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.

SAT/ACT Prep

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!

Links:

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!

Parchment.com – 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

The Beauty of Commuting

I’ve been commuting to university since my freshman year. I know the schedule of every bus with my destination options, how long it takes me to sprint from one bus stop to another, and the nearest parking lots in case I’m driving. Though sometimes a bit frustrating, commuting has more positive aspects, and it’s definitely a huge influence on my college experience.

None of my clothes mathFor me, living close to campus was never really an option, so I’ve had to settle on living at home and driving or taking the bus to school every morning. It’s really not as bad as everyone thinks it is, at least for me. I try to think of every bus ride as a tiny, 40-minute adventure and find something special, funny or worthy of telling others about on every commute.Let me tell you, things can get super crazy on the bus – one time this couple with twins and a ginormous stroller couldn’t get on the bus, and their babies were crying (of course). So all the riders were entertaining the twins for as long as they could – as long as the babies didn’t cry.

After a few months, I’ve started seeing familiar faces, and a simple smile from them, acknowledging my familiar face, brightens up my day. Knowing that there are other students like me, who take more than an hour to get to school, somehow calms me down and makes things more bearable.

My best friend on the bus is a thermos (not a phone! It’s my new thing. I try to actually look at what’s happening around me). It’s a bit dorky, I agree, but on a cold winter morning, nothing warms me up better than a hot cup of tea! This is my worst nightmare right here:

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I’ve never really biked to the university – in my case it seems impractical. Also, I’m not in a good enough physical shape to bike 20 miles. But this is how I picture the moment I leave my house on a bike:

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In terms of the ‘college experience’ aspect, I think commuting has a rather big influence on it. It’s difficult to stay on campus later in the evenings to hang out with people or waking up 3 hours before class so I can leave early enough to not hit traffic and be a little early for class.  However, everything is manageable if you want to make it manageable. You can make friends in classes and join clubs, arrange earlier study sessions and make special appointments with professors that fit your needs. It may take a little more effort for us than for those who live on campus, but it is possible.

I must say, I don’t really regret commuting – there are too many things I have left near home. It’s a personal choice that every college student gets to make at one point or another, and whatever that choice is, try to look on the bright side of things to get the best experience possible.

Flashcards: Make ‘Em Right!

The other day I decided to sacrifice my Math Quiz Section in favor of three hours of pure study time for the finals. I must add, I do not regret this decision, as lately things with organization have been getting out of hand.

While studying for my upcoming Psychology final, which has just so many theories and hypotheses, I decided to go for making flashcards (these have some great advantages!) To make things a bit different this time, though, I put the definitions in my own words and added some comments relating to my life experiences, movies I’ve seen or songs I’ve heard. For example, one flashcard that came out looked like this:

aversion

From this experience, I realized that there are several things I need to do to make my flashcard-making time worth…my time. Because if you think about it, after spending hours (sometimes even days) drawing these up, how much do you actually study from them? I’ll be honest and say that I give up the second I put the pen down, thinking that making the flashcards was helpful by itself. So, if you are like me, I would suggest following these quick tips to remember more while  making flashcards:

1. paraphrase
1. Paraphrase
– always restate the key definitions in your own words. This is help you to actually think about the meaning of the words and remember them a bit better. Read more

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Study for Multiple Choice Tests

file211251473046 (1)When preparing for a multiple choice test, it’s quite easy to relax and think “Oh, this test will be easy because all the answers will be on paper.” Unfortunately, this kind of thinking often sets us up for failure. Professors and teachers are familiar with such attitude, and make the tests even harder and more confusing.

To avoid this, it’s important to study as if the test will have open-ended questions.This means that you have to practice in a way that will let you understand the material, not merely recognize familiar terms on paper. There are a few components involved in this kind of test prep, and if you do a little bit of each, the knowledge and practice will add up in the end to form a bigger picture.

This is the procedure I’ve been going by in the last couple of months, which has been working out quite well for me:

mc drawing1. Go over and annotate all notes and textbook readings

Start doing this as soon as the quarter/semester/class begins. It’s easy to get behind, but if you review and annotate every evening for 20 minutes, it will be much easier before the test.

2. Create a mind map that links all of the new concepts together and helps you create a bigger picture.

3. Start taking practice tests at least a week before the test.
It will be useless to cram and do five practice tests on a Sunday night, but if you take a test each day of the week in advance, it will not be as difficult and overwhelming.

4. Practice answering open-ended questions.
These have been saving my butt these last few weeks. Even though all of my exams are multiple choice, the best indicator of your knowledge is how well you are able to pull information out of your archival memory and into your working memory. And as a bonus, the more times you do this, the better you remember it in the future and the easier it is to recall again.

5. Identify Key Terms.
It doesn’t matter whether you create flashcards or cover the definitions with your hands: knowing the key terms and formulas is crucial to creating connections between concepts and coming up with “the big picture”. Just remember to actually think as you memorize the terms, because mindless memorization can only get you as far.

To sum it all up, I would like to say that the key to remembering information better and long after the test is to use a technique called elaborative rehearsal.  The basic science behind it is easy, though: pay the most attention to the meaning of the words and concepts, link new and old ideas right away, and try to mindlessly memorize things as little as possible. There are numerous sources and articles (1, 2, for example) that show that people who memorized a list of random words by focusing on how the word looks like or sounds like instead of focusing on the context in which the word was given to them, have remembered much fewer words than those who understood the meaning.

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iPad Apps for Students

Typic

If you have made the decision to use a tablet or an iPad for school, congratulations! I have found it to be so helpful, both in terms of freeing up some space in my backpack as well as keeping everything organized and in one place. One frequent question I get from my Tumblr followers is what are the top apps you can use for school?

Here is a quick list of productivity, note-taking, document reading, to-do list and some fun apps that can be integrated into your school life.

1. To be Productive

  •  When studying, the Pomodoro Timer can help you organize your schedule. The Pomodoro Rule (aka 45-15 rule) allows you to work for 45 minutes and rest for 15. Studying in smaller chunks like these helps you keep your best focus and re-energize when the concentration goes down.
  • If you are not a fan of set schedules, but would like to keep a clean and organized to-do list for all your activities, I’d recommend the GoodTask app

2. To Be Organized

  • To those who enjoy keeping a calendar online, Sunrise Calendar is a beautiful app. Similar to iCal, it includes Google calendar, Exchange and iCloud support, and is available on laptops, iPhones and iPads. It is also offered on Android!
  • StudyCal is also a great option for students who like to keep their daily tasks, class schedules, assignments and even grades all in one place.

3. To Take Notes

  • I take notes using GoodNotes app (Here is a screenshot). It is very simple and easy to use, doesn’t lag, and has handwriting recognition in case you need to do a search of you notes. Also includes PDF annotations as well as allows you to take photos and insert them right into your notes.
  • Another option is Notability an app very similar to Goodnotes, except that it offers a voice recording device and allows you to listen to the recording and see how you wrote your notes during lecture. Super cool!
  • Evernote and OneNote are also great apps for taking notes in class, but mostly if you prefer to type them. Both are saved on a cloud and are accessible from any device!
  • For various short and random notes, the App Store offers Post-It app, which lets you create Pinterest-like boards of post it notes from your photos.

picstitch

4. To Study 

5. To Keep your Files

  • Microsoft Office: Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneDrive, etc. These can be found in Bundles in the App store for free! Good to have just in case.
  • The app I use is Documents Free. It’s very simple and saves everything even if I’ve just opened it once. Helps with files like class syllabus that I randomly decide to check in the middle of the year.

6. Other Helpful Apps

Here is a screenshot of my iPad and the apps that I use:

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Weekend Study

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I really should be posting more, but school really is taking a lot of time. I feel a little guilty whenever I get some free time- should I be studying for that Tuesday test right now? What if it could make a difference in my scores? But by the end of the day my brain decides to turn off and seems to only focus on five episodes of Orange is the New Black.

I think my study inspiration comes from an organized desk and a clean room. That’s why this weekend I decided to clean up super quick (unfortunately, it turned out I have so much stuff that after dusting the drawers I put everything back where I found it…) and cozy up my study table. I threw away some random to-do lists from September and August,  got a third  new pencil pouch to put my fancy pens into and even organized some folders on the laptop.

As of now, my tools for staying on top of things are:

  • A to-do list. It’s huge sticky note.
  • Class schedules. Right in front of my face. To remind me of how much work needs to be done.
  • A tablet with my notes and class PowerPoint to review.
  • A pouch with fancy colored pens. My feet brought me to the University Bookstore the other day and forced me to buy them.
  • Caramel Black tea in a cute cup. To help me stay calm in this busy, busy world. (There may or may not be a giant thermos with tea that didn’t make it into the picture)
  • Some ‘Focus’ music on Spotify.

IMG_7965