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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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Would You Attend One of Film’s Favorite Colleges?

by Angela Andaloro

A few weeks back, I wrote about fictional high schools we all wished we went to. Today, I’m back with part two: the best fictional colleges!

When you were applying for college (or if you are about to!), you might’ve had one of these schools in mind as a model. From great parties to great camaraderie, it seems like attending these schools would be all good times but every school has its downside.

Adams College

The pros: Score one for the underdog! Who doesn’t love a school where nerds can take back their territory – the educational facility? An awesome computer science program is one of many selling points for the home of the "Revenge of the Nerds" gang.

The cons: If you’re a girl, especially a girl in a sorority, I would skip this one...unless you want to spend most of your time fighting off herds of jocks.

Faber College

The pros: Best frats ever! Oh, the stories you could tell your friends back home after one party with the Delta Tau Chi guys from "Animal House"!

The cons: Two words: Dean Wormer. Can you say killjoy?

South Harmon Institute of Technology

The pros: South Harmon has the most unique learning methods of any college to date: Think physics classes that help you build a half pipe or a class about de-structuring your life? "Accepted" had the right idea with allowing creativity to blossom!

The cons: Your parents might be a little upset when they find out you’re attending a college founded and attended by kids who didn’t get into other colleges.

You might never get the satisfaction of hanging a diploma from one of these institutions on your wall but would you really want to? The little things the movies forget to mention will definitely help you better appreciate your own college or university, wherever you go.

Angela Andaloro is a rising junior at Pace University’s New York City campus, where she is double majoring in communication studies and English. Like most things in New York City, her life and college experience is far from typical – she commutes to school from her home in Flushing and took nearly a semester’s worth of classes online – but she still likes to hang out with friends, go to parties and feed her social networking addiction like your “average” college student.


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College Students Cut from Michigan Food Stamp Program

by Alexis Mattera

Some college students joke that tuition is so high, the only food they can afford is instant ramen. In Michigan, it’s no longer a laughing matter.

The Detroit News reported the state has removed roughly 30,000 college students from its food stamp program. Human Services Director Maura Corrigan revealed that while the cuts will save an estimated $75 million per year, they also represent an effort to “change the culture of the state's welfare department and slash tens of millions of dollars of waste, fraud and abuse.” Corrigan suggested students get part-time jobs like she did while attending Marygrove College and University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in the ‘60s and ‘70s but critics are quick to point out that state funding has shrunk and tuition has skyrocketed since then and Michigan's economic situation makes finding any kind of employment difficult. What do the students think? Obviously, they are none too pleased. "Students should be focusing on their education, not whether or not they'll be able to eat dinner or whether they can manage to find a job and balance it on top of their studies," said Kayla Neff, a Spanish and computer science major at Central Michigan University.

Do you think the cuts to Michigan's food stamp program will be beneficial or detrimental overall? Students, if you’ll be impacted by these changes, how do you plan to compensate for the loss of funding?


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Don’t Object to Pre-Law Classes

by Thomas Lee

My major was political science but I took some pre-law classes in preparation for law school. Taking pre-law classes or attaining a pre-law minor looks great on a law school application; if you’re interested in taking this path, here’s what you can expect.

My pre-law classes included Constitutional Law, Intro to Law and Criminal Justice. Students participated in mock trials during Criminal Justice class, which involved class members acting out the various roles portrayed in a real trial. I played one of the witnesses and had to field a series of questions from the defense and prosecution. I found it to be a very enriching experience and gained a better understanding of what legal proceedings really involve.

While I did not pursue a pre-law minor – and somewhat regret not doing so – I am still glad I took pre-law classes in order to gain at least a basic background of the legal system. I also wish I had taken a class entitled Legal Research and Writing, as I found it would have gotten me on the fast track to an internship. When deciding what classes to take, keep in mind which classes will advance your career the most and opt for those ones over fluff courses.

Pre-law classes will also prepare you for the Law School Admission Test, aka the LSAT. It works similarly to the SAT or ACT, as it is used to determine your aptitude for success in law school and is a requirement for admittance to most law schools. I have already taken the LSAT and scored a decent 149 out of 180, but a score of at least 160 is considered an achievement for the schools I’m interested in. Because of this, I am in the process of studying and plan to retake the LSAT this October.

Once I achieve the score I desire, it’s law school application time. Then, it’s three more years of schooling, countless hours of research, a few internships and a passing score on the bar exam until I can achieve my goal of becoming a civil lawyer and eventually running for political office. Wish me luck!

Thomas Lee recently graduated from Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina with a BA in political science and journalism. His father is an ordained Church of God minister and his mother is a private school teacher; he also has two younger sisters. Thomas’ interests include politics, law, debate, global issues and writing fiction and he believes in a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and a strong commitment to biblical morality and ethics. He currently resides in Washington, North Carolina and will be attending law school in the near future.


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The Dos and Don’ts of Job References

by Kara Coleman

Picture this: You’ve got a brand new diploma in your hand and are applying for your dream job or, if you’re not quite there yet, you’re trying to find a job to help pay your way through school. In addition to your resume, you’ll need references who can vouch for your abilities. Since companies usually check three references for each prospective employee, here’s how to pick the best individuals to speak on your behalf.

Don’t list family members or your best friend as references. Have you ever seen an “American Idol” audition where the contestant sings horribly but their mother argue with the judges and claims their child has the most beautiful voice in the world? The same principle applies here. Your family wants you to succeed so they’re only going to say positive things about you. Your references should be based on professional opinions so instead of listing Mom and Dad, list a professor in your field of study, a previous employer or a board member/faculty advisor for a service organization you are currently involved in.

Do talk with your potential references before you list them. Tell them what you are applying for and why you wish to use them as a reference. This may be stating the obvious but only list them if they give you permission to do so. You should also consider asking them the types of questions you think your prospective employer might ask them; if their feedback isn’t entirely positive, you can always find a different reference.

Don’t list your references on your resume. Rather, have the names and contact information of your references typed out on a separate sheet of paper. Not only will it keep the length of your resume down but you’ll look prepared and confident when you offer up your list without hesitation.

Kara Coleman lives in Gadsden, Alabama, where she attends Gadsden State Community College. She received the school’s Outstanding English Student Award two years in a row and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa. She plans to transfer to Jacksonville State University in August 2011 to study communications with concentration in print journalism. Kara’s writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children’s book author through Big Dif Books. In her spare time, Kara enjoys reading, painting, participating in community theater and pretty much any other form of art.


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Writing an Effective Personal Statement or Cover Letter

by Aaron Lin

The goal of a personal statement or cover letter is to display personality the way a resume and transcript cannot. You want to show the person receiving your materials that you’re a good candidate, right? Then don’t overlook the importance of this piece of your application.

There are several ways to tackle a personal statement or cover letter. For me, it was the rule of thirds of past, present and future that took my personal statement from good to great.

Past: Set up your statement with a captivating hook, then move into a narrative that informs the audience of something unique that happened to you. Reel the reader in with a story that will incite laughter, emotion or invigorating feelings.

Present: Discuss a few academic or extracurricular achievements that define you today. This may reflect your resume since it’s about your achievements right now but it’s important to note that your personal statement shouldn’t be a repeat of your resume in story form.

Future: Talk about where you want to go and how you can get there as a member of this particular company or graduate school. If you’ve researched the organization – and you should have! – let them know about it and mention any complementary classes, professors or special opportunities you’ve had. Enforce your skills, background, what kind of asset you will be and mention what the company or school has in particular that will benefit you in your career goals or academic pursuits. Lastly, thank the reader for his or her time.

Spellcheck won’t catch everything so read your work aloud, let others read it and edit accordingly. Don’t try to include EVERYTHING you’ve ever done in your personal statement or cover letter – that’s what your resume is for! – and don’t sell out with gimmicky quotes, overused metaphors, cuteness or a thesaurus addiction. The most important thing to do is to let yourself shine through!

Aaron Lin is a chemistry major at Louisiana State University but has plans to transfer to LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans to pursue a medical laboratory science degree and further feed his interest in the application of scientific and medical knowledge. In his free time, Aaron likes to eat food, read and write about food, exercise to work off that food and play the occasional computer game. He also enjoys footbiking, running and Frisbee.


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There's a Club for That, Too!

by Lisa Lowdermilk

So, you're getting ready to start another school year and are looking for a way to make your college experience more rewarding. You know you can join clubs but none of the traditional ones pique your interest...until one – The Squirrel Club – practically jumps off the page. Hold on...there's a club for that? As it turns out, there are dozens more clubs on the list that you didn't even know existed!

Colleges have all sorts of clubs for you to choose from, some of which are a bit weird to say the least. In addition to the aforementioned Squirrel Club, there's also the Concrete Canoe Club and the Campus People Watchers Club. Here’s some info on each.

The Squirrel Club at the University of Michigan has members come together to feed peanuts to squirrels and discuss ways to protect the welfare of the furry-tailed critters. The club has more than 400 members and continues to expand each school year.

The Concrete Canoe Club at the University of Wisconsin is an engineering major's dream. The ultimate test of members' canoe building prowess comes in the form of an annual race which took place in Evansville, Indiana this past June. I never would have believed it possible for concrete to float until I heard about this club!

Campus People Watchers at the University of Minnesota is for the more observant students on campus. Members literally observe the habits of people on campus, report their findings on various subcultures and even analyze people from a psychological perspective. For such a seemingly unorthodox club, Campus People Watchers is surprisingly structured and educational. Just remember this club does not give you permission to stalk other students. Save that for Facebook.

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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My College Graduation Checklist

by Jessica Seals

After four long years of taking history or biology classes you dreaded, the psychology classes that counted towards your major and quirky electives to reach the required number of credit hours to graduate, it’s finally time to walk across the stage and become a college graduate. As I am now entering the second semester of my senior year, I have learned that there are several steps that you must take in order to successfully graduate.

While attending school, you will more than likely have an advisor that will help you graduate with your desired major as quickly as you can. Of course, these advisors are human and they are bound to make a few mistakes so check the university general education requirements for graduation at the start of each semester to keep track of the classes you still need. This is what I did and because of it, I was never hit with the surprise that I would not be graduating when I thought I would. An advisor will definitely help you avoid this problem but it is always good to double check to make sure nothing is missed.

The other important thing that I learned is that graduating from college is very different from graduating from high school. In high school, you have guidance counselors and teachers who get everything together for you and constantly remind you to turn in any forms. In college, however, you are the one who has to submit your intent to graduate form to the registrar on time, make sure you don’t owe any money, complete exit counseling and turn in any extra documentation required by your school.

Graduating from college will be one of the happiest times of your life. Despite all the excitement, take some time to make sure that everything is in order so that no surprises keep your diploma out of reach.

Jessica Seals is currently a senior at the University of Memphis majoring in political science and minoring in English. At the University of Memphis, she is the secretary of the Pre-Law Society, the philanthropy chair of the Phi Kappa Phi Student Council and a member of Professional Assertive United Sisters of Excellence (PAUSE), Golden Key Honor Society, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Sigma Alpha Lambda Honor Society, and Black Scholars Unlimited. She also volunteers to tutor her fellow classmates and hopes to attend law school in the near future.


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Stress-Free Study Time? It DOES Exist!

by Kara Coleman

Does it ever seem to you like each one of your professors thinks that theirs is the only class you have to do homework for? How do you give each subject the attention that it needs? These tips may help you out:

Set study goals for each day. Set a schedule based on amount of work and not on time. Don’t say, “Today I’m working on my essay for an hour and a half,” because an hour can quickly get away from you. Instead, say, “Today I’m writing the rough draft for my essay.”

Don’t skip the intros. Reading the chapter introductions in each of your textbooks can help speed up the note-taking process. Since intros tend to hit the highlights of each chapter, go ahead and write down anything that looks like it may be important. Also, having a basic understanding of a chapter’s overall content will help you when you dig deeper into the material.

Pay attention in class. You’re probably thinking, “I already know that!” but sometimes teachers will tell you when certain material is going to be on a test. If your teacher says that a piece of information is important, be sure to make a note of it or highlight it.

Don’t beat yourself up if you forget something. Obviously, there’s no way you can remember everything you hear. But that’s okay! Every time you forget something, your brain has to re-learn it. This reinforcement will actually help you retain information for longer periods of time.

Kara Coleman lives in Gadsden, Alabama, where she attends Gadsden State Community College. She received the school’s Outstanding English Student Award two years in a row and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa. She plans to transfer to Jacksonville State University in August 2011 to study communications with concentration in print journalism. Kara’s writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children’s book author through Big Dif Books. In her spare time, Kara enjoys reading, painting, participating in community theater and pretty much any other form of art.


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Could College Culture Facilitate Gender Segregation by Major?

by Alexis Mattera

Next time you sit down in your favorite major class, take a look around. Are your classmates primarily male or female...and why? That depends: According to a new study, the culture of your school could be fostering gender segregation by major.

Authored by Ann L. Mullen and Jayne Baker, an associate professor of sociology and a doctoral student in sociology, respectively, at the University of Toronto, the study found that while college promoting liberal arts study have more students majoring in fields traditionally associated with majors of the opposite sex, “highly gendered” colleges – those with few tenured female faculty members, exceptionally small numbers of male undergraduates, and NCAA Division III football teams, for example – generally have higher levels of male and female segregation by major. The study also revealed it’s possible that culture of these schools influence "the options that become more thinkable and unthinkable for students as they choose their field of study" and that "gender segregation cuts across all types of institutions" and does not vary based on institutional selectivity.

While there are certainly other factors to consider (read more about Mullen and Baker’s study here), their findings are something to think about. Does your school sound like one of those described in the study? If so, have you noticed gender segregation by major?


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