Enjoy Your High School Experience!

High School TipsAs my high school experience is drawing to a close, I feel like I should reflect on my four years, and make sure that the next generation of high schoolers will know how to make the most out of their years in high school.

Today, a student in my school committed suicide. It’s the third suicide this year and more than the tenth over the last six years at my school alone. I live in an extremely high-achieving, competitive area, where schools, parents and the students themselves push students to their very limits.

To me, there is something fundamentally wrong with the way high schoolers here are living their lives. There is this notion that while in high school, a student needs to devote her entire life to school, in order to enter the best college. But while I do think that education is the most important gift that anyone can receive, I don’t believe that school alone can provide that, and those who believe so will end up learning less. Most of my knowledge about the world comes from my experiences outside of school, and my overall well-being is from my insistence to do what makes me happy.

So today, I’m going to talk about some of the experiences I’ve had during my years in high school that have shaped me into who I am today. I think these are just as important as studying!

1. Midnight movie watching and Denny’s. Some of my fondest memories come from what my friends and I call the “perfect night.” During said weekend night, we would start watching a movie at midnight, then take a drive to the closest Denny’s (it’s open 24/7) and talk for hours about anything that comes to mind. While this has nothing to do with school work, those nights helped me remember that it’s okay to enjoy life and take things slow. It was also a great time to rant about anything going on in our lives and give one another totally unqualified advice.

2. Day trips to San Francisco. I’m so grateful that I have had the chance to live so close to such a great city. I took every opportunity I got to go there. If you live near a big city, dedicate at least one day a month to take a train to the city and just go exploring. I’ve had days where my friend and I took a train to the city and had a challenge where we tried to spend as little money as possible throughout the whole day. We ended up walking all over the city and found an amazing, cheap deli and only spent 20 dollars total that whole day! I think part of being a teenager is opening your eyes to the world and by leaving your town and exploring a city with your friends, you’ll be exposed to so much more culture and gain valuable independence.

3. Hiking. Hiking is one of those things you will never regret doing. I try to go hiking as often as I can, and if you go with friends it will end up being one of the funnest things you will ever do. I have learned about so many interesting places and discovered so many cool things about my area that I would’ve never learned about if I hadn’t gone hiking. I have hiked through creeks, volcanoes, caves, and mountains while not leaving the Bay Area. It’s such a fun and healthful way to spend time with your friends and I promise you that your mind will clear and you’ll come home energized and ready to tackle your responsibilities.

4. After school lunch specials. Sometimes if I or one of my friends are having a bad day or just want a distraction, we would all congregate in a certain household, find random recipe and cook. We have created almost anything there is to create. And while those meals sometimes weren’t necessarily edible, we had so much fun collecting ingredients and making things together. After school hours are not only for homework!

5. Watching TV. This may sound silly, but I’ve actually learned so much from watching TV. Lost, Breaking Bad, Friends, That 70’s Show, The Office, The Wonder Years, Scrubs, Weeds and so many other shows have really contributed to my cultural knowledge. It’s one of my favorite things to do alone and with others and I do think that it’s really important for my well-being. Yes, watching excessive TV isn’t a good idea, but there is nothing wrong with watching a TV show after a long day or just vegging out sometimes. In fact, it may actually be beneficial.

This is just a short list of the things I love to do that don’t contribute to my school education directly, yet impact me in a major way. Don’t think that your life is only composed of the things you can write down in a college application or a resume, because it’s so much more. Each experience you have, whether it’s “educational” or not, will benefit you, even if it’s as small as just spending time with your family and friends. Don’t compromise your teenagerhood for the best GPA because you’ll end up missing the best parts in life. I have known too many peers who have ended their lives because they felt like they were trapped and I want to let you know that you are not trapped, and in fact, your world has just opened. You will be stressed in high school and you will have to work hard, but please take time to do the things you want to do.

This is a guest post by Noa Livneh, a high school senior in the San Francisco Bay Area.

5 Tips For How To Write the “Why Do You Want To Go To Our College” Essay

College Essay TipsMost of the college application questions yield some research-free, albeit very well thought out answers about who you are and what you love. But by far the most tedious and difficult question to answer is the oft asked, “Why us?”

This question is tedious not only because it is rather difficult to strike a balance between obvious flattery and earnest admiration in your answer, but also because it requires strategic research and thoughtful answers. So, here are five tips to help you answer the dreaded “why do you want to attend this college?” question.

1. Be honest. If you simply list several points from the university website or paraphrase an article you read online, the admission committee will probably understand that you’re just regurgitating more of the same information that they’ve just read in a thousand other essays. Instead, come up with unique arguments that truly matter to you.

2. Don’t be too honest. If your main reason for applying is that you’ve heard great things about the frat parties or because the weather is warm, you should definitely omit those truths. Keep your essay topics strictly academic and/or intellectual.

3. Be specific. Do some in-depth research to find exactly where and how you would aspire to involve yourself in campus life. Look into student groups, student government, academic research or specific classes and professors. This will show that you have a very real interest in this particular college and that you’ve taken the time and energy to learn about it.

4. Explain what you can contribute to campus life. Make it known that you plan not to simply be a passive participant in student activities, but an active member (and perhaps even a leader) in the campus community. If you love writing, explain that you intend to write for the student newspaper. If you love making art, explain that you intend to take part in student art activities. Whatever it is that you love, make it known that you intend to translate that passion to your life on campus.

5. Talk to a current student. If you know any students at said university, don’t be shy about getting in touch with them. They will give you a realistic view of life on campus and provide you with a perspective that you can’t find online.

Be honest, do research and plan your essay well. If you do these things, not only will you produce a convincing essay, but you’ll also get the opportunity to explore the university and all it has to offer before even setting foot on campus.

Managing Your Time and Money in College

college time and moneyThey say time is money. Does this cliché hold true when your salary as a college student is near zero? Regardless, it’s clear that both time and money are finite and valuable and should be budgeted to maximize potential.

So where does the best use of both time and money intersect? Here are a few tips to help you budget your time and money and hopefully get the most out of both.

1. Fall into a weekly routine. It can be tough to remember to do everything that must be done. For that reason, we have routine. You don’t forget to brush your teeth, right? That’s because you do it twice a day, every day. Build your week around a regular schedule and you’ll be all set to complete all necessary tasks. But be sure to mix it up sometimes so your routine doesn’t get old.

2. Draw up a weekly budget (financially speaking). It’s important to spend your money wisely, whether you’re working or not. So instead of just spending as your go, do the math to determine approximately how much should be spent where. Though, when it comes to your bank account, ignorance may seem like bliss, you will inevitably have to face your spending, so it’s best to plan ahead.

3. Start each day with a plan. By creating a rough outline of your day, you’ll ensure time for both work and play. You don’t need to (nor should you) plan out every second of every minute of your day, but it’s good to construct an hour-by-hour schedule—especially during test season. That way, you’ll be able to fit everything—schoolwork, errands, and friends—into your day.

4. Write things down (before and after the fact). Be it your budget or your schedule, it’s important to visualize your plan and your outcome. Keep a spreadsheet of your expenses and a journal of your actions. That way, you’ll be able to see whether your premeditated plans are too ambitious, or whether you’re slacking off when it comes to the follow-through.

5. Be spontaneous—but not too spontaneous. Of course, if you have everything planned out, life gets boring. Find time and money to be a little spontaneous—just be sure not to overdo it.

5 Things I learned in College… Outside the Classroom

college lifeNot all college learning is done in the classroom. Here are five important life lessons I learned in college:

1. Life costs money. When someone was taking care of my every need, it was easy to overlook the financial cost of my day-to-day life. Sure, I knew that a trip to the mall, a night at the movies or dinner out at a restaurant cost money. But it was only when I began to pay for my own necessities that I gained a full appreciation for the cost of living. Between sending in my rent check, paying for my groceries and even doing my laundry, in college I gained some much-needed awareness about life’s day-to-day financial costs.

2. Life takes time. Remember when your laundry magically got cleaned and folded, your lunch got made and packed and your dinner was cooked and served? Yeah, those were the days. Once I moved into my own apartment without my personal chef, chauffeur and cleaner (my mom is seriously amazing), I realized that getting my life in order takes a lot of time. Suddenly, I had to run errands, a word I’d always associated with adulthood and a task I had always assumed was quick and easy. Noooope. I can spend my entire day running errands and still go to sleep feeling like I did nothing.

3. A student is more than his/her grades. In high school, my classmates and I had one thing on our minds, academically speaking: the elusive four-point-oh. And if we couldn’t achieve perfection, well, then we simply weren’t perfect, but we would sacrifice everything to get as close as possible. A high GPA became an important part of my identity. So when college rolled around, some less-than-perfect grades knocked me off my high horse and into a ditch of depression, self-loathing and many, many questions. It took me a while to realize that one, or even a few low grades wouldn’t ruin my GPA, and I certainly shouldn’t let it ruin my self-esteem.

4. Balance is key. Between school, parties, friends, clubs, the gym, work or whatever else you may be doing, college is a very hectic time. Through years of trial and error, I learned that it was not important to spend 100 percent of my time on any one activity, but rather, it was important to put 100 percent of myself into whatever I happen to be doing. During my four years as an undergraduate, I learned that play is just as important as work, and being present is extremely valuable and rewarding.

5. Friendships are everything. I met my best friends the first day of freshman year, when the three of us moved into the same ten-by-ten dorm room. Years later, I still talk to them regularly and they are an important part of my life. I feel so lucky to have emerged out of college with strong and lasting friendships that support me when things get rough and cheer for me when things are good. Friendship is everything.

How to avoid Senioritis and take Advantage of the Second Semester as a High School Senior

SenioritisMany high school seniors have just finished their last finals, and are now ready to commit to a semester of bliss. A time when colleges are reviewing all the information they got and the students’ only responsibilities are to not flunk high school. This time of year is known to harbor a dangerous and viral disease commonly known as Senioritis. My plan? Instead of letting myself fall victim to this awful disease, I intend to use my free time to prepare myself for the next four years at college. Here are the things that I will be doing during my second semester that I believe will not only give me better habits for college but will give me better habits for life:

1. Start to eat healthy. Since I now have all this free time, I plan to start learning how to cook fast and healthy foods so that I can prepare those for myself when I’m in college. I have never kept a serious diet or tried to eat healthier and I believe that if I hadn’t had a mom who cooked nutritious food, I would have a much different body shape than I do today. In college, I won’t have the pleasure of eating home cooked meals every night so I think it’s important to start learning how to limit myself with the amount of junk-food that I choose to eat and soft drinks I choose to consume. This a great way to start learning how to cook as well as attain better eating habits when it comes to choosing what to eat when going out.

2. Get in shape. Freshman 15. Who hasn’t heard of that concept? It’s the theory that 75 percent of all college freshman will gain fifteen pounds by the end of their first year. This happens because they’re eating so much cafeteria food without working out. Many of them stop doing the sports they were doing in high school, yet keep the same eating habits. Because most colleges provide gyms for their students, a good idea is to start using one before going into college. Once you develop a good routine for working out, you will have an easier time doing it in college; therefore staying part of that 25 percent of students who don’t gain fifteen pounds. The (about) six months you have before starting college are the perfect time to start and stick with a new workout routine.

3. Learn self-defense. While many people think that this would only be useful to girls, self-defense is crucial for everyone to learn before going into college. It’s so important to be able to protect yourself, so use your spare time during second semester to take self-defense classes so that you can be prepared for any situation in college. There are so many types of self-defense techniques. Some of which are kickboxing, Karate, Aikido, Jiu-Jitsu and Krav maga.

4. Read some books! Because we have worked so hard for school, many of us didn’t have the time to just sit down and open a good non-school-related book. I suggest you make a reading list and go through it during the second semester. It’s such a good alternative to watching Netflix, and you will feel so much better once you finish a novel rather than once you finish a TV series. Although many of the books I read in AP english are amazing classics, it’s nice to be able to choose the books that I will enjoy reading the most.

My advice: defeat Senioritis and use your second semester of senior year to its full potential. You could come into college with great habits that will enable you to enjoy college that much more.

This is a guest post by Noa Livneh, a high school senior in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Is the Four-Year College Degree A Myth?

Four Year Degree: A Myth?Recently, Education Week posted an article entitled “Completing College in Four Years is a “Myth.” In the piece, writer Caralee Adams cites various statistics claiming that virtually no one is actually completing their post-secondary degrees within the anticipated four years.

The numbers don’t lie—it appears that we do have a problem with higher education. And while I can’t argue with the facts, I must admit that as a fairly recent college graduate, I find these numbers very, very surprising.

In my own (albeit, limited) experience, graduating within four years is not only feasible, but overwhelmingly common. Of the many people with whom I interacted during my four years at UCLA, I can name only a handful who took extra time to complete their degrees.

Now, this is not to say that my friends and I are a perfect sample, nor are we necessarily typical of the American college student. Many of us took extra classes during summer or loaded up on courses during the school year.

However, I myself did not choose a major until the end of my sophomore year (the very last minute possible) and still managed to graduate within four years.

Thus, to me, decrying this as a widespread and deeply ingrained problem seems a little extreme.

In her piece, Ms. Adams advocates a prescribed set of courses per semester to remedy this unsustainable trend. While her solution is well intentioned, I think that required classes would stifle the creative thought and academic enthusiasm that so often characterizes the college campus.

Sure, Ms. Adams is correct in her claim that students do earn credits that are unrelated to their degrees and that undoubtedly does add to their days until graduation. However, an education is not a means to an end and a degree is not the only valuable result of college. Students should be encouraged to take courses they enjoy, courses that broaden their intellectual horizons and enhance their educational experience—not just courses that will further their degrees.

I worry that Ms. Adams’ solution would transform the centers of higher thinking and innovation that we know and love into simple degree factories, complete with assembly lines to mold mind after mind into identical forms.

While I do think it’s important to create a four-year plan, it’s also important to leave room for extra courses and flexibility. Additionally, few people enter college with a fully formed idea of what they’d like to study, so picking courses for every semester of college can be an overwhelming, even an impossible task. Though it’s important not to overspend on your degree, it’s also important to explore new knowledge.

Among my peers, completing a college degree within four years has been a doable, engaging learning process and I wouldn’t trade it for any stable, rock-solid four-year map.

This was a guest post by Molly Cornfield, a UCLA graduate.

Student Loans: 7 Tips for Being a Smart Borrower

Student Loans: Borrow WiselyIt’s a well-known and much complained about fact: the cost of college is rising fast. The average in-state student at a public university pays nearly $9,000 per year for fees and tuition, while a student at a private university typically pays just over $30,000 per year—and those numbers exclude costs for room and board. With these ever-increasing expenses, it’s getting tougher and tougher for college students to pay for their education.

At the same time, it’s very difficult to advance your career without a college degree. So to pay for your education, you’ll need a job that requires an education… the ultimate Catch 22. Right?

Fortunately, there are ways to pay for school without readily available money. Here are seven helpful tips to help you borrow money with your future in mind.

1. Do your research about grants, scholarships and financial aid. When it comes to your education, there are all kinds of ways to score free money. Applying for financial aid can help cover a good chunk of your costs. There are also all kinds of grants and private scholarships to help you fund your degree. Look into grants from your state, or scholarships specified for your course of study or from your community. These aren’t necessarily easy to find… but seeking them out certainly pays off. Securing free money means less need to borrow and less debt.

2. Work your way through high school, college and/or during the summer. Spending your spare time at work may not sound especially glamorous, and it certainly isn’t easy. But in the end, using your own hard-earned money to pay for at least part of your college tuition will not only help you to be debt-free after graduation, but will leave you with a distinct sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for having paid your own way.

3. Start at a community college then transfer to a four-year university. At just over $3,000 per year, community colleges are significantly cheaper than your average four-year university. By attending community college for your first two years of college, you’ll save thousands of dollars and finish school with the exact same degree as if you had started at a four-year university.

4. Choose your school practically. Consider the price tag before committing to a college. Do the math and be sure that you can afford a specific school. If not, then it’s probably not the right school for you.

5. Choose a major that will help you pay back your loans. 70K of debt seems a lot more intimidating when you’re making $30,000 per year than when you’re earning $90,000 per year. Study a topic that will make you a marketable job candidate and make your education worth your debt.

6. Research lenders before taking out a student loan. Not all loans are created equal. Talk to others to get the full story about your lender, compare rates with other lenders and read the fine print. Be sure that your loan is straightforward and your lender is honest before borrowing money.

7. Only borrow what you must. If you’re taking out a loan, do so wisely. Don’t take out excessive amounts just because it’s available and convenient. You’ll likely need to cut back on your spending for a bit, but you’ll thank yourself later.