Category Archives: College Admissions

As a freelance writer, I create blog content on college admissions issues. I have written for various test prep and educational consulting companies. Through my website, I also offer advice and reviews for students writing college essays, personal statements, and resumes/CVs.

Need a blog on college admissions for your website?

If so, ask me to be your freelance writer through UpWork.

My personal experience with college admissions:

As a senior in high school, I was accepted to 10 different US colleges for undergraduate school. However, I ended up not attending college right away. Instead, I spent a gap year with Rotary International in Bolivia. I am a big fan of gap years because they can give you much-needed time to think about your college admissions options!

Thanks in part to my gap year, I received the Eugene McDermott scholarship to attend UT Dallas tuition-free with a monthly stipend. It was a great decision.

In my senior year of college I applied for the prestigious Fulbright Award. I received the award and left for Spain for one year. While I was there, I taught high school students and learned more about the concerns facing college applicants.

After my year with Fulbright, I was accepted to Sciences Po — one of Europe’s most prestigious universities for international affairs — for my graduate studies. I also received the Boutmy scholarship for my degree.

During my graduate studies, students began to contact me through my website for advice about college admissions. That is when I began working as a freelancer. At first I helped students by reviewing their Sciences Po essays. Now, I write blogs about college admissions for a larger audience.

Does a self-introduction video add value to a college application?

Technology has changed the landscape of college admissions. Nowadays, many schools offer the option of including a self-introduction video to accompany a college or scholarship application. In some cases, you can even submit a video instead of a written essay! But does this really add value?

The answer depends on you. When deciding whether to include a self-introduction video in your application, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you comfortable on camera?

    The video format clearly values some candidates over others. If you come across as socially awkward, then a video might not be a good idea. You also want to be sure that your English is clear and fluent.

    Of course, you are not obligated to show your face in a self-introduction video. However, making a collage of images or video clips requires skill. If you have never made that kind of video before, don’t stress yourself out about it for your college application.

  2. Will you use the video format to show something meaningful?

    A video of yourself reading an essay adds little value. Rather, it’s best to show something visually appealing.

    For example…

Decide whether a self-introduction video is right for your application. Read the whole article on college.edu.sg

SAT/ACT: Should I take the optional essay?

SAT/ACT: Should I take the optional essay?

Over the years, the SAT and ACT have both been redesigned. Once upon a time, the SAT essay was required. Now, it’s not. At one point, the ACT essay was scored out of 12. As of last year, it is out of 36. These adjustments reflect attempts to make the optional essay a more useful recruiting tool that can predict how well a student will do in freshman composition classes.

However, many colleges remain unconvinced of the added value of the optional essay or writing section. While some places require that you take it, others simply do not look at these scores. Here is a guide for deciding if the optional essay is right for you:

You should write the optional essay if…
  • Your school requires it.

The first question you should ask yourself is whether or not your preferred colleges require the optional essay. If they do, then there is no use reading this blog post. Sign up for the ACT with writing or the SAT with essay.

  • You will get a really good score.

Next, ask yourself if you will do well on this section. Even if a school doesn’t require it, a great score is always a good thing to send to colleges. If you had a wonderful English teacher and have time to prepare, then it’s probably wise to go ahead and plan to complete the optional essay.

You should avoid the optional essay if:
  • You cannot stick to a 5-paragraph format.

It can difficult to judge a person’s writing abilities objectively….

Read the full post on college.edu.sg

The Best Undergraduate Major for a Pre-Med Student

If you want to go to medical school, you may be frustrated to learn that you cannot major in pre-med. What is the best major for a pre-med student?

Let’s look at the data.

Biology (and related biological sciences) is by far the most popular major for pre-med students. Fifty-three percent of medical school applicants in 2015-16 claimed this major. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it the best choice.

Medical School Applicants and Matriculants (2015-2016)
Applicants Matriculants
Biological Sciences 27653 53% 10676 52%
Humanities 2193 4% 1073 5%
Math and Statistics 438 <1% 192 <1%
Physical Sciences 5102 10% 2319 11%
Social Sciences 5629 11% 2277 11%
Specialized Health Sciences 1596 3% 494 2%
Other 9938 19% 3600 17%
TOTAL 52549   20631  

Source: Association of American Medical Colleges

The percentage of applicants and matriculants (those actually entering medical school) is pretty much the same for any given major. In other words, no one major gives a clear advantage– pre-med students enter medical school in the same ratios by major with which they apply.

Rather than focusing on a title, choose your major based its ability to help you earn a good MCAT score, keep a high GPA, meet prerequisites and foster excellent relationships with your professors.

Choose a major that won’t consume all your time.

Although medical schools do not care about the title of your undergraduate major, they do care about your MCAT. The average MCAT for a student entering medical school last year was 31.4. This is significantly higher than the average score for applicants, which was just 28.3.

While choosing a major in a relevant area might help your score, ultimately you’ll still have to study outside of regular classes. You won’t be able to do that if you choose a major that is too difficult and consumes too much of your time.

Choose a major that is interesting to you.

Medical schools are also going to judge you based on…

Read the entire article on college.edu.sg

Conditional Verbs: College Essay Grammar

Maybe you are lucky enough to have an awesome English teacher who edits your college essays. Or, maybe you were exceptionally good at English grammar and are an expert when it comes to conditional verbs. However, for most people, this is a tough question:

Should I use the first or second conditional for my essays?

International students applying to programs at Sciences Po often send me their personal statements to review. In the process, I have noticed that students (regardless of nationality) often make the same mistake over and over again with conditional verbs.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Beware of second conditional verbs

Oftentimes students send me college essays written in the second conditional.

That means that they use the words would and could.

The second conditional is used to talk about an imaginary, or unreal situation in the future. For example:

If I were accepted to Harvard, I would work really hard.

In this sentence, you being accepted to Harvard is an imaginary future– it hasn’t happened yet and it’s unlikely that it ever will. If it were to happen, then you would hypothetically work really hard. However, it probably will not happen.

The feeling is not very optimistic. Consider this:

If I were accepted to the program, I could learn many things.

Again, this suggests a doubt– that you might not be accepted. It also suggests that even if you are accepted, you might not learn many things.

Saying that you “could” learn many things indicates that the opportunity will be there, but maybe you won’t be prepared to actually study and take advantage of it.

2. Use first conditional verbs

In general, you should use the first conditional for college essays. The first conditional is much more optimistic as it is used to refer to a future in a real situation. For example:

If you accept me at Harvard, I will work very hard.

Here’s what you’re saying: getting accepted is a real possibility, and if it happens then you will definitely work very hard.

Even though in reality you cannot know what the future will actually bring (ie. perhaps you’ll get accepted to Harvard and then fail out), you should opt for positivity in your college essays.

Even if you do not use an “if clause,” you should still use the future tense because the “if” part is essentially implied. For example:

I will be able to take genetics classes with the finest professors.

is always better than

I would be able to take genetics classes with the finest professors.

because with the second sentence we are left wondering– why the doubt?

3. Don’t worry– it’s not pretentious

Last of all, don’t worry about the first conditional sounding too pretentious. It’s not.

It’s still the conditional.

You’re not saying that you will be accepted to the school, you’re just saying that you know with confidence that if you are accepted then you will X and Y and the opportunities will be Z. In other words, you are confident that going to this school will be a good choice.

Want more in-depth information on conditional verbs? Eduction First has a great post about it. 

More help with college essay grammar and writing:
Read more of my blogs about College Admissions topics.
The US College Personal Statement
The Five-Point Resume Check
Five Ways to De-Stress before a College Interview
Sciences Po: 4 Tips for Writing Your Motivation Letter

Gap Year Argument: Why the Gap Year Can Be a Great Decision

In the United States, we are often afraid that if a student takes a gap year then that individual may not go on to college afterwards.

Since college is viewed as the one sure route to having a rewarding career, taking a gap year therefore seems dangerous.

But in fact, the gap year is simply that– a gap.

It is a space in time when the student can be outside of the classroom and think about what they want to do.

It doesn’t mean that the student won’t go on to college afterwards.

In fact, gap year students may be significantly more prepared to face the pressures of university studies than other students.

There is an excellent quote that I have seen floating around the internet lately:

First I was dying to finish high school and start college. And then I was dying to finish college and start working. And then I was dying to marry and have children. And then I was dying for my children to grow old enough for school so I could return to work. And then I was dying to retire.
And now I am dying… And suddenly I realize I forgot to live.
— Anonymous

As an individual is rushed through the different stages of education (and, indeed, life), it is often easy to become more focused on getting to the next stage than anything else. In the process, we risk forgetting to relax and enjoy ourselves. Even worse, we might end up throwing ourselves into lives and careers that don’t truly suit us.

The gap year allows students to reflect on life so that they can make good decisions for their futures.

By the end of their gap years, students are more mentally and emotionally prepared for college; they will get more out of the experience and ultimately be happier people (we hope).

Of course, the way you spend your gap year matters. Two of the most common ways to spend a gap year are working and traveling.

A gap year to work

Many students decide to spend a gap year working. Of course, it is easy to dismiss the importance of a low-paid job at Wal*Mart or a gig hosting at a local restaurant. However, even the most mundane jobs can teach us important life skills.

burger gap year chef work

 

They can also teach us the importance of making sure the gap year only lasts a year.

 

Seriously though, working teaches responsibility and helps us to understand how education actually fits into the larger scheme of… well… having a job. It can also be a good way to learn the value of money early on– both by saving it to pay for college and by realizing how hard you have to work for it without a degree.

A gap year to travel

Traveling for a year before college is becoming more and more popular. If you spend a year traveling the world or studying abroad, you’ll gain skills in languages, communications, and cultural sensitivity.

wing plane gap year travelYou may also further develop your interests in studying whatever it is you end up majoring in during college. If you travel, politics, economics and are issues that you are likely to come across.

Traveling before colleges helps to contextualize you education.

Taking ECON101 can seem pretty abstract. But if you’ve seen poverty and learned about how other countries govern (whether well or poorly), you’ll walk into the classroom already bursting with questions for the teacher.

In my own gap year experience, I spent ten months in Bolivia on a Rotary International Youth Exchange before starting at The University of Texas at Dallas. When I got back, the only thing I knew is that I wanted to better understand the US role in the war on drugs and the arguments behind land reform. As for my colleagues? Land reform was just some abstract concept.

The gap year may not be right for everyone.

Some students are ready for college. They know it. Their parents know it. And they have absolutely zero interest in spending time doing something else. That’s awesome.

However, if you know a student who is thinking of taking a gap year, encourage it!

We all deserve a time for reflection and the benefits of taking a gap year can be innumerable.

Read more of my blogs about College Admissions topics.
The US College Personal Statement
The Five-Point Resume Check
Five Ways to De-Stress before a College Interview
Sciences Po: 4 Tips for Writing Your Motivation Letter

…more

Personal Statements for International Students

Over the past few years, I’ve had many international students contact me for help editing and revising their personal statements. The US college personal statement is a unique beast.

liberal arts skills laptop techincal us college personal statementIn the US, colleges are not only interested in students with good scores, but also students with unique personalities and solid writing skills. Therefore:

Your personal statement should…
  1. Stand out

    Admissions representatives read thousands upon thousands of personal statements. As a result, the message that “I’m smart and I want to go here” is nothing new to them. So, try and dig a little deeper.

    Tips

    • Tell a story. 

      A good way to catch the reader’s attention is to use one or two paragraphs to introduce yourself with a fun (or funny!) anecdote.

    • Have an attention-grabbing first line.

      Really, anything other than “I am a student at [insert high school here]” is already an improvement over most applicants.

    • Talk about something you love.

      Whether it’s a hobby, a family member, or your dog, passion has a way of showing itself through your writing.

  2. Show off your ability to write

    This is an opportunity to prove that you are capable of handling classes in English. To prove yourself, your personal statement should be flawless– grammatically perfect and easy to read.

    Tips

    • Beware of false friends.

      Realize means to think of, not to create.

    • Use your time wisely.

      Honestly, you generally have several months to work on an application before it is due. Using that time to revise your work to perfection will show that you are a responsible student.

    • Get your work reviewed by a native English speaker.

      Choose somebody with solid writing skills. You can even ask me to review your US college personal statement.

  3. Show your interest in the program

    This is perhaps the hardest thing to do in a personal statement. That’s because just saying “I’m interested” doesn’t really show interest. Of course, this is especially important for Master’s students and Ph.D. students… and anyone applying to a program where “undecided” is not an acceptable major.

    Tips
    • Use your hobbies and volunteer experiences.

      Explaining that you have done something voluntarily is a good argument that you are truly interested in it. For example, if you volunteer every Saturday at the animal shelter then it’s pretty obvious that you are interested in animals.

    • Tell them about your college research.

      Maybe you haven’t actually studied genetics before, but you have stayed up late at night comparing different genetics programs. If so, say that!

    • Explain what you know about the topic of your studies.

      Don’t be afraid to include a little technical jargon in your statement– just be sure that you truly know what you’re talking about.

 

Read more of my blogs about College Admissions topics.
The Five-Point Resume Check
Five Ways to De-Stress before a College Interview
Sciences Po: 4 Tips for Writing Your Motivation Letter
The Argument for the Gap Year 

…more

Five Ways to De-stress Before a College Interview

Five Ways to De-stress Before a College Interview

You finished your personal statement. You submitted your application. You even sent in the scores from your latest battle with the SAT.

de-stress power pose

Now, you’re outside the door of the dean’s office waiting for an interview.

Of course, the best way to reduce stress before a college interview is to come prepared:

• Practice potential questions with a friend the day before,
• Get a good night’s sleep, and
• Bring copies of your updated resume.

Unfortunately, even with these preparations, you might still feel stressed.

Here are some tips to help you de-stress and find your calm before your interview.

1. Four. Seven. Eight.

The numbers 4-7-8 refer to a simple breathing technique….

Read the full article on the Dallas Admissions website!

 

Read more of my blogs about College Admissions topics.
The US College Personal Statement
The Five-Point Resume Check
Sciences Po: 4 Tips for Writing Your Motivation Letter
The Argument for the Gap Year 

…more

5 Things to leave off your resume (and why it doesn’t count as lying)

5 Things to leave off your resume
(and why it doesn’t count as lying)

Writing the perfect resume is a daunting task, even for the best qualified applicants.

While we spend a lot of time trying to decide what we should include (and how to get it all into that magic one-page format), there are also things that are perhaps best left out.

This is especially true for job seekers that have limited experience.

While it may be tempting to fill your resume up with additional details — if only to make it look like you have more than a few lines to say about yourself — sometimes it’s best to check out a larger font size and more blank space (which increases readability) rather than to turn the employer away with superfluous information.

Here are some of the things to look out for– and stay away from– when writing your resume:

1. The words ‘intern’ and ‘volunteer’

Many young graduates make the mistake of creating a special ‘internship’ or ‘volunteering’ section on their resume. This might make a lot of sense for someone who is trying to make a point about being dedicated to a particular cause. But for many of us, that unpaid law firm internship was much better aligned with our long-term career goals than that minimum wage job at McDonald’s.

home office resume writing laptop

 

 

 

 

 

So here’s the secret: just make a ‘professional experience’ section where you can list both paid and unpaid work experiences. Then, feel free to leave out the words ‘intern’ and ‘volunteer’ altogether.

Keep reading– check out the full article on JobTeaser.com

The Five-Point Resume Check

Think you’re ready to send off your CV? Take a second and scan the five-point resume check:

1. Is the formatting consistent?

You can choose out of hundreds of different acceptable styles for your resume, but the formatting needs to stay the same throughout the document. If you bold job titles and italicize company names, do it throughout. If one date reads 09/15/2016, the other should not read to Sept. or Sep. or September.

2. Does it fill up the page?

A resume should be one or two pages, depending on how much experience you have. It should not be 1.5 pages or half a page or one page with a second blank page that will inevitably spit out the printer should the recruiter decide to press print.

3. Is anything misspelled?

Microsoft Word offers a spell check, so there is no excuse for blatantly misspelled words in a resume. Of course, there are always inconsistencies that even spell check can’t grasp (especially since resumes have a tendency to use abbreviations and the like). So, ask an attentive friend to read through your work.

4. Do your bullet points use verbs?

Bullet points that describe your duties at a past job should use active, past-tense verbs. For example: generated seed money, wrote a successful grant proposal. Trying to make grammatically correct sentences will only make your document seem too long. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t use “I.”

5. Is it easy to read?

If everything else seems okay, ask a friend to quickly scan your resume. What pops out? What grabs the eye? How long does it take them to spot your education? Your most relevant work experience?

Learn about how I can give your personalized help with your resume!

 

Read more of my blogs about College Admissions topics.
The US College Personal Statement
Five Ways to De-Stress before a College Interview
Sciences Po: 4 Tips for Writing Your Motivation Letter
The Argument for the Gap Year 

…more

What is the difference between the different PSIA programs at Sciences Po?

In response to my article about choosing between Sciences Po and LSE (London School of Economics), a reader wrote me with the following question about the various PSIA programs:

I am really interested in applying for the Human Rights & Humanitarian Action programme at PSIA. Could you tell me how this program stands in relation to the other ones at PSIA.

Understanding the difference between the various programs at PSIA can be a little bit tricky.

The thing is, all of the students at PSIA (Paris School of International Affairs – Sciences Po) take classes together. Technically the school offers eight different master’s programs:

  • International Security
  • International Economic Policy
  • International Public Management
  • Environmental Policy
  • International Development
  • International Energy
  • Human Rights and Humanitarian Action
  • Development Practice

In reality, though, many of these master’s have overlapping themes. The most blatant case is that of Development Practice and International Development, which study the exact same things– the only difference being that the former takes one year to complete and only accepts students with significant work experience.

Other cases are less obvious:
International economic policy can be the same thing as environmental policy. In order to achieve international development, you need to understand how to make economic policy. Respecting human rights is a vital part of effective development policies. Energy is a major international security issue. And so on.

If you are looking at International Economic Policy VS International Development, see my post: Studying Development VS Studying Economics

It is therefore completely logical that these programs be housed under the same school and that many of the students should take classes together. But it does beg the question– what is the difference between studying one master versus another?

This is even more the case when you consider that each student can choose a thematic concentration for their studies. That means you could choose a Master in International Energy with a concentration in Human Rights, or a Master in Human Rights with a concentration in International Energy.

What’s the difference?

Because the process for choosing your actual classes is based on a first-come first-served system that will often throw you in the middle of second, third, or fourth choice courses, the difference between these master’s degrees is… somewhat subtle.

Perhaps the biggest difference is the name you want to have on your diploma. Keeping in mind that concentrations will not feature on your diploma or your transcripts, choose the program whose name best aligns with what you want future employers to think when they look at your resume. That may not sound like a beautiful conclusion to come to, but it is the most practical one.

Read more of my blogs about College Admissions topics.
The US College Personal Statement
The Five-Point Resume Check
Five Ways to De-Stress before a College Interview
Sciences Po: 4 Tips for Writing Your Motivation Letter
The Argument for the Gap Year 

…more