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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?
By Alexa M., SAT Math Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
This question comes up regularly, and the short answer is: it doesn’t matter. Take whichever test you feel you can do well on. Really. Even MIT does not require that you take the Math 2, though they do insist you take one of the two math tests. Unless you claim on your application that you intend to be a math, physics, or other math-intensive major, your choice of test is unlikely to make a significant difference to your application.
The College Board’s official statement on the matter is: “If you have taken trigonometry or elementary functions (precalculus) or both, received grades of B or better in these courses, and are comfortable knowing when and how to use a scientific or graphing calculator, you should select the Level 2 test. If you are sufficiently prepared to take Level 2, but elect to take Level 1 in hopes of receiving a higher score, you may not do as well as you expect. You may want to consider taking the test that covers the topics you learned most recently, since the material will be fresh in your mind.”
It is useful to be aware of the fact that scores on the two tests are not comparable. Because the Math 2 is taken primarily by those who would describe themselves as “math people”, the overall scores tend to be higher. A 700 on the Math 2 will put you at around the 50th percentile. Fortunately, colleges know this, but it can be a bit of a shock when you receive your scores (especially if you are a self-described “math person”)!
What are the differences between the two tests?
• The Math 1 directly covers plane geometry, which the Math 2 doesn’t cover at all.
• The Math 2 emphasizes a number of major topics that aren’t covered on the Math 1:
o Properties of complex numbers, not just their arithmetic
o Parametric equations
o Polar Coordinates
o Coordinate geometry in three dimensions
o A great deal more trigonometry (graphs of trigonometric functions, radians, Laws of Sines and Cosines, trigonometric equations)
o Standard deviation
If you’ve covered the topics on the Math 2, you may want to sign up for the more advanced test. You can change your mind (and your tutoring!) up to two weeks before the test, so there is no harm in starting to prepare for the Math 2 and then deciding you are not ready for it.
Below is a more detailed chart of the differences between the two tests:
Alexa graduated from Reed College and earned a Master’s degree in math from the University of Pennsylvania. She has tutored students at every age and level from 10 to adult and from basic math through AP calculus, multivariate calculus and beyond.
Are you gearing up for the Math Level 1 or Level 2 Test?
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?
When you’re college-bound, here’s one question you can be sure to hear.
“What are you planning to study?”
Questions about your major will continue when you enter college—deviating slightly if you’re undecided (“Ok, well, which way are you leaning?”), and becoming more persistent if you remain undecided through sophomore year (“Have you at least narrowed it down?”)
The questions don’t stop after you’ve obtained your degree; in many a job interview, the topic of your major surfaces, and early. And even at social gatherings, “What did you study in college?” is a common line of inquiry for people getting to know one another.
In short, the choice of a college major is one that society, and employers, find defining. It is your commitment not only to a particular area of study, but also to a relevant career, and it says a lot about you (perhaps even more than you’d say about yourself).
If you’re a high school junior or senior, and you’re not yet confident about what area of study you’d like to pursue in college, don’t fret. You have plenty of time. (In fact, some would say declaring your major early, at the time of college enrollment, limits your opportunity to experiment and explore different fields, including ones about which you’ve never heard).
On the other hand, just because a college major is a college pursuit doesn’t mean freshman year is when you should get serious about contemplating the field of study you’ll make your own. You can start now.
How, you might ask?
Contemplating your interests in terms of a career is a great place to start. In a previous blog post, I talked about how high school is a valuable time to shadow professionals in different fields. If you’ve had some of these experiences and know, for example, that you’re interested in engineering, talk to individuals in this profession. Ask them which major they pursued. (Note that the link between college major and career path is not always direct. Engineers, for example, often pursue majors in specialty areas, like mechanical or civil engineering. But in some cases, they may have majored in seemingly unrelated topics, recognized they were good problem solvers—a huge part of the job of an engineer—and gone on to pursue engineering-focused coursework either as part of their college experience, or after. The path to arrive at a career can vary, but it will undoubtedly contain certain key elements. Get to know what those are by talking to people in the field that interests you about their education.)
Stepping back a bit, if you haven’t yet established your interests in terms of a career, take the opportunity to be proactive. Bear in mind what you’ve enjoyed, and think critically about where you’ve excelled. These experiences provide a guidepost; you will undoubtedly do good work if you enjoy what you are doing—so incorporate established interests in your freshman class schedule.
Meanwhile, because you often don’t have to choose a major until the end of your sophomore year, your coursework during this time can comprise a diverse range. Carpe diem! And as you take a variety of classes, don’t fret that you’re “wasting” time; you’ll earn credits that count toward your degree, no matter your major. (Do keep in mind that some majors—like biochemistry—require numerous courses taken in a specific order. Embarking on one these after your first year might mean you’ll take a little longer to complete your degree. However, even before you formally declare what you plan to major in, you can begin taking classes in a particular field.)
If you sign up for a schedule that is jam-packed but you’d still like to slip into that finance course to see if the material sparks your interest, be open to auditing; ask the professor if you can sit in—without doing homework, taking tests, or getting credit, but giving yourself a chance to hear course discussions.
The key throughout this process is to be hands-on; sign up for classes you know you’ll enjoy, as well as classes that may be completely foreign to you. Go the extra mile to have additional academic opportunities. It’s all about collecting the information you need to help you make your choice. One thing to consider as part of this process is that those who don’t seek immediate satisfaction tend to find lasting satisfaction; some courses (say, statistics) might not excite you at first blush, but the overall degree they will earn can open the door to some pretty exciting careers.
Lastly, recognize that if there is a course of study you’d really like to pursue but it is not available as a traditional major, you might be able to work with college faculty to create an individualized one. In this scenario, you select a theme and then develop it with courses from a number of different traditional major tracks.
When choosing a major, not only do you have to contemplate your interests and strengths (something you can begin to do in high school), and put yourself in fields of study that inspire you to learn. It could also be helpful to think a bit farther ahead—to critically evaluate job needs today, in this country, and abroad. It’s equally important to contemplate challenges you might face once you’ve got gotten your degree and are pursuing a certain job (something those in your field of interest could speak to). For example, it may be that more and more hospitals are looking for doctors who specialize in a particular area, or speak a particular language. In identifying job needs and challenges early on, you can work to equip yourself with a desirable skill set—one that will make you truly competitive.
I would also note that a college major does not align directly with a particular job. A history major could run a business, just as an historian could have studied physics, for his/her major. But in the end, the intensity you put on certain studies will dictate your appeal as you apply for jobs.
What was your major in college? Did you pursue a related career with that major?
Your parents taught you to say thank you—and perhaps even to write thank you notes, but in an age when we whip off emails, texts, and tweets at lightning pace and everything seems instant, how important is it to put pen to paper to express gratitude?
Well… Cicero would say, very. He claimed that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Accordingly, overlooking an opportunity to fully express it to someone who has helped you or given you a gift seems equivalent to forgoing an important discussion with that person. Put a bit more harshly, it’s like saying, “I don’t care about my reputation.”
When you receive assistance from a teacher on a special project, or time from a college admissions counselor during your first campus visit, or a gift from an uncle, you should be thinking about thanking these individuals with a note. Now, you may wonder why I’m writing about thank you notes on a page geared toward high school students contemplating strategies for academic success. I’ll tell you.
First, as previously discussed, thank you notes reflect your character; you’re someone who is cognizant of the sacrifices of time or money others make on your behalf. And character so-shaped is something colleges and employers actively seek. (Think about it: after a while, even the most competitive resumes begin to melt together, but the integrity with which the executive who interviewed you recalls you stands out). Along those lines, the pause you give when writing a sincere note—particularly for something intangible, like inspiration throughout a difficult project—provides space for you to actively consider the role those around you have had in your successes. In other words, it fosters humility, a character trait in leaders who truly garner the respect of those they lead.
Writing thank you notes also gives you practice communicating; even in this digital age of speedy chatter, the written word is important—an extension of your ability to critically think. If you cannot communicate well, your appeal will be limited. It’s one thing to tell the business executive who interviewed “thanks a lot;” it’s another thing entirely to communicate to him that you will apply the advice he gave on getting experience in a particular field, or studying a particular skill—and that in the future you’d be honored to work for him. (Aside: when writing to teachers or employers, keep it brief and professional. You can wax poetic to family and friends.)
Thank you notes are also important because, when it comes down to it, people like being appreciated. You give the gift of acknowledgement through your note, nurturing your relationship with that individual. (In this way, it’s a bit like networking).
Finally, expressing gratitude will also make you happy; it’s a little “time out” you take to recognize what you have, what you’ve learned, or to what lengths another individual has gone to help you succeed. Even when you are striving for goals you’ve not yet attained, it’s important to take time to consider how you’ve been helped in the process so far. It will make your more thoughtful (and even happy) as you pursue additional assistance. And you’d be amazed how much a cheerful persona eases interactions!
After having written your thank you note, you’re not done (exactly). John F Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” In other words, take what you write to heart (just as you hope the recipient will)—and try to live up to it! (If you thank your tennis coach for extra time spent the past few weeks helping you on your serve after practice, be sure to recall the lessons she gave you every time you step up to the line to launch that ace. Show her you’ve truly absorbed the teaching.)
I may not do everything my parents taught me (I really should dust my apartment sometime [for the first time]), but I rarely neglect writing a thank you note.
Do you send thank-you notes after college visits? When is the last time you’ve written a thank-you note?
I have a little blue notebook—nothing special to look at—that’s worth its weight in gold.
Why, you may ask?
Because it’s full of the names of dozens of people I’ve meaningfully interacted with since I started thinking about getting a job (and I started thinking about getting a job in the 10th grade, when I did an internship with a local radiologist. His name is one of the first in my little book).
A skim through the book’s pages is like a walk through my academic and professional ride. I note the names of high school teachers I talked to about college entry; college professors who are also science writers, and who gave me direction as I pursued science writing (and who continue to give me direction today); a grad school advisor whose very presence inspires me to keep writing in new and challenging ways (that’s been important over the years—not to stagnate); numerous professional writers, themselves connected to other writers, and with experience working at different media outlets around the country (and the world); scientists who would be happy to help with a story; travelers who can suggest the best sights in Australia; and seasoned veterans of life who could offer wisdom about anything under the sun.
Some of these individuals, I encountered through my coursework or through mutual friends. Others, I sought out (I will go to MIT and speak right to the source when crafting an article on a new technology, for example). All of them can provide a tremendous array of insight into any professional opportunities I might consider along the way (or have considered). They can also speak to the benefits of making decisions to do things like freelance or work for a company. They’re also just plain fun.
Over the years, as I’ve been in different settings, academic and professional, I’ve made it a point to ask people questions about how they got to where they are; I find the resulting stories fascinating. (One fellow I know with a background in aerospace studies, for example, is now building crop loss predication tools for farmers). The way people get from what they were interested in when they were young, to what they studied, and ultimately to the work they have ended up pursuing most passionately is inevitably a great story—and one that can reveal ways in which to use knowledge you may previously not have contemplated. (Did you know you can use a background in math to help to map out advertising campaigns?)
So I keep asking people: how did you get here?
I also like to touch base with these people I meet, as the months move on, and hear about their work.
One way to describe this activity could be “networking,” which Wikipedia defines as groups of like-minded businesspeople recognizing creating, or acting upon business opportunities. It’s true that great opportunities—including my current position, as well pursuit of a Fulbright scholarship in Spain—resulted from my knowing different people whose names are in my little blue book. But I realize I think of knowing them as more than that, a warm, wonderful and informative web that’s given scope and shape to my life. It’s wonderful. And I’m farther along—and looking farther out—because of it.
My recommendation to you: keep a little notebook, too. Jot down the names of individuals you meet who are making great strides. Seek out more such individuals and ask them how they got to where they are. Your own possibility will be magnified for it, and in turn, someday, you’ll magnify that of others, too.
Do you think networking is important for students and young adults? How do you network in your daily life?