Signs for a Change

This summer, we asked our CAMP summer interns to share their experiences on our blog. Here’s Irah Zapanta’s first post:

While struggling to keep my balance in the train, one Tuesday morning, thoughts about work ran through my head like on a marathon without an end—without resolution. I wondered what had in store for me that day. Will I look for partnership opportunities? Will I write more articles? Will I research more universities? These questions were not answered, but hopefully, I will have been enlightened by the time I reach the office.

Stepping out of the train entailed a well-planned and violent process. I strategically positioned myself at the middle of two doors. Eventually arriving at Ayala, I realized that no amount of politeness can get me out. I had no choice but to elbow my way towards the platform. The sad reality that most Filipinos have to put up with inefficient railway systems really bothered me. I thought to myself, “I am going to change all this,” which further highlighted my responsibility to make the most of my education—the only solution I could think of.

I went down the stairs to a busy sidewalk. I tried hailing a cab, but to no avail, none came. I nervously checked the time. Minutes passed, and a kid of about ten years old helped me. He walked barefoot on the road and looked for a cab. I thanked him, but his sacrifice, he asserted, should be compensated with money. Seeing the grave poverty in his eyes, I gave him change like what everybody else did and will do.

Forgetting the kid was impossible.

“Along Paseo de Roxas. Corner Buendia Avenue,” I distractedly said to the driver. The driver asked me a lot of questions, and I just said, “Manong, I’ll lead you there po.”

Inside the car, I thought of the kid enduring the heat with nothing to fill his stomach. Then, I thought of all the kids like him who were out there begging for money.

This image of helplessness brought me back to my previously unanswered questions: Will I look for partnership opportunities, write more articles or research more universities? 

Indeed I will, but those were not the only tasks I needed to do. I was also assigned to empower people, to inspire change in society and to give credit and purpose to education.

Commuting to the office was worthwhile and fulfilling with the thought of helping kids study in school through scholarships and other academic opportunities. Soon, I thought, these kids, products of collaborative efforts, will stand and will lead the country to development and prosperity.

I finally arrived at my destination, and I excitedly got out of the taxi. With a sense of purpose, I eagerly went inside the building.

Irah Zapanta is a student at La Salle Greenhills.

The CAMP summer internship program is designed to provide high school students with professional work experience before attending university. Read more about the program here.

An Internship with a Senator

This summer, we asked our CAMP summer interns to share their experiences on our blog. Here’s Chiawen Chiang’s first post:

I’m not quite sure what drove me to work in the oh-so-very-prestigious-sounding office of Senator Bam Aquino. Perhaps it was that inkling of wanting to experience the world of politicians and law. Maybe I wanted to take on the world, or shed a little more hope to our poverty riddled country.  Whatever it was, the past two weeks of working in their office was one of the most amazing experiences I encountered. From interviewing micro entrepreneurs on the street to attending high-end meetings with professionals, I’m confident that this internship will be the most exciting part of my summer.


To be honest, I walked into the Senate of the Philippines expecting a cold business world—sleek black blazers and intimidating grey cubicles. What I got was a totally different result. On my first day, I was introduced to the friendship table: a round dining room style table in the middle of the office wherein meals are enjoyed and food is ever-present. On day one, I found mangusteen and durian pastillas, to which the senator used as a starting conversation with me, and on day two, siopao from Chow King and a mysterious snack that looked like a darker version of Stick-o. Other than that, an entire walk-in cabinet was dedicated to food: ovens, microwaves, a large refrigerator containing soda and chocolate, and the best of all, Ovaltine. Hands down, the food was amazing. But the people were even better. From the moment I became their intern, I was welcomed into a family—an all singing, constantly eating family. It was evident that these people were more than just coworkers. Just last week, there was an office meeting wherein everyone shared their “monthly high”, something that cheered them up or made them very happy in the past few weeks. On my second day, I cheered for team Senator Bam in the basketball championship game between the manongs of two offices. Needless to say, the office of Senator Bam Aquino was nothing close to what I originally expected.

Despite the amazing food and even more amazing people, none of these impressed me as much as the experiences I gathered from working as their intern. In my first week alone, I met the senator, discovered the subtle majesty of the senate library, encoded bills, took a taxi ride alone for the first time, attended a meeting with representatives about the Gonegsyo Bill, attended Design Thinking Sessions, met inspiring post-graduate students, interviewed sari-sari store owners, covered a wall with post-its, got lost in Manila, took a taxi alone for the second time, used internet that seemed even faster than Korea’s, met more inspiring revolutionary individuals, covered more walls with post-its, helped execute the Gonegosyo Bill, and all in all, see the world through a different lens.

Although my experiences in the first week were exciting, what truly amazed me the most out of all was the fact that every individual I met, no matter how different from each other, came together against the odds because of the simple truth they care about their nation. These individuals made effort like I did, travelling miles from different locations to meet at one spot to share ideas, conceptualize plans, and work together for a common goal. The workers of the senate, the volunteers in the Design Thinking Sessions, and even the people in the meeting I attended, all work for a cause greater than themselves. Despite the difficulties, it’s good to know that people believe that the responsibility of constructing a nation doesn’t lie on the shoulders of the few.

Chiawen Chiang is a student at PAREF-Woodrose School.

The CAMP summer internship program is designed to provide high school students with professional work experience before attending university. Read more about the program here.

Follow Bam Aquino on Twitter.

Jim Ayala: Not Your Ordinary CEO

This summer, we asked our CAMP summer interns to share their experiences on our blog. Here’s Matthew Yap’s first post:

My first week at HSSi was full of unexpected experiences and challenges; however, at the same time, it was also one of the most enriching chapters of my life. I was able to gain new perspectives and broaden my knowledge through the many interesting people that I’ve met and through the various projects that I’ve participated in. During my first day, I was filled with a great deal of apprehension, but now that I’ve learned a lot during the first week alone, I look forward to working with HSSi in the coming months.


On the first day of my internship, a few HSSi representatives and I went to an unelectrified, off the grid community in Antipolo to visit a local public school. We went there to check on HSSi’s ongoing project that provides local students, who do not have electricity at home, access to solar powered lamps.

One thing that came as surprising to me in this trip was the dedication that Mr. Ayala, the CEO of HSSi, showed this project. You would expect a person of great stature to let his subordinates handle projects like this since they require a huge amount of effort and commitment, but Mr. Ayala is no ordinary CEO. He took the initiative to drive us all the way to the school in Antipolo, which was around 2 hours away from Makati City. The path going there wasn’t even smooth since it was full of rugged rocks and steep roads. When we got to the school, Mr. Ayala held a mini-conference with the school’s students, parents and teachers regarding the solar lamps and its impact to their lives. Full of charisma, he was able to connect with the people and eagerly listened to their feedback, opinions, and recommendations about the solar lamps. During the meeting, he presented himself as an empathetic person who was aware and sensitive to the needs of the people in the community. He acted like a public servant with strong will and great determination to alleviate the problems of his suffering countrymen and went out of his way to accommodate those who do not have access to basic resources. At the end of the meeting, he made a promise to the people and vowed to do his best to improve their quality of life.

In this experience, I did not see my boss as a wealthy and powerful CEO but as a compassionate person who is committed to ending poverty and making a difference in the lives of his fellow citizens. It was through Mr. Ayala that I have learned the value of social entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility. I have always thought of businesses as greedy organizations that just want to make profit, but now, I’ve realized that there are some corporations who actually care about the welfare of the people and hope to make a positive impact to the community without asking for much in return.

Matthew Yap is a high school student at the Xavier School.

The CAMP summer internship program is designed to provide high school students with professional work experience before attending university. Read more about the program here.

Follow Hybrid Social Solutions, Inc. on Facebook and Twitter.

That perfect-but-okay-well-not-really-okay-but-you-know first day

This summer, we asked our CAMP summer interns to share their experiences on our blog. Here’s Anne Pangkalinawan’s take on her first day at Mabuhay Restop:

Yesterday was my first day on the job, and let me tell you, it was scary. Well, not really, but one thing that did scare me was commuting alone. I was used to commuting with buses, jeeps, tricycles, FX and taxi, but going to Mabuhay Restop, I had to use the MRT and LRT (both of which scared me the most). My mom had told me earlier, “Anak, keep your phone ha. Always pray to your guardian angel. Don’t be scared to ask questions. Always be safe.” It was a constant reminder during the ride to the MRT station. She kissed me goodbye and sent me on my way, texting me every now and then to make sure I was safe.


Here’s the kicker, though: I didn’t expect the train to be filled with so many people. It  looked like a can of sardines, all tightly packed and sweaty. Within five minutes of being on the train, I felt like I’d had a bath in both my sweat and others’. It was disgusting. As we got nearer to Taft, more people got out and less people got in. It was a blessing from the gods (thanks, Poseidon, for the bath). Transferring to the LRT made the blood in my head pound. It was my first time and I had no idea where to go. Thankfully, the lady at the counter was nice enough to tell me what to do. Moving along in a good pace, I realized I had no idea where to go after getting down at UN Ave. I swear, I think people thought I was mad for pacing back and forth at the same place, luckily I saw those MMDA officers and asked them for help (thank you ate for that help).

Man, the Philippine heat was torture. I’m not exaggerating. It was complete and utter torture, it was as if it was hell on earth (now I’m exaggerating). Yet, I managed to handle the heat and make it to MABUHAY RESTOP.

Mabuhay Restop still manages to take my breath away: the simplicity of the architecture and the cool, serene and comforting feeling always made me feel like home. The second floor, though, was absolutely breathtaking. This this is literal - the stained glass by Pancho Mistula Piano was beautiful in every aspect, from the colours to the faces. Their buffet table - brilliant. They have a soup container made out of coconut shells, which is innovative, too. The people who work there like Ms. Billy, Ms. Irene, Ms. Mara and the others were very easy to talk to which made my life there a bit more easier. Also their tasks for me were easy for me to handle.

Since Mabuhay Restop is both a café and a museum, they serve all things Filipino, and every month they cater to different regions of the Philippines by showcasing different food and painting from that region. This month they’re showing paintings and serving food from the Eastern Visayas Area. Their food is literally comfort food. Their tapsilog brought me back to when I was 13 and experiencing my first heartbreak—my grandmother cooked me tapsilog, and the champorado made me remember those times when my mom would cook me this whenever I was watching Power Rangers or Pokemon.

And they have shows, too! Every Wednesday they have the lunch fiesta show; on Fridays is the Friday Hangout or Cook A Loka or Voice Master (depending on show dates); Saturdays have Tita Beauty and Manila Vanilla (both comedy shows); and on Sundays they have performances from the Kalilayan Folkloric group.  

One funny thing happened on the way home, though, when I stopped at the nearest Starbucks to buy something to cool me down. When the barista called my name, this other girl snatched it and I think her boyfriend (or husband, I don’t really know) said her name was “Sam.” It was funny and annoying at the same time because of the barista’s face when it happened. That’s what really ended my day.

To be honest, it was an amazing day even though I already was asleep the moment I sat down on my bed. I really enjoyed my first day and I can’t wait for more days to come.

Anne Pagkalinawan is a student at St. Paul College Pasig.

The CAMP summer internship program is designed to provide high school students with professional work experience before attending university. Read more about the program here.

Follow Mabuhay Restop on Facebook and Twitter.

Life Capsized

Going abroad would entail that your freshman year of college would undoubtedly be one of the most transformative years of your life. You will be forced to examine what you are, stripped away of the support systems of home. You will miss the comfort of home. You will see that it is a daunting world outside of your nest, and it will be scary before it gets comfortable. Adjusting takes longer than you think it would, and even realizing that will take a while.

I started off my journey abroad with a real frenzy – desperate for new sights and new people, amused by new environments and the smell of freedom in the air; no parents, no restrictions, everything shiny and new. I shifted priorities and reveled in the opportunity to spend as much time as I wanted with my friends. Admitting that I was confused about my major, I took a Philosophy course and took full advantage of the freedom I had.

But as the second semester started, the allure of freedom subsided, and the hard questions stared at me in the face. Why am I here, and what sort of impact do I want to make in the world? What am I truly passionate about? I used to think I knew the answers in high school, but I was wrong. Going away from everything you thought you knew is what truly forces you to discover your true motivations in life. Coming abroad has forced me to be honest with myself. Starting anew, away from the pressure – or comfort – of peers, teachers, and family who held certain ideals unique to the environment you grew up in is the true test. You’ll be surprised to discover what aspects of your personality or your passions can stand by themselves in a completely new environment. Change is hard, change is uncomfortable, but it’s also inevitable. Welcome it as a part of journeying into your self. You’re sure to come out of it more sure of yourself.

Sometimes I wonder why no one had warned me about how difficult and painful self-discovery would be - how alone, you must wallow in confusion before you can find the answers within yourself. Then I realize that this is something that has to be experienced; the words “self-discovery” and “finding yourself” don’t cut it, it’s only when you’re alone, far away from home, that you can see for yourself the rockiness of this journey. It will be hard and painful. There will be times where the confusion will devour you from within. However, the harder you struggle, the truer the answers that you’ll eventually attain – and you will see that nothing has ever been so self-reassuring.

Moonie Sohn graduated from International School Manila in 2013. She now attends New York University Abu Dhabi as a member of the class of 2017.

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.


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.


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.


While little children are busy counting down to the day Santa visits their houses to deliver gifts, I have my own countdown as well. I countdown to the day I can touch my country’s soil, hear the honking jeepneys, listen to the symphony of Filipino words and bask in the familiar tropical ambiance I realized I missed so much. I countdown to the days I can use the words pa, naman, na, kase, kanina, bahala, lang, basta, have dinner with my family, taste my mother’s home cooked adobo and hug my parents like there’s no tomorrow. I countdown to the days I can go to the beach with my best friends, listen to their kwento face-to-face and be my weird self with people who understand my humor. I countdown to the days I don’t have to filter my Taglish tendencies, translate currencies, calculate how much tip to give every time I come out of a restaurant, constantly think about time differences, or be informed about the latest happenings in my country a week late. I countdown to the instant I can once again say that I’m back home. 

But that won’t be for another 65 days. 

I never really got a fair grasp of university life abroad until I actually lived it. For some, it’s easy to adjust. But I happened to be a part of the few that thought otherwise. For my first few weeks, I woke up everyday looking at the unfamiliar ceilings of my dorm room and suddenly felt this indescribable empty sensation. Reality sunk in: I was alone, without my best friends, without my family, facing this overwhelming college experience… all by myself (cue music). And it scared me.

I guess the prime suspect in this mystery of my sadness was probably because I was so clingy with the Philippines. I got homesick often: Skype and Viber were my favorite companions. You could only imagine how happy I was when I found out my campus was full of Wi-Fi. My eyes were glued to the pixels of my laptop or phone, chatting away with my friends and family back home (which was bad because it made me miss them even more.) When things suddenly appeared on my Facebook feed be it pictures or event promotions, it was sad thinking about the many moments I was missing out with my friends. And I guess I was also afraid of the idea that I might drift away from them. If I had stayed, I would have been in that photo, I would have gone to that event and I wouldn’t be missing out. If I had stayed, I might not have to be afraid of being forgotten. 

The culture here didn’t help stop my clinginess either. As an international student, it’s hard relating to people who don’t understand the setting you come from or the things you know of. It’s hard connecting to people who don’t understand a big part of who you are. If I had stayed, it would be easier to relate and form bonds with people who understood my background, my humor, my ideals and my being Filipino. 

I tried focusing my energy to what I initially came here for: my studies. But in the academic realm, I had internal conflicts as well. With the many opinionated, outspoken and audacious leaders, debaters, writers, science enthusiasts, and best students in one of the top liberal arts schools in America, I felt extremely inferior.

That first month in school was tough; I couldn’t believe I was going to have to endure about 31 more! But the good thing was it got better. It might have taken weeks filled with some loneliness, the occasional teary nights, numerous Skype sessions, and lots of feel-good food and I’ll admit that I still am adjusting, but with the numerous extracurriculars, engaging and exciting classes, and new people to come across, it was bound to get so much better!

I’ve experienced my first official football game and, although I didn’t understand the rules, I still had lots of fun cheering my school on with the friends I came with. There are always student-run productions every weekend so I get to support my schoolmates in their endeavors. I took a trip to New York with some of my best friends with the help of regular shuttles that Wesleyan provides. And I’m able to attend the many events be it themed parties, dinners, dances, barbecues, outing trips, concerts, open mic nights and other events every week. The problem isn’t finding out where to go; it’s deciding which one to go to!

The extracurriculars that are available have helped me as well. I’m now a part of the Wesleyan Student Assembly, the Pinoy club, the Fusion Dance Troupe, the Freeman Asian Scholars Association and the Class of 2017 Council. I signed up for a bunch of other clubs as well and I hope to be able to try new things in my stay here. We have about 150 official student groups that range from skiing to hiphop to Harry Potter to belly dancing and so much more!

The education here is amazing as well. Even though I felt inferior at first, I realized that the people surrounding me helped me grow and that’s what’s making the challenge all the more exciting. Because I’m in a liberal arts program, I’m able to try different classes that don’t necessarily have to count towards my major. I’m in a class called Taiko, which is Japanese drumming. I get to learn a little more about Japanese culture as well as have fun drumming it out with my classmates. In my classes, I’m also discovering newfound interests. My psychology class is even making me consider taking a double major! With the support from faculty and their openness with the students, it makes it possible to do. 

I do still miss my family and friends back home but I’m finding ones I can be my weird self with little by little. Cliché as it may sound, my true friends will still be there for me no matter the distance, no matter the loss of proximity, no matter what. The people here may be harder to get to know, but once I got to know them, I was amazingly pleased. I met a Japanese person who has lived in Paris and Houston, a Taiwanese scholar who knows Chinese, French, and Thai, a musician who can play the saxophone, ukulele, guitar, piano and gamelan by ear, a person with two step dads and an autistic brother but still finds happiness in the beauty of photography, a Palestinian math genius, a British philanthropist who spent a part of her gap year working in a farm and a Filipino who knows anything and everything about Japan. These diverse sets of people from all walks of life make things more interesting. My eyes open to the realities of life and the beauty that the world has to offer. 

I’m gaining more friends, learning through different experiences, challenging my limits and understanding more about the world and, of course, myself. I still can’t wait until my countdown reaches zero, but, at least now, I’m discovering happiness in every single day leading up to it. 

Mikaela Reyes graduated from Philippine Science High School in 2013. She now attends Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT as part of the class of 2017.

From the Philippines to Princeton

It’s been about six weeks since I first set foot on the campus of Princeton University as a student, and I can honestly say that I’ve loved every minute of it. Everyone has been really nice, the atmosphere has been great, and it has really left me with a great sense that I definitely made the right choice to come here.

I arrived on campus on the morning of August 28th for the start of the International Orientation, which is essentially what the name suggests – all the international students arrived a few days early to orient themselves on US and Princeton culture in general. This was a fantastic introductory experience for me – I met so many people from different countries (Moldova, Romania and Uganda to name a few), and IO was full of so many great activities like a scavenger hunt around the whole campus, a canoe trip, and party for all the international students. A lot of the people I met during IO are my really good friends now, and I still eat and talk with a lot of them regularly.

A week after IO came the official Opening Exercises, where the president of the university, Christopher Eisgruber, gave his welcoming remarks to the Great Class of 2017. This was followed by a pre-rade, where the Class of ’17 walked through the FitzRandolph Gate for the first time (legend has it we’re not supposed to walk out of that gate for the rest of our stay at Princeton, or else we won’t graduate on time). We also had a step sing, where the entire batch sat on the steps and learned the Princeton cheers and songs, and we also sang some popular hits like Get Lucky and Can’t Hold Us. The whole experience was really great – it’s a unique experience that I think is part of Princeton tradition, and it was so humbling and exciting to know that I was going to be a part of that.

After that, classes started, and I have to say that all my classes have been really, really fun. In Chemistry and Physics lecture we’ve had so many demonstrations like the one below, where we tried to recreate the famous fight scene in the Zorro movie. It’s been really great, and I’ve learned so much from everyone. In fact, a couple of nights ago, my roommates and I stayed up until 2 am just talking about math and the philosophy behind it, and as nerdy as that sounds, I honestly really learned so much. It just goes to show that excellence truly abounds everywhere around here.

There have also been so many great opportunities in terms of extracurriculars – right now I’m working with the Daily Princetonian as a contributor, and I’m also on the Princeton Tiger Magazine and part of the Aquinas Catholic Club. There are so many great clubs and organizations here – there’s one for jugglers, one for magicians, one for aspiring bartenders (which I actually signed up for and will take a class in), and all in all, there are so many ways to do what I love and make new friends.

Speaking of friends, the social scene has been great, too. The eating clubs are open every weekend, and there’s always something going on. There’s a thing at Princeton called lawnparties, where people dress up in their preppiest outfits and party on a Sunday afternoon – this fall, we had a lot of famous performers like Chiddy Bang, T-Pain and Aaron Carter. The whole thing was a great deal of fun, and it was pretty crazy to think that I was literally fifty feet away from Aaron Carter and T-Pain and the whole thing was free.

Also, the sheer amount of giveaways has been absurd – so far I’ve gotten two pairs of shades (and one with “Princeton ’17 on the frame), three T-shirts, one sweater, and a free tumbler. It seems like they give us something new every week, which I don’t mind at all – there’s a running joke that you never need to buy any clothes because of all the free stuff they give.

Finally, I’d just like to talk about the great opportunities I got here – I was able to see the President of Tunisia give a talk here, I’m going to the talk of a key figure in the Palestinian Liberation movement tomorrow, and I’ve gotten to meet Maria Ressa, head of Rappler. There’s always something new and exciting that they plan for us – they’re giving discounted tickets to Broadway plays, operas and ballet recitals, which I definitely plan to take advantage of.

All in all, this first month has been really great, and I totally look forward to the rest of my journey here at Princeton. The whole experience has been so overwhelming, and I am really thankful I made the choice to come here.

Lorenzo Quiogue graduated high school from Ateneo de Manila University in 2013. He now attends Princeton University as part of the class of 2017.

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?


  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


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.

THE WISDOM OF ALONE TOGETHER: On the Fear of Being "Alone" Abroad and the Perks of Residential College Life

We hear horror stories of students going off to college and just losing themselves; stories of students who regret not going to a college where most their friends would be; stories of students who consider college abroad a chore, not an opportunity.  We hear horror stories of how difficult it is to be alone in a different country miles away from home.

The truth is, we never will be. 

When I left Hong Kong, I compared it to a horrible break-up. I had fallen in love with the city, the culture, the people. I was finally feeling like I was beginning to belong when I was offered a scholarship, and my parents and I decided it was best if I moved to Yale-NUS College. I left, still in love with the fast-paced lifestyle, the clacking heels of women walking through the MTR stations, the gorgeous waters that surrounded the university I was in.

It didn’t help that before I moved to Singapore, people would look at me with pity and tell me about how small a place this country is. I began to worry. Would Singapore be the best place for me? Or would I be a fish out of the water, in a strange place with seemingly nothing ever to do? This is why last Sunday, when I landed in the Changi International Airport, I was ready to expect little. I was ready to just make the most out of what I had, figure out how the MRT and other similar systems work, focus on getting the best out of college. I was ready to face Singapore alone.

Until I discovered I didn’t have to.

I didn’t even have to ask. I had newly-found Singaporean friends who willingly brought me around. I had friends who offered to go out of their way and help me settle down. I had a friend who even took me restaurant hopping, driving me around the city, welcoming me to Singapore with a fun night-out.Here I was a foreigner, and I already felt like Singapore could be home. This realization has inspired the foci of this post: the fear of being “alone” and the perks of living in a residential college. We hear horror stories of students going off to college and just losing themselves; stories of students who regret not going to a college where most their friends would be; stories of students who consider college abroad a chore, not an opportunity. We hear horror stories of how difficult it is to be alone in a different country miles away from home.

The truth is, we never will be. I have tried studying briefly in New Haven and Boston, a few months in Hong Kong, and am about to take on Singapore. In all these countries, I found someone to bring me around and introduce me to everything local. The memories I remember the most? Dinner trips with my local roommate. Fireworks with my closest international friends. Nights out, coffee breaks, movie nights with anyone who’s left in the dorm. I’ve only been a few days in Singapore, and I have been sleeping in the early hours of the morning. The simple hanging out in common lounge with friends from all over the world whom I would never have met is enough to let me know I’ll be okay. Dinners with professors make learning seem like a fun meal time conversation. (What I love about Yale-NUS in particular is that the professors are trying to find their way around Singapore too!) Living with deans and rectors has also left us with little kids running all around the place, embracing the students into this extended family. When your stomach hurts and tears start to fall from the laughter; when you’re up late watching your fellow students sing their hearts out in an open mic; when you’re walking under the rain, crossing the road with zooming cars, enjoying every bit of the strange land you’re in; when you’re enjoying a good lunch meal with professors and friends; when you’re arm in arm with people who are as alone, but who make it all feel just right—you realize going abroad to study is not as lonely a task after all.

Because you find you’re all alone together and it is the experience of such that you’ll actually remember most in the end. In the process, you discover more of who you are, free from the shackling definitions of who you should be provided by those who have known you for the past eighteen to twenty years. In the process, you discover more of who you are, together with a bunch of others who are trying to find their way as well. This is what it means to be alone together, to lose yourself and find yourself again, and to be in the company of strangers and still feel like you belong.

Joan Danielle Ongchoco graduated from Immaculate Conception Academy in 2012. She now attends Yale-National University of Singapore (Yale-NUS) as a member of the class of 2017.

It's That Time of Year Again


Hey CAMP! 

It’s that time of the year again - a time for better resolutions, fresh starts, and new pens and notebooks. Except next year, you will be in college! Apart from your academics and extra curricular activities, come senior year, one more thing will surely take up a big chunk of your time: college applications. Without a doubt, one of the hardest things about the college application process is staying on top of everything. Things can so easily get out of hand and so it is very important to always keep the following tips in mind: 

1. Research well in advance.

It is never too early to think about college. You can always research profiles of potential colleges abroad through their websites and forums, and read up on their respective application processes as well. Familiarize yourself with as many terms related to college apps as possible. Browsing through the CAMP website is a very good start as it already provides you with documents on the basic things you need to know. Attend college talks and tours in schools around Manila if and when possible. Especially when applying to colleges in the Philippines, do not hesitate to seek the help of your guidance counselors for this is their area of expertise. Ask them about the various entrance exams and the kinds of preparation you should be making for them. Seek their advice when you are stumped on your college essays. 

2. Prepare for standardized tests and entrance exams. 

The United States has the SATs whereas the Philippines has ACET, UPCAT, DLSUCET, and the like. If you are applying to colleges in the US, it is important to be aware of how the SATs work, as most colleges require them. Most people start preparing for the SATs long before senior year and may in fact take them multiple times prior to sending in their applications. On the other hand, the entrance exams in the Philippines can only be taken once each in your senior year. Review centers and materials can be found everywhere though so make sure that you get a hold of them. 

3. Create a personal timetable.

This is especially important if you are applying to colleges in more than one country. Most countries differ in schedules and so it is of utmost importance to keep track of all the dates, from deadlines for submissions and test dates to release of application and test results. For example, the application season in the Philippines usually begins in June of your senior year so that the results are out by January. However, in the United States, it is completely different. For instance, early applications and early decisions are usually due in October, for which results come out in December, whereas regular decision applications are usually due in January, with results coming out in March or April. Aim to finish applications well before their deadlines. Mark these dates on your calendars so that you don’t miss them.

4. Talk to your mentors.

We are here to help you out and so do not hesitate to shoot us an email if you have any questions regarding your college applications. It would also benefit you to ask us about the challenges we had to go through and our eventual successes. Our first-hand experiences are what make us qualified mentors and so you can rest assured that we have nothing but invaluable advice to share with you. 

5.  Gauge yourself.

It is important to know where exactly you stand before embarking on one of the most rewarding, often humbling, and definitely life-changing journeys you will ever have. In truth, it is as important to know your class rank, standing, grade point average, test scores and the like, as it is to discern how well a fit your potential colleges are for you. Always be honest with yourself and don’t forget to set realistic goals. Don’t stress or worry too much. This way, no matter where you end up after your journey, you will always be happy to know that you did your best and you’re where you’re meant to be.

Bernice Halili graduated from International School Manila in 2011. She now attends the Ateneo de Manila University 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.