College Advice from a College Freshman

A friend of mine was asking for advice on Facebook about college so I wrote her this. I’m posting this here because I think it’s useful for all the Seniors freaking the hell out about college. Sorry for the language but if you want my advice you’ll have to suffer through the profanity.

Here’s my advice:
Get it done, get it done now (in regards to college apps). You have a light work load at the start of the year and you don’t want to wait. My friend didn’t get into ANY colleges she wanted because she procrastinated too long. College apps are boring as hell. They’re actually not that hard (except the essay) but they’re fucking tedious. Put on some good music and just do them. Even if you really don’t want to.

Get someone to read over your essay. Seriously, I can read it over for you if you need me to. Never ever send in your first draft. Try getting a parent or teacher to help you edit it. Also, always tell a sob story. If you have a disability, are part of a minority, broken home/divorce, etc. tell whoever is reading how you overcame that obstacle in your life. THEY EAT THAT SHIT UP. Make sure your writing doesn’t put you in a bad light or make you seem uncertain (even if you are undeclared you can still be confidant). Never write the minimum. Good traits to mention if you can fit it in somehow:

– Equality and Diversity
– Flexibility and Openness
– Imagination and Curiosity
– Integrity and Persistence
– Compassion and Courage
– Excellence and Accountability
– Generosity and Engagement
– Teamwork and Collaboration

When filling out your common app (which I highly suggest) it’s okay to do half-truths. Only speak a smidge of Chinese? Say you can’t write or read it but can speak it. It’s okay, technically your true (don’t do this for more than 1 language, 2 if you are actually kinda proficient). Not actually gay? Say you are if you think you might even be as little as 10% gay. Only participate at that school club for 1 hour a week? Say you participate 1.5 hours a week instead. Those few extra minutes you spend talking to your friends count. Make sure you fill up all 10 of those extracurricular on the common app. How badly do you want to get into college?

Ask your teachers for letters of rec RIGHT NOW. In a couple of months they’ll be swamped with writing letters for everyone. Even if they ask you to ask them in a couple of months, you’ll be on the top of their lists because you’ve already asked. GIVE THEM A BRAG LIST of your achievements. Put any philanthropic work, jobs, school activities, hobbies, awards, publications, etc. on there. Write a few bullet points with things such as: 3 words to describe you, what you aim to achieve in college (ALWAYS say you want a PHD in whatever you want to major in. Doesn’t even matter if you’re undeclared, just say it), etc. THIS IS NOT A TIME TO BE MODEST.

Actually research your schools. Imagine my surprise when I learned that all UC schools didn’t have my very common major of International Business for undergrads. That would have been $45 a school of wasted money if I hadn’t checked. Call the school, tell them you are a prospective student, and ask them what programs they offer. ALWAYS LOOK FOR HONORS PROGRAMS. They are normally free programs and come with a butt ton of good things that other people don’t get. You do have to do more for the college app if you decide to apply, but it’s totally worth it. Some community colleges have the honors program too.

LOOK FOR SCHOLARSHIPS LIKE YESTERDAY. The best scholarships are due by December. I don’t have access to the links right now, but go to your career center at your school and they should have some for you. If not, try your local community centers. Even if the scholarship seems way out of your league, do it. You never know.

Fill out your FASFA now. Don’t wait for another 6 months when you’re tired of school and you don’t give two shits anymore. Just do it now, sometimes you get free cash.

And finally, don’t fucking stress.

Yeah yeah yeah… College is hard, blah blah blah. What if I don’t get into the right one? What if I hate it? What if it’s too hard?

Look: the nice thing about college is that it’s a time in your life when you can finally have some control. You can choose to take a gap year, or go part time, or go to two years of community college first (which is a smart thing to do on the financial and stress side). You get to choose to go far away or stay close at home. Stressing isn’t going to do anything but make you miserable. I ended having a 100% acceptance rate, I got lucky. I still turned down the private school and $11,000 scholarship they were offering in lieu of going to a state college. I’ve never been happier. Relax, you’ll end up in the right place eventually. You don’t need to be a perfectionist, you don’t have to get it right on the first try. SOMETIMES THAT’S HOW LIFE WORKS.

And I’m not going to lie, you’re probably going to ignore 70% of this post. I know I did. Then next year when you’re a Freshman in college, you’ll tell people the exact same thing.

 

So that’s my advice on college. It’s informal, it’s unorganized, it has profanity, it probably has grammar/spelling mistakes. But it’s truthful. It’s raw and honest and I don’t give any BS.

I hope this helps someone out there. Good luck Seniors.

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Delving into 100 Words of Precision

btb-storyenglish-splsh

“One hundred seems perfect. It’s the basis of percentages, the perfect test score, the boiling point of water (Celsius), purity. Pythagoreans considered 100 as divine because it is the square (10 x 10) of the divine decad (10), whatever…that means. Even a Scrabble set has 100 tiles. And yet 100 is a fragment. It’s an arbitrary marker, like the “First 100 Days” of a president’s term—merely a promise of what’s to come, or a whiff of what has passed…None of us will ever know the whole story in other words. We can only collect a bag full of shards that each seem perfect.”

~100wordstory.org

Last week my English class had to write a 100 word story with a quote from Hamlet. It reminded me of one of the best writing exercises I ever did at The Juniper Institute for Young Writers.

The first thing that our teacher told us to do was to write a story that was exactly 100 words. It could be about anything, take place anywhere, and include as little or as many characters as we wanted. At first everyone in my group thought, “This will be easy. We’re writers, 100 words is nothing.” but 20 minutes later none of us were done. We found out, quite quickly, that 100 words isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Most of wrote too much and we had to learn the art of cutting words, others wrote too little and had to learn the art of avoiding overstuffing adjectives (or, adding in words without overusing adjectives). Personally, I’m always going to believe that writing more words is easier than having to take them out but the struggle can be just as frustrating either way. Sometimes, if you write too little, you will write another sentence to make up the difference and then learn that you are now over the word count and have to cut back. Other times you will write way to much (which is the  problem for me in most cases) and find that you have to choose between two equally vital sentences to get down to the 100 word count.

So why write these stories if it’s so much work?

Well, here’s the thing. While writing a 100 word story can be frustrating, it can also help writers improve their writing and develop their own style. Because the writer is restricted by a character limit they have to think about each word they write. What am I trying to convey? Is this really necessary to my story? Is there a plot and if so how am I going to complete the arc in such a short amount of time? If I use contractions such as he’s or it’s, will my story sound the same or will it change the way the readers see my characters? All these things tie back to the stylistic choices writers make each day with every sentence, paragraph, and chapter they write. As 100wordstory.org says:

“The whole is a part and the part is a whole. The 100-word format forces the writer to question each word, to reckon with Flaubert’s mot juste in a way that even most flash fiction doesn’t. At the same time the brevity of the form allows the writer “to keep a story free from explanation,” as Walter Benjamin wrote…”

Another part of our writing exercise was to cut our 100 word down in half, and then in half again, and again, and again until we were left with about 5 words. Now, I know a three word story is useless but the point of these additional cuts was to show us where the most important part of of story was. For most young developing writers like me, pinpointing the most important part of a story is a skill we have yet to learn. To quote my teacher, Zoe:

“We only need about 20% of the stories we write, the rest of it is just “stuff” we don’t need that goes off topic or distracts the reader.”

So, my fellow writers, next time keep this in mind while writing your stories. Be creative, but be precise.

100 word story (and cut down) example:

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Five recommended 100 word stories:

Confessions of a Former Skinhead by Becky Tuch

Collision by Marisela Navarro

Trove by Catherine Harnett

Playing House by Molly Giles

Corner Store by Kalthoom Bouderdaben

You can find more 100 word stories here.

Forget the Stress and Shine

“We think we’re made of numbers. Percentages on tests, pounds on a scale, likes on a photo, price tags on clothes. But we’re not. We are made of love and happiness and the way we laugh. We’re made of good memories and late nights and past-curfews. We have more substance than numbers.”

~Taybunny711 (Tumblr)

Stress by Namirenn

Stress by Namirenn

For those of you that have read my “About Me” page, you know that I’m a senior in high school. To me, and a lot of others, that means pressure and homework and stress. It’s the final count down and it’s a race to the finish line. I know that most people say, “Chill, relax! It’s your Senior year, enjoy it!” but life’s not that simple.

These days, if you want to get into a good college, you end up working down to the last second. Instead of going to school from 8 to 2, like how a regular Senior schedule should be, you have students who go to school from 7 to 3 with a sport or other after school class that might last until 6 or 7. That’s a 12 hour school day. We study and study and study and all of it just to get into our “dream school”.

But at what point does it become too much? At 17 and 18 should we really be staying up until 2am working on projects? Should we really be taking 5 AP classes in subject’s we’re not even remotely interested in? I, myself, have had experience with having to be comforted and having to comfort crying friends when the stress has gotten beyond comprehensible. At what point do we stop the pressure to succeed and replace it with the ability to have and get a life? Which brings me to something my English teacher said last week that really resonated with me: “You just need to find one thing you’re good at.”

I’ve never been good at testing. I do my homework, I understand the concepts, I study my butt off before every exam. I’m not stupid or lazy, I’m just not good at taking a test. Which sucks when “the path to our future” relies on two very long tests (the SAT and ACT). But I’ve managed to work around this flaw by working on my strengths. I’ve never been afraid to ask for help so before many of my tests I go into a teacher’s room at lunch to study. I’m efficient at completing my homework on time so I almost never miss an assignment. When it comes to the ACT/SAT’s, I study hard and do the best that I can.

Sometimes it’s a hard rule to follow but I’ve found that it works. Besides, I’m more than just a test grade or a GPA.

And think about what will happen if you apply it to your everyday life.

Because let’s face it, as human beings we can’t be good at everything. Sure, there are people out there that seem like they can do just about anything, but that’s not really true. You can be an astronaut and still be bad at history just like you can be the president and not even be able to keep a pet rock, let alone a goldfish, alive. When school is done and over with, what’s the one thing that you’re good at? What’s the one thing that makes you shine?

For me, it’s writing. Besides being my creative outlet, it’s something that I’m able to connect to other people with. Whether with my readers or my fellow writers, I know that what I’m doing is being or going to be shared with someone else. And because I’ve found “that one thing” it has opened a lot of doors for me.

So now it’s your turn to figure it all out. Go out, take a breather. Soak in the sun for awhile. Remember, all you have to do is ask yourself: what’s the one thing that I’m good at? What’s the one thing that makes me shine? Follow your strengths and just remember: you’re more than an SAT score.

And Mr. T if you read this, thank you. It’s a something I don’t think I’m ever going to forget.

Special thanks to Namirenn