Moving to Cali

This post is to explain a little of what I’m going through now with preparing to move to Stanford this fall. Let me say I do not at all regret my decision to come to Stanford but here are some things I’ve had to consider/realize about college and moving.
Holy Cow! College is Expensive.
Regardless of how much aid a school gives you there are still tons of things you’re going to need for school, dorm, etc. that aren’t covered. Relocating from across the country makes that even more difficult because now you have to consider how to get your things there. Most people suggest buying when you get there or shipping your items as a last resort but remember between a laptop and a comforter, and anything else you see on a Bed, Bath and Beyond checklist. It gets pricey.
Southwest Say What!? –  Travel Expenses
California isn’t just a drive away for me or for a lot of people and plane tickets can be just as unaffordable as they are necessary. Ex: If I were to buy a one way ticket on Southwest to San Francisco right now, it would cost roughly 450 dollars. I’m sure there are cheaper fares available but be prepared to budget 1500 dollars give or take for travel for a year if you’ll be flying. Plan on bringing your entire wardrobe? Better check those baggage fees. Thinking about bringing 10 pounds worth of CD’s and DVDs in your luggage? Think Again. Furthermore consider that plane tickets are more expensive around the holidays. It may not be within your means to travel home for Thanksgiving, or spring break, or even just because you miss your family.  Personally only one of my parents will be able to come with me to campus this fall. I can honestly say that’s not what I pictured when I envisioned moving into my dorm but that’s simply the case. Also consider that if your parents will be coming to campus from another state there will probably be hotel stay and car rentals involved unless you have family nearby.
Bracing for the Transition
There will be plenty more to say later, but here’s what I can say now. Going to a completely new place and knowing barely anyone is scary. In addition to this you know next to nothing about the area surrounding campus or how to get around. I personally plan on asking the people from California for help. I think what keeps me from stressing is that I know there are tons of other kids around the country, going to many great schools, who have the same worries or problems and also knowing that I’m coming to a great community. The rest will hopefully get figured out along the way J
Posted in Ashley, Coming to Stanford, Travel | Leave a comment

So Many Schools, So Little Time, Part I: Approaching How You Approach Applying

For the next several weeks (I’m looking at a weeklyish post schedule), I’m going to be walking you readers through the college application process. (Sorry for the long post title. I tend to be long-winded, as you can probably tell already.)

So! You’re a starry-eyed senior/junior/underclassman/middle schooler (jeez, calm down) looking at colleges. You’re not sure what you want, but you know you want a good school. You want a school that can give you everything you need and deserve. You want a school that you will not regret going to. You want a school that accepts you for who you are and truly cares for you…

Oh, wait, that’s a future spouse.

But to tell you the truth, the two are analogous. And now, in this vein, I will address several misconceptions or thoughts you may have about finding a school. (This isn’t all of them, but it’s a few important ones I thought of just now.)

1. “I will not be happy unless I go to ________. I will therefore only apply there.”
Translation: “I will not be happy unless I marry ________. Therefore, I will turn down ALL OTHER SUITORS until he/she proposes that we wed.”
SO: You can clearly see how insane this idea is. So, NO. Stop. Just… stop. Take a deep breath. It’s very nice to have a dream school, and it’s fine to have a #1 pick, but if your list stops at #1 you have problems. If that school is very highly selective, for example, you could (gasp) be rejected. And then what? You’ve built up your #1 school so much in your head that any other college is a letdown (which is very sad because that other college could be the perfect fit for you, but you don’t realize it yet; you could also miss part of what your chosen college has to offer while pining after your ‘ideal’ college).
Or, better but not by much, you attend your dream school but find that your expectations are so high that it’s not really the paradise of rainbows and unicorns you expected (which is very sad because you are unhappy with what you had been wanting for a very long time). So just let go of those absolutes and just go with the flow, you know? (Sorry.)

2. “I want to go to ________, because it’s the best.” (This is similar to #1 but not identical.)
Translation: “I’m going to marry ________, because he/she is the best.”
SO: See above. However… I made another point similar to #1 because of my views on applying to a college simply because of its rankings and reputation.
First of all, you may wish to apply to a school like – for example – Caltech, because it’s the #1 school in the world. And heaven forbid you go to Berkeley*, because in that very list it’s #11 (clearly, double digits are not okay). I just want to say that this is an absolutely idiotic idea that you should reject immediately. What on earth do rankings even mean? They’re just a set of numbers attempting to quantify the totally subjective “goodness” of a school. Caltech may be ranked #1, but you might be happier at a #4 or a #42 or a #whatever. A school being called the “best” by one source doesn’t mean it’s the right school for you, which is the crucial part. Let me repeat: Do not apply to a school simply because of its rankings.
On a related note, do not apply to a school because of how “good” it sounds. The “look guys, I’m going to Harvard/Stanford/whatever” factor should not be pivotal in why you wish to go to a school. The fact that it’s internationally recognized wasn’t why I decided to go to Stanford (though I will admit that it was a reason, however small). In fact, as I mentioned earlier, I was seriously considering Harvey Mudd, which is virtually unknown in suburban Minnesota (though come to think of it, where I live even Stanford isn’t that well-known – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that I’m an Ivy Leaguer or heading off to the East Coast).
But I digress – if you’re applying to Stanford because, well, it’s Stanford, you’re going to be disappointed. The academics and reputation of the school make it stand out, but it isn’t why I – or many other people – decided to commit. Many people committed after talking to the people on the Facebook group, or after visiting campus for themselves. It’s that intangible “I feel like I belong here” factor (which you can have with Stanford, Harvey Mudd, or any other school on the planet) that makes a school truly good for you. If you don’t feel like a school is good for you, you will be unhappy, no matter how highly that school is ranked.
This has been a long section, and it might have been somewhat incoherent, but the point of the matter is that what other people think about your school should factor into how you feel about your school as little as possible. So stop looking at the US News rankings and stop asking other people what they think sounds good. Do your own research for yourself. It’s your education, after all.

* – There are a multitude of other reasons to not go to Kal, but that’s another post.

SO: Oh, dear. How can I begin to approach this…
Well, first, I direct you to #1. You can’t even “decide” on a school if you haven’t applied.
You do NOT have to decide on a school immediately. You are under no obligation whatsoever to decide a school before the typical May 1st deadline. Got that? So if all of your classmates are all planning for a college, and they haven’t heard back from their school, they are A) being presumptuous in thinking that that school will definitely accept them, and B) kind of being jerks. (If they’ve already been accepted to their school and you’re still waiting for your decision, please resist the urge to strangle them; they’re just excited.)
Bottom line: You don’t have to – and, in fact, can’t – make any decisions if you haven’t been accepted to any schools. If you’re even before the application stage, then all you need to do right now is make a list of schools that interest you. And that is only done through research and visiting schools (the latter of which is for another post).

4. “Aw gee, I have to have ________ as my safety school, don’t I? Boo, I don’t want to go there.”
Translation: “Aw gee, I have to marry ________ if ________ doesn’t propose, don’t I? Boo, I don’t want to marry him/her.” (…That one’s a bit of a stretch.)
SO: Don’t apply to a school if you don’t want to go there. It’s as simple as that!
However, you do have to have a backup plan if plan A doesn’t work. Whatever that backup plan is – gap year, safety school, found a multibillion dollar startup – you have to be happy with it. If you’ll only be happy with plan A, well, you should lower your expectations and be a little more realistic.
In other words, don’t be a brat. If plan A doesn’t work, don’t stamp your feet and scream. Have a productive backup plan that you’ll be happy with.

5. “I think I’ll apply to 18 colleges. Well, at least 12.”
Translation: “I think I’m going to date at least twelve people at once.” (…Er, okay, maybe this isn’t working.)
SO: I’m not saying you shouldn’t keep your options open. Keeping your options open, especially for college, is a good thing! Having to decide between ten colleges who have all accepted you is a good problem to have, no matter how frustrating it may be at the time.
On the other hand, be reasonable. Would you be happy going to every single one of those 18 (or however many) schools? Like I said, don’t apply to a school if you don’t want to go there. If you’ve done your research, you should know which schools you like and which you don’t. Don’t thrust yourself into months of application nightmare unnecessarily.
HOWEVER. If you are absolutely certain you want to apply to however many schools, and “however many” means at least a dozen, start early and keep at it. As I was waiting for my Stanford decision (which was supposed to be out December 15th but wound up being released December 9th), I filled out other applications (though I held off on submitting them until I heard back from Stanford, which turned out to be a good idea). You want to make each and every one of your applications high-quality. Doing fourteen applications halfway isn’t really a good idea. It’s better to do seven, really good, applications.
ALSO. Make sure to rank the schools in order of how much you want to go there, even vaguely, so that you at least have a game plan if you get into multiple colleges. I was planning to apply to 14 colleges and had a very strict rank of which ones I preferred over others. If you’re accepted to multiple colleges, you don’t want to be saying “but I want to go to all of themwhile whimpering and eating ice cream in the corner.

Well, my metaphor kind of fell apart, but the point is that I tried to make those comprehensive discussions on five thoughts you may have about college applications, and I hope I succeeded! Please leave a comment if you found this helpful; I’m also taking suggestions on what to discuss next (like I said, I’m trying to walk through the application process chronologically).

It’s also my birthday today! Happy birthday to me.


Posted in Applying, Applying and Admission, College, Samantha | 2 Comments

We Are Gatsby!

     Like everyone else here, I have my own ideas about what goes on behind the closed doors of admissions offices at top schools. I personally like to think it involves some arcane ritual with blindfords and a dartboard. However, I thought I’d make my first post about the next step of the process. In the end, we can only choose one school, and many of us end up with the daunting (in an awesome way!) choice of where to matriculate. I’m going to focus on analyzing ,in a completely unbiased fashion, of course, some of the differences I noticed between Stanford and Yale.
      During my admit weekend visits, it seemed like a huge amount of the students I met were trying to decide between Stanford and the Big 3 east coast Ivy League schools(Yale, Harvard, and Princeton). Of course,some people were also looking at other places as well. These people mostly fell in one of two groups. Some were considering specialized places such as MIT, Juilliard (music), or Annapolis (NAVY). Others were considering significant scholarships at other schools. I personally can’t speak for either of these groups, and the right decision here often depends on one’s own specific circumstances.
     Stanford and the Ivy Leagues, however, compete on a more even playing field. All offer strong courses in a wide variety of subjects, all have diverse classes, and all limit themselves (except Stanford with some athletes) to need based aid. Since any aid differences can often be eliminated at these 4 schools (all of which happen to be filthy rich) with a little maneuvering, it all comes down to picking the place that feels right.
     I’m not going to suggest that there aren’t significant differences between the top Ivy League schools, but of the 4, most students seemed to agree Stanford is the odd man out, while the other 3 have relatively similar campus cultures. Therefore, I’ll use Yale to represent all of Stanford’s East coast competitors.
     The location of Stanford is a pretty obvious factor. However, this affects more than just weather (where most would agree Stanford dominates). Stanford’s Cali location also has a huge effect on the school’s culture. I’d imagine this is largely due to the huge percentage of California students that matriculate. Even though it’s packed full of overachievers, Stanford still somehow feels cool and relaxed. despite this, everyone is still working incredibly hard. This has lovingly been dubbed the “duck syndrome”,but I honestly felt the effect it had was creating a relatively more warm and enjoyable environment. Yalies struck me as a bit more outwardly intense and competitive. Everyone was still incredibly friendly and welcoming, but I personally felt a bit less comfortable in this environment.
     I also heard quite a few people worrying about the prestige of the schools. I think this is kind of ridiculous at this level, but many felt Stanford was less prestigious that it’s Ivy League counterparts. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with this. I think Stanford is kind of like Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. It’s the new money among these academic powerhouses that existed long before California was even a state! Personally, I found this exciting. The Ivy Leagues are the top schools of the past, but Stanford is the future! This is reflected in it’s Silicon Valley location, it’s STEM prowess, and (a favorite of the Stanford propaganda people) its entrepeneurial spirit.
     The last thing I’d like to compare is the schools’ student bodies. In reality, the schools admit many of the same people, and both classes end up with incredible people. IN GENERAL, I’d say that Ivy League people seem to be a bit more like what people would expect when they think of students at top schools. Many of these are the type A overachievers who started 5 clubs, saved a small and impoverished country, and somehow had time to self-study for that 18th AP test. At Stanford, quite a few students seem genuinely surprised to have made the cut. It seems that admissions at Stanford tends to look more highly upon essays, quirkiness, and a desire to get out and do something new in the real world. Many will roll their eyes at Stanford’s slightly quirkier admissions, but I felt it created an additional layer of diversity that other schools just can’t match.
     I never really analyzed these factors in depth before choosing a school. That would have been kinda tough since Stanford scheduled their admit weekend literally days before we had to commit to a school (complete coincidence I’m sure). For me, something just clicked. Yale was incredible, but Stanford just had this secret sauce that won me over. Here’s my advice to anyone making this kind of choice. Visit both places. Go with your gut. Never look back!

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Welcome to the CommonApp.

You’re immediately forced to reduce yourself down to some numbers, your exracurriculars and some essays, which, in the best of cases, accurately discribe a tiny slice of your character. The college wont get to ‘know you’, there’s not enough time, so it gets to know ‘your facts’. The problem is that these facts dont represent you, and you don’t even know for sure which ones are good or bad, which ones may help or hinder your chances! Some people end up exagerating the truth because of this, but only to conform to a standard they THINK is the right one.

Everyone has a corresponding set of facts about themselves, and whether or not they are prized by the university is mostly unknown. It can feel quite arbitrary at times.
I struggled to reduce myself to my facts. Their questions are never adequate and you’re left wondering: “Is that thing I do with my friend at school on a semi-regular basis considered an extracurricular?”. “Should I mention that I’m gay or that my parents are divorced?”. You struggle to figure out what is relevant, and what you should brush under the rug. You’re encouraged endlessly to”write about what you’re passionate about!”, but what if you feel that it doesn’t set you appart? Maybe you just really love your mother and spend lots of time with her after school, going on walks or cooking together.
I feel that the reason people read blogs like this is that they want to know what the shadowy admissions guys want, so they know which direction to point their application, which side of themselves to show (I know I definitely did this). The thing is, there’s no way to know anything for sure. I didn’t get a call from my admissions councellor, but even if they told me why they thought I was a good candidate, it in no way applies to anyone else. 
If I can provide one word of advice, it’s this: just write about everything you can that’s true, if it is relevant or not, even if you think it may hinder your chances. I don’t know if that will increase your chances or not, but you can feel honest about yourself and stop worrying.
And then if you’re accepted, it might be a bit clearer to you why.
We got into this great university, and we know how (essays and tests and forms…), but we don’t know why it is we were chosen instead of the millions of other genuine and interesting people.
Posted in CommonApp, Essays, Extracurriculars | Leave a comment

Stanford out of the Blue.


Here’s my experience with the whole admissions process.

There are no ‘tips’, details, or comments about the essays, no hypothesising as to why I think I got in (that’s mostly an exercise in futility, nobody really knows), but instead it’s a general picture of what I went through.

I’m an international applicant, so I had a pretty big choice of schools from various countries to apply to. I thought of applying to the US, so I went ahead and did the SAT, though I had no particular universities in mind (I had a vague dream of going to MIT).

When I got my SAT scores back and googled them (who doesn’t do that…), I had my mind blown. I could actually apply to Harvard??? Awesome! My school councelor advised me to apply to Stanford because it was good, so I did. I put so little effort into choosing my universities it should probably be considered criminal, but there was just so much choice, and not enough time.

And then I got a reply from Stanford. I wasn’t that excited because I didn’t really have much invested in my college choices, I was ready to accept what came, whatever it was. It’s only after doing some research that everything I’d achieved and could still achieve hit home… and I eventually committed.

I’m lucky, it could have gone wrong so easily. I could have ended up in a decent but small university in England.

What should you take away from it? That it’s maybe a good idea to look into where you’re applying, and not do it blindly like I did? I guess, though maybe it’s also a good idea to not invest yourself too much, in order to avoid having your heart broken.

Take it seriously, but then again not too seriously. It’s just the rest of your life, it’ll happen regardless of where you go.

Posted in Applying and Admissions, International | Leave a comment

Cardinal Spirit

Hi, new contributor here – my name is Sarah!  I’ve never written on a blog before, but I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops.

And right there, before I even introduce myself further, I hope that gives some sense of the Cardinal spirit.  Or how I perceive the Cardinal spirit, anyway.  First, there’s the fact that I’m jumping into something new, pushing away any insecurities.  More exciting, though, is how this blog has taken off with so many contributors so quickly.  I have to take a moment now to applaud Amelia Brooks for starting the blog – a true Stanford entrepreneur!  Now take a look at the sidebar on the right, and you’ll see how many people have jumped at this opportunity.  If I had any doubts about my college choice, the energy of my classmates reminded me why I chose this school.  I’m not even there yet, and I feel part of a vibrant, generous community.

Any community, of course, is composed of individuals.  So, who am I?

I grew up in Washington State, attending the same school from kindergarten through twelfth grade.  My graduating class had only 78 students.  The majority of my time is spent with homework, admittedly, but I’m also very committed to playing the cello.  I started when I was in fourth grade, and since then I’ve played in my local youth symphony, All-State orchestras, Solo & Ensemble, various chamber ensembles, and at Carnegie Hall.  That last is with a full symphony, of course, not solo!

Here’s an interesting point, though, with the usual disclaimer that I have no idea why the admissions office makes the decisions it does.  None of my three application essays were explicitly about the cello.  One or two may have alluded to music more generally, but I let the activities portion of the Common App speak for itself.  I’m not at all suggesting that you should avoid talking about the activities you list; rather, I’m just trying to say that you shouldn’t feel obligated to address those activities.  Write about whatever feels right to you instead of trying to wrestle a topic into an essay.

I am passionate about linguistics and computer science, and I registered my school to compete in the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad.  I plan on pursuing both fields through the Symbolic Systems program.  That program was a huge factor in my decision to apply to Stanford.  I’m also a proud member of the Linguistic Society of America!  That was just a matter of filling out the registration on the website, of course, but it was cool nevertheless.

I’ve already mentioned a few reasons why I chose Stanford: an energetic community of doers, great programs in linguistics and computer science, and especially the track of combining the two.  After that, can’t forget the weather!  Keep in mind that I’ve spent all my life in rainy western Washington, haha.  The campus is beautiful – if you haven’t visited yet, I highly recommend it.  And then there are little things like the taiko Japanese drumming ensemble.  Taiko is something I’ve been interested in for a long time, but I’ve never had the resources.  I’m sure you’ll find your own niche group on campus that will fire up your excitement.  There’s so much happening, I would be surprised if you didn’t!  I also took classes on campus during summer quarter last year.  I’ll probably address that in another post.

Thanks for reading!
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Yes, You Can Talk About Pancakes and Sudoku in a College Application Essay

*This is my personal opinion, from essays I’ve read, and the essays I’ve written. From what I’ve read about admissions, and the letters I’ve gotten from the university. This is why I believe that I got in.*

So, Let’s Pretend For a Moment

We’re going to pretend I know how I got in. If you want to play pretend with me, feel free to keep reading. Hopefully I can help make things a little easier for you than they were for me.

So. College essays. Yikes. You’ve done all you can as far as grades and extracurriculars, and now you’re at the application stage. You’re wracking your brain for that “perfect topic.” That topic that will set you apart from the rest. You know that numbers are important, BUT: if people with 2400s and 4.0s can get rejected or waitlisted, then you know there’s gotta be something else that those mysterious admissions officers are looking for. What is it?

That Spark

The people at admissions want to know what sets you apart. What inspires you. Why do they want you around; how will you contribute the the unique, eclectic, diverse world of the Stanford campus? And this is exactly what you have to give them. The unique, goofy, stoic, musical, athletic, quiet, loud, whatever sort of person you are. Don’t pretend to be someone else: be who you are. Advice I read that helped me a lot? If you’re not funny, don’t try to be funny. If you are… go for it. I really took that advice to heart.

A Quick Example: Part of a “Letter to my Roommate”:

“I sing show tunes in the shower, and I tell math jokes while playing the guitar. Back massages totally make my day. I firmly hold with the belief that children are much cuter when they’re not your own. I eat pancakes at dinnertime, and I think that creamed spinach should not exist. On the other hand, I am totally fine with cottage cheese.”

Silly, whimsical, light-hearted, and all true. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Show off what makes you unique, make them remember you. Be as silly or serious as you are. Talk about who you are and what makes you different.
What was something else that made me different? Well, as I alluded to in my “roommate essay,” I enjoy math and theatre. In my “What Matters to Me” essay I talked about how the freedom to explore many different ventures was so important to me. That was one thing that set me apart. How do I know this? My admission officer told me as much in a handwritten note:
“Your genuine appreciation for the freedom to pursue many thespian and intellectual interests makes you a wonderful fit for the Stanford environment. I am thrilled for you to bring your love of calculus, math jokes, show tunes, languages and ‘poetic gibberish’ to the Farm! Looking so forward to meeting you in April!”

Also: Don’t be afraid to let other people look at your essays. Some people I know didn’t have anyone edit their essays. But for me, having someone else look at them helped, especially for my common app essay. In all honesty, that’s the only one I really had people look at and edit, but it was extraordinarily helpful. They clued me in to so many ways to make it better. Of course, now you’re probably wondering, “So, what did you write about?”

“What did you write about?” The question I get from all my friends when they heard I got in. The million dollar question. Well, not really, but just about. To be incredibly vague, but hopefully still slightly helpful, I wrote about a person who had influenced me. Were they a particularly good person? No, but they still helped me learn lessons that made me the person that I am today. And I compared it to Cinderella. (No, I was not writing about a boyfriend, in case you were wondering.)

And another pretty important essay:

Intellectual Vitality:

What is intellectual vitality? I honestly don’t know. I wrote an essay about it, and I still don’t know. But I do know this: I wrote about something I loved. I wrote a story about how I liked to multiply big numbers in my head when I was eight years old. 32 times 28? 896. (Yes, I just did that in my head.) I ended that essay with the passage:
Over the summer, I went to a drama camp where I
sang show tunes, danced the Charleston, and learned Meisner’s views on acting, but the one thing I remember most? How dang much I wished someone would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you wanna do some Calculus?'”

This was the hardest essay for me to find a topic. And then I realized: I just had to write about something I loved. Write about something you love, and write it in a way that will capture your audience. Tell them a story, paint a picture, let them see why this is your passion, and why you love it so much. Let them know what makes you tick.

A Quick Summary

  • The people at admissions want to know what make you, you.
  • If you’re not funny, don’t try to be funny. If you are… go for it.
  •  Talk about who you are and what makes you different.
  • Just write about something you love.
  • Tell them a story, paint a picture, let them see why this is your passion, and why you love it so much.
  • Let them know what makes you tick.
Posted in Applying, Applying and Admission, Essays, Intellectual Vitality, Roommate, Sarai, Stanford | Leave a comment