The Engaged Life: Six Ways to Get the Most Out of College

the engaged life six ways to get the most out of college

This guest post was written by Daniel Lerner.  He is co-author of the upcoming book U-Thrive, a faculty member at the NYU Langone Medical Center, and member of the instructional staff at UPenn’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology program. Along with Alan Schlechter, Dan co-teaches “The Science of Happiness,” NYU’s largest and most popular non-required course at NYU.

John was no stranger to success. Exuberant, intense, and bright, he had captained his high school baseball team to the regional championship, had been admitted to a number of top-tier schools, and was electrified by all that college had to offer. But by the time he arrived for his sophomore year at NYU, he found himself, for the first time in his life, directionless. John had stepped away from playing baseball; he realized that days at school that were once so engaging had become a grind; and it seemed that the harder he tried to seek out fulfilling activities, the more they eluded him.

“I thought college would be the answer to everything I’d been through to get here, but I frequently checked out of classes. Plus the pressure to choose a major, pressure about a career path (basically pressure to succeed), was deflating,” he explained. “Without a sense of meaning in it, the day-to-day didn’t carry much significance. I felt smaller. I struggled hard.”

Two years later, John is killing it. He has created his own major, is a head RA, and is having a blast coaching baseball for city kids. What turned the tide? John realized that he had been relying on “outward definitions of success” rather than looking inside to engage his personal strengths. Once he stopped “going through the motions” and adhering to some invisible set of one-size-fits-all guidelines, the narrow door of success he had been trying to squeeze through was flung wide open. College is no longer about “what major” or “what job” he should be chasing. Instead, he uses this question to guide his decisions:

“What pursuits do I find most engaging?”

Once he had his picture of success in a frame that fit, the next steps became more tangible. Not only is success easier and more natural to achieve for John now, it’s more gratifying as well.


As parents, there may be nothing more important to us than seeing our kids succeed. Not just “succeed” in the traditional financial security sense, or even succeed at being happy, but succeed in finding activities that they adore—activities in which they become deeply engaged, enthralled (and possibly even point the way to a wonderful career). And when it comes to this brand of success, nothing -- and I do mean nothing -- will get them there more directly than employing their strengths of character. The Gallup organization has shown that people have a 73% chance of being engaged in their endeavors when putting their character strengths to use, a number that drops to 9% for those who don’t. Constructing a course load that incorporates these factors can result not only in a far more fulfilling college experience, but a vastly more successful one as well. Studies show that college students who leverage their strengths enjoy deeper levels of concentration, greater levels of personal initiative, greater motivation to learn, higher levels of performance, AND live happier lives. In fact when we were writing our book U Thrive: How to succeed in college and life, we reached out to the more than four thousand students who have graced our classroom over the past five years, asking them what topic in our course had the most positive impact on their college experience. The results weren’t even close. Engagement and character strengths topped the list.

So moms and dads – what are strengths anyway, and how can you help your kiddos make the most of theirs?

Identifying Strengths

Marlowe, who took our course in the fall of her junior year, had always had a creeping suspicion that she was living with undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “I was intensely interested in the music business,” she said, yet “I found myself registering for courses in art history, but all the while was totally immersed in the study of French language, and was constantly thinking about how to make travel a part of my life.” Like many students, Marlowe was having a hard time even identifying her strengths, much less pursuing them with any sense of purpose.

To resolve this conundrum, Dr. Ryan Niemiec, education director at the VIA Institute on Character, recommends a three-step process: awareness, exploration, and application. So, first thing’s first: Do not pass go, do not collect $200…dare we say, don’t even keep reading until you become aware of your strengths and familiarize yourself with how they suit you. Head over to www.uthrive.info and take the free VIA Strengths Survey (did we mention free?  Because it is.). It should take ten to fifteen minutes, but the benefits will begin the moment you get your results.

When Marlowe took the survey, she found that her top strength was “love of learning.” Then it hit her: “I didn’t have a disorder and I wasn’t lost—I was simply at my best when I was learning new things. Just being able to name it gave me real freedom to be comfortable in my own process, and school has been SO much more satisfying ever since.”

Signature Strengths: Which Strengths Help You the Most?

Those strengths that will help your kids be at their best (and you be at yours) —those that were most helpful in the studies and student stories alike—are called signature strengths. Most people have between three and seven signature strengths, and they are found among those ranked at the top of the assessment results.

If you have any doubt about which are yours, walk through your top strengths with these questions in mind for each:

  • Do you feel particularly excited when putting it to use?
  • When you use this strength, do you feel like “the real me”?
  • Do you have a strong desire to use it frequently?
  • Does your energy get renewed when you use it?
  • Do you feel particularly happy, enthusiastic, or even ecstatic when this strength is part of your process?

It’s not just how these strengths make you feel when you use them. In a study by Alex Linley, people who talked about their signature strengths spoke more clearly and their tone of voice became more focused, their responses were more immediate, and they used phrases like “I love” and “it just fits.” When describing lesser strengths, however, they struggled to express themselves and were critical and impatient with themselves and their situations.

From Exploration to Engagement

Getting a handle on strengths is step one, but the real adventure begins when people begin to explore them in greater depth. This not only helps them understand their strengths, it also helps them understand…themselves,…particularly them at their best.

When Damon, a student in our class, received his VIA results, he couldn’t see how any of them applied to him at all. In fact, he told the class that he thought them so ridiculous, he’d showed them to his girlfriend to get a good laugh. She’d taken one look at the results, pronounced them dead-on, and proceeded to tick off a list of examples demonstrating each one of Damon’s top five strengths. As he saw them through someone else’s eyes, he said “I realized that I had just taken my best moments for granted – these really were the characteristics that I displayed when I was in the zone with friends, on the field, and in my classes.”

Families – Stronger Together

Whitney convinced her parents to take the assessment, too. “The conversation about how we have seen our strengths play out was one of the best that we had in years,” she reported. “My dad reminded me that since I was little, I wanted to take care of everyone around me. I figured that was just what people did, but his insights showed me how I always thrived when using my love and kindness. Since then, I’ve been volunteering at shelters more often and have made a point to send a note to someone that I love each morning. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Strong, Healthy Relationships

Sarah, an army veteran who took our course one summer , expressed her number one strength (“love”) by designing a “strengths date” for her artist boyfriend. Having taken the VIA assessment, they discovered that his number one strength was “appreciation of beauty  and excellence,” so Sarah took him to breakfast at a particularly lovely restaurant before surprising him with a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art followed a walk in neighboring Central Park. They finished their day by watching the sunset from the highest building at NYU. Sarah’s report: “Best. Date. Ever.” They can use your signature strengths to make the most of their relationships, be their best in the classroom, or enhance their life in every other way. At the end of the day, your strengths can lead to both happiness and engagement—literally: we had a student who credited his bravery for asking his girlfriend to marry him!

College Application (the fun kind!)

Not using your strengths is like carrying a tube of sunblock with you but never putting it on. Having first assessed each participant for their strengths, Alex Linley and his colleagues asked 240 second-year college students to write down their “top three goals” for the semester. Primed with examples such as “Attend most of my lectures,” “Have fun and enjoy myself,” and “Stop drinking alcohol during the week,” participants were clearly instructed that the goals must be personally meaningful. It turned out that signature strengths accounted for more than 50 percent of the reason that they reached their goals.

Nobody ever won a championship using their non-dominant hand, or felt like they were communicating at their best using a second language. If you want to help your kiddos be their very best – both in and out of the classroom – help them understand, explore, and apply their strengths of character. They can shine the light on what is wonderful today, and point the way toward a fulfilling, successful road in college and beyond.


“U-Thrive” is available online and at booksellers. As a speaker, teacher, and strengths-based performance coach, Daniel Lerner is an expert in positive and performance psychologies. His key theme is that developing a healthy psychological state has a profound impact on the pursuit of excellence—a message that he brings to students, high-potential performing artists and athletes, and executives at Fortune 500 companies and startups worldwide. Following a decade representing and developing young performing artists with ICM artists and 21C Media (which he co-founded), Lerner studied closely with renowned sports psychologist Dr. Nathaniel Zinsser, focusing on coaching and performance enhancement techniques employed by professional and Olympic athletes, before earning a graduate degree in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Lerner is a faculty member at NYU Langone Medical Center and is on the instructional staff in the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program his alma mater. “The Science of Happiness”, co-taught with Alan Schlechter, is currently the largest and most popular non-required course at New York University. In the classroom and in his talks, Lerner integrates storytelling, humor, and science, helping students and professionals apply his teachings into their lives with immediate benefit.

How to Plan a Fun (or Productive) Pre-College Summer: A Five-Step Guide

how to plan a fun or productive precollege summer a five step guide

For more summer planning tips, check out my podcast episode with summer planning expert Jill Tipograph, in which we discuss everything from to whether or not expensive academic programs are worth it to some weird and interesting summer adventures.

Step 1: Decide if you want your summer to be fun, productive, or both.

Here are five ways to have fun this summer:

  1. Travel somewhere you’ve never been before. And it doesn’t have to be super far away. Click here to find places to camp near you. Or use this roadtrip planner and go see some weird stuff. (Pro Tip: Actually check the box that says “weird stuff.”) Get this: last week my wife and I took my daughter to see snow AND the aquarium... in the same day. #CaliforniaFTW

  2. Take a look at your summer to-do list and cross one thing off of it. Just take it off the list; decide you’re just not gonna’ do it. There, doesn’t that feel better already? Or, on the flip-side, do what Kevin McMullin from CollegeWise suggests:

  3. “Set a goal that you are 99% certain you won't be able to achieve this summer. Then go all out and try to achieve it as though your life depended on it. You'll either get there or get much, much closer than you were at the beginning of the summer.” #FailBetter

  4. Just keep doing the thing that you love to do, but do it more. Don't have anyone to do it with? Check out meetup.com. There are probably people within miles of you already doing that thing.

  5. Do one good deed a day for 30 days, then blog about it.

Here are five ways to make it a productive summer:

1. Take a class at a local community college. So that a) you don’t have to take it during the school year, and b) you’ve got something that looks super fancy on your transcript.

Yeah, like cat-on-a-unicorn fancy.

a cat on a unicorn

2. Prep for the SAT or ACT. I know, I know, but stay with me. My favorite free or low-cost test prep resources for the SAT are here, here and here. For ACT prep, check out here, here, here, and here. Or, for a list of colleges that are test-optional (i.e. don’t require SAT/ACT scores), check out Fairtest.org. Then cross that off your list.

3. Get rid of some stuff. That’s right, do that Marie Kondo thing where you get rid of anything that doesn’t bring you joy. My wife and I did, donating over 1,000 books and ⅔ of our clothes. Now we have no winter gloves and I can’t find my copy of The Illustrated Guide to Becoming One With the Universe. But our bookshelf is color-coded!

4. Read the Four Hour Work Week. Trust me, just read it. If you’re into nutrition and health, read the Four Hour Body. And if you like those, you’ll love Tools of Titans. Or if you don’t want to commit to a whole book:

5. Read some longform articles. But there are so many out there, which should you pick? What if someone spent two years culling the internet for the best ones and put them all on a Google spreadsheet? I did and the result is this: Ethan’s Top Secret Stash of Really Great Reads.

Here are five ways to have fun and be productive:

  1. Binge-watch some TED talks. Get your mind blown every 12 minutes. Too lazy to search the website? Here’s a Google spreadsheet with every single TED Talk. Yeah, that’s 1756 videos from the greatest minds of our time. Should keep you busy for 440 hrs or so.

  2. Take an online course in something that fascinates you. Here are 1200 FREE Online Courses from Top Universities. Looking for something more practical? Lynda.com has over 5,000 courses in everything from How to Draw Good and Evil Comic Book Characters to How to Market and Monetize on YouTube. And don’t even get me started on Coursera. In fact, in an upcoming post I’ll show you how a student’s obsession with Coursera led to the greatest “Why Harvard” essay I’ve ever read.

  3. Do something for someone else for once in your life. Just kidding, I'm not your mom when she's super mad at you. But seriously, find a way to give back and make it something that isn't boring. Work in a garden. Read to kids. And if all of those are boring, click here for a list of like a billion other things.

In fact, take things to the next level and...

  1. Create your own online course. What’s something you can do so well that you could teach people? My brother’s friend, for example, teaches design sketching. My brother’s brother teaches students how to write their personal statements for college. (Just kidding, that’s me.)

  2. Build something that solves a problem. A student I worked with this year created an app to remind him which books to bring to school on block-schedule days. Another created an app to prepare for the AP Bio test. It’s got 10K+ downloads and counting. Do you think he included this in his college application? Eh, oui.

Ready for more inspiration? Time to search within.

Step 2: Do my 2-minute exercise that’s guaranteed to make your summer more fun and productive.

Check it out: I’m a big fan of guided meditations and (did you know?) I’m a certified hypnotherapist. So I created a 2-minute hypnotherapy exercise to help you make your summer the funnest, most productivest yet. (I know those aren’t words.)

Not a fan of guided meditations or being hypnotized?

Then definitely do not click this button right here.

Okay, if you listened to the exercise, you should have one fun thing and one productive thing in mind. (And, if you didn’t listen to it, go ahead and just pick one fun thing you’d like to do this summer and one productive thing.)

And while ideas are great, execution is even better. To that end...

Step 3: For the fun thing, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I could commit to doing in the next 24 hrs that would get me one step closer to making that thing happen?”

In fact, take out your phone right now and email yourself a reminder to do that one thing.

Do it now.

Yes, actually.

Done it?

Good. Next I’m gonna’ teach you the secret to How to Get Anything Done in 30 Days.

It’s dangerously simple, but it’s the secret to how I was able to launch a six-figure voiceover career. (Didn’t know about that, did you? #FullofSurprises #OrSomething)

Step 4 (Minute 5): For the productive thing, create your “30 Days” doc.

Do this:

  1. Open up a brand new Google doc and at the top of it type the words “30 Days to [Name the Thing You Want to Get Done].” Example: 30 Days to Creating My Own Website” or “30 Days to Playing Stairway to Heaven on the Guitar.”

  2. Underneath your goal, write today’s date. Do one thing today to work towards that goal. And if you can’t do one thing today, just write, “I created this doc.”

  3. Tomorrow, write the date above the old date, do only one action, and write it down under the date.

  4. Repeat for 30 days, or until you’ve completed your task. Here’s an example of an actual 30 days doc that I kept on my way to building a six-figure voiceover career.

Pro-Tip: Ask someone to be your accountability partner by sharing your Google doc with them and challenging them to create their own 30 days doc by putting their goals on the same doc!

Go through those steps and you’ll be five billion percent (okay, let’s say 50 percent) more likely to get done the productive thing you’re hoping to get done. Then...

Step 5: Congratulate yourself on having set yourself up for the funnest, most productivest summer ever.

Now go and do the thing you said you’d do in Step 3.

Yes, now.

And if you’re looking to procrastinate a little more, there are worse ways than listening to the Jill Tipograph/Everything Summer podcast in which we talk about:

  • What summer opportunities matter most to colleges on an application and helping prepare students for college (because Jill and her colleague actually surveyed them)
  • Whether or not expensive summer programs are “worth it”
  • What students and parents should do but often don’t do when it comes to planning their summer

15 Ways to Advocate for Undocumented Youth

15 ways to advocate for undocumented youth

1. Provide hope & encouragement. Reassure undocumented students that college is possible, despite the obstacles.

2. Drop the “I” word. Instead of the word “illegal,” use the words “undocumented” and “dreamers.” Help change the immigration discourse.

3. Make information and resources available for ALL students. Don’t require students to self-identify in order to access information. Many students will be scared to reveal their immigration status or they may not know their status.

4. Be open-minded. Don’t make assumptions about who may or may not be undocumented. Undocumented youths aren’t all Latino, Spanish-speaking, or enrolled in ENL classes.

5. Be knowledgeable about specific government and college admission policies that affect undocumented students:

6. Support pro-immigrant federal, state and city legislation such as the federal DREAM Act, the IL Dream Act, in-state tuition IL Public Act 93-007.

7. Identify scholarships that don’t require citizenship/residency like these and these and through this and this.

8. Advocate for scholarships and private colleges to allow undocumented students to apply and enroll.

9. Involve parents. Educate the parents of undocumented students as to the benefits of a college education.

10. Help create lasting support networks that can offer ongoing mentoring and advice for undocumented youth.

11. Refer students to qualified legal counsel to inquire on possible immigration remedies. i.e. BIA Accredited Agencies

12. Identify role models: undocumented youth and/or college graduates from the community to give a presentation to inform, empower and share resources.

13. Reach out to organizations, community groups that can support undocumented and immigrant youth, or create a club that supports undocumented students.

14. Make your school/ classroom a safe haven for undocumented youth. Post a sign in your classroom that states that you support undocumented students and their dreams!

15. Stay informed and updated on immigration or education legislation changes that will affect youth, their families and communities. www.whitehouse.gov/issues/immigration

RESOURCES FOR UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS
List compiled by Dr. Aliza Gilbert

MOBILE APPS

FACEBOOK GROUPS

YOUTUBE SERIES

DOCUMENTARIES

IMAGES

WEBSITES

FINANCIAL AID AND UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS

REPORTS AND GENERAL INFORMATION

Created by Penina Noonan, LPC
School Counselor Round Lake High SchoOL

How to Write a Great Financial Aid Appeal Letter

How to Write a great financial aid appeal letter

To hear my complete interview with financial aid expert Jodi Okun, who has helped thousands of families navigate the college financial planning process, click here.

So you’ve been accepted to a great college (yay!) only to find out the school isn’t giving you enough money (womp womp). What do you do? Accept your fate? Resign yourself to attending your back-up school? Start a GoFundMe campaign?

Maybe. But first...

You gotta’ wonder: Is this ALL the money the school can offer me? Could it be that, if you ask nicely, the school just might give you a little more?

Maybe.

True story: When I asked Northwestern for more money the school gave me more money AND THAT LED TO THE BEST FOUR YEARS OF MY LIFE. In fact, I only spent about $4,000 per year. Caveat: I had a zero EFC (Estimated Family Contribution), so much of it was need-based aid, but still! If I hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have gotten more money and probably wouldn’t have gone there.

Real-talk: Asking people for money is hard. I get weird sometimes just asking friends to chip in for pizza. And it can be especially difficult when your college future is on the line.

But consider doing it. Because, well, your college future might be on the line.

Why should you consider writing an appeal letter?
Because...

  • you can write an appeal letter in like an hour, and
  • it may be the fastest $2,000 (or $8,000) you ever make
  • if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

When should I write an appeal letter?
As soon as you can. Because when the money’s gone, it’s gone. So, like, now.

How do I write one?
I’m about to tell you. But before I do I thought I’d bring in some help.

In Episode 103 of the College Essay Guy podcast I spoke with Jodi Okun, financial aid guru and author of the Amazon bestseller Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro.

We talked about everything from whether or not to include house and retirement when reporting assets on the FAFSA to how decisions are sometimes made in a financial aid office. But the main topic of our conversation was appeal letters--what they are, who should write one, and what to literally say to a financial aid officer when calling to make an appeal. Here’s one of my favorite bits of advice from Jodi on the importance of allowing for a pause in conversation when appealing to a financial aid officer:

“Parents have an agenda about what they want to say, but financial aid offices have a process they have to follow with every folder on their desk,” Jodi says. “You may think the next step is one thing but they may give you another step which might get you further in your appeal.”

Below you’ll find a few great samples--one from my former student and a couple from families Jodi worked with--with analysis and suggestions on how to write your own appeal letter. Underneath that you’ll find some links to some financial aid resources you don’t want to miss.


To the Financial Aid Office at UCLA:

My name is Sara Martinez and I am a 12th grader currently enrolled at Los Angeles Academy. First, I would like to say that I am much honored to have been admitted into this fine school, as University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is my number one choice.

Notice how she reiterates a) who she is and where she’s from, b) how much she’s grateful to have been accepted and c) (most important) that UCLA is her number one choice… a school likes to know this if it’s true.

There is a problem, however, and it is a financial one.

Notice how she uses her transition sentence to set up what this letter is going to be about. It’s really straightforward and explicit. Your letter doesn’t have to be fancy; it has to be clear.

I’d love to attend UCLA--it’s near home, which would allow me to be closer to my family, and the Bio department is phenomenal. But, as a low-income Hispanic student, I simply don’t feel I can afford it. I’m writing to respectfully request an adjustment of my financial aid award.

Great. First, she offers two specific reasons that UCLA is the right fit for her, so the financial aid officer understands why UCLA is her top choice. Next, she makes her request really clear: give me more money! And she does so in a straightforward and respectful way. She doesn’t beg; she asks.

Here are some more details of my financial situation. Currently, my father works as an assistant supervisor for American Apparel Co. and he is the only source of income for my family of five, while my mother is a housewife. The income my father receives weekly barely meets paying the bills.

It helps to give details of your specific family situation even if you gave these details in your original application, since the financial aid officer may not have your entire application right in front of them at the moment--save them the work!

My family’s overall income:
Father’s average weekly gross pay: $493.30
Father’s adjusted gross income: $27,022

Our household expenses:
Rent: $850
Legal Services: $200
Car payment: $230.32

Again, specifics. Don’t be shy. Give them these numbers so that, when they do the math, that they can see what you see: there just isn’t enough money. And keep in mind that you may be asked to send in copies of your parents’ pay stubs, so don’t lie! And you don’t have to give every single little detail. Having said that, it is important to explain certain things--like why in the world she doesn’t include her parents’ medical insurance. Oh, wait, she explains that...

My parents cannot afford to have medical insurance, so they do not have a medical bill. My father’s average monthly income is an estimate of $1,973.20 (see attached pay stub). When household expenses such as rent, car payment, legal services, gas bill, and electricity bill are added together the cost is of $1,402.70. Other payments such as the phone bill, internet bill, and groceries also add to the list. But in order to make ends meet my father usually works overtime and tailors clothes for people in our neighborhood.

Notice how she has already included her dad’s pay stub which, again, saves time. Also, she briefly explains the other costs (keyword: briefly) and how her family is already doing everything it can.

My family is on an extremely tight budget and unfortunately cannot afford to pay for my schooling. I have worked my way up and was recently awarded Valedictorian for the class of 2014. My goals and my aspiration of becoming a nutritionist have helped me push forward. I appreciate your time in reconsidering my financial aid award. I’m looking forward to becoming a Bruin.

Bonus info: She is VALEDICTORIAN! This is also a mini-update, as she wouldn’t have known this at the time she applied (November) but did know by the time she wrote the appeal. If you have 1-2 more updates to include, go ahead and include them here--but don’t go too crazy. You don’t want to seem desperate; you want to close strong with your most important updates. (Think how it would have sounded if she’d added, “...and I also placed 8th in a local tennis tournament and started learning French.” The school would be like, “Um… great?” But the valedictorian detail is a solid reminder that she’s committed to her academics.)

Regards,

Sara Martinez

No fancy ending, just your basic sign-off.


 

Here’s another another (much shorter) appeal written by one of Jodi’s former clients:

Dear Financial Aid Director

After submitting the FAFSA for the 2017-2018 school year, I realized that you are using the same tax year (2015) that was used for my son’s freshman year. I am writing to you because my income for this year (2016) has declined and this fact will not be represented when you examine the FAFSA for 2017-2018 – let me explain why. I am a freelance graphic artist and only work when I receive a call for a project and am offered the job. In other words, I only receive a pay check when I work. This could be for one day or several days, but I do not have steady or guaranteed income. In addition, it is not a job in the traditional sense, where I go to work at the same place every day, I may work for several different companies. I have been very fortunate in that I have been working my craft for a long time and get a fair number of calls but some years are better than others. Unfortunately, this year (2016) I am on track to make approximately $15,000 to $18,000 less that I did in the 2015 calendar year.

Thank you for your consideration,
John Ogilve

Pretty straightforward, eh? Notice that these letters don’t have to be fancy, they just have to include the essential and relevant information. In fact, if the process of writing an appeal feels overwhelming, putting it in bullet points first. Here’s how the appeal above would look in bullet points:
  • You’re using our 2015 tax info to award financial aid
  • The 2016 info is different
  • Why? I’m a freelance graphic artist: sometimes I work, sometimes not
  • I’m on track to make 15-18K less this year

Simple. You can do this.

Here’s one more example:

Dear Financial Aid Office,

We appreciate you offering our son Paul a scholarship, but even with your help we can not afford the tuition. We have asked his grandparents and uncles to help, but they to unfortunately are not able to help pay the tuition. I would use our retirement money for him to attend your school,  if we had any retirement fund. We honestly don't know how to make this happen without your help. Next month I will be having a necessary hysterectomy and I will be out of commission for a couple of months and can not work. I am a first grade teacher at a small church school with a very small income and we can barely make ends meet.

I appreciate that they demonstrate how they have already exhausted other options: other family members can’t support, no retirement fund, and upcoming medical bills. This sends the school a clear message: we’re coming to you as a last resort. If there are options that other families may have that you do not, it can help to let the school know.

I like to share with you a little bit about our son. I know you know how talented he is or he wouldn't have gotten into your school. I know you only accept 22 % and he was one of the lucky few you let in. He has been working on his craft his whole life. He is one of the kindest and friendliest young men. He is genuine, not at all phony. He will walk down the halls of his school smile or say hi to anyone, teachers and students. He was voted Homecoming Court two years in a row.

This is a very sweet paragraph--a mother advocating on behalf of her son. While, in terms of an appeal it is not 100% necessary and could have been cut, it demonstrates how much she cares for him.

Your school is the only school Paul wants to attend. He said to us he will not go to college if he can not go to The New School. None of the other schools offer what The New School can offer him. He has always wanted to be an actor, writer and director ever since he was five years old. Not only will Paul benefit from attending your school but you will also benefit. If you can offer us more financial help, Paul will be able to attend and graduate as one of your success stories.

This is similar to what the student in the first letter does: reaffirm interest. Here it comes at the end of the letter, which is fine.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to reconsider the amount you have offered Paul.

Sincerely,
Gina and Tom Atamian

Again, pretty straightforward. You may have thought that writing one of these appeals was going to involve some kind of added magic, but you know what the two more important qualities re when it comes to writing them?
  1. Information. Give the school the information it needs to make a new decision. Bullet point this so that you don’t find yourself worrying about “how” to say it.
  2. Actually writing and submitting the letter. I’ve seen many students that could have appealed not appeal due to one fear or another and ultimately they didn’t submit a letter. Just write it. If you have reason to appeal, do so. I tell my students: you don’t want to look back years from now and wonder, “I wonder what would have happened if…” Dispel those future doubts. Start with bullet points. (Yes, now.)

Five More Financial Aid Resources You Don’t Want to Miss

We discuss all these resources on the podcast with Jodi, and much more, including:

  • What to literally say to a financial aid officer when calling to make an appeal [13:40]
  • How to be prepared for the financial aid appeal conversation [22:50]
  • How often parents are speaking with the person who could be the decision-maker [17:10]
  • An inside look inside how decisions are sometimes made in a financial aid office [18:00]

Listen to the whole podcast and check out the rest of the show notes (with times stamps, so you can fast forward to the part you want!) here.


Another great read: Five FAFSA Myths – Busted!


6 Cosas Estudiantes Indocumentados Necesitan Saber Acerca de la Universidad

6 cosas Estudiantes Indocumentados Necesitan Saber acerca de la universidad

Este post es una traducción al español de este post original de BigFuture.

Si usted es un estudiante indocumentado en la secundaria - es decir, usted nació fuera de los Estados Unidos y usted no es un ciudadano estadounidense o residente legal - usted probablemente tiene un montón de preguntas acerca de ir a la universidad. Aquí hay algunos hechos importantes.

1. Puedes ir a la universidad

Lo primero que debes saber es que no hay ninguna ley federal que impide que las universidades estadounidenses admiten estudiantes indocumentados. Y sólo unos pocos estados incluyendo--Georgia, Carolina del Sur, y Alabama--han impuesto cualquier tipo de restricciones a los estudiantes indocumentados que asisten a universidades públicas*. En la mayoría de los casos, las universidades establecen sus propias reglas sobre la admisión de estudiantes indocumentados, y por lo tanto debes investigar las políticas de los colegios que usted está interesado en asistir.

También debes saber que los estudiantes indocumentados no pueden recibir ayuda financiera federal para la universidad, el tipo de ayuda en la que muchos estudiantes universitarios confían. Sin embargo, los estudiantes indocumentados pueden obtener ayuda financiera o becas para la universidad de otras maneras. Para obtener más información, lea For Undocumented Students: Questions and Answers About Paying for College.

Su estado indocumentado podría limitar sus opciones - pero la universidad sigue siendo una opción si tiene un plan. Su mejor estrategia es comenzar a planear temprano, hacer muchas investigaciones y hacer muchas preguntas.

2. Usted no está solo

Tendrás que echarle muchas ganas ya que toma mucho trabajo para llegar a la universidad.  Es clave crear una red de apoyo.

Comienza con tu familia. Asegúrate que saben que quieres ir a la universidad. Hable con ellos sobre tus opciones para elegir una universidad y  cómo pagar por tu educación.

También puedes buscar consejos de maestros y consejeros de confianza en su escuela secundaria. Aparte de poder orientarte, pueden ser capaces de ponerte en contacto con otros estudiantes indocumentados que se han inscrito con éxito en la universidad o con consejeros de admisión a la universidad que te puedan ayudar.

Si le preocupa decirle a los maestros y consejeros que usted es indocumentado, tenga en cuenta que, por ley, los oficiales de la escuela no pueden revelar información personal sobre los estudiantes, incluyendo su estado de inmigración. Lee más información sobre el Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act at ab540.com.

3. Usted puede encontrar una universidad que le conviene

Cuando busque universidades que se encajan con tus deseos y necesidades, es posible que desee averiguar si las universidades en las que está interesado tienen programas, organizaciones estudiantiles o centros que apoyan a los estudiantes inmigrantes de primera generación. Un buen lugar para comenzar es hacer investigaciones en la red y a través de las publicaciones universitarias.

Aquí hay algunas cosas para recordar al investigar diferentes universidades:

  • Diferentes universidades tienen diferentes políticas de admisión de estudiantes indocumentados.
  • Diferentes universidades tienen diferentes políticas en la concesión de ayuda financiera no federal a los estudiantes indocumentados. Para más informacion lee lo siguiente: For Undocumented Students: Questions and Answers About Paying for College
  • Las universidades públicas deben seguir las leyes de su estado en cuestiones tales como si los estudiantes indocumentados que viven en el estado pueden pagar matrícula en el estado o deben pagar matrícula fuera del estado. Descargue Repository of Resources for Undocumented Students(.pdf/1MB) para ver más información y recursos para varios estados.

4. Aplicaras a la universidad como cualquier otro estudiante

El proceso de solicitud de la universidad suele ser el mismo para todos los estudiantes. Tendras que averiguar los requisitos de admisión de las universidades en cuanto a exámenes, calificaciones y las clases de preparatoria que necesitas tomar. Lo más probable,  pedirán que escribas un ensayo personal y obtener cartas de recomendación, entre otros requisitos de la aplicación.

Aprende más acerca del proceso al leer Quick Guide: The Anatomy of the College Application.

Echarle muchas ganas en la secundaria es la mejor manera para cualquier estudiante prepararse para la universidad. Las universidades revisan tus calificaciones y el tipo de clases que usted toma, por lo tanto es una gran idea tomar cursos universitarios como las clases Advanced Placement®. Muchas universidades otorgan crédito basado en puntajes en los exámenes de AP, lo cual puede ahorrarle dinero a los estudiantes.

5. Tus opciones pueden cambiar

Las leyes estadounidenses acerca estudiantes indocumentados pueden cambiar. Es importante mantenerse al día con las noticias sobre las leyes que podrían afectar sus planes de la universidad.

En junio del 2012, el presidente Barack Obama anunció que ciertos estudiantes indocumentados que llegaron a los Estados Unidos como niños son elegibles para "acción diferida", o permiso temporal para permanecer en el país. El aplazamiento de dos años se concede caso por caso y está pendiente de renovación al final de los dos años.

Otro proyecto de ley que puede afectar a la ley se llama DREAM (Desarrollo, Socorro y Educación para Menores Extranjeros), que fue presentado al Congreso en 2011. Si el proyecto de ley es aprobado, los estudiantes indocumentados serán elegibles para comenzar un proceso de seis años que conduce a estatus legal permanente.

Para obtener más información sobre la acción diferida, la Ley DREAM y otras políticas que afectan a los estudiantes indocumentados, visite National Immigration Law Center website.

6. Puedes encontrar recursos para ayudarte

Aquí hay algunos sitios web y descargas con información útil:

* Basado en la información disponible en marzo de 2013

How to Come Out As Undocumented in Your Personal Statement (Part 2)

To hear the podcasts that accompany this blog post, check out:

Before we get to the essay part...

If you’re an undocumented student debating whether or not to reveal your status in your personal statement, first check out Part 1 of this post: Should I Come Out As Undocumented in My Personal Statement?

If you’d like comprehensive help on your entire application (as in: free help over several weeks)...

Option A: Apply for my Matchlighters Scholarship, which offers up to six hours of college application guidance from a professional counselor at no cost. (Yup, free. All you have to do is fill out the application.)

Option B: Sign up with Strive for College, which connects students with mentors who can advise them on the college process. This is basically the same thing as Matchlighters, except a much bigger program (about 50 students went through my program in 2016, whereas thousands received help through Strive for College).

Why check out these resources? Because, if you have the time, it’s best to get comprehensive help with your entire application process--picking schools, financial aid, etc.--and not just help on your essay.

If you’ve already read Part 1 of this article and already have an experienced mentor helping you with your application, then I recommend working through my Essay Workshop in a Box. Why? Because 1) it’s like taking a 3-hr class with me and 2) it’s free. You’ll learn a ton and have an essay draft by the time you’re finished. Just click on the “Free Student Version” on the left side of the page at the link above.

If you’re not going to do any of the above and just want to get on with writing your essay...

Read on! In fact, here are the three steps to take if you want to write a first draft in just one hour:

  1. Read the article below (20 min)
  2. Complete the Feelings and Needs Exercise (20 min.)
  3. Pull out your phone, download the speech-to-text app Dragon Dictation, and record yourself telling your story (using the work you’ve done in the Feelings and Needs Exercise). (10-15 min.)
  4. Export the text to a Google doc, edit the Dragon Dictation mistakes out in your first draft and email your draft to your mentor. (5-10 min.)

And if you can’t download Dragon Dictation, don’t worry about it, just record yourself speaking your essay and then type it up after (just add an extra 15-20 min. for that).

Ready? Heeeeeeere we go!

How to Come Out As Undocumented in Your Personal Statement

Rather than starting off with some general platitudes or tips, I want you to first read two really good essays by students who elected to reveal their undocumented status in their essays and were accepted to highly selective schools.

FYI: Both had really good GPAs and some of the highest SAT scores in their grade. I say this to say that it wasn’t just their essays that got them in--they were bringing a lot more to the table--but I do think their essays helped.

I’ll share each essay on its own first, do a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of what I think works well, then offer some tips and take-aways that you can use when you’re writing your essay.

Daishi’s Personal Statement

Prompt: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

"Osé, osé, osé!" I scolded myself with the Japanese words meaning, "Push, push, push." As I tried to keep up with the pace in the morning run, a tree root snagged my foot and I plummeted into the mud. Blood dripped down my knees. The other kids roared in laughter and left me behind. I was the only overweight kid in the kindergarten of my hometown of Shizuoka.

A year later, I moved to the U.S. and walked into my elementary school with my only English vocabulary consisting of the word "Hello." I spent days trying to figure out the words for the Pledge of Allegiance. How can I memorize all those crazy words? The changes were overwhelming and I wanted to reject them.

But I knew I had to adapt.

I managed to become fluent in English in three months and rise as a shining student of my second grade class. Over time, I realized I carried the responsibility of being the first one in my family to go to a university, so I became determined to reach higher education.

However, I never found a stable home. Being undocumented, my family and I constantly moved from house to house, city to city, following the path of available jobs while being locked with constant financial struggle. I often found myself sleeping in the houses of relatives while my parents were off in distant cities trying to make ends meet. Cases of financial and legal problems between my parents and my relatives left me homeless at one point, leaving me no choice but to live with a friend for three months to finish the eighth grade. The pace of change seemed too fast to keep up

When choosing a high school to attend, I came across a very new school, Panorama High School, which was largely disliked by middle-school teachers and students due to its lack of competitive academic programs and a reputation for gang- involvement. Despite the common word, I saw how the school was criticized by people who put no effort into improving the campus and its community. How can a school become great without anyone taking action? I realized that the school was just like my childhood self in Japan, in a sense that it was looked down upon and left behind. I wanted to do something.

I took the most rigorous classes the school was able to offer and tried to influence the school's prestige as a student, no matter how trivial it seemed. I was going crazy when I was voted to be the first president of the school's first honor society and when I scored the highest SAT score in the history of the campus. As my team and I won the first varsity swimming league championship, the kid trying to memorize the Pledge of Allegiance became the swimmer screaming his team chant before the battle. That's when I knew I was a part of this country, and that this country was a part of me.

More importantly, my experiences at Panorama High School opened my eyes about social change. What can I do for the other immigrants, this country, or the world? I became passionate about studying the government, and set my sights on becoming a lawyer and, one day, a politician. Right now, the debate regarding comprehensive immigration reform intrigues me the most. Should this country enact the law that guarantees a safe path for citizenship upon residing undocumented immigrants? Who knows? But this country won't know unless we make the initial leap for change. I see my childhood self in this country, for I believe it is rejecting the intimidating and round-the-clock changes of the current decade. But like my current self, we must embrace those changes and prevent people from being left behind in the mud. Great things can truly begin with a little "osé, osé, osé!"

647 words

Adrian’s Personal Statement

Prompt: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

At six years old, I stood locked away in the restroom. I held tightly to a tube of toothpaste because I’d been sent to brush my teeth to distract me from the commotion. Regardless, I knew what was happening: my dad was being put under arrest for domestic abuse. He’d hurt my mom physically and mentally, and my brother Jose and I had shared the mental strain. It’s what had to be done.

Living without a father meant money was tight, mom worked two jobs, and my brother and I took care of each other when she worked. For a brief period of time the quality of our lives slowly started to improve as our soon-to-be step-dad became an integral part of our family. He paid attention to the needs of my mom, my brother, and me. But our prosperity was short-lived as my step dad’s chronic alcoholism became more and more recurrent. When I was eight, my younger brother Fernando’s birth complicated things even further. As my step-dad slipped away, my mom continued working, and Fernando’s care was left to Jose and me. I cooked, Jose cleaned, I dressed Fernando, Jose put him to bed. We did what we had to do.

As undocumented immigrants and with little to no family around us, we had to rely on each other. Fearing that any disclosure of our status would risk deportation, we kept to ourselves when dealing with any financial and medical issues. I avoided going on certain school trips, and at times I was discouraged to even meet new people. I felt isolated and at times disillusioned; my grades started to slip.

Over time, however, I grew determined to improve the quality of life for my family and myself.

Without a father figure to teach me the things a father could, I became my own teacher. I learned how to fix a bike, how to swim, and even how to talk to girls. I became resourceful, fixing shoes with strips of duct tape, and I even found a job to help pay bills. I became as independent as I could to lessen the time and money mom had to spend raising me.

I also worked to apply myself constructively in other ways. I worked hard and took my grades from Bs and Cs to consecutive straight A’s. I shattered my school’s 1ooM breaststroke record, and learned how to play the clarinet, saxophone, and the oboe. Plus, I not only became the first student in my school to pass the AP Physics 1 exam, I’m currently pioneering my school’s first AP Physics 2 course ever.

These changes inspired me to help others. I became president of the California Scholarship Federation, providing students with information to prepare them for college, while creating opportunities for my peers to play a bigger part in our community. I began tutoring kids, teens, and adults on a variety of subjects ranging from basic English to home improvement and even Calculus. As the captain of the water polo and swim team I’ve led practices crafted to individually push my comrades to their limits, and I’ve counseled friends through circumstances similar to mine. I’ve done tons, and I can finally say I’m proud of that.

But I’m excited to say that there’s so much I have yet to do. I haven’t danced the tango, solved a Rubix Cube, explored how perpetual motion might fuel space exploration, or seen the World Trade Center. And I have yet to see the person that Fernando will become.  

I’ll do as much as I can from now on. Not because I have to. Because I choose to.

Okay, here’s the analysis for each one:

Sample Essay #1: Daishi’s Personal Statement (with Ethan’s analysis):

Prompt: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

"Osé, osé, osé!" I scolded myself with the Japanese words meaning, "Push, push, push." As I tried to keep up with the pace in the morning run, a tree root snagged my foot and I plummeted into the mud. Blood dripped down my knees. The other kids roared in laughter and left me behind. I was the only overweight kid in the kindergarten of my hometown of Shizuoka.

I love this opening: three simple repeated words that set up a theme for the essay. Because you know he’s coming back to this later. I appreciate that he translates the words here, since I don’t speak Japanese. Note that some students choose not to translate small portions of their essays and while that can create an interesting effect, the reader who doesn’t speak the language may miss out on something. I also love that he begins with a problem--several, in fact--so the reader wonders how and if he’ll be able to overcome his challenges.

A year later, I moved to the U.S. and walked into my elementary school with my only English vocabulary consisting of the word "Hello." I spent days trying to figure out the words for the Pledge of Allegiance. How can I memorize all those crazy words? The changes were overwhelming and I wanted to reject them.

More challenges! He’s raising the stakes in this second paragraph, which basically means that he’s letting us know how an already difficult situation was made even more difficult, which draws us more into his story. I often tell students to imagine beginning the second paragraph with the words, “To make matters even more difficult…” and then fill in the blank. You’ll also notice that he shares with us how he felt (overwhelmed), but not until he first describes the external circumstances that show us why he felt that way. I think this is a good order: give us the “here’s what happened” first before saying “here’s how that made me feel.” Why? 1) That’s the order things happened chronologically, and 2) Using this order gives readers a chance to imagine how they might feel in similar circumstances, which can also draw them into the story more.

But I knew I had to adapt.

Choosing to put this on a line by itself adds drama, and signal that this was a turning point. Nice.

I managed to become fluent in English in three months and rise as a shining student of my second grade class. Over time, I realized I carried the responsibility of being the first one in my family to go to a university, so I became determined to reach higher education.

Things are looking up at this point! And notice how straightforward the telling is: he just tells us what happened. I also like that he includes that he’s first-gen here. This will be mentioned elsewhere in the application, but I think it’s nice to include that here because he follows up with a “so what” right away so we understand what being first-generation meant to him.

However, I never found a stable home. Being undocumented, my family and I constantly moved from house to house, city to city, following the path of available jobs while being locked with constant financial struggle. I often found myself sleeping in the houses of relatives while my parents were off in distant cities trying to make ends meet. Cases of financial and legal problems between my parents and my relatives left me homeless at one point, leaving me no choice but to live with a friend for three months to finish the eighth grade. The pace of change seemed too fast to keep up.

This is what I call “a two-hill rollercoaster” structure--in other words, the essay goes down (negative) in one paragraph, then up (positive) in the next paragraph, then down again in the paragraph above. This 18-minute video analyzes another essay with a similar structure. By the end of this paragraph, the author is at his lowest point. Screenwriting teacher Blake Snyder called this moment in movies the “Dark Night of the Soul.” It’s the moment before things will begin to climb up again, which is what happens in the next paragraph.

When choosing a high school to attend, I came across a very new school, Panorama High School, which was largely disliked by middle-school teachers and students due to its lack of competitive academic programs and a reputation for gang-involvement. Despite the common word, I saw how the school was criticized by people who put no effort into improving the campus and its community. How can a school become great without anyone taking action? I realized that the school was just like my childhood self in Japan, in a sense that it was looked down upon and left behind. I wanted to do something.

The situation at the start of this paragraph isn’t promising: a school with a bad reputation, plus gang-involvement. This makes the reader think, “Uh oh…” But then the author makes a decision that will turnaround the essay, and his life. And the moment I read the words, “I realized that the school was just like my childhood self in Japan, in a sense that it was looked down upon and left behind” is the moment my heart burst wide open and it’s the moment when (I imagine) the admissions officer says, “Okay, he’s in.” Note that I say this only half-jokingly. Why? Because 1) probably no single line in this essay got him into Harvard. But 2) I happen to believe that this moment shows incredible insight and really takes the essay to the next level. Suddenly he has reframed his negative circumstances in a powerful way and is taking responsibility for changing his life. As the poet William Ernest Henley put in the poem Invictus, this is the moment the author becomes “master of [his] fate, captain of [his] soul.”

I took the most rigorous classes the school was able to offer and tried to influence the school's prestige as a student, no matter how trivial it seemed. I was going crazy when I was voted to be the first president of the school's first honor society and when I scored the highest SAT score in the history of the campus. As my team and I won the first varsity swimming league championship, the kid trying to memorize the Pledge of Allegiance became the swimmer screaming his team chant before the battle. That's when I knew I was a part of this country, and that this country was a part of me.

The “highest SAT score in the history of the campus” is a brag, but by this point he’s earned it (see Tip #3 below on earning your brags). Given what he’s been through, I don’t judge him for saying this; I feel proud of him. Don’t you? There’s also a great “before and after shot,” which is a technique that involves reminding the reader who you were (“trying to memorize the Pledge of Allegiance”) and juxtaposing this with who you’ve become (“screaming his team chant”). The purpose of this is to make very clear that growth and transformation has taken place--kind of like those “before” and “after” photos people take when doing a diet. For another example of this “before and after shot” technique, check out the “With Debate” essay.

More importantly, my experiences at Panorama High School opened my eyes about social change. What can I do for the other immigrants, this country, or the world? I became passionate about studying the government, and set my sights on becoming a lawyer and, one day, a politician. Right now, the debate regarding comprehensive immigration reform intrigues me the most. Should this country enact the law that guarantees a safe path for citizenship upon residing undocumented immigrants? Who knows? But this country won't know unless we make the initial leap for change. I see my childhood self in this country, for I believe it is rejecting the intimidating and round-the-clock changes of the current decade. But like my current self, we must embrace those changes and prevent people from being left behind in the mud. Great things can truly begin with a little "osé, osé, osé!"

He finishes with a big “so what,” and when he reveals at the end that he wants to become an immigrant lawyer or a politician, it feels both surprising and inevitable. It feels surprising because we didn’t 100% see it coming (it’s not obvious), but inevitable because it really makes sense when we think about some of the values he has demonstrated thus far. And what I love about his ending most is that he goes one step further  to help us understand why this career feels right to him, and essentially he “so whats” his “so what.” (See Tip #4 below for more on this.) Plus, you gotta’ love that last line, which hearkens back to the inspiring “Invictus” turning point moment in the middle, and brings things all the way back, full circle, to where the essay (and the author) began… with a little "osé, osé, osé!" #DropsMic


Sample Essay #2: What Had to Be Done
Written by: Adrian

Prompt: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

At six years old, I stood locked away in the restroom. I held tightly to a tube of toothpaste because I’d been sent to brush my teeth to distract me from the commotion. Regardless, I knew what was happening: my dad was being put under arrest for domestic abuse. He’d hurt my mom physically and mentally, and my brother Jose and I had shared the mental strain. It’s what had to be done.

What an opening. Note that the tube of toothpaste was one of the items on his Essence Objects list. Anchoring emotions to an object (as Adrian does here) creates a powerful image and the refrain “It’s what had to be done” (which repeats at the end of the next paragraph) strikes with the force of iron.

Living without a father meant money was tight, mom worked two jobs, and my brother and I took care of each other when she worked. For a brief period of time the quality of our lives slowly started to improve as our soon-to-be step-dad became an integral part of our family. He paid attention to the needs of my mom, my brother, and me. But our prosperity was short-lived as my step dad’s chronic alcoholism became more and more recurrent. When I was eight, my younger brother Fernando’s birth complicated things even further. As my step-dad slipped away, my mom continued working, and Fernando’s care was left to Jose and me. I cooked, Jose cleaned, I dressed Fernando, Jose put him to bed. We did what we had to do.

As with Daishi’s essay, note how straightforward the tone is. This works very well--what’s important to communicate here is the information, no need to dress it up. If you’re concerned about your essay sounding like a sob-story, check out this post, called How to Discuss Challenges in Your College Essay So that it Doesn't Sound Like a Sob Story. And note that little repetition at the end of the paragraph--the only bit of poetry in the paragraph. It’s subtle, but strong.

As undocumented immigrants and with little to no family around us, we had to rely on each other. Fearing that any disclosure of our status would risk deportation, we kept to ourselves when dealing with any financial and medical issues. I avoided going on certain school trips, and at times I was discouraged to even meet new people. I felt isolated and at times disillusioned; my grades started to slip.

Note that this is the only paragraph that mentions being undocumented and notice that the essay could work well without this paragraph. It does add more information, but it’s not 100% necessary. Consider this: you might choose to tell your whole story, keep the undocumented part to one sentence or paragraph, and sharing two versions of your essay with a few people and asking them which they prefer. You’ll notice structurally he also includes a “Dark Night of the Soul” moment (i.e. - lowest point) at the end of the paragraph before things turn a corner in the next paragraph.

Over time, however, I grew determined to improve the quality of life for my family and myself.

As in the example above, a sentence on its own. Works well and sends a clear message: I wanted a change.

Without a father figure to teach me the things a father could, I became my own teacher. I learned how to fix a bike, how to swim, and even how to talk to girls. I became resourceful, fixing shoes with strips of duct tape, and I even found a job to help pay bills. I became as independent as I could to lessen the time and money mom had to spend raising me.

This part makes me cry. And laugh. And then I think, “Wow.”

I also worked to apply myself constructively in other ways. I worked hard and took my grades from Bs and Cs to consecutive straight A’s. I shattered my school’s 1ooM breaststroke record, and learned how to play the clarinet, saxophone, and the oboe. Plus, I not only became the first student in my school to pass the AP Physics 1 exam, I’m currently pioneering my school’s first AP Physics 2 course ever.

Note what he’s doing here: explaining his bad grades. For the record, this student was accepted to UCLA and USC (among other places). Again, not *only* because of his essay, but I believe his essay helped offer context for those low grades his freshman year… and these schools saw past those. And, again, though this may feel like a brag paragraph, given what he’s been through you feel like he’s earned the opportunity to brag a little.

These changes inspired me to help others. I became president of the California Scholarship Federation, providing students with information to prepare them for college, while creating opportunities for my peers to play a bigger part in our community. I began tutoring kids, teens, and adults on a variety of subjects ranging from basic English to home improvement and even Calculus. As the captain of the water polo and swim team I’ve led practices crafted to individually push my comrades to their limits, and I’ve counseled friends through circumstances similar to mine. I’ve done tons, and I can finally say I’m proud of that.

Some counselors will say, “Don’t repeat your activities list in your essay,” and generally I agree. But I feel like this essay is an exception. It’s tough to say why, but there’s something about putting all the “Look what I’ve done!” details in a single paragraph here that feels okay. In fact, if he didn’t put these details in, I feel like I might miss them. He wanted to make sure the schools knew how hard he’d worked and I encouraged him to go for it. Tip: build your brags. In other words, start with the smaller accomplishments and build to the bigger ones.

But I’m excited to say that there’s so much I have yet to do. I haven’t danced the tango, solved a Rubix Cube, explored how perpetual motion might fuel space exploration, or seen the World Trade Center. And I have yet to see the person that Fernando will become.  

And, as you read this, aren’t you excited for him to do these things? This was a student who didn’t 100% know what he wanted to do, but he had some big dreams and I encouraged him to name a few. Through his examples he gives the reader a clear sense of a few of his core values, which is a great way to end your essay if you’re uncertain what career you’d like to pursue (or don’t want to address it in this essay).

I’ll do as much as I can from now on. Not because I have to. Because I choose to.

Note the return to the opening paragraphs: “...what had to be done… what we had to do.” No more, he says… now I get to choose. #Invictus

Five Things You Can Learn from These Essays (If You’re Also Coming Out in Yours)

1. These essays are not primarily about being undocumented. They are about much larger and more complex life stories. Being undocumented just happens to be one part of it. Notice that, in each case, the student’s legal status was just one of several challenges faced and most of these challenges are limited to a single paragraph.

What can you learn from this? You don’t have to focus on being undocumented for the whole essay. In fact, notice (as I mentioned above) that in each case the student could have removed mention of his legal status and it still would have been a strong essay.

How can you avoid focusing too much on legal status in the essay? Complete the Feelings and Needs Exercise and, in the first column, list a few challenges besides being undocumented. If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention that exercise, it’s probably because you still haven’t worked through the Essay Workshop in a Box (see note above). ;)

2. Both authors made sure that another supplemental essay (or three!) focused on something other than being undocumented. Why? So that colleges could see other parts of them.

Here is the other essay written by Daishi, the author of the "Osé, osé, osé!" essay. Notice how the supplemental essay focuses on a way that he made a difference in his community--in the case of his essay the community was his high school.

Here are the three other essays written (for the UC personal insight questions) by Adrian, the author of the second essay. Notice that 1) each personal insight question is on a clearly different topic and 2) Adrian was able to shorten his 650 word essay to 350 words for the purpose of the UC application. You can do this too. I recommend writing the long (Common App) one first, then shortening it to 350 for the UC application (cutting it is easier than trying to expand from 350 to 650, trust me).

3. Both essays earn their brags. Sure, both tout their accomplishments around two-thirds of the way through… but not until they’ve shared the extreme challenges they overcame to get to that point. Don’t just brag out of nowhere; show what it took to get there.

4. Both essays “so what” their “so whats.” What do I mean? They offer something meaningful, then keep going, by answering the question “so what?” Then they go one step further by answering “so what?” again.

Daishi does this in his final paragraph (I’ve noted where in the notes above) and Adrian does it in the paragraph that begins “These changes inspired me to help others” (read all the way through the end of the paragraph).

How do you do this in your essay? Simple: after you finish writing a meaningful sentence, simply ask yourself “so what?” Then do it again, and again, until you’ve said something more meaningful or interesting. Practice “so what-ing” your “so whats.” You’ll get better at it with practice. And this will help you in your college writing.

Finally...

5. Both essays pass The Great College Essay Test. What’s that, you ask? It’s a test you can take, once your essay draft is written, to make sure the essay is doing its job. And what’s the job of your essay? To demonstrate that you will make meaningful and valuable contributions on a college campus--and beyond.

Click here to take The Great College Essay Test

And get this: these tips will work for other types of “coming out” essays.

Note to Students/Counselors Reading This: I’m looking for a couple great essays in which students have “come out” in other ways. If you’ve read a great “coming out” essay, please 1) ask permission, if it’s not yours, then 2) submit it to help@collegeessayguy.com I’d love to create a new resource. Thanks!

Are you writing yet? If not, open up a Google doc and get cracking.

The Feelings and Needs Exercise is a great place to start.



Should I Come Out As Undocumented in My Personal Statement? (Part 1 of 2)

This post accompanies podcast Episode 102, in which I interview Dr. Aliza Gilbert, veteran counselor and advocate for undocumented youth. She contributed most of the great questions and considerations in this article. To hear the full podcast, click here.

“To put out that your status is undocumented,” says Dr. Aliza Gilbert, “is a really scary thing for a student because you don’t know who is on the other side reading that application.”

Dr. Gilbert, whose dissertation examined how high schools influence an undocumented student’s college search, has been working with undocumented students since the 90s. I interviewed her in Episode 102 of the podcast and asked her point blank:

Should students reveal their status, or not?

“It’s not my job to tell them whether they should or shouldn’t disclose,” said Dr. Gilbert, “but I try and help walk them through it.”

That’s the purpose of Part 1 of this article: to help you (or the student you’re advising) to decide.

If you do decide to reveal your status, Part 2 of this article will address how to do it.

But before we address whether or not to reveal your status, there’s a bigger question: Which schools should you apply to? And how will you know if they’re supportive of undocumented students?

IMPORTANT TIP: Before you begin writing your essay, identify a list of schools that are supportive of undocumented students.

How will you know which schools are likely to be supportive?  

Option A: Buy Strive for College’s I’m First! Guide to College and start shopping for schools that are looking for you.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about a one-of-a-kind college guidebook that’s designed uniquely for first-generation college-bound students. Take a Sneak Peek at this link. The Guide features profiles of colleges and universities committed to serving first-generation college students, an interactive college planning and preparation curriculum (plus a great article from Educators for Fair Consideration about undocumented students!), and a section for parents and mentors (translated into Spanish).

Order the Guide at this link.

Get this: I definitely don’t get any money if you order it, but you can definitely get 30% off the guide if you use discount code COLLEGEESSAYGUY when you check out.

So check it out. This is $20 that could introduce you to the school that changes your life.

Option B: Use my How to Develop a Great College List article and, once you’ve whittled your list down to like 8-10 schools, anonymously call the schools you’re interested in and ask these questions:

  • Does your college or university admit undocumented students?
  • Does the university require students to submit a social security number and proof of residency?
  • Are there any state laws which bar undocumented students from public colleges or universities?
  • Is there a point person in admissions that the student/counselor can contact with questions?
  • Are other undocumented students enrolled in the college/university?
  • Does the institution have a policy regarding whether or not it will report undocumented students?
  • Will the institution consider undocumented students for institutional or private aid?
  • Is an undocumented student eligible for merit aid?
  • Does the institution offer any special scholarships for international students? Can undocumented students apply for these scholarships?
Another Tip: If you’re nervous to call, ask a counselor or mentor if they’ll call for you or with you.


Okay, now to the question at the top of this post.

And sorry it took me so long to get here, but the stuff I just said is like super duper important.

When it comes to coming out as undocumented, there are some potential PROS and potential CONS. And like Dr. Gilbert said, we’re not gonna’ tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, but here are some things to consider...

POTENTIAL PROS:

  1. It could help you get in. In some cases, letting the reader know your status (and the difficulties that have come with that) can help the reader see what a rockstar you were for enduring all that stuff and STILL getting awesome grades or STILL scoring the highest SAT score in your grade, as was the case for Daishi, one of the students whose essay I share in Part 2 of this post.
  2. It could help explain why your grades were… maybe less than ideal. As was true for Adrian, the other student I’ll talk about in Part 2 of this post.
  3. It could help you get more money. In some cases, letting a school know you won’t be eligible for federal or state aid (due to your status), the school might (keyword: might!) increase your merit scholarship. Both Dr. Gilbert and I have seen this happen.
  4. It could help the school connect you to resources on campus. If the college admissions reader knows you’re undocumented, they might be able to connect you with resources (an undocumented student group, for example, or maybe an on-campus advocate for undocumented students).
  5. It might help you feel more free. Coming out of the shadows might help you feel like a weight has lifted. You might even feel empowered. (Listen to Daishi on the podcast at 19:15 talk about how he felt the moment he embraced his status.)
  6. It could help you stand out... in a good way. At 47:38 on the podcast Daishi talks about how he felt that telling this story was crucial to the admissions reader at Harvard understanding who he was.  

All those things sound pretty good. Having said that, we have to get real and share with you some potential negative impacts of revealing your status in your essay.

Important note: We haven’t heard of the following things happening, but these are, we suppose, possible.

POTENTIAL CONS:

  1. The person reading your application might automatically reject you because they think undocumented students should all go back to Mexico (because all undocumented students are from Mexico, amiright?). Probably won’t happen, but it could.
  2. You could get deported. Again, we haven’t heard of this happening, but check out these recent Tweets:
 
 
 

source: http://thetab.com/us/2017/03/23/trump-snitching-undocumented-students-63435

 

That’s right. People reporting people via Twitter. More on this here.

3. Your family might get deported. While we’ve never heard of a student or a family being picked up by ICE because of an admissions essay, our country is in a different place with immigration issues than we have been in recent years, so it’s something to think about. Note that if the college has a history of accepting and graduating undocumented students, we tend to be less fearful when students disclose in their essay. How will you know what the school’s stance is? See list of questions above to ask a school when you call.

Note to Counselors Reading This: Can you think of any considerations we’ve missed?

Note to Counselors Reading This: Can you think of any considerations we’ve missed? Email help@collegeessayguy.com and we’ll add them here.

Email assistant@collegeessayguy.com and we’ll add them here.

Okay, let’s check in: How are you feeling at this point? Which way are you leaning?

If you’re feeling like you shouldn’t, then don’t. That’s it. Just don’t. Find another story to tell. You are brilliant and complex and have so many stories to tell. (And by the way if you just felt relief reading that, it could be a sign.)

Or maybe you’re feeling like you do want them to know, but you don’t want this to be Like Your Main Thing (as in: you don’t want this to define you). In this case, you might consider revealing your status elsewhere, like in your:

  • Supplemental essay
  • Interview
  • Counselor letter

And bee tee dubs: If you want your counselor to mention your status, you definitely have to let your counselor know this in an explicit way. As in: “Dr. Gilbert: Can you do me a favor and talk about my undocumented status in my recommendation letter?”

Why might you do this? Some students just feel uncomfortable talking about it, or want their main essay to be about something else, but they still want colleges to know.

Why do you need to do this in an explicit way? Because (think about it) no counselor is gonna’ share your status without your permission. If so, that person should probably be fired.

If you’ve read this far and you’re still not sure, and maybe want to talk it through with someone, here are a few options:

  • Talk to your counselor
  • Talk to a teacher/mentor
  • TBA Matchlighters
  • Register with Striving for College to get connected with a personalized mentor

If you’re leaning towards yes, then go to Part 2 of this article, How to Come Out As Undocumented in Your Personal Statement, which will show you how.

I asked Daishi Tanaka, an undocumented student who’s currently a sophomore at Harvard, why he decided to reveal his status in his main essay, and here’s what he said:  

Primarily it was because being undocumented was a huge part of my personal story… but also... I knew that the admissions officer who was reading all these applications must want to see different perspectives… and must want students who can provide these unique experiences to contribute to their campus. So, although throughout my life I always thought that being undocumented was something that held [me] back, in this circumstance it was a way to push me forward.

Side note: click here to listen to the full interview; the part I’m quoting comes in around 50:40.

Is this decision right for you? And will it definitely get you into Harvard? (Spoiler: No.)

But if you do decide to reveal your status, click here to learn how.

For those interested, here are some more questions to ask when it comes to evaluating colleges:

Completing applications

  • Does the application ask for a social security number?
  • If a student does not have a social security number should they use zeros or leave it blank?
  • Does the application have an appropriate “box” for an undocumented student on the section that asks about citizenship?
  • If a student does not/cannot answer all of the questions on the on-line application will it be submitted or do they need to complete a paper application?
  • Can a student submit an on-line application if they are using a fee waiver?

Applying for financial aid and scholarships

  • Does the institution require all applicants, even those who are undocumented, to complete a FAFSA in order to be considered for private or institutional scholarships?
  • Will the institution accept the College Board CSS Profile or an institutional form in lieu of the FAFSA?
  • What other forms must be completed?

Considering majors

  • Does the major require a background check?
  • Does the major lead to certification or state licensure for which an undocumented student might be ineligible?
  • Are advisors and career development staff aware of these issues?


Tips for Planning a College Visit

tips for planning a college visit

Planning which college to attend is one of the most important decisions you will make as a young adult, and there is so much to consider. It can feel overwhelming narrowing down the search and deciding on which colleges to visit. This guide will help alleviate some of that stress and answer all your burning questions.

It is impossible to visit every single school on your list, especially when geography is working against you. Start your search online by navigating around the school’s virtual tour, which can be found on most college websites. Ask yourself a few simple questions first: are you looking for a big or small school, what are you studying (liberal arts or trade/tech) and do you prefer state or private? Try visiting at least one of each type of school (big, small, far from home, close to home, etc.) if you are unsure.

Now it’s time to plan the visit! Make sure to plan far in advance especially if you are planning to go at a busy time of year. Browse the college website’s admissions page and schedule your tour ahead of time. Ensure the time you select will allow for dorm visits or perhaps the option to sit in on a class. Avoid school holidays when the campus is likely to be empty, and times when it might be particularly busy such as “move in” days.

On visit day, try and think of a few minor details they may not mention in the tour: how do people get around, are they riding bikes, taking the bus, or walking? Is there a sense of fun and positive school spirit or do people look stressed and exhausted? Are there safety measures put in place around campus? Also, take the time to check out the nearby neighborhoods and popular hangouts in order to get caught up on what is going on in the community surrounding the campus.

Treat your visit like a family vacation, have fun, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to explore!

For more tips on planning a college visit, check out the full article by our friends at Fix.com.


Source: Fix.com Blog

Amy is a travel writer and editor based out of Southern Oregon. She specializes in planning outdoors adventures for children and founded the family travel site PitStopsForKids.com.

SAT vs. ACT: Five Steps to Help You Pick a Test

SAT vs. ACT: Five Steps to Help You Pick a Test

Our guest blogger Ted Dorsey received a perfect score on the PSAT, ACT, and SAT. He is founder of Tutor Ted and author of numerous ACT and SAT test prep books.

Check out his free ACT intro course here and his comprehensive online ACT prep course here, which includes over eight hours of video lessons and over a hundred sample questions, including all of the knowledge and strategies Ted shares with his private tutoring students in Los Angeles.

How should you choose between the SAT and ACT today?

Ah, 2016—it was such an easy year to answer this question! Back in the good ol’ days of 2016, things were simpler. Unless you were freakin’ crazy, you took the ACT. For good reason! ACT had a clearly established test format and score curve, 10x as many practice tests, and proven methods to improve scores. Game, set, match.

Well, it ain’t 2016 anymore. And a few factors have emerged that have changed the calculus of choosing between SAT and ACT. Here’s what ’s new:

  • ACT has made changes to the format of its test*—at times without any advanced warning.
  • Once the January 2017 test is available, SAT will have doubled the number of available official practice tests. That number of tests available is still just eight, so we’re well short of the 60+ available practice ACTs. But it’s progress.
  • All the recent ACT prep has caused ACT scores to become really, really good.

That last one is a double-edged sword. At first read, you might think, “I am DEFINITELY going to take the ACT if I can get to a 33 or better with test prep!” If that’s true—which it is for a growing number of students**—you could land yourself an exceptionally high ACT score through some thoughtful prep. And that’s great news! But here is the other edge of this particular double-edged sword: if everyone is getting a 33+ on the ACT, is your score really so exceptional?

Let me put it this way: the point of getting a high score on these tests is to differentiate yourself from other college applicants. Now suppose you score a 33 or a 34 on the ACT. That’s an outstanding score! But if it only indicates that you are in a substantial pack of highly qualified applicants, has it helped get you in to college?

That question has led to the idea of taking the SAT as a way of differentiating yourself at the top of the curve. The idea is that if you can get a killer score on the SAT, it may be more impressive than if you get a killer score on the ACT. 

So, let’s get back to the original question: how should you choose between the ACT and the SAT? Here are the five steps I would recommend to make your decision. 

#1: Take a practice ACT (like this one) in October of junior year—which is also when you’ll take the PSAT.

#2: Ask yourself whether you preferred the format of one test or the other.

#3: Compare the scores of those two tests using this website. Add 80 points to your PSAT score to convert it to an SAT score.

#4: Use those last two factors to make a decision. In the case of a tie, choose the ACT. It’s still easier to improve your score on that test than the SAT.

#5: If you’re a student already scoring in the 99+ percentile on these early tests, strongly consider prepping for the SAT. A great SAT score will help you differentiate yourself from the field of qualified students.

Last thing: your choice of ACT or SAT is not a permanent one. You have the power to change your mind whenever you want. We strongly recommend you prep for one test at a time, but you can always then prep for the other test too. Whatever decision you make, be sure to prep enough that you feel comfortable and ready when you open the test on the big day.

* Including more advanced content on the Math Test, such as statistics and probability, paired passages on the Reading Test, and, most recently, changing the parameters of the Writing Test such that students do not need to respond to all three given perspectives.

** I don’t have the data for all ACT-takers across the country, but it used to be that 1% of students earned a 33 or better on the composite score. In the past two years, at least 50% of our students have. We probably have a disproportionate number of smart students, but I think it’s also likely that the scoring standard at the high end of the ACT curve is still based on performance standards rather than a new percentile curve. Or the current students are being judged on an old percentile curve. Either way, a LOT of students are getting exceptionally high ACT scores. 

---

Ted Dorsey—aka Tutor Ted—has been prepping students for SAT and ACT since 2000. A graduate of Princeton, he earned perfect scores on the ACT, old SAT, old-old SAT, PSAT, and SAT Subject Tests in Literature and Math Level 2. He scored a 1590 on his first go at the new SAT and will back for revenge in May of 2017. He is the founder of Tutor Ted, Inc., a test prep group that offers outstanding private tutoring, online test prep classes, and books. You can reach him at contact@tutorted.com. 

Check out his new comprehensive ACT course here.


WANT HELP NAILING YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT?

CHECK OUT THE FREE GUIDE BELOW.

 
 

5 Resources and Tips for Getting Scholarships and Financial Aid for College

5 Resources and Tips for Getting Free Money for College

College can be really expensive.  Below are a few obvious (and not so obvious) things you can do to get that free money.  

Free money for college

This should be you.

 

Tip #1: Fill out the FAFSA. Yeah, fill it out even if you don’t think you’ll qualify. The federal government uses the FAFSA to see if you qualify for over $150 Billion in aid. But here’s the thing. Many state governments, private institutions and colleges use it to see if you qualify for state and institutional scholarships too. So do. 

RESOURCE #1: Need help figuring out the FAFSA? Check out Edvisors amazing and comprehensive guide to filling out the FAFSA.

Tip #2: Fill out the CSS/Financial Aid Profile. The College Scholarship Service PROFILE is used by over 400 private institutions and colleges, particularly highly-selective schools, to gather additional information about financial aid and scholarship eligibility. Chances are, you're applying to at least one school that requires it, so find out which schools use it.

RESOURCE #2: Get the full list of schools using the CSS Profile in 2017/2018 here. The College Board’s awesome 1-page student guide to filling it out can be found here.  Got a question? Call them at (305) 420-3670. (Their customer support is pretty solid.)



Tip #3: Apply early. Like, right now.  Yes, I know. This is the same advice that everyone gives you about everything. But with financial aid, it’s actually really important.  Some reasons:

  • FAFSA now opens October 1st instead of January 1st, allowing you to get your Student Aid Report (SAR) in time for early action or early decision notifications.
  • While FAFSA money doesn’t “run out” as many people believe, money sometimes does run out for scholarships and colleges that use the FAFSA for granting financial aid packages. The early bird gets the $$$.
  • The CSS profile is no walk in the park. The questions are much more detailed than the FAFSA and will require wading through W-2s, bank statements, and other tax documentation. But it’s worth it because free money.

RESOURCE # 3:  My brother created the ultimate Google Sheets document for tracking all of your scholarship research and applying. Copy it here and get started now!

Tip #4: Apply for institutional scholarships. Many schools automatically consider you for merit and institutional scholarships. But many schools offer scholarships that must be applied for separately and often require earlier application dates, additional essays and separate interviews.  Be sure to look for these opportunities by contacting the financial aid offices of schools you're applying to.

RESOURCE #4: Use Google! It’s your greatest resource in the scholarship search.  Don’t believe me? Look at the first thing that came up when I googled “Scholarships at UVA”

5. Tip #5: Apply for outside scholarships. I know, it’s obvious. But you’d be surprised how few students actually put in the time and effort to apply for these and how easy it is to actually get them.  With smaller scholarships that are less than $2,000, sometimes the quantity that you apply to is more important than quality (or in this case, the size) of the scholarship.

RESOURCE # 5: USA Today explains the 11 best websites for finding outside scholarships here. (I agree with them.)

Ready to get started? There’s billions of dollars in scholarships out there.

Download this then register here to go get it.



WANT HELP NAILING YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT?

CHECK OUT THE FREE ONE-HOUR GUIDE BELOW.