Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Break!

Hey everyone,

Sorry, but I'll be going to California (yay!) this Christmas break (Dec. 23 - 31). I probably won't be checking the blog or my email very much if at all. I apologize for the inconvenience in your most hectic hour. I wish everyone good luck on their applications, and make sure you send them in on time! Merry Christmas and happy holidays!


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Campus Life - Intro

So.. For the "campus life" section of the blog, I'm going to make a video blog. Here is the first installment. I will admit that it's pretty lame, and I promise I'm cooler than I appear in this video, but the future ones will be more informational and can hopefully hold your attention =P

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Q & A: Standing Out in the Applicant Pools of Top Colleges

Q: One more thing sohan, you said that everyone at this level will have a similar resume as me. so how competitive do you think I'll be among those who do what I did? About how many people do you know in your class that have about the same things I have?

What does it mean to stand out in an applicant pool?

A: When I say "everyone at this level will have a similar resume as you," I mean that students at your level will have accomplishments of similar magnitude and scope, though they are not necessarily the same exact activities.

These "similar" accomplishments are usually the academic ones - e.g., NHS, quizbowl, honor roll, math league, science league, and other academic achievements/clubs. I feel that such distinctions, as well as a certain GPA, SAT score, etc., are just about required to reach a certain tier in the applicant pool.

What you do besides your academics (or if you have extraordinary academic achievements, such as winning a national science fair or the likes), sets you apart in this tier. To clarify, everyone applying to top schools is undoubtedly smart, but you have to show that you are committed, diligent, charismatic, service-oriented, and a whole slew of adjectives.

Note: The poster volunteered his efforts for Hurricane Katrina relief, and subsequently won the Prudential Spirit of Community Award and the Presidential Service Award for his community service.

For example, your service work for victims of Hurricane Katrina is impressive and will set you apart. What you write about in your essays will set you apart. If you wrote a superb essay about how you helped out victims of Hurricane Katrina, I think that would put you at another level, because it's something that not every student does, and it reveals something about your character.

You can really divulge this "extra" information about yourself in your essays, which is where you want to reveal your character.

On a side note, I find that the top colleges like students who not only smart, but also are EXTREMELY proficient in on area or activity rather than someone who is generally well-rounded. If you do something BIG in one club or activity, it counts more than participating in numerous clubs and sports teams. You have done excellent work in community service and should make sure you emphasize this point and its impact on your character.

Even if you haven't had some wonderful opportunity, in the end it all depends on how you spin your accomplishments to make them sound important, to be honest.

*** Organized List of All Posts

For your viewing pleasure, here is an organized list of everything I've posted so far.

Open Discussion - Question and Answers
Open Discussion 1
Open Discussion 2
Question: GPA, Application Help, Cornell

Question: Choosing Schools to Which to Apply
Question: Standing Out in An Applicant Pool

The Common App Guide - Advice for all sections of the College Applications
Getting Started
Adding Colleges
Future Plans, Personal Data, Address, and Family
Standardized Tests
Additional Information

Pre-Application Advice
Extracurricular Activities
SAT and ACT info

When to Start Preparing

Intro to Scholarships
Finding Scholarships
Winning Scholarships

Nailing the Interview
About this Blog
About Me

Monday, December 1, 2008

Open Discussion - 2

Hey guys. It's now December, and college apps are due in about a month!! Unfortunately, I have to start studying for my final exams and won't have that much time to write new blog posts.

However, I'll always respond to any questions you have, and I might create blog posts about any good questions and answers. That said, here is Open Discussion 2.

Post a comment on anything - any questions on deadlines, advice, the application process, anything! You can post your stats (SATs, GPA, activities, schools interested in) and we'll tell you (honestly) what we think your chances are of getting in to the colleges you want, and what direction you should take to improve. Everything is anonymous, so please ask all questions on your mind! Remember, we were in high school not too long ago.

Link to Open Discussion - 1

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Q & A - Choosing Colleges to Apply To

Can the colleges you apply to see which other colleges you are also applying to or is that confidential? I know there is some rivalry among the IV leagues and some of them express that "level of interest" is one of their criteria. Can applying to rival schools cause conflicts? Is it better to apply to all the schools you are considering to increase chances of admission or to pick only top choices in order to show that you are serious and committed to those institutions?


My answer:
This is a great question. I'm not certain whether or not colleges can see where else you're applying, and I'm sure that they probably do have methods to tell, but this should not in any way deter you from applying to schools. You should apply to every college you want, even if you don't think you will accept them or they will admit you. You want to have a good breadth of schools when choosing who you will accept. Applying to rival schools will not cause conflicts, and only applying to your top schools will in fact be detrimental in the long run.

When Ivy Leagues say they want you to express a "level of interest," they want you to visit their school, have a clear definition in your mind of what you like about it, and be able to articulate your interest. Almost every school has that essay "what do you like about our school." This is the best way to express your level of interest, not by omitting other colleges.

Back to The College Guide - Admissions Advice

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Common App Guide - Writing | Additional Information

"Include any additional information that you would like to provide."
Here are a few suggestions for some ideas to include. Try to integrate them into an essay format instead of just listing items.

I also had a lot of trouble with this section: "what else do you want colleges to know about me." Basically, I tried to include all major activities that I did not mention in my application (which is hard, because you try to mention everything), and then related them to personal character traits. For example, I mentioned all the leadership positions I held that I didn't say on my application and wrote about how I developed great leadership skills from these activities.

Another idea is to talk about some extraordinary feat you've accomplished. For example, I'm in a rock band and we were featured in a commercial that aired on primetime TV, so I included that in this part for some applications. Colleges like to see that you are a diversified individual who will play a role in their community and contribute not only grades, but also personality.

If you've had any major setbacks in life, reasons for performing poorly at one point in time, or maybe a turnaround in your work ethic, you should also include that here.

The best advice for this section is this (I had to ask some of my friends what they did here):
All over your application, you can only list your best honors, your most noteworthy activities, your work experience, etc. However, there are very few places to relay the significance of these activities to you. During the past four years of high school, you have been growing as an individual as a result of everything in which you participated. Here is an opportunity to show how your activities and accomplishments have helped you develop your character. In this section, you can talk about the significance of your activities, distinctions, accomplishments, or even upsets, to you.

Back to The College Guide - Admissions Advice

The Common App Guide - Standardized Tests

Once logged into the Common App website, head on over to the "Standardized Tests" section on the left hand toolbar.

This section is pretty self explanatory; simply self-report your scores.

Remember, you also need to send an official score report to all the schools to which you're applying. If you haven't already, sign up for a (free) account at http://www.collegeboard.com Here you can also manage a list of colleges to which you'd like to apply and quickly view information, such as deadlines, and statistics. You can also register online for upcoming SAT dates and send your score reports to colleges for a fee (I think this is the only way you can send scores though. Collegeboard has a monopoly of sorts).

Please note: Different schools, or specific programs within a school, require a different amount of SAT II subject tests. You can find out via the school's website how many and which SAT II's you need to take. Make sure you take all the required SAT II subject tests!

Also, some colleges have different deadlines for sending the official score report for the SAT I test. For example, Lehigh University's deadline is January 15th, but The College of New Jersey's is February 15th. If you're not satisfied with your SAT I score, then you can prepare and take the December 6th or January 24th SAT, given you know you can do better. See a list of SAT dates here: http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/sat/calenfees.html

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Common App Guide: Academics

In the academics section, you report what courses you're taking this year in high school. Don't forget to mention if a class is AP, Honors, IB, or advanced in any other way!

Selecting your accomplishments for the "honors" section is difficult. What counts as an honor, anyways? Well, I classify "honors" as a distinction, either academically or in the community, but preferably on some level greater than your school. For example, if you performed well on your PSAT's and are a National Merit scholar of any sort, I'd include that. If you were selected to go to a prestigious camp or conference, like the "Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership Seminar," then include that.

You can choose up to 5 honors here. If you have a list of honors and can't decide on just 5, then come back to this section after filling out other parts of your application. Because the application limits how many activities, clubs, honors, etc. you can post, you should not repeat any information. See if you need to use your honors in other places of the application first. For example, (at my school at least) National Honor Society was an academic distinction as well as an organization devoted to community service. I chose to use that my activities section instead, because the title was more than an "honor" and represented me better as a volunteer program.

If you cannot seem to find 5 honors, then think about honors on the community level. Were you distinguished for any accomplishment or activitiy? Next, look for honors within your school, but use these as a last resort. For example, you could include if you were "Student of the Month," received an honor for some sporting accomplishment, or were on the Honor Roll.

Finally, list the honors their order of magnitude. It is much easier for the admissions officer to see how great of a student you are by looking from the top of the list downward. Remember, you don't know exactly how much time they spend scrutinizing every section of your application, so you want your best feats to stand out to them.

The Common App Guide: Future Plans, Personal Data, Address, and Family

Log in to your common app profile. Before doing anything, I highly suggest that you click on "Common Application" and take the time to read over the instructions page.

The next section of the common app is "Future Plans." Simply choose your academic interests and possible career or professional plans. These have no bearing on your admittance. Unless your academic interest is Performing Arts - Dancing, and you're applying to all Engineering schools, then this section is just for colleges' statistics in my opinion. Make sure your career plan is slightly relevant to your academic interests, and be completely honest here.

Tip: Be sure to press "Save and Next" when going to the next page! Retyping information and refilling forms is tedious and frustrating.

This form is also pretty self-explanatory. For an in-depth explanation of each field, view the instructions for the page by clicking on "instructions."

Click "Save and Next" and fill out the address page.

Click "Save and Next" and fill out the family page.

There is not much optimizing to be done in these first few pages, just logistics. The only advice I have is that you should be completely honest and give as much information as possible.

The Common App Guide - Adding Colleges

Once you log in, you'll see a toolbar on the left hand side. It's a good idea to read the instructions link at the top of every page you visit to see the function and requirement of that page.

Click "My Colleges." This will give information about all the colleges to which you're applying.

You should add all the colleges you wish to apply to to this list. Click on "Search for Colleges." Use the form to find the schools to which you want to apply, searching for them one at a time. If you can't seem to search for a school, then chances are it doesn't accept the common app.

Once you've found the school, you can add the college to your list of colleges. Now when you visit My Colleges, you'll statistics, including the requirements for application. Add all the colleges to which you'll apply, and move on to the next blog.

Back to The College Guide - Admissions Advice

The Common App Guide - Getting Started

The Common App is either your best friend or worst enemy. It offers great convenience because you send just one form to many schools. However, if you complete it suboptimally, then, well, you've just sent this application to many schools. That said, I will walk you through all the parts of the common app in this next series of blogs. If you haven't started your application yet, then start now!

I will be reviewing the online common application.

What is the common app?
The common app is an admissions application that is common for many schools. Most schools require a supplement in addition to the application, which you can view and submit at the common app website. The common app has the meat of your application though.

Head on over to http://www.commonapp.org In the middle of the screen, you should see a form to log in. Underneath, click the link entitled "Never Registered?" Now fill out the form truthfully. It's just your name, address, telephone number, etc. Comply with the legal information by checking the box, and then voila, you have a common app account.

GPA, Application Help, and Cornell: Answers to YOUR Questions

Dear Sohan,
Hi! I am a Grade 12 student in China. Since here we are in the different education system, I wonder what does GPA(unweighted) 4.0 means. Does that mean an applicant should have almost full mark in every exam? or 95 out of 100 is 4.0?

Well, now for me is sort of struggling for deadlines...
My essays are not well prepared yet, and I wonder how I can stand out in those competitive pools...Perhaps my biggest problem is I had done a lot of work at school but don't know how to write down them well appropriately. Seeing your blog really helps me and gives me more confidence!
I planned to apply for enrollment of Cornell, could you say something about it? The spirit of Cornell and its symbol animal?
btw, what does "Advisor to the Superintendent"(I saw that in your blog) mean?

Dear Reader,

I am glad that you've taken interest in my blog! A unweighted GPA (grade point average) of 4.0 varies in meaning from school to school. Generally, this is considered an "A" average, which could even entail a 93 / 100. Therefore, the number itself is somewhat meaningless in college applications. Along with the application, you need to send colleges your transcript (which your school might take care of). The transcript is where "GPA," or basically your grades, matter. This is where colleges will see how well you performed in classes. Colleges also take into account how difficult your classes are. So if you have a llower GPA (or grades) in harder classes, it won't be a big deal. In short, a 4.0 GPA means that you have at least 93 out of 100, but this is just a term we use to compare peoples' relative grades.

I know exactly how you feel. It's difficult to represent how hard you've worked in the past 4 years by just a few words on an application. I would suggest just brainstorming everything you've done - no matter how significant or small - on a piece of paper and go from there. Think about all your extracurricular activities, any special clubs or teams you've joined, and special achievements you've earned. Then rank them in order of importance to you. This is the best way to start when trying to summarize all that you've accomplished so far.

Do you know which school at Cornell you'd like to apply to (Engineering, Hotel Administration, Arts & Sciences, Human Ecology, etc.)? Do you know what your intended major is? Don't worry; it's perfectly fine if you don't.

People say that Cornell is one of the easiest Ivy League colleges to get into, but one of the hardest to graduate. I think this statement defines Cornell. Here, we work together to make it through difficult exams and problem sets, and this sense of community carries over all over campus. We have a lot of pride in Cornell and each of our fellow students, and we always try to help each other out. The symbol animal is a bear.

About "Advisor to the Superintendent": My friend down the hall wrote this blog. It means that he served as an assistant to the Superintendent of Schools, or a high authority figure within the school district. He didn't perform very well on the SAT, but was still admitted into top tier schools (he choose Cornell because of financial aid) because he was heavily involved in the community and showed leadership in his extracurricular activities.

I'd love to answer any more questions you have. Also, would you mind if I posted your questions and my response in my blog? I feel this information would help a lot of other students as well. I will keep your identity anonymous.


Back to The College Guide - Admissions Advice

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Winning Scholarships

**Before reading this blog, I suggest you check out the previous posts on this topic:
Scholarships Equal Free Money
Finding Scholarships

So now that you know to which scholarships to apply, here's my final installment on how to make the application process stress-free and rewarding.

A typical scholarship application consists of the following: a logistics section (name, address, school, etc.), an activities/volunteer section, and an essays section. Of course, every scholarship will differ on application requirements.

Tip 1: If you've already done some college applications, then the activities section should be simple. Be sure to make special mention to activities that are relevant to the scholarship. For example, if the scholarship awards students based on the community service activities, then embellish your volunteer work rather than discuss debate club.

Tip 2: Recycle your essays. Scholarship committees (the people judging your application) won't know that you submitted a similar essay to them, other scholarships, or colleges. The essay topics more often than not are similar (see Essays - Choosing a Topic). Additionally, these essays will be your most polished ones, because you're constantly revising and reusing them. I used a version of my common app essay for four different scholarships that I won! This technique greatly reduces the amount of time needed to apply.

An important caveat: An essay topic you SHOULD NOT reuse, however, is the typical "Why do you deserve this scholarship?" question. Make these as personalized to the organization as possible. State character traits and cite experiences that would appeal to the committee.

Tip 3: Cater to the scholarship committee. Remember, these are real people reading your application. They LOVE to see students with an abundance of volunteer hours and substantial community service. In your essays, be sure to sound human. The people in these committees were not English majors at Harvard. Use natural language, but sound articulate; showcase your accomplishments, but remain modest.

Tip 4: The success to winning scholarships is volume. Apply to each and every scholarship you can, even if you're not fully qualified. Committee's don't get as many applications as one would think, and generally the more you apply to the better chance you have winning.

Tip 5: IMPORTANT: You don't have to have a 4.0 GPA, be the valedictorian of your class, or a nationally ranked athlete to win (although it doesn't hurt). You should however, have active participation in extracurricular activities and community service. Some scholarships, especially those in the community, love to see all students take initiative in their future.

Good luck in your applications! ~Sohan

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Finding Scholarships

So now that you're convinced that you should apply for scholarships, how do you find them? There are boundless opportunities everywhere, but to which ones should you apply?

The first place to look is in your school. Visit your guidance department / counselor and just ask what scholarships are available. Usually, there are many organizations or memorials in your community that are willing support students' educations. These are the best kinds of scholarships to which to apply because you're competing against a limited applicant pool (just the people in your community). The scholarships you have the best at are the following (in order from highest chance to least, by the scope of applicants):
School > Town/District > County > State > Internet > National

This is all pretty intuitive. If you apply to a scholarship that is only given out to students in your school, you have a significantly greater chance than one that's applicable to students in your state. I wouldn't recommend internet scholarships, like "brickfish.com" and the likes. They generally have one of the biggest applicant pools, and often are not determined by merit. Some internet sites, like "fastweb.com" have potential, because they have scholarships for specific categories.

Make sure to apply to all such "niche" scholarships. For example, if your grandmother is Italian, then you should definitely apply to an "Italian-American" scholarship. Furthermore, apply to scholarships that reflect your activities. For example, there are scholarships for kids who played peewee football or were golf caddies. If you are exceptional at a sport, find a scholarship for it and apply. There are so many scholarships out there; you are most certain to fit the criteria of many.

My final advice is: apply to all of them. Even if you feel you don't fit the "niche" or activity, apply anyways. Even if your GPA doesn't make the cut, but you think that your extracurriculars make up for it, apply anyways. Even if you think your family's need for financial aid is less, apply anyways. Heck, I didn't apply to the "Woman's Club Scholarship" of a senior citizen residential area, because I'm a guy, and the "Male's Club Scholarship" application was for males only. I ended up winning the Male's Club scholarship, but a friend of mine (who is a guy) won them both! It never hurts to apply.

Remember, these applications are handled by ordinary people like you and I. They committees that distribute money are not in any sense like CollegeBoard or Harvard University. They are people who want to help kids in their community.

Also, one of the most important thing to understand is that your peers are lazy. They think they don't have time for scholarships among their plethora of extracurricular activities, college applications, school work, and sports. What they don't realize is how simple scholarships are. In the next blog, I'll tell you how to make the process easy, fast, and profitable.

See also:
Scholarships Equal Free Money
Winning Scholarships

Scholarships Equal Free Money

It's everyone's dream to make money by doing as little work as possible. In the real world there is no feasible (legal) manner in which to accomplish this. Applying to scholarships, however, is pretty darn close.

I can't promise that you'll be able to pay for a full years' tuition by filling out a few forms. I can say, though, that you have a legitimate chance at earning enough for books, the meal plan, or housing. Any amount of money you win from scholarships is obviously better than none.

So while you undergo the college admissions process, I advise that you concurrently apply to scholarships. You may think that it's an extra burden, but there's a lot of common work between the two. And think about it: if you win one scholarship of $500 by working 3 hours on its application, you've made a sizable amount of money per hour. In short, there is no reason to not apply to scholarships. The potential payoff is boundless, and they're not really that much extra effort. Check out the next blog to find out which ones you should apply to and tips on how to win.

See also:
Finding Scholarships
Winning Scholarships

Cornell University Risley Hall Scholarships Advice

Monday, November 17, 2008

Essays - Choosing a Topic

Quite possibly the most important part in writing a college essay is picking the topic. When applying, you will compose a plethora of essays on only on a handful of topics. I used a modified version of my Common Application essay for most of my other application and scholarships essays, because I spent the most time editing my common app essay.

When picking what you will write about, make sure your essay is relevant to the prompt. While this guideline seems like common sense, we have an innate and detrimental tendency to stray off topic. Therefore, it's a good idea to pre-write and outline your essay, just as you would for any other writing assignment.

The best advice I have is this: make sure your topic is unique and personal, not cliche or trite. This is naturally the hardest part about selecting a topic. Let's see an example. The archetypal essay topic (which I'm sure you've all encountered) is: "Evaluate a significant experience . . . " To brainstorm, write down critical experiences in your life, such as milestones, turns of events, or just strange happenings. You don't have to attach any personal significance to them yet. Next, try to write down more specific, if less significant, experiences. This could include the first time you played an instrument, a personal victory, etc. Next, include anyone who has influenced on your life, and try to associate an event with them, such as an important conversation. Now that you have an array of topics, select a few that do not seem commonplace, but rather unique. For example, eliminate the family vacation, the band camp trip, etc.

In your revised collection of topics, associate a value or characteristic, such as maturity, independence, clarity, etc. that you gained from the experience. This is a pivotal part in choosing your topic. Every applicant will undoubtedly have some sort of interesting experience; what sets your essay apart from others is what you've personally gained from the experience. In short, do not merely sum up how this event influenced other events that happened in your life, but rather clarify how it has helped you grow as an individual.

However, you may feel that none of these events have impacted you in some profound, barely effable way. You need to really analyze the event and construe a personal significance, even if it not apparent at first. In another blog, we will go into writing and editing your essays.

Back to The College Guide - Admissions Advice

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Extracurricular Activities: How to prepare yourself for college beyond your academic life

Hey there, it's John again. There are several things colleges look for in their applicants besides GPA and test scores. One thing that may set you far above the other applicants is the extent to which you are involved. I just want to tell you a little bit about the types of Extracurricular Activities I recommend and provide some examples of the types of groups I was involved in during high school. I will separate this into two categories: Extracurricular groups and volunteer work.

EXTRACURRICULAR GROUPS: These groups include academic clubs (Quiz Bowl, Math Club, Science Olympiads, etc.), sports teams (football, basketb
all, etc.), service oriented clubs (Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc.), and religious oriented groups (Youth Groups, missionary groups, etc.). If you can obtain high level positions in these organizations, they will help advance your chances of success in the admissions process. The more variety you can fill yourself with, the more you will stand out in the application process. For example, someone who has a high GPA and is only involved in academic clubs will be no better off than someone with a relatively high GPA that is involved in academic clubs, sports teams, and service oriented clubs.

Some of the clu
bs and positions I served in during high school include Boy Scouts - Assistant Scoutmaster; Student Government - President; Beta Club - President; Quiz Bowl; Tennis Team; Soccer Team; Drama Club; Crossfire Youth Group; Advisor to the Superintendent. These are just some examples of the types of groups I recommend. This list represents a good variety of the aforementioned types of groups.

VOLUNTEER WORK: This is something that colleges pay special attention to even though it is an uncommon occurrence on applications. When filling out your applications for college, be sure to include ALL of your prior volunteer service. This can be service through religious affiliated groups, service oriented groups, or just volunteer projects that you design. If you have not yet done any service, it is not too late. Just get out there t
oday, think about what your community needs, and act soon! Volunteer work can be as simple as collecting food for your local food pantry or as in depth as repairing homes.

Some of the volunteer work I included in my college applications include: Planning food drives for the local food pantries, going on mission trips to other states and helping repair dilapidated homes, holding voter registration drives in local high schools to register students for the upcoming elections, and erecting a flag pole, dedication site, and handicap accessible sidewalk in my local park for my Eagle Scout service project. These different types of service amount for over 300 hours and helped me get accepted into Cornell University.

These are just some suggestions of the types of activities you should get involved with while you still have the chance. My SAT score was well below average for the colleges and universities I applied to, yet I was still accepted. If not for these various groups and multiple service activities, I probably would not have gained admittance into certain prestigious universities.

Cornell University - Balch Arch

SAT and ACT: Are scores on these tests indicative of my college acceptance?

Hey guys (and gals), this is John, I'm one of Sohan's friends here at Cornell University. I just wanted to tell you a little bit about SAT and ACT scores and if you have any questions, feel free to respond. It is a long lived myth that the primary factor colleges take into consideration is your score on the SAT or ACT. Some schools you are considering may have statistics on their websites that suggest that your score is not high enough to get accepted. But remember, when you are looking on these websites, the data they present typically consist of the mean or the median scores and don't fully represent the whole student body.

Here is one personal example in which comparatively lower SAT scores had no effect on admissions. When I arrived at Cornell University, I met Sohan and soon after, when we were discussing our college decisions, I revealed my SAT score of 1900. This came as a bit of a shock to him because the average SAT score at Cornell is around 2100. My score was 200 points below average and I had no troubles getting accepted into Cornell and many other top tier schools. I knew the high school I went to was well below national academic achievement averages so I became heavily involved in extracurricular activities in order to remedy this disadvantaged academic background.

I also have friends from my high school who had SAT scores right at 1500 and had no trouble in getting accepted into other nationally ranked colleges and universities. We will discuss more about essential extracurricular activities later on. For now, the point to remember is that SAT scores and ACT scores are not indicative of your chances of being admitted into the college of your choice. Focus on your high school grades and extracurricular activities and these will lead you down the pathway to success!

For those of you who feel that your SAT score is much lower than you want it to be and you really need some extra help, stay tuned for a blog on how to succeed on the SATs.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Nailing the Interview

I realize that some of you have applied early decision / action to schools already, and you have the option / requirement of an interview. Always opt to have an interview, especially for your reach and match schools. If a school holds interviews, but doesn't set them up for you, then make sure you take the iniative and find out how to get one. Just call the admissions office and ask them about it. Really, it's not a big hassle and it's completely worth it.

Here are the important parts of an interview:

1. Preparation - Never go into a college interview cold turkey; you should have an idea of what sorts of questions they will ask and how you want to answer them. Google "college interviews" for some of the archetypal questions that are asked. Also, know what specifically draws you to the school, such as its aspects of its academics, its campus, etc. If you have to, do a little research beforehand. This topic always comes up interviews, so you want your reasons for interest in the college solidified in your mind. Secondly, think about your best qualities - in academics, personality, and extracurriculars - and be sure you can cite experiences that exemplify them. For example, when was a time when you showed leadership and acted under pressure? I was asked this at my Columbia interview. It might be a good idea to look over your resume before an interview and pick out what best exemplifies you.

2. Pre-Interview - Dress for the occasion. It's better to overdress and show that you mean really business than underdress. Make sure you show up early for the interview. Punctuality demonstrates your earnestness and allows you to collect your nerves. On that note, don't be nervous. Be yourself; that is, only be the best parts of yourself. Speak in your everyday voice but don't use colloquialisms. "Yeah, i pwn3d the SATs" is not adequate.

3. The Interview - This is your opportunity to portray your best qualities and also your human-ness. You're more than just numbers on a paper, and now you have to prove it. If possible, try not to mention things that are already on your application, such as your GPA, SAT scores, etc. It's best to try to answer questions using anecdotes about rewarding experiences you've had; even if you don't think they were so beneficial, embellish the experience to show how you became a better or more complete person out of it. To illustrate, say camping is one of your favorite hobbies. Be prepared to talk about how you've gained independence, resilience, and meticulousness from it with examples. Furthermore, always elaborate your answers and make them pertinent to yourself. Remember, this is a showcase of YOU. At my MIT interview, I was asked what my favorite book was. I gave an explanation of the book and why I liked it, but I never really related it to me. I should have said something along the lines of, "I could really relate to the protagonist of Atlas Shrugged. We had many resonances in character, like diligence . . ." Of course, I would want to back that up with a specific example from my life and that of the protagonist. No matter how cheesy or abstract you sound, show what you've gained from an experience.

Don't forget that the interviewer is also present at the interview (lol) and that they're usually alumni. Don't hesitate to ask them questions about the school, such as why they chose it, what opportunities it opened for them, etc. In fact, I recommend brainstorming a few questions that you WILL ask them throughout the interview or afterwards. Not only can you get questions answered from firsthand experiences, but also you show interest in the school.

4. Post-Interview - The interview is not the be-all end-all of the application process. I don't believe, however, that "it helps more than it hurts." A mediocre interview does not help at all and equates to a great opporunity missed. A great interview can be your ticket in to a school. Just be well prepared. Remember, you want to display your best characteristics and cite specific examples that convey them. It's a good idea to follow up the interview with a pleasant email or letter thanking the interviewer. If the interviewer has not produced the write-up yet, then your face will be fresh in his mind. After your first one or two interviews, you will become more comfortable in selling your abilities and displaying your prowess.

Open Discussion - 1

Here is our first open discussion.

Post a comment on anything - any questions on deadlines, advice, the application process, anything! You can post your stats (SATs, GPA, activities, schools interested in) and we'll tell you (honestly) what we think your chances are of getting in to the colleges you want, and what direction you should take to improve. Everything is anonymous, so please ask all questions on your mind! Remember, we were in high school not too long ago.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Why So Serious?" When you should start preparing

This one goes out to all the underclassmen. Are all your friends already preparing for college? Do you feel lost in the whole process? When should you start?

Again, I speak from experience when I say this: start extracurricular activities from freshman year. In a later blog, we'll explain which activities you should get involved in, and how much you should participate in them. However, remember that it's never too late to get involved. See the "extracurricular activities" blog for more information.

As far as visiting schools is concerned, I did not start until the summer going into senior year, and even then I only visited about four of the ten to which I applied. This, however, was a big mistake . I advise that you visit schools from the middle of your junior year. Colleges like that you express a genuine interest in them. When you do visit the schools, always take a guided tour, and make sure they get your name. They usually have some sort of sign up sheet for the tours in which you provide your information (name, address, etc). You want a place on their records; this is one way to differentiate yourself from the application pool. There's almost always a place on the application, be it an essay or short answer, where you say what about the school appeals to you, and visiting will definitely help. As a bonus, they sometimes give application-fee waivers for visiting. Visit your reach and match schools.

Make sure you ask for letters of recommendation from teachers before senior year (such as the end of junior year AT LATEST). Teachers have a myriad of these to write, and you want yours to be given extra time; a full summer is copious. You should start the actual applications at the end of the summer / beginning of your senior year. This will give you ample time for early decision / action and essay writing. More about that later.

Timeline Recap:
Extracurriculars: All throughout high school; never too late to start
Visiting schools: middle of junior year; the prime time is your spring break when schools are in session
Recommendation Letters: By the end of junior year
Applying: Beginning of senior year

We'll go in depth in later blogs on all these subjects. Also, feel free to send questions by commenting on this blog, the Open Discussion blog, or by email.

About This Blog...

So why will my friends and I devote so much time to writing these posts? What will you gain from them?

We want you to know as much as possible when applying to college. This is a pivotal point in your life - you'll be deciding how you're going to spend the next 4+ years of your life! (No pressure, really). So you need to know how to optimize your essays, embellish your resume, and apply to schools intelligently. Applying to college is basically one big advertisement of you. Colleges want to see what you can offer them; you have to sell your noteworthy aspects, and they have to want to buy them. We have the advice to help you.

If you ever are looking for any help on a specific topic, check the Blog Archive on the right hand side of the page. Also, you can post in the open discussion threads we will have weekly.

First Post!

Hey, guys! My name is Sohan, and I will be your guide to success in high school and admission into college. The best advice I can give is from my own experiences - what I did right, what I did wrong, etc. I know exactly how you're feeling if you're a sophomore or junior looking to apply or build a resume, or if you're senior awaiting decisions, because I was in your shoes not too long ago. Right now I'm a freshman at Cornell University and am having a blast (despite the obscene workload).

I will give you the nitty gritty facts about college that others are too sensitive to discern. I'll tell you how college admissions really are - what admissions officers are really looking for. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Want to know the best SAT study techniques? Want to know what to write about for those pesky essays? Then, my friends, read on, and I will bestow you with the best advice I have - that of experience.