How I Got to College

How I got to College

Hello lovelies,

Today I wanted to talk a little bit about getting to college, so if you are a high school student preparing for this absolutely crazy application/SAT’s/Admission Essays period I hope this may be of some help to you. The key is to start early and have some kind of idea before you start, hence why I’m posting this now. I’ve been getting tons and tons of questions about studying for the SAT and ACT, tips for writing the best essay, what classes to take beforehand, grades, etc., so I’ll just go over each one one by one. (See some helpful links below!)

The Grades

The obvious thing about receiving grades in high school is that they need to be good. The not-so-obvious is that they are not the most important aspect of your career. Although most university look at your academic GPA, the new “holistic review” idea is also considering how challenging and diverse your courses were, what you have going on in the extracurriculars are and some personal circumstances if you mentioned those in your essay. I know someone whose parents were getting a divorce in the middle of her junior year. The poor girl was affected so much that her grades fell way below average. Next year, however, she was able to bring them back up and explain in her personal essay what had happened. So unless you are applying to the top Ivy League type schools, you do not have to have a perfect GPA.


I cannot begin telling you how many people began taking their SAT’s in the fall of their senior year and were freaking out about not getting them back in time. So please start studying for these early! I was lucky enough to take a prep course through Princeton Review (expensive, but worth it! My cumulative score increased by 400 points!), which started in the beginning of my junior year. Once I took it and did as well as I could on the test, I didn’t have to worry about it anymore. However, my trouble was that I couldn’t decide which test to study for – ACT or SAT. ACT is a more of a knowledge-based test, where you are actually tested on what you already know. The SAT doesn’t really go too deep into the material, and essentially everything depends on your attention span and how many practice tests you’ve taken. I took both tests (it doesn’t hurt to try them both!) several times and simply submitted my best scores to the university. It worked out fine and I got the scores I wanted!

Extracurricular Activities

Nowadays most colleges pay so much attention to extracurriculars that it almost feels like they’re more important than grades. These include school clubs, sports, leadership, hobbies, volunteering, jobs, internships, family duties, etc. Basically, whatever you’re doing outside of school counts as an extracurricular activity. It’s important to stick to few things for a longer period of time than trying out this and that for a month or two. I feel like I had a pretty good set of out-of-school things going on, such as volunteering at the Red Cross for a few years, working at a child care facility, being a secretary/treasurer and member of French Honor Society as well as a member of the National Honor Society, and taking a whole bunch of other classes that weren’t associated with school. I feel like anything you can show a passion and dedication to would work fabulously – universities want people who will stick around for some time and work hard.

AP/IB/Honors Classes

Short answer: take them. Long answer: take as many as you can, but don’t overload yourself with craziness. Over my high school career, I took 5 AP classes: US History, French, English, Statistics and another French class. It was tough, but manageable as long as I didn’t procrastinate. What ended up happening is I entered college with 20 credits, which would have cost me some $17,000…! Not only that, but I was also more prepared for university work load than I would have been if I took all the regular high school classes. AP and Honors classes require a lot more work and are a bit harder, I agree, but they are so worth it. I only wish I took more of them in school!

The Essay

Oh, this is the worst part. How do you actually promote yourself? How do you tell colleges, “Pick me, pick me!!!” without sounding arrogant, pathetic or desperate? Personal essays require a lot of work. It’s not something you can sit down, write and submit in one evening. Make sure to find someone to read over your essay. Actually, as many people as possible. Be honest and write from your heart – do not try to guess what the admissions people are looking for. You don’t have to think of something heroic you’ve done or make something up to make them feel bad – just write what’s on your mind and use a lot of descriptions.

By the way, my college essay was ridiculously cheesy. I wrote about my German friend coming to my house in Russia and how my friends tried to speak English to her and how it all totally changed my life. Wow, it sounds dorky even now. But I think it was the way I wrote it and conveyed my feelings about the situation that really worked. I got some help from my parents, English teachers, even family friends, and hearing their opinions was invaluable. This is where I would like to direct you guys to my good friend Jacqueline from Nitty-Gritty English, who talks about writing tips for reluctant writers. If you get stuck on your essay (or any essay for that matter!), go take a look at her blog – there will definitely be something that can help you.

Meeting Advisers

Last but not least, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to talk to your counselor and advisers about choosing and applying to a university. They are the best people that can tell you about studying there, all of opportunities you’ll get, living conditions, etc. They can even help you with your admissions process, getting through that essay or maybe some unique application problem you’re having. Go and talk to any adviser. If not to ask questions, but to talk to her/him and introduce yourself.

Alright, sorry about the long rant! Let me know if you have any questions or concerns below in the comments, email or Tumblr! I’d love to help out!


Nitty Gritty English – Tips for Reluctant Writers

Unigo – Find College matches, scholarships and career advice

Zinch – My personal favorite. Used this one through and through back in the day!

Niche – See what fellow students say about colleges, their grades and admissions experiences. Loved it! – Calculate your chances of getting into college! Used it!

The College Board – Your scoop on AP Tests

Princeton Review – SAT/ACT Prep

College Rankings: Good, Bad or Ugly? – Be smart about those college rankings.

Scholarships and Financial Aid – My collection of websites for scholarship searches

Finding a Job in High School and College

Getting a Job in High School&College

In High School

Here the job market mostly depends on your age. Since all of the jobs are part-time and relatively easy, you only need to take your pick and pursue the position. Your future career may not depend on this choice, but it sure will help with making the first job experience more pleasant. Since high school students don’t have a degree in a specific subject area, most of the jobs require simple skills. Some options are:

1. Babysitting – ask your neighbors and family friends if they need some help or know someone who might! Let your friends know you’re open to recommendations. I can’t count how many times my friends weren’t able to make it to their babysitting jobs and gave my number to the families, so it worked out quite nicely for moi. In addition to babysitting, I worked at a child care since sophomore year of high school. It was a fairly easy job, and I was even able to sneak in my homework at times. So a lot of children were involved in my high school career, but everything worked perfectly fine for me. More options: pet sitting, house sitting, yard sitting, and basically anything that has the word sitting in it.

2. Store/Restaurant/Small Business – working at a small business enables a more personal work environment, which to me is very important. Restaurants require a food handling license most likely, and stores won’t let you touch the money until you’re 18, but there are definitely some possibilities at getting a job not related to that. For example, stacking shelves, being a host/hostess at a restaurant, helping out customers, etc. Even if you think you’re not old enough or qualified for a position, it never hurts to ask. That way the employer will know that you’re looking for something and keep you in mind.

3. Tutoring – if you know someone who needs help with homework, why not help them out? It can be a friend or a classmate, and maybe even someone from a grade or two below you. You can also work as a tutor in the community center, the library or the YMCA. The best way to get to this position is probably to volunteer first – ask around (have I mentioned that already?) and see if anyone needs help. Volunteer, get some experience, and soon you’ll be able to tutor others for pay.

4. Volunteer/Internship – while internships aren’t as available during high school years, there is plenty of volunteering opportunities out there. Pick an organization, sign up and get that experience on! If you are planning ahead for college applications (which you definitely should), make sure to pick something useful and worth talking about on the application. Red Cross, YMCA, care homes, maybe even online companies – all it takes is a couple of phone calls and/or emails to find out! Remember, it never hurts to ask.

All in all, make sure to get your name out there and let me know that you’re available and looking for work. While you probably won’t get a job that requires high qualifications, it will definitely be a good start for your CV and first job experiences.

In College

Most college students look for jobs for either one or both reasons: get a little extra income or work experience for a future job search. While it is important to find a position that you like, it’s also important to relate it to something you’re interested in or your intended career path.

1. Career Center – although it sounds like the University’s career center only helps out with graduating students, they can definitely provide you with some tips about the job search. Some websites for looking up part time and full time jobs in your area, making your resume sound crazy awesome, and dates for some internship and job fairs.

2. College-owned website for job search – I found my campus job on UW’s website huskyjobs. It lists for me all on and off campus jobs, I can upload my resume and cover letter for employers to look at. It’s a great site and most college career centers provide this kind of websites for students.

3. Sales/Food nearby – if you’re looking just for some small monthly income, it may be a good idea to look into nearby shops, cafes and clothing stores. Although the competition is high, most students who look for a job are actually able to get one. Look around, ask around. You know the drill.

4. Start with an internship – if you’re having a hard time finding a paid job, maybe look in the direction of internships. Some of them are paid, some are not, but they are a great way to start getting experience in the field you’re interested in. Career centers usually hold internship fairs where you can walk around, talk to potential employers and share your resume for them to look at.

5. Blog! My favorite one, obviously! A part-time job consists of at least 10-15 hours of work every week. If you blog every day and try your best to promote a blog, find sponsors, etc., you can actually get quite a good income! I’ve recently found a few blogs written by college students who use it as their source of income – MostlyMorgan, for example. Morgan writes up monthly income reports, which are very useful to look at if you are trying to promote your blog. If you are new to the blogging community, check out her guide on how to start your own blog.


College Admissions: The GPA Dilemma

I often receive questions regarding having a high grade point average (GPA) in high school, and how that affects your chances of getting into a competitive university. Today I would like to clear up some misconceptions about the importance of grades.

1. GPA is only a fraction of what schools look at.

As far as I know, a lot of universities in the United States do a holistic review of applications: it is more personalized and focuses on a lot of factors other than grades, such as

  • SAT/ACT scores,
  • High school curriculum and course rigor
  • Taking advantage of challenging courses like AP, IB and Honors
  • Extracurricular activities and community service,
  • Special circumstances and personal experiences

I have heard of many cases, where highly selective colleges would pick a student with a lower GPA but a more broad and open extracurricular agenda over a student with a 4.0 GPA and a 2300 on the SAT. If a student has nothing to say other than “I have a 4.0 GPA and do nothing but study”, chances are someone else with a more colorful extracurricular agenda will be picked over Mr. I-Only-Study. (However, don’t get me wrong- you still need to try your best in school, no slacking!)

To read more about this, check out these two articles:

  1. Confessions of an Application Reader
  2. How College Applications are Evaluated

If for some reason your grades aren’t as high as you’d like them to be, try to get involved in clubs, sports, volunteering, maybe even find a job or a hobby. When filling out your college application, you need to play to your strengths; and if grades aren’t your strength, it may be in your extracurricular activities.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to all colleges and universities: the most competitive universities, such as Ivy League Schools and teeny tiny fancy private schools, first look at your academic merits (again, not just grades, but also the course rigor, SAT/ACT scores, AP classes, etc.), and only then at the extracurricular activities and personal stories. However, bigger schools pay attention to your “fit” to the school, your personal story (which you will express in your essay), and your ability to learn from your experiences.These components need to be looked at in more detail…so..

Coming up next: structure of a typical college application and how to use it to your advantage!