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Not-Your-Average Application Essay Prompts

by Lisa Lowdermilk

So, you have your heart set on one college and you're about to write your application essay. The prompt is “If you could balance on a tightrope, over what landscape would you walk?” Wait...what? Believe it or not, this really is a prompt from the University of Chicago, an institution famous for strange essay prompts designed to make the process of applying to college less painful.

Of course, strange questions like UChicago's may have the opposite effect – a more stressful application process – on some people. C’mon, how many of us have really given thought to what landscape we'd like to walk over when balancing on a tightrope? I know I haven't and I doubt anyone who’s afraid of heights has ever or will ever consider the answer, either, but the point of this question is to show just how unique you really are. Colleges receive thousands of applications from hopeful students each year and it stands to reason that reading that many essays on a less interesting topic gets pretty tedious.

That's why questions like UChicago’s are so useful: They force applicants to come up with a unique answer. Are you thinking about majoring in oceanography? If so, you might say that nothing would calm your nerves like walking over the coastline and hearing the sound of the waves lapping at the shore. Are you more of a bookworm considering a major in library science? Maybe walking over stacks of books and thinking about how your favorite characters had to face trials even worse than walking a tightrope would help you keep your balance.

Since no two essays on such weird prompts as the one listed above will be the same – and if they are, you’ve got some explaining to do! – you might as well take advantage of your opportunity to shine!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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How Do YOU Study?

July 29, 2011

How Do YOU Study?

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Have you ever thought about how to make studying less painful or have you just resigned yourself to pulling all-nighters? If you're like me, the idea of all-nighters makes you cringe – how can you expect to ace your test when you're exhausted, let alone absorb pages of complicated course material?

I've had friends, though, who claim that being under pressure motivates them to study like nothing else. If you've honestly found that pulling all-nighters is more effective than studying during the day, then more power to you; for the rest of us, here are some strange but effective study habits to consider next time you have an exam approaching.

Do you have a specific study spot or can you study anywhere? If you're the former, try to pay attention to what characteristics you need in order to be successful. Does soaking up the sun's rays kick your brain into gear like a plant undergoing photosynthesis or does the sunshine just make you daydream? Do you need to constantly change the location of where you study to keep yourself motivated? I have a friend who never studies in the same place for more than an hour because her attention span starts waning.

It seems everyone has an opinion about background noise while studying. Another friend of mine claims she cannot study unless the news is on the background, as it bores her to tears. The news is so boring to her, in fact, that she claims it actually forces her to focus on her course material! Apparently, if she doesn't have the news on, she'll constantly think about other things like what she wants for dinner, what she wants to do on the weekend, etc.

Regardless of whether you can't sit still for more than an hour or need some white noise to get your brain in sync with your textbooks, one thing's for sure: You can't get through college without studying so you might as well make it as tolerable as possible.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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Utilizing Your College’s Resources Effectively

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Do you ever feel frustrated or overwhelmed with the amount of homework you have? Is it impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel? There are all kinds of resources at your college which can help!

If you're having trouble writing an essay or just want someone to look over your work, the writing lab is there for you. Writing lab tutors are trained to help you with everything from grammar and punctuation to strengthening your argument. They can even help you get started if you feel like you're having a case of the dreaded writer's block.

As the name suggests, math lab tutors can help you with all levels of math. I've even heard of students coming in to learn how to use their graphing calculators. Even as an online student, I have access to the writing lab, math lab and all kinds of services designed to give me feedback from the comforts of my own home.

So many students are reluctant to ask for help because they are worried it will make them seem unintelligent. Don't worry: Asking questions shows that you are conscientious, determined and hard-working. Teachers appreciate students who are curious enough about the material to ask questions.

Even though going to the writing lab or math lab requires you to spend time on your coursework outside of class, you’ll generally be able to schedule one-on-one appointments with tutors to ensure you get the help you need. In my experience, hardly anyone ever came to math lab or writing lab, giving me plenty of opportunities to ask all the questions I wanted.

The best part about these resources is that they're free! You're already paying for college, so why not take advantage of something that won't dip into your savings for a change?

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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Quirky Course Offerings

June 17, 2011

Quirky Course Offerings

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Have you ever been sitting through a lecture and been on the verge of falling asleep? Do you find yourself wishing your classes were more interesting? If your answer is yes to either of these questions, grab your course catalog and discover your school’s quirky class offerings.

The Science of Harry Potter” is an honors course offered by Frostburg State University in Maryland. As the name suggests, it involves analyzing topics from J.K. Rowling's best-selling novels from a scientific perspective. For instance, Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans help students understand how our taste buds function and flying broomsticks are viewed through the lens of anti-gravity research.

The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie” is offered at Occidental College in California. Its main topic of study is the concept of race and how Barbie has inadvertently encouraged societal racism; it also offers surprisingly deep insights on gender roles, capitalism and more.

Some people are skeptical about the usefulness of these classes, with the more extreme critics denouncing them as a waste of money. While they are unorthodox, keep in mind these classes still require a significant amount of work. Students taking “The Science of Harry Potter,” for example, must take daily quizzes, complete scientific projects and read textbooks. Speaking of books, “The Science of Harry Potter” only requires two textbooks but the reading list for “The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie” is surprisingly extensive and includes works by social class analysts Karl Marx and Walter Benjamin.

So, if you're tired of more traditional course offerings like physics or sociology, consider finding out if your college offers any unique classes like the ones mentioned above. Just don't expect to do less homework!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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How to Get Your Dream Job

by Lisa Lowdermilk

What is your dream job? Do you want to win the war against cancer as an oncologist? Or would you rather spend your time in the classroom teaching students who will eventually become the backbone of our society?

Regardless of what your answer is, it's crucial that you ask yourself a couple of questions. Where do you want to work? Would you rather work in an office setting or out in the field? Do you want to work with people or would you rather work alone? The answers to these questions not only will help make your dream job more real to you, they can also help you if you are undecided about what field you'd like to major in. The key here is to be as specific as possible: You can't make your dreams a reality if you don't know what your dreams are yet!

Let's say you've completed a few semesters and have decided you want to become a radiologist. You can tell by the coursework that you will enjoy the field but you don't really know what the actual job will be like. Visit your local hospital and talk with some of the people who work in the radiology department. Ask if you can shadow them to see what they do on a daily basis. Not only will you gain valuable learning experience, you will also feel like your college experience is actually preparing you for a job.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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The Benefits of Digital Textbooks

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Does your back ache from carrying heavy textbooks from class to class? Do you hate paying extra money for priority shipping to ensure you get your textbooks in time for the new semester? If you answered yes to either one of these questions, you may be interested to know many websites now offer textbooks digitally.

Sites like Chegg.com, Textbooks.com and Cengagebrain.com offer dozens of e-books to accommodate your e-reading needs. You don't need to go out and buy an e-reading device such as Amazon's Kindle or Sony's Reader (you can read e-books right on your computer screen) and you never have to worry about losing your e-books because if your computer or e-reader is misplaced or stolen, all you need to do is download the e-text again.

Even with all these benefits, I know some of you may still be reluctant to go digital because you think you won't be able to highlight pages or navigate a digital text easily. Well, put those fears to rest: Many e-books allow you to highlight specific words or phrases, make notes in the margins and even search the entire e-book for a specific word or phrase.

Finally, you can rent e-books just like you can rent traditional books. Normally when you rent textbooks, you have to worry about water damage, torn pages and shipping your books back on time but not so with e-books! When your rental period is up, the e-text simply expires with no fines for damages or shipping incurred. If after using all these features, you decide you still prefer having your text on paper after all, you can print out whichever pages you specify.

So consider going digital, if only just for one class. I guarantee you (and your back and your wallet) won't regret it!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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Your Passion Has a Place in College

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Have you ever started an essay or research project and found you absolutely hate the topic you chose? I know I have so that’s why when I started college, I vowed I would choose personally relevant topics whenever possible to make my college assignments more enjoyable.

In my logic and rhetoric class, for example, I had to choose an issue I could argue about from multiple perspectives. Because I'm a passionate video gamer, I ended up choosing to debate the pros and cons of gameplay. We've all heard about the effects of gameplay on violent behavior, weight gain and myriad other social problems; while it's true some of these concerns aren't entirely unwarranted, I wanted to show how the media and other sources play a large role in exaggerating the negative effects.

My point here is that because I am passionate about video games, I can argue much more persuasively than I would if I was writing about a topic which I have no interest in. While my topic may not be meaningful to everyone in my class, I am confident my classmates will at least appreciate the combination of factual information and personal insight I bring to the table on the subject. After all, a persuasive essay isn’t really a persuasive essay if the author doesn’t believe his or her own words.

Of course, choosing a topic you like isn't always possible – if you hate learning about history in general, odds are you won't find many topics to your liking – so in these situations, just be thankful you don't have to marry the topic you settle for. You're sure to find plenty of topics personally relevant to you later on in your college career.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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Non-Traditional College Majors

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Do you feel restricted by more traditional college majors such as business, education and nursing? If so, a non-traditional major may be for you! Many colleges offer majors you may not even have known about including decision making, Egyptology and marine biology.

You may be wondering how there could possibly be a major devoted to decision making but the coursework is surprisingly difficult! There's actually a real science to making decisions, meaning you'll have to apply your mathematical reasoning skills to everything from information technology to artificial intelligence. The end result, though, is highly rewarding: You'll be able to use your decision making skills to produce soaring business profits.

The University of Pennsylvania offers a major in Egyptology, which is exactly what it sounds like: the study of ancient Egyptian culture. If you choose this major, you'll learn how the ancient Egyptians measured time without clocks, studied astronomy without telescopes and much more. Should you decide you want to pursue a Ph.D. in Egyptology, you'll even learn to read and write in Demotic and Coptic, two of the phases of the ancient Egyptian script. If you've grown up fascinated by pharaohs and mummies, consider turning your passion into a career. You might even discover an artifact that becomes as famous as the Rosetta Stone!

Marine biology, though not unheard of, is still not a very common major. UCLA even gives its students the opportunity to go snorkeling as part of the major! Past diving sites include Hawaii, Tahiti and Catalina Island (a friend of mine will be studying coral reefs in Hawaii next year). Just think: while your classmates are busy studying for finals, you could be out swimming with dolphins! Keep in mind, though, that physics, chemistry, biology, calculus and statistics are all subjects you should be proficient or above average in if you're even considering this major.

If you decide to major in any of these fields, one thing's for sure: You'll have a college experience like no other.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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Movie Making Isn’t Just for Film Students

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Making videos is something just about everyone I know has tried. And it's no wonder: Programs available today make it so easy...just look at YouTube's content! Whether you have aspirations of becoming a professional filmmaker, receive an unconventional class assignment or just want to film your college graduation, expressing yourself and preserving your most treasured memories can be done without much effort while having lots of fun.

If you're a PC user like me, you can use Windows Movie Maker for all your video editing needs. Of course, you can't have a video without some footage (or at least some pictures). Click "Import Media" to find your clips and drag them to where you want them to appear on your timeline. Next, peruse the effects and transitions you can use by clicking on "Tools." Effects such as blur, speed up, slow down and even watercolor all can give your video a more stylized look and transitions let your video flow instead of looking like it was just cut and pasted together. If you're having issues with sound quality, consider downloading the free audio editor Audacity. It lets you alter the pitch, speed and volume of your recording and easily import it into WMM the same way you would your video clips.

Of course, WMM isn't the only movie-making option available. Sony Vegas and Apple iMovie are two other types of movie-making software you can choose from. I know some people who bought a Mac specifically for iMovie's advanced movie-making abilities and others who use Sony Vegas on their PCs for its advanced audio capabilities. While some people say iMovie and Sony Vegas are more advanced than WMM, keep in mind WMM is free while iMovie and Sony Vegas are not.

If you realize you have a real passion for film, consider checking out film-making programs offered by Full Sail University, the New York Film Academy and the Los Angeles Film School, among others. Maybe someday we'll even see your name in lights!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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New Semester, New Goals

January 5, 2012

New Semester, New Goals

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Now that you've had some time to spend some time with your family, eat all those holiday delicacies or just unwind, it's just about time for another semester! Since starting a new semester can be daunting, here are several tips you can follow:

First, make sure you order your books at least a week before the semester starts, preferably sooner if you're ordering them online. While Amazon's two-day shipping for college students is great for procrastinators, your books may not be in stock if you wait too long.

Next, make sure you're not taking too many credits. While taking 18 credits a semester may seem like a great idea when you think about how quickly you'll finish your degree, you’ll burn out fast (especially if you have a job...or two). As we've heard a million times, slow and steady wins the race and your GPA will almost certainly be a lot stronger and college will be more enjoyable if you adopt a more moderate pace.

Finally, take advantage of campus resources. As overwhelming as college can feel at times, it's easy to forget that there are all kinds of people who are more than willing to help. From math lab to writing lab to academic counselors, there's no shortage of people who understand what you're going through and can offer great advice. Besides, you're paying top dollar for your tuition so you might as well get your money's worth and use these resources!

If you still feel crazed after reading these tips, remember that you won't be in college for the rest of your life. Sometimes we forget about the eventual rewards of hard work. It may take more time than we'd like but hard work will pay off in the end.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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