To the Blue Collar Kids Applying to College

The author's high school yearbook picture.
Me at 17, sporting a truly awful haircut and braces. Carlisle High School Oracle, 2002.

Fifteen years ago, I was a high school senior ready to graduate and move on to bigger and better things. My parents had always expected me to pursue higher education, but they hadn’t gone to college themselves and couldn’t provide me much advice in the search and application process. My high school guidance counselor was responsible for too many students and didn’t know much about me beyond the grades and test scores in my school record. He didn’t have many occasions to see kids like me, the ones who usually showed up for school, got decent grades, and didn’t get into trouble very often. So, like many aspiring first-generation college students, I was unaware of most of the tips and tricks that some of my more privileged classmates had been taught.

I’ve always been pretty resourceful and independent, so I figured things out on my own, with the help of several books, a fantastic admission counselor at the college I ended up attending, and a financial aid office that was willing to work with me. I was accepted to the four colleges to which I applied and received a generous scholarship package from my top choice.

My college admissions journey didn’t end once I matriculated. As a student, I worked as an intern and work-study in the admissions office for three years. My first “real” job after graduation was an admission counselor position at a different liberal arts college. After leaving that job, I volunteered as an alumna admissions ambassador for my alma mater. I also went through the process of applying to law school, which is different than applying to college, but similar in many ways. Based on my experiences, below are some things I would tell my seventeen-year-old self if I could revisit 2002.

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On Being “Humbled”

A peacock, anything but humble, shows its feathers.

One of my language usage pet peeves of late has been the increased use of the word “humbled” in contexts that demonstrate a lack of humility. A connection of mine recently posted on LinkedIn that he was humbled to have been selected to receive an award. I suspect that he was in fact feeling honored or proud rather than humbled.

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Writing a Personal Mission Statement

The beginning of a new year is a good time to reevaluate our priorities. Setting New Year’s resolutions is one way to define our goals, but it can be helpful to do some deeper thinking about what’s important to us and what we want our lives to look like.

When I was in my mid-twenties, trying to find myself and feeling some existential angst, I decided to write a personal mission statement. I thought about what I really valued and about the qualities exhibited by the people with whom I most enjoyed spending time. I considered how I wanted to be perceived and what I could bring to the people with whom I interacted. I crafted a brief manifesto of sorts, about ten sentences long, which is longer than a traditional organizational mission statement. What I wrote could probably be better described as a combination mission, vision, and values statement. I won’t include the whole thing here, but it began by stating that “I value compassion, fairness, and forgiveness,” and it ended with the following sentence: “I want to better the lives of the people around me by comforting them in times of need, lifting their spirits, and inspiring them to do the things they are meant to do.”

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