College Consulting

How to Spend Your Summer: Consider Volunteering Your Time

During the long, lazy days of summer, it’s so tempting to simply relax and unwind after a busy year in school. However, you will have already read many of the posts on this blog encouraging you to make good use of this time, to read, to experience new things, travel and experience new cultures… Here’s another suggestion: volunteer your time to a non-profit organization. As well as helping the organization, this can benefit you in many ways: valuable experience for your resumé, a sense of community, well-being, and purpose, new connections, and friends.

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I have been volunteering my time from home for some years translating for non-profit organizations. However, earlier this year, I decided to fulfill a promise I had been making. I used to live in France and now, back in the UK, I like to spend my vacations across the small pond that we call the English Channel, getting my fix of French cheese! Each time I travel, I am aware of the refugees that are stuck in the port town of Calais and I have often said to myself that I will go there and do something to make a difference to these people’s lives, however small. This promise was hard to fulfill: there were family commitments, work, life took over. After seeing so much in the news about the desperate people who travel to the region to escape war, persecution and uncertain political situations in their own countries, finally, I decided that I just had to take action.

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I booked a few days off work and began my research. I discovered many non-profits working in Calais, supporting the refugees and accepting short-term volunteers. I posted in my local refugee help group on social media and within a couple of hours had managed to contact a group locally who were sending volunteers each weekend for the whole month. I found a woman who had booked the same dates as me and was looking for someone to take along, so I could just fit in with her plans – amazing, what a coincidence!

I decided to reach out to the community to see if I could bring donations of items that were needed. It was still cold, so I put out a call for hats, gloves and scarves, to my nearby and online friends as well as local churches. The generous response was overwhelming and I ended up taking 8 sacks of donations.

On arriving in France, I was nervous going to the warehouse that would soon be my place of work with the organisation Help Refugees. I need not have worried, I was met by a group of friendly, dedicated volunteers and staff, part of a community where everyone is accepted and respected, whatever their background or identity. During morning briefing, I learned more about the situation in Calais and how, sadly, the authorities were hostile towards refugees sleeping rough and also towards volunteers distributing food. I was then taken on a tour and discovered that I would spend the first part of my stay working in the warehouse, sorting blankets and sleeping bags that had been donated by the public. We had a huge sense of satisfaction when we had organised the area and made an inventory of all the items.

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The next day, I helped out with the organisation Refugee Community Kitchen. These amazing people cook hearty vegan curries for around 1000 refugees each day, as well as for the volunteers. The kitchen was an upbeat place to work; I prepped veg, washed up and prepared the portions for distribution while chatting to the other volunteers. It was interesting to hear their stories: many recent graduates who were taking a year out, a doctor who had given up her only free weekend in months to fly down from Scotland, an American who had already been volunteering in Greece, people from all backgrounds, all united in the common cause of helping people who had lost so much.

I left feeling that I had only made a minor contribution, but had gained so much: I saw a great deal of kindness and dedication and my faith was restored in humanity. I will be going back later this month to take some more donations and check in with how things are going.

I only gave a weekend, but it was a life-changing experience. I urge you to find something that you can be passionate about and give your time to. It doesn’t need to be a big commitment, even if it’s just for a few days over the remaining weeks of summer, you can make a difference and I guarantee that you will also benefit from what you choose to do.

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Seniors: How to Prep for College App Season

Dear Seniors,

With the blink of an eye, it’s somehow already August -- and before we can blink twice more, November 1 will be around the corner!

And we all know why November 1 matters.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as we tumble towards this important date:

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Draft up your college essay(s)

Once your school year starts up again, you’ll have homework, athletics, and other extracurriculars demanding much of your time. That’s why it’s a good idea to aim to return to school with a solid Common Application essay draft -- and at least a few Early Decision/Early Action supplements -- ready to go. We encourage you to research the universities on your list in depth so you can craft thoughtful, school-specific supplemental essays. This will make it super easy for admission officers to imagine you thriving on their campus (and hopefully welcome you into the incoming class!)

 

Consider creating a resume

While many of your favorites, most time-consuming extracurricular activities will likely be included in your Common App list already, you may want to share additional activities that have mattered to you. The “additional information” section of your Common App is a perfect place to include these, and it’s a good idea to format each one with organized bullet points -- just like you would a resume.

 

Put together a portfolio

In addition to your intellectual curiosity, heart of gold, and impact in your communities, universities also love to learn about your artistic talents and passions. Have you invested a lot of time in a specific artistic discipline? If so, you may want to consider submitting an Art Supplement. Be sure to plan ahead, as each school that accepts this supplement may have different requirements -- and sometimes different (earlier) deadlines -- for students who want their portfolios reviewed with their whole application.

 

Follow up with your recommenders

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You’ve heard me say it many times by now, but I’ll say it again -- your recommendation letters can have a huge impact on your overall application. Many of you have just returned from fulfilling summers with exciting new academic and extracurricular experiences. Don’t forget to check in with your recommenders, ask them how they are doing, share any new information with them, and confirm that they have everything they need to write you a positively glowing letter.

 

Don’t forget about standardized testing

You thought I’d never mention it, right? Sorry :) October is typically the last standardized test that counts in time for Early Action/Decision applications, so be sure to register if you’d feel more confident taking it one last time. Remember: in addition to submitting your applications, you’ll also be responsible for releasing your standardized testing record to each university.

 

Gear up for interviews

Once you’ve submitted your application, some schools may contact you for interviews, which are most often used as another data point in a holistic review of your application. For some schools, interviews are optional, while for others, they are mandatory. Either way, you’ll want to carve out some time to prepare for these with articulate responses about your favorite academic subjects and teachers, leadership impact, curiosities about the university, and stories about other important experiences that have shaped you into who you are today.

 

Maintain academic excellence

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Remember, senior year grades matter, so now is not the time to let “Senioritis” kick in! Early applications will include grades from your first quarter, and Regular Decision applications will request midyear reports from your counselors. If you’re deferred in the Early round, it’s possible that admission officers want to see your full first semester grades from senior year, so keep up (or even improve!) your academic performance.

 

And even after Nov 1…

Just because you hit “submit” doesn’t mean you can forget about your application altogether. Be sure to check your inbox for confirmation about your application. Most schools will send you a link to a portal to track your application status. If you notice that any part of your application is missing, it’s your responsibility to make sure the school receives it promptly. Schools cannot review your application or share admission decisions with you without receiving your complete application.
 

Whew! This may seem like a lot to keep in mind in a short period of time. Luckily, the whole team at LogicPrep is here to help you succeed and put forward the best version of yourselves. No matter what, we know you’ll get into schools where you will thrive, not just as scholars, but as human beings ready to make an impact wherever you ultimately land. Don’t forget that we are your biggest fans!

My Biggest Regret in College & How You Can Avoid the Same Mistake

Ah, summer. The sunny skies, the green green grass. Beach time if you're lucky, study time if you're ... well, study time. Period.

Some of you are heading back to high school in the fall for another year, inching (or, from your parents' perspectives, hurtling) toward the Great Launch to College. And some of you are making the Great Launch even as we speak, preparing to enter a brand new world, surrounded by exciting new people and exciting new opportunities. Either way, in the short term or the (not very) long term, you are looking toward a time of choices -- what to learn, whom to hang out with -- and in many cases, it will be hard to make a truly wrong choice. You're going to learn a lot, no matter what you do, and learning is the whole point, and the joy.

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I have exactly one regret about my choices in college. In order to fulfill a curriculum requirement one semester, I was choosing between two science classes: one, a notoriously EASY course in electrical engineering, where the main assignment was to create a rudimentary website by the end of the course; the other, a notoriously HARD class on the physics and acoustics of musical instruments. Now, I'm a musician, and I love everything having to do with music. The acoustics class looked so intriguing ... but I thought to myself, "Do I really want to do hard calculus problems again? Wouldn't I enjoy myself more if I gave myself a break and coasted through the semester this time?" And so, like many others, I chose the website class ... and it nags at me to this day. 

 Sound waves from Pink Floyd's "The Wall"

Sound waves from Pink Floyd's "The Wall"

I got nothing from that easy class. (Well, I guess I got a lousy website, but even that is long gone.) But I still think about what it might have been like to explore the science of how music, my life's greatest passion, is actually physically made. I look at a rock band, or an orchestra, and think, "I could have learned how all those magical things are happening. How the strings vibrate the air, how the overtones color the sounds of the oboe and the electric guitar, how changing the length of the air column in the flute changes the pitch ..." But I didn't. I ... I chose the road MORE traveled by ... and that has made, if not all the difference, at least enough difference that I still look back at where those roads diverged.

So what I'm saying is: when it comes to the choices between the hard and the easy, remember to push yourself. Don't just float down the river; choose the course where there are rapids to navigate, because the rapids are thrilling and exhilarating, and even if you come out exhausted and bedraggled on the other side, you will remember it with joy and pride.

And you know what else? It's never too late to pick the challenge. We live in a world where we can go back and find those textbooks on musical instruments, and learn what we never pushed ourselves to learn back then. So I think I'm gonna go do that ... gonna head down the rapids I steered myself away from so long ago. See you on the other side.

Your Transition from High School to College

Most of your life as a student is preparing for something -- preparing for a test, preparing for college, preparing for a sports competition. You spend hours and hours studying, practicing, and creating expectations for how it’s going to be when you reach the goal you are pursuing.

Sometimes, however, when you finally achieve your goal, you find that it's not quite what you expected. It’s not so uncommon to dislike the life you had been fighting for, or at the very least to
struggle with the transition once you get there. It's actually very common for college students,
even ones who get into their dream schools, to feel this way at the beginning of their freshman
year. They may think: “but it’s all that I've ever wanted” or, “it took me so much time and energy
to accomplish this.” If this happens to you, stay calm -- it’s not the end of the world.

You are not the only one to have second thoughts about the new place you are in and the people
you live with. The teachers may not be so friendly or helpful, and college is a totally different
environment that can be very intimidating.

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My tips to get through this phase (yes, it can be just a phase) are:

  • Talk to your peers. You may not think it, but there will be a lot of people feeling the same way as you.
  • Don’t isolate. You have to give it a chance in order to enjoy the brand new world that college is, so try to participate in activities and to integrate into a group that you identify with.
  • Get help from your home support system. This can be friends in the same situation as you, your parents or siblings (sometimes the distance can make people even closer), or even an LP instructor.
  • Seek professional help. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about your feelings with someone outside of your circle.
  • Enjoy the journey. This is a unique lifetime experience that will change you and shape your future as a person and professionally, so be sure to enjoy and take advantage of all the lessons learned.

And then, if you continue to feel that you don’t belong to the place after you give every shot, it’s ok to change your mind and try something else -- another school, city, or even another county. We don’t always hit the mark at the very first try; what’s important is to overcome and figure out what’s best for you and what will make you happy.

Good luck and enjoy college!

LogicPrep's List of Top 10 Commencement Speeches 2018

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We've once again made a list of our favorite college commencement speeches this year, and we hope that you gain some inspiration from these wise words. Enjoy!

 

Abby Wambach at Barnard University

• Here’s something the best athletes understand, but seems like a hard concept for non-athletes to grasp. Non-athletes don’t know what to do with the gift of failure. So they hide it, pretend it never happened, reject it outright—and they end up wasting it. Listen: Failure is not something to be ashamed of, it's something to be POWERED by. Failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on. You gotta learn to make failure your fuel.
 
• Here’s what’s important. You are allowed to be disappointed when it feels like life’s benched you. What you aren’t allowed to do is miss your opportunity to lead from the bench.
• Because the most important thing I've learned is that what you do will never define you. Who you are always will.

Chadwick Boseman at Howard University

• When you are deciding on next steps, next jobs, next careers, further education, you should rather find purpose than a job or a career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you need to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.
 
• I don’t know what your future is, but if you are willing to take the harder way, the more complicated one, the one with more failures at first than successes, the one that’s ultimately proven to have more victory, more glory, then you will not regret it. This is your time.

Chance the Rapper at Dillard University

• We have to erase the fear and stigma behind eclipsing our heroes... We have a responsibility to be not as good as them or live up to their example but surpass them. Even when it seems scary we have to overcome that fear and be greater than our role models. 
• The highest form of respect that we can pay to the people who came before us is to be better than them… To simply copy them would be an insult to their sacrifice… You do a disservice trying to live up to your ancestors, you have to outlive them. 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at Harvard University

• At no time has it felt as urgent as now that we must protect and value the truth.
• It is hard to tell ourselves the truth about our failures, our fragilities, our uncertainties. It is hard to tell ourselves that maybe we haven’t done the best that we can. It is hard to tell ourselves the truth of our emotions, that maybe what we feel is hurt rather than anger, that maybe it is time to close the chapter of a relationship and walk away, and yet, when we do, we are the better off for it.
• Be courageous enough to say "I don’t know."

Hillary Clinton at Yale University

• Personal resilience is important, but it’s not the only form of resilience we need right now. We also need community resilience. We need to try to see the world through the eyes of people very different from ourselves and to return to rational debate; to find a way to disagree without being disagreeable.
• To try to see the world through the eyes of people very different from ourselves and to return to rational debate, to find a way to disagree without being disagreeable, to try to recapture a sense of community and common humanity.

Jim Cramer at Bucknell University

• My defeat had yielded to victory. First lesson: it's OK to fail, but it is not OK to quit. You have more strength within you, both physical and mental, than you know, but use it more wisely than I did, please.
• Your classmates are your safety net, these warm souls of the Class of 2018 surrounding you, those who shared classes, or dorms or sororities, or fraternities or service work or clubs and teams with you. Remember there your stumble is just a pothole in the road for your seated neighbors to help you fill.

Mindy Kaling at Dartmouth College

• I was not someone who should have the life I have now, and yet I do. I was sitting in the chair you are literally sitting in right now and I just whispered, “Why not me?” And I kept whispering it for seventeen years; and here I am, someone that this school deemed worthy enough to speak to you at your commencement. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, but especially not yourself. Go conquer the world. Just remember this: Why not you? You made it this far.

Oprah Winfrey at University of Southern California

• The problem is everyone is meeting hysteria with more hysteria, and we just are all becoming hysterical. And it's getting worse. What I've learned in all these years is that we're not supposed to match it or even get locked into resisting or pushing against it. We're supposed to see this moment in time for what it is. We're supposed to see through it and transcend it. That is how you overcome hysteria, and that is how you overcome the sniping at one another, the trolling, the mean spirited partisanship on both sides of the aisle, the divisiveness, the injustices, the out and out hatred. You use it. Use this moment to encourage you to embolden you and to literally push you into the rising of your life.

Ronan Farrow at Loyola Marymount University

• You will face a moment in your career where you have absolutely no idea what to do. Where it will be totally unclear to you what the right thing is for you, for your family, for your community, and I hope that in that moment you’ll be generous with yourself, but trust that inner voice. Because more than ever we need people to be guided by their own senses of principle—and not the whims of a culture that prizes ambition, and sensationalism, and celebrity, and vulgarity, and doing whatever it takes to win.

Tim Cook at Duke University

• Fearlessness means taking the first step, even if you don’t know where it will take you. It means being driven by a higher purpose, rather than by applause. It means knowing that you reveal your character when you stand apart, more than when you stand with the crowd. If you step up, without fear of failure… if you talk and listen to each other, without fear of rejection… if you act with decency and kindness, even when no one is looking, even if it seems small or inconsequential, trust me, the rest will fall into place.

Understanding the Role of Demonstrated Interest

It’s June, AP and final exams are in the rear-view mirror, and summer is on the horizon. Time for summer romance! Here’s how it’s going to work—summer is a great time to fall in love with college(s), and what’s more, to show the love. Thought of as a new relationship, it’s easier to understand why it might be in your best interest to do so.

 Murilo demonstrates his interest in NYU Stern!

Murilo demonstrates his interest in NYU Stern!

Think of it this way—during the school year, you’re focused on classes, your GPA, sports, activities, leadership, standardized testing, etc. You’re pursuing your academic and extra-curricular interests and all the while wondering, “will colleges want me?” But increasingly, colleges and universities, even those who do want you, are wondering— “but will you matriculate?” The admission process is its own peculiar courtship, and summer is a great time to reflect on the rituals that can result in proposals (ahem, offers of admission), and to plan accordingly.

One way to express your interest in a particular college of course is to consider applying “early” (action or decision). The proliferation of early admission plans (e.g. Early Action, Restricted Early Action, Early Decision I or II) is one method colleges use to hedge their bets, “we are interested in you, but will you say yes?!” and thereby manipulate “yield” (the percentage of admitted students who matriculate). But sometimes, much earlier in the courtship process, colleges are looking for signs. Even when college admission representatives are circumspect on this topic, you should know that many colleges are tracking your “demonstrated interest”. It’s worth finding out whether your top prospects do so, and if so, summer is a great time to start that relationship.

How will I know?

Sometimes college admission offices or websites are upfront about the extent to which they track interest demonstrated by prospective students throughout the undergraduate admission process. But all colleges and universities disclose this information when they complete The Common Data Set, “a collaborative effort in the higher education community to improve the quality and accuracy of information provided to all in a student’s transition into higher education”. In addition to providing a useful snapshot of enrollment and programming available at a college or university, Section C of the Common Data Set is devoted to First-Time, First-Year (Freshman) Admission Data and Data Element C7 specifically ranks the “Relative importance of each of the following academic and non-academic factors in first-time, first-year, degree-seeking (freshman) admission decisions. At the very end of this data table, schools indicate where “Level of applicant’s interest” (in the institution) ranks in significance on a scale from “Very Important” to “Not Considered.”

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What can I do about it?

Knowing whether your top prospects need reassurance can help you plan your overtures—whether this means prioritizing campus visits or intensifying your responsiveness to electronic communications. Say you’re determined to attend college in the vicinity of Washington D.C. for example, and you’re planning to visit a few schools, trying to determine where you’ll officially attend information sessions and student-led tours. Google a college prospect, e.g. “American University” + “Common Data Set” and typically you’ll land on the Institutional Research portion of a school’s website, where the Common Data Set resides. In this case, a quick search might reveal the following with respect to the significance of “Level of Applicant’s interest.”

If you find that the majority of your top prospects are somewhat…high maintenance when it comes to showing how likely you are to say “yes!” to an offer of admission, you might consider setting up a separate email account strictly for college application purposes so that you can be sure to carefully click, manage, and respond to intense communications coming from schools that track whether you take the time to show your interest.

As in most relationships, it helps to understand what’s important to your intended! When demonstrated interest counts, dare to compare thee (college) to a summer’s day or better yet, ask yourself, “how do I love thee” and let them count the ways….

Four Quotes for College (AKA What I Wish I Knew Freshman Year)

1. “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” —Oscar Wilde 

I know, I know, it’s a pretty Hallmark card thing to say. But if I had the chance to go back and tell myself one thing, this would be it. No one else is quite like you, which means that how you grow and succeed is a deeply personal thing. The way you study, socialize, and relax might look different from how other people do it. That’s ok! Figure out what works for you. Don’t contort yourself into what you think is most interesting or attractive. Don’t get swept up in what other people are doing. The most successful and magnetic people I’ve met got to the awesome place they are by being no one but themselves. Maybe you don’t know exactly who you will become or what you will do. Here’s an earth-shattering secret: no one does. Being yourself isn’t a static thing, it’s an ongoing process and exploration. If you think you’ve got it all figured out right now, guess what… 

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2. “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change” —Heraclitus 

This isn’t a diss on going into freshman with a clear sense of what you want to do and pursuing it. Some of my friends came to college knowing very clearly that they wanted to pursue art, or medicine, or history, or law. They didn’t change their major halfway through or contemplate hundreds of life paths every time they had to pick a class schedule (like I did). But a lot of my classmates who stuck to a clear path in college are doing wildly different things now than they (or anyone else) expected them to do after graduation. I know art majors who are now in med school, and pre-med kids who are living off the grid and writing award-winning poetry. College (and life) gives us all kinds of experiences we simply can’t predict. You can fight that uncertainty, swim against the current, and exhaust yourself. Or accept that things will shift, not just once or twice, but all the time. That doesn’t mean that every time something is hard or every time you mess up you ditch and run. There are challenges inherent in every field of study, every way of life… but ask yourself: “are these the challenges I want to be engaging with? Does this feel right for me right now?” And accept when the answers to those questions change. 

 

3. “Do not bring people in your life who weigh you down. And trust your instincts … good relationships feel good. They feel right. They don’t hurt. They’re not painful. That’s not just with somebody you want to marry, but it’s with the friends that you choose. It’s with the people you surround yourselves with.” —Michelle Obama

Fill your life with people and ideas that inspire you to be your best self. Life is hard, don’t make it harder by investing your time and energy in pursuits and people that leave you feeling insecure or empty. We all have doubts and fears, but it is important to not be ruled by them, and watch out when others are picking at your insecurities. Be strong in standing up for yourself, and seek out the people who help you do that -- and who you can return the favor for. Building mutually supportive and enriching relationships will help you succeed in and out of the classroom. 


 

4. “Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can’t Lose” —Friday Night Lights (my favorite Netflix binge in college)

College is a big deal! It’s your first shot at curating your own life. It’s an incredible privilege to have so many options before you, but it can also be terrifying, and sometimes paralyzing. What’s the right way of doing this? Who should I be? It’s ok to be nervous, but remember you can’t control everything, and there is no one way of getting through college—or life for that matter. Adjust your game strategy as needed. Keep your eyes open. Find things to love. Faced with an expanding world of uncertainty and possibility, be kind and patient with yourself and others. 

 

And when all else fails, get a pep talk from this kid: 

Thumbs up for rock and roll! 
 

The Common App Essay Question That's Often Overlooked

With June approaching fast, it goes without saying that any high school Junior will soon start to think about — and worry about — the Common Application “college essay.” Last year I wrote a blog post with tips on how to get started. This year, I’d like to talk a little about endings, and while it’s a bit early to be finishing a draft, I hope this ends up taking some guesswork out of the first steps.

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The prompt I appreciate most is one that often goes overlooked by my students. This is the fourth prompt, which asks you to describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. “It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale,” the prompt states. “Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.”

To be clear, it’s not the whole prompt I like, but the “or” part — to focus your essay on a problem you haven’t solved yet, but you’d like to. I suspect students often dismiss this option because it feels like an afterthought, something put there for kids who haven’t done anything but still, by some means or other, need to end up somewhere. Also, I suspect many imagine this prompt would create a dissatisfying end-product: hopes and dreams are fine, but colleges won’t admit you on your fantasies alone.

When I’m not working on college applications, I often help college freshmen on their first or second ever “real” research papers. This inevitably involves some soft anger on the student’s part at the irrationality of learning to write essays one way in high school, only to get to college and learn a structure of essay-writing incompatible with the high school model, but anger turns to confusion when we get to the conclusion, which — welcome to higher education — does anything but close a discussion. “Think of the conclusion as passing a baton from one scholar to the next,” I say, likely echoing their writing seminar professors. “It’s a time to mention the questions your work brings up that are worth exploring but you won’t get to, either because you don’t have the resources or because they’re too vast for one person alone” (or because it’s just an assignment).

The point of this kind of conclusion is that someone else can pick up the threads of your work and run with them — and like that, you build intellectual relationships, weave yourself into an academic community.

When I see the option to write about a problem you’d like to solve, I see the potential for a college-level conclusion, an essay that wraps itself up with open-ended sophistication. As the prompt states, these problems can be of any nature, but they often start with some personal trait or observed truth about the world that’s hard to understand. Some of the most successful essays I’ve worked on revolved around questions like, “I love sports statistics: what does that mean about who I am as a thinker?” Or, “So many people genuinely care about the state of the environment--so why is it so hard to change our habits, and how can we combat that?” Or, paraphrase the central question of my own college essay, “Why do I care so much about making people laugh, and what do I do with that?” Of course, to demonstrate real curiosity in a question of this kind, you’ll almost certainly have to to touch upon things you’ve actually done. But the open-endedness leaves space for your readers — college admissions officers — to pick up the intellectual work where you’ve left off. They know very well the resources their school offers, and they can start to imagine the ways you’ll be able to spend the next four years exploring your unsolved question from many sides.

In short, what I mean to say is that open-endedness is good. Having lingering curiosities can be more valuable than pretending to have all the answers to yourself. So, as you soon begin writing, don’t worry about writing the essay with the grand conclusion. A question, can, and should, lead to more questions. 650 words is hardly more than an intro, anyway, and an acceptance — at the end of it — is an invitation to a beginning.

The Do's and Don'ts of SAT Subject Tests

DON'T believe everything you read online

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Most college's websites purport that SAT Subject Tests are not required, but rather "strongly recommended." And, while it's true that your application will be considered complete and evaluated regardless of whether you submit Subject Tests or not, these subject-specific evaluations are not as optional as many students think.

Colleges' choice to use the word "recommended" instead of "required" leaves room for ambiguity, and with good reason. While admissions officers highly value the chance to compare applicants' prowess in individual subjects, they also know that they come from an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds. Not all students can afford the hefty fees of taking and sending multiple standardized test scores. Not all students have time, between working after school or taking care of siblings, to do their schoolwork and study for additional tests. Not all students have sufficient guidance to even be aware the SAT Subject Tests exist. Admissions offices want to make room for all types of students, including those whose lives may not allow for additional standardized testing. However, if personal and financial barriers are not an issue for you, then Subject Tests are not really as optional as they may initially appear.

 

DO read up on each school's requirements (or "strong suggestions") for Subjects

Many schools have specific requirements for individual majors: Business applicants should take one Math test, Engineering applicants should take one Math and one Science, etc. Be sure to check each college's website for their Standardized Testing Policies to make sure you can meet all of the requirements!

 

DO strategize when to take which Subjects based on your AP classes

Most Advanced Placement examinations (which are administered by the College Board, the same company that is responsible for the SAT Subject Tests) include a multiple choice section. There is a lot of meaningful overlap between the AP multiple choice and the Subject Test multiple choice. The question format and overall strategy is slightly different between the two, but studying the content for one will prepare you well for the other.

Many students who are eager to get started on Subject Tests look to take the Biology exam at the end of their freshman year biology course. To these students I say: be wary and take one of the CollegeBoard's online practice tests before signing up. Non-AP courses don't have a nationally standardized curriculum, and there's no guarantee that your school's coursework will cover all the topics that appear on the Subject Test.

 

DON'T take more than 5 Subject Tests

When asked how many tests each student should take, Grace, one of our College Advisors and former Stanford Admissions Officer warns not to overdo it. "Admissions officers know these exams cost money and take up a lot of time, so there's no need to take ten SAT II's just to show mastery of content. I'd say most students are fine with just two to three, max five. Remaining areas of their application (extracurriculars, summer activities, research work, etc.) are other ways they can show 'mastery' of experience and content that often tell a more interesting story than a one-day exam does."

 

DO take a good look at the Subject Tests offered on each test date

They're not always the same -- particularly when it comes to foreign language tests. Some dates specifically offer the test with listening, while others only offer it without. But don't worry -- colleges don't prefer one test over the other! Just make sure you're studying and preparing for the right one.

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DO take a look at both Math Subject Tests

The College Board offers two Math Subject Tests: Math I and Math II. Math I is for students who have taken two years of Algebra and one year of Geometry. Math II covers the same topics as Math I, "with the addition of trigonometry and elementary functions (precalculus)."

I often have students who claim that their Math skills aren't strong enough to merit even glancing at the Math II. Instead, they only focus on the Math I test. However, if you have completed a pre-calculus course, I strongly suggest looking at both exams, and sitting for a practice test in each, before making up your mind. When I was in high school, I took both tests, back to back, on the same day -- but because Math II is generally curved more generously than Math I, I ended up scoring 60 points higher on Math II. Don't count yourself out for one before trying both!

Pro Tip: Organization is Key

Have you ever woke up abruptly in the middle of the night with the terrible realization that you have a paper due in 5 hours that you forgot to finish? Somewhere between a group project and your laundry, you neglected to actually write your history paper, even though the research has been done for weeks. It’s in this moment while you’re furiously typing, stealing quick glances at your pillow, that you realize with just a little more organization, this situation could have been avoided.

 

Clear your desk of clutter

That pile of papers on your desk that has been growing taller for weeks is doing more harm than you realize. Besides making it more likely that you will misplace an important paper, physical clutter can actually affect your mental state. Your mind is subconsciously processing the mess making it harder for you to remain focused when it really counts. When you are not focused, you run the risk of forgetting something important. So before you even open a book, make sure your surroundings are clean!

 

Write everything down

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Even with the best of intentions, something will slip your mind. To avoid this, write down everything you need to accomplish the moment it is assigned to you. Your phone can be a helpful tool when it comes to keeping an up-to-date list. Creating a list in your Notes App will ensure you won’t misplace it (or add to the clutter on your desk).

 

Relax

Before you go to bed, take a few minutes to reflect on the day’s events. Quickly review everything you accomplished, upcoming due dates, and look at what is on the agenda for tomorrow.  These brief moments of reflection will help ensure you finished everything you needed to so you can always get a good night's rest.