collegeprocess

6 Signs That You’re Following Your Dreams

Upon reaching a pivotal point in your life, whether it is an ending or a beginning, it is inevitable to start grappling with the big questions that will steer the course of your life. Some of these questions may include: Where am I now? Where am I going? What do I want to do with my life? How will I achieve it? These kinds of questions require no small amount of introspection, but, once decided, can ultimately spell the difference between a life that is filled with routines and half-hearted passions and a life that is filled with adventure, promise and satisfaction.

Sounds pretty heavy, doesn’t it? Where do you even begin sorting through your childhood dreams and fitting them into the enigma of tomorrow, filled with research papers and grades and whatever else reality decides to dump on your to-do list? The days of playing pretend and dress-up where all you needed were a fake stethoscope and a white dress to make you a certified doctor are over. Well, I found the answer to this as I was leafing through the brochures inside the guidance office. 

Upon reaching a pivotal point in your life, whether it is an ending or a beginning, it is inevitable to start grappling with the big questions that will steer the course of your life. Some of these questions may include: Where am I now? Where am I going? What do I want to do with my life? How will I achieve it? These kinds of questions require no small amount of introspection, but, once decided, can ultimately spell the difference between a life that is filled with routines and half-hearted passions and a life that is filled with adventure, promise and satisfaction.

Sounds pretty heavy, doesn’t it? Where do you even begin sorting through your childhood dreams and fitting them into the enigma of tomorrow, filled with research papers and grades and whatever else reality decides to dump on your to-do list? The days of playing pretend and dress-up where all you needed were a fake stethoscope and a white dress to make you a certified doctor are over. Well, I found the answer to this as I was leafing through the brochures inside the guidance office.

College.

The next rite of passage on the bucket list of my life.  Now, before junior year, I had assumed I would be going to one of the big four—namely UP, Ateneo, La Salle or UST—as my sister did before me and practically everyone else I knew. However, as fate would have it, an idea began to slowly plant itself in my head, being nourished by the cold, dry, foreign air I first breathed in England while on a summer program. Why not try going to college abroad?

That was the dream. Now all that was left was for me to do was to follow it. Because the whole process was one very long, exhilarating ride, I’ve decided to illustrate a step-by-step guide on how exactly I got from Point A to Point B (and everything in between), slowly but surely reaching my goals one step at a time. 

  1. Researching is (arguably) fun for you

    The bane of my existence, how do you confound me so? I know many people would nod/shout/tweet (if that’s your thing) in solidarity with me as I say that research is hard. High school did not warm me to the beauty that is Google (though Wiki Answers continues to be one of my most visited pages) but college searching definitely did. Who knew you needed to know so much statistics like SAT range and Acceptance rate? The local schools definitely didn’t need it. However, since I didn’t have the home field advantage, I had no choice but to do the work and gather the information I would need. It turned out to be a lot of fun, cruising through the different schools that gave financial aid to international students like a shopping catalogue and having eight different tabs with eight different schools, all on their admissions page, comparing rates and requirements and advantages/disadvantages. This was crucial, as my school didn’t necessarily prioritize students applying abroad. The first time I heard of the SAT was through the College Board website, which I had Googled after seeing it mentioned in College Confidential (a forum that helps incoming college students learn more about their prospective schools).


  2. You are networking (and/or making friends) that share the same goal

    It was through my research that I stumbled across the College Admission Mentors for Peers in the Philippines, a student-run organization that helps Filipino students with their application process. CAMP has done a lot of wonders in helping me fill the gaps in my understanding of college abroad, mostly because they themselves are Filipino students who are now studying in other countries. Their advice and patience have been endless, and through them I was able to meet people who also share/have shared the same dreams that I do. Personally, I think it’s vital to reaffirm your dreams by talking to people who have already achieved it, listening to their feelings and new set of problems/challenges they must face. It helps you understand that there is a difference between dreams and reality, and merging them together can give you all the happiness in the world or it can slap you in the face with crushing disappointment (or both, there’s always that option). Either way, hearing it first-hand from them has strengthened my resolve and simultaneously sobered me from my unrealistic fantasies of what living my dream would be like.
    Another benefit is making friends. During my junior year, I became close to two classmates who also wanted to apply abroad because we could share our dreams and experiences. We understand each other in a way others don’t, and it helped me feel less alone about my struggles, especially since most of my classmates don’t even know what the SAT is. Forming a support system is not only very cathartic but can also gain you friends that can last for a long time, as you all look towards the same future with unbridled hope and fear. It’s nice to have a hand to hold (or a phone to call if you’re not into the touchy-feely stuff) to help you through your weak moments and to share your successes.


  3. You are making new memories

    Well, technically, you make new memories all the time. But it’s different in a way, because these aren’t the same as when you go out with your friends or go to prom, like the memories everyone else will make. These are your memories of the things you did in order to fulfill your dreams. One memory that comes to mind is the day I took my SAT. A friend of mine whom I had grown distant to because of her transferring of schools asked if she could share a ride with me, as the distance to the testing center was pretty far. With the long car ride ahead of us, we were able to reconnect and catch up on what’s been going on with our lives. I was also reunited with a few more friends once we got to the testing site, and met new ones along the way. The whole experience was terrifying and amazing, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    Another memory was when I went to Makati to visit the EducationUSA center there. They are a good source for information on college abroad, and I got to hear speakers who’re from Ohio, New York, etc. I don’t normally go to far places without my parents watching my back, so it was pretty exciting to do something that was only for me. The same goes with the CAMP talk I got to attend in UP, where they gave comprehensive talks on the different aspects of the Common Application, and I got to meet a lot of people from different schools. It was inspiring to hear their stories and see their personalities, because in a way it was already broadening the small world I used to live in and extending to make space for new people and new experiences, which was exactly what I wanted.


  4. You are confused about 70% of the time (and then you’re not)

    The pros and cons list is officially my new best friend. I make them all the time. To some this may be a sign of second-guessing my dreams, and you’d be right. Is this really what I want? To be separated from my family about three fourths of the year? To barely see my old friends from high school and increase the chances of losing touch with them? Really? I think about these questions all the time. But instead of losing sight of my dreams, it strengthened my resolve. I guess you can compare it to a test of faith. How do you know how strong your faith is if you don’t question it? Besides, I’d rather think about it now than ignore my fears only to realize later on that this wasn’t what I wanted after all. In a way it’s like making your dream foolproof against any attacks, thickening the walls that encase it so that if anyone does try to attack, your dream would be protected in a safe, sure part inside of you that can only come from having already overcoming the fears and uncertainties to know that no matter what, even if you do end up failing or if it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, there will be no regrets.


  5. You learn about sacrificing—for yourself

    Many of us are familiar with sacrifice—but usually in the context of other people. While this is the most visible kind of sacrifice, there are also the ones that you make for yourself. In Economics, the term for it would be opportunity cost, or the cost of doing something and thus foregoing all other options. This happens all the time, every time we make a decision. By doing something, anything, we keep ourselves from doing something else, and so we don’t get to enjoy the benefits of any of the other options.
    Going abroad isn’t for everyone. If you get homesick too easily, or if your family can’t handle it, then it might be best not to go. If you think you’re not ready to handle it, or you know you don’t cope well in a new environment with new people, then maybe you shouldn’t go. Letting go of a dream because of the limitations set by reality can be painful, but it’s always important to decide whether or not what you’re gaining will be worth the price of what you’re letting go.
    Similarly, people who decide to go abroad will also experience letting go. I understand that I won’t see my family very often, and I won’t have time for my friends because of the time difference. I’ll miss family gatherings and dinners, “barkada” blowouts and the simple sense of belonging, hearing the familiar slang of the Filipinos enveloping me like a security blanket. I’ll have to live with these, the could-have beens, as everyone before me has done and everyone after me will do. I also learned about toeing the line of selfishness and selflessness, about the things I have to do for myself and the price that not only I will have to pay but everyone else around me, my family and my friends. Which one do I prioritize? How do I know the right thing for me to do? These are questions I still can’t answer and probably won’t be able to until I’ve sealed the deal, and in the end I can only trust myself to do what I think is best, and hope that it’ll be enough to carry me through.


  6. Even if your life hasn’t really changed yet, you have  

    By actively taking control of your life, you start to change. I know I did. I became more driven, more purposeful, more hopeful about what life has to offer me and what I can offer it. I became more satisfied as I saw visible results that I worked hard to get. I became more animated as I spoke about my dreams and passions, what I dreamed of when I closed my eyes and became less concerned about what other people would think of me. I learned how to start conversations in person and on Facebook, how to be polite and concise while still being casual, adding a smiley here and there for effect. I learned to wonder, to dream, to think, to question, to doubt, to accept. Through all this, I got to know someone I didn’t really pay much attention to before but learned to understand and love all the same—me. 

Kelly dela Cruz graduated from Saint Pedro Poveda College in 2014.

What Can I Do With A Major In...?

(This post has been recovered from the vaults of 2012.)

For those of you who are thinking ahead…

One of the major advantages of acquiring a liberal arts education is the variety of career options that you can have after you graduate. Instead of being confined to a single career field, you’ll find yourself feeling more competent to apply the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired in your liberal arts education to multiple careers.

The website What Can I Do With This Major? provides insight on the variety of career fields that different colleges majors can lead to. You’ll find that being and English major doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to end up working for a publishing company, or that a major in Philosophy would only exclusively lead to either law school or Theology. This site does an amazing job of reassuring you that your major will not define the rest of your life.

If you’re having doubts about applying to a liberal arts college, or if you think that your intended major won’t be able to yield a successful career, you might want to check this website out and think again. Also make sure to take note that for U.S. liberal arts colleges, you usually don’t have to declare your major until the second semester of your sophomore year, giving you ample time to not only explore different fields of study but also decide which field you want to concentrate on for the rest of your college career.

Kaye Kagaoan graduated from International School Manila in 2011. She now studies Creative Writing at Hamilton College as a member of the class of 2015.

Rejecting Rejection

I got my first Oxford English Dictionary (for children) when I was 6 years old, and since then I knew that The University of Oxford was where I wanted to study. This motivation was irrational. I based it upon the university’s elite reputation and a fantasy of learning amidst dreamy spires and beautiful stone buildings. At the time I didn’t even know what I wanted to study, only that I wanted to study at Oxford.

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As I grew older I started honing my interests in specific subjects. At the age of 13 I wanted to study English Literature; Oxford’s list of alumni including J. R. R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis made me swoon. At 16 I realized my true passion lies in Economics; having Adam Smith – the father of Economics – as another alumni made my love for Oxford even greater. It seemed that whatever I wanted to do, I found a way to make Oxford the place I wanted to do it.

In Junior Year when my college counselor at the British School of Manila sat me down and asked me what I wanted to study and where, I had no hesitation in my response. The more research I did surrounding my application, the more I fell in love with the university, the city, the course – everything. I even had a picture of it as my desktop wallpaper and on my dream board in my bedroom. I was obsessed.

In early October 2012 I finally submitted my application to my dream school.  In late November I received an e-mail inviting me for an interview – it was one of the happiest days of my life. Within three days I booked flights, got on the plane, and arrived at the most quaint and magical city I’ve ever had the opportunity to visit. The next few days were filled with meeting other applicants and attending two 20-minute interviews. Before I knew it I was back in Manila and waiting for the decision e-mail.

Something funny about universities is that they never say the actual word – “rejected”. Instead, they sugar coat it, saying that they are “it has not been possible to offer you a place” and they are “sorry to have to inform you”, or words to that extent. However we all know at the end of the day no matter how nicely they manage to phrase their e-mail, it’s still a rejection. With acceptance rates at top universities worldwide ranging from 5-15%, this means every year thousands of students must feel the exact same way that I felt when I opened my inbox to find that I would not be attending The University of Oxford in the fall. It hurt. I cried.  It felt like I had been dumped by the love of my life.  For the next few weeks I couldn’t even hear the word “Oxford” without tearing up. My family, teachers, and friends consoled my with phrases like “they’re crazy”, “you’re too good for them anyways” and “everything happens for a reason”, all of which I brushed aside like messages in cheesy Hallmark cards.

Then came my acceptance offer from University College London (UCL), which is ranked #4 in the world by the QS World University Rankings 2013 and my mother’s alma mater. Although in my mind it was still not the same as Oxford, it was my second-choice university and I knew I had to work hard to meet the conditions of the offer (39 points in the International Baccalaureate [IB] with 19 points at Higher Levels and a 7 in HL Mathematics). I refocused my time away from sulking about Oxford and into my classes and exams. The day IB results were released and my place at UCL was confirmed then became THE happiest day of my life thus far.

As I write this I’ve been at UCL for 6 months and there are so many things I have learned. Beyond just learning about Economics though, I have learned a lot about why I would have hated studying in Oxford. First it’s the one-on-one tutorial system that Oxford and Cambridge pride themselves on. At UCL we are in tutorial classes of 15 students – similar to the class size at my high school – and I already cringe at being picked on; I can’t imagine how I would be able to learn and thrive in a tutorial with only the professor and myself in the room. Then, I’ve realized I hate writing essays and prefer the maths in Economics. Oxford’s course is more essay-heavy. Finally, growing up in Manila I am a city girl at heart. I love how London is so huge (it even has Chatime and sells Lucky Mie!) and there’s so much for everyone to do. Oxfords quaint charm and small size might be appealing to some, but I know now that I would have been bored. There’s a whole host of other reasons why I realized that UCL is a better fit for me than Oxford, but I won’t bore you and that’s not what I came here to say. What I’ve realized in the past year is that everyone who told me that “everything happens for a reason” was right.

University decisions may seem harsh and unkind, but admissions officers are experienced and know what kind of student would succeed at their university. As much as students have criteria for picking universities (e.g. location, student-staff ratio, class size), the universities have criteria too. Therefore, a rejection doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, it could just mean that the place isn’t right for you. This could be applied beyond college admissions and with future jobs, friends, and relationships. You could dream all you want about what you want, but if they don’t want you back then it might be for good reason. Furthermore, think about WHY you want what you want. I was clouded in my judgment by the dream of studying at Oxford that was implanted in me for most of my life, without having the right motivations for wanting to study there.

My advice when applying to schools is to ignore prestige and reputation, ignore propaganda bribing you towards certain colleges, and ignore what your friends are doing. Rather, take a step back and think about what YOU want, what YOU like, and what YOU need in a college experience. Finally, even if you do get rejected, it’s not the end of the world. It’s an opportunity to be exposed to something that could be even better. Don’t waste time and energy thinking about what could have been. I urge you all to reject rejection – I did, and it feels great. 

Victoria Kongoasa graduated from British School Manila in 2013. She now studies Economics at University College London as a member of the class of 2016.

The Ups and Downs of Applying Early

The Early Application (EA)/Early Decision (ED) deadline is fast approaching! For most schools, November 1st is that big day. Early decisions come out in mid-December. For successful applicants, acceptance paves the way through senior year all the way to college. For not-as-successful early round applicants, an early rejection or deferral suggests to students that there may be some elements of the application that need improvement. The “Early Round” offers an interesting and complex dimension to the arena of college applications. In this post we hope to answer some fundamental questions: how does when decide whether or not, and where to apply early?

Tl;dr

  1. The Early Round allows students to apply by November, and get results by mid-December.
  2. In general, Early Action means non-binding, and Early Decision means binding.
  3. Only students who are ready with their application materials by November can and should apply early. Know and love the school you are applying early to.
  4. Although for many schools acceptance rates in the early round are higher, the pool of competitors is often stronger on average.
  5. ED to a college you see yourself at; if accepted, you sign a contract to attend (finances permitting).
  6. You may EA to a top priority school, or EA to a school you would be satisfied with; acceptance is not binding.
  7. Students who apply early to SCEA schools sign a contract forbidding them from applying early to any other school
  8. Conduct a mental cost-benefit analysis when deciding whether or not to apply early, and where to apply early if you choose to do so.

EA vs ED

First: let’s clear up some differences. EA schools like Stanford and Yale will accept early applications from a self-selecting group of students, and accept, reject, or defer applicants. A rejection is a rejection: the student cannot apply to the school again. A deferral means the student will be reconsidered in the regular round (i.e. when everyone else applies). A student who is accepted early to an EA school wins a slot in the freshman class, but has the right to apply to as many other schools through regular decision as he or she wants. Schools like these often operate under “SCEA”—Single Choice Early Action. This means that the applicant signs a contract allowing him or her to only apply to that school for the early round. Getting accepted EA is a luxury: the successful applicant will have the school “in the bag,” turning Harvard or Stanford or Yale into a backup. Applying in the regular round will add schools to the student’s list of acceptances without nullifying the early acceptance (i.e. best possible winter break).

Early Decision schools like Johns Hopkins have a slightly different policy: students who are accepted early are bound by contract to attend that school. If accepted to Hopkins or Cornell early, for example, and student forfeits the chance to apply anywhere else, and must attend that school. The school guarantees a slot for the student, and the student guarantees that he or she will attend.

So how does the distinction between EA and ED affect the acceptance rates in the early round?

In general, EA rates stay about the same, if only slightly higher. Many of the toughest schools offer SCEA, among them Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. These schools allow the best of the best to apply early and secure a spot, but do not bind them to taking the offer. It’s as if the school is confident that it is one of the applicant’s top choices. On the other hand, many ED schools, such as Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania, have much higher Early Round acceptance rates. They know that the students they accept early will commit (as a result of the binding contract), thus increasing their yield (number of students attending divided by number of students offered admission). So if your top choice school is an ED school and you think you are ready, take advantage of the higher percentage of students who are accepted in the early round. Again, keep in mind that many early applicants are very, very strong students.

So why apply EA if the acceptance rates are not that significantly affected? First of all, receiving a decision by December could, potentially, help the successful applicant breathe a little easier: if accepted, you will likely apply to fewer schools in the regular round. Also, applying early can be interpreted as you the applicant telling the school that it is your top choice. Again, schools want to increase yield, so showing your preference by applying early could be seen as a plus. Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the ups and downs of EA. When deciding, gauge your level of preparedness: are you ready to show the school of your dreams that you’ve got what it takes?

Applying early is a harder pool

Simply put, students who are ready to apply by November tend to be more competitive for several reasons. First: by having their stuff together by November, they indicate that they are organized and on top of things; this trait often manifests itself in grades, extra-curricular activities, etc. Second, students who apply to school X early often have school X as their top choice. Thus their applications are tailor-made for that particular school, and they see themselves thriving in that school.

From a financial standpoint…

Applying early gives the student the chance to bypass the expensive application process. If accepted in the early round, a student who chooses to not apply anywhere else will save SAT costs, costs of sending SATs, application costs, and the time required to tweak an application to pseudo-perfection. In other words, students who are accepted early can potentially save thousands of dollars.

However, ED is sometimes criticized for being unfair towards certain applicant groups, as detailed in this section from “The benefits and drawbacks of applying early.“

ED plans have come under fire as unfair to students from families with low incomes, since they do not have the opportunity to compare financial aid offers. This may give an unfair advantage to applicants from families who have more financial resources.

The Early Decision: A Mentor's Experience

Ever since I was a little girl, I was hell-bent on studying at the University of Pennsylvania. When I was two years old, my parents took up their MBA at the Wharton School so I pretty much got to live on campus. It’s no surprise, then, that I have come to associate Penn with my childhood. I somehow came to the conclusion that my identity was rooted in the state of Pennsylvania. If I got into its top school, Penn, I would prove my worth not just to myself, but also to my family and the world. To me, Penn was my biggest accomplishment after four years of slaving it out in high school. Penn was the one thing that kept me going through all those long hours studying and tedious times spent at extracurriculars. It comes as no surprise, then, that in my senior year, I applied for Early Decision Admission.

On December 13, 2011, a few minutes past 4AM, I opened my computer and found out that I was accepted into Penn. After spending three minutes jumping, shrieking, and yelling around in my room, reality sank in. As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “In this world, there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” To me, that meant finally realizing just what exactly it meant to study abroad. I had kept my blinders on for too long. I was too fixated on getting in that I forgot to think about what would happen once I actually did. Soon enough, I realized that I was more scared and more insecure than I was before getting that acceptance letter.

The first thought that went through my head was: Am I good enough to be at Penn? I did not know, as I never will, if I got into Penn because I was a double legacy or because I was from a local school in the Philippines (ergo affirmative action). Having played the statistics so they would be in my favor, I wasn’t sure whether or not I really deserved to get in. I began to doubt myself more.  My SAT score was certainly not as high as everyone else’s, my school certainly did not offer the most competitive curriculum, and I didn’t think I did much with my life. I was scared that I’d be mediocre and incompetent next to everyone else on Locust Walk.

More than that, having applied only to one school, particularly the one where I had the highest statistical chance of getting in based on my profile, made me wonder what would have happened if I applied to other schools. Did I really belong at Penn? I never stopped to consider whether or not I wanted to go to a large school in an urban setting with an active social life. I never stopped and thought about where my needs would be best met. I had an irrational notion that thinking about what happened once I got in was a jinx. I also was so scared to make myself hope, and later on feel so much pain if I didn’t get in. I did not know what to do, having never prepared myself. Making my decision for the wrong reasons now had its consequences. 

However, in the Fall of 2012, I finally got on a plane to Pennsylvania. When I finally took my first steps after so long on Locust Walk, I realized that I really did want Penn.  Looking back at my freshman year, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything else in the world. The people I’ve met, the classes I’ve taken, and the things I’ve gotten to do made everyday I was at Penn amazing. But even as I sit back and take in the Penn experience, I live every day never really sure about just how good I really am.

For any of you applying ED, here’s some advice I wish someone told me two years ago: 

  1. Think your decision through. Even if you’ve found your dream school, make sure you’ve truly explored your options. You only get to go to college once so make sure you pick the school that you really think is perfect for you.  
  2. Be yourself. I know everywhere you look someone will tell you this but it’s something that cannot be emphasized enough. When you finally matriculate, you have to make sure that you’ll be with people just like you. 
  3. Don’t fully depend on statistics. Even if it’s easier to get into a particular high-ranking school through ED, don’t make that your only reason for applying. You might end up regretting your decision later on. 
  4. If you don’t get in, it’s not the end of the world. There is another school out there that’s perfect for you, you just don’t know it yet!

Tricia Peralta is a graduate of PAREF Woodrose School and currently attends the University of Pennsylvania as part of the class of 2016.

Writing Your College Essay

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When Chris asked me to write about how to write a great college essay, I was a bit hesitant on how much advice I could actually offer. The thing is, my college essay worked for me because it was about me. Actually, it was about my grandfather. However, the important thing was that my essay portrayed the kind of person I was 2 years ago, when I was applying for colleges. Though the subject of my essay was my grandfather, the essay expressed who I was; my goals, my personality, my priorities, and how my experiences with my grandfather made me that person. At least, I think it did that well, and I guess at least one admission officer thought so. 

Anyways, I’m ranting. My point is that knowing what I wrote my essay on probably won’t help you write your own. I’ve seen essays about people, essays about eggs, about hobbies, and about stapling. Each of these was written in completely different styles, with different tones, and by extremely different people.  Why are these essays all good though? They all express the author’s personality extremely well. That is the important thing about college essays. Out of everything that goes into a college application, the essay is the one thing that is completely yours, from the idea to the writing. That’s why the essay should completely highlight who you are. 

This means that when you start writing your essay, I suggest you take some time to reflect upon who you are. It’s not easy to do, especially if you’ve only had eighteen years of life and even fewer experiences to draw on. Moreover, being honest with yourself about your personality, your strengths, and your weaknesses is hard. However, self-reflection is something that I believe is important to do each year, and it’s something many of my mentors have mentioned they do. Of course, ask other people for help in this process, but ultimately, spend some time on self-reflection. After all, only after you understand who you are can you write a great essay about you.

I realize that what I’ve written so far is relatively abstract and doesn’t have much concrete help. So, to make this article actually helpful, I’m including some actual tips.

  • You might get lucky and be struck with inspiration for a topic. I wasn’t, and I doubt that many people did. I suggest jotting down any topics that may come to you and writing a paragraph or two on each just to see how it goes. If something isn’t turning out well, eliminate it. Develop ideas that have potential, and narrow down as you go. 
  • Work on tone. This is pretty hard to do well, but a good essay should “sound” like you. Basically, it’s not just the content of your essay that’s important – it’s also how they are expressed. If you’re generally happy, your essay should “sound” happy just from reading it. If you’re serious, your essay should reflect that. Inject personality into your essay, and it’ll be that much better.
  • Edit, edit, and edit. This essay has the potential to shape the next four years of your life. No pressure, but make sure you do your essay due diligence. Check for grammatical errors, word usage, flow, tone, etc. Also, get others to read your essay. Fresh eyes and opinions are invaluable. Take their advice, and try to understand it, don’t just make changes blindly. 
  • Start early. You don’t have to finish it months before its due, but start thinking about it, jot ideas down, start developing drafts. The earlier you start, the less you’ll need to rush, and the better you can make it. 
  • Relax! While I completely understand the importance of this essay and the weight put on it, don’t overstress about it. While I personally think pressure is good for performance, too much of it is harmful. If you need to, relax; go enjoy something calming, mindless, and fun. It’ll refresh your body and your mind, making your final essay better. Stress will come once you’re college, don’t do it to yourself now. 

I hope my advice has been of some help to you all, and I wish you the best of luck with your applications!

Yujie Wu is a member of Yale University’s class of 2015.

On Rejection and Moving Forward

Back in my obsessive CollegeConfidential days, I read an article stating that we need to treat admissions officers as guides rather than gatekeepers. Like most good thoughts, this one is more easily understood than vehemently believed, and only comes to life in hindsight.

My application process started off with flat-out rejection from Princeton University. After early decision results came out, I stopped wearing orange, developed a dislike for tigers, royalty, and New Jersey. I couldn’t help feeling that validation for everything I had accomplished in my short life was hinged upon an acceptance, or at least a deferral. I thought of myself as a complete disappointment to everyone who had invested time, effort, and faith in me. I kid you not when I say that Beck’s ‘Loser’ was on repeat on my iPod for a month: “Soy un perdedor/ I’m a loser baby/ So why don’t you kill me?/ (Double-barrel buckshot).”

In the midst of Beck’s kind words of encouragement, I soon started wondering exactly why I felt like such a “loser,” and tried to make sense of my rejection. I had rushed through my application, writing both my common app and supplement two weeks before the deadline. I had never pictured myself at Princeton, and it wasn’t my first choice of school because the culture and programs offered did not match up to what I intended to do for the next four years. I had applied for exactly the wrong reasons: vanity and security. With this in mind, I realized that with my lackluster application, I definitely did not deserve to get into one of the best schools in the world.



I can’t say I’m overjoyed that I was rejected from Princeton, but I have realized how necessary this rejection was. First of all, it fostered desperation, and I caught a glimpse of how hard I would have to work to get into a great school. More importantly, it threw all of my motives into perspective, and I was forced to consider why I was applying to certain schools, and how much I could grow at each one. Ultimately, being forced to think about all of this made my regular decision application much stronger, and my vision of and for myself much clearer. When the acceptances came in May, all of the thought and soul-searching I invested into my application allowed me to pick the school where I knew I would thrive.

Through rejection, I have come to see that in a way, a college is applying to you as much as you are applying to them. The admissions officers have read enough applications and created enough successful graduating classes to know who would fit into their school. This means that an application done right, one that portrays a true sense of yourself, requires both rejection and acceptance. This is not a pat on the back as much as it an encouragement to keep searching, yearning, and working for your nirvana.

Gabby Dee attends Brown University as a member of the class of 2016.

Why Attend a Design School?

photo from flickr, bluekdesign

Many misconceptions exist regarding design schools that often discourage applicants, especially in traditional countries such as the Philippines.  I’m writing this article with hopes of debunking some of these misconceptions, and mostly to inspire. Design schools can offer a vast amount of unique skill sets and at the same time provide a world-class education. I myself am a design student currently studying in Rhode Island School of Design and I can confidently say that I’m receiving a premium education, highly suited for the world we live in today.

For our generation, the importance of design cannot be clearer. Some say we are at the cusp of the golden age of design. If you look at the largest companies, such as Apple, Path, Pinterest, Square, and Airbnb, design is at the core of their business. Yet, why are there so few Filipino students applying to design schools? 

A misconception regarding design schools is that it is equal to a trade or fine art school. I do not want to discourage application to the latter but there is a significant difference between them. Design schools apply the principles of fine arts to the requirements of trade and manufacture. You learn the base principles of fine arts and learn how to apply them to the working world. It is true that you gain a clear expertise in specific fields but the education you receive from design schools go far beyond pure practical training. You also gain a well-rounded education that is flexible and comprehensive. 

Is there money and jobs after design school? As hard as it is to believe, this question exists. Being a Chinese-Filipino, it was a tough decision for me to apply to a design school because I was made to believe there would be no job opportunities after. This has some merit if you compare job opportunities after a diploma from ivy leagues. However, research has shown us that designers have a much higher job satisfaction than most. There is nothing better than enjoying your job, which inherently leads to success. 

Design school personally taught me a vast amount of skills that I was able to transfer to the work force, the most important of which was being able to properly create a style and a brand. I also learned how to problem solve and think conceptually, which enables me to create systems and ideas. From those invaluable lessons, I was able to open a successful restaurant, a business, a gallery, and my photographs have received international accolades. Like all those large companies I mentioned earlier, I believe that design is the core. Design and business are not two separate things but are directly correlated. 

Liberal art schools may also teach you how to be problem solvers and conceptual thinkers but design schools use that as a base and go further. Design schools teach you how to make and create, which is timelessly and universally important.  They teach you how to produce products instead of just gathering resources and distributing them accordingly. Being able to physically create things is one of the most important skills I have taken from design school. 

Another misconception about design is that everything can be self-taught. I can attest to this because my skills in photography and graphic design were gained through the internet, youtube and books. We cannot underestimate self-education but just how far can this type of education take you? I was never able to learn the basic principles of design. It is not something you can read or watch, it needs to be experienced. 

To add to the quality of the education you are receiving, design schools immerse you with students who have the same passion as you do. The discussions you participate while in college are irreplaceable. You learn from your peers as much as you learn from your teachers.

I can easily go on and on but I think I was able to get my message across. If you have the talent or you believe in design then don’t be afraid to apply to design schools. Take the leap of faith. Design schools are unique, that offer an education and skill sets that are unattainable in others.  

Nicholai Go graduated from International School Manila in 2011. He now attends Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) as a member of the class of 2015.

Overshooting: don't do it!

Applying to colleges was one of the most thrilling and exciting periods of my high school career. It was also one of the most stressful: I had to research dozens of schools and determine which ones I would most like to attend for the next four years. This research period was essential, especially if I wanted to be efficient about where I was going to apply and hopefully get in. The harsh reality about applying to colleges, especially ones abroad, is that most students cannot simply pick and choose which school they wish to attend. A lot of the more reputable institutions tend to be very selective – if not extremely selective – about their admissions. “Ivy League” schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are known for their single-digit admissions rates. Even small liberal arts colleges like Amherst and Williams are comparably selective due to their small class sizes. Unless you have a 4.0 GPA, a stellar extracurricular record, and top standardized test scores such that you actually could pick and choose among Ivy Leagues, I would like to remind incoming applicants to avoid “overshooting” for schools.

The concept of “overshooting” isn’t complicated. As students, we are individually aware of our own grades and test scores; thanks to the Internet and numerous print resources, we can also easily look up the academic averages for students who are admitted to various colleges and universities, especially those in the United States. Overshooting happens when an individual applies to schools that have test score averages that are beyond their own. In addition, it can also happen when someone applies to more colleges than they are capable of, thus risking mediocre supplementary application materials that can harm one’s chances of admission. I was lucky to be admitted to my top school of choice, Hamilton College, but this was also an institution that fit my individual academic achievements. I am, by no means, discouraging anyone from applying to his or her dream school; there’s no harm in applying to a “reach.” However, applying to colleges is, realistically speaking, a tedious and costly process. 

As such, here are some of my personal tips to avoid “overshooting” and approaching the college application process efficiently:

  • Expand your college search. The U.S. has thousands of colleges and universities that are not limited to Ivy League and U.C. schools. Britain has more than Cambridge and Oxford. Read up on as many different schools as you can. Your priorities for a “dream school” just might change in the process.
  • Choose your colleges based on how well they fit YOU, not just based on their name. Trust me on this one. I’d never heard of Hamilton College before I started looking up colleges, but I’m really glad that I chose this school because it was the perfect fit for my personality and academic needs. Higher education is going to take up four years of your life, give or take, and you’ll want to spend them somewhere that you will love.
  • Don’t apply to more than ten schools. This is the part where researching schools is important. There are thousands of possible schools to apply to, and their websites just make each institution seem like the perfect place. Look beyond their websites and read college reviews and forum posts to find which schools are a perfect fit, and then keep trimming your list until you get to ten schools or less.
  • “Reaches,” “Targets,” and “Safeties." You can divide your list of ten schools into "reach,” “target,” and “safety” schools. Reach schools are the most selective schools with admissions rates that fall under 20 percent. You should apply to at least one of these, but no more than three. Target schools should realistically take up most of your list. These are schools wherein you academically fit in terms of your GPA and standardized test scores. I would also recommend having one to three safety schools wherein you feel like you would be a “shoo-in” for admission. If you’re applying for financial aid as an international student, you can obviously play around with these proportions as you see fit.
  • Read the supplements. On a more practical note, check out the supplemental requirements of each college on your list when the Common Application comes online. Be realistic about the amount of time that your college applications will take up and make sure that you have enough time to finish each application to the best of your ability. With this in mind, applying to four schools that have three supplemental essays each might not be the best idea.

The whole college application process is just that: a process, the aim of which is to gain admission to an institution where you will learn and thrive for the next few years of your life. If you need help choosing colleges, narrowing down your list, or getting a reality check, shoot me an email. I won’t bite. 

Good luck!

Kaye Kagaoan graduated from International School Manila in 2011. She now attends Hamilton College in Clinton, NY as a Creative Writing concentrator and member of the class of 2015.

Studying for the SAT (without a tutor)

Hey guys!

In this entry, I wanted to take the time to address the SAT, especially as many of you who took it in June will be receiving your results soon, and planning ahead for your next round of testing. The SAT is by no means the most important part of your application, but I think what’s important to keep in mind is that it is a piece that you control. You can make a conscious choice to get better at it, and this is where we want to step in and help.  

First, as a disclaimer, I am by no means an expert on the SAT in the same way that a real tutor is. I’ll just be talking from my own experience, and from the little things I’ve learned along the way!

The most common thing you’ll hear people tell you about the SAT is that it’s about practice. Practice, practice, practice. It’s easy to see how that helps boost your scores; a large part of what the SAT tests is how well you know the SAT itself.  Without a tutor, however, the actual learning from practice is a bit more difficult. To make the most of your practice, you have to practice smart.

Practicing smart means doing more than looking at questions. I found that, especially for the math and reading sections, the questions all began to look like they covered the same topics. They started to look more familiar, more comfortable, and altogether easier. It’s really easy to skim over sections and say, “I’ll only do this question if I don’t recognize it.” I did exactly that more than few times. What I realized later was that I was missing out on a crucial experience—the moment when I would get a question wrong and have no idea why, because my answer had to be the right one. 

It’s in this moment where you have to turn to everything you can find in order to explain this discrepancy between your confidence, and the right answer. This means more than just finding out why your answers were wrong, it means finding out what gave you the confidence in your other answers. While the first is easily found in a tutor, the second is actually something that might be easier to do on your own. Follow your thought processes, and look at what your preconceptions of the topic are, and what your first impression of the question was. Practicing smart is all about thinking deeper about how to learn best from each question you do. 

Also, don’t try to do it all alone. Studying for the SATs can get very dull, exasperating, or at the very least, monotonous. Having a group does wonders for your general disposition and your ability to keep on trucking through difficult problems. Just as importantly, your friends, mentors, and classmates provide a peer group to review and improve your essays. Without a tutor, it’s still relatively easy to find answers to multiple choice questions, but it can be much more difficult to figure out whether or not the essay you wrote was actually good. So find people who know what a good SAT essay looks like. Talk to everyone and anyone who might be able to help, and look for some exemplar essays online. 

It might sound like a lot, but compared to the costs and commitments of a tutor, I think they end up being about even. In the end, take all these pieces of advice with a grain of salt. These are what I wish I would have known, but I also realize that every one of us has different study habits and learning preferences. Find what works best for you—these are just guidelines and recommendations to get you started. No matter how you choose to go about preparing, stay driven and stay focused!

And of course, good luck! 

Matt Borja graduated from International School Manila in 2012. He now attends the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania as a member of the class of 2016.