Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sciences Po Review

Frequent website visitors may have noticed that I stopped reviewing CVs and personal statements for Sciences Po for a short time. But now, I will begin again!

Even during my short hiatus I continued to receive many requests from students hoping I would make an exception for them. It’s been really hard to say no.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, including many people with careers in international affairs. I’ve decided to offer my services again for a short time so that I can help students in need and also prepare in case my own career is affected.

Worried about studying for a career in international affairs under the dark cloud of COVID-19? Read this.

Ready to request a CV or personal statement review for your Sciences Po application? Go here.

Starting A Formal Letter: College Essay Grammar

Starting a formal letter for a job or college application is difficult. It’s true.

Your teacher will tell you that the best thing to do is to address an individual. But unfortunately, that’s not always possible.

In fact, since college admissions essays are often written for a team of admissions representatives, there may not be a single person to address. So, what do you do?

Here are a few options to consider (along with my personal opinions about them).

Starting A Formal LetterTo Whom It May Concern
  • Very impersonal – while this may be considered as technically “correct” it shows very little thought
  • Outdated
cross-1769870_1920Dear Sir/Madam
  • Reads like a translation from another language
  • Impersonal yet gendered, making for an awkward feel
  • Outdated
Starting A Formal LetterDear Admissions Committee
  • Although impersonal, this allows you to avoid outdated and gendered terms while remaining vague about the letter’s recipients
check-1769866_1280Dear University of Minnesota
  • Although still impersonal, stating the university’s name at least lets the read know that this isn’t a mass letter that you sent to every job/school
  • Feels somewhat more modern
check-1769866_1280Dear Department of English Studies
  • Shows that it isn’t a mass letter sent out to every school
  • Shows that you understand which department you will be joining

Oftentimes, you can start your college essays directly, without addressing a letter to anyone. However, certain schools (like Sciences Po) ask specifically for a letter. Moreover, you will find the issue of starting a formal letter is a recurring issue when you start applying for jobs after graduation.


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


Is my TOEFL score any good?

When you apply to college in an English-speaking country such as the U.S., the U.K. or Australia, you may have to prove that you speak English well enough to keep up with coursework. Taking the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a great way to do that. But– what is the TOEFL and what’s a good TOEFL score?

What is the TOEFL?

The TOEFL iBT (internet based test) tests English proficiency through listening, reading, speaking, and writing… keep reading

What is the score range?

TOEFL iBT scores range from 0 to 120.
There are four sections (listening, reading, speaking, and writing) and you can score… keep reading

What is a good TOEFL score?

Last year, 52% of English-language school applicants scored an 80 or above on the TOEFL iBT. Only 15% scored over 100. Therefore, if you can get over an 80 then you are doing pretty well. If you can get over 100, well, that’s excellent.

Of course, a good TOEFL score is… keep reading

See full article for a table of percentile ranks for TOEFL scores

What if my score is really low?

Some schools offer “conditional acceptance,” which allows you to take intensive English lessons before starting regular university classes. For example… keep reading

How often can I take it?
How much does it cost and where do I register?

The registration fee… keep reading


Maija Wallace is a freelance writer for college admissions blogs. Her website is located at

Why does the PSAT matter if you aren’t going to get National Merit?

The PSAT is the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. Unfortunately, National Merit is only awarded to students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. That’s why taking the PSAT as an international student may not seem obvious. After all, why does the PSAT matter if you aren’t going to get National Merit?

It turns our that, even if you are not a U.S. citizen, it might still be a good idea to take the PSAT. Here’s why:

1. Get courted by universities

When you take the PSAT as an international student, you can opt-in to the Student Search Service. This is a free program that lets you look up colleges and scholarship opportunities.

It also gives certain colleges and scholarships information about you. That means that… keep reading

2. Discover your weaknesses

Taking the PSAT is a great way to predict how you will do on the SAT — and start paying more attention to those areas where you are weak.

“PSAT scores can give students a good indication of how they might score on the SAT if they were to take the test with no additional practice or preparation.”
— Dan Edmonds, Forbes Magazine

You normally take the PSAT as a sophomore or a junior in high school. That means that you will have one or two years after taking it before you need to take the real SAT and apply to colleges. If you find…

Keep reading this article where it was originally published, at

Muslim Mourning: reading from Dabiq

Dabiq is the magazine put out by the Islamic State.

Out of curiosity, I read what they have to say about Muslim mourning for women. This is what I learned.

In a strictly academic sense, I found the information in Dabiq to be quite interesting. It hints at a culture that I have never experienced. A culture that is almost completely at odds with my ideas of human rights and female empowerment.

According to the magazine, Muslim mourning for women involves dressing in black and avoiding jewelry and perfume for 4 months and 10 days after the death of her husband.

Or until a baby is born if she is pregnant.

mourning muslim islam women

This did not immediately strike me as odd considering that mourning is a tradition in many countries and cultures. I assume that the exact specification of 4 months and 10 days comes from the Qu’ran, and it is probably meant to help a woman steer clear of sexual relations with another partner until she is sure that she isn’t carrying her dead husband’s child. This advice seems outdated in a world where pregnancy tests exist and dressing up doesn’t mean that you will have sex, but I can see where it came from.

Yet, here is one particularity about the mourning process that caught my attention:

It says that a woman should use a small amount of perfume “over the area where there was blood” to “mask the smell” at the end of her period each month.

To me, this seems like not only a bad idea (would that not give you an infection?) but also rather insulting. After all, it suggests that menstrual blood smells so bad that it calls for the one case where you should to break your mourning! Talk about insulting a heart-broken woman.

Personally, I don’t think that menstrual blood really smells. I also think I would be quite angry with anyone who tried to tell me otherwise.

Furthermore, women must mourn in the house where they lived with their husband.

Barring that, they should stay in the house where they learned of his death (as long as affordable, etc). They must also sleep at home and be home by midnight. In fact, they should stay at home whenever possible and let others do errands for them, leaving only “occasionally and only for good reasons.” They shouldn’t even go to weddings or leave the house if they are pregnant.

Although I am not a psychologist, the isolation that would come with never leaving the house seems a terrible idea for a grief stricken individual.

Here is another interesting fact:

Man can’t give widows direct marriage proposals during mourning. But they can insinuate such proposals– even if a woman cannot promise to marry him until after the mourning is over.

I can get behind the moral guidance of suggesting a man not propose to a women while in mourning. Whether dictated by religion or society, it seems like doing otherwise would be disrespectful. However, suggesting that it is okay to insinuate a marriage proposal begs many questions. How would such insinuation play out? What if the woman doesn’t want a man to insinuate anything? In the eyes of ISIS, does she have the right to tell him to shut up and leave her alone?

The last interesting thing I learned was that the women is not supposed to drag out mourning or “exaggerate” it.

She is supposed to get through her 4 months and 10 days. Then, make herself eligible for marriage again.

But what if she needs to mourn for longer? I don’t believe that grief can be controlled.

It seems like these rules could make for a mentally very unhealthy situation: a grief-stricken woman is expected to “get over” the death of her husband in a specific amount of time, all while being isolated from others, told she smells bad, and flirted with by unwanted men.

Having lived in Senegal for a short time, I know that Islam does not have to repress females. But it would seem that the rules for Muslim mourning described here comes from a version of Islam that truly is not favorable for women.

Do Americans only eat hamburgers?

One of the questions I’ve heard over and over again as an American abroad is:

Do Americans only eat hamburgers? 

At first, I tried to give a nice response explaining all the other types of popular foods in my region (the south of the US). Catfish, gumbo, chicken noodle soup… there are tons of extremely popular dishes that have nothing to do with either beef or bread! Every region has its own unique delicacies.

Although we often tend towards a quick snack for lunch, dinner is the biggest meal in most American households, and we love to cook out and go to nice restaurants!

But still, don’t Americans eat mostly hamburgers?

Some people seem intent on wanting me to confirm their suspicions that we are a nation of burger eaters. And, well, yes.

Hamburgers are definitely part of our national cuisine.

So, over time, my response has morphed into something that others want to hear. Just a little. YES, we like hamburgers. YES we eat quite a lot of them. But NO, they aren’t all McDonald’s thin-patty, thin-bread hormone-filled yuck burgers that makes everyone think that eating hamburgers everyday is what drives my people to be obese.

Honestly, if everyone in the US ate McDonald’s everyday we’d all be even bigger than we are now and live only half as long. Did the world not watch Supersize Me?

No, in the US we also eat a lot of hamburgers cooked on the grill. Hamburgers from quality joints that serve them with avocado, mango, thick slices of organic tomatoes and french bread. We make patties from soy beans, turkey and lamb.

We throw out the traditional bread and make bun-less burgers or buns with sweet potatoes, portobello mushrooms, or plantains.

The hamburger is a design for food presentation, not a pre-designed food. We call them all burgers, but in reality they can be quite varied.

But even that doesn’t stop the questions:

But come on, you guys still eat a lot of McDonald’s-style burgers, don’t you?

At some point I realized that I might as well give the crowd what it wants.

Here’s the thing: if there’s one thing I can say about Americans as a generality, it’s that we tend to have a pretty good sense of humor.

So, here it goes:

French people eat only cheese and wine. Germans eat only sausages. And Americans eat only hamburgers.

Unless they are cops, in which case they also eat doughnuts. 🙂