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  • Articles, College, Confidence, Money, School, Writing

    How to Write College Essays

    How to Write College Essays

    guest post by Rick Wedell, RFG Chief Investment Officer

     

    College application deadlines are approaching, and with that there comes the stress of the application process. Some schools do not ask for essays, while others may ask you for several different pieces of writing. With that in mind, we thought we would share with you a good approach to writing college essays beyond the simple “make sure you proof- read carefully”.1

     

     

    Step 1: The Personal Narrative

    Ideally, a college application should tell a compelling story about who you are, why you want to go to school in general, and why this institution in particular. We’ll call this your personal narrative – the twenty second elevator speech youwould give to the admissions of cer if you were fortunate enough to be able to trap them in an enclosed space for thatlength of time.

    This is a story that you should construct on paper prior to even looking at the application, and it’s crucial that it weaves itself together into a compelling and coherent story line. Consider two narratives –

    1. I’m Rick, I’m a natural leader, I ran track and focused on Model UN in High School, I want to go to college so that I can become a marine biologist, and I’m interested in the University of Miami because of your amazing overseas exchange student program
    2. I’m Samantha, I’m inquisitive, I was active in the debate team and student government in High School, I’m looking to go to college so that I can one day go to law school, and I’m interested in the University of Virginia because of your excellent pre-law curriculum track 2

    To a college admissions counselor, Rick sounds like he has no sense of what he is doing with his life, while Samantha sounds like she has been organized around a single purpose since the day she could walk. Each aspect of her narrative is complementary and additive to the others, and as a result, Samantha is a far more compelling candidate. More importantly, her story is a heck of a lot more memorable because it all hangs together – inquisitive, debate, law school, pre-law.

    As a guideline, your narrative should include two to four characteristics that describe who you are (or who you want the admissions department to think of you as). These can be interests, achievements, activities, or descriptors.
    The most important thing about your narrative is that it needs to be believable! If you say you want to help impoverished children, then you had better be able to point to something concrete that demonstrates this desire.

    That said, saying it needs to be believable is not the same thing as saying that it needs to be 100% accurate, particularly when you discuss why you want to go to college and why this school in particular. In your heart of hearts, you may want go to the University of Wherever because that’s where your friends are going, or because you love their sports teams, or because your parents went to their arch-rival and you are trying to rebel. These are all valid reasons for going to the school and horrible reasons to put on your application. You shouldn’t lie about grades, an activity, a leadership role or accolade or anything like that, however stretching the possible on your motivations or what attracts you to the school is fair game so long as it is believable. In our examples above, Rick could make his story more compelling if he tied his experience in Model UN to an interest in a government degree and Miami’s fantastic public policy program. He can always switch to marine biology once he enrolls.3

    So now we’ve got our personal narrative, which is a well-constructed, believable story about who you are, why you want to go to college, and why you want to go to this college in particular. The next step is to actually look at the application itself.

     

    Step 2 – The Grid

    Every college application is different. Some applications ask for a single essay, others ask for multiple short answers, others ask for multiple essays, and some ask for no written samples at all. If the application asks for a single essay – no problem – just take your personal narrative and start writing. If multiple written responses are required, that’s when we come to the concept of the grid.

    The grid is pretty simple – put your narrative in boxes across the top row and the list of writing requirements down the page. At the far right should be a column called “topic”. To illustrate, we’ll use Samantha’s narrative and some essay questions I made up:

    Inquisitive

    Debate

    Student Gov.

    Law School

    Pre-law track

    Topic

    Talk about a time you struggled?

    What are you most proud of?

    Why would our campus be a better place with you on it?

    Now, all we need to do is decide which situations or experiences we are going to address in each essay, making
    sure that we touch on all of the elements of our narrative at least once in the entire application. We don’t want every response to check every box, but we do want to check 2 or 3 boxes with each answer and make sure that nothing in ourpersonal narrative gets left out when the admissions of cer nishes reading the application as a whole.

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    What the grid forces you to do is focus your writing on your message and avoid the cardinal sin of application writing – DO NOT simply answer the questions in a laundry list fashion. Samantha may be very proud of the time she won the spelling bee in Junior High. If the application asks what she’s proud of, she might be tempted to write about it. After all, who wouldn’t be proud of that? At the same time, that response is off message. It’s impressive, and it might make for a good essay topic for some applicants, but it doesn’t really fit into Samantha’s story. She certainly should list that achievement when asked about extra curriculars, awards, and accolades, but she shouldn’t spend essay time writing about it. Instead, she should pick an experience or situation to write about that helps to tell her story.

    Keep in mind that the questions are just prompts to get you talking about yourself, and no admissions officer is going to penalize you for being a little off topic with your answers so long as you make an effort to frame it within the question. The best overall candidates get into school, not the people who have the best examples to fit into the application questions.

    If Samantha wants to talk about a debate tournament she won for the “struggled” question, she can spend a little time describing the struggle she had with preparation for the tournament as she crafts the response. If she’d rather talk about the tournament in the next question, then she can be “most proud of” the fact that she worked together with her team and coaches to get to the victory. You get the idea.

    When Sam is finished with her grid, it might look something like this:

    Inquisitive

    Debate

    Student Gov.

    Law School

    Pre-law track

    Topic

    Talk about a time you struggled?

    XXX

    XXX

    Debate Win

    What are you most proud of?

    XXX

    XXX

    Class Senator

    Why would our campus be a better place with you on it?

    XXX

    XXX

    XXX

    Legal Intern

    She’s chosen topics to write about for each of these three essays that highlight the qualities checked on the grid. Once again, she’s not talking about everything in every response, but when she’s finished her narrative should flow through the application. Now that she has her topics, it’s off to write!

     

    Step 3 – The Writing

    Steps 1 and 2 are about figuring out what to write about for each question, and now we get to the point of actually putting words on paper. A couple of tips:

    • Make every word count. You have a limited number of words, and most of us are prolific with our prose. You want to cram as much content into as few words as possible. Start by writing with no filter, and then go back and delete / rephrase until you hit the target word count. Intro phrases like “for example” and “in other words” are great candidates to slash and burn.
    • Show, don’t tell. Wherever possible, use examples / stories / anecdotes (like the Samantha and Rick storylines above) to illustrate your points versus just stating them – it makes the work more engaging to the reader.
    • Customize your answers for each school. You may be tempted to copy essays from one application to the
      next. Resist the temptation unless the questions are the same. You can talk about the same situations on every application by reframing the experience (e.g. Samantha’s debate tournament win), but the copy / paste function on your word processor should be avoided like the plague.
    • If a question asks you about your personality or “who you are”, be brutally honest. These questions are probing not only for who you are, but for how well you know yourself, and should be treated with an appropriate level of introspection. They aren’t necessarily asking you to talk about the time you were elected president of the student government or some other mind-blowing achievement or skill. You can still fit these into the grid, but be careful – you want these responses to show that you are aware of your weaknesses as well as your strengths.4 Be honest with yourself. A good rule of thumb is that you will know that this type of essay is ready to submit when you hesitate to print a copy for fear that one of your friends might someday find it.
    • Find someone you trust to edit and proofread. You do not need 50 different editors, because they will give you conflicting advice. Find 1 or 2 people who will read all of the essays together and make sure that they present a compelling storyline, and who are willing to suggest changes to things that are a little off – an editor is worthless if they simply tell you the essays look great.

    Step 4 – The Recommendations

    You might think that we are all done once we’ve done the writing, but we still have letters of recommendation to consider! After all, we did all the work to come up with our personal narrative, and there is no reason not to share that with whoever is writing your letters of recommendation.

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    Indeed, you should probably think about your personal narrative when you think about WHO you ask. Ideally, we want the recommender to discuss something additive to your story, but not repetitive. If Samantha has her softball coach write a letter, it’s nice, but it doesn’t really build her story. Her Social Studies teacher might be a better option, as that is consistent with and adds to Samantha’s narrative. Having her Debate coach write the letter would be more in the repetitive camp.

    Once you’ve identified who you want to write the letter, you should ask them. Give them an out, so that if they do not want to write the letter they have a pre-built excuse. Something like “Mr. Johnson, I’m applying to the University of Wherever, and I was wondering if you have the time to write a good letter of recommendation for me?” Asking if they have the time gives them an out without hurting your feelings – you don’t want someone writing a rec who doesn’t want to do it.

    If they agree – great! Most people who write letters of recommendation want to see you succeed – they wouldn’t write it if they didn’t care. By telling your recommender how you are positioning your application, you let them know what
    to highlight in their letter. At the very least, it helps ensure that they won’t directly contradict you! Share your personal narrative with them, and if you feel comfortable enough, suggest what you think they might be able to add to the conversation.

    Sam might say: “Mr. Johnson, thank you for agreeing to write a recommendation for me. Elsewhere in my application, I’ve talked about how I’m inquisitive, loved student government and debate, and am interested in law as a career. I was hoping that you might be able to highlight my work in your class for the admissions office?” This is innocuous enough to not be pushy, but gives the letter writer enough information to compliment her story.5

    Last, but not least –

    I hope that this has been helpful as you approach your college applications. While the process may seem daunting, in a sense you are really just being asked to tell a couple of stories about yourself. These stories should be chosen and written carefully so that they are both interesting and present the best picture possible, but try to approach the process with a sense of humor. After all, no one is more qualified or better positioned to write about your life than you are.

    Good luck!

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    1 Which you should 100% do.
    2 The “why this particular school” portion requires you to do some homework on that school and what they offer you in that particular field. Spend the time and craft a custom answer – it shows you aren’t cutting and pasting.
    3 As an aside, MOST schools want a nice mix of math geeks, jocks, and poets. For schools that have a particularly dominant bent towards one type of major, saying you are interested in something OTHER than that might be helpful (so long as you can make it believable). Case in point – I applied under the guise of pursuing an engineering degree at a school more known for finance, then switched once I got there.
    4 I’m not talking about weaknesses like “I like to steal things” or “I have a crippling addiction” which will get you kicked out of the process immediately. We all have things we are great at and places where we could improve. Show that you know about both aspects of yourself.
    5 You should send this to your recommender in an email, or otherwise write it down so that they can refer to it later – most letter writers are doing a lot of them this time of year, and simply saying it risks they will forget it.
    Investment advice offered through RFG Advisory Group, LLC, a Registered Investment Advisor.
  • Body Image, Celebrities, Confidence, Fashion, GirlSpring.com, Makeup

    How To GLOW UP This Summer

    So, it’s finally the summer. You’re looking forward to laying out in the sun, hanging with your besties, and taking some time to yourself. But the summer is good for something else too, and we all know what it is…. glowing up. No, I don’t mean playing with glow sticks. I mean glow up. Urban Dictionary defines glow up as “when someone becomes really attractive after they hit puberty.” Now maybe you’re thinking to yourself “I’m past puberty! I missed my glow up time!” No need to fret, my friend! It is NEVER too late to glow up. And the summer is the perfect time! You have a couple months off from seeing everyone at school, so you can come back looking completely different. Without further ado, I present to you, how to glo up this summer.

    Visit a hairstylist

    Visiting a hairstylist is one of the easiest (and most fun!) ways to change your whole look in a single day. A new haircut can completely change your appearance and face shape, so a good hairstyle is a must. It’s important to visit a hairstylist so that you can ask a professionals opinion on what hair color and cut will look best with your look! Make sure if you set an appointment to bring photos of the hair you want, so your stylist will know exactly what you’re going for.

    Experiment with make up

    If you’re a girl and you’ve never experimented with make up before, it can really change your appearance! One of the best ways to get exposure to make up and how to learn some tips is by the magical and wonderful world of no other than Youtube. You can simply search “Make up tutorial” on Youtube, and millions of videos will pop up. The good news with the summer is that you have plenty of time to practice and perfect your look! That way, if a makeup tutorial goes wrong, you can just wash it right off and nobody even saw! And if you decide you don’t like wearing make up, then it makes your life even easier!

    Get healthy

    Something good for your body, skin, and mental health is deciding to get healthy! Getting healthy can be as easy as deciding to work out a few days a week, or limiting the amount of junk food you eat. The healthier you become, the better you will feel! Plus being healthy helps you live your best life, so this one should be near the top of your list.

    Take care of your body

    Whether it be through skin care, working out or taking time to yourself, taking care of your own body can make a huge difference. From treating yourself to a mani pedi, finding a toothpaste that whitens your teeth, or even finding the perfect shade of self-tanner, taking care of your body has a huge impact on the way you look. This means going to the doctor, dentist, dermatologist- you name it! Your body is all you’ve got- so treat it with some respect!

    Become confident with who you are

    If you have any sort of transformation this summer before coming back to school, let it be this- learn to be confident in your own skin! You don’t have to look any specific way to “glo up” because glowing up should be the way you feel about yourself. If you learn to love the reflection in the mirror, it will translate into the way other people see you!

  • Articles, Confidence

    Bloom Where You Are Planted by Ashley Mosley

    Let’s imagine you are going to the store to pick out some seeds to put in your garden. You get there and you realize there is a big variety of different flowers. There are tall flowers, short flowers, red flowers, pink flowers, yellow flowers, purple flowers, flowers that are planted in the ground, and flowers that are planted in a pot.There are so many different kinds and they are all so unique. You can’t decide which one to get because they are all so beautiful. This is how people are. Everybody is so different in shape, size, color, weight, height, but we are all the same. We are all beautiful.



    Just because somebody doesn’t look the same as you does not mean they are not beautiful. We were all created perfectly and the way we were intended to be. Earth is one big beautiful flower pot that has so many different types of people in it. As Summer is just around the corner, we will see all sorts of people we probably haven’t seen as much. I want to make it a personal goal of yours to point out the beautiful part of each person you meet. You don’t have to say anything to them if you don’t want to, but try to think of one thing that makes that person beautiful. They are another beautiful flower to add to your garden.

  • Articles, Confidence, Depression, Health, Stress

    13 Reasons Why by Megan Flint

    One of Netflix’s hottest shows this year has been 13 Reasons Why, especially among teenagers. It’s an excellent show, with great acting and a plot that keeps viewers intrigued until the end of the season… and even after that.

    13 Reasons Why is not a show that I would recommend to anyone, however. While it has all the makings of a good show, with a great cast and producers and writers, it is very controversial. This is because it is a dangerous kind of fantasy show.

    (Note that there will be SPOILERS in this article after this point.)

    The show centers on Hannah Baker, a teenage girl who has committed suicide. Before dying, she made a set of tapes that details the reasons she decided to commit suicide. Each reason blames a different person for her eventual death.

    There are several reasons that so many of us take issue with this show. One of them is that it does not address mental illness at all, even though that contributes to the vast majority of suicides and Hannah most likely has some form of mental illness, whether that is depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Another reason is that it shows Hannah’s suicide in graphic detail, which goes against previous regulations set out by psychologists about how to depict suicide in visual media.

    The major reason why I, and so many other people, am uncomfortable with this show is that it shows a dangerous fantasy. Often, when people attempt suicide, they do not truly want to die. Rather, they just want their suffering to stop. They want their suffering recognized for what it is. But when you die, as far as we know scientifically, that’s it. You don’t get to see everyone realize how much you were suffering. It’s a nice fantasy to think that, oh, the cute boy will see that you weren’t happy, but that’s what it is: a fantasy. As far as we know, when you die, you won’t get to see people regret their actions to make you so unhappy. You don’t get that gratification. You just die.

    The fear that so many of us have is that people who are already dealing with their own tragedies and depression will see this show and copy Hannah Baker. Maybe no one in their right mind would never do that. But suicidal people aren’t in their right minds. They are in terrible pain, and it clouds judgement. It makes decision making difficult. It makes it nearly impossible to see future consequences.

    If anyone is reading this and feels suicidal, know that there is hope. Your story doesn’t have to end like Hannah’s. There are people who will listen and care while you’re still here. I know it might not feel that way. I know it feels hopeless. But from someone who’s been there and got through to the other side: it’s true, there is hope.

    If you need immediate help, go to the nearest emergency room or call a suicide hotline like 1-800-273-8255. You’re not alone. Maybe if someone had given Hannah these resources she would’ve realized that she wasn’t either.

  • Articles, Books, Confidence, Depression

    20th Anniversary of Harry Potter: J. K. Rowling’s Triumph

    June 26th marked the 20th Anniversary of Harry Potter. When I found out last week, had no idea I was older than the series (not by too much, only by 3 years). As someone who watched the movies growing up and is currently reading the books (on the Goblet of Fire as of writing this), Harry Potter has had a major impact on me, and especially in the storytelling. But there would be no Boy Who Lived, or any characters from that universe, if it wasn’t for Harry’s author: J. K. Rowling.

     

    Before becoming the celebrated author she’s know as today, Rowling faced a lot of hardship. While drafting what would become Harry Potter and the Philpsopher’s Stone (or the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US), she had a failed marriage, was unemployed, and was raising her daughter on her own. She had also been diagnosed with clinical depression and had even contemplated suicide. Even with all these factors weighing Rowling down, telling her “no,” she kept going. It was because of this attitude, after being rejected by twelve publishing houses, that allowed her book to finally be picked up by Bloomsbury. Who would have thought the number 13 would be so lucky?

     

    Rowling is a role model, not just for writers like me but for anyone who has/had felt like a failure at some point in their life. Continue to persevere toward your goals and your dreams and believe that you can do great things.

  • Animals, Confidence

    To the Girls Who Could Change the World

    When you sit and contemplate about this, it’s all of us. Changing the world isn’t about changing everyone or everyone knowing you and if they don’t they live under rocks. Changing the world could be us changing our city, changing our school, our families, the one person no one likes, or even just yourself. Not everyone has someone that will smile at them everyday and not need a reason to do it. People look for something someone can like about them, but to change the world we’ll need a new perspective won’t we? We’ll need to say, “I’m looking for something i don’t like about them.” Which I’ll add is hard to do when you don’t even know the person. When all you do is pass them in the hall and hear your friends all talking about them, laughing at them, for what?

    Maybe for their shoes, they’re not in style. They wear a black beanie, the same one everyday, laughing because the think they don’t wash it. We laugh and let out friends laugh at such stupid things. But what we don’t know or even notice how they might be poor in money they have a rich spirit, a rich personality that no one can simply buy. These are the things people cant change themselves into. People change and tweak themselves like we are a phone homepage, how everything could be placed differently. Or regrouped and renamed we change ourselves to fit a portrait that’s not even real, we’re trying to fit a mold that no one fits in, its a mold that’s not even real. That’s why you changing yourself to be YOU is the best change you can make!