How to Survive Studying Abroad (From Someone Who Has Done It Three Times!)

Passport Number 2Studying abroad was one of the best decisions of my undergraduate career. I was fortunate enough to get to spend a summer at the University of Cambridge drinking tea and touring castles; to go “abroad” to Washington, DC, almost 2,500 miles away from my home university, where I attended research seminars and interned at a foreign policy think tank.

I was also able to finish my final undergraduate semester here at the University of Geneva, where I spend my free time touring Europe and watching diplomats at the UN work through the biggest political issues of our time.

I wouldn’t trade my study abroad experiences for anything. I’ve met incredible people, seen incredible places, and gotten to know both the world and myself better.

I’ll also be the first to admit that studying abroad isn’t always wonderful. Spending months in an unfamiliar place can be scary and isolating. Leaving your community behind means spending a lot of time alone, perhaps more than you’re used to.

At the same time, being thrown into a new community means spending more time socializing with strangers as you settle in (a frightening thing for introverts like me.) Separation from friends and loved ones means being cut off from your support system, and makes it harder to deal with tough days or homesickness. New cultures often come with culture shock, new academic systems and teaching philosophies often come with frustration and misunderstandings, and new languages often come with miscommunications and embarrassing moments.

That’s not even to mention the problem of logistics – I’ve gotten lost, nearly missed trains and flights (almost always due to public transportation mishaps), confused currencies, misplaced important documents, been pick-pocketed, and mixed up visa paperwork more times than I’d like to admit. Studying abroad opens up worlds of opportunity, but is rarely easy.

Three study abroad programs in, I’ve figured out the pattern. Students spend the months leading up to their study abroad programs building up beautiful, romantic ideals of the place they’re headed. Midterms and finals at your home university make the idea of a distant, unfamiliar place an appealing one.

The first week of the program feeds this dream (Tourist pictures! Sightseeing!), but as the novelty wears off and the dream fades, the isolation and culture shock start to sink in. For many students, navigating unfamiliar food, buildings, weather, and people becomes exhausting, and these students retreat to their rooms, where they end up squandering their limited time abroad trying to lessen their homesickness by spending weekends and evenings in. I’ve never seen more Netflixing, Skyping, or junk-food snacking than I did in my dorm buildings in Cambridge, DC, and Geneva (I’ve fallen into the same trap a few times myself).

The trick, it turns out, is an easy one: remind yourself how cool and special it is to be able to spend a whole semester in another part of the world, and remind yourself how few people get that opportunity. Remember that you can always return to more familiar environments after your program, and that a few months isn’t a very long time.

Embrace the differences between people and places as part of what makes the world such an interesting and beautiful place, and remind yourself that improving your understanding of communities different from your own makes you a more tolerant, understanding person. Keep in mind that the cultural and travel skills you’re picking up are increasingly valuable life tools in our globalizing world, and know that you’ll never look at your own culture and community quite the same way again – you’ll be more aware of the mannerisms, attitudes, habits, and other attributes that make you and your community who you are, because you’ll understand how few people in the world are like you in those ways.

Whether studying abroad is fun and exciting or whether it’s frustrating and frightening is to a great extent dependent on your attitude while you’re there — but the great thing is that either way, it is enriching, special, and completely worth it.

Do you still need help with your college applications? We can help! Visit our College Admissions website and register to attend one of our FREE Online College WorkshopsAnd as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.

An Introvert’s Guide to Getting Settled in Big Colleges

walking studentMainstream movies, TV shows, and music would have us believe that large colleges are full of loud parties, heavy drinking, and Greek drama. To some of my fellow bright-eyed high school graduates, the scene was an exciting and alluring one. To others—bookish, quiet introverts like me—the idea was terrifying.

I was relieved to eventually discover that college isn’t just four straight years of toga parties and sorority rushes. For most of my first semester, however, I really thought it was: it seemed like everyone around me was partying every night, and all that ever seemed to appear on my Facebook feed were pictures of proud new pledges waving freshly earned Greek letters. Even at UC Berkeley – 34,000 students strong but hardly considered a party school – I felt plenty of pressure to act more like the toga-wearing, letter-waving characters I’d grown up hearing so much about. The 700-person lecture halls, packed study cafes, and loud dorm buildings only scared me more.

I found my place eventually, but it took me a while to realize that I didn’t have to betray my introvert self to do it. Here’s what I learned:

Not everybody is partying.
Actually, pretty few American college students socialize every night (for more, see this research project). It’s just that people tend to Instagram more often about upcoming parties and their nights out than, say, the nights in their rooms with a book and a bowl of instant mac and cheese. It’s worth going to at least a party or two just to see what it’s like, but you’re not considered weird for preferring work time or lazy time over crowded rooms and sweaty dance floors.

Know how you connect best with people, and then do that.
Do you prefer small groups? Join a campus club or attend events that interest you. Do you connect best through one-on-one interactions? Say hello to the student next to you in lecture, or invite your dorm floormate out for a coffee.

Unlike high school, college won’t often create small-group social interactions for you – you’ll have to take the initiative to plan them yourself – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people happy to interact with you in that way. Parties and giant welcome events aren’t the only way to find friends.

Find your hideaways.
Look for quieter areas of campus and less-frequented cafes. Head to higher or lower floors of campus libraries instead of parking near the main entrance. Peaceful surroundings will help you settle back into yourself and store up enough energy to re-enter the fray when you’re ready.

Recognize that your bedroom might not be your refuge anymore.
If you live in a dorm and/or have one or more roommates, you may not be able to come home at the end of a long school day to a quiet space. Instead, try using your time away from home as your break from socializing so you can save up enough social energy for the evenings. Take walks between classes, sit on your own during lectures instead of next to classmates you know, or find a quiet place on or near campus to eat your lunch alone.

Remember that smaller classes are often more socially intense than large lectures.
People tend to keep to themselves in large lectures, so it’s easy to avoid draining small talk just by blending into the crowd. In smaller classes, however, you’re more visible and more likely to be approached. Smaller classes offer great academic benefits, like closer relationships with professors and more personalized learning, so the answer isn’t to avoid small classes. Instead, consider setting up your schedule in a way that avoids stacking too many small classes into the same day, or in time slots too close together, to save yourself enough time to take a social break if you need to.

Be proactive in finding your circle of friends.
Introverts tend to prefer having a few meaningful friends over meeting a slew of acquaintances. The nice part about big colleges is that they’re big enough that you can be sure there are people around who share your interests. The frustrating part is that you have to sift through thousands of other people in order to find them. The only answers here are persistence and luck – choose classes, extracurriculars, and social events that you’re interested in, and be open enough to socializing with strangers that you can give yourself a chance to form close connections.

Do you still need help with your college applications? We can help! Visit our College Admissions website and register to attend one of our FREE Online College WorkshopsAnd as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.

How to Prepare for College-Level Writing

writing essayI’ve written previously on how to make the transition to college writing once you’re already in college, and that’s important. What’s also important is using your time in high school to prepare yourself early for the rigors of college writing.

I know that when you’re in high school, college can seem light-years away. It’s hard to see how your high school assignments will really help you be a better student in college, but trust me, they can. If you use your time in high school right, especially in regards to writing, you can get a strong head start towards producing college-quality work.

Here are 3 tips that you can start using right away to prepare for your future college writing:

1) Create your own topics on assignments.
Or at the very least, alter the prompts given to you. Often times, papers in college will either have no prompt or will have very generic prompts – you have to be creative enough to come up with your own question and then have enough evidence to answer it.

In high school, paper topics are often clearly delineated, and students just go along with what their teacher says. While this might be easy to do, it won’t help you down the road. By practicing going out of your way to confect unique topics that you can explore in depth, you won’t be intimidated when the only instruction your college professor gives you is, “Go write a paper on the book we just read!” (Just be sure to clear this creative topic change with your teacher before submitting your paper!)

2) Ask your high school teachers for feedback, even if you did well on an assignment.
Many high school students just look at the grade on their essays and then move on with their lives. However, knowing that you got an A or a B doesn’t let you know how you can continue to improve your writing. By looking at your teacher’s feedback, you’ll start to see your strengths and weaknesses in writing and be able to raise the quality of your work. What’s more, you can go above and beyond by meeting with your teacher to ask for ways that your writing could better fit college-level writing. After all, your teachers have gone through college already and it’s their job to get your ready for the rigors of the next phase of your academic journey.

3) Focus on argument, not exposition.
In high school, you can sometimes get by with writing a paper focused on who did what, what an idea means, or what techniques someone used. This is exposition (or description) and it is only one part of writing. Good college papers make arguments – they don’t just explain what a character did or what an author’s idea is. So, even if a high school assignment asks you only a simple question, it’s good practice to go above and beyond to make a more complex argument. This mode of thinking will prepare you for the rigorous analysis you must do in college.

I know it can be tempting to just skate by on high school assignments. However, there are certain ways you can use your time in high school to solidly prepare yourself for college writing, and doing this will be well worth your time. Even if this requires more ingenuity and diligence from you now, it will set you up for abundant future success in college and beyond.

Do you still need help with your college applications? We can help! Visit our College Admissions website and register to attend one of our FREE Online College WorkshopsAnd as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

By Aidan Calvelli.

Making College Friends Before Freshman Year Begins

transition into collegeA lot of people get nervous about showing up to college and not knowing anyone, but that fear is not necessarily relevant anymore. With social media and college networking events, it’s possible to meet people in your class between when you get accepted and when you actually arrive on campus.

Facebook pages for admitted or enrolled students are common for lots of schools. Many of these school pages are very popular, and students are always super excited to get involved posting on them. I spent way too much time on Brown’s Class of 2019 Facebook page for weeks after I got in – everyone seemed so friendly, interesting, and excited to be part of our new community.

When someone ends a post with, “Looking to make friends, message me if we have anything in common!” go ahead and reach out if it seems like you two could get along. The best-case scenario is you make a new friend. The worst-case scenario is you have a semi-awkward conversation with no real repercussions. That seems like a situation where it is impossible to lose, so it’s worth your time to give it a chance. I met some cool people from my Brown Facebook group that I still see around campus. I may not be BFFs with all of them, but the more friendly faces you know around campus, the more comfortable you will feel.

There will also be meet-ups and congratulatory events to attend in your area that will be sponsored by schools or even just informally by new students. Going to these might be nerve-wracking, but it is a nice way to hear from enthusiastic alumni and learn some of the faces of your new classmates. I still see large groups of students who met each other this way (and through massive group chats) walking around campus together all the time!

So, I’ve talked a lot about how you could make friends before school starts, but the real question is, “What’s the point?” Doing this could allow you to make a friend, have people to hang with outside your dorm during orientation, find a roommate, or get over some of the awkwardness of meeting new people. Moving in to college can be stressful for a lot of reasons, and the fear of struggling socially is a big one. By knowing people beforehand, you can alleviate some of this fear and focus your efforts on acclimating to college in other ways.

Don’t worry, though, it is by no means necessary to figure out your friend group before you get to school. People find friends on their own at school, so it’s totally not a “must” that you go searching around for a best friend before you even get to school. Everyone at college is looking to meet new people, which makes it really easy to find friends among people you don’t know.

Making friends before freshman year even begins is one of those things that would probably benefit you if you did it, however if you don’t, you’ll still be in a perfectly good position to have a great social life on campus.

Do you still need help with your college applications? We can help! Visit our College Admissions website and register to attend one of our FREE Online College WorkshopsAnd as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

By Aidan Calvelli.

Admissions Tips and Ivy League College Consulting

AdmissionsHigh school students who plan to apply to Ivy League colleges already know the importance of having a high GPA and impressive SAT scores. But what other qualifications are Ivy League admissions officials looking for? Let’s look at some valuable admissions tips for gaining acceptance into one of these exclusive schools.

 

Garner Compelling Recommendation Letters

One of the most valuable Ivy League admissions tips a student can follow is to get compelling recommendation letters from teachers, employers, or organization leaders. The most persuasive letters are written by teachers and other adults who know the student very well. For example, a student who has volunteered for four years in an after-school reading program for elementary school children could ask the director of the program to write a recommendation letter – the director has known the student for years and would be able to write a glowing letter about the person’s character and dedication to the children in the program. A teacher or an employer a student has worked with for a long time would also be an excellent person to ask for a letter of recommendation.

Write a Memorable Admissions Essay

Admissions officials at Ivy League schools place a great deal of weight on an applicant’s essay. A well-written essay can give officials even more insight into a student’s character. A student should write a sincere essay in their own voice. Some students make the mistake of setting out to write an essay that they think will please admissions officials, however, experienced admissions officials can easily see through a contrived essay.

At Veritas Prep, we offer Ivy League consulting services to students who want to stand out to admissions officials, and one of our services is to offer guidance on admissions essays. We hire professional consultants who have worked in the admissions offices of Ivy League schools. In short, Veritas Prep students benefit from working with an Ivy League college counselor with inside knowledge of the process.

Participate in a Few Significant Extracurricular Activities

Some students think they need to participate in a dozen or more extracurricular activities in order to impress the officials at an Ivy League school. Unfortunately, if a student participates in this many activities, they will likely not be able to dedicate much time to any of those activities.

Instead, many admissions officials are looking for students who dedicate themselves to a few significant extracurricular activities. For example, one student may hold an office in student government all four years of high school while also working throughout middle school and high school as a volunteer at a summer camp for special-needs kids. Such involvement demonstrate the student’s dedication and desire to stick with something long-term – a trait that admissions officials look for.

Show Enthusiasm for a School and its Resources

Any experienced Ivy League college counselor knows the importance of expressing enthusiasm for a school. Not surprisingly, admissions officials want students who are excited about their school. One way a student can display this enthusiasm is to visit the school and tour its campus. This gives a student the chance to ask questions and sample the atmosphere of an Ivy League campus.

Staying in contact with admissions officers during the selection process is another way for a student to show their interest in the school. Admissions officials appreciate students who have specific reasons why they want to attend the school. For instance, a student who plans to major in biology may be enthusiastic about the high-tech equipment available to students in the school’s science labs. Show that this particular school will play an important part in your future plans.

The Benefits of Working With Ivy League College Consultants

At Veritas Prep, we offer many Ivy League consulting services, including advice on extracurricular activities, transcript evaluation, guidance regarding scholarships, and more. We help students to organize the process so they can apply to Ivy League colleges without missing a step. Our supportive consultants partner with students as they move toward their goal of attending a preferred school.

Along with our admissions consultants, we have a team of tutors who help students prepare for the SAT or the ACT. We use practice test results to individualize the test prep process. Then, students can take our courses and learn valuable test-taking strategies, either online or in person, to earn scores that will impress admissions officers. Contact Veritas Prep today to start on the path toward a degree from an Ivy League school!

Are you planning to apply to an Ivy League college? We can help! Visit our College Admissions website and fill out our FREE College profile evaluation

For more college admissions tips, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

New Study Highlights the Growing Challenge of College Affordability

The Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability has released a new study that reveals how college students and their families are picking up more and more of the costs as schools reduce the percentage of their budgets devoted
to instruction.

The Delta Project — a nonprofit organization that aims to shed light on the challenge of affordability in higher education — created the study to “follow the money” in higher education and try to determine why college tuition costs keep rising dramatically while the quality of instruction seems to get no better (and in some cases, get worse). The study paints a rather bleak picture: The schools where the most students are — state institutions and community colleges — spend the least on instruction per student. Where they have made spending cuts or diverted money away from programs that directly improve student instruction, it’s the students themselves that frequently make up the gap with their own dollars.

In 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available, students are public schools paid for about half the cost of their education, up from approximately 40% just four years earlier. Students actually pay even more of their share at private schools: Their share rose from about 58% in 2002 to more than 63% in 2006.

The report paints the picture of growing administrative overhead gobbling up schools’ budgets, with the percentage of budgets growing at all types of schools from the mid-1990s to 2006. Meanwhile, in all cases at all schools, students’ tuition fees rose faster than spending, with some of this difference going toward increasing overhead.

Compounding the problem for public universities and community colleges, these schools are also the ones that are most likely to feel the brunt of budget cuts at the state and federal level. Assuming government spending on education faces more cuts in the coming year, The Delta Project predicts that these trends may even accelerate. While the U.S. higher education system is still the class of the world, the growing affordability gap threatens to undo this strength in the near future unless something changes soon.