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On episode 152, Alexis Avila speaks to Dr. Shirag Shemmassian, founder and admissions consultant of Shemmassian Academic Consulting. As a Cornell University graduate and Cornell admissions interviewer, Shirag knows what the best schools are looking for in prospective students during admissions interviews. On today’s episode Shirag gives you some insider tips for what college admissions committees are truly looking for.
Want to get into any ivy league school? Shirag advises to grab what you love and go in deep with that and don’t be a dabbler!
While grades and test scores tell admissions that you work hard and have smarts, the extra currics and essays tell them what type of person you are.
Shirag’s advice for teens. 1. Believe in yourself and 2. Do what you love to do (nothing is too silly)
For another related conversation, check out podcast Episode #90 with Elizabeth Dankoski: How a Perfect SAT Score can Backfire on You
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What was your biggest takeaway from this podcast about what college admissions committees are truly looking for? Do you have any questions for Dr. Shirag Shemmassian and Alexis Avila?
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On episode 130, Alexis Avila talks writing tutor Nived Ravikumar, AKA the Statement Guru. Nived took a pretty unusual path to essay educator extraordinaire. Born and raised in Southern California, he became obsessed with movies at a young age. In high school, he became so preoccupied with writing screenplays that he went on to major in Film Studies from UCal Santa Barbara and obtain a Masters from Chapman University (M.F.A in Film Production). Today Nived uses his creative writing talents to help thousands of students all over the world learn to tell unique, engaging college admissions narratives. Nived’s admissions statement philosophy? Tell a great story! Involve readers! Get them to care! On today’s episode Nived will give you his best tips for writing amazing, unique college admissions essays.
Nived’s 4 tips for writing college essays: 1. Don’t cram everything in it. 2. Create a dynamic title to act as your anchor throughout 3. Do a force retype, instead of superficial edits 4. Focus on the “hero’s journey” so don’t be afraid to show your flaws and how you were able to persevere and learn from mistakes.
Nived’s no no’s for writing essays: Don’t be redundant and don’t play it so safe!
Nived’s advice for teens? It’s great to have an idea of your long term goals but don’t be afraid to change your mind while in college and explore other possibilities. Be adaptive!
For another related conversation, check out podcast Episode #72 with Elly Swartz: How to start, write, and revise the college admissions essay
What was your biggest takeaway from this parenting podcast? Do you have any questions for Nived Ravikumar and Alexis Avila?
Watch our video cast here!
On episode 108, Alexis talks to nationally known educator college coaching expert Sia Knight. Sia Knight’s story is one of triumph in the face of adversity and achievement against all odds. This former teacher, counselor and administrator has transcended humble beginnings to become an educational specialist in one of the largest school divisions in the country. On today’s episode Sia shares some key tips, that every college applicant should know, including:
Bonus tip: Set up a special email address just for college admissions
Sia on college admissions mania: “college admissions can be really sressfull but the smart thing to do is prepare early
Key Tip: Speak to your middle schooler about college and career. This will instill desire and motivation to want to get into college and do well in the future.
Key Advice: Pay attention! Pay attention to each lin on the scholarship application, pay attention to instructions, or you will get left behind!
Sia’s words of wisdom for teens: Get ready for college in a systematic, organized way. PLAN IT, DON’T PANIC!
Follow Sia on Twitter, Periscope, Facebook
What was your biggest takeaway from this podcast? Do you have any questions for Sia Knight and Alexis Avila?
Alexis talks to the Essay Adviser and author Elly Swartz. Elly is an experienced writer and author of dozens of articles for both The Journal of Legal Ethics at Georgetown University and for Teen Life Media, and has over a decade of experience helping hundreds of students gain acceptance to America’s best colleges, grad schools, and independent secondary schools. Elly received her B.A. with honors from Boston University and J.D. with honors from Georgetown University. Elly’s company The Essay Adviser helps students with the school application process, particularly focusing on the application essay. From brainstorming to editing to hitting send, Elly Swartz offers a custom-designed, personalized approach that best ensures your son or daughter will get into a top-tier school. On today’s episode, Elly talks gives you key tips on how to start, write, and revise a fantastic college admissions essay.
8 Takeaways from this podcast are:
What was your biggest takeaway from this article? Do you have any questions for Elly Swartz and Alexis Avila?
On episode 66 of The Prepped & Polished Podcast Alexis talks to American journalist and New York Times Best Selling Author Frank Bruni. Frank is author of “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania”. Frank was chief restaurant critic of the New York Times, from 2004 to 2009. He is the author of two bestselling books, Born Round, a memoir about his family’s love of food and his own struggles with overeating, and Ambling Into History, about George W. Bush. In June 2011, he was named an Op-Ed columnist for the newspaper. Frank received his undergrad from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Masters degree in journalistm from Columbia. On today’s episode, Frank talks about college admissions mania, the anxious parents of college bound students, and why top tier schools are rejecting even straight A students.
Frank’s advice for college-bound teens, “Remember a college education if it’s part of a life plan that you can execute is an extraordinary opportunity and adventure regardless of what that colleges acceptance rate is and there is a bevy of colleges that can give you an extraordinary education”
What was your biggest takeaway from this podcast? Do you have any questions for Frank Bruni and Alexis Avila?
Post your valuable tips or comments below:
By Rosie Colosi, Essay Expert, Prepped & Polished, LLC
You brush past the curtain as you walk onstage, the floorboards creaking as your nervous feet propel you forward. You feel the heat of the spotlight as it hits your face. Your throat dries and your palms sweat as you prepare to sing. You open your mouth and…and…
If you are applying to a theater program, this scenario probably strikes excitement instead of fear in your heart. You yearn for a life upon the wicked stage and desperately hope to gain admission to a top-notch program that will equip you for a successful career in NY or LA.
But before you see your name in lights, you need to see your name on an acceptance letter.
You must go through the regular college application process, score well on your tests, and complete a performance audition. And of course, you must write an essay convincing the admissions committee that you are the next Kristin Chenoweth or Norbert Leo Butz.
Hate writing? No problem! Here’s the pot of gold at the end of Finian’s rainbow: The audition skills you have acquired on your theatrical journey will help you in your essay writing process. Read on…
1. Pick the right song
If you’re an alto, you wouldn’t sing “My White Knight” from Music Man for an audition. If you’re a tall leading man, you wouldn’t sing “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain. You would choose a song that suits your voice, personality, and appearance. Do the same thing with your essay. Pick a topic that is important to you, that means something, that tells the reader who you are. You know how voice coaches are always telling you to “sing what you love”? Well, write what you love. It’s that simple.
2. Practice, practice, practice
You would never audition for a lead in the play after listening to your audition song once, right? You’d listen to the song, find the sheet music, sing it in your room, and maybe even rehearse in front of a coach or friend. Incorporate those good habits into your writing process. Don’t submit an essay you typed in a hurry one afternoon. Allow ample time to write, revise, edit, adjust…then share with a writing coach, a trusted friend, or a supportive teacher. Outside perspectives will help perfect your ideas.
3. Hit all the right notes
It’s every performer’s worst nightmare: prepping to sing a glorious, operatic high note…but a clunker comes out of your mouth instead. To prevent that, we aim to sing right in the center of the note, we set specific breathing patterns, count note values—and all of that’s even before we add emotion. Similarly, the mechanics of grammar, spelling, and sentence structure must be on point in your essay. Misspelling a word in your first sentence can be as detrimental as singing that clunker, so do your homework on your writing mechanics—don’t just rely on spell check.
4. Be confident
You might shout to the rooftops that you’re best singer that ever lived. Or you might downplay your talent to strangers. Find some middle ground between these two extremes. Your essay should tell your dream college that you’re pretty awesome, but bragging will rub the panel the wrong way. It’s a fine, fine line between Kate Monster and Lucy T. Slut (I’m not being crude; it’s an Avenue Q reference!), so balance confidence with humility.
5. Keep breathing
You can’t sing unless you breathe. And you certainly can’t write unless you breathe. The college application process can get hugely stressful and overwhelming, but hyperventilating never helped anyone. A little dose of butterflies in your stomach can be a good thing for performers, and you may get similarly excited and scared about college, but channel that energy into your work. Do a few breathing exercises from your voice lessons before you sit down to write. Seriously. Some extra lip trills never hurt anyone…and they might even help you write your way into Carnegie Mellon.
Rosie Colosi, college essay expert and creator of Write With Rosie, earned an M.A. in English Lit from Boston College and a B.A. in English Lit from SUNY Geneseo. She has written 12 nonfiction books for Scholastic Inc., and she has performed on stages from Alaska to Athens. Most recently, she played Mrs. Claus in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes in New York City.
Are you applying to theater schools? How is your theater program essay coming along?
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By Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
Imagine you’ve made your college football team. Years of practice in high school and grueling summer training paid off, and you get the chance to play—even to start. When you step out onto the field though, you listen halfheartedly to the quarterback’s calls, sprint just enough to avoid breaking a sweat, and steer clear of tackles.
This may sound absurd. Who would work so hard to make a team, and then disengage, once on it?
But the truth is, getting accepted to college is much like making a team and it is not uncommon for students to apply the same unenergetic approach to learning, once in the classroom. Perhaps this is because the opposite approach—an intentional, intellectually curious one—also takes hard work and practice.
When you get to college, be it this fall or in a few years, you’ll have a chance to take as much from your experience as your discipline will allow—and to stand out from among your peers in the process.
One of the best ways to achieve this is to think actively about what you’re reading when you’re doing work for a particular class. Read it aloud, if that helps, or break up the reading by tackling half a chapter and then asking yourself, “Why should I care about what I just learned?” Or, “How does this information advance what I knew about the topic?”
Chances are, if you can articulate the importance or novelty of the topic you’re studying, you are grasping the bigger picture. And if you are grasping the bigger picture, all the little details—the anecdotes in the chapters you’re reading, or the ones your professor will bring up in the classroom—will “stick.” You’ll be able to recall them later because they support an idea that’s familiar to you.
This kind of engaged participation is particularly key in the classroom; while your classmates may be tempted to snooze after a late night in the library, or text, if you can be disciplined enough to focus on the professor’s lecture, you’ll make your life much easier—and stand out. (I’ve personally had professors approach me and acknowledge that my attentiveness was noticed and appreciated.)
The more engaged you are in the classroom, the less you’ll have to fret about studying. That’s because staying engaged is a sure way to know what material the professor’s most excited about, including some of the deeper, more nuanced points that are likely to be incorporated on a test.
While your college classmates try to answer questions with filler material when in a pinch, you will be positioned to answer test questions directly, and again, to incorporate the subtleties that attention to the lecture revealed.
It takes effort to sit up straight, to hang onto a professor’s (most) every word, and to avoid distractions, but the benefits are a better relationship with that professor, a better grasp of the material, and more efficient studying. Though it could take time, you will also achieve recognition by your classmates as a leader.
Being engaged doesn’t apply merely to homework, reading, classroom presence and test taking. Students who stand apart also pay special attention to the notes and feedback professors take the time to write on their papers and projects. It might seem like extra effort to keep those materials and to take the time—amid all else you have on the go during college—to “study” those pieces, but adding them to your study repertoire will help you identify your weak spots, to avoid them going forward. In this way, you can make progress without the professor having had to call you out on your repeat errors, a process which can be discouraging.
As you go through all this, remember the instruction that ties it all together, the glue in the engaged student’s skeleton: Ask questions when you don’t understand. Whether it’s a professor or a teaching assistant, or even an older student pursuing the same major, find someone you can sit with and pepper with questions. And stand ready to do the same for the younger students who will follow you. Not only is this process important for an engaged collegiate experience; it’s one you’ll see over and over again in every aspect—investing, home maintenance, parenthood—of life.
Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. Meagan is the Science Press Package Director at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
What other ways can you engage in college? Any other tips you’d like to share?
On this episode of Prepped & Polished Radio, I interview Josh Ochs, best-selling author of “Light, Bright, and Polite”. Josh lectures social media safety to schools, parents, and teens nation-wide.
Josh graduated from the University of Southern California; He is the author of the bestselling book “Light, Bright And Polite” & public speaker teaching families to be safe online and combat cyber bullying. Josh lives in Santa Monica, California.
For more information, click on our other article, Social Media and College Admissions.
Full Word-for-Word Transcription
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Joining our show today is Josh Ochs. Josh is an Amazon.com
bestselling author of “Light, Bright and Polite”, a social media
safety and training book for corporations, schools, parents and
teens. Josh lectures nationwide teaching families and students
to be safe online and combat cyber bullying.
As a student at Arcadia High School, Josh was voted Most Friendliest
out of almost 1,000 students in his senior class. Josh graduated
from University of Southern California, and after living in
Hermosa Beach for several years, in May 2009 Josh ran for
Hermosa Beach City Council. He was the youngest person on the
We’re delighted to have Josh on our show today. He’s going to share
with us his experiences becoming an expert on social media
safety and give us a few tips along the way about how we can
keep our social media profiles light, bright and polite. Before
we start I just want to make sure our listeners have our contact
Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to
submit a question at anytime, you can use that email address.
Often our listeners will have questions as they’re listening or
afterwards. We always appreciate hearing from our listeners, so
you can email us again at email@example.com. Josh,
are you there on the line?
Josh: I am.
Alexis: Thank you so much for joining us. How are you today?
Josh: Hey, I’m well. Thanks for having me. It’s so nice of you,
Alexis. I really appreciate it.
Alexis: Sure. Sure. So, I had a chance to look at what you’re doing
online, your LinkedIn, your Instagram, your Twitter, and I’ve
got to say you have a really great-looking profile. It’s light,
bright and polite, at least to me. Is that your intention?
Josh: Thank you. Yeah. It is, indeed. I believe that if you’re going
to tell people to do something, you better be doing it yourself
and be a good example of it so it’s easier to explain to people.
Alexis: Definitely. Absolutely. So why don’t you start us off by
telling us, what does light, bright and polite mean for families
Josh: Yeah, great question and I think that’s really the cornerstone
of everything we’re going to talk about today. There are three
things that are most important that tweens and teens need to
think about. Tweens being eight to 12 and teens being 13 to 18.
First, everything that they post on social media, they need to make
sure it’s three things: light, bright and polite. Light means,
make sure it’s positive and it’s fun. It all comes back to, “Is
this something that’s kind? Am I going to say something that’s
nice to others?” and so on, so kind.
Then, bright means, be smart. Think before you tweet, think before
you post this picture on Instagram, “Is this is the right thing
to do?” Then, last and the most important one is polite. Polite
means, are you proud of this when your parents, teachers, your
coach, your principal or dean sees it tomorrow or the next day,
because they will.
Everything on social media eventually does become public, so you have
to ask yourself these three questions, “Is this something that’s
light, bright and polite?” Then, if it is, then feel free to go
ahead and send it.
Alexis: That makes so much sense because everything has repercussions
today. So that’s fantastic. What are the top three ways families
and kids can be safe on social media?
Josh: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I’d say the first and the
biggest way, and this is really a key takeaway is, a lot of
people think that there are privacy settings when you get deep
into the tech and all that stuff. I would like everybody to
think for just a moment, step back for a second and ask
yourself, “Well, do I really need even need to worry about all
this technology and being up late at night worrying about how my
child is posting?”
I teach a lot of tweens, teens, parents and young professionals, if
you live a life that is light, bright and polite and that’s all
you post – and you think before you post anything, and you’re
somewhat kind, smart and polite in all that you do – you won’t
have to worry about any of the technology or any of the changing
privacy settings, or anything else. I think that’s really key
takeaway number one and probably the biggest key takeaway.
Live a life that’s light, bright and polite and then you’re set.
Number two is keep in mind that if you have dramatic friends and
they tag you in something, not only can they get in trouble and
be sent to the school office or detention, but if you’re tagged
in it, there’s a good chance you’re going to be called into the
office as well.
So, be a good friend. Be vocal with your friends and teach them that
they need to be light, bright and polite in social media as
well. Then, the last and I think the biggest tip is, if you ever
get upset about something, call somebody. Call your BFF. Call
your parents. Call your teachers. This is what these people are
there for. Or text them and say, “I want to chat right now.”
Get it over the phone, a one-to-one conversation. Don’t post that on
social media. Call your best friend if you’re upset. Those are
just a couple of the tips. Always keeping it light, bright and
polite, making sure your dramatic friends are always very safe
in what they’re posting and tagging you in, and last if you’re
ever upset or dramatic, just call a best friend instead of
Alexis: Wow. Those tips are invaluable for today’s youth. It’s amazing
what you’re doing. What would you say is the biggest careless
mistake you see kids doing on social media these days?
Josh: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I’d say there’s a lot that
tweens and teens, anywhere between the age of eight to 18 these
days, they really don’t know a time where social media hasn’t
existed in their life. So, if we try and jump into the seat with
them and say, “Let’s walk a mile in their shoes,” a smartphone
is something they’ve grown up with in a way.
So vocalizing their daily activities and their frustrations is
something that every teen and tween feels totally comfortable
doing. So I’d say one of the biggest careless mistakes is… Let
me speak to families and parents for just a moment.
Families and parents, you really need to consider talking with your
teens and tweens about what is good and what is bad to post on
social media. It’s very, very important that they have a clear
understanding of what’s going to work and not. So talk to them
about being light, bright and polite, how to be kind, how to be
smart and especially how to be proud of everything they post.
Talk to them as well about what the consequences will be,
“Consequences look a little something like this.” A big careless
mistake is when you don’t think about the consequences, your
child, your teen or tween can’t get into that perfect school,
that college. Or perhaps they can’t get into the associated
student body as president or they’re not on the varsity football
team. Anything can happen.
Or especially, once they become a young professional they can’t get
that dream internship, which is really big on a start to their
career. So that’s one of the bigger careless mistakes. I
encourage a lot of parents to start having that conversation
with them and teach them, “This is a dramatic post and this is a
good post.” Let kids post, but teach them how to post in a
positive way that’s light, bright and polite.
Alexis: Yeah. That’s a huge tip for these kids. Because in this job
market, why would you want to blow everything away by just
venting your frustrations? That makes so much sense.
Alexis: So, Josh, what is one tip for any of us who want to make our
online profiles more private or safe?
Josh: Yeah, good question. Very good question. I’m going to answer
that with two parts, Alexis. Number one, I think it’s really
important for people to realize that nothing is private and
safe. So live a life that’s light, bright and polite. You’re
going to be better off in the long run.
I publicize a lot of my stuff because I realize that I have to live
this life. So I make everything light, bright and polite. I have
a lot to say, and have a lot of fun with it. So, it’s a good
example. You guys can go and research and see some of the stuff
I talk about. You can have a lot of fun and still be light,
bright and polite and safe on social media.
So, first you realize that nothing is private. Be light, bright and
polite in all that you do because eventually it will be
publicized. Second, it’s important that you realize that every
post you make eventually will be a billboard, and it will be
found by people that you don’t want to see it – your teachers,
your parents and if you own a company, your clients someday.
Everything is being archived. So even if you are about to graduate
high school and go into college, that college can see everything
that you post. So make sure it’s not too private. Make sure it’s
not too dramatic.
If you look at anything on your Facebook profile – here’s one of the
biggest key takeaways that we’ve had – make sure that you can
use your Facebook profile as a resume to get into college and to
get that internship. It really is important. They’re going to
find it anyways. There are a hundred ways to get access to your
It will become public. I can’t reiterate enough. “But, Josh, I have
it set to private.” Regardless, we still have a lot of ways, and
admissions officers and people at schools are so good at this.
So you need to make sure you’re proud of every photo on your
Facebook page, your Instagram, every tweet, every snapshot,
because a snapshot lives on past video. When you think it
expires, it actually goes a lot further.
So make sure that you realize nothing is private, and once you
realize that go back to everything you’ve posted and say, “What
should I take down?” A key takeaway there is go to a loved one,
family member or a good friend that will be honest with you.
Instead of privatizing your Facebook page and really trying to lock
it down, ask a friend, “Hey, friend, will you please be brutally
honest with me and tell me what five photos I should remove from
my profile on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,” whatever it is.
They will come back and they’ll give you those five photos and
they’ll be brutally honest because they care about you, and you
should seriously consider removing those.
I’ve actually had people do that with me. Even though I live a light,
bright and polite life, I still have had some photos that some
of my friends have said, “Hey, Josh, you’re a great guy and
you’re awesome. But these photos could be misunderstood.” I
went, “You know what? That’s a really good point,” and I took
them down. So I think that’s the best way to make your profile
photos private and safe.
Alexis: Wow. This is fantastic stuff. I mean, it applies to adults as
much as kids. So, Josh, tell me a little bit about what the
future holds for your company media leaders.
Josh: Yeah. So we’ve got a book coming out next year that’s going to
be “Light, Bright and Polite for Families and Kids”. It’s going
to help a lot of families to be more safe and smart on social
media. That’s going to be a tactical way to show kids how to be
kind, smart, and polite in all that they do so they’re proud of
everything they do.
Alexis: Wow. Well, please let us know when it comes out. I’m sure I’m
going to find out, and if you can come to Boston, we’d love to
Josh: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Alexis: Well, thanks Josh. I appreciate you coming on, taking some time
out of your day to share with us today. This wraps up our show
today with Josh Ochs, Amazon.com bestselling author and public
speaker. Please visit joshochs.com, J-O-S-H-O-C-H-S.com to learn
more about Josh’s social media safety trainings and to find out
when Josh may be coming to your city.
You can purchase Josh’s book, “Light, Bright and Polite”, by going to
Amazon.com and typing in “Light, Bright and Polite” into the
search bar. Thank you for joining us on the Prepped and Polished
Is your online profile light, bright, and polite? Do you have any follow-questions for Josh?
The college experience is rich in choices. You could be a double major or pursue two minors. After class, you could go to soccer practice, drama club, debate team, or band. You might study abroad one semester—or maybe even two. You could also have a boyfriend or girlfriend on campus, begin mentoring younger students, or spend a lot of time with older ones, just hanging out.
What do all of these different activities hold in common?
They’ll command your attention—and a lot of it.
In fact, it could be pretty easy to graduate just having enjoyed the college experience—and even having excelled at it—without looking beyond, to the next chapter, to contemplate the application of college to your life.
Contemplating what college will mean for you in your mid-twenties, thirties, and beyond might be an idea that seems fairly hazy right now (after all, many of you reading this blog are just doing the hard work to get into college—a major feat in itself). So I’ve thought of five questions you could ask yourself throughout the course of your college career—from day one ‘til your last—to help make this thought process relevant now.
Here we go:
1) What industries are booming now, and which ones are saturated?
Forbes Magazine is a great source for information like this. A quick look at the fastest growing industries may reveal some, like manufacturing or cattle ranching, for example, that you’ve never considered. But these businesses—like most—require communicators, leaders, technicians, and people of all kinds to think outside the box and keep them connected and stable. You wouldn’t need a background in manufacturing or cattle ranching to make a significant contribution. You would need a strong set of skills in one of the abovementioned fields and awareness that these industries are hungry.
It’s equally important to know which industries aren’t as open to job applicants. If you’re planning to pursue one, contemplate what skills to develop to set yourself apart.
2) What are three different types of jobs people who pursued my major have done, or are doing?
Get to know some of those people. Ask if you might email or call them from time to time to understand how what they learned in college is helping them in their current role. Ask them what gaps they had in their learning. Maybe you could take one of the classes they wished they’d taken.
3) What is my elevator pitch?
Can you explain your interests and strengths—and even how you want to apply them to your tentative career goals—in the time it’d take you to ride the elevator a few floors?
You’ll often need to present a similar pitch in job interviews, but more importantly, stating your intentions for your career aloud forces you to clarify them in your own mind. Thoughts that floated around comfortably in your head may come across as phony once spoken.
Sometimes the results of this exercise are surprising, particularly if you let people who know you well weigh in on what you say.
4) Where is the nearest business that’d let me shadow for a day?
Even if you don’t yet know what line of work you’d like to pursue, just getting out of the classroom and into a working environment offers important lessons, including the roles communication skills and thinking ahead play in successfully managing people. You might also learn about new cross-industry technologies that businesses are using—and hope their employees will walk in the door knowing.
Check out a previous post, here, for more details on the values of shadowing: The Importance of Internships & Work Experiences While in High School
5) What are my friends thinking of doing after college?
Though this question could make your friends a little uneasy, it’s ok to ask it. For starters, you’re all most likely in the same boat, especially in the first year or two—without a clear cut vision of just what you’ll do with your college degree. Secondly, hearing your friends think through the process of how they will apply what they will learn may give you some ideas.
Lots of people talk about questions to ask before you get to college—and these are important questions to consider. You want to find a good fit for your four-year journey.
But I propose staying just as inquisitive during your collegiate experience. Doing a little each week so you get comfortable with the hard parts.
Evaluating your efforts regularly as you make your way to graduation will mean you’re not nervous when you get there. You’ll be able to celebrate both the closing of that chapter, and the beginning of the next.
Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. She currently works as a Senior Writer and Editor at AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm based in Boston.
What other questions should you ask yourself while at college? Any other tips you’d like to share?
It’s December, and if you’re a high school senior, you might be beginning to breathe a sigh of relief. This is the time of year when the college application process is winding down. All the work you’ve done—taking AP courses, studying for the SATs, visiting campuses, applying for financial aid, writing personal statements—is done. Now all you have to do is wait for that acceptance letter, right?
Well, not exactly…
There is something missing from the list above—a subtler effort that could easily be overlooked after the essays are written and scores are in. I’m talking about mental preparation. After all, high school—the place you’ve spent the last few years—is very different from college. Taking some time to anticipate that transition and develop a good attitude will put you heads above the rest as you embark on your college journey.
Consider this, for example: in high school, your parents, teachers and even guidance counselor may have checked in on you to see how your work was going. It probably just seemed like a natural part of the high school process. It also meant that any problems you might have had in a particular class couldn’t grow too big; they were spotted first—and you were helped to overcome them and navigate to success. You may have received affirmation regularly, too, as part of this process.
In college, you’ll be living on your own. In this setting, you’ll be expected to look after yourself—and your work. Your professors may have 20 students per class, or 200. Though it is their responsibility to teach and even inspire you, they cannot look after you individually, nor ensure you pass. They may not also be able to give you the feedback you are used to receiving unless you seek them out (at office hours, for example).
In college then, it is very much up to you to chart your course, and the efforts you make—choices about how much to study, when to seek help, and how creative to get with your projects and assignments—will determine your success. This is both a liberating and exciting prospect, and one that will test your responsibility. To understand its real-life implications better, you might touch base with friends currently in college and ask how they are approaching their day-to-day workload.
Here’s another thought to consider as you prepare for the transition to college: you may have to study more than you did in high school to get the same grades. A lot of young people think about college as an exciting new experience ripe with opportunities for socializing and meeting friends; this is absolutely true, but be prepared for the fact that you could have less free time than you did in high school. So don’t get discouraged if you don’t have time to take part in every mixer or event on the quad. There will be plenty more; trust me.
Speaking of free time, just as you’ll have less supervision in your academic life, you’ll also have less of it in your time outside of class. Nobody will be stopping you from joining 8 clubs, opting not to proofread your paper, forgoing office hours (or class), or making Wednesday night the first night of your weekend. Much of this is true even if you live at home while attending college. I suggest trying to develop some routines—and keeping some basic ideas in mind. As simple as these may sound, they’re key to helping you stay healthy and productive.
1) Eat three times a day.
Let’s face it: the “freshman 15” happens. You’re going to be surrounded by a lot of food at college (at my school, the food was ranked 3rd best in the nation!)
Alternatively, you may feel pressure to look a certain way—tempted to skip a meal or two. Here’s the truth: you cannot think, let alone study, if you do not eat. And thinking and studying is what college is all about! Plus, if you hit three squares, your metabolism will be firing on all cylinders! So make time for meals. (Eating at the college cafeteria is also a great time to meet people.)
2) Join clubs. But don’t overbook yourself.
One of the most exciting aspects of college is the different array of activities available. (My freshman year, apart from cross country and track, I did dance, wrote for the school newspaper, joined the Skeptical Chemists, and participated in a service fraternity. It was a blast; I felt like I was getting to know so many of my strengths, but in the end, with school and sports, it was a lot. I backed down to two extracurricular activities and dug into those with a passion. I still met loads of people and felt a satisfying balance between academics and outside activities).
3) Find your professors’ offices.
Put their office hour schedule in your phone, and check in now and then. And definitely check in if you’re feeling foggy about your work. Professors aren’t just teachers; they are life-long friends and advisors. I still correspond with many of mine today. That time at office hours was a great place to get to know them.
4) Prepare to be a roommate.
It may be trying at times; you could have a roommate who doesn’t share much in common with you (including a sleep schedule)—or dorm members who think your room is the best place to hang into the wee hours of the night.
Few experiences challenge your people skills and personal development more than living with a roommate. Think about how you’ve handled compromise in past (you’ll likely have to do it again with the person sharing your room). Prepare to do it in this situation, and don’t be discouraged when the need to compromise arises; it’s part of the college experience. (And you’ll certainly encounter people with whom you have differences later in life, including possibly your spouse!)
5) Find a quiet study place.
This may or may NOT be your dorm room.
6) If you feel peer pressure, you won’t be alone.
This is common on college campuses. And as cliché as it sounds, if something feels really wrong to you, don’t do it. Opportunities will abound for you to get out there, explore, and find your niche.
Amid it all, keep this in mind, college is perhaps most exhilarating in the sense that every day you’re there, you are shaping your future; every class you choose and club you attend is building your knowledge and your network. Because you are in the driver’s seat, you need to step back and think “big picture” now and then. It’s your job to ask yourself if your approach is leading you in a direction, towards a career, where you want to go. And while there’s a lot riding on the way you spend your time, I wholeheartedly believe you can have a great time—socialize, go out, take part in Greek life—and still be on top of your academics.
As you gear up for college then, recognize that it will feel very different because it is very different. Make the conscious decision now to keep your head on your shoulders and to be mindful of how your choices could shape not just your week, but your life. In the end, I guarantee it’ll lower your stress level during your first year, and mean you have had a really rich experience by the time you collect your degree.
How did you get yourself mentally ready for college? Any other tips you’d like to share?