by Carol Barash, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO of Story To College
What do Napster, HuffPo and Facebook have to do with higher ed? Technology is radically transforming what we learn and how we learn. What happened to publishing, music and friendship is also happening in education. Technology is changing our fundamental assumptions both the content and structure of higher education. And, as was reported this week in the New York Times, not all universities will survive the tectonic shifts unleashed by digital learning.
How do parents and students assess college choices in the midst of all this change? How can you ensure that the places you are applying--and especially the one to which you commit four or more years of your life and more than a little hard-earned cash--will teach for what matters 10 or 20 or 100 years from now?
1. Pick a college with a sound balance sheet: This statistic gets batted around a lot in education circles: in the next 25 years one third of US colleges (roughly 1,300) will potentially have to close their doors because they do not have sound finances. You are on the soundest footing for the long run if you pick a college that has a strong endowment and sustainable business model and is “best in class” at a few areas of specialization, rather than trying to do everything (which is oh so 20th century).
2. Think of college as part of your portfolio, not the whole solution: College--even the best college--is not a panacea to work or life success. The sooner you begin exploring work options and building skills for workplace success, the more likely you are to be in the position to land great jobs when they become available. That’s why at Story To College we use the college admissions process as an opportunity to teach fundamental storytelling and written communication skills that are essential not only for college admissions essays but also for college and career success.
3. Look for three fundamental parts of college learning: A college education that sets you up for life success includes a balance of three types of learning: skills + experience for the workplace, subject matter expertise in an area of expanding knowledge (take a look at High Noon, for a list of 20 global challenges you need to learn about), and community. Ask yourself about every college you research or visit: How does this community prepare me to thrive in a diverse, globally connected workplace? Is this community built on past or future assumptions?
4. Technology is not optional: You are always connected and you may take technology completely for granted, but many universities still do not. Ask them what is their technology plan? How do they plan to incorporate best in breed digital learning--such as 2U’s semester online--into your overall learning options? Do they teach in a way that is preparing you for a globally connected workplace? Are they combining the best of high tech as well as high touch?
5. Who else is in their network? Look at the leaders and they are building strategic alliances to expand students’ learning opportunities, their own and students’ global reach. EdX--an online learning platform powered by Harvard, MIT and Stanford--is the most obvious example of leading universities collaborating and sharing resources. You will get the best sense of what a university offers you short and long term by paying attention to the strategic alliances they are building to nurture your college--and lifetime--learning opportunities.
Brand names do not guarantee an education that will prepare you to lead in the 21st century. Make sure you look past the slick brochures and delve deeply into each college’s fundamental assumptions and preparations for the future.
Carol Barash, PhD founded Story To College in 2010 and has taught over 6000 students from around the world how to write powerful and authentic college application essays using the Moments Method™. Her book, Write Out Loud: 12 Tools to Tell Your Story and Get into a Great College is available for preorder on Amazon, and you can get started on stress-free essays now with the Story To College online application essay course.
Story to College welcomes a guest post from Yue Ren, a freshman at Harvard College. Yue currently works at Argopoint LLC, a Boston-based management consulting firm.
Photo credit: Getty Images/George Doyle
I have found Carol’s work on Story to College to be amazing in helping prospective college students write great essays. Not only have I found her advice integral to writing great college application essays, but also applications for jobs, internships, and more. I would like to provide my thoughts on college essays to highlight the importance of these elements in the real world.
When admission officers flip through your application, they see your transcript, GPA, SAT scores, the quick descriptions of your extracurricular activities, perhaps a few AP scores and even a couple of awards, but all that seems very quantitative. What part of the application defines you? After writing quite literally over a dozen college essays and supplement essays, I have a couple of observations. Although I do not have all the answers, I believe these tips would have been helpful when I was writing my first college essay as well as subsequent essays for jobs:
- Express yourself with a story: In my experience, the best way to communicate an idea is to tell a quick, concise anecdote. Think about all those lessons you have learned in your extracurricular activities or throughout your life. What do these stories tell about your talents, aspirations, or character? I also believe the manner in which you tell a story, including your tone, mood, and attitude, reflects on how you react to certain challenges or successes. This provides just as much information to the reader about your character as the actual story you write. Therefore, word choice in your expression is crucial.
- Be Human: Why is talking to your friend so much more fun than reading an old biography? Construct your stories with feelings and emotions such that the reader can experience the breadth and depth of your happiness, anger, pain, or excitement. If you are ever wondering why your friend refuses to give any hints about his or her essay, it might be because it is personal; it might reflect intense emotions. A journey in a day in the life of you is filled with crescendos and decrescendos that may ultimately shape your outlooks. Do not be afraid to share them with admissions.
- Write Truthfully: Honestly, lying is hard. In all likeliness, the details of a real story derive much more substance to you that you can elaborate on, unlike in a lie. Save yourself the trouble of trying to write about stuff that you have never done, and just pour your heart and mind into those events you have faced. If you did a thousand extracurricular activities in high school, now is a perfect chance to talk about a few of those thousand topics.
- Seek Peer Critique: Although many people choose to not let anyone see their essay, I found that letting your teachers and maybe a close friend see your essay brings new perspective. Going back to word choice: some words simply rub people the wrong way, and it is probably best not to rub admissions the wrong way. You cannot control what your reader thinks or how your reader interprets your essay; you can control how you express your ideas. Therefore, express them wisely and always be conscious of your audience.
Remember that the essay is just one part of your application, but I would recommend treating it as the part of the application that truly identifies you. It is an opportunity, not another barrier keeping you from clicking that submit button.
Carol’s Story to College blog is truly awesome. I would check “How to get started on my college essay”, “7 Things Admission Counselors Are Looking For”, and more for great advice on college essays and applications. I know I found them abundantly helpful when I was writing my essays. Her advice extends beyond just the scope of college essays. I would like to stress that for courses, jobs, or internships, I found these tips equally as applicable and useful as they are for college essays. In fact, when I wrote my cover letter for Argopoint, I specifically used examples of past experiences and extracurricular activities in anecdote form to highlight my skills and abilities. I also sought help from peers who have experience with applying to jobs, and who helped critique my cover letter. Of course being frank and honest is important. Therefore, I found Story to College to be helpful for college essays as well as for applications in your future.