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Which Degrees Pay You Back?

A recent report suggests that most four-year college degrees allow graduates to recoup the cost of education in a reasonable amount of time. In fact, of the more than 38,000 degree programs, nearly two-thirds (65%) of graduates earn enough to make up for their college fees within a decade, and 46% have achieved the same results within five years of graduation. However, out of all college programs (10,000), almost a quarter of graduates have insufficient income to pay for their education costs within 20 years of completing their studies. Around 6,000 of such programs are at the associate's degree level and have no financial advantage over a high school diploma. This means that more than 350,000 students are enrolled, generally taking on large debts to pay for all education expenses and graduating from these projects, but there is little or no financial benefit! Although a bachelor's degree takes longer to complete and is generally more expensive than a shorter degree program, 65% of graduates earn enough to recoup the cost of education in 10 years or less, which is 75% of the participants of all graduates. Only 10% of bachelor's programs (5% of four-year students) show that their graduates earn less than a typical high school graduate within two years of earning their degree. Degree programs in public institutions are most likely to allow graduates to recoup their educational investment within five years (56%) or 10 years (73%) after completing the course. Of the 1.3 million students who graduated from these programs, about 1 million (76%) had enough income to pay for their education in 10 years or less. But there is some bad news: Most graduates of more than 3,000 programs (13%), or 109,183 students, earn less than a typical high school graduate two years after the program ends. Since the cost of attending private non-profit institutions is usually higher than that of public universities, students who graduate from these schools will take longer to recover the cost of education. Only 31% of private non-profit university projects show that their graduates have recovered their education costs in five years or less. Nevertheless, most programs (56%) indicate that their students can recover their costs within 10 years after graduation, accounting for 62% of all graduates from private non-profit institutions. Overall, the best ROIs include degrees related to the following: nursing, construction management, allied health, and a number of subfields in engineering. On the flip side, the worst ROIs include degrees related to religious studies, anthropology, zoology, religious studies, film studies, and various majors in the performing arts. In conclusion, if your ROI is an important factor in choosing your major, best to pick a degree that pays off in the end at a public institution!

Learning Styles Are a Myth!

In the early 1990s, a New Zealand man named Neil Fleming decided to solve a problem he was confused when he supervised the classroom as a school inspector. After watching 9,000 different courses, he realized that only a few teachers could reach every one of his students. What did they do differently? He suggested that people have different "learning styles" (early theories include "VAK" without reading and things involving "convergence" and "assimilation"), but VARK has become one of the most prominent models. Experts are not sure how this concept spread, but it may be related to the self-esteem movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Everyone is special, so everyone must have a special way of learning, people concluded. Teachers told students about various learning styles as early as in elementary school. Teachers like to think that they can reach all students, even struggling students, and just personalize their teaching according to each student's preferred learning style, according to Dr. Ebinol, a student at Central Michigan University studying learning styles. At the same time, students like to attribute their academic failure to the teacher's failure to align to the student’s own learning style. Much evidence shows that people are not really any kind of learner. In a study published in the journal Anatomical Science Education, Polly Husmann and her colleagues asked hundreds of students to answer a VARK questionnaire to determine what kind of learner they should be. Then the survey provided them with some learning strategies that seemed to be related to this way of learning. Husmann found that not only did students' learning styles not seem to reflect their learning styles, but also those who adjusted their studies to their own styles did not perform better on tests. Husmann believes that students have developed certain learning habits, and once formed, they are difficult to break. Students seem to be interested in your learning style, but it is not enough to change learning behavior accordingly. Even if they are aware of a learning style, it doesn't matter. Husmann said that for anyone who wants to learn new things, the most important thing is to really focus on the material; this is what the most successful students in his research did, rather than putting some flashcards on the table while watching a football game. Learning styles may help you understand yourself, but it may not help you actually learn!

A Decreasing Number of Colleges – How it Affects Admissions

The days of publishing newsworthy federal data on college admissions are basically gone, as the National Student Information Clearinghouse begins to provide more up-to-date information, which is provided quarterly. The U.S. Department of Education's comprehensive higher education data system is still the best source of data on many other aspects of U.S. higher education. Its latest data show that the higher education industry continues to shrink, and the for-profit industry is no longer the only shrinking industry. The decrease in the number of two- and four-year public universities, and a smaller percentage decrease in the number of four-year private nonprofit universities (0.8%, a decrease of 13 colleges), may reflect a slight but significant number of closings. There has been more instances of merger of institutions or merger of multiple public institutions into a single institution, as has happened in Maine and Connecticut in recent years. In New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Vermont, similar mergers are taking place or are under discussion. Mergers between two private non-profit institutions occur more frequently, but are still rare, because most of these mergers have caused one of the universities to largely disappear from public view. Mergers in higher education are more like acquisitions than peer mergers, and the most troubled independent universities may close rather than merge. In recent months, Northeastern University announced plans to absorb Mills College, Judson College, Becker College and Concordia College in New York have been closed. Major rating agencies began predicting in the middle of the last decade that the number of closed colleges could triple, from about 5 to 6 per year (the average for most of the 1990s and 2000s) to about 15 or more. The massive influx of federal recovery funds in the past 12 months, especially the US bailout plan, has provided a lifeline to universities (if not hundreds) facing financial stress prior to the global pandemic, many of which have suffered heavy losses. The main takeaway in regards to college admissions is simple: fewer institutions mean fewer spots available for potential students, resulting directly in more competition and lower admit rates. However, other research has shown that declines in enrollment have not largely affected the more popular schools, namely those in the top 50 in the US News Rankings. With that in mind, it’s important to keep an eye on how and if the consolidation of universities will continue to affect other schools.

In Defense of Test Optional/Blind

If the SAT is eliminated, critics foresee the end of the world. Larry Su, an English professor at the City College of Chicago, recently wrote in Inside Higher Ed predicting that this change will make American students unprepared for college, will prevent minority students from completing their studies, and will convey the value of misinformation about American learning institutions and destroying America’s basic beliefs of hard work and personal responsibility, further jeopardizing America's national and international interests. Although this long list of details is common in academia, it lacks factual basis. For The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan made a different argument: The UC decision will hurt minority students. The SAT is a pass for many smart kids who, for whatever reason, did not perform well in high school. (By the way, this has been exceptionally true in my own experience with my own students! I’ve met low-GPA students with high SAT scores who still were accepted to great schools!) In 2018, approximately 22,000 UC students took standardized tests, with about half of these students from low-income families, and more than a quarter are black, Latino or Native American. However, Yale University economist Zachary Bremer, who spent years analyzing data, contends that Flanagan seriously misunderstood the way UC admissions works. According to Bremer, fewer than 100 students entered the University of California because of their SAT scores alone, and the best available evidence shows that the impact of canceling the SAT on the admission of disadvantaged students is negligible (which might be a good thing). UC graduation rates may drop slightly due to the college's decision. However, due to low test scores, students who would not otherwise advance will benefit greatly. As Bremer's research shows, they are far more likely to graduate than students with similar records enrolled in one of the least selective campuses in California. After six to eight years, the graduate’s income increased by $15,000. 11 national organizations recently asked the U.S. News and World Report to stop using average SAT and ACT scores in their college rankings. NACAC recent claimed that using average freshman scores to rank an institution has never made sense, but is even more absurd during a deadly pandemic.

In Defense of SAT/ACT

Recently, the UCs decided to cancel ACT and SAT scores from college admissions. Although the report of the University Academic Committee came to the exact opposite conclusion, it still made this decision. The Senate cited research showing that these tests actually help systematic campuses to identify talented low-income or minority students. Of course, these two exams are never perfect, and they are never intended to be the only criteria for admitting students. In fact, few colleges and universities use them alone when deciding whether to admit students. For decades, standardized tests have combined their transcripts, essays, creative projects, extracurricular activities or teacher recommendations to effectively determine students’ college readiness, which is why they are widely used by colleges and universities at all levels, and most of the United States people. They are confident in both tests, although some have drawbacks. If these two tests have big flaws and problems in accurately assessing students' academic preparation, who can determine the best results for high school transcripts, extracurricular activities, and student essays? When 50% of high school graduates get an A, would anyone say that they are more accurate in assessing students' academic preparation? What if the document is written by someone else? What if the event is fictitious or exaggerated? Emphasizing the effectiveness and practicality of standardized tests does not hide their shortcomings. It shows that despite its shortcomings, it is often used as an important criterion for college admissions in most countries. For example, Japan uses the National Central University Entrance Exam, which is held on a weekend in January each year for two days. If a student loses it, they must wait one year before they can participate again. Koreans take the College Academic Aptitude Test (CSAT) in November. The test is widely accepted because of its efficiency, effectiveness, and emphasis on advantages. Finns combine the Finnish university preparatory exams with the exams and other advantages of each university to admit students. Singapore does not have its own national test, but instead relies on the ACT or SAT designed by the United States. Contrary to these standard tests, the United States does not have its own nationally designed tests. This should make citizens wonder why the United States does not have its own national tests. Regarding allegations that wealthy and well-educated families have the resources to allow their children to take tests to improve their children's grades and that high SAT and ACT scores are related to the family's wealth and education from the student, it's hard for most people to accept that this is the reason for the exam cancellation. Wealthy families have every right to use their own resources to help their children take the test. It is not logical to cancel these two exams due to differences in family income and parental education. Although it is reasonable to emphasize equality of opportunity, it is unrealistic to emphasize equality of results. Given the diversity of race, gender, culture and income in the United States, it is almost impossible to demand absolute equality. If you choose not to participate or cancel the ACT and SAT, a wrong message will also be sent to students. When academically advanced students are not proud of themselves, when they are called nerds and isolate themselves at school, this fully demonstrates our culture and our value as a country. He said test scores, great results, and competitive awards aren't as popular as popularity. While education is generally seen as an equalizer and an important tool in lifting students and their families out of poverty, blaming society for all family and personal suffering, wealthy or well-educated Asians promote no one. Rather, they cause our students to fall behind in courses like math, statistics, and engineering.

Importance of Your College Major

In recent years, more than 80% of high school graduates had researched their field of choice before choosing their major in college. This mindset works well if your degree guaranteed a career, and it’s true that certain careers require training and skills found in specific degrees, especially STEM-related careers. However, studies, and real-life experience, show that your major is unlikely to have large impacts on your career success. Too often do students think that a degree promises successes in the future. So again, unless you are pursuing a specific career that requires a certain degree, think again about the importance of your college major. 1. Any college degree demonstrates an ability to learn and apply. Keep in mind that undergraduate degrees include general education, so for the first two years, most of your classes will be breadth requirements. Having a completed college degree shows that you know a bit about various things. In addition, multiply majors share similar skills. Someone who studied English can easily transition into technical writing at a tech company. Never believe that your past experiences are useless; all experiences are valuable and add perspective to your next goals. This perspective may even be the reason you are hired! More importantly, it shows that you are committed to a goal and reached it; this is important to employers. Over 50% of college graduates work in a job that requires a degree, but only about 25% of them have a job related to their major. 2. Tech companies still need non-tech skills. What I mean by this is that your major can still land you a job at big tech companies, at which you can earn tech industry salaries still! Every company, especially large ones, need non-tech skills: HR, accounting, management. A popular choice would be a Scrum Master. People skills are emphasized as they are coveted when leading groups, especially groups of STEM-oriented workers. Your soft skills can carry you far as well. 3. Happiness is important. As I often remind my students when they are creating a school list, be sure to pick a place where you’ll be happy. After all, you are the one living there for the next four or more years. A happy worker is an efficient worker. A happy student is a motivated student. A motivated student is eager to succeed. This has a domino effect, clearly! 4. It’s who you know, not what you know. An important part of going to college is meeting people and widening your social network. As a teacher, I also remind students that what you learn at different schools will pretty much be the same. How much more psychology is there to learn, whether it’s at an Ivy League school or your local community college? In fact, some textbooks might even be the same! Therefore, college is more about opportunities and environment. It’s been shown that students from lower-income families rise in social class after attending Ivy League schools. Knowing the hiring manager is more important than having straight As. “It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value.” – Arthur Clarke Overall, academic performance does not lead you directly to a job. Interviews, social skills, non-academic talents, personality, and a combination of other factors all affect your professional success.

Understanding AP Exams

As students receive their AP scores this July and August, it’s an opportune moment to discuss AP exams and understand them through the lens of college admissions. First, here are what your scores generally represent: Thus, a general consensus is that any score of 3 or higher is worth reporting, since that is also the score required to pass an AP exam. However, keep in mind that each university has its own policies regarding minimum AP exam score required to obtain college credit, and this varies depending on each AP exam. For example, a school might require a 4 in AP Chinese but a 5 in AP Chemistry in order to give you college course and credit equivalent. This means that you won’t have to take the course again in college; yes, you can save a lot of your future self’s time and energy by studying hard and doing well on a single test in May! In addition, another factor to keep in mind is the score distribution. If you received a 3, for example, but that 3 is better than a vast majority of scores (i.e. most students received a 2 or 1), it may still be worth reporting your score on that AP exam. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind. AP exam scores are automatically sent to your teachers and colleges that you chose to include when you registered for the test. You can retake an AP test; following this logic, you can also take an AP test without taking the AP course. Use this information accordingly. I’ve had students who chose to self-study for AP Psych and take the AP Psych exam. I’ve also had students who were dissatisfied with their AP score and took the test again the following year, again, without taking the AP course again. Usually, the only factors are time and money. One more thing is the idea that colleges are moving toward test optional, with some schools doing away with the SAT/ACT entirely. Namely, the UCs are not considering SAT/ACT scores, even if you try to send them! As mentioned before, it’s safe to assume that UCs will be looking at AP scores more carefully, especially since SAT Subject Tests have also been discontinued. Having high AP scores will be an important component of a highly competitive profile, in conjunction with the usual expectation of high GPA and course rigor. Finally, don’t be afraid of taking AP courses and AP exams in 12th grade. Yes, it’s true that colleges won’t see your AP test results before they make their admissions decisions, but they will be able to see your course lineup, and course rigor is something that weakens for many students once they decide to “take it easy” in senior year. Colleges expect the same rigor, if not more, in 12th grade, and high AP scores will grant you more college credits, meaning it’s certainly possible for a student to show up to college and be a sophomore already!

How to Create a College List

College lists can be extremely intimidating to create, and when we are unfamiliar with where to begin, we may feel paralyzed by plethora of possibilities: public, private, liberal arts, small, large, religious affiliation, location, research opportunities, and the list of factors go on! Many students begin by focusing on schools, but in a seemingly counter-intuitive approach, it’s better to focus on yourself first. Look at your overall profile. What would a college deduce about you, your interests, your skills, your strengths, and your weaknesses? If your goal is to maximize your chances of getting into schools, identify how to present your strengths in the most attractive ways. Sometimes, this means a different major than you had in mind! First, make sure to research as much as possible. After all, you are living there for four years! Research beyond academics. The ranking of the school isn’t going to affect your day-to-day life and happiness. Find a place that has an environment that suits your wants and needs. A happy student is a productive and successful student. Your individual needs are much more important, and they include personal goals, academic goals, and financial needs. Visit websites, social media, and the colleges themselves, whether virtually or in person. This also helps with showing demonstrated interest, a factor that is considered by many schools when making their admissions decisions. Through in-person visits, you will be able to observe the school for what it really is. Think about advertising – products are presented in the best light. Colleges will show you the best parts about them. You have to go see the not-so-best parts for yourself. Walk off-campus. Do you feel safe? Do you feel inspired? Do you see yourself living off-campus there? Is college a pathway to a career for you? Will you have enough nearby opportunities in terms of internships or work experience? Second, prioritize your own factors. Consider location, class size, school size, research opportunities, social life, opportunities for networking, etc. The popular US News Rankings may not fit your wants and needs. Make your own rankings! Finally, balance your school list. Definitely aim high, but make sure to have variety. Include schools at which your academic performance is in the 75th+ percentile, in the middle 50th percentile, and below the 50th percentile. These will be your likely, target, and reach schools. All of this information is easily found on the schools’ websites. Also, consider which schools you would want to apply to early, and manage your workload accordingly (essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts). Many students nowadays apply to 10-15 schools, which is made easier with the advent of the Common Application. After you have a college list, you will have a more detailed roadmap that guides you on your process; now you know which schools to research and what interests to write about, probably major-related! Ask others for different perspectives as well! Oftentimes, the stories in our lives feel insignificant because we’ve lived through the experiences and grown from them; however, for others, especially strangers and admissions officers, those stories could be very insightful!

The Pandemic's Effect on College Enrollment

According to recent studies, data has shown a sharp decline in college enrollment due to the pandemic, with community colleges taking most of the hit. This decline, which has affected mostly Black and Latino students, hurts social mobility in our society, not just the colleges themselves. Overall, enrollment fell by nearly 5% in the spring of 2021, compared to the year before, and according to the National Student Clearinghouse, two-year community colleges, which usually enroll more low-income students and students of color, made up more than 65% of total enrollment losses. “Community college enrollment dropped by 9.5% this spring, with a loss of 476,000 students.” With a decrease in community college enrollment, there will be a decrease in transfer students – how this affects transfer admit rates is something to keep an eye on. “Of the 2.6 million individuals who entered college as first-time freshmen in fall 2019, 73.9% continued their studies at any U.S. institution in fall 2020 compared to the 75.9% who did so the prior year.” Again, a slight drop in first-time freshmen, suggesting an increase in the number of students who took a gap year. This is another area to keep an eye on – if students return the following year, that can affect admit rates as well. “Latino enrollment in community colleges overall — which had been increasing before the pandemic — fell by 13.7% this spring, with enrollment of Latino men and Black men falling 19.4% and 21.5% respectively.” Colleges may look to make up for this decrease in future classes they admit. “The difference between the highest retention rate (86.5% for Asian students) and the lowest (64.9% for Black students) was almost 22 percentage points.” In other words, there are still plenty of Asians on campuses; if colleges look at their diversity numbers, they may start to be a bit more hands-on. “The eroding of community colleges, which serve as a less expensive springboard to the middle class, will ’likely be felt for generations,’ Mamie Voight, the interim president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy.” Leading to a larger divide among wealth and education levels. “…engineering majors showed the highest persistence rate of the top five majors at 92.2%. They were followed by biological and biomedical sciences majors with a persistence rate of 91.3%, health care majors at 89%, liberal arts and sciences and general studies at 88.1%, and business-related majors at 85.6%.” “Both biological and biomedical sciences and health care majors saw notable increases in their retention rates over the prior year (+1.4 and +1.8 percentage points to 82.3% and 78.9%, respectively). The largest persistence rate drop was for liberal arts majors (-1.6 percentage points to 88.1%).” We will still have a healthy number of STEM degree graduates. These majors will continue to be extremely competitive as colleges recover from enrollment declines. However, “even as undergraduate enrollment fell, graduate education is on the rise, with enrollment in master's and doctoral programs rising 5.2% and 3.6% respectively.” The main takeaway is that the lack of a college degree may seem to be less critical now with the job market surging, but a college degree remains one of the best protections against unemployment.

The Impact of the Big Test Industry

As we’ve heard and read in the news these past few years, college have been demonstrating their support of the test optional movement, and some schools, like the UCs, have even taken a harder stance – eliminating tests altogether. According to Susan Paterno of Chapman University, “The test prep industry has become a multi-billion-dollar industry, and it's growing and expanding at a high rate… As more and more kids take these high-stakes tests and enroll in these test prep programs, the competition to get into selective colleges just shoots through the roof, and the competition to win merit scholarships reaches a fever pitch." The implication here is that if students from middle to upper classes are faced with these time-consuming and resource-consuming processes, imagine what students from “underfunded, poorly resourced high schools” must face. In response, many four-year colleges and universities will not require students to submit a test score. According to FairTest Executive Director Bob Schaeffer, test optional and test blind have become the new normal. College Board reps have shared the sentiment, publicly supporting colleges in introducing more flexibility and choice into the admissions process. Just little background info – The SAT was created in 1926 and was used as the main test for the Harvard National Scholarship program; just 10 years later, Harvard required all candidates to take the SAT. Soon after, the SAT was used by other Ivy League schools to help recruit students. The SAT, naturally, gained popularity. In 1959, the ACT was created as an alternative to the SAT. While the ACT has been gaining popularity, its revenue numbers still pale in comparison to the SAT. In 2019, the ACT reported $302 million in revenue while the SAT (College Board) reported $1.1 billion in revenue. By the way, the SAT is administered by ETS, which reported $1.3 billion in revenue. In addition, the College Board also handles the AP tests, which reported $490 million in revenue, more than the ACT! PSAT is offered at many schools, rather than Pre ACT, which helps boost College Board’s product. To address the bias that favors wealthier families, several states have passed laws, such as New York’s bill to stop “certain public institutions of higher education from using the scholastic aptitude test and ACT assessment in the admissions process on and after the [2024-2025] academic year for New York resident applicants and requires SUNY and CUNY to create a new standardized test by the [2026-2027] academic year.” Another viewpoint, however, is that by mandating tests, “you would then make sure that some kids weren't slipping through the cracks, who might be very well prepared for college but didn't know that they didn't see themselves as college material or they were first-generation kids." Some schools, such as the University of California system, will work on creating their own tests. Still, according to FairTest, “the value of the test industry, as in the test prep industry, to the college process: it’s fairly minimal… It actually hurts the college process. Testing predicts above GPA maybe five, six percentage points of first-year GPA. … So to create a multi-billion-dollar industry around administering and preparing for these tests seems like fairly minimal return on investment for the country.”

Questions to Ask on College Tours

The US News recently published a list of 50 questions to ask on a college visit: I’d like to highlight and explain the importance of some of the questions! Does demonstrated interest play a role in the admission process? Make sure to take note of how the college answers this. If they say that they don’t track it, it’s possible that it’s true. However, be sure to check if it’s part of their official criteria for admissions. For some schools, it will still be categorized as “Considered” at the very least. In this case, be sure to sign up for emails and events, and open the emails! Some schools will send you a 1x1 pixel image in the email, and this is how they know if you opened the email. It’s a good idea to create a separate email address to keep track of all of your admissions and college-related emails. Are interviews offered? Do students sign up for them? Are interviews conducted by alumni, students or admissions officers? It’s important to know your responsibility when it comes to interviews, if the school offers them. Sometimes, you will be responsible for signing up, especially true if the interview is optional. By the way, if it’s optional, always plan on doing it. It’s also a good idea to know who will be interviewing you, and you can plan questions to ask the school as well, to really demonstrate your interest. Don’t forget that you are interviewing the school too! You might find out that it’s not the best fit for you. How easy is it to switch majors or schools within the university? Are any majors restricted? Many students may want to switch into a CS or Engineering school after being accepted by the university; however, there is an increasing number of schools and programs that no longer allow all students to switch majors freely. For example, at UC Santa Cruz, you must declare CS as your major as an incoming freshman. Think about how much freedom the school allows for you to change disciplines; most students will change their majors! What types of research opportunities do students have access to outside of the classroom? What resources are provided to students who aren’t able to secure research with professors? This is especially important at larger schools; usually, there will be immense competition among students to secure a research opportunity with their professors. It’s not uncommon to see students lining up outside of the professor’s office hours and hours before office hours to have a chance at working with their professors. If this is important to you, also reconsider the size of the schools you are applying to. What do you hope to read about in student essays? Be direct! Bluntly ask them what they want to see in your essays. They will be more than happy to tell you that they are probably sick of reading certain topics or themes again and again. They WANT to read interesting stories! Their job is to read; your job is to make it fun for them because that will make your application stand out, which is the first step of getting your admissions officer to vouch for you!

New Common App Prompt and How to Answer It

For rising seniors applying to colleges this fall, there will be a slight change to the Common Application: one of the eight essay prompts is being replaced. This is what the OLD prompt used to be: Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. And here is the NEW prompt, effective this fall: Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? According to Common App, the old prompt was “seldom used,” and this new prompt is inspired by scientific research on gratitude and kindness, mainly by the benefits of writing about positive influences in our lives. Keep in mind that the additional optional essay prompt about COVID-19 remains. Common App President and CEO stated the following: “Particularly at this challenging time, we can help students think about something positive and heartfelt in their lives. And we can do it explicitly.” In addition, Common App hopes that this revised prompt will lead to more essays that “colleges are excited to read.” Did you catch that last part? EXCITED to read. How do we make sure we craft a response that is interesting for our readers? There are a few factors. Make sure that you aren’t just listing actions or events, simply answering the prompt dryly. Remember – no formal academic writing components like thesis statements or topic sentences, which leads us to the second point… Tell a story. Everyone calls these college essays, but these are really more like stories mixed with the style of answering interview questions. Your goal is to give enough context about yourself so that your audience or reader can come to a conclusion about you. This is summarized in the adage “show don’t tell.” Because you are telling a story, don’t forget story-telling elements, including literary devices you studied throughout high school. Reward your reader with cohesion and themes. Add a splash of imagery, symbolism, and metaphors. Don’t go overboard, though. Now, the prompt itself. This approach should work for any prompt, by the way. Look at the key words and paraphrase. The prompt is basically asking you to talk about a time someone made a positive impact on your life and to reflect on how that action or event influenced you. Think outside the literal box. What about role models whom you’ve never met in person? What about an author whose book inspired you? Once you understand what kind of story a prompt is fishing for, feel free to interpret the prompt itself a bit more liberally. As long as you end up telling an INTERESTING story, mission accomplished! Final reminders: just as I’ve been telling all my rising seniors, don’t worry about crafting your story to fit the prompt. What I mean by this is, yes, these prompts exist to PROMPT you to think about relative experiences and memories. However, once you have a story in mind, tell that story the best you can tell it, focusing on the important aspects. Perhaps you realize that the story doesn’t actually fit that prompt, in the end. Perhaps it fits another prompt. That’s great! In other words, don’t try to shoehorn your story to fit a prompt just because that prompt inspired you in the first place. Match your final stories to the prompts available instead.