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.

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.