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Why My College Experience Has Been My Most Valuable

By Julie Lain, YOUniversityTV Student Contributing Writer – As a kid, many people get asked different variations of the same question: “What has been your best experience?” And even at that age, there are many joyful moments to consider-birthday parties, trips to the local amusement park, and bicycle-riding lessons. But often, it is not until your adult life that you go through many of your most valuable events. Some, for instance, may find their time in the military to be of utmost importance to them, while others sometimes find that their experience as a parent was the most rewarding one they have had. Personally though, I consider my time in college as my most valuable experience.

First, my experience in college has given me a chance to sharpen my skills in my field of choice. There have been, and there will continue to be, many opportunities to learn more ways of improving my craft as a result of my time in school, which I am truly thankful for. For example, the Writing Center at my school has taught me many writing tips and rules that I was unaware even existed, and would still be unaware of had it not been a part of my experience. Because of this, I realized I still had a lot to learn despite what I thought; but this allows me to improve my skills more as I continue to attend school and also gives me more confidence in my area. And as a result, I know one day this valuable experience will help me in my search for another one-a rewarding career.

In addition to learning practical skills, being in college has also taught me a lot about social sciences such as sociology and history. For instance, I have had the privilege of learning about religions in unfamiliar parts of the world, such as Buddhism and Islam, that I had no knowledge of beforehand. From this experience, I have learned many interesting things about the cultures in which these religions are typically followed. Learning about many different religious ideas and practices in other areas of the world, like meditation, reincarnation, and the worshipping of multiple deities, has been valuable to me because it has cleared up some misconceptions I had, thus allowing me to be less ignorant on the topic. It has also given me a better understanding of others’ beliefs and traditions, no matter what region of the world they originated. This has made my time in college much more enriching and worthwhile.

Also, there are other social science subjects that were valuable for me to learn as well. For example, I was fortunate to have taken classes in psychology during my earlier years in college. I had always wanted to know more about psychology since I have found the human mind and how it works and develops very interesting. I have learned about the process by which the brain develops during infancy and childhood, the concept of repressed memories, and how distorted those memories become over time. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about all of this and hope to learn even more about different aspects of psychology in the future. I consider this subject a very valuable and important part of the college experience because, not only does it allow one to understand how their own mind works, but also gives them more knowledge of what the human mind and brain are actually capable of.

My experience in college, particularly the English program, has also allowed me to gain more knowledge about a variety of literary authors and types of literature. Had I not decided to attend Carthage, I would never have known about classic writers like Katherine Anne Porter, Kate Chopin and the many different plays from William Shakespeare. I have also learned more about what fables, short stories and poems are and how to tell between them. Also, reading those classic pieces has given me insight into what it was like to live in the author’s time era and what the oppressed female writers had to go through. Not only is this knowledge interesting to learn, but recognizing the differences between various methods of story-writing will also help me to be more versatile as a writer, thus improving my future career.

In summary, my time in college has enriched my life in many ways. It has provided me with the necessary tools to enhance my skills more, taught me valuable knowledge about this diverse world and people and concepts in general and eventually will enable me to hopefully become more successful in life when I finally graduate and get my degree. It also has stressed to me the importance of thinking critically and asking questions in many situations. All these aspects of college have also made me more well-rounded as a person. It has been easier for me to achieve these opportunities than if I lived in some other countries, especially third-world ones. These experiences are truly irreplaceable and I would not trade them for anything. If I could go back in time and speak to my much younger self when I was first asked the question, “What has been your best experience?” the baby-faced version of me would certainly have been surprised by what my answer is now.

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More From: College Tips

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You’ve taken the tests, requested the recommendations, completed the common app, and now it’s finally time to refocus on what you’ve been putting off: the essay.

While most students spend days, sometimes weeks, perfecting their personal statements, admissions officers only spend about three to five minutes actually reading them, according to Jim Rawlins, director of admissions at the University of Oregon.

High school seniors are faced with the challenge of summarizing the last 17 years into 600 words, all while showcasing their “unique” personality against thousands of other candidates.

“It’s hard to find a balance between sounding professional and smart without using all of those long words,” says Lily Klass, a senior at Milford High School in Milford, Mass. “I’m having trouble reflect myself without sounding arrogant or rude or anything like that.”

The following tips will help applicants make the leap from ‘average’ to ‘accepted’:

1. Open with an anecdote.

Since the admissions officers only spend a brief amount of time reviewing stories, it’s pivotal that you engage them from the very beginning.

“Instead of trying to come up with gimmicky, catchy first lines, start by sharing a moment,” says Janine Robinson, writing coach and founder of Essay Hell. “These mini stories naturally grab the reader … it’s the best way to really involve them in the story.”

Let the moment you choose be revealing of your personality and character. Describe how it shaped who you are today and who you will be tomorrow.

2. Put yourself in the school’s position.

At the end of the day, colleges want to accept someone who is going to graduate, be successful in the world and have the university associated with that success. In your essay, it is vital that you present yourself as someone who loves to learn, can think critically and has a passion for things—anything.

“Colleges always say to show your intellectual vitality and curiosity,” Robinson says. “They want kids who are going to hit the ground running—zoom to class and straight out into the world. They want them hungry and self-aware.

RELATED: Goucher College aims to level playing field with video application option

3. Stop trying so hard.

“One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying too hard to impress,” Robinson says. “Trust that it is those every day, specific subjects that are much more interesting to read about.”

Colleges are tired of reading about that time you had a come-from-behind- win in the state championship game or the time you built houses in Ecuador, according to Robinson. Get creative!

Furthermore, you’re writing doesn’t have to sound like Shakespeare. “These essays should read like smart, interesting 17-year-olds wrote them,” says Lacy Crawford, former independent college application counselor and author of Early Decision. “A sense of perspective and self-awareness is what’s interesting.

4. Ditch the thesaurus. Swap sophistication for self-awareness

There is a designated portion of the application section designated to show off your repertoire of words. Leave it there.

On the personal essay, write how you would speak. Using “SAT words” in your personal statement sounds unnatural and distances the reader from you.

“I think most students are torn between a pathway dividing a diary entry and a press release. It’s supposed to be marketing document of the self,” Crawford says.

RELATED: 3 tips for getting your college application materials in on time 

5. Write about what matters to you, not what matters to them

Crawford recommends students begin by answering the question, “if you had 10 minutes to talk to them in person, what would you say?” The admissions teams are looking for authenticity and quality of thinking.

“Theoretically, I think anything could be ‘the perfect topic, as long as you demonstrate how well you think, your logic and ability to hold readers’ attention,” Crawford says.

6. Read the success stories.

“The best advice is to read essays that have worked,” Robinson says. “You’ll be surprised to see that they’re not winning Pulitzers; they are pieces of someone. You want your story to be the one she doesn’t put down.”

Once you find a topic you like, sit down and write for an hour or so. It shouldn’t take longer than that. When you write from your heart, words should come easily.

Rawlins recommends showing the essay to a family member or friend and ask if it sounds like the student. “Take a few days and come back to it. But only do that once,” Rawlins says. “Reading it over and over again will only drive you nuts.”

7. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.

While colleges tend to nod to disadvantaged students, roughing up your background won’t help your cause.

“It’s less about the topic and more about how you frame it and what you have to say about it, Robinson says. “The better essay is has the most interesting thing to say, regardless of a topic that involves a crisis or the mundane.”

The essays serve as a glimpse into how your mind works, how you view the world and provides perspective. If you have never had some earth shattering experience that rocked your world, don’t pretend you did. Your insights will be forced and disingenuous.

RELATED: Who reads your college applications anyway? 

8. Follow the instructions.

While the directions on the applications may sound generic, and even repetitive after applying to a variety of schools, Rawlins points out that every rhyme has a reason.

“They have to know that college put a lot of thought into the instructions we give them—so please follow them!” he says. “We’ve given a lot of thought to the words we use. We want what we ask for.”

9. Use this space to tell them what your application can’t.

Most colleges don’t have the time or bandwidth to research each individual applicant. They only know what you put in front of them. “If they don’t tell us something, we can’t connect the dots,” Rawlins says. “We’re just another person reading their material.”

Like Crawford, he recommends students imagining they are sitting next to him in his office and responding to the question, “What else do I need to know?” And their essays should reflect how they would respond.

At the end of the day, however, Rawlins wants students to know that the personal essay is just another piece of the larger puzzle. “They prescribe way too much importance to the essay,” Rawlins says. “It makes a massive difference—good or bad—to very few out there, so keep it in context.”

 Paige Carlotti is a senior at Syracuse University. 

admissions essay, college applications, Paige Carlotti, writing, VOICES FROM CAMPUS 

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