Studying Abroad – The Process

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By Ariana

I think studying abroad is something almost every college student, if asked or surveyed, would say they would be interested in. Actually partaking in studying abroad is something only about 10 percent of college students do, depending on where you search on the web.

It is important to be active in your plans to study abroad.

In my case I knew I wanted to do it, I figured out a time when I could go (with my academics, and how long I wanted to go for) and then did some research on where to go. It doesn’t have to be as extensive as you would think, as along as you’ve narrowed down some countries, and chosen a time frame (year, semester, summer or winter program) it becomes possible to sit down and compare the ins and outs of programs.

My college has a study abroad website with a list of all the programs offered, as well as some affiliated programs, which is where I found my programs. As far as choosing the time frame, I worked with my academic counselor to formulate a plan for going abroad and still graduating on time.

I had a tough time deciding between two programs – one in Greece and another in Spain. I have always wanted to go to Greece, but the Greek programs that I looked at were more expensive and offered less within the program. When I looked at Spain they offered so many more excursions and it had a better price tag!

So now I am here!

The next step after deciding where you want to go is going through the application process. I would recommend applying early.

Learn from my experience – I waited till the last minute to apply,  even though I was well aware of the deadline, I just had a little self-doubt. In the end it worked out, but it added stress to the process.

I think having doubts or fear is a normal part of the process, traveling to new country by yourself and then living there for three months or maybe even longer is a scary thought, but I knew I was going to do it, even if it was the last day I could apply.

Side Note: You can’t ever let fear take over your life and it’s important to be aware of it, and not let it stand in your way of opportunity, knowledge and growth. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to take your life somewhere else for a bit, take advantage of it!

The reason why I also think you should apply early is because getting a visa is not exactly easy and the process can be long.

I would advise you to try to be as proactive as you can with filling out all your paper work or anything that’s needed from your program, getting letters of recommendation, filing out financial forms, getting your passport (if you don’t have one already, or getting an old one renewed) and getting classes reviewed by your college to ensure the credits will transfer (if they aren’t already in the system).

But I promise, all this work will pay off, because the world is waiting for you!

Until next time!

-Ariana

4-year Universities vs. Community Colleges

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By Alia

Let’s start by playing a little true or false.

1. Universities are big while community colleges are puny.

Answer: FALSE; there is such a thing as a small university and community colleges are plenty big.

2. You get a better education going to 4-year universities versus community colleges.

Answer: FALSE; you get equal education in my opinion (but some universities are picky and might not take credits from elsewhere).

3. Community colleges are for people who weren’t successful the first time around or are behind and need to play catch up.

Answer: FALSE; plenty of people go to community colleges – it’s easier on the wallet, not because they lack the ability to go somewhere else.

4. You need to be super rich or take out a student loan to afford college.

Answer: FALSE; you can get scholarships and grants (free money) to go to college and there are even programs like Power of You (POY) that pay for everything.

5. The system is corrupt and if I’m not the right color I won’t make it.

Answer: FALSE; anyone can make it and you’d be surprised how many people want to see you succeed.

Conclusion – Much of what you hear relating to who goes to community colleges and who goes to 4-year universities is false.

So what’s true?

The difference between going to a community college or university is where you plan to go and how you plan to get there.

Universities are great for their high reputations, they offer more classes, they offer high degrees.

Community colleges are for everyone, they are cheaper than universities, they can be the start or finish.

My advice to you, someone who is in high school right now, is go to a community college and then university if you so desire. Starting out at a big university could be everything you dreamed of, but more than likely you will have more debt. You might end up changing your major and realize you wasted not only your time, but a lot of someone else’s money.

If you want a path where you pay less and get more, I say take my advice. I say go somewhere where people come in all shapes, colors, sizes, and ages with all different backgrounds. I say go somewhere where you can get the same education for less hassle and less out of your pocket. I say go somewhere where you can stumble and get back up with little to no repercussions.

Take it or leave it, but that’s my advice.

When I was deciding where I wanted to go to college, my first choice was the U of M: Twin Cities Campus. I used to work there in the multicultural center in Appleby Hall. I got to learn the layout of the campus by giving tours to children in grades K-8.

I loved it there. I loved the art, I loved the science, I loved the tree full of shoes.

That long bridge was the coolest canvas every club had claim to. I felt alive every day I went to work there and sometimes it was a painful reminder being alive. I didn’t even want to look at other schools, that’s where I wanted to go, but the college and career center at my high school wouldn’t let me pick just one place. They said I needed to apply to at least three schools and I was so bummed, I didn’t care about anyplace else.

I finally gave in and “looked” at some other places. I didn’t want to leave the city, so that narrowed my search fast. I found the Arts Institute and Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) both were in the right place and offered majors I liked. Then I compared costs and saw something surprising – the tuition at MCTC was nowhere near the tuition for the other two options.

I thought, “well they must be so cheap for a reason,” and decided to check out what exactly they were lacking. I took a visit to the school and it didn’t take long before I heard about the Power Of You program. It also didn’t take long before I realized there was nothing missing. There were so many paths for me to take at MCTC for a fraction of the cost, excuse me, for no cost.

I was baffled.

I didn’t know you could go to college for free. The Power Of You program at MCTC took me in and I was surrounded by a group of hard working staff ready to pay for my tuition. All they asked was that I say “hello” every so often, go full-time, have a decent GPA, give back to the community and graduate from a Minneapolis high school.

My parents were sold, and even though I loved the U of M to death, I was too. I did my big exams in high school, sent out my applications, etc. Both the U of M and MCTC accepted me, but at the end of the day, I chose to go to MCTC after doing all my research on the two choices.

MCTC is everything I wanted in a college, even more so than the U of M was. I go to MCTC now as a full time student and I work for the school as a tutor helping other students. I have never been more at home on a campus, they have everything I want/need.

Best of all, I can still continue on to finish a 4-year degree at the U of M, if that’s what I decide to do, and I will have spent a lot less on earning credits my initial years out of high school!

It’s not really a secret, but I never liked school. I did well, but middle school and high school were not only zoos, they were claustrophobic to me. After seeing students trying to jump out of windows on the 3rd floor and dancing on tables and bullying left and right, I was so sick.

In middle school my bullying experiences weren’t from other students, they were from the dean. So you can see, I thought school was a joke. A very messed up joke. I wasn’t even proud of myself when I graduated. I thought college would be as lame if not MORE lame, but college has been awesome. It sometimes doesn’t even feel like school to me, I have too much fun.

Maybe you like school already, that’s cool. I just know too many of us go through it unhappy. I even mentioned before, I have depression. Why am I being so personal? Because I want you to hear my story and maybe it will help you.

My real point is don’t give up. Don’t give up even if things look bad and you feel gross. Don’t give up even if it seems you have no place to go, you always do. Like I’ve said, college isn’t for everyone, but what’s important is that anyone can go to college.

Whether you pick a community college or university, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re a step closer to your dreams and you aren’t being worn down. Make the healthy choice, make the smart choice.

I know you can succeed.

Changing Your Mind Isn’t A Crime

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by Cara

College is a time of change. Some are minor such as studying a different foreign language than the one you did in high school. Other changes are more major like moving to the other side of the country for college.

I’ve changed a lot this year, and I will be making my biggest change this fall. This week is the end of my first year of college and the end of my time at the University of St. Thomas. In the fall, I will be transferring to the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.

I’m the type of person who tries to plan ahead for everything. I even have a spreadsheet with my four year plan for college plus one year post grad.

Transferring was not part of that plan.

For many months, I attempted to keep the thought of transferring out of my mind. I kept telling myself that it was normal to feel a little nervous about starting college, but the level of hesitation I felt was much more than a little. If I mentioned my fear that I’d made the wrong decision, I was so worried I would disappoint everyone and that I’d look like a failure.

I think I focused too much on achieving what I thought people expected of me instead of what I really wanted.

My courses at St. Thomas were a variety of new and familiar subjects. I joined a mentorship program and a dance club. I spent my weekends attending the on-campus concert and movie events with free food. Regardless of what I did, my experience was still not what I envisioned it to be.

I didn’t feel like I fit in.

At the U of M, I feel secure enough to authentically be myself. I am comfortable there, but not comfortable to the point that I won’t be able to grow as a person. I feel welcomed enough try new things there like joining student government or writing for the school’s newspaper. I’ve loved the U of M since I attend a week long business camp at their Carlson School of Management. It has a diverse student body, a club for every interest, and it’s close to where my family lives.

My academic interests have also changed. Instead of one of my majors being marketing, I will be doing a management minor. I will still be pursuing a major in journalism, and I’ve added another major in political science. It’s great to head to college with an idea of what you’ll major in, but keep your mind open to falling in love with new subjects.

The experiences you have during the summer and throughout college will help you discover what you enjoy the most.

Transferring isn’t something to take lightly. Deciding to transfer solely because you want to be with a friend, you have a bad roommate experience, or you want to attend a higher ranked school are all potential reasons to reconsider whether a transfer makes sense. Your college experience will be what you make of it, but if you feel it’s not working out for numerous reasons it can’t hurt to explore your options. I’m glad I went ahead and applied early to transfer. Months later when I knew for sure I wanted to transfer, it wasn’t too late.

I thought I would be done with the whole college application process until it was time for graduate school. At times, applying for transfer admission felt more stressful than senior year.

Once you’re accepted to a new college, there’s still more to be done. You have to figure out which courses will toward your degree at the new college. Placement tests and orientation must be completed again. Financial aid can also be just as confusing as the first time. Typically, there are less grants or scholarships available directly from your college when you’re a transfer student. Federal aid and outside scholarships tend to stay at the same amount if you are not leaving the state.

I’ve learned that each person has their opinion of the ideal college experience and one is not more valid than the others.

If something doesn’t feel right after your first college semester, talk to your advisor. Sometimes getting more involved in campus activities, finding a new roommate, or changing your major is all it takes to improve your situation. If you still feel it’s not working, know that there’s nothing wrong with transferring.

Ultimately, what matters is that you pick the best option for you and that you are happy.

Picking a Major/Path

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by Alia

Many of us are asked at a young age what we want to be when we grow up. For some of us the answer stays the same, but for many of us the answer changes over time. In some families and cultures certain paths or careers are seen as better than others. For example, parents might tell us what we should become when we’re older.

Parents usually just want what’s best for their children, they want their children to be successful and bring pride to the family name. The problem in many cases is that parents don’t always know what is truly best – they know what they wish they did with their lives, they know what opportunities they didn’t have, they know what jobs are seen as good by the masses.

If your parent or other parental-like figure is telling you who you should become, then really ask yourself who’s dream job is this? Is it just theirs – or yours also? If you are feeling pressured to become a doctor or a lawyer or something high-paying or respectable like that by your parents take a step back and look at yourself. What do you want to be when you’re older? What do you want to be right now? What are your passions? If it’s not the same as what your parents want for you, then maybe what your parents want isn’t right for you.

Why do so many college students switch majors? In my opinion, it’s because they go into a field not sure what their true passions are. In high school most of us aren’t exposed to the world and all of its possibilities. We only see what our high school and other things in life have shown us.

It’s not just young college students dealing with this either. You might think what you’re going to become is dead-set, but be prepared for changes because they are going to happen. Your path isn’t set until you’ve made it to the end of your journey. As long as you’re alive your path can always change, you can always change as a person. Your passions can change, they can become more or less clear with time.

You are less likely to change your major when you know and understand what really drives you inside. If you’re not doing it for yourself, someday the motivation will dwindle. Exerting yourself for others’ dreams and passions when you don’t share those dreams and passion will eventually wear you down.

Do it for you.

It’s your life, so why should anyone else be writing off your story or your destiny. This may sound like a debate on free will, but let me tell you, some things will happen no matter what and some things are just up to you in life. What you like, what drives you – that’s up to you and no one else.

What if you don’t know what you like, you don’t know your passion in life?

Like I said, be prepared for changes. Maybe you don’t know right now, but you will know some day. College isn’t for everyone. Maybe taking some time off to find yourself is what you need. Explore some different jobs, explore the world, explore yourself and your values. Let time tell the story you don’t yet know. If you’re very passionate about going to college or feel like you have to, then go!

Try liberal arts or another major that lets you explore your options. Do your generals and take a variety of different classes until something clicks inside and you finally know where you want to go. Trial and error is one of the best teachers throughout life’s journey. Some things you have to learn for yourself. All of us have weaknesses and all of us have strengths, so find yours, and that will help you uncover your passion someday.

What if your problem is not that you don’t know your passion – what if you want to do too many things? What if you love too many things, and are passionate about too many things?

Don’t listen if someone tells you to pick just one, don’t lower that bar on your options. Be free and express yourself in everything you love. Some things will become hobbies over time, but never completely give up on your passions just because they become hobbies.

Life can take so many turns so always have a back-up plan and back-up plan for your back-up plan.

Be talented and passionate in multiple things so that no matter what is thrown at you, you can still keep going. My uncle only studied one field, he did well in that one field until it no longer existed. He didn’t have a back-up plan and he never saw this change happening. Now he is jobless and just barely scrapping along because he doesn’t believe he can do anything else.

Don’t be like my uncle, be open and explorative to your options. A hobby could become a career and a career could become a hobby. Don’t limit yourself; be bold and be you. I am double majoring because I couldn’t choose just one thing to be and guess what? I would triple or quadruple major if I was able to. Maybe it sounds like a lot of work, but I am passionate about what I’m studying and so far I haven’t had any problems. This could be you too. The wonderful thing about college is you get to decide what you do for yourself. No one is going to hold your hand and say “be there,” or “do this,” or “you have to”. You get to say those things to yourself because finally it’s something you care about.

College shouldn’t be a chore, it should be the education and experience you always wished you had before. Some people think that can only happen outside of college, but college is an open door and you can do whatever you put your mind to.

You’re only limited by your thinking – by your imagination. Nothing is impossible. Never tell yourself that you can’t do something or become something someday. Maybe odds are stacked against you, but break those odds because there is no one on this Earth like you and averages or stereotypes shouldn’t define what you’re capable of.

Choose your path for yourself and maybe some things will not be in your control, but this is something you decide. If you’re thinking money will stop you, guess what? There are countless scholarships and other ways to pay for college, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. There are programs like Power of You that will pay for it all, if you can do your part.

So don’t falter under the dollar because that piece of fabric ain’t worth the worry when it’s your dreams and your life we are talking about. If you think you don’t have the brains or the skill, guess what? You can develop the brains, you can cultivate the skill. It doesn’t matter how old you are as long as you have the drive. Don’t let people step on your dreams because no one can stop you from dreaming.

BestPrep Essay Competition (Grades 9 – 11)

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by Minneapolis Alumni Connection (MAC)

Calling all Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior writers!

We wanted to bring up a tremendous opportunity to develop and hone your writing skills and win some great prizes in the process with the BestPrep essay competition. Prizes include great Apple products, such as a MacBook Air and iPads; a Kindle Fire; and Target gift cards.

The topic for this year’s competition is “The Value of Education.” This topic is inspired by an extremely talented, influential woman from Benin, Angelique Kidjo. Ms. Kidjo wrote the powerful book, “Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music” – for more info on this book Click Here. The top 20 student winners will be invited to the Educational Forum featuring Ms. Kidjo in fall of 2015.

The due date for the 600-750 word essay is April 8, 2015. Students will be writing in response to the following prompt:

Education in the United States is often times taken for granted. What is the value of education locally, and around the world? Why should we care about the education of a student in Benin, Africa (Angélique’s home country), and why should Angélique Kidjo care about the education of a student in Minnesota? What challenges do you face in your own educational and career journey, and how do you plan to overcome these challenges?

For more information, or if you have questions, please contact Megan Gustafson at mgustafson@bestprep.org or 763-233-6322.

Good luck!

A Guide to Cliff-Jumping: Handling Senior Year Stress

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by Avery

My senior year of high school felt like walking closer and closer to the edge of a cliff.

I pictured graduation as the point at which I would jump off, not to certain death or anything quite so drastic, but into a whole new world to learn to navigate, a huge gaping unknown. While I was terribly excited for the jump, the idea of losing the feeling of my feet on the ground I was so familiar with was a little stressful.

Senior year can be terrifying, super fun, super tense, exciting, or confusing. It can seem to take forever or whiz by scary-fast. Handling all of these feelings can be extremely hard, not to mention that if you plan on going to college, you will have an absurd number of details to keep track of.

The stress I experienced didn’t come from my schoolwork, but from logistics—the worry that I couldn’t “get it all done” in time. Myself being a pretty poorly-organized individual, I probably made these details harder to manage than they had to be. So, dear reader, please learn from my mistakes!

Senior year stress seems to come in two main phases:

First: Securing your parachute, getting snacks for the road, arranging transportation, quadruple checking your parachute…Sorry to bring back this cliff metaphor, but bear with me.

This is college/future-related stress. It’s when there are always more details creeping up on you. You’re busy as heck touring colleges, writing application essays, applying for scholarships, etc. This time requires a lot of decision making as well as hard work, which can be a lethal combination. Here are some suggestions for handling this death-by-details stress:

  1. Keep a calendar of your deadlines and requirements. At the beginning of each week, make goals of what you need to accomplish, and write out the specific steps necessary. Give every task a few extra days to account for slow “processing”.
  2. Keep track of who you need to talk to. Maybe it’s your counselor or teachers. Remember that these people are very busy around this time, and you may need to give them extra time to accomplish tasks like sending your transcript or writing letters of recommendation. Waiting for others (such as your counselor) can be one of the most stressful things about this time. But remember, once a task is out of your hands, you can’t do anything else about it, so just let it go. Chances are, there are better places to channel your energy than worrying whether or not your transcript has arrived at a college. (That said, it’s okay to send a follow-up email if the person has not responded within a reasonable amount of time – sometimes people need a reminder)
  3. Consider setting aside a few hours each week for “future planning”. What this means will differ for everyone. Maybe it entails sorting out your graduation requirements. Working on remedial coursework or online classes. Some folks are planning on working straight after high school, which may require less planning. Still, you can always polish up your resume or start the job hunt now.

Second: “Phase two stress”, as I’ll call it, is more like walking towards the edge of the cliff. It’s the time when you realize high school is ending soon. And life is about to change. You may be battling restlessness/“senioritis” (a lack of focus and extreme boredom at school) as well as a desire to cling to what you know. I guarantee that most of your peers are equally frazzled by this, so talk to them!

Oh yeah, and this is when you start receiving letters back from colleges if you’re going that route (maybe this is like picking out the specific ledge you’ll jump from… Maybe we can let this metaphor die). Be proud of every acceptance you get, you worked hard for that! Try to take rejections in stride, too, even though it may sting terribly. And remember, a rejection isn’t always about you, per se. Schools have to make quotas of certain demographic categories so try not to take a rejection too personally.

I think the best way of handling this stress is to spend time with people you care about. Take time to appreciate the good people in your life and take time for relaxing too. Try to put future-thoughts out of your mind for an hour each day. Your decision making abilities may improve after having a little time off.

So, yes, this is a bizarre and scary time, but all that being said, I really did enjoy much of my senior year. I had less homework, fewer classes, and more time to spend with my friends and family. After making the decision to take a gap year and deciding on my college, I was just so excited! Hopefully you can get excited, too.

As spring rolls around, breathe in that sweet scent of freedom…graduation is coming, and so is your senior summer, which might be one of the best times ever.

Just When You Thought You Could Relax

Just when you thought you could relax

by Guanani

Whew! The flustered, harried college application season is over at last. Schools have been listed, essays have been churned out, and the stressful frenzy has finally quieted. The weight is off your shoulders, and now you can enjoy the last semester of high school in peace.

“So, are you excited for college? Where are you going?” your aunt/friend’s parent/other well-meaning adult suddenly asks, shattering your pleasant illusion.

You’re not done yet, and a new anxiety sets in.

One year ago, I had no idea where I would be in seven months. I didn’t know how I felt about leaving home. I wanted to just focus on enjoying senior year. I didn’t feel like explaining myself over and over again to various acquaintances who were attempting to make small talk.

On many occasions I felt like ignoring these kinds of questions and not thinking about my academic future. Alas, that would be rude. So I gave half-hearted, generic answers like: “Well, I just finished applying, so I won’t know where I’ve been accepted until April…”

I became so annoyed by the prevalence of these questions that one night, at dinner, I asked my parents to completely stop asking me about college unless it was extremely important. They were good sports about it, even though they didn’t understand why talking about college bothered me so much. In retrospect, the repetitive questions not only aggravated my anxiety about waiting for acceptance or rejection but they were also a constant reminder of my uncertainty about the future in general.

To my past self I would say, “Worry not: admissions are way less of a big deal once you get there, and lots of cool stuff happens, and the future will still be scary but you’ll be so busy studying gas laws and biking across cities that you won’t notice as much.”

So take heart, waiting seniors. Put thoughts of admission and the ever-elusive future on the back burner, encourage your family to do the same, and grab your second semester by the horns. Go out of your way to enjoy all the fun things about high school (while still working hard in your classes, of course). Preemptively and aggressively begin non-college small talk with your relatives, if necessary.

The semester is yours, and you can deal with admission/rejection when you get there.

Filling out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

FAFSA Steps

by Lucillia

Thinking back to my senior year, the year when high school students must fill out the FAFSA (Federal Application for Student Aid), I procrastinated doing it. Besides regular schoolwork, college applications and scholarships, it felt like just another application that I honestly did not want to fill out. Anyways, as I have come to find out with most things, it was not that bad after I just did it. I think I filled it out in half an hour.

Completing the FAFSA is one of the most important steps on the path to college – whether that means technical school, community college, or a 4-year college or university. The way my old College Possible coach put it is that with the FAFSA, you are literally getting money for filling out your personal information.

Here are my tips for filling out the FAFSA:

  • MAKE SURE YOU FILL OUT THE FAFSA.
  • GET HELP! You want to make sure that you fill out the FAFSA correctly. There’s lots of help available. If you’re a Minneapolis Public Schools student, go straight to your Career & College Center, which has lots of great FAFSA workshops, resources and personal support. Or talk with one of your high school counselors.They’re there to help you!
  • DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT use fake sites like FAFSA.com. Make sure that you only use the ACTUAL FAFSA site at https://fafsa.ed.gov. The help tab on the home page, as well as the Frequently Asked Questions section, are really helpful.
  • FAFSA is absolutely free to fill out. You will know if you are on a fraud web site if it asks you for payment.
  • Carefully read everything. Directions are there for a reason! I know a woman who changed her last name, and because the FAFSA requires your birth name, everything got messed up, and basically she had to wait a whole year to go to school and fill out the application again the following year. YIKES!
  • You also have to fill out the FAFSA every year you are in school.
  • My coach sent me this YouTube link with videos about the basics and it was really helpful. Check it out!

Fill out that FAFSA — and good luck!

Summer Break: More Than Just A Time For Fun

summer

by Cara

There’s more to summer break than binge watching Netflix, going to the mall with friends, and staying up late just because you can. While the summer is a good time to relax, it’s also a great time to start planning ahead for the path you’ll take after high school. Making use of your summer break by taking part in programs will look great on college and scholarship applications.

Whether you want to get an early start on the college application process or explore your academic interests, there is a program for you. The programs I attended during the summer helped me decided what to study in college, and I also think they helped me stand out in my applications.

Below are three summer programs that I think are worth checking out. The best part is all of these programs are free, and one of them even pays its participants!

Questbridge College Prep Scholarship

The Questbrige College Prep Scholarship is not a traditional scholarship because you do not receive money to pay college expenses. Instead, it is a pathway to summer opportunities and getting a head start on the college application process for current juniors.

I didn’t apply to this when I was in high school but I know a lot about the application process because it’s similar to their senior year program for which I was a finalist. Seniors can apply for their National College Match program that helps high-achieving, low-income high school seniors gain admission and full four-year scholarships to selective colleges such as Columbia, Stanford, and Yale.

Students selected as College Prep Scholars will receive free test prep, priority consideration to receive all-expense-paid college visits, early access to the National College Match application, and assistance from Questbridge to strengthen their National College Match application.

Scholars may also receive one or more of the following: full scholarships to college summer programs, an invitation to a college admissions conference, personalized college essay support, telementoring with college students, and/or Quest for Excellence Awards.

The application opens in February and will be due on March 25, 2015.

To be eligible, students must be juniors who are planning to apply to college during the fall of their senior year. They must also meet the citizenship requirement by being a U.S. citizen, Permanent Resident, or international student attending high school in the United States.

Questbrige is looking for students who have shown outstanding academic ability despite any economic challenges their family has faced. Many College Prep Scholars come from households earning less than $60,000 annually for a family of four and have also experienced long-term economic hardship.

When looking at your application they look at academic achievement, financial need, and personal circumstances. To apply you need to submit a transcript, one recommendation from a core subject teacher, an essay and short answer questions, financial information, and any test score information if you have taken any of these tests: PSAT, SAT, PLAN, ACT, Subject Tests, IB, and AP.

Most students selected have an average GPA of 3.88, an ACT score of 27 or higher, and are in the top 10% of their class. One of the great aspects of this program is that they are willing to consider your personal circumstances, so don’t let a lower GPA, ACT score, and/or class rank stop you from applying.

Carleton Liberal Arts Experience: July 5-11, 2015

I did not attend this program, but I think it is a great opportunity for current sophomores, especially those interested in attending Carleton College or another small liberal arts college. Students spend the week living at Carleton and learning about liberal art education by taking courses in science, art, social sciences, and technology.

Workshops are also held to inform participants on topics such as ACT prep and the financial aid process. The program covers all costs including living in the residence halls and travel to the Carleton College campus.

To be eligible, students must plan to attend college after high school. They must also be of African American descent or have an interest in African American culture. The application requires students to answer seven short essay questions, submit a transcript with their freshman and sophomore year grades, and submit at least one letter of recommendation from an academic teacher.

The application is available now and is due on April 1, 2015.

GopherBusiness Program: July 17-25, 2015

This program is run by the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.
Participants compete in a business case competition, take business classes, live in the dorms on campus for a week, and visit local businesses.

The business case competition involves a different local non-profit each year. The program is free and you even earn a stipend! If you attend the Carlson School after graduating from the program, you will also receive a scholarship.

From the program website, “each year, we select approximately 45 students to be a part of the GopherBusiness program. It’s a highly selective program. GopherBusiness applicants should be:

  • Current high school sophomores or juniors.
  • Interested in business, non-profit or organizational leadership.
  • From a diverse background; a future first-generation college student; from an economically disadvantaged background; students with disabilities; females; or students of LGBT and related identities.”

The ideal applicants for the program will have a minimum 3.4 cumulative grade point average, strong math and science coursework, and demonstrated leadership and involvement.

When I applied to the program, the application required a couple of essays, a list of activities I was involved in, and a form that my counselor needed to fill out.

The application for this summer’s program will open on February 6, 2015 and is due April 3, 2015.

Getting to live on a college campus for a week during the GopherBusiness camp really helped me feel prepared to leave for college this past fall. I met so many great people and I’m still in regular contact with my roommate and people from my competition group.

If you have any interest in studying business after high school, I highly recommend this program.

Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions about applying to these programs!

Gap Year: Making Your Own Path

Backpacking through san Francisco after climbing something like 15 flights of stairs to Coit tower

‘Backpacking’ through San Francisco after climbing something like 15 flights of stairs to Coit Tower!

by Avery

As a child, you receive constant instructions on what to do from the adults in your life. Where it was okay to go, what to eat, where to play, who to play with. As you get a little older, teachers take on this role, too. This isn’t a bad thing, of course; you were a kid. But now you’ve been told what to do for 17 or 18 years. If your life is anything like mine (which it may not be), it has been structured by other people telling you what to do, and you’re probably pretty used to it.

Oversimplified? Well, probably. Still at least kinda true? I think so.

For me, this was the main reason I didn’t want to go to college right away. Though I really am excited to go to college, I wasn’t ready. I wanted to learn how to structure my own time around my desires and interests, and not out of student-ly obligations. I wanted to define myself outside of my role as a student, and fill my days exactly how I wanted to before settling into another 4+ years in a school system

Now don’t get me wrong: there is infinite knowledge to be gained from others, other people have tons of wisdom to offer, and college is a great thing, but taking time off from school was one of the best calls I’ve ever made.

There are so many reasons to take a break from school. You might be feeling burnt out after high school. Maybe your interests don’t totally match up with a school setting right now. Taking time off to work and save money may be a great idea for you. Maybe you’ve caught a travel bug. Or, maybe you aren’t sure what you want to study in college yet and don’t want to start before you’ve thought about it a bit more.

Maybe you’re hesitant to pursue a gap year as an option. It can be hard to decide what to do with all that time. But the thing is, there are so many options. You can live at home and volunteer somewhere in your community while working part-time. You can do Peace Corps, or Americorps, or work in a national park, or backpack out west, or train puppies, or work at a daycare… You can take a gap year with a program such as Rotary Youth Exchange, or plan the details yourself. Ask around your community, school, relatives, friends…You never know what you may find as a gap year option. The best part is, you can tailor your itinerary (or lack thereof) to what you want, who you are, and what you want to learn.

I decided I wanted the freedom to go where I wanted and to not be tied to the strict schedule of a program, but that isn’t for everyone. I also knew that I wanted to be in nature. A wanted a break from urban Minneapolis, so I decided to use my connection in rural California.

How do you do it?
While I was deciding whether to actually take a gap year, I was also applying to colleges. I ended up simply deferring my enrollment to McGill university; the process was really quite easy. Almost all schools allow you to do this, but make sure to check with the school first. You can also reapply to colleges during your gap year, though this can be a little harder without the support of your high school.

My Plan
I decided to set my year up in “semesters”, having 2 main projects during the school year time frame. It looked something like this:

September and October: Traveled on the West Coast with a friend from high school, while based out of my uncle’s land in Northern California. Worked on art, read a lot, helped with projects around the land, went hiking.

Mount shasta, taken during a day hike in September

Mount Shasta day hike in September

November: I worked as a cook and laborer on a forestry crew. We were clearing dead brush to reduce the risk of forest fires in the area and cutting down trees in a former pine plantation to restore the forest to its natural state.

After the west coast portion of my year, I came home for a few weeks.

January-April: Going to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to volunteer with a human rights non-profit that works with garment factory workers, sex workers, and others. I’ll be their writer and communications person. I’ll live at a house with 3 other volunteers.

May: I’m hoping to travel around Southeast Asia before coming home for the summer!

I’m only a few months into my year, but I’ve already learned so much. My sense of independence and self-reliance has improved a ton. I’ve become more motivated to learn for the sake of learning again (I finally have time to read for pleasure after years of only required readings in school). I’ve met some great people, improved my sense of street smarts and who to trust while traveling, and have had a ton of fun doing it. I’ve been at home the past few weeks and after talking to my friends who are at college right now, I am so thankful that I made the decision to wait on school.

Thinking about taking some time before heading to college? Here are some resources for researching gap year programs and options:

Also be sure to check out your Career & College Center at your high school. They’ve got lots of great connections and programs to recommend.

Finding A College That Fits

 It Doesn’t Need To Feel Like Searching For A Needle In A Haystack

college search

by Cara

When it was time to decide which colleges to add to my list, the first big decision I made was between attending a 2-year community college or a 4-year college. I knew from the start that I wanted to attend a 4-year college, but I also applied to one community college. Thankfully, because of scholarships, I was able to attend the type of school I desired, but community colleges can be a great way to save money before transferring to a four-year school.

I didn’t add any colleges to my list solely because they were public or private. I think it’s a good idea to include some of each when making your list. Public universities offer lower rates to in-state students, but many private colleges have more scholarship funding to offer.

Big schools can mean more major and minor offerings, a larger amount of resources and opportunities, and an abundance of school spirit at sporting events. Small schools can offer smaller class sizes and a more close-knit community of students.

I chose a medium sized school, University of St. Thomas, because I felt like it offered me the best of both worlds. The class sizes are small enough where the professors can get to know you, there’s a sense of community, and I’m still able to enjoy the type of school spirit I desired.

Having a general idea of what I wanted to major in helped me narrow down my list. My interests are in journalism and marketing, so I researched both programs at each college to which I applied. Keep in mind that the college you attend doesn’t have to be ranked number one in the subject you want to study in order for you to receive a quality education. Personalized attention that a small program may offer, compared to a larger well-known program, and the amount of hands on experience available are more important.

I choose a school with an urban location because I love living in a major metropolitan area. I’ve lived in Minneapolis my whole life, so moving to St. Paul for college has allowed to stay close to my family while still enjoying my independence and a new city.

The communications industry is something I’m interested in so I knew it would be easier to find internship opportunities in a big city rather than a rural location. There’s always something to do on the weekend whether it’s going to the mall, an art museum, or the movies. Getting there is never a problem because of the public transportation system in the Twin Cities. There can be plenty to do on campus, but I considered where I’d be able to spend my free time in the city before I made my decision.

After I decided which factors would determine the colleges I’d put on my list, I needed a way to find a list of colleges. The College Search feature on the College Board website is a great way to generate a list of schools that meet your criteria. You can even indicate how important each factor is in case the colleges you’ll consider must have an urban location, but even though you’d like a small school body you don’t want to eliminate all larger colleges.

I’d recommend having 5-7 schools on your list, so when May of senior year arrives you have enough options. With so many options available the college search can be overwhelming at times, but because I decided which factors were important to me in the beginning I was able to end up at the college that fits me best.

Feel free to leave me a comment if you have questions. Best of luck in your search!

Extra-Curriculars: The Opportunity of a Lifetime!

EXCTRA images

by Alia

Hello and welcome! My first two months in college have been a breeze and I want to take some time to talk about actions you can take while you’re in high school that will make the transition easier.

I want you all to take a moment and ask yourself what you’re truly passionate about. Is it sports, art, music, martial arts, dancing, lifting, cheering, anime, video games, acting, writing, singing, chess, world languages, LGBT, sculpting, helping others, math, science, history, reading…etc?

If you don’t know that’s fine too, I just want to encourage you to get yourself out there! Find a club or sport (in or outside of your school) that you love or think you could love if you tried it and get involved! I’d say 3+ clubs/sports while you’re in high school is ideal. Colleges love students who will add to their community; they love the bright and talented.

So what if you’re shy?

Find a club where you can sit in and watch, who knows, you might just fall in love.

So what if you think you don’t have any talents?

I think you’re looking at it wrong, if you don’t think you’re good at anything because everyone is good at something.

Either way, find your talent or make your talent. High school clubs/sports are a once in a lifetime opportunity. Sure there are clubs/sports in college, but there are things in high school that don’t happen in college like prom, yearbooks, etc. Join something while you’re in high school so you can expose yourself to awesome experiences and people you might not otherwise meet.

Throughout my high school experience I was involved in 2 martial arts, 1 sport, and around 8 or 9 clubs. You don’t have to do as much as I did, but I would encourage you to try because being involved in those activities were some of the greatest experiences of my young life. I met people who I’ll never forget and who I still see years later.

Sometimes in this world it’s not what you know, but who you know (remember that!). Joining clubs/sports can help you know what you want to do with your life, they can help open up horizons for you, and they can help you find yourself. Trial and error are good too, if you try out a club/sport and it’s not what you were looking for, well at least now you know that, right?

I tried out soccer because I love to play soccer, but my team was so much more competitive than me (I played for love of the game and not to win). I left my team with the knowledge that I’m not into overly competitive sports and I learned something about myself. Try out something and if it’s not for you that’s okay, but at least give it a try first.

You can do what you’re friends are doing or you can make your own path. Most of us go to high school and don’t know half of the people there when we start – clubs are a great way for freshmen to make new friends and become part of something.

When I started high school I only knew like 2-3 people at my school. I mentioned to someone that I liked anime and the next day some upperclassmen grabbed me during lunch, brought me to a table full of strangers and said “you are now one of us,” it was the anime club. I didn’t know how to react, but I joined them and made lots of friends in an instant.

Even if you’re not a freshman, clubs/sports are awesome opportunities to expand yourself and your social circle. You might even find yourself doing something you never thought you could/would do.

I have a friend named Bianca who was this shy girl with a lot of hidden talent, when she joined the soccer team she found something in herself she didn’t know was there and she later rose to the top. Now she’s also a brilliant artist who at first couldn’t see it in herself.

Never tell yourself that you can’t do something because you lack the “it” that makes it so other people can. You might be surprised what talents you haven’t found in yourself yet, being a teenager there’s plenty more for you to learn about yourself.

If there isn’t a club/sport at your school that you like, you can look elsewhere. I was part of Village Parks, a group that meets at park buildings and tries to connect with cultures all around the world. It had nothing to do with my high school, but it was an organized club that worked in the community. I also did martial arts that were not offered by my school, the point is to get out there.

Be yourself, be brave and be active.

Prove to me and colleges that you’re something to be reckoned with, that you’re just what we need in a certain area. The point is that everybody can get out there, but not everybody will. Be the somebody who does/did rather than the somebody who could have. Look inside and let what’s in there free.

“A dream is what you want to do, but still haven’t pursued” -Aesop Rock.

Find yourself and be yourself through clubs/sports. You are capable.

Scholarships: They Can Make Your Dreams Come True

One benefit of receiving scholarships is that some organizations hold ceremonies for the winners! These are a few programs I have collected from the celebrations

by Cara

If scholarships didn’t exist, I don’t think I’d be sitting in a library at the University of St. Thomas right now. I knew that if I wanted to attend college, scholarships would certainly be involved. Don’t let financial barriers stop you from going after your dream of attending college. It’s never too early to start seeking out scholarships. There is a scholarship for every major and career interest. Local scholarships are especially worth applying to because fewer people are eligible for them which increases your chances.

A great resource that led me to many of the scholarships I applied for was the weekly AchieveMpls College & Career Center announcements. Check out Southwest’s here or South’s here. Most people don’t take the time to read the emails their school sends them about scholarships and other opportunities, but take the five minutes and you could end up getting a head start on paying for college!

This isn’t my first time writing about scholarships; click here for an article I wrote for TheProspect.net, a college admissions advice website, on ways to improve your chances of winning scholarships. Since I’ve previously written about general ways to help students in their scholarship search, I thought it would be helpful to focus on specific scholarship programs that MPS students can benefit from.

Here are two scholarships you should take the time to apply for because they will benefit you in many ways more than just financial support:

Page Education Foundation

I am proud to be a Page Scholar! The PEF awards scholarships in the range of $1,000-$2,500 depending of the type of college the student will attend. Page Scholars agree to spend at least 50 hours during the year tutoring and mentoring children in grades K-8. The scholarships can be renewed each year, all the way through graduate school. For my Service-To-Children project, I am tutoring fourth graders in math and reading at a local elementary school. It is my first time volunteering with children, and I’ll admit I was nervous at first. Don’t let the volunteer component deter you from applying. It feels great to know you are inspiring and helping a child succeed.

The main eligibility requirements:

  • A student of color
  • A graduate of a Minnesota high school
  • Planning to attend or already enrolled in a community or technical college, vocational school, or 4-year college in Minnesota
  • Willing to complete a minimum of 50 hours for a Service-to-Children project

Two recommendations, an essay, and information about the activities you are involved in are required. Financial need is also taken into account when selecting scholars. The application will be available in January 2015 and due in May 2015.

Wallin Education Partners

I am also proud to be a Ronald Scholar through the Wallin Education Partners! Each scholar has a specific donor, whether it is a business such as General Mills or an individual. The scholarship is worth $16,000 over four years, or $4,000 per year. In addition to the financial support, each scholar is assigned a Wallin advisor to help them navigate the transition to college. At the start of the school year, all of the scholars at my school attended a gathering held by the foundation and there will be more held throughout the year. We also have access to other events such as career fairs and volunteering opportunities.

Here are the requirements to be eligible for the scholarship:

  • Senior at one of the seven traditional Minneapolis Public Schools (Students at St. Paul, Anoka-Hennepin, and North Metro schools are also eligible)
  • G.P.A of 3.0 or higher
  • ACT score of 19 or higher
  • Applying to at least one 4-year college in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, or one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)
  • Family taxable income of $75,000 or less

Aside from your academic performance, two essays, letters of recommendation, and your service and leadership involvement play a role in their selection process. The application will open up this December and is usually due in mid-January.

A few other opportunities worth checking out are the Gates Millenium Scholars Program, Minnesota Association of Counselors of Color scholarship, Pohlad Scholars Program, QuestBridge Programs and the Horatio Alger Association scholarships.

Scholarships can help your dreams come true, so start planning to apply now. If you’re a senior make a list of those you want to apply to, which teachers you’ll ask for recommendations, and brainstorm essay topics. If you’re a junior or younger, bookmark the scholarship links or save them in a Google Doc. You’ll be thankful when the stress of senior year arrives.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t receive the first scholarships you apply for. Or the first five. You’ll have your moment. Don’t give up and view each application as a chance to improve. I questioned if I’d ever have my moment, then I was pulled out of my Spanish class during February of my senior year. It was my admissions counselor from the University of St. Thomas letting me know they were offering me a full-tuition scholarship for all four years. Never give up, work hard, and it’ll all pay off in the end. Check out the new process recently put in place for this scholarship here.

If you have any questions for me about the scholarships listed, or scholarships in general, feel free to leave a comment!