Archive for the 'College Admissions' Category

Jul 05 2011

Financial Advice for High School Writers: How to Minimize College Debt

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

I know some graduates that have $100,000-$150,000 of student debt and it will probably take them 10-20 years to pay it off.  Here are some tips about how to graduate from college with as little debt as possible.

1. If you’re still in high school, I highly recommend taking as many Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses as possible. Several of my classmates entered college as juniors because they had enough AP credit. That will give you the option of graduating 1-2 years early, which would save you tens of thousands of dollars. Alternately, if you’re really committed to spending four years in college, you could spend two years doing an undergraduate degree and then two years getting a master’s degree.

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May 18 2010

On the plus side, my preternaturally young-looking face will be an asset in 50 years

Published by under Comedy,Notre Dame

NOTRE DAME SECURITY GUARD, to a wandering B. Mac: Hey, you, stay with the tour group.

B. MAC:  These seventh-graders?  Umm, I’m twice as old as them.

[The security guard grunts skeptically]

SEVENTH GRADER, to security guard: R u srs?

EIGHTH GRADER: Hes oldr thn mah grndma.  Eww.

[B. Mac shows the guard his staff ID].

SECURITY GUARD:  Damn.  You’re short.

B. MAC:  I’m wearing penny loafers.  Penny loafers!

SEVENTH GRADER:  Pwnd.

EIGHTH GRADER:  Lulz!

Umm, yeah.  I was carded for PG-13 movies as a college student.

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Jan 04 2008

Why Notre Dame? What’s it like?

These are my observations about the Notre Dame experience. Hopefully this will help you decide if ND is the right school for you and give you the details you need to demonstrate your commitment to the admissions staff (assuming ND is right for you).  If you’re into application strategies specifically, please see Getting into Notre Dame.

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Nov 24 2007

Getting into Notre Dame

 

This article builds on “Why Notre Dame? What’s it like?

 

This article will cover some ways for you to distinguish yourself (on the application and otherwise). It also features a way to make your college visit a substantial boost to your application by networking with faculty.

 

Getting into ND

 

In the personal statement and essays, it’s usually pretty obvious who wants to go to this university and who just selected it because it was in US News and World Report. That’s probably true to some extent for all universities, so I’d really recommend visiting at least a few of the schools at the top of your list so that you get a better feel for the campuses and cultures.

 

At Notre Dame, students often try to show that they know the campus by writing an essay that refers to the sense of community and football fever that permeate the campus. These essays frequently refer to Rudy, the quintessential Notre Dame football story. It’s really, really hard to write a Rudy essay that sticks out from all the rest.

 

I don’t know what your academic interests and future plans are. I certainly wouldn’t want you to write a dishonest essay/statement! But, if your plans might conceivably involve going to a Ph. D. program and eventually becoming a professor, then Notre Dame wants you bad. One of the ways universities compare themselves is how many of their students go on to get Ph. Ds and Notre Dame scores a woeful five percent. Even Northwestern, my most reviled adversary, trounces us.

 

A good essay usually features you and Notre Dame. You might write an essay saying that you want to become a professor someday (because of whyever that would make sense for you), so you want to go to Notre Dame because it’s the best place to make that happen.

 

Notre Dame is pushing hard to give students chances to explore their intellectual horizons. These are some of the opportunities available to ND students that you might find it useful to reference in an admissions essay to demonstrate that you’ve actually considered why ND makes sense for you.

Research/creative opportunities

  1. The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program; it awards grants to undergrad students interested in working with a faculty member to conduct research or a creative endeavor together.

    1. For example, I got a UROP grant to write half of Superhero Nation with an English professor that helped me storyboard and edit. And I’m not an English major!

    2. Notre Dame has done a nice job of tailoring these to student interests rather than academic department politics.

  2. A political science undergrad co-authored one of my professor’s papers.

  3. A horde of political science students have banded together to create their own political research journal, Beyond Politics, to introduce political science research to a much broader campus community. (Good luck, guys!)

  4. Grad courses

    1. I’ve heard that it’s generally easy for undergrad upperclassmen to take grad courses in their major. I’m a political science major and I’ve found that it’s really easy to take PS grad courses.

    2. Grad courses are really effing hard.

    3. If you’re interested in grad school, I’d recommend taking at least one, so that you know what the workload will be like. They’re also hugely useful for your applications to grad school. The recommendation letters could also prove extremely useful.
  5. Notre Dame lets undergrads take directed readings with professors. That’s an interesting way to pursue a particular interest in a specific field with a professor/advisor.

So that all is one broad strategy—showing that you satisfy what the university wants (students that will go on to get Ph. Ds).

More Application Strategies

By the point in the application cycle you’re probably reading this, a lot of your application is essentially locked into place. You probably already have 4-6 semesters of high school grades and your SAT/ACT scores will probably not rise more than 50-100 points if you take it repeatedly. Your extracurricular achievements will probably not drastically improve—adding a lot of activities junior year usually looks flaky and it is virtually impossible to do anything in a year that would impress college admissions staffers.

 

So what can you do at this point to make your application stronger, besides rewriting your essays over and over?

 

Your single best option is a campus visit. It takes you 2-3 school days (or a weekend, but that won’t work as well) and the benefits can be enormous. (I know that many students can’t afford to invest a plane ticket in a prospective school, so I’ll offer some suggestions along the way about how you might be able to replicate many of the benefits of the campus visit with electronic legwork).

 

The conventional (less effective) approach to a campus visit

    1. Do the tour

    2. Visit the most prominent places on campus

    3. Visit the admissions office

    4. Speak with students

 

That isn’t bad, per se. It’s certainly better than staying at home. But doing the tour and knowing what the stadium looks like probably won’t improve your application much. (If you speak with admissions staffers, they will note that in your file. That suggests commitment, so it certainly won’t hurt).

 

But I’d feel pretty comfortable predicting that the following approach is likely to substantially increase a marginal student’s competitiveness in the applicant pool at Notre Dame.

 

Campus visits done right

Prepwork

  1. Two weeks in advance, get a course catalog or look online to see which courses will be open during the days you’ll be on campus. (This is one reason that weekend visits are not very productive).

  2. Email the professors of all the courses you’re interested in looking at. Something like “Dear Professor X, I’m a prospective Notre Dame student and I’ll be on campus on the 28th and I was wondering if it would be possible to sit in on your International Security course.”

    1. Some of the professors—probably at least half—will email you back and say that’s OK. Promptly email them back: thank them and ask if there are any recent, small assignments that the class has done. Say that you really, really want to get a feel for what the class is like.

    2. At least one professor will suggest something small like a 1-4 page paper. Look online for what office hours that professor (or professors) has. You will want to meet with him (them) personally during your visit, after attending their class. If they do not have office hours that work for you, try to schedule appointments.

    3. Do the paper(s). Don’t be pretentious and/or reach for a thesaurus. Treat the paper(s) like a high school assignment that is unusually important to your grade. Talking with an English mentor and someone who’s knowledgeable in the course content might be appropriate.

The Visit

  1. Forget the tour. Go to as many classes as you can. If there’s any way you feel you can contribute to class, like answering a general question from the teacher, do so. Understandably, you’re at a huge disadvantage because it’s your first time in the class.

  2. Turn in your paper(s).

  3. Speak with the paper professor(s) after class. Emphasize how much you enjoyed their class (try to mention at least one detail that reinforce how enthusiastic you are) and arrange to meet with them personally by the end of the visit during office hours.

  4. See them again in office hours or whenever you scheduled your appointment. Make The Pitch.

 

The Pitch

  1. Ask the professor(s) to write you a super-short letter of recommendation based on your participation in the class and the assignment you’ve written.

    1. “Hi, I’m Brady McKinerney. I’m an applicant to Notre Dame. I really enjoyed your History of Democracy course and I’d love to actually take one of your courses next year. I was wondering if you could write a short letter of recommendation for me.”

  2. PROFESSORIAL OBJECTION ONE: “I don’t really know you all that well.”

    1. “I understand completely. I know you’ve only had me in class for a day and only have one assignment from me. But I’d really appreciate if you’d be willing to offer even a qualified assessment of my academic ability—I think that would boost my chances of admissions a lot. I’d be really grateful.”

  3. PROFESSORIAL OBJECTION TWO: “I’m not sure I can fit it into my schedule.”

    1. “I certainly wouldn’t want to impose on you. The dedication for applications is in three weeks [or whatever], and I don’t anticipate that it would take more than half an hour of your time.”

    2. Remember to send him a hand-written thank-you card for agreeing to do the recommendation. That will also serve as a subtle reminder in case he had forgotten.

  4. PROFESSORIAL OBJECTION THREE: “I’ve never written this kind of recommendation before.”

    1. This is probably more of a matter of comfort than reluctance. He just isn’t used to this kind of recommendation. They’re very rare.

    2. Suggest that his recommendation mention how you two met and how you participated in his class, both by participating and with your paper. Even a mild statement like “his paper was pretty good” will mean a lot because it came from a professor who obviously knows what is expected of Notre Dame students.

    3. Normally, a high school teacher or advisor writes a letter of recommendation that’s about a page long—and you’ve known the teacher for at least a semester. If a ND professor is willing to write even five sentences about how eager you were to participate and how obviously passionate you are, that could be enormously effective. If you are academically competitive, at your best you can outperform the average Notre Dame student in a class he doesn’t care much about.

 

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