Archive for July, 2009

What makes a good college applicant?

Some people have already chosen a major and plan to apply to a career preparation program. They have to write motivational essays to show they have made a wise choice and will make good professionals.

I always have uneasy feeling about such people as it seems to me that it has been rather easy for them to choose. Too often they have no clear idea of what the chosen career is about, what it takes to be good and successful in the field, etc.

One way to find out if you have the potential to become a good whatever you have chosen to become is to Google “What makes a good whatever you have chosen to become“. I have just tried that with a couple of professions, and I have got amazing returns 🙂

Do you ever get bored?

Yesterday I worked with a student on her application to medical schools. One of her reasons to study medicine is that medicine is a fast and constantly evolving field, so she would be a life-long learner and thus never get bored. She told me she got bored when she did not have homework assignments or someone to tell her what to do or entertain her. While she was talking, I jotted down in my notebook “no self-guidance”.

Today I have been thinking about boredom and self-guidance. I believe that every career requires a certain degree of self-guidance and leadership, that the prestigious, well-paid, rewarding careers my students dream of require a high degree of these.

I also believe that boredom and self-guidance are related. Some day I’ll have the time and patience to show you how.

I’ll be trying to find out how kids grow up into self-guided adolescents and adults or into bored, dependent ones. Do you have any clue?

Who are you #2

You are not only what you have done, faced, survived as demonstrated in your resume and life story. These formats may not be able to show that you are a dreamer or an introvert, that you possess a brilliant analytical mind or Mother Theresa’s compassion. Yet, knowing who you are might help you choose the right college and major; it might help you show admissions officers that you are the one who deserves acceptance (and, perhaps, generous financial aid). I’ll suggest the most appropriate way to do it.

What you need to do now is write a self-inventory – a list of definitions like “resourceful”, “generous”, “spider lover”, “crowd hater”, “a natural-born leader”, etc. You should have in mind all contexts of your life – school, family, the privacy of you room, etc.

When you run out of definitions (aim at 20 at the very beginning and don’t give up at least until you have reached 20), you might have fun with writing short paragraphs supporting your claims – through anecdotes, scenarios, etc.

What if you feel you are “bla-bla”, but you cannot provide evidence? Well, try as hard as possible to provide some, but don’t drop out the definition if you fail to back it up.

Remember, a resume, a life story and a self-inventory should be separate documents with precise and informative file names in Latin, never in Cyrillic!!!

Who are you?

Some colleges are interested in who you are. How could you show them?

Your resume (CV) is about what you have done. What you have done is related to who you are, but it does not tell the whole story.

Who you are might be defined by what you have experienced, by the challenges you have faced (you might have been fighting a serious disease or taking care of a relative), by the opportunities you have taken ( you might have made use of available resources rather than complain about the lack of resources; you might have worked on an interesting project) , by the special circumstances in your family (you might have been raised by a single parent or survived a parent’s alcoholism; you might have been raised in poverty; you might have been engaged in your family business), etc. Both positive and negative experiences are important!

It might be a good idea to write the story of your life and send it to me. I might spot some information that could be turned into an essay or some that is worth mentioning in a recommendation (you might later remind your teachers of your special circumstances).

You might jot down an outline first, so that you make sure you have included every relevant event / scenario. Then you might briefly elaborate on each of them (within a paragraph).

The narrative resume

When I was a kid, a CV / resume meant a short narrative, starting with a couple of lines about your family: “I was born in a humle working-class family. My father is a member of the Communist party.” It was such a relief when the lean list/ table was introduced in the 90s: we could write only the relevant, and the readers could easily spot what they needed. They could ask us to elaborate on the items at interviews.

Not all colleges require a resume. Some of them just ask you to fill in some information into grids they have provided on their application forms or to include it in a personal statement. Providing them with a lean list of activities and awards could be easy, but it might not reveal much about you. That’s why I have been encouraging students  to elaborate a little on most items.

Here you can find  an older text on resumes with a sample attached. However, I don’t like the format anymore. A lot of space is used on activity titles and numbers ( hours per week, weeks per year, school years, etc.) and the most meaningful information is squeezed into the last column. It’s true it looks much nicer in a landscape rather than portrait format, but still … 😦 That’s why I believe it would be much better to produce a one-column thing, with titles in Bold, and the “numbers” included in the title. The elaborations should go below.

Basketball – 9, 10, 11, 12 year – 6 hours / week, 50 weeks / year

Some elaborations –  bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blablablabla bla blablablablablal bla bla blabla blab la blab la. (that’s 150 words!)

The list does not need to follow the order I have provided in my older text. I believe it should follow the order of importance for the applicant.

Why should you elaborate on items?

1. Because some of their titles are sheer mystery to readers. What does “A member of the BZDP” mean? Take a look at the activities in this resume – that’s what I advise AGAINST.

2. Even if readers understand the title, it might still tell them too little. Everybody knows what “basketball” means, but how could one know if you have played for fun with the kids on the block or professionally on the national youth team? What if you have coached a group of kids as well?

3. You could use the opportunity to show that the activities have done you good, that they have helped shape you as the nice (versatile, etc.) person you are today.

4. You could show that you have developed some skills and characteristics that you can benefit from throughout your college experience.

5. You could demonstrate you have (acquired) some skills and characteristics that will help you succeed in your chosen career (if you are declaring it at a liberal arts school or applying to a career preparation program).

What do you need to tell?

1. Describe the activity – you already know that even self-evident words like “basketball” do not offer enough information, but do avoid definitions of popular words like “basketball”.  Take a look at this resume – it offers specific information – I like that!

2. If you have been part of a team, describe YOUR part of the job.

3. What challenges have you faced?

4. What have you gained – what have you learned, realized, etc.?

5. What impact have you made? How have you been useful to other people, to the environment, etc.?

How long should a separate entry be?

Well, if you could squeeze it into 150 words, it could be really nice, but it might be impossible. I suggest you start by writing down everything you feel like sharing, and then I’ll help you cut down. Be lavish during the first drafts and frugal on the final. The perfect draft: when nothing more could be added. The perfect product: when nothing more could be cut down.

What are the items worth mentioning?

Everything matters during the first draft! Write as much as you can; be careful not to omit anything you have done out of the classroom, even the things you find unimpressive. It doesn’t matter if you have done these alone, with a friend, with you grandma or as part of a formal group, no matter if  you can provide (official) evidence or not. I’ll help you rule out the things you’d better not mention.

Don’t wait for a complete first draft to send to me. You’d better send a separate entry as soon as it is ready, so that we work faster!!!

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