Monthly Archives: September 2014

College visits: not just for summer

ColumbiaWalkByFrankBeckIMG_4655While many high school students opt to do their college visits during the summer, there are good reasons to go during the school year. That’s when you’ll find students and professors on campus and get the most accurate picture of college life.

Guidebooks and websites can provide you with descriptions, ratings and photos. But nothing can take the place of being on a campus, talking with people and observing the social, cultural and academic environment.

Be sure to check each school’s website before planning your visit. You’ll want to attend both a tour and an information session, so it’s important to visit when those are scheduled. You may also want to eat in the dining hall, just to soak up the scene.

High school freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors will naturally have different purposes for their college visits. It’s important to consider your own objectives ahead of time.

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Writing supplements: how important are they?

HarvardWomanArchIMG_3790In September many high school seniors focus intently on writing their personal essays—and rightly so. A strong essay is a crucial component of your college application package. If you haven’t completed a personal essay you’re proud of yet, you should do so…pronto.

But amidst the hubbub, it’s easy to lose sight of the other writing challenges you’re about to face.

Known variously as “writing supplements,” “supplemental essays,” “college-specific essays,” “individualized essays” or simply “supplements,” these little essay assignments can be found at different locations on the Common Application—or on the Universal College Application, if you’re using that system. In some cases, the writing supplements pop up as surprises, just when a student believes he or she is almost finished. This is not the best time to have your first encounter with a probing admissions question.

The most selective colleges

Are you applying to the most selective colleges? If so, you’ll probably be asked to write supplemental essays for most of the schools on your list. These colleges all have their own questions they’ve labored over… and they are very interested to hear your response.

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How to write well: three indispensable steps

zadie-smith-at-work ospite-a-santa-maddalena-89264_0x440-1What does it take to become a good writer? Many think it’s all a matter of talent. Some say inspiration is the primary thing. Others believe that, as long as you know the rules of grammar and punctuation, you’ll do fine.

The truth is that becoming a good writer is both simpler and harder than any of that. The ability to write well is not encoded on a gene you’re born with. Nor is it something you can learn in a flash or get from one book. Instead, it takes a lot of time and work.

Becoming a writer is much like becoming a musician. Practice is the key. You have to invest many hours, over a long period of time. That’s the only way to develop facility and technique. If you don’t have those things, inspiration won’t be much help.

Nobody expects a beginner to pick up a violin for the first time and be able play a Bach partita. With music, we all know it doesn’t work that way. But somehow, when it comes to writing, people tend to think that anyone can do it. You just need to follow a set of rules—rules that the mythical English teacher was supposed to have handed out on a sheet to everyone’s 7th grade class.

In fact, there is nothing as easy as a sheet of rules to tell you how to do it. Instead, there’s just a lot of work. In psychological terms, writing often requires blood, sweat and tears.

Why should writing be so hard? After all, everyone can talk. And writing is pretty much like talking… right? Actually, it’s not. Writing is to talking what violin playing is to humming. There’s a connection, but it’s slight.

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