Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Get a Summer Job

This article first appeared in on April 29, 2015.

Many students want to choose summer activities that will “impress” a college. Since application readers are humans with distinct personalities and preferences, there is no prescriptive list of activities that will make you stand out. Colleges don’t want to advantage students from wealthy families, so they try not to favor activities that are expensive—a trip to the Galapagos to save the sea turtles, a service trip to build a sport court in a remote village of Peru, a six week summer program at Oxford. While these are amazing experiences, you should only pick them if you have ample financial resources and because they are something you truly want to do. No college will be particularly impressed, and some admissions officers will joke that you are another applicant with a bad case of “affluenza”. 
Some students feel stressed if they are unable to get a summer internship or research position. Research with a professor at a local college is a fantastic way to deeply explore an area of interest, but these positions are hard to find and often unpaid. Internships are another opportunity to try out a field that’s intriguing. You help a company or non-profit accomplish a task of importance to them and gain great experience, but these too are often unpaid and hard to secure. An alternative to these options sounds like old-fashioned advice: get a job!
Why would a college admissions rep be impressed if you flip burgers at a local fast food joint, or teach swim lessons at the neighborhood pool, or sell athletic wear in the mall? 
Successfully getting and keeping a job tells the admissions officer a lot about your “grit” (which is a trendy descriptor for the willingness to stick with something even when it is tough). It is challenging to get a summer job because there’s lots of competition for open positions. If you have one it is logical to assume that you wrote a good resume, filled out multiple applications, followed through with the potential employer, dressed and acted appropriately for your interview, and made a good impression. You have demonstrated these characteristics: attention to detail, organization, persistence, solid written and verbal communication skills, and social awareness. 
If you keep your job for the summer an admissions officer can logically guess that you showed up on time and had good attendance, performed to the expected standards, got along reasonably well with your co-workers, and took direction from your boss. At college those behaviors equate to getting out of bed and showing up for class, turning in your assignments, working well on group projects, and showing up during office hours to talk with your professor or at the writing center to get help on a paper. 
Sure, you can tell an admissions officer what type of student you intend to be, but proving you have valued characteristics by holding down a summer job is much more impressive.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Writing During Summer

This article first appeared on on April 22, 2015.

It’s hard to get started as a writer. I’m not even talking literary agents and publishing houses—I don’t actually know those worlds. Just getting articles published in magazines or newspapers can be tough, especially if you’re a high school student. But there are a lot of ways aspiring writers can pursue their goals, get some practical experience, and burnish their resumes all at the same time. And summer, when you are free from the pressures of school-assigned essays, is a great time to do them. Here are some suggestions.
  • Start a blog. Is there a topic that particularly interests you? Something you’re an expert in? Blog about it! Share your posts on your social networks, but don’t worry too much about building up a large readership. If it happens, that’s awesome; if not, you still have more experience and a portfolio. I blog about opera and theater now, but I wish I had started sooner! When I was looking for my first reviewing gig, I actually had to wait until I could write some sample pieces just to submit with my application for the job. If I’d started blogging before, I would have had them ready. If you’re just getting started and need a blogging platform, I recommend WordPress if you want a more customizable blog and Medium if you want a minimalist aesthetic and more publicity for your posts.

  • Write fan fiction. If you care about an audience and feedback, writing fan fiction can be a great way to get both. Lots of people obsessively read (and comment on) fan fiction about their favorite characters, so a well-written spin-off from a popular novel or series can quickly develop a large readership. In addition, it’s easy to find writing prompts: people on fan fiction forums often run informal contests built around silly topics like “a Les Miserables-inspired scene with a beach party.” is the main hub for this, but a quick search can help you find more specialized sites devoted to particular topics.

  • Write flash fiction and submit it to contests or online anthologies. Do you love writing fiction, but you’re not quite ready to start on the Next Great American Novel? Flash fiction is another name for short, short stories, with word limits ranging from 300 to 2,000 depending on the publisher. Tons of venues run regular flash fiction contests (just Google “flash fiction contest”), sometimes with open topics and sometimes with prompts. There are also several zines and sites devoted to publishing flash fiction, including Flash Fiction Online and Every Day Fiction. Submitting to these (check their guidelines for things like word limits) can help you get your stories out to the wider reading public and also give you the satisfaction (and bragging rights) of being published.

  • Pitch student opinion pieces to a small, local newspaper. Do you feel strongly about particular issues where your voice as a student or teenager is unique? Perhaps it’s the local school system or a technology or environmental debate. If there’s a local newspaper in your town, try pitching them an opinion piece. Emphasize the value your particular viewpoint can add to the debate. Whether you can pitch a still-unwritten piece or need to submit an already-completed op-ed depends on your target paper, so check their submission guidelines before you write.

  • Write poetry and read it at local venues. Maybe poetry is more your style than prose. There are plenty of online and offline anthologies and contests for student poetry, but I don’t know them well enough to suggest specific ones. Suffice to say, seek and you shall find. (A search for “high school student poetry contest” yields a lot of results, many from prestigious institutions.) But there are also less formal ways you can share your work. Many cafes and libraries have open mic poetry nights, where you can read your favorite pieces to appreciative and supportive local audiences. Of course, if you’re into performance as well as writing, you can also sign up to take part in poetry slams.

  • Get a head start on NaNoWriMo. Ambitious enough to write a whole novel? National Novel Writing Month is a worldwide event in which thousands of professional and amateur writers try to complete a novel (50,000 words or more) in just 30 days. Technically, it only counts for NaNoWriMo if you write the whole novel between November 1 and November 30. Obviously, that’s not the summer, but there’s no reason you can’t challenge yourself to do the same thing during, say, July or August. Even if you prefer to participate in November, you can start planning your NaNoWriMo novel this summer, outlining possible plot events and developing your characters’ back stories. That way, you will be more likely to succeed (and the resulting novel will probably be better)!

  • Commit to summer pieces for your school paper or literary magazine. Does your high school have a student-run newspaper or literary magazine? Join now (if you’re not already a member), and propose pieces you’ll write over the summer. What, exactly, you should propose depends on your interests—you could offer to cover a big local August sporting event, review a forthcoming film, or compose a short story on a given theme. The point is to give yourself a specific but manageable writing goal to work towards over the summer months, secure in the knowledge that you’ll be able to see the fruits of your labor in print.

Many of these ideas talk about sharing your work, but really, you shouldn’t worry too much about the best way to get your pieces read or published. If you’re a high school student who wants to be a writer, the most important thing to do is simply to write every day. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Portland Spring College Fair

This article first appeared in on April 15, 2015.

A college fair is an educational opportunity for students and parents and a marketing opportunity for colleges. In the fall and spring many colleges send their admissions staff on the road to promote the school to high school students. The fall fair is larger, often with close to 300 schools in attendance. The spring fair is less overwhelming, but there will still be approximately 75 school representatives here in Portland eager to tell you why their school might be a good fit for you.
The PNACAC Portland regional spring fair is soon approaching.  University of Portland will be the host site for the event on Sunday, April 26, 2015 from 12:00 – 3:00 pm.  I encourage 9th, 10th and 11th grade students and their parents to attend the fair. 
As the event is automated, students are asked to register prior to attending the event, to eliminate filling out prospect cards at each college table every time.  The registration form is accessed from After completion a barcode is created, which you should print and bring with you to the fair. Colleges will simply scan the barcodes to obtain your information. This streamlines the fair for students giving you more time to learn about the colleges that interest you. 
How does this work? 
  • Students access
  • Click on the “Student Register Now” button
  • Select the state, choose the fair you will attend
  • Complete the registration form once
  • Submit the form.  The barcode is displayed
  • Print – you are done!

Great feature; two days prior to the event, you will receive an attendance reminder email with a copy of their barcode attached.
Juniors, now is the time you want to be focused on your college list. If you haven’t started exploring, use the fair to do so. If you already have some schools in mind, check the list to see if they will be in attendance and please make an effort to show up at the fair and meet the rep. Demonstrated interest is one of many factors that are taken into consideration when applications are reviewed.
Sophomore and freshman, the college fair is a great place to explore. Go with an open mind and see what catches your eye. Talk with a lot of reps so you start to understand the pros and cons of larger or smaller schools, the sorts of programs and services offered and get a sense of both the academic and non-academic factors that go into deciding which schools you will apply to. 
The fair can be overwhelming if you just wander. It is a good idea to decide on some schools in advance that you want to check out and to head to those tables first. If possible, do some basic internet research first, so that you are not asking questions that have readily available answers on the school website. 
If a parent is unavailable, go with a friend. Have the friend take notes for you while you are talking about your interests and asking questions. You do the same for her/him. Once you have spoken with a few colleges, it’s easy to get confused about which college had which program. These notes will help you when it comes to filling out college applications, so keep them in a place where you can find them and be sure to record the date you spoke with the rep and get his/her name.
Walk up to the college’s table/booth. Shake hands firmly with the admissions representative. Offer your name, graduation year and your school. 
Potential questions to get you started:
  • What can you tell me about your _______________ department/program?
  • What are some distinctive, special or unique programs to your college?
  • What type of students does well at your school? What kind of students finds it a poor fit?
  • What programs do you offer to help freshmen adjust to college? What programs do you have that serve first-generation students or students of color?
  • What kind of tutoring or academic help is available?
  • Do you have any special housing options?
  • What do students do for fun on campus? (Ask about specific clubs or activities in which you are interested).
  • Do you offer buses or transportation to a city or other off-campus programs?
  • Do you offer Greek (fraternities & sororities) life? What percentage of students participates?
  • What traditions does your school have?
  • Does your school meet full demonstrated need? If not, what percent of need do you typically meet? What percentage of students receive merit aid? Is there an early scholarship deadline? What is the average debt of graduating students?

Share your interests, as it will allow the representative to highlight programs in which you may have interest. 
Grab his/her business card and send a thank you email when you get home. Let the rep know what you appreciated learning about the school. Make sure your grammar and spelling are top notch.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Committing to a College by May 1

This article first appeared in on April 8, 2015.

By now you should have heard back from all the colleges to which you applied. Hopefully, you are feeling very excited about your options! During the month of April you will decide where to attend and make a commitment to one of the schools that accepted you.
Please note these ethical and etiquette practices:
1. No college can pressure you in any way to make a commitment to attend prior to May 1 (unless you applied binding early decision). All schools have agreed that applying pressure to increase their "yield rate" (the % of students they offer spots to that actually come) violates ethical standards. It is a good idea to wait until you receive all aid packages before making your choice. You also may want to visit (or revisit) your top 2-3 choices during April (if that's reasonable for your family) because you are different now than you were when you applied and your priorities and preferences may have changed.
2. It is unethical for you to double deposit! You absolutely may not tell more than one school that you are coming in the fall. If you do double deposit and are caught, both colleges may revoke your admission. Don't do it! If you are struggling to choose (by May 1) between great options, please talk to your school counselor, parents or another trusted advisor to get help with your decision. You can get some other tips from my past two columns “Deciding Where to Attend” and “Undecided on your College? Try Guided Visualization”.
3. You must commit somewhere by May 1 and send in your required deposit. This is not a flexible deadline because after May 1 schools that did not meet their enrollment targets may accept students off their waitlist. It is also polite to tell the schools you didn't pick that you are denying their offer of admission because you have chosen X college. This allows them to keep cross-application data, and it also may allow them to take students off of their waitlist. Remember, your third choice is definitely some other student's first choice!
4. Thank everyone who helped you. Let your recommenders, test-prep tutors, and anyone else who supported you know where you have decided to go to college. A handwritten thank-you note (rather than an email or text) is appropriate. (Don’t forget to thank your parents, too.)
Once you have decided, celebrate! You can have a great college experience at whatever school you ultimately choose. Remember, it is not where you go to college, but what you do when you get there that matters most in your future.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Undecided on Your College? Try Guided Visualization

This article first appeared in on April 1, 2015.

As the May 1 decision date looms closer, many students are still undecided about which school is the best fit. See my previous column about why this is no longer an intellectual decision.
One technique that has been very effective at helping my students decide is guided visualization. Before the visualization do the following:
1. Narrow the list to three schools you are choosing between (more is too many for your psyche to handle)
2. If at all possible, visit all three (whether it is the first time or a repeat visit)
The visits may be enough to help you decide. If not, ask a parent or friend to talk you through this scenario for each of the three schools.
  • Sit comfortably in a relaxing spot
  • Take 18 deep breaths
  • Picture the school you are considering
  • Imagine yourself at orientation
  • Introduce yourself to three freshmen, and listen carefully as they introduce themselves to you
  • Go with your three new friends to a spot on campus you like
  • Share something you hope to get out of your college experience and tell them why you chose X college. Listen as they do the same
  • Go early to a class to meet with a professor. Tell her/him about a research project idea you have and get her/his reaction
  • Participate fully in a class. Pay special attention to the professor’s interactions with students and the student engagement in the classroom
  • Go to the dining hall, grab some food, and sit with people you don't know. Join the conversation and pay attention to what is being discussed
  • Go back to your dorm and connect with your roommate
  • Go with your roommate into the dorm lounge and hang out with other students. Notice the interactions and activities
  • Fast-forward to your college graduation. You are the valedictorian. In your speech, share your three favorite memories from your four years in college

Use the same guided imagery for each school you are considering. Do not talk about the experience until you have completed the visualization for all of the schools. How did you feel after each? Where could you most easily picture yourself for the next four years? My experience with students is that if you are willing to be honest with yourself (set aside outside pressures and thoughts about the prestige of each choice), you will instinctively know where you belong.