ISEE instructor Terri K. shows you how to find …
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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:
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The Prepped and Polished Podcast is an educational and inspirational show that offers tutoring and test prep tips as well as interviews with celebrities and leaders in education. It is hosted by Alexis Avila, founder of Prepped and Polished LLC, a tutoring and test prep firm for K-college.
On today’s show, Alexis talks to founder of The Essay Adviser, Elly Swartz. The Essay Adviser is a company that helps high school students craft well written essays for their college applications. Elly goes into detail about the application process, how parents can help their teens during this exciting and stressful time and much more.
Enjoy, Thanks for Listening and remember at The Prepped and Polished Podcast, We Empower You to Take Control of Your Education!
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SSAT and ISEE Tutor Terri K. of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you six strategies and one bonus tip for the SSAT Creative Prompt in the SSAT Essay Section.
1. Prewrite your response.
2. Use a clear structure.
3. Decide what point of view and tense you will use.
4. Use effective imagery and vocabulary.
5. Use effective grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.
BONUS TIP: Do NOT underestimate the power of your writing sample.
Full Word-for-Word Transcription
Tip Number 4: Your story should use effective vocabulary and good imagery.
Your goal is clear, lively writing that uses imagery, which is the 5
senses; figurative language like similes, metaphors, personification; and
well-chosen vocabulary that shows rather than tells. Use exciting verbs to
empower your writing. For example, ‘The pitiful defendant got on her knees
and asked for mercy.’ Substitute ‘asked’ for ‘pleaded for mercy’. Instead
of ‘Linda was scared’, you could write her, ‘Hands were clammy’, or ‘Her
body was quivering like a bowl of Jell-O’. Avoid ‘he said, she said’.
Reveal a character’s tone. ‘He asked contemptuously’, or you could say ‘She
snorted in amusement’. Check for overused words like ‘things’ and ‘stuff’.
Tip Number 5: Use effective grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.
When you proofread, look for the two most common pitfalls which are
sentence fragments and run-on sentences. A sentence fragment is part of a
sentence that is punctuated as if it were a complete sentence. For example,
‘On that morning, I sat in my usual spot on the old wooden stool in the
corner of my mother’s kitchen.’ That fragment lacks a subject or verb. We
can correct that by saying, ‘On that morning, I sat in my usual spot, on
the old wooden stool in the corner of my mother’s kitchen.’ Run-on
sentences are two complete sentences that run together as if they are one.
If there’s two independent clauses in one sentence, you must make them into
two sentences separated with a period, joined with a comma and a
coordinating conjunction: And, but, or, nor, for, so, and yet, or connected
with a semicolon.
For example, here’s a run-on sentence: ‘Michael Jordan played for the
Chicago Bulls he was the team’s star player’; definitely a run-on sentence.
Here are 3 ways you could correct that: You could add a period and a
capital letter. You could put a comma and a coordinating conjunction ‘and’,
or a semicolon and have a lower case ‘H’. Then you would eliminate the
problem of a run-on sentence.
The best way to excel on the creative prompt is to read a wide selection of
materials to increase your vocabulary; this will enable you to select just
the right word whenever you need it. Reading your favorite authors empowers
you to improve your writing skills and develop your own writing style and
Here’s a bonus tip for you: Do not underestimate the power of your writing
sample. Schools use the writing sample as an indication of how well you
write under controlled conditions, to estimate your academic capability to
perform in an independent setting, and to compare your performance with
other applicants for admission or with your current academic record. Bottom
line, the essay is often used as the final judgment. I hope these tips
today will help you to write your best creative response on the SSAT. Good
Are you getting ready for the SSAT? Which of Terri’s creative prompt tips did you find most helpful?
“Last year our son had received B- grades on his essays and I knew he could do better. His teachers didn’t seem to help. After P&P, our son received an A three or four times for the remainder of the year in essays for English and History classes. I believe the sessions also improved his writing for his Finals!”
Adam S. Executive Functioning Coach and Study Skills Tutor of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you how to write an essay. He also teaches you how to write an outline and lists steps to writing a good paper.
Five keys to a good paper:
1. Break the paper down into its component pieces, title, intro, body, conclusion, and works cited
2. In the intro, set the scene, give us a hook, state your argument, and forecast your main claims
3. Create your body by introducing your claims, explain how these claims support your argument, and create a smooth transition
4. Write your conclusion, remind us of your best points and restate your thesis. Then discuss what’s the next step in this discussion.
5. List all the sources that you used in the course of writing this paper.
Hey, guys. Adam S. here; Prepped and Polished, South Natick, Massachusetts.
Last time we talked about backwards planning, big picture; how to look at a
big project and think about how to break it down and plan it backwards over
time. Today we’re going to really dive into a pretty common assignment that
a lot of kids struggle with: How to write an essay. For a lot of us when we
first get assigned a paper, we just have these memories of sitting and
looking at a blank piece of paper and a lot of frustrated hours spent
sitting in front of a computer just staring at an empty page. It doesn’t
have to be that way. The trick is to realize that, in a way, every paper
you’re ever going to write is the same but different. Let’s head over to
the whiteboard and I’ll show you what I mean.
Here we are, a scene that’s pretty familiar for most of us, just staring at
a blank piece of paper; no idea what to do, where to begin. How do we even
get started? The lesson that we learned last time is that sometimes it
helps if you can start at the end. What does the finished product look
like? You know a finished paper is going to have a few elements that every
paper you write is going to have. Let’s talk about what those are. First,
you’re going to have a title; every paper has a title, then there’s an
intro, a body, we have a conclusion, and then some works cited or
bibliography. Let’s break these component pieces down a little bit and talk
about what each one of them means.
This basic skeleton is going to hold true for pretty much every academic
paper that you’re ever going to write. Of course, the content will change
based on the topic, but the structure is going to pretty . . . relatively
constant. Let’s talk about what these pieces mean. First is your title;
that could be a page, it could be a header at the top of your paper. It’s
pretty simple. It gives the title of your paper, your name, date, maybe the
class title, and other pertinent information like that. The next thing that
your paper’s going to lead into is your introduction. Your introduction,
regardless of the topic, is always going to serve a similar function. There
are a few main points you always need to hit. The first thing you want your
intro to do is to set the scene. Tell me what you’re going to talk about.
Tell me where I am. Give me some context. Then you’re going to give us a
hook. Why should we read this paper? Why do I care? What’s interesting
about your take on this situation? Then you’re going to state your
argument; this is your thesis. Give me your topic. Then you’re going to
finish your intro by forecasting your main claims.
Every paper that you write is going to have maybe anywhere between 3 and 5,
depending on the length of the paper, main claims to really back up your
argument. Forecast what those are going to be. Remember, you want this to
be pretty concise and to the point. Any good paper is going to start strong
and finish strong, because people remember the first thing and the last
thing that they see.
After your introduction, you’re going to transition into your body
paragraphs. The body of your paper is where you’re going to discuss your
main claims. Each claim is generally going to get at least a paragraph,
maybe a couple of paragraphs, even a couple of pages depending on how long
the paper’s going to be. Each body paragraph should have a few things in
common. They should all start with a topic sentence; that’s where you
introduce the claim that you’re going to talk about. Then you want to
explain why that claim is important to this paper. How does it relate to
your thesis? How does it strengthen your argument? Then you want to give
support; this is where you would include quotations from sources that you
had read. If you’re writing about a specific book, this would be quotes
from the book. If it’s a research paper, these could be journal articles,
even websites. Then at the end you want to transition; you want to set the
stage for moving into your next body paragraph, a smooth transition for
introducing your next claim.
At the end of your body comes your conclusion. This is your chance to wrap
it all up. What do you want to do? Remember, you want to start strong, you
want to finish strong, so you got to make sure you have a strong
conclusion. First, you want to remind us of your best points. Hopefully,
your paper was structured such that you started with your smallest points
and closed with your biggest. You want to go small too big, and then remind
us of the best ones. Then restate your refined thesis. You gave us an
argument at the beginning of the paper. Did your opinion change? Did you
learn anything over the course of this discussion? Then tell us the next
step. What would a future paper about this topic be about? Are there any
unanswered questions? That’s how you want to close out your paper.
Then after your conclusion, your paper’s going to finish with some kind of
works-cited page or bibliography. Your teacher might have different
preferences about what format they want you to use, so make sure you check
about the rules regarding citations. There’s also a lot of great web
resources that make citing works really easy.
Now I want to take a second to talk about the importance of outlining.
Outlining is really important; it’s actually a huge time saver. It might
sound like more work up front, but if you outline well, writing the paper’s
the easy part. All you have to do is connect the dots. Now you know that
this is the basic skeleton of, really, any paper you’re ever going to have
to write. They’re all going to be different, but they’re also all going to
be kind of the same.
For example, let’s say we had to write a paper about our best vacation
ever. We’d have an intro. What’s the scene? My vacation. Where’d you go? I
went to Hawaii. Set the scene; tell me what Hawaii’s like. What’s the hook?
What happened in Hawaii? What’s really exciting? What’s your argument? My
argument is that this was the best vacation ever because . . . then
forecast your main claims. It was the best vacation ever because I surfed,
I learned something, I made a new friend. Then you go and talk about your
claims. Claim 1: I surfed. Claim 2L learned something. Fill in what you’re
going to talk about with details about each point. Then you have your
conclusion. Main points: Great vacation for these reasons. Refined thesis:
I learned that although this was a great vacation, it wasn’t as great for
the reasons that I thought it was. I learned something. My opinion changed.
Then give me the next step, what’s the next discussion about this argument?
Maybe next time this is the vacation I’d like to take in the future. You
plunk those points into this skeleton, and now all you have to do is sit
down and connect the dots and you have a paper.
How do you plan for a paper? What are the basic steps? We talked about the
skeleton and what goes into a paper. How do you break that up over the
course of a week or 2, or 3? There’s some important steps to writing a
paper. The first thing you have to do is research, if necessary, if you
need to research your topic before you write about it. Then you want to
write your outline. Then you want to write your first draft. Don’t hand in
your first draft. It’s really important that you take the time to
proofread, revise, and make edits. You want to give yourself enough time
before the paper’s due to be able to do that. You’ll have a much better
paper in the end. After the first draft, you want to make edits and revise
it as necessary. Then you have your final draft, including your works
All of this is going to take time. That’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 items. If we had 2
weeks to get this paper done, we’d want to backwards plan. Start at the due
date and count backwards. Say you have 10 days between now and then; that
means you can assign 2 days to each of these points. You have 2 days to
research, another couple of days to outline it, a couple of days to work on
your first draft, a couple of days of editing and revising, and then your
final draft is done, no sweat.
Those are the basic steps of writing a paper, a road map of how to get
there. Hopefully, now you can see how every paper is the same but
different. You never have to write your first paper again. If you can
remember this road map, you’ll always know where to begin, where you’re
going, and how you’re going to get there. See you next time.
What is your current process for writing an essay? Which of our essay tips did you find most useful?
On this episode of Prepped & Polished Radio, I interview teen-fiction writer and USA Today best-selling author Rebecca Donovan. Rebecca talks about her journey as a successful author of the popular “Breathing” series and gives us tips on how we can tap into our creative writing potential.
Rebecca has a degree in Psychology from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She has been a writer most of her life and recently published her first book, Reason to Breathe in 2011. She lives in Massachusetts.
Joining our show today, is Rebecca Donovan. Rebecca is a USA Today
bestselling author, her debut novel entitled, “Reason to Breathe.” Her
“Breathing” series has resonated with readers, especially teens, around the
world and continues to grow in popularity. Rebecca has a degree in
Psychology from the University of Missouri-Columbia. After graduating from
college, Rebecca worked with teens in social services for over three years.
She made a career change and worked within the event industry for 12 years,
particularly, wedding planning. She’s been a writer most of her life, and
recently published her first book, “Reason to Breathe,” in 2011.
We’re delighted to have Rebecca on our show. She’s going to share with us
her experiences becoming a professional teenage fiction writer and give us
a few tips about how kids and adults can tap into their creative writing
potential and perhaps, one day become successful writers themselves. Before
we start, I want to make sure our listeners have our contact info. Our
email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to submit a
question at any time, 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 at any time at
email@example.com. Rebecca, are you there on the line?
Rebecca: Yes, I am. How are you, Alexis?
Alexis: Great. Thank you so much for joining us. How are you today?
Rebecca: Better, thanks. I have a little bit of sore throat. If my voice
cracks, don’t bother listening to that.
Alexis: We won’t hold it against you at all. When I was trying to schedule
this interview with you, you were in the West Coast. I believe you were in
Los Angeles. I know you were recently finishing your third book. What
brought you to L.A.? What were you doing out there?
Rebecca: I like to call her my writing partner, now that I’m published with
professional publishing houses, I have my own editing team. Before that,
when I was an indie writer, she acted as my editor in all sense of
grammatic and sentence structure and content. She’s still a writing partner
for me. She lives out in the Ventura County area, which is north of L.A.
The third book, “Out of Breath,” takes place in that area as well, Santa
Barbara. There was great inspiration, and it was great to be able to work
one-on-one with her versus over the Internet or through email. It was just
a nice writing experience sitting right there on the ocean and having that
to look at every day.
Alexis: I could imagine that is inspiration. Could you tell us a little
bit, Rebecca, about your book series, the “Breathing” series and a little
bit about your journey so far as a successful author?
Rebecca: The series is based on a girl who has a hard home life. She has a
difficult past. She’s coming to terms with all of that and displaying her
life and her story enfold with repercussions of having to heal, having to
make choices that are difficult for anyone that’s in that kind of
situation. It resonates with so many people because of the realistic way
I’ve chosen to portray it. I didn’t hold back in the abuse that she goes
through and the trauma that she has to endure. I’ve received countless
emails from so many people, so many survivors of child abuse who have
thanked me for telling her story, giving her a voice and showing the world
that this does exist. It’s been an amazing journey because it’s happened by
word-of-mouth. It’s happened because my readers are so passionate and so
excited about this. As soon as they’re done reading it, they have to tell
the next person, or they can’t wait to share it with someone else or to
have someone else emotionally go through it with them. It’s been surreal,
and I’ve enjoyed every step of the process.
Alexis: That makes a lot of sense. When I was researching, looking at your
blog and all the social media, you’re out there. I could see all those
letters in response to these characters that they’re reading.
Rebecca: They truly connect with them like they’re real people, and that’s
Alexis: Can you tell us a little bit . . . I don’t want you giving away
spoilers or anything . . . who’s Emma and Evan, these main characters I
keep hearing about in your books? Why do you think teens relate to these
Rebecca: Emma is the main character. It’s first person through her
perspective. She starts in the first book. She’s 16. She’s a junior in high
school. She lives with her aunt and uncle. Her aunt is not welcoming of her
invading her life and her home and is abusive towards Emma. Emma has to
hide this from everyone with the risk of losing her two younger siblings to
the foster care system or being removed from the home. She doesn’t want
that life for them because their parents truly do love them. So she’s
basically sacrificing herself in the hopes of getting through high school,
getting off to college, and just being done with them.
Evan is a love interest, in truth. He’s a transfer. He doesn’t know
anything about her, doesn’t know anything about her personality, her style
of life. He’s intrigued by her. The rest of the school [inaudible 06:58]
someone that works in the shadows, doesn’t participate. She excels in
everything, but she doesn’t give a sizeable contribution so that she’s
recognized by any of her peers socially. Evan is intrigued by her. He wants
to know more about her. I think that because I surround them by the essence
of what high school is, the football games, the parties, the day-to-day
gossip that keeps them grounded in this real world of what high school is.
The characters themselves are not the normal teenagers.
Obviously, the average teenager doesn’t have to endure the type of abuse
that Emma has to go through. There are teenagers that do, but that’s not
the average high school experience. Evan travels, he goes from school to
school, and he has had to age beyond his years because he’s always thrust
into these adult situations. That’s one of the reasons he recognizes Emma
as being different. There’s something about her, and any other teenage boy
would have dismissed her as stuck up, or she’s just not interested. He sees
more of her than she’s letting the rest of her peers see. I let them be
different than what the average high school experience is. I think that’s
what draws readers to them, because they’re just so intense. I guess that’s
the best way to put it.
Alexis: Absolutely. You have to go for the jugular to make it resonate with
people. Rebecca, let’s find out a little bit about you. Did you read and
write a lot growing up?
Rebecca: I’ve always read. It’s funny, because YA was never my particular
genre of reading. When I wrote for it, it was kind of ironic. I was more of
a horror-fiction, crime novel, realistic crimes actually. That was my take
on the world of my readership. I’m a huge Stephen King fan, so that was
what I read growing up. Writing, I was in journal. I was always very
imaginative. Even as a child, the stories that I would create in my head or
whether I was able to write them down for assignments and such, I was
always writing. I never took the chance to write a novel until a couple
years ago, but I’ve always considered myself a writer. I’ve always been
very expressive, very imaginative.
Alexis: I think that answers the question what you were like as a teen. You
were submerged in books.
Rebecca: Right. I have a bit of Emma-ism, I suppose, in the early part of
my teen years. I was quiet and not really social. I was in advanced
placement classes in my first couple years in high school. Then, it tends
to be the opposite that the more social I became, the less my grades were
as stellar. I was still up in advanced placement English, bio, math
classes, and such. I loved school, and I totally immersed myself in it. I
was the editor of my high school paper. I did some photography for it. I
was able to draw from my experiences, and that’s where my comfort zone was
when I created Emma, but giving her a completely different world. It was me
growing up. I was a little bit awkward at first, and then I grew into
myself, as probably most teens do.
Alexis: Absolutely. We work with students here at Prepped and Polished, and
I’m always thinking about them. Do you have to be someone who was always a
writer to become a writer, or can you learn it?
Rebecca: I think it’s part of you. You write because it’s who you are. It’s
a need that you have, a story in your head that keeps going on and on. The
only way you can get it out, you get it on your paper. If you’re acting it
out, it’s some sort of art form. It’s a form of expression, I consider it
art. I consider it an art, whether writing, painting or acting, it’s a way
of expressing what’s already inside of you. It’s your essence. Your talent
that can be molded. That can be taken either through creative writing
classes, groups, teachers, and educators. Taking something that’s already
there and helping you shape it, so that the world can be a part of it.
That’s how you can become a writer.
Alexis: I really understand, and I love that analogy with the art form. You
don’t hear enough of that, that writing is an art form where you have to
feel it from within, and you, also, have to own your craft and work on it.
Rebecca: Exactly. You just don’t write something, put it out there and the
world takes it and says, “This is brilliant.” It would be amazing to
happen, but there are more rejections than there are acceptances. That
doesn’t mean that you should give up. You write it because that’s what you
need to do. Whether the world accepts it, you can’t control that. That’s
outside. That’s subjective. What you put on paper, how you create it, the
effort, the time, the love you put into it is what you have control over.
Alexis: Right. Do you have any tips for students who love to write and want
to make a career out of it?
Rebecca: The career part, I can’t say it’s going to exactly pay your bills.
It could be something that, in time, as your talent grows, if it’s
something the world is ready for, there are so many ways of exposing your
writing through independent publishing, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble,
and Apple. You don’t have to put any money forward for it. You just have to
have your polished manuscript. With that being said, write, get critiqued
by everybody, especially if you have English teachers or peers that you
respect. Get opinions, help create it and make it better. I did it some
more, because there’s never enough editing. Have it professionally edited.
You can create a story, let the world read, and see what happens. Once you
put it out there, it can either go right to the top, or it’s just going to
be out there. You just have to have that confidence and just keep
Alexis: I think that transcends to a lot of careers.
Rebecca: It does.
Alexis: Rebecca, what do you do in your off time when you don’t write?
Rebecca: I’m a huge music fan, so I go to concerts a lot. I will travel to
concerts. I went to Austin this year, to Austin City Limits. I think I’m
going to Coachella next year. I usually go to, at least, two or three
concerts a month. I’m a huge music fan. It’s also another art for me. I’m
such a huge fan of lyrics and just listen to the music and what is being
said, the poetry behind the words. I’m in awe of the musicians. As much as
I’m a writer myself, it’s just a completely different realm, so I love it.
Alexis: Are we going to be hearing Rebecca Donovan, the singer, after your
Rebecca: No, you do not want me to sing. I promise you that. I would like
to get to know that world a little bit more. One of the projects that I’m
working on in the future, and I’m still at the very, very beginning stages
of it, is bringing awareness to child abuse. Part of that is, perhaps,
creating my own foundation to do so. I would love to bring some musicians
on board and have benefit concerts. That will be my two worlds and doing
that to bring awareness and do what I love and have that be a part of
raising that awareness and raising the money for it.
Alexis: Absolutely. I noticed on your website, you have a link to the Child
Help USA and National Domestic Violence Hotline. These two organizations
are, obviously, important to you.
Rebecca: Yes. Writing such a serious topic of child abuse, it was just a
responsibility I felt I needed to share with anyone that’s in that
situation. If they’re able to connect with the story because it’s something
that they’re going through, or know someone that is going through it, and
they’re going to explore my site, I want them to know that these
organizations exist. There’s help, that they’re not alone in any of this.
There’s someone out there that can guide them. They’re nationally
recognized organizations, and I just wanted to make sure that they had the
information there if they’re involved in the story, the Emma story.
Alexis: Awesome. When will your third installment of the “Breathing Series”
come out? I know you have two that came out. The first one is “Reason to
Breathe.” The second installment is “Barely Breathing.”
Rebecca: “Out of Breath” will be out in June. I just got signed by Amazon
publishing. They will be re-releasing both “Reason to Breathe” and “Barely
Breathing” in the spring and launching the new “Out of Breath,” which no
one will have read before then, in June. It’s just a new process where they
take what I’ve written, and they just go through their edits. There’s never
enough editing, so they’re going to go through their editing process with
those two books that have already released and resubmit them. Because it’s
publishing, I’ll be in print form more than I am now. Right now, most of my
sales and distribution has been through e-books. That’s insane considering
I’m bestseller, but it’s all been electronic. Knowing that the print
version hasn’t even been released yet, I can only imagine that it’s going
to get that much better and have that much broader release into the world.
I’ll soon have been signed with other international publishers in different
countries, in the UK, Russia, Hungary, and Brazil. It’s going to be
worldwide pretty soon. Pretty exciting.
Alexis: Since 2011, you’ve put out three books. I just can’t imagine how
many books you’re going to have put out in about five years.
Rebecca: I’m a slow writer in comparison to my fellow authors. Some are
putting two or three books out a year. I intend to put out one a year, so
that’s a little slow in the perspective of the writing world. Before I’ve
had to divide my time with a full-time job in writing. This year, I’m
grateful having to just concentrate on being an author and writing. So
2013, I’m hoping to put a couple books out and continue on that avenue of
creating more for my audience.
Alexis: That is incredible. We are all supporting you and we’re big fans.
Thank you very much, Rebecca.
Rebecca: Thank you.
Alexis: Thanks for coming on today.
Rebecca: It was my pleasure.
Alexis: This wraps up our show today with Rebecca Donovan of the successful
“Breathing Series.” Please visit rebeccadonovan.com to learn more about
Rebecca’s writing and books. I also highly recommend checking out Rebecca’s
blog, which can be found on her site. Join her Facebook fan page to get
updates on her work. You can purchase all of Rebecca’s books by going on
her website or on Amazon. Thank you for joining us on the Prepped and
Polished Radio Show.
Have you read “Barely Breathing” or “Reason to Breathe”? What is your favorite book of the series?
By Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
When applying to college, you’re likely to hear about “the importance of being well-rounded.” It seems to be common knowledge that colleges look for students who’ve shown interest not only in school work, but in other pursuits, like sports, theater, music, or volunteering. Y
The reasoning is clear. These endeavors challenge you in different ways than classwork does and help you develop sensibilities separate from those you can hone as a student. For my part, I know that four years on the high school cross-country, swim and track teams taught me that even the hardest workouts—the ones that exhausted me physically and taunted me, “you can’t finish!”—were doable; I felt more confident at critical moments, like job interviews, as a result. Hours of practicing the violin, meanwhile, slowly grew in me a reserve of patience developed nowhere else; that came in handy when big school research projects required my long commitment. And I remember my theater classmates, whose work on the stage translated to confidence in public speaking, which I greatly admired.
Colleges want bodies of students who reflect these qualities: determination, confidence, patience. So as you work hard in the classroom (which is indeed critical), remember that the work you are doing elsewhere—as a Scout, volunteer, or lacrosse player—is shaping you, too. Take a moment to reflect on the way in which these activities are impacting how you approach the world; could you sum it up in a sentence?
Deviating slightly, I heard an interesting discussion recently, with respect to what colleges seek as they evaluate student candidates. Though colleges want “well-rounded” classrooms, they do not want well-rounded applicants; that is, students who are “jacks-of-all trades” and masters of none. The advice stemming from this discussion was to focus on a specific extracurricular about which you are passionate in order to reflect your investment in it. (We often do this naturally anyway.)
But focusing on one area—putting all eggs in one basket—is still not the goal; rather, the remaining advice was to layer your passion in diverse ways that guide you toward a greater understanding of it. (For example, if your passion were water color, find a way to explore that interest in your local community, perhaps by leading a class at a local retirement home. Do you like to teach? If your passion were Spanish, get involved in translating websites for local businesses who require Spanish webpages. Do you enjoy applying your skills in the business world?)
Simply put, these kinds of effort in an area you love separate you from the next student.
As you work hard now, in high school, you are likely already taking steps to stand out. This is just another to consider; what’s great, too, is that it involves more deeply pursuing that which you enjoy.
And don’t worry; if you haven’t found your “passion” yet, pursue what you appreciate, whatever that may be. Your motivation for investing time in such activities will fall out naturally when it comes time to articulate who you are in a college admissions essays (or in the world beyond). And all the while, you’ll be cultivating aspects of your character that you will call on for the rest of your 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. She currently works as a Senior Writer and Editor at AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm based in Boston.
Is it more important for students to be well-rounded or to be a master of one craft? Do colleges look at both?
You are in high school; undoubtedly, you’ve got more papers to write than you’ll have ’til, well, college. Yup, you’ll be writing late into the night for many nights to come, exercising your writing muscle to its fullest potential.
How, then, to make it stronger? How can you ensure the writing you’ve got to do will be better than it’s been?
In my experience, great writers follow a few simple rules.
Great writers are great readers, too. If you find reading tedious or have trouble making time for it, don’t worry; reading is like distance running. The more you do it, the better you get at doing it efficiently, which often means you’ll like it more. Try setting your favorite online newspaper as your homepage on the internet. Make it a goal to read two articles a day; often times, topics in the news make great topics for papers you’re writing, or for important conversations you need to have during college interviews. Another way to incorporate reading into your daily schedule is to consider your nighttime routine; do you dabble on Facebook, or play games on your phone? Swap out your computer or phone for a book. Read a chapter a night before bed. (It’ll help you sleep!)
2) Put the strongest word at the end of the sentence.
(Which of the following sounds more powerful? The adopted girl realized she could not be at peace until she found her mom, the woman she was related to.The adopted girl realized she could not be at peace until she found her mom, the woman to whom she was related.) It may seem a subtle difference, but it goes a long way to make the meaning of your writing clear.
3) Delete “There is,” or “There are,” any chance you get.
These are filler words that can easily be replaced with a little editing. For example, try changing, “There is a lot to be done around the house today,” to “A lot remains to be done around the house.” Doing so means every word you write is valuable. Makes your writing pack more punch.
4) Ask for feedback.
The only kind of feedback that doesn’t make you a better writer is feedback that is dishonest. Teachers can provide good feedback; you don’t have to only solicit feedback from teachers though. You can submit an e-copy of something you’ve written for school to a local newspaper author (you can often find email contacts of these authors online). You can also submit your writing to teachers at your school that aren’t your teachers, but who focus on writing.
5) When describing complicated (or even simple but lengthy) processes, follow the AB-BC-CD method.
That is, make the last word of a sentence the first word (or concept) of the next sentence, and so on, until the description of the process is complete. Here’s an example: Everyone needs a widget. A widget works because the wire inside it is based on a complex architecture. The architecture allows the wire to perform varied tasks. The tasks the widget can perform include emitting light and absorbing moisture.
Did you find these writing tips helpful? Which tip did you like the most?
When I was 15, my parents took me to tour JLG—the leading manufacturer of lift equipment in the United States. I remember walking through warehouses full of tall yellow and orange cranes, trying to comprehend the relevance of the experience. Did Mom and Dad think I’d be a lift operator one day?
That same year, my parents took me to tour the Pfaltzgraff (a ceramic company), Harley Davidson (the motor cycle manufacturer), and Merrill Lynch (a prominent bank).
Between my fifteenth year and the time I went to college, I got internships at the local hospital (in the radiology department), at the courthouse (working in public records) and with my dentist (I’ll never forget watching him make a gold tooth).
To me, each of these experiences was unique; I couldn’t quite decipher the connection my parents wanted me to make. Furthermore, I never thought to myself, “I definitely want to pursue this career.”
What I did think, however, was “Someday I will be able to work in a profession I choose!” And having heard the stories of the physicians and bankers I shadowed, or the engineers I observed discussing the design of motorcycle engines, I was aware of the way in which professionals in the world at large had to put their education to work for them, every single day.
Indeed, by the time I got to college, I realized Mom and Dad were not only trying to broaden my awareness of the many career paths available to me but also trying to ground my current work in reality; to say, “there is a direct application for the work you are pursuing today, and it’s more real—and nearer—than you might think.”
Often times high school students today can get caught up in test scores and college admissions processes; and don’t get me wrong—those scores and those admissions essays are critical hurdles on the track to a successful future. That said, if you don’t contemplate the lasting value of education and make the studying you do an effort that you truly and deeply digest, you are only doing a disservice to your future self—the self that will be looking for a job.
Perhaps one of the best ways to get excited about the course work you are pursuing as you complete high school and move on to college, where you’ll have to seriously consider your career choice, is to get out there in the field and ask professionals at work how they’re using what they learned in school.
I know I did. And it’s landed me a job I love.
Was your high school internship a profound experience? What part of Meagan’s story affected you the most?