About Me

My name is Spencer. I'm 23 years old, and I'm a junior at Princeton. So far college has taken me five years. I've taken time off to work, transferred to USC and come back, and learned a lot along the way.

I like to think about life and what I'm going to do with mine.

I've met a lot of people my age with the same sorts of thoughts so feel free to read, take surveys, and comment.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Perspectives from Graduates

Recently, I spoke with some recent college graduates (graduating within the last ten years), a couple of whom are M.I.T. alumni. I only bring up the Alma Mater in order to emphasize the difficulty of school I'm referring to. Now, onto the important part.

What they said was that the rigorous course work from such a hard school helped them more than they would know for a long while; in fact, they only just realized it many years after graduating. What they had realized was that getting through such an immense amount of work truly taught them the value of dedication, very hard work and the benefits that will come from it later on.

Notice that they didn't concentrate on the "education" that M.I.T. gave them. Although I presume that the teachers were excellent and the facilities quite good, they weren't the things that left as much of an impression years later.

To make this brief (as I am running low on time), we are told since we were in middle school (or even elementary school) that we must work and do well in order to get into a good college and then go onto getting a good job and then perhaps a good grad school etc etc. I know that it's hard for younger people to appreciate the benefits of being forced to work hard. Even if it's something that they are blatantly told, true acceptance and knowledge of this fact comes with maturity (i.e. basically older age).

So, does that make what our parents, advisers, and teachers liars (to tell us that we have to work hard to get into a good school)? Or do they think that we're not mature enough to know the true reasons for our work?

How can we be expected to give our best for a reason that, in my mind, doesn't seem correct? Not to mention that a lot of college acceptances are out of our control to a great extent.

And what about this: if we have an off day or do poorly in a class or an exam, it suddenly becomes okay as long as we tried our best? But how can we vest so much into something, and, when we fail, it's suddenly okay if we tried our best? The colleges won't care about your off day? So why not tell us that we work hard to learn how to work hard?

I'm still unsure if it depends on the individual or it's something we can, as people, only appreciate later in life...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Random Thought - School Costs a Ton of Money

So out of interest I just looked up the average cost of tuition for private colleges in the US... it's a whopping $32,000 per year (which seems kind of low to me). So let's say I take like 32 credits worth of class for both semesters (about 8 classes)... then that's $4,000 per class. So about 12 weeks per semester... that's $333 a week rounded down.

So that's like what? About $20-30ish per hour that you're in the classroom.

I'm still not quite sure if it's worth that money (at least to me.) I know that we absolutely need to have a degree to really get anywhere in the working world (as society has dictated), but I'm not quite convinced yet.

Well, if you consider that things like therapy are like $250 an hour and expert witnesses can charge up to like $1000 an hour... I guess the cost of school is pretty minimal.

Anyways, that was just a random thought with me thinking like George Costanza.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Race and College Admissions - The Supreme Court

Nine years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States allowed universities to make race a qualification for admission to increase diversity within the student body; in other words, they approved Affirmative Action.


In my opinion (although well intentioned), it made room for an unprecedented level of reverse racism within the college admissions process, giving a greater edge to certain races in the already extremely competitive world of college admissions.

In the Associated Press article that I read, the justices will be taking a look at the University of Texas's admissions program used to help fill one quarter (let me emphasize 25%) of the incoming freshman classes. I.e. about one quarter of the incoming class is reserved for minorities.

The AP article says that "Race is one of many factors considered by admissions officers. The rest of the roughly 7,100 freshman spots automatically go to Texans who graduated in the top 8 percent of their high school." It used to be that the top 10 percent of the high school graduates were automatically admitted; however, since the new U of Texas admissions process has taken over, that number has dropped significantly to 8 percent.

Also, keep in mind that this is purely admitted students, not committed students. Those in the top 8 percent may decide to go out of state or to more prestigious universities elsewhere. This implies that other students on the wait list etc get admitted, but which of those students get in? Is it based more on minorities or merit? We can't really know. Additionally, this does not include the numbers that are reserved for athletes, major donors, famous people etc.

The University of Texas says as well that the number of students of Asian backgrounds will increase if race were not taken into account. For more on my opinion about why Asian-Americans (not international students) are not considered minorities and are discriminated against at all universities, see the post on International Students.

Think about the implications that this would have over all other universities or at your school. Would it affect international student rates or the overall look of the student body?

For more information on why the result from the 2003 affirmative action case Grutter v. Bollinger (FindLaw article) is being looked at so soon after its decision, please see the article.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Test Banks - Cheating or lazy teachers?

For those of you who are not aware, there are many fraternities and other groups at many universities that keep records and answer keys for old exams through a whole gamut of different subjects (just Google test banks and you'll find a wealth of information). In fact, I've seen advertisements around campus for "study guides" to certain classes exams (ie there is a community of people who sell old exams and answers to students for certain classes).

Although quite a smart idea for help with studying (as old exam questions most likely reflect the difficulty and type of questions that one would be asked), there are many times when teacher will reuse questions or even whole tests.

This, in my mind, undoubtedly presents a problem. Is it considered cheating if these resources are only available to a select group of students? Or if students are buying the material? Or is it the teacher's fault for reusing material?

There was a forum entry about it in College Confidential if you want to look more into other people's opinions on it.

New Place, Different Perspectives

It's been a few months since I even gone onto my blog. Things have been hectic at home and all that, and I've recently made the big decision to transfer to another school and see how things are elsewhere.

I certainly like it better at this new school for various reasons (bigger city, bigger campus, more to do etc); however, there definitely are a lot of similarities to my previous college experience. Things that I had only assumed or guessed that were true for most schools based on stories from friends are now coming to fruition in a way. Granted two schools is a tiny sample size, but these two schools about as different on paper as they come (different coasts, reputations, vibe etc). Nevertheless, that still doesn't change that eerie feeling that a lot is just the same in terms of social life and just the overall college climate.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Internet Safety: The Internet is Forever

Phineas & Ferb may just be a really silly cartoon for children, but, as I've seen first-hand, it can teach some very valuable lessons. Amazingly, some of these lessons may even be relevant to teenagers and some college kids. At the end of an episode called "Lights, Candace, Action!," Ferb (the one with green hair) says something of quite some value:
The concept that everything you post, write, and send via the Internet stays there forever is a very real one regardless of your Facebook privacy settings and the fact that your Cloud Network hasn't been hacked. If someone had enough resources and ambition, then he or she could find just about any information about you, any private pictures you've taken or sent...essentially ANYTHING. That false sense of personal security is something that we take for granted far too often, and those things can really come back to haunt us in so many ways.

Just for the record, I'm not talking about Google recording your searches etc. We don't have to trust them, but there's really nothing we can do but hope that those companies' have some semblance of moral and business integrity. I'm mainly talking about comments, emails, pictures, and other things that we say, post, and send with minimal knowledge (bordering on disregard and complete ignorance) of the possible consequences. We cannot forget that the Internet and the people on it can be very unforgiving, mean, and even cruel. I'm not trying to imply that a majority of people are mean-spirited, but I'm simply suggesting that under the veil of user names and so-called "anonymity," people can be harsher than they would otherwise be and sending one picture or message by mistake could ruin your life.

There's one particular example that really resonates with me and this topic. I heard about it on the news a little while back, and I've remembered it ever since. I'm not going to cite an article or mention a name because the girl has gotten so much grief already and most definitely still can't escape her youthful errors. I know that it won't do much, but I'd still like to give her the respect of privacy as best as I can. For those reasons, I'll just call her Felicity (cheers to all you Day[9] fans out there).

Anyways, Felicity was a fourteen year old child (let me emphasize 14 YEARS OLD) who was very physically developed for her age. In fact, in some photos she looked as if she could've at least been mistaken for an 11th or 12th grader. As I recall from the news story, she had many photos on a private photo account online. Of those photos, there were many of her in various low cut tops, bikinis, and even more than a few on the more mature side so you get the basic idea. At the age of fourteen, her photo account got hacked, and the photos went viral all over the Internet from porn websites to photo sharing websites etc. She was subsequently verbally (and via the web) harassed and abused at school until it got so bad that she had to transfer and eventually drop out to be home schooled.

Granted, the photos were quite inappropriate for a fourteen year old child to be taking in the first place for I don't know what purpose (perhaps a boyfriend?); in fact, I would even go so far as to describe some of the even normal school day outfits as very revealing to put it somewhat lightly. However, I feel way more sorry for her than anything else. How could a fourteen year old girl possibly know the consequences of putting them on a "private" photo website? Even if she did share them with a few people or a boy, it still doesn't change the fact that a fourteen year old child could NOT know the possible consequences of such actions. How could you possibly expect her to? We don't learn about these things in school. There are a lot of parents who don't know about it because the Internet is so new to them, and they, therefore, don't teach it. In fact, most high school and college kids don't know the consequences of their actions by simply having photos of them drunk, passed out, high, or half naked on social networking sites (they will learn those consequences if they aspire to be politicians or really any high ranking executive; it probably won't break their careers, but those are things that will never be forgotten, especially for the up and coming politicians). For goodness sake, even Michael Phelps was given grief because some paparazzi took a photo of him smoking a joint... really?

As I thought about these concepts and worries, I tried to formulate a solution. It's impossible to regulate or control the Internet for a multitude of reasons such as violation of free speech and free press and the fact that the Internet is so deeply ingrained into society at this point in time. Also, to be perfectly honest, in my opinion any sort of regulation would just be...backwards. I slowly began to understand that the only way to help people avoid such deep trouble in the future would be through learning how powerful and unforgiving the Internet can be starting at a very young age. Children nowadays grow up with the Internet since they were a couple years old playing games on their parents' smart phones; therefore, the concept of Internet safety (i.e. being totally aware of its potential power and cruelty) should be omnipresent ever since children start using the Internet.

In fact, I remember learning how to use Yahoo search and basic Microsoft computer programs in about fourth or fifth grade of primary school, yet no one even mentioned Internet safety. No one taught us anything about how to wield the power of the Internet. We, as kids in the tech age, started our long voyage across the interwebs never hearing anything about cyber-bullying, privacy issues, etc. Although it may be too early to start teaching children about the consequences of the Internet in elementary school, it's better to be safe than sorry. Even now, we still aren't made aware of any aspect of Internet safety even in middle school or high school, which is a time when many children are naive and susceptible to foreign influences. That means that it's a prime time for children to get into trouble on the Internet with not only photos such as in Felicity's case, but also with sexual predators etc. Additionally, because the Internet is so new, the details can be worked out later. I will post later on with suggestions as to how we could begin to teach our children about Internet safety in school. Right now, it's an important aspect for parents, teachers, and adults in general to know about.

I think that my generation is the first to really experience growing up with the Internet from an extremely young age, and as with all new technology, there's a pretty strong learning curve for society as to how to handle and adapt to it. However, from the next generation onward, it is absolutely vital that changes be implemented and children are made aware of the power of the Internet starting, at the very latest, in middle school.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Addendum to Sex Education Post

Firstly, let me make something abundantly clear from my last post. I still think that sex education is a vital thing for everybody. Learning the "ground rules" of sex and safe sex is extremely important and can be a potentially life altering aspect of life that should not be taken lightly. Between pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and statutory rape, there are many risks that are easier to fall into than one might think. Nevertheless, I do believe that much of our time in these so-called "sex ed" classes is wasted; so much so that most students completely check out during that entire period of the day for most of the semester.

Let me revise my suggestion of half hour seminars for the entire school and suggest perhaps less frequent and much smaller classes that really resonate with students (resonate being the key word here). Forget all those student old sex ed movies or having some older person lecture us about responsibility. Let the students run the floor by having debates about accidental (and even malicious) rape, alcohol abuse, and discussions for how to deal with such situations. Have former students come in and share. Bring in both the alleged victims and alleged assailants so students can get a full view of the circumstances. It's important to get students to relate to others' situations, and they never will unless they hear it from kids just like them. Students should know what all other people's thoughts and opinions are about these sorts of situations. It will help them to understand and be more open to new and extremely different ideas. For example, I think that rape is rape regardless of the situation, but I certainly have met people who believe that it can be the girl's fault for a multitude of reasons.

No political meaning here, just a funny image about "other types" of sex education policy.

It's critical for students of both gender to recognize and form their own ideas rather than being lectured to all semester. They simply need a push in the right direction. For example, it's important for students to see that many of those offenders aren't looking to hurt somebody; it's a situation in which things escalate far beyond what's considered right or moral, where someone inevitably gets hurt and wronged, and, although not always the case, someone must be punished for. Contrary to what you might think, there are many instances of rape victims being punished, harassed, and ostracized at schools for bringing cases forward that either give the school a bad name or mess with sports teams' rosters, etc.

Also, seeing as these scenarios are very closely related to alcohol and drugs, then why not bring in alcohol poisoning and how to treat it etc. Teach students about practical situations such as drug overdoses or drinking and driving etc. Don't just tell us about it, but let us debate about it. Make sure that we don't forget it. If people get more involved and have a decent debate or hear stories from students just like them, then they are more likely to remember. In fact, some of the few things that I remembered from seminars like that in high school were when guest speakers or older students came in to talk. It was very rare, but those are the only sessions that I really remember. For example, we once had a police officer (someone's father) come in to tell us about what to do if we were pulled over by the cops. He answered all these questions and more concerning very realistic situations that a college age student might find him/herself in. What are our rights? What forfeits our rights? What do we do when we get pulled over? How do we react? Can our car be searched? What do we do when someone pulls a weapon on you? What do we do when we're robbed? When should we fight an assailant? How do we fight an assailant? How do we prevent getting mugged and attacked? All these questions were supplied and answer by this police officer, and I know that many of my classmates remember that day. He wasn't lecturing us, but he allowed us to talk and debate and ask many more questions. Through our involvement, he made the topic relevant to us as opposed to just telling us what to do.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sex Education: Do we need it?

No matter when you went to middle or high school, we all had it. And oh, how awful was that class. Well, besides the fact that you didn't need to pay any attention.

I had my first "official birds and bees" talk in elementary school. As a class, we separated by gender to learn about sex and sex education. At the time, seeing as we couldn't possibly be anything but immature at that age, we all laughed and giggled at the mentions of vagina and penis. How many of you still giggled?

Thinking about that class now, it's such a mystery why we even had it... What could a non-creepy adult possibly need to teach an elementary school child about sex. Firstly, we didn't actually learn anything useful (I mean, what could possibly be useful to a sixth grader). Secondly, everybody already knew that babies came from women and not storks in the clouds. Finally, if a child were already sexually active at the age of...what like 11 or 12, then there's a whole different set of things that need to be taught. (Keep in mind that I went to an elementary school in a nice neighborhood in the United States. I know there there are extremely sad situations of rape and other atrocities that occur all around the world, but for this post I'm talking about normal, middle of the road to upper class families and their children). All in all, this birds and bees talk was a huge waste of time. Although we were quite entertained.

Next came middle school... In eighth grade, I had a "human development" class. For all intents and purposes, it was a sex ed class. We learned how to put condoms on etc etc. However, looking back, it was just as much a waste of time as my sixth grade birds and bees talk. We spent an entire semester talking about really nothing. We didn't discuss important "human development" related subjects such as stress, dealing with stress, work habits, or even get very deep into sexual activity (no pun intended)... In fact, I just remember seeing a video of child birth (totally unnecessary) and watching the Seinfeld episode about masturbation, "The Contest."

At least, I personally did not learn anything from these classes that I didn't already know. Plus, there are so many resources on the internet (Urban DictionaryYouTube, even, yes parents, even porn and no teenagers, it is not a link etc) that to devote so much of students' time to such a subject is a waste. Not to mention that if you go to a private school, part of your parents' money pays for that waste of an hour or two each week.

Nevertheless, I do think that we still need to tell kids to use common sense and protection, but why make it drag out a whole semester? All we need is a half hour seminar every few months or so to remind and/or teach everyone about condoms and safe sex. All the rest, you can pretty much find out via the internet or by just hanging out with friends (that's how most of the kids I know learned about things). Plus, I don't think that anybody in my entire class paid any attention for the whole semester. Isn't it more productive to keep students' attention for a half hour or so rather than continuously telling them the same thing when they're not even listening?

Now, this wasn't supposed to just be a rant about why sex education in middle and high school is useless; I also have a suggestion. Why not get rid of sex education and replace it with something else? After all, the world is getting more and more digital, and younger and younger kids are using computers with each passing generation. I think that a much more valuable and potentially life saving subject is "Internet Safety." What to do, what not to do, how to identify virus emails etc, and most important, the fact that everything you ever post on the internet, stays on there forever. I'm sure some of you have heard about internet postings ruining young adults' lives or cyber bullying leading to suicide or even murder.

I'm planning on getting into much more detail about my Internet Safety class idea in further posts.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

International Students: Pros & Cons

Regardless of my opinion, there has to be some benefits as well as ramifications when it comes to the sheer number of international students that attend university here in the United States.

Let's start out easy with the pros. For one, it's a chance to meet new and interesting people. I'm not saying that Americans are dull or uninteresting, rather, meeting and getting to know someone from a different culture and language background gives you a whole different experience. In fact, I have a number of foreign friends that I met in college last year and learned quite a lot from. Secondly, no matter whether you've been all around the world or no farther than 10 miles from your hometown, it's always a good thing to learn about other people's culture. It makes us more accepting of traditions and other such cultural quirks that we don't understand. It also makes us more tolerant and open to new situations and undiscovered ideas. Through this greater worldliness, we can all, perhaps not quite learn to accept, but at least learn to be tolerant of everybody regardless of race, sexual preference, gender, illness, religion, class, and culture, etc. Thirdly, we also give them a huge cultural experience to bring back home. The United States is one of the most diverse places on Earth and sharing our college experiences with foreigners exposes them to new cultures, a new level of diversity, and a new level of free thinking to bring back home. Finally, they bring money. Pure and simple, they are bringing foreign money to our economy.

Now come the cons, which are much more under the radar than the pros. In fact, many people don't look at international students as anything but good additions to our universities. It just so happens that many of those people are in college admissions offices looking over our applications. Like I've said before, colleges seek diversity. They will always accept students from all 50 states and as many countries as they can. As long as you're a good enough student (barring athletes, the extremely, extremely wealthy, and famous as exceptions) or have a good enough GPA, you have a chance. Unfortunately, being the only person who applies to any school (especially the top tier schools such as Ivies) from your country and/or state gives you quite the advantage.

For arguments sake, let's see why having so many foreign students can be hazardous to us.

For starters, they greatly increase the applicant pool; however, it isn't as simple as that. Not only do they decrease everyone's chances by simple math, but many schools also crave foreign students from many different nations. In fact, they possibly receive a slight edge over Americans because of this. Secondly, this country has proposed and passed many diversity programs to help American citizens who aren't as fortunate as others. Largely, these programs are race and class related such as Affirmative Action, and in principle, I am a big fan of these kinds of programs; however, admissions boards have perverted the core ideas and only made it even more difficult for all American applicants.

To make my explanation short and sweet, an African is not an African-American, a Latino is not a Latino-American, an Asian is not an Asian-American... by accepting more and more foreign students, college admissions officers let those diversity spots go to non-Americans, who were NOT the original beneficiaries of these diversity programs. Furthermore, seeing as Asian-Americans are no longer deemed minorities when it comes to college applications, the overwhelming number of students from across the Pacific makes it probably most competitive for Asian-Americans applicants. Nowadays, colleges look at foreign Asians as minorities, while Asian-Americans are seen as a majority. At least we can take solace in the fact that admissions officers still see African-Americans and Latino-Americans as minorities despite the large amounts of their foreign counterparts. At least those two groups still have a shot at those diversity spots.

Lastly, I want to bring up money. Based on personal experience and the fact that it's expensive travelling across the world multiple times during the year, getting a Visa, attending college, and the list goes on and on, foreign students must at least have some money. I don't think that it's quite possible to attend college in the United States as a poor foreigner. So, not only do admissions offices give our diversity program spots away to foreigners, but they're also giving the spots to students from well to do families (Keep in mind that this is a generalization based on how expensive travel across the world is, how strong the U.S. Dollar is in comparison to many other currencies, and how difficult it is to get a Visa for entry into the United States etc).

Additionally, unlike foreign countries, our better colleges are privately owned institutions with generally very large endowments. Although the income is good for our economy as a whole no matter where it goes, it would be of even greater help to our current financial situation if those colleges were public. That way the money could feed back into the system as opposed to sitting in Harvard's stock portfolio.

In my opinion, if colleges refuse to tone down the number of foreign applicants, then we might as well simply boost our economy even more and charge a premium to non-United States citizens. I know for a fact that many other countries charge a lot more for foreigners to attend their institutions, whereas we charge the same amount and sometimes even give financial aid.

All in all, I think it really just depends on what you value more: a more cultural college experience or an easing of the applicant pool with a larger percentage of Americans going to better colleges.

And yes, I know that contrasting "diversity" with "foreigners" is an oxymoron, but I'm looking at diversity within America. We have tons of it, and these programs were created to help exactly that, Americans.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I F-ing Hate Clubs

So I was recently sent a picture that I thought was particularly funny. From the duckfaces to the guy's expression, it really encapsulates a caricature of what I feel like at parties sometimes. Don't take it as a pessimistic and annoyed view of college life or parties or clubs in general, but just look at it as a funny caricature. Even if you like clubs and parties, there's always moments when you just feel like this...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Upcoming Results

As all of you current high school seniors know (including parents of high school seniors), regular decision results will be coming out quite shortly on April 1st. Before that time, I just wanted to leave a small message.

As horrible as this is, all of you will experience disappointment. Some of you will also feel relief, happiness, or even a little bit empty because of the gaping hole that the college process has left behind. I know these things because I've been through the same process and felt the same way.

Before results came out, I was fearful of rejection, yet hopeful that I would successfully wiggle my way out of the seemingly wicked hands of the college admissions officers. Much to my surprise at the time, that was not the case. On April 1st, I was as angry as I could've been. After working so hard in high school, all that motivation to get into this or that college became, more or less, a blind rage towards colleges in general, which covered up my sadness and feeling of rejection. (Yes, for those smart-asses out there, I did get accepted to at least one college).

Nevertheless, everything just seemed so unfair for everybody. Even the really, really smart kids didn't get into their first choices... if they couldn't, how could I?

That ended up being the last question I had in my mind since applying, or at least until I got away from the hustle and bustle of school. I hadn't really had much time to contemplate the whole "college application thing" since the year before. However, in the past six months, as many of you have read about in my previous posts, I've been thinking up a storm.

I've learned to come to grips with how the college process works and with just how many "unknown factors" are involved. For example, even though there are many ways to improve your chances such as working hard and studying, I've discovered that there is no such thing as guaranteed admission for anybody. Even athletes at times.

Here's where I could tell you to relax and that everything will be alright, but, in the moment, it really doesn't feel that way. No adult nor parent will be able to tell you otherwise. Yes, as soon as you start getting excited for college, those feelings will pass. However, I think that to truly understand and accept the college process, you need to come to the same conclusions on your own. I don't expect anybody going through admissions to appreciate what I have to say, but, hopefully, I can try to point your thoughts in the right direction. The sooner you are able to move on, the more enjoyable your college experience will be.

But, for now, there's nothing more to be done. You're past the worst of it. The only thing left is the slightly less daunting task of deciding where to go.

P.S. - Here's some further evidence regarding how much pride colleges take in diversity. I happened to stumble upon it whilst browsing the Internets.

You know that many spots must be reserved for any kind of minority whether that concern race, affliction, or if you're from another country (see yellow boxed text).  

Friday, March 16, 2012

The "Unknown Factors" of College Admissions

First off, let me apologize for the lack of posts in the last couple weeks. I've been very busy, but my schedule has cleared up so I'll be back to posting!

In my post concerning Jeremy Lin, I mentioned that discrimination is a major factor in college applications. Now, I don't only mean race when I say that. Geographic location, athletics, money, parents' education, and other circumstances also come into play. I warn you, don't by any means think these are trivial factors. In fact, a lot of times, they make all the difference.

Before I get into things, I think it's very important to mention that even though the college process seems unfair most of the time, there really isn't a much better solution that I've heard of or can think of. The only idea that I've had cannot possible work given the time constraints of admissions officers. In a previous post (paragraph 4), my suggestion would require admissions officers to live and interact with applicants for a month at a minimum to truly get an overview of the student. Still, even with unlimited time and resources, there would be so many qualified applicants, that choosing would be another nightmare in itself. Ultimately, prospective students would undoubtedly get disappointed and that system would be called unfair as well.

I know that accepting the process for what it is and the inevitable rejection at some colleges is extremely difficult, especially for those of you who are currently going through the process or (I reluctantly include) those who have children waiting to hear back from colleges. I've been through the process, and it's horrible, stressful, and sometimes just depressing; however, as I go over the "unknown factors," you will find that there are many factors beyond our control.

Getting into the thick of things, many of you who've been through the "modern era" of college applications, meaning in my generation forward (because I'm not old enough to know beyond that), may or may not realize just how many "unknown factors" contribute to your college admissions. It's true that many people speculate about these things; however, unless you have some sort of relationship with college counselors and/or admissions officers or have done extensive research on the subject, it's often very hard to form concrete generalizations.

As for me, I do know a few very experienced and qualified college counselors and admissions officers whom I've spoken to extensively on the subject. Nevertheless, with regard to speculation, take my knowledge with, perhaps, a quarter grain of salt.

Let's start with the most sensitive of the "unknown factors": race (and, for reasons I'll explain later, let's place geographic location in here as well).

Some call it discrimination and reverse-discrimination, others call it quotas, and some just say affirmative action. In a nutshell, when it comes to college admissions, all these terms refer to the same things: minorities. Philosophically, we, as Americans, generally believe in a fair distribution such as democracy; however, in a way, it makes college admissions all the more challenging. Nowadays, not only do admissions workers have to find the cream of the crop, they also need a certain percentage of each race, each gender, and each geographical area, including foreigners. The list goes on and on, but these are the major areas of consideration.

As a general trend, that I've seen and been told by college counselors, there are a few situations that give a student an advantage in the admissions process: students of Hispanic, African-American, or Native-American descent, students from states where many kids don't go out of state for school (i.e. there aren't many applicants to a lot of schools, and colleges like to have students from all fifty states), students whose parents did not attend college, students from famous families (celebrity parent, well known family name, etc), and obviously, students whose parents donate a building or something in that monetary range.

Don't by any means, think that I am against affirmative action or against what's fair; however, in my opinion, there are many times when such programs don't help the people they're meant to help. I know students of minority backgrounds who need financial help and really cannot afford to go to college, and in those cases, I think it's great for schools to make a priority to admit and help those students. Nevertheless, I also know quite a number of students of minority backgrounds who do not need any financial assistance, but they use the minority card to help them get into schools (like any smart person would).

This, again, is an aspect of college admissions that's not exactly the most fair, but it's as fair as it's going to get. We cannot presume or assume anything. Admissions officers don't know the specifics of everybody's life. We cannot change our race or whether our parents went to college. I guess we could move to an extremely low populous state whose students never apply anywhere other than a state school, but that's a drastic change.

In fact, I only have one major complaint when it comes to accepting certain minority groups and that is our acceptance of so many international students. I understand that getting to know kids from other parts of the world is a fascinating and very important cultural learning experience. Despite that, I don't exactly love that universities boast about how international their campuses are when it's such a stressful and difficult time getting ourselves into our own colleges. I know that many schools other than those in the United States (for example in England) charge an exponentially greater sum for foreigners to attend as opposed to those from the United Kingdom. If the case is that schools need the money, then why not charge more?

Plus, it's so hard for U.S. citizens to get jobs now, then why aren't we accepting more Americans into college as opposed to foreigners so that they may have a greater opportunity? People complain about jobs being outsourced, but isn't this similar to our education being outsourced?

Furthermore, I personally think that our international student acceptances make college admissions very hard for Asian-Americans. Yes, I have been to campuses that have many, many Asian students; however, we have to think about how many spots are taken by international Asian students. Think about that. Even if only 0.01% of the Chinese population applied to American schools, that's 31 MILLION... or roughly 10% of the United States population. That makes the competition for Asian-Americans all the more steep simply based on the number of applicants there are.

Another large chunk of college student populations is reserved for recruited athletes. I've heard from a student-athlete friend, that at her Ivy League college about 30-40% of the student body is on varsity sports teams. My first thought was...Ivy Leagues don't even recruit in the typical sense.What about those huge recruiting schools who fight for the NCAA football championship every year? They must have hundreds on the team.

Although it's great to have school spirit... I wonder just how many spots are taken by athletes (some of whom even leave after one year of college). Keep in mind that the academic standard for many recruited athletes is far, far lower than any normal applicant...

By now you may be wondering..."What if I'm none of those things?" Maybe you're just a typical student, or, even, a spectacular student with straight A's and tons of extracurricular activities. I'm sorry to say that the competition is stiff. There's millions of other students who boast the same things as you do. The only thing we can try to do is separate ourselves from the pack. Stand out and try to get the admissions board's attention. Fact is, if you include the spots reserved for recruited athletes, minorities, etc, that means everybody else is competing for the remaining number of spots. So the majority ends up fighting for the remaining 40-50%...

Your knowledge of these "unknown factors" may allow you to feel less stress and pressure, they may make you jaded towards the college process and college in general, or they may have no effect on you whatsoever. In any case, a major part of this process becomes learning to accept the way things are, and, perhaps, even someday striving to improve them. After all, it's what you make of your experience. Yes, I do realize that the school you go to may (or may not) open doors and improve opportunities; however, we're young and at this point, no doors are closed forever. All you can do is continue to work hard no matter where you end up.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Side Note to "Unknown Factors"

On a side note, to my "Unknown Factors" post, to the best of my knowledge many high school students see their parents as a source of additional pressure and stress. By no means do you parents have to listen to me, I'm just a 20-year-old kid. Nevertheless I've felt that pressure before, and I know that many other kids do too. Of course, I appreciate everything my parents do and have done for me, but, in my experience, I've found that most parents are oblivious to the fact that they apply so much pressure. In most cases (as with me and my schoolmates), our parents only want to support, help, and give us children every opportunity. However, in doing so, many parents apply an inadvertent pressure that only we feel, and along with the inherent stress of the college process, the idea of rejection becomes all the more scary. In fact, so much emphasis is placed on college admissions by everybody that we kids, a lot of the time, forget that our parents are only there to support us. We simply see somebody who continuously nags us about our essays and applications. I know that each kid is different. Some are more sensitive or motivated etc, but, regardless, try to talk to them about it. No matter how well you think you know your children, there's always surprises to be had. Make your support clear to them. Let them know that they have the choice to go where they want to. Because, honestly, beyond our grades and extracurricular activities, some of admissions is totally out of everyone's control.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Eddie Murphy's College Essay

So I was driving home yesterday when I saw a recent billboard for a movie coming out next week. It seemed pretty relevant to college applications. Perhaps this is what we should be told when writing our college application essays.

This January, Make 'em count!

As funny as this is... it's actually fairly true. For everybody above a certain GPA and SAT score range, the only thing that really separates students are the essays (or athletics and money and other "unknown factors"). But, seriously, for how much emphasis, importance, and stress that surround college applications, we really do have to act as if each word actually may change our lives. How on earth are we supposed to sum up ourselves in far less than 1,000 words, and in that small space, convince a room of adults that we're better than another 18 year old kid? As far as I can tell, we're just like Eddie Murphy up there... with tape on our mouths, prisoners to the ever increasing pressure and intensity of life and college applications.

Ironic, isn't it? We kids spend our whole lives on the computer writing papers, surfing the internet, and easily chatting with friends... it makes us forget that words have an impact and that the internet can bite you in the ass... And after all 18 of our years spent easily deleting messages, we have to pour all we have into less than 1,000 words that really, really matter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Linsanity Meets Racism

I know that talking about basketball and a sportscaster's comment is quite a bit off-topic, but I would still like to approach this interesting and very sensitive area surrounding race and discrimination. Eventually (in a later post), I will approach college admissions from the same vein of race and discrimination. For now, you may not think that the color of one's skin or where you come from has anything to do with university admissions, but you would be sorely mistaken. In fact, universities don't solely look at academic prowess and extracurricular activities; race, geographic location, and parents' education currently play a very large role that can separate a student from an even more accomplished one.

Without going too far into college admissions at the moment, I would now like to cover how we as society treat racial (and potentially racist) issues and ignorances in the media, specifically having to do with a comment made about the New York Knicks' new star point guard Jeremy Lin.

New York Knicks' point guard Jeremy Lin
Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Most of you probably know about the controversy I'm referring to; however, if you don't, let me explain. Jeremy Lin, currently a starting NBA player, has recently been putting up All-Star numbers, which is extremely impressive for a rookie. On top of that, adding all the more to the hype or "Linsanity," as dubbed by the media, he's Chinese.

The controversy occurred after the Knicks blew a seven game win streak to a badly performing New Orleans Hornets team. After the game, a headline on ESPN's mobile web site read "Chink in the Armor" next to a picture of the young star. The headline was quickly dispatched of after 30 minutes and the apologetic writer promptly fired; furthermore, ESPN handed out a 30 day suspension to anchor Max Bretos for using the phrase on air in the previous week.

Now, from what I've read or heard about on the news, blogs, television, and the newspaper, people generally look at the situation as simply the use of a well-known phrase, an example of extreme ignorance and an outdated phrase, or a poor writer caught in a bad situation. Personally, I'd have to agree with all of them. Perhaps not on every argument, but, for the most part, I do think that the headline was not malicious in intent, the writer was being extremely ignorant and not politically correct, and I do feel sorry for the guy on some level.

Nevertheless, the main point that sticks out to me whilst reading all these different articles and views is how we as society treat racial issues and how much criticism gets thrown around about the actions the authorities take in response (in this case, ESPN or Disney/ABC). In fact, I think that in our reactions to other people's "racist" comments and/or the punishment they receive, we end up showing our own true colors. In other words, how we react to these circumstances can't help but convey how much we really care about the race and/or people involved. On a personal level, one person may care more for one race than another or feel more sorry for one specific race; however, on the outside, he or she may act the same no matter the race involved (i.e. acting politically correct). Additionally, on a societal level, we inadvertently harbor more feelings of guilt and find certain actions or words to be more or less offensive based on the race involved. For example, in America especially, we feel a strong aversion to the N-word due to our history with slaves and the horrors that took place during that time.

In my opinion, I don't think that people care as much because it is not a slur we are used to hearing or fearing (like the N-word or the F-word). In fact, most people probably don't associate that phrase with any possible racist or offensive connotation, even in the case of such a pun. However, if the writer had jokingly used any other non-politically correct slur pertaining to any other race or group, he, again, would have been fired immediately, but he would not have gotten such great sympathy from others. In fact, the aftereffects of using, perhaps, the N-word (or even the slightly more subtle word Sp*ok) would have been devastating to ESPN as a whole for a long while after the man had been fired. Of course, I do understand that the reason he received so much outside sympathy is because "chink in the armor" is a fairly common English phrase; however, the word sp*ok may be used in a totally non-offensive manner, but you would never see that word in a headline next to a picture of say Michael Jordan. Under no circumstance does the phrase excuse the lack of thought and sensitivity demonstrated by this former-ESPN writer. Also, the phrase does not give anyone the right to use it when referring to a person of Chinese descent just like a non-black person is not given the right to use the N-word when talking to an African-American simply because he's quoting a popular rap lyric.

Ironically, this enormous amount of attention Jeremy Lin is getting undoubtedly pertains to his race, which is the very same reason the former-ESPN writer was fired. It's simply discrimination from both sides. Now, I'm not suggesting that Lin wouldn't have been in the spotlight simply based on his performance so far this season, but, like college admissions, performance isn't all we look at, is it?

Finally, I would like to address and respond to some of the arguments I read concerning the Jeremy Lin controversy.
I find a ChicagoNow blog post written by a Michael Helfand to be extremely distasteful, very ignorant, and the perfect example to prove my point about reactions to "racist" comments. To his title ("Is 'Ch*nk In The Armor' Offensive If There's No Bad Intent?") I ask, how many careers in all fields have been destroyed by the "accidental" use of a racial slur? Or even "accidental" plagiarism? Is it considered okay for a comedian or talk show host to be extremely racist if his or her intent was to be funny as opposed to offensive? May I sing rap lyrics out loud in public and drop the N-word as I please? "I didn't mean to be offensive, I just really love that song," he said contritely. No, I don't think so. Even if someone does not quite believe in being politically correct, he or she should act like it in public to avoid career ending problems and controversy. So the answer to your question should be quite simple: you may use the phrase when literally referring to an actual chink in armor or a weak defense (or chink) in a wall, and by both of those things, I do NOT mean a Chinese person in a suit of armor or a Chinese person in the wall of a soccer free kick. Obviously, like in this former-ESPN writer's case, those uses would be very offensive and unacceptable.

Mr. Helfand writes, "The broadcaster who was suspended clearly was not trying to make a pun when he used that phrase. He swears that there was not a bad intention at all when he said that phrase and it clearly was made in reference to the fact that Lin had lots of turnovers in the games he play." I don't know the former-ESPN writer or the suspended anchor, but I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt. I do believe that they weren't trying to be offensive with this pun. Rather, this was simply a case of ignorance and insensitivity. Nevertheless, Mr. Helfand amply and adamantly defends the ESPN and former-ESPN employees. He forgets that their intentions were not the major issue here; the main problem stems from overall offensive nature of the headline in that they were obviously referring to a man of Chinese descent, and on top of that, their intentions cannot be proven in the slightest.

Mr. Helfand further says that Bretos' "wife is Asian and...I tend to believe him that he would never say anything that his wife or the Asian community would find offensive." In my opinion, here lies the most ignorant, presumptuous, and distasteful line in Mr. Helfand's post. It demonstrates to me a lack of care and understanding towards the Asian community. First of all, is the broadcaster's wife Chinese? Japanese? Korean? Filipino? Mongolian? Taiwanese? Or any other Asian race? Ch*nk refers to Chinese people, whereas there are many other racist words for every other Asian race. In fact, there are still Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and many others who would take offense to being grouped together as the same people.

Finally, Mr. Helfand states, "You can bet [his suspension] wouldn't have happened if the web page headline hadn't been written. It's not as if 'ch[*]nk in the armor' is always an offensive phrase compared to someone using the N word, k[*]ke or something else." Here, Mr. Helfand is absolutely right. Of course "chink in the armor" is not always an offensive term; however, when used in the context of a Chinese person, it's just as bad as the N-word or the K-word or any other offensive name (see my last paragraph regarding the word sp*ok before I address Mr. Helfand's post). Here, again, is the perfect example of showing how much importance Mr. Helfand gives to each racial slur. Like many Americans, the N-word is very taboo due to our history as a country, and Mr. Helfand dares not even write it out. Despite that and the offensive nature of the other racial slurs, he has no problem writing out k*ke or ch*nk. Like most Americans, we don't associate as much hatred and bad memories with other racial slurs, but that doesn't make them any less offensive regardless of intent.

I very much agree with a Slate post by Huan Hsu who advocates getting rid of the phrase "ch*nk in the armor" altogether. In his research, he found that "there has been but a single use of f[*]got in the New York Times since 1981 (compared with hundreds before). D[*]ke has been quietly morphed to dike when describing the hydrological feature common in lowland countries. There's also a rumor that the Dallas Morning News banned niggardly after negative reactions...In 1999, David Howard...famously resigned amid the outcry following his use of the word niggardly in reference to a budget matter...it pretty much took [it] out of the public lexicon...And yet the Post has printed ch*nk more than 20 times since April 15, 2008."

Mr. Hsu has demonstrated the lexicographic changes that have occurred due to offensive slurs, and he very much shows that it is time for another shift. So for all those who cry out that this punishment was unfair and simply, as Mr. Helfand writes, "political correctness run amok," then look at the previous examples. Predict the pattern, and just be PC. It seems to be the way things are; is it really worth your job?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Standardized Testing: Why The SATs?


Many people ask, "How can we possibly base our admissions for higher education on a few standardized tests? How can we trust the SATs, especially because of all the recent news surrounding fraud and cheating? (New York SAT cheating scandal and Exaggerated SAT scores at Claremont McKenna). Aren't grades and academic performance enough?"

First and foremost, I will admit that given the current time frame and budget, I cannot think of a more balanced way to evaluate prospective university students. It may not be the fairest way, but, as I will explain later, we do indeed need some standard to work with.

On a side note, there are in fact so many more than qualified students that the current process can't help but be unfair; sadly to say, there's a lot of what I call, "unknown factors," such as luck, money, athletics, discrimination, reverse-discrimination, and legacies etc that really decide who gets in and who doesn't.

Now getting back on track, in an ideal world, if we had an unlimited amount of time and money, then schools could have multiple admissions officers live with and really get to know every single applicant for about a month in order to get a good feel for the student's qualities and academic and social abilities...but that will never happen. It would take years, perhaps even multiple decades. Online applications are now the standard, and if the need for financial aid further increases, top tier schools (which are generally well-endowed) tend to receive more and more applications each year.

Even further proving my point that university admissions workers don't have enough time comes from my own experiences. During college applications, if you're lucky enough to get a face to face interview rather than a phone call, many are conducted like speed dating. All of us "prospects" go to a random building that may or may not be near our homes, and we wait with much of our "competition" until we are called into a small office to have our very brief and tightly scheduled 15-30 minute interview. Now, not all of my experiences happened like this, but many were very similar for both me and my friends.

As I said above, standardized testing in general may not be the fairest way, but, as of now, it is the most reasonable. Unfortunately, we need a standard and cannot simply admit kids based on GPA or honors classes because of the huge difference of teaching ability and funding between schools. I don't think that anyone would disagree that a student gets a better education at a well funded public school over a poorly funded one. In addition, I'm sure that most people would agree that private school students (in the United States) have access to significantly better teachers, facilities, and work materials than nearly any publicly funded middle- or high-school. Thus, because some children get a far better education and many more opportunities to learn than other kids, it would be very unfair to simply admit students based on, for all intents and purposes, what district they are from and how much they pay for high-school.

Additionally, it is nearly impossible for admissions officers to know every school that inflates grades. Some admissions boards find (after multiple years) that certain schools have a reputation for inflating grades, but that pattern changes year by year and school by school. Furthermore, admissions officers can't really judge how difficult a high-school is. Even though a school may inflate grades, its honors classes may be 10 times harder than a typical high-school. Again, it's impossible to really know.

Seemingly, the only semi-agreeable option that remains are standardized tests such as the SATs or ACTs. They may not be the best way, but, for now, they are the only way.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Claremont McKenna College - Under Pressure

Former Dean Richard Vos
Within the very new year, Dean Richard Vos, the admissions dean at Claremont McKenna College (or CMC), a top 25 liberal arts institution, admitted that the school had been falsely reporting inflated SAT scores since 2005. Former Dean Vos has since taken full responsibility for his (and whomever else's) actions and promptly resigned after taking much heat from the press, the public, and many other educational institutions and reporting agencies.

The President of the college, Pamela Gann, said that the averages of the scores were increased from 10 to 20 points per section. CMC also added that no individual students' scores were altered, but solely the averages.

Claremont McKenna even more recently took another blow as the finance magazine Kiplinger removed it from its list of best value in liberal arts colleges. In addition, the school reported its true test scores to the highly regarded U.S. News & World Report. Claremont McKenna had recently been moving up in U.S. News & World Report's rankings of national liberal arts colleges, where MCM currently sits at 9th. Nevertheless, the publication announced that it would not alter the current report issued, but, instead, it will take a look at the numbers and the impact will be reflected in next year's statistics.

There remains speculation as to the reason behind the exaggeration of the SAT scores. Some believe it to be a mistake, some like Daniel de Vise of the Washington Post think it's pressure to hold up prestige or increase it, and some, like Nathan Harden of the National Review, think that it could have to do with nationwide Diversity Programs such as QuestBridge and the Posse Foundation. These two programs were essentially designed to help increase economics and racial diversity in various participating universities. According to Harden, CMC began participating in the programs around the same time that the SAT scores started being inflated, which could suggest a correlation.

On a side note, I would like to bring attention to some of the reporting in the other articles surrounding this issue, which demonstrates somewhat of a lack of understanding about the current college academic climate and the SATs.

Concerning the seemingly minute increase on average of 10 to 20 points and whether or not the difference really matters, Los Angeles Times writer Larry Gordon wrote, "That is not a large increase, considering the maximum score for each section is 800 points." Also, speaking more in depth on this subject, Washington Post writer Daniel de Vise wrote, "Why would an admission dean risk the school's integrity to gain 10 or 20 points on an SAT average? That's the equivalent o[f] answering one or two more questions correctly on the test. It's the difference between, say, the 94th and the 95th percentile."

I will admit that I (and probably most others) immediately think, of course, 10 or 20 points, it really isn't that much... it's 1.25-2.5% of the exam. What's the difference? However, as I really start to think about it, both Mr. Gordon and Mr. de Vise are, for all intents and purposes, wrong. They aren't completely misled for they make very good observations; nevertheless, they don't know what it's like to be a student nowadays with the huge increase in competition surrounding the application process.

They forget that they are talking about a top university (perhaps not Harvard, but a very, very good school) where the 94th and 95th percentile may not cut the bill. Remember that we are talking about the top percentage of scores, and in that range, 1.25-2.5% can mean all the difference.

Additionally, they do not mention what I think many students (except for maybe only or eldest children) know, which is that once you are past a certain "minimum" GPA and SAT score, your academics don't necessarily directly determine if you get in. What happens next makes admissions seem like a crap-shoot; it's what I call, the unknown factors, which include, athletics, donations, race, economics background, specified extracurriculars, money, fame, etc (somewhat in that order).

All in all, I think the admissions process has significantly changed since Mr. Gordon and Mr. de Vise went through it last as students, and nowadays, 1.25% means an awful lot. Perhaps enough to justify Former Dean Vos's actions in his mind.

If you go ahead and read some of the comments in the linked articles, many beg the question: do the SATs mean anything at all? This is something I will come back to later on.

CMC ForumHuffington PostLos Angeles TimesLos Angeles Times: KiplingerNational ReviewWashington PostSan Francisco Chronicle (Gate)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Irony of James Franco's "Undergrads"

In my last post, James Franco's "Undergrads", I said that the Franco brothers have done an important thing in exposing the extreme side of college partying to the public. I also wrote that we should all take the story with a grain of salt seeing as they depict a minority of the student population. However, I find it all the more ironic, that every single news article does not focus on the actual scenes in the web series. Rather, they simply talk about the reputation of the school depicted. None of the publications has admitted that USC was not the main  focus of the web series. It's not called "USC's Undergrads," and it's most certainly not trying to criticize and/or ruin the reputation of the University of Southern California. It's simply attempting to expose extreme college social life in general.

Nevertheless, I do understand why USC is angry. They have spent a lot of time, effort, and money improving their reputation, and this web series certainly will not help that. No article has outright said that this was not an attack directed towards USC, rather an exposition of extreme college social life. In all reality, the media has simply exacerbated the effect on USC's reputation.

Some examples:
Los Angeles Times ExtraLos Angeles Times BlogHuffington PostUK Daily Mail

James Franco's "Undergrads"


As some of you may have seen or recently heard about, actor James Franco has produced a web series depicting the party-side of really any university. He follows a group of cavalier and superficial students throughout a semester as they chase girls, binge drink, hook up, party hard, and, well, you get the point. However, for this "part documentary-part reality" series, he focuses on a group of students from the University of Southern California. Not surprisingly, the end product sparked quite bit of outrage from the school and its students. Nevertheless, let us not forget that this is purely the view of college life shown from a very specific social group. Although offensive to the university as a whole (and surely not a depiction of the majority of students at any university), we must admit and realize that some student do partake in such a lifestyle.

In my opinion, I think that James Franco's intention was only to shine a light on what really occurs at the most extreme end of college parties and Greek life. I don't in any way think that he was trying to criticize and/or deride the reputation of the University of Southern California. In fact, his younger brother, Dave, even attended USC and integrally worked on this project as well. He has been quoted saying:
"This past semester, I was working more behind the camera, and I directed, produced, and wrote this Web series about college life. The basic idea stems from a conversation I had with my friend about how there are really only a handful of projects at most, whether it be film or TV, that really capture what college is like. For the most part, it's all sensationalized and over-the-top. We decided we wanted to give it a very HBO-type look at what really happens in college. We figured, 'It's crazy enough as it is; let's just show what's really going on.' So we followed a handful of kids at USC throughout the semester, and the whole tone is a little strange, because it's part documentary, part reality, part scripted. It's kind of a weird mesh of everything, but it came out really cool. I hope people respond well to it. I'm happy, because we were able to capture what we set out for. ...I went to USC, and watching this footage, I can attest that this is really what it's like. This is what happens on a typical night."

First and foremost, I would like to question Franco's conclusion that college in the movies and on television is not depicted in a realistic manner. While it may be "sensationalized" and "over the top," I think it's a fair caricature of college social life. Even in dramatic, "soap-opera-esque" programs, it's not meant to be taken seriously. It's simply "based" on reality. I don't think any show's creators and producers really expect people to actually believe  what they've depicted. After all, it's not a documentary.

Furthermore, even though I do think the Franco brothers have done something important in exposing the extreme side of university social life, we have to remember that they've displayed only that... the extreme and inherently over the top side of college Greek and party life. Despite the fact that that lifestyle does exist for a certain (fairly large, in my opinion) minority, it does not fairly portray your average student at the University of Southern California (or any university for that matter). In fact, even if the focus was not USC, I do not think that the Franco brothers thought about the ramifications of this web series and whether or not it would be fair to a school that has spent a lot of time, effort, and money cleaning up its reputation (quite successfully, I might add) in the past years. In other words, it's good to expose the raw and raunchy side of college partying, but take it with a grain of salt because most students aren't like that.

The trailer was posted on WhoSay, but they have just recently been taken down based on the public reaction.

Some articles:
Los Angeles Times ExtraLos Angeles Times BlogHuffington PostUK Daily Mail

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Listen and learn: What we learn in college

On the same night that I met "Kevin," I also met a university professor. Let's call her "Jane." As soon as I met her, I knew that Jane was extremely smart. She had a stereotypical quirky teacher's sense of humour and always had something interesting to say. Nevertheless, she and I did not get along, and for most of the dinner, we differed in opinion on almost every single subject that came up. Despite that, it was very grounding and stimulating to hear the opposite side to every one of my arguments.

Later on, we started talking about college, stress, and what the pros and cons of university are. This, for me, was a chance I'd never had before... to talk to a college professor at a top-tier school about the current university school system.

Rather than hashing out everything that we said, let me concentrate on the most important lesson I learned from talking to her. Jane told me that "we go to college to learn to learn."

I thought about that statement for a second. I had never articulated or thought of college in that way, but now that I had heard it, it's very true. At university, we are given information, but we are the ones who figure out what to do with it. We decide what to write about, what to study, and what pieces of information are important. We learn how to take that information and turn it into something useful, such as a paper, a conclusion, a proof, or even a program or a project.

Despite the fact that Jane's statement is true in principle, that still does not mean that it actually happens as such in reality. It may or may not. I'm not sure, but I think it's different for every student.

In the past year, I have come to believe that college classroom environments don't necessary help us "learn to learn." Between competition, the importance and focus on grades, and the amount of work that we students get, it's hard to really recognize that we are supposed to "learn to learn." Yes, it is true that competition in the classroom varies depending on the field and the institution, but nobody can deny its existence. Similarly, it's fact that grades and class standing still have a major impact on the interviews, jobs, and opportunities presented to us when we graduate no matter what counselors tell us.

Both competition and the societal importance of grades force us students to study for a good grade as opposed to studying to learn. In my opinion, it inadvertently and subliminally tells us students to seek out what we do well at rather than to explore new areas and take new risks, which makes it quite difficult to figure out what we actually like and are interested in studying. To us, there's no point in risking a grade if it will affect us in a seemingly grand way, right?

Additionally, as a freshman, I realized that it's simply not possible to do all your assignments, all your reading, and meet all your deadlines unless you work 24/7. I understand schools do that in an attempt to teach us time management and the relative importance of tasks; however, because of the perceived need to do extremely well in the classroom, that strategy simply makes all students significantly more stressed out and can, I think, cause mental pain and anxiety.

Nevertheless, I think we could all benefit by remembering that university is a place where we "learn to learn." Take a few risks, and try some new classes and subjects.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

You can't sensor the internet! Stop SOPA & PIPA!

As many of you probably know, there's an internet blackout today for many of the world's most visited sites, including Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, Craigslist, and many others (even some pornographic websites). The blackout raises mass public awareness towards the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act and calls for all of us internet users to contact our local representatives in an attempt to kill those proposals!

SOPA, if passed, would allow the U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to, essentially, censor the internet and remove everything deemed as "copyrighted intellectual property." That includes essential parts of Wikipedia (photos and exerts of literary pieces), much of YouTube (like trailers and movie clips etc), search engines (which won't be able to link to any infringing sites), and much, much more! It would make "unauthorized" showing and streaming of "owned" content a crime with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements. The bill also would grant immunity to any internet companies and/or services that choose to take action against such infringing websites (such as removing the copyrighted material).

PIPA, if passed, would allow the U.S. government and copyright owners tools to stop websites that have copyrighted materials on their websites, especially those outside the U.S.! Again, censoring the internet!

These acts will not only affect the United States, but also the entire world! The internet does not belong to anybody, and seeing as many of these popular websites are based out of the U.S., our government would be banning material to everybody, not just Americans! Let alone, it's against the First Amendment, or our right to free speech. Not to mention the cost! It will cost our government millions and millions of dollars to implement and get this bill going if it is made into law. They will train specialists and form committees to simply censor the internet rather than using that money for better things such as education, helping the world economy in a time of crisis, and more. Are we really willing to sacrifice our WELL-BEING to protect large companies that don't need the money? These bills will stifle and halt progress if they are allowed to pass. Let's get out there and try to stop them!

For an easy way to find your local representatives, click on the Wikipedia link above, type in your zip code, and all the information will come up. Even if you're from another country you may write and/or call United States representatives or senators to give your opinion as well!

Some articles (among thousands):
Reuters, Huffington Post, ABC News, Forbes, and CNet

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Listen and learn: Pandora's box

In my last post, The metaphorical hump, Kevin and I "concluded... that there are a number of people who choose to ignore deep thoughts, fearing what ultimate truths they may find buried within their minds." I then said that many people will push these thoughts away while some will continue to think ever more deeply about their lives and whether or not they are truly happy. I call the latter: opening Pandora's box.

If someone quickly pushes those unhappy or "dangerous" thoughts away, on purpose or subconsciously, they avoid any immediate and serious contemplation of their lives or current situations. Now, why do I stress immediate? I think that once someone has thought, even for a split second, of an idea on his or her own, the idea will continue to grow just like in the movie Inception. That person may suppress the thought, but he or she will always be aware of it. It's simply a matter of time before that person starts to really contemplate his or her life. Thus, the seeds for one's so-called "mid-life crisis (or crises)" have been sewn. For the visual learners, here's the graph from The metaphorical hump:

As you can see, each person that begins to deviate even the slightest bit upwards will eventually reach that metaphorical hump, but Person C (the epitome of Ignorance is bliss) never has those first seedling thoughts. C never doubts his or her happiness in the slightest, and C will continue on in life the same as always, for better or worse.

Others, however, will not be able to stop focusing on those doubts. They have opened Pandora's box, and it cannot be closed until they face those scary and, most likely, life-altering thoughts.

To me, it seems only natural to attempt to break away from thoughts that make you unhappy; however, I think the best and most beneficial (in the long run) choice of action would be to embrace the thoughts and challenge them head on. See if there's any reason or truth to them instead of simply dismissing them. Are they simply doubts? Or are you actually unhappy? There is no right or wrong answer. It simply comes down to what you think. If you truly believe yourself to be happy, then nobody can rightly challenge your beliefs.

Some of you may now think, based on what I just said about beliefs, why bother to give any credence to those thoughts in the first place? That's a very good observation, but keep in mind that unless you've faced those doubts and/or truths, you'll never know if you've taken the road that made you happiest. You'll never know if things could have been better. Don't be afraid to let those doubts in; the worst they can do is show you something you already know deep down.

In the end, whatever gives you peace of mind will make you happier than before.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Listen and learn: The metaphorical hump

In my last post, Ignorance is bliss, I wrote: "I'd say that most people...[a majority of the time] are happy go lucky, but on down days, they sulk and get depressed about their lives, and in many cases, once a person takes that first step into deeper thought, along comes a so-called 'mid-life crisis,' where that individual wonders who they are. Ultimately, my realization gave a lot of credence to the saying: 'Ignorance is bliss.' Many people choose to ignore or cannot think so deeply, and by doing so, they 'fool' themselves into bliss."

In my conversation with 'Kevin', I delved deeper into this thought with him. We concluded, as I wrote earlier, that there are a number of people who choose to ignore deep thoughts, fearing what ultimate truths they may find buried within their minds. Most of the time, people in this "group" live life in a happy go lucky manner; however, they do have down and depressed days when life is not so good, bad things are happening, or, perhaps, they're just contemplating their lives and not liking what they see. From here, there are some who forget about the bad day and move on, and there are others who continue along that train of thought. Those who continue onward may reach a stage in life, which many refer to as a "mid-life crisis" (in my opinion, these crises happen multiple times at any point in one's life), where they will contemplate and criticize many aspects of their lives in an attempt to find self-assurance, confidence in their "path", and, finally, inner peace as they come to terms with their lives.

In reference to the title of this post: one's final inner peace comes once a person gets past what I call "the metaphorical hump." Imagine a mountain representing this "metaphorical hump". Each step upwards towards the peak takes effort, and as you get higher and higher, the trek becomes more and more difficult. However, when you reach the top, you feel accomplished, and the trek down the other side is a breeze.

Now, let's apply the same principle to deep thinking and finding inner peace. As you open your mind up to deeper thoughts about yourself and your life, you may find some truths, such as realizing that you don't like the way your life is going, that will hurt you at first and make your journey up "the hump" extremely stressful and painful. Just like climbing a mountain, each step you take delving deeper into your thoughts, the more difficult it will become. However, after a lot of hard work, you will begin to discover ways to make yourself happier. These ways can be anything from finding a good and helpful solution to your so-called "issues," learning to accept something that's happened, finding a purpose for yourself such as family, a new job you love, or a hobby, opening up to your friends and family, reconnecting with someone, etc, etc. There is no right answer nor is there a general solution for everybody. By thinking deeper about your life, what makes you happy, and what gives you purpose, you (and the people close to you) can find suitable ways to improve the way that you feel and look at your life. Through this process, which I have experienced first hand, I think that you will become more mature, more worldly and accepting, and an overall happier person.

For all you visual learners, here's a little illustration/graph I made for this point:
Note: Difficultly of Acceptance, Levels of Contemplation, and Stress are all positively correlated. I.e. as one increases, they all increase and vice versa.

This graph conveys that each process of getting over "the hump" truly is different for each individual. All the individuals start out young without any deep contemplation whatsoever, but they later deviate by quite a large amount.
Person A: A begins to contemplate his or her life very early on and is most likely very mature for his or her age. A works through this highly volatile mental stage in life and settles at a level of contemplation that he or she feels comfortable at for the time being. Then A finds him or herself at another crossroads where he or she again finds room for improvement. A further works on finding mental peace and stability and finally settles at a much lower level of stress.
Person B: B falls under the category of "ignorance is bliss." B either is incapable of such mature and deep thinking, or he or she chooses to ignore any such thoughts.
Person C: At first, C is reluctant to open up to his or her deep thoughts and contemplations. He or she continually represses those thoughts until much later in life. Then C works past his or her metaphorical hump and settles at a comfortable stress level.