with your college application essays, your resume/ CV, and the deadline and address.

A strong recommendation letter shines when the recommender has specific and detailed understanding of who you are. So choose wisely and make sure you ask if that person feels comfortable writing you a strong, specific letter of recommendation.

Choose people that you know for a significant period of time or know your work in-depth. Don’t choose someone who barely knows you just because the person sounds “famous” or are “well-known” (e.g., mayor of your town that you met once).

You don’t want your recommendation letter to look like a written copy of your resume. This means that you should maximize your chances of having a useful and excellent recommendation letter by doing this:

– make an early request of a letter (at least one month) prior to deadline
– provide your college application essays so writers know how to frame the letter
– tell recommenders if you have specific reasons for wanting to go to a specific college (for example, if you love MIT because of it’s specific engineering program, mention that to your MIT letter writer to emphasize this specific aspect)
-ideally, meet with the letter writers to discuss your plans and goals in college and what makes you unique

6. Brainstorm a list of essay topics that you’d like to write about and keep a list of essay prompts from the applications.

When you’re faced with a deadline, it’s the worst time to get writer’s block. In order to prevent a rushed essay, take some time early on to brainstorm application essay topics you find meaningful and representative of who you are as a person. One of the most important elements in a good application essay is to be authentic and true to yourself. Make sure that you give enough time to write and proofread the essay carefully. Ask friends or family to read it as well to give their thoughts and feedback.

Remember that you’re writing to a complete stranger. This means that if you are a student interested in literary criticism and philosophy and who wants to study art history in college but decide to make the main essay about zombies because you think it will stand out and be funny (but you actually have no interest in zombies at all but were just trying to be sarcastic), the reader won’t know that you’re usually a serious philosophy student because all they have is the essay in front of them. One of the worst mistakes by essay writers is to try to impress someone by being someone you’re not and result in a sense of an essay being a gimmick.

Don’t forget: Readers of application essays appreciate simplicity and authenticity. Tell a narrative and a coherent story and your application reader will appreciate it.

7. Start compiling your CV/ resume now.

It’s never too early to start making a list of all the extracurricular activities, volunteering, clubs, jobs, and awards during the academic year and the summers. It’s easier to update a CV/resume while you’re doing things rather than years afterwards trying to remember the names of the award or organization. Be honest when listing the hours (and, yes, committee members do add up the hours to check that you’re actually still have enough time to sleep during the week) and detail your descriptions accurately.

8. Finally, perhaps most importantly, be true to yourself and think of the process as only the beginning of the journey. 

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” –Aristotle

A college application is only one (albeit very important and formative) step in a series of steps of developing yourself, your identity, your career, and your personal life. The process of the college application with the dates, deadlines, and scores and GPA number crunching is important but don’t allow the goal-oriented end overshadow enjoying the process of how you get there.

The college application and decision of where to go to college is only the beginning of a longer journey and later decisions. Therefore, keep an open mind and continue to participate in activities that you find meaningful and worthwhile and not just ones that “look good” on a resume or to get into college. While it’s important to be well-rounded, it’s equally, if not more, important to be yourself. Whether you have a true passion for playing jazz music or you love rock-climbing or building robots, first try to give yourself the freedom to pursue what you enjoy and find rewarding. The enthusiasm for what you do will naturally flow from and shine through on your application as a result.

Tips for the Students using Social Media

By M. Wei

Social networking and social media are the emblem of the contemporary online and Ipod/Iphone-networked generation. Websites for social networking like Facebook and Twitter as well as professional websites like LinkedIn are some of the most popular web destinations, with teenagers and young adults being one of the dominant users.

Students should be aware of the risks of using social networking and the importance of being careful to keep personal and professional worlds separate. Facebook has a history of making privacy changes and additional features, often without warning, which can release personal information into the general public. Many of these changes have resulted in complaints and liability around privacy.

Once information is released into the public domain on the internet and picked up by search engines, it’s extremely difficult to get rid of this information, which get further preserved through caches. Therefore, as the young student, one should be careful of what and how they post online, even years before applying to colleges and, later, jobs. Colleges, medical schools, and hiring law firms and other potential employers commonly search for potential applicants online.

U.S. News education gives some tips for college students on how to use social networks responsibly during the job search. Many of them apply to any student using these networks. Other websites warn students about pitfalls that students may make.

1. Check and customize privacy settings and use them appropriately.

It’s standard guidance to use your privacy settings appropriately and to separate work, school, and personal circles. However, sometimes it’s not within your control of what is posted. Sometimes your friends may tag you in a photo and it’ll appear on your page without your awareness or permission. The safest way is to check your page periodically and monitor what is posted about you.

2. Assess your profile picture and other photos.

Post and use photos that you would be comfortable with having a teacher, parents, or future college or employer see. Monitor photos that are posted up by your friends as well to ensure that they are appropriate and that you approve of them.

3. Use appropriate language… even on status updates.

Even when you post a status update and delete it, that information has already been released into the circle of friends and maybe even the public, depending on your privacy settings. All it takes is someone to copy and forward that information, so be aware that what you post online with the intent to distribute the information to a small group of people, it may reach a broader audience. Therefore, it is advisable to use appropriate language.

4. Limit personal and identifying information.

Identity theft and even burglars have been tipped off about when people aren’t home and where people can be found, so keep personal and identifying information off the web. This is a basic protection precautionary measure.

5. Don’t join groups that may be embarrassing or inappropriate.

Sometimes people forget that they joined a group or liked a page for fun. These groups still appear on their profile page and often appear publicly under their name. The information of your joining the group is also stored for a long time under search engines and you won’t be able to get rid of that posting, even if you leave the group later. So while it may be funny at the time, think twice about whether you want that group to be linked to your name.

6. Finally, “Google” your name every few weeks to a month to make sure that information posted online is accurate and appropriate.

If you have a unique name, then you may be able to check every month on whether new information has been posted online about you. This gives you awareness of what colleges and future employers will find about you online.