penn school

Tips and Tricks from Admissions Officers

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. 

The Gals in college.

 I’ve been asked this a 100 times so..

  1. Hope Solo –> School: Washington ; Major: Speech Communications
  2. Syd Leroux –> School: UCLA ; Major: History
  3. Cap America –> School: Monmouth ; Major: Special Education
  4. Becky Sauerbrunn –> School: UVA ; Major: English
  5. Kelley O’Hara –> School: Stanford ; Major: Science, Technology and Society
  6. Whitney Engen –> School: North Carolina ; Major: Political Science
  7. Shannon Boxx –> School: Notre Dame ; Major: Psychology/African-American Studies
  8. Amy Rodriguez –> School: USC ; Major: Psychology
  9. Heather O’Reilly –> School: North Carolina ; Major: Education
  10. Carli Lloyd –> School: Rutgers ; Major: Exercise Science and Sport Studies
  11. Ali Krieger –> School: Penn State ; Major: Advertisement/Public relations
  12. Lauren Holiday –> School: UCLA ; Major: Sociology
  13. Alex Morgan –> School: UC Berkeley ; Major: Political Economy
  14. Morgan Brian –> School: UVA ; Major: Kinesiology
  15. Megan Rapinoe –> School: Portland ; Major: Sociology
  16. Lori Chalupny –> School: North Carolina ; Major: Sociology
  17. Tobin Heath –> School: North Carolina ; Major: Communications
  18. Ashlyn Harris –> School: North Carolina ; Major: Communications
  19. Julie Johnston –> School: Santa Clara ; Major: Communications
  20. Abby Wambach –> School: Florida ; Major: Leisure Service Management
  21. Alyssa Naeher –> School: Penn State ; Major: Kinesiology
  22. Meghan Klingenberg –> School: North Carolina ; Major: Business Administration
  23. Christen Press –> School: Stanford ; Major: Communications/Psychology
  24. Emily Sonnett –> School: UVA ; Major: Sociology
  25. Kealia Ohai –> School: North Carolina ; Major: Journalism and mass communication
  26. Crystal Dunn –> School: North Carolina ; Major: Sociology
  27. Sam Mewis –> School: UCLA ; Major: English
  28. Casey Short –> School: Florida State ; Major: Criminology
  29. Andi Sullivan –> School: Stanford ; Major: Management Science and Engineering
  30. Jane Campbell –> School: Stanford ; Major: Psychology
  31. Rose Lavelle –> School: UW ; Major: Sociology
  32. Lindsey Horan –> SKIPPED COLLEGE TO GO PRO

Pshh hey you, touch this, this transparent.



College Personalities Masterpost

[This is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, and I get that everyone will have a different opinion. No offense intended!]



Harvard: The Stanford of the East. They go to Harvard, sweaty :))), and will make sure you know it. Senator’s sons: brash, smart, and never loved enough as children. Marxists who will graduate only to become CEOs. High School Salutatorians.

Yale: Power gays and hyperfocused law students. Secret societies, a housing system like Hogwarts’s, and a fistful of adderall in every pocket. High School Valedictorians.

Dartmouth: Frat guys, athletic stoners, and upper middle class mountaineers. Imagine a Penn student who spends their summer semester at Brown, vaping their way through business school.

Penn: Future opioid abusing bankers, who party hard but have enough connections to compensate for their academic performance. Like Dartmouth but not as chill; like Princeton but not as prissy.

Brown: They would have went to Berkeley, but Mother insisted on an Ivy. Blue hair, red flannel, white skin. They’ve got universal pass fail but it’s taboo to take advantage of the system. The creative version of every subject–their CompSci students go to Pixar and their Biomed students go to Calico.

Cornell: Engineers from old money families and Conrad Hilton fanboys. Are they depressed because they live in Ithaca or because of their crushing workloads? Teenage Kurt Vonneguts. Wealthy, but it’s not always obvious.

Columbia: In a one sided dick measuring contest with Yale. Heavy workloads, heavy drinking. Erudite, ambitious (and they know it). The angel to NYU’s devil. A fast track to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

Princeton: Secretly thinks Harvard is for the impoverished. Eating clubs. Well developed Econ and Math departments, but UChicago is catching up. Great undergraduate teaching, especially if you fit in with the culture.

Stanford: They’d have gone to Harvard, but California is the closest thing Earth’s got to Eden and Massachusetts is…clammy. Massive startup culture. Duck syndrome and stress culture. Elitist, especially about class and status, but somehow gets a pass.

Caltech: “Hey MIT, we’re you but stronger.” Pretends that test scores trump all other metrics of success, because they’re *Number One at the SAT, baby.* Something of a male dominated culture, lighthearted.

MIT: Robotics, engineering, business, and math. 90s computer nerd aesthetic but in an ironic way. Sunlight averse. 1) study hard 2) ??? 3) profit

Duke: Beautifully gothic. Has successfully implemented a caste system, albeit informally. Intelligent, southern socialites. United by basketball, divided by highschool-esque cliques.

UChicago: Will fight the Ivies on sight. Very good at Econ and Law with an intense classical “core” curriculum. Have your weekly panic attack in a stunning glass egg-inspired library. “If you study hard enough you can become God.”

Vanderbilt: The scent of Tennessee honey in the trees. Frat culture. Los Angeles’s beauty standards, Mississippi’s snark.

Johns Hopkins: Students are required to duel you if you call it “John Hopkin’s.” People who have been premed since third grade. Academically intense without being prestige obsessed–I’d cautiously call it “well balanced.” They’re there to become doctors and medical researchers, period.

Berkeley: Study while a riot between Trump Supporters and Antifa rages outside. If Calculus III has you down and depressed, pick up a can of mace and assault somebody. Competes with Stanford, is the champion of Public Universities. Insanely expensive area to live in. Most students are too absorbed in their academics (read: 3.3 GPA CompSci qualifier) to worry about much else.

UMich: Berkeley but with snow. Ann Arbor is as good as college towns get, but has almost dangerous levels of school spirit. International students with $4k apartments and $850 winter coats. “Harvard waitlisted me but I’m not even mad.”

UCLA: Everyone is a former premed. Valley girls and the Asian students they make problematic comments about. Frat guys lost in a scary world where you can’t pass a midterm with a hangover. Cal’s politically stable cousin.

USC: “The University of Spoiled Children” still rings true sometimes, but not as much anymore. There are some seriously competitive academic programs hidden behind Los Angeles’s gauzy party culture. Loyal alumni.

WUSTL: Cooperative with a competitive biology program. Low school spirit, largely because their last star athlete graduated in 1943. Prominent STEM culture, but not exactly nerdy. A midwestern fusion of Brown and Columbia.

Carnegie Mellon: UPitt’s smaller, bourgeois sister. Cliquey nerds–a Drama student would rather die than speak with an Engineer, and visa versa. CompSci champions.

Northwestern: Nerdwestern and Northwasted. They went to private high schools and it’s obvious. Show up to your Art History final drunk on rosé. A version of UChicago where you won’t get mugged on campus.

UWash: Architecture designed by Athena herself. The premed children of Microsoft engineers. White boys wearing colored socks and Nike sandals. Washington rains endlessly with the tears of tormented Amazon employees.

Rice: A refreshing dose of New England in the depths of Texas. “Hmm, Rice? I’ve never heard of it!” Spanish architecture, conquistador vibes. You’ve got a fair chance of finding the library packed at 1am, depending on what week it is. The MIT of the South.

Penn State: Drinking school with a football problem. Parties harder than Miami U. Not really bothered that they get confused with UPenn. Mild frat culture.

Boston University: Rich girls and self centered frat bros. Hipsters and hipster engineers. Athletes in the CGS (“Crayons, Glue, and Scissors”) school. Wealthy slackers who will regale you with tales of Martha’s Vineyard over break.

UVA: Preppy but not on purpose. Public school snobs. Southern-ish and definitely conservative. DC kids with a seemingly endless flow of money from home. The wealthiest, whitest school that’s not called Harvard.


Williams: Oxford and Harvard’s laid back son. Amherst can suck a dick. The bourgeois version of outdoorsy. Sports culture despite not being in a major division.

Amherst: Prelaw or business. Pastel polos, party drugs, and a general Gilded Age aesthetic. General distaste for the hoi polloi.

Swarthmore: “Swatkward.” Highly academic atmosphere, no time for social skills. Beautiful leafy campus. UPenn students aren’t shit compared to us. Stress culture so intense it would make a UChicago student weep.

Tufts: Don’t ask us if we got denied at the Ivies. Friendly, midsize school that maintains the atmosphere of an LAC. Very good International Relations and Philosophy (Dr. Daniel Dennett!) programs.

Reed: Swarthmore but with a lot of LSD. Atheism, communism, and free love. No one here knows a goddamn thing about sex ed. Nuclear reactor that students can train to work at.

Grinnell: Brown’s midwestern cousin. Concrete, glass, and corn. Well developed STEM programs, especially for an LAC. Close knit community, extreme hookup culture. Quirky. Emphasis on writing skill. Gigantic per-student endowment.

Carleton: Trimester system that intensifies the academic culture. Cold winters, warm hearts. Parties more than a typical LAC but there’s still a sense of awkwardness. The smart version of eccentric. Mini Northwestern.

Bowdoin: Not a single person here has ever known a moment of hardship. Dining hall food that could earn a Michelin star. Rich, white, and cliquey. A pretty significant “old sport” culture. Everyone pays full tuition.

Pomona: Like a university packaged as an LAC. All the benefits of California, located next to the Greatest American City—Los Angeles. Large endowment, lots of opportunities. Flagship of the Claremont colleges. Mini Stanford.

Harvey Mudd: A tiny population of quirky engineers. The one true STEM LAC. Mini MIT. Male dominated, socially awkward, highly academic.

Middlebury: Bourgeoisie teenagers in the wilderness. Has a reputation for excellent language programs despite that fame stemming largely from summer specific programs. Quirky, in a reserved way. An amalgam of Dartmouth and Columbia.

Oberlin: What conservatives think liberals are like. A dot of blue in a sea of red. Theatre, music, and dance. “My parents are making me double major in Econ.”

Success Story: WASH Program

In order to promote hygiene and improve school health infrastructure, J/P HRO established the USAID-funded Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) project to serve as a model for health-related best practices.

The goal of our WASH program is to strengthen knowledge, attitudes, and interests of the 25 schools in Delmas 32. Our beneficiaries total roughly 3,500, including directors, parents, students, and support staff.

In phase one of the project, 10 schools were equipped with modern sanitary facilities. Remonne Etienne, 15, has memories of her old school toilets. “It was just a hole dug in the floor. The space was nauseous and dirty, with streaks of urine everywhere and we had to stand in line because it was a single latrine.” Remonne also explained how she caught an infection due to these conditions, which required 5 days of antibiotic treatments.

Many students in the beneficiary schools experienced poorly maintained toilets and facilities, such as these, prior to our WASH program implementation. For Aldy Cherestal, a 17-year-old at the l’Institution mixte de l’Espoir, the old toilets were “a nightmare.” Aldy says that even in the classrooms the odor from poor sanitation infrastructure prevented students from concentrating.

Despite the challenges and constraints, the WASH program has been able to provide improved sanitation for girls, boys, and staff in 10 schools.

The new sanitary facilities mark a new era. Teachers and students speak of “before” and “now.” The new sanitary blocks are: more hygienic, more spacious, more comfortable, cleaner, and more beautiful as described by the beneficiaries. Many used the word pride when speaking of this project.

Pierre Marie Wilda Charles, Director of l’Ecole Bethléem, says that raising awareness to keep these facilities clean has been made easier. In several schools, student committees have been set up to promote peer education and ensure proper maintenance of facilities.

Greetings from the Real World.

To Penn 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.

The 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 and unforgettable.

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.

College 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”.

Adults are 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.

But the 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 person arena.

Notice how 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 answer is.

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.

Learn to 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 you.

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!

A family doesn’t have to be a man, his wife, and their kids with a dog.

A family can be an alien goblin with a British accent, his ruthless girlfriend with amazing thighs, a billionaire ex-principal of a high school with his teacup elephant, a female president with mom issues, a music teacher who loves pink, a dead insult comic from the early 20th century, an evil twin with superpowers, a floating half man, half steampunk mayor with a blimp attached to his body, an eyeball creature with a gold tooth and bowler hat, his mechanical dragon wife, and a stuffed animal snake with a PhD from having 8 years spent in medical school.