On Tuesday night I attended a program called “Exploring College Options” in Portland. It was a seminar put on by admissions counselors from Georgetown, Duke, Stanford, Penn, and Harvard. Whether you are shooting for schools at this level or not, I thought I’d share what I learned.
Letters of Rec: Find a teacher(s) who knows you well enough to actually give the college a sense of who you are as a student. One way to do this is to ask your teacher what would be missing from their class if you were not present. What do you bring to the table that no one else does? By portraying this they can capture exactly who you are as a person and student.
Extra-Curriculars: There is no right or wrong EC. However, colleges would rather see you committing and succeeding in one specific area rather than dabbling in several. The Harvard officer explained it as “diving into the deep end” How deep can you go (to what extent) and how big of a splash do you make (your impact)? Finally, do something because you are passionate about it, not because you think it will get you into college.
Essays: It does not matter what you write but rather how you write it. The admissions team wants to get to know you. Get feedback on your essays, but not so much that it no longer sounds like you. The essays give a window into what you will bring to their campus.
Testing: Testing is a standardized yard stick and is not always fair. Admission people realize that. Do the best you can. Take it once junior year, study over the summer, and again senior year. Don’t make standardized testing an extra curricular activity. In addition, know what tests or subject tests your schools require well before you have to start applying. Rushed testing is bad testing.
Overview: The application should be a compilation of the best parts of YOU. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Admissions officers are normal people and they are rooting for you.
DO NOT REPOSTS AND/OR CLAIM ARTWORK AS YOURS, PLEASE ASK ME PERMISSION IF YOU WANT TO REPOST THIS WITH MY CREDITS. IF NOT & REPOST THIS WITHOUT THE PERMISION, I WILL WARM YOU ABOUT REMOVES TWO (2) TIMES, AFTER THAT TWO WARNINGS I WILL REPORT THE ARTWORK AND YOUR ACCOUNT FOR PLAGARISM.
State Students (and whomever else this resonates with),
I spent last
weekend at THON, the 46-hour dance marathon run entirely by students at Penn
State University, and the largest student run philanthropy in the world,
benefitting those battling pediatric cancer. This event is huge. The students spend all year preparing for it in various ways:
raising money, becoming friends and support for the actual families who have a
child with cancer, going to smaller THON related events, and forming committees
to make sure the dance marathon runs as smoothly as possible. THON weekend
itself takes hours of donated time and energy from the hundreds of student
volunteers on the committees. There is a committee for each of the important
aspects that make the weekend work. An entertainment committee in charge of
organizing the two days straight of music and entertainment. A clean up
committee making sure the Bryce Jordan Center where it’s held, remains in good
shape throughout the event and after. They have alumni relations, family
assistance, rules and regulations, and the esteemed dancer support committee, formerly
known as the Moralers (if you are going to be dancing for 46 hours straight it
helps to have a committee of students who are there to give you massages, make
sure you don’t know what time it actually is, play catch with you, and guide
you gently back into sanity if you begin to hallucinate). Beyond the committees,
the stands fill with students in support, the number one rule in the stands, no sitting. Many of the students in the
stands stay for most or all of the 46 hours in support of their friends
dancing, committee members, and the families battling cancer. The Bryce Jordan
Center fills with anywhere from ten to fifteen thousand people who are there to
give children and families much needed hope and support. Anyone who has
experienced what it actually feels like to be there knows, this is something special.
enthusiasm. The encouragement. The love. The unity. Even though there are different sororities and fraternities,
special clubs and organizations, alumni groups, off campus students and regular
students, this weekend is held in place by an overwhelming sense of unity.
Maybe because they are all Penn Staters. Or because they put some much time and
energy into it. Or because they are all under the effects of sleep deprivation.
Or maybe it is because they are all standing together for a worthy cause. The togetherness felt in there is palpable
I mean, isn’t
that what most of us really want? Isn’t that what most of us are searching for?
A sense of community, a sense of enthusiasm, a sense of purpose.
We want to
know that are actions matter. That we are doing
something with our lives. We want to feel connected to the people around us.
We want to feel alive. THON weekend
provides a highly concentrated experience of the life we want to be living.
itself also provides the opportunity for this experience of community and
purpose, which is why it can be some of the best times of your life (even
though it might leave you in debt until you’re 35). College is an environment
balanced between structure and freedom.
You have the
structure of higher education, intended to shape your understanding and sharpen
your skills. Intended to get you ready and give you an edge moving into your
chosen field out in post-college life, intended to broaden your perspective and
concentrate your goals. You have the structure of the school year- deadlines,
quarters, semesters, spring-break, summer-break, winter-break, games, finals,
etc. You have the structure of your school-work and the jobs you do to
pay for that school-work.
Then you also
have the freedom of college. Of no longer living with your parents. Of being
able to stay out as long as you want to at night, as long as you make it to
class on time…or not. You have the freedom to see the results of your actions.
And you have the invaluable freedom of living in a community. You can go to a game and be surrounded by peers of “the
same team”. You can wear the same colors anywhere you go. You are given the
base-line, thing-you-have-in-common, conversation starter, “Do you go here?”
Make sure you
appreciate this environment. Use it to your advantage for the time you have it.
Do not take it for granted. The
education you are receiving, the time you are being given to explore your
interests, and the community of people around you! These things becomes much
harder to find in “the real world”.
always talking about “the real world”, as if it is any more real than what you
are experiencing now, but we know what they mean. Responsibilities, disappointments,
challenges, failure, losing touch with old friends, etc. The real world can be
harsh. Unforgiving. Confusing. You become responsible for your whole life,
which can empower you to do great things, or weigh you down with inaction and
lack of direction. 10 years can slip by in the real world in what feels like
the blink of an eye. That’s when adults look back to their college days and
think that’s when they had it made. Then they project all their shortcomings
and disappointments onto this “real world.” And then, they tell you about how
tough things are and how good you college kids have it.
secret is, the real world is not fixed in place. What happens to you in the
real world is not a guarantee. Like everything else in the universe it is being
created on a moment-to-moment basis. The incredible thing is, you create the real world. You are a part of it, not a victim of it. You are an
author of reality.
Yes, in the
real world, some things are more difficult than in college. The community that
surrounds you isn’t built-in. Finding a career is most likely going to be way
more difficult than picking a major. Your actions are going to be creating
consequences with a very quick return rate. You might end up living with your
parents again. You might end up feeling more confused and less-prepared than when you
left for college. And you will no longer have your precious spring-break,
summer-break, winter-break, and fall-break. Your life will be happening
one-hundred percent of the time. You will have to carve out vacation time, if you
can find a way to afford it.
But here is
the thing, with some hard work, and imagination, you can shape “the real world”
to your vision for it. I mean, look at THON. Look at how far it has come. What
started with a child’s dream for a cure for cancer, and a few fraternities and
sororities organizing a small dance-marathon, has become the biggest student
run philanthropy in the world, generating tens of millions of dollars for
pediatric-cancer research and support for families, held in a fifteen-thousand
much work it takes to create something like this. Notice how many hours go into
it. It is not easy. To dance that long, or stand that long, or to be a part of
committee. I am sure you face setbacks and challenges along the way. But the
outcome is incredible. You can feel it. To be a part of THON means you know
that your effort has affected people. It has had results in the real world, on
real people, not only the families battling cancer, but each other.
So as you
move beyond college and out into the real world, don’t be scared. Well, ok, of course you will be. That’s another
thing adults don’t tell you: everyone is
scared. If someone says they aren’t, well, they are full of it.
Everybody, on some level, is making it up as they go along. And they are, on
some level, unsure of themselves and the direction they are heading. They are
facing doubts and insecurities. They are scared.
It is natural to be scared. Fear is part of our evolution, keeping us on guard
for the dangers that could prevent us from surviving. And what scares human
beings the most? The unknown. Not
knowing if what we want to happen will happen. Not knowing if our actions will
count for something. Not knowing what obstacles are going to come our way. Not
knowing what is at the end of the road we are choosing. Not knowing what the
But learn to
lean into the unknown. We are all afraid out here in the real world. But that
doesn’t have to stop you from doing anything you really want to do. From being
anything you really want to be. From creating anything you really want to
create. The real world is as much yours as it is mine. It is as much yours as
the president or the politicians. It is as much yours as a CEO or a police
officer. We are all making it up as we go along.
accept that you might not always feel sure about yourself or what you are
doing, but that you will get way more from going big than from playing small.
You will get way more from following just one of your dreams than staying
scared to follow any of them. Learn to be a source of the things you want to
see in the world. Learn to be a source of the life you want to live. It all
starts with you. It all comes from you. Through
As you leave
college, don’t fool yourself, it will be kind of scary. It’s supposed to be!
And there are going to be challenges and difficulties, you might lose your
grand sense of community and feel like you are starting from scratch. But bring
THON out into the world. Realize you have the power to find a community working
towards a common good. Realize you have the power to create a community working towards a common good. Stay active in
your life beyond just making money. And hopefully, you will look back on your
college years with pride and smile, not because you wish you could go back,
but because you know that your best years are not behind you, they lie ahead of
you in the Great Unknown, and you get to pave the way.
If you enjoyed this piece. Check out
my Youtube inspiration series, Devon’s Life Survival Guide, where I bring you
tips to not only survive your life, but enjoy your life and create a life of
meaning. Join my community!