Monthly Archives: November 2011

I’m talking about this summer~

The summer before my first semester at college was one filled with anticipation.  I wondered if college life was going to be different than my high school career, and I anxiously anticipated my first day at school.  I didn’t know if I’d fit in, if I’d feel anymore an adult, if I’d find my way around campus well enough, etc.  I also didn’t know exactly what I would need to bring to the dorm.  Part of the summer was spent in contact with my future roommate as we collaborated on what we would each bring/contribute to the dorm.  There was also, of course, the orientation day which gave me a small taste of the future in store.

Therefore, the summer after high school graduation and before college exists as a weird void where you don’t yet have the freedom and responsibility you gain at college yet are anticipating that future.  Furthermore, if you’re like me and are the first child your family is sending to college, then you are also the testing block for any later siblings that will take the step.

I was also working over the summer at a fitness center and spending what would be the last summer with some of my high school friends.  Since then a lot of us have branched off or don’t really see each other as much anymore, so that summer was the last time we really hung out as a group.  It’s funny now because I distinctly remember my freshman year thinking that I’d never make new friends that would be as close as my high school friends even though people kept telling me otherwise.  I’m still really close with a few of my high school friends, but some of the friends I used to be close to I’ve drifted apart from a little since we’re doing different things with our lives.  And I’ve made friends at college since then that I’ve become really close to and sometimes even have more in common with.

In the end, my first summer and my first semester was a learning experience – in some ways I was over-prepared and brought things I didn’t need, while in other ways I was under-prepared and had to buy a few things once I got to my dorm.  But my experience helped so when my younger brother finally went to college we already knew the drill and how to properly plan for him.  Furthermore, by the time I got to my senior year I was a pro at knowing what I needed for my dorm and was able to give advice to my roommates who were freshman.  I will provide some of these tips from what I have learned in my next post.

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I hate icebreakers.

And summer orientation is full of them.  The way that orientation works at Spring Hill is you show up, get tossed into random groups to meet other students, stay the night in the dorms and room with a random student, and then the next day do more ice breakers, campus tours, and finally sign up for classes.  It’s a long event made more complicated by the fact that you’re forced to interact with strangers and sit through icebreaker event after icebreaker event.

Yet, at the same time, it’s also very useful.  One reason is you’re not the only one feeling awkward or wishing the icebreaker event could end quickly.  Everyone else there (including the orientation leaders) are thinking the same thing.  So you gain a sense of camaraderie with your fellow summer orientation group and sometimes can even make friends that can lead to your first roommate.  It at least gives you a few people to wave to your first few weeks of campus and can sometimes even become a fond memory.  One of the few things I remember from my orientation at SHC (other than the horrible icebreakers, one of which asked my group to imitate a blender for charades) was this one guy who said, “I would give my right hand right now for some Taco Bell.”  Pretty much everyone there agreed with him – I mean, who wouldn’t want Taco Bell after several hours of campus tours and repeated icebreakers?

The campus tours are pretty much useless – I mean, more than likely you’re not going to remember where anything is until you explore the campus the first week of school.  But signing up for classes is very important and one of the reasons why it’s a good idea to try to get into an earlier orientation group.  The earlier you are, the more likely you are to get into the classes you want/need.  If you’re in the last orientation group more than likely some of the classes will be full so creating your ideal schedule may not be possible or at the very least be very difficult.

Orientation my second time around was a bit different.  Basically, I transferred into the University of South Alabama in the spring of 2010, and thankfully the orientation session was only a few hours.  They brought us into the ballroom at the student center and had us sit through a lecture before breaking up by college/department and heading out to sign up for classes.  There were no icebreakers and only those who wanted to go on a campus tour had to.  I did have some trouble signing up for classes due to some issue with my transcript, but luckily the professor who helped me sign up for classes managed to get the problem fixed for me.  I never forget the extra effort he went through to help me out and was happy when I later had him for a class that he was a great teacher.

My next post in the college preparation section will discuss how I prepared for the start of my freshman year.  After that I will discuss my experience as a freshman.

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It reminded me of Europe. I just knew I had to go.

 

Choosing a college can be difficult.  There are a lot of factors that go into the decision.  Do you want to go to a college close to home or do you want to branch out?  Do you want to go to a public or private school?  Are you going to get a scholarship or some sort of financial aid or is money not a limitation on your education?

For me, my junior and senior year I started receiving brochures in the mail from different colleges with information about the campus and sometimes even applications enclosed.  The colleges sent me information based on my SAT/ACT since on the application for those you have to list preferences about yourself that get sent out to different colleges and universities.  My offers were from all over the country, and I momentarily imagined myself at places like Sarah Lawrence, NYU, and Boston College before reality set in.  I had to choose a place that was affordable.

Therefore, when I had to find codes and fill out information for where I wanted my scores to be sent for AP tests, the SAT, and the ACT I always chose places close to home where I was considered in-state.  For me that meant Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Southern Miss.  I think I also included the code for the University of South Alabama since I am considered in-state on the Gulf Coast.  However, one of the many brochures that had caught my eye throughout the semester was from a college in Mobile, AL named Spring Hill.

Spring Hill College is a private, Jesuit, liberal arts school that’s ranked pretty high in the US, especially in the Southeast.  The campus is pretty small and the class sizes also stay small as  a result.  The amount of students that go to SHC is comparable to my high school.  All of those factors immediately drew me in and I expressed enough interest in SHC to also include it on my list of colleges to send my scores to.

After sending colleges your scores, the next big step  is actually visiting the campus.  See it in person, sit in on classes, get a tour, see what you think.  Through my high school experience I wound up actually visiting Mississippi State for a competition and so saw a little of the campus, and Southern Miss had an event called Black and Gold day where prospective students get to visit the school and see a football game.  For Black and Gold day I travelled up with a friend of mine whose whole family had gone to Southern, and she was already bent on going as well.  Neither trips really made much of an impression on me.  It wasn’t until my mom and I went on our own trip to Spring Hill College that I experienced what it’s like to fall in love with a school.

We basically set up a tour with the school and wound up being the only people to arrive during our time slot.  SHC set my mom and I up with a Springhillian tour guide also from MS so we had something in common.  He showed us around the beautiful campus and I immediately fell in love.  I loved its history (the school was built in the 1800s), I loved the architecture (I felt like I was in Europe again – I’m a military brat so I spent some of my childhood in Italy), and I fell in love with the campus.  There were oak trees everywhere, the campus is right next to a well kept golf course, and the surrounding neighborhoods are gorgeous.  We also sat in on some classes, and I got to participate in class discussion since they were covering a book I had already read (Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying) which was fun.  Everyone I met was really welcoming, and I just felt like SHC was the school for me.

When it finally came time to fill out college applications, I wound up applying to the state schools in Mississippi and Spring Hill College.  Then I had to wait to get a reply and see what sort of scholarships I would receive based on my scores/GPA.  I wound up getting accepted everywhere I applied at, so the next step was picking where I would go.  I had to determine where I was getting the best deal or what was most affordable…but honestly, my heart was already set on Spring Hill College.  The only problem was the cost.

SHC is a private school.  Its tuition is very high.  Luckily, due to my ACT score and my GPA I received the Gulf Coast scholarship which helped make the school more affordable.  I also had a smaller military scholarship that helped as well.  My parents and I decided that the school was affordable enough, and I wound up taking the next step to apply for the summer orientation there and to send them my high school transcript once I graduated.

Here are some pictures of SHC so you can see why I fell in love.  I took these my freshman year, so the campus has changed a little since then.

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You told me to go back to the beginning. So I have.

Preparation for college does not start your senior year of high school.  In fact, it should have started in junior high or high school.  I am going to separate this post into several different categories of things to consider for college preparation.

1. Taking the SAT/ACT

Do not wait until your senior year to take the SAT or the ACT.  I started taking the tests my junior year of high school, but you can start even earlier.  The great thing about the SAT and the ACT is you can take the tests as many times as you want and they will only send your highest score to the colleges of your choice.  Therefore you want to start taking the tests early to give yourself the best chance of gaining a high score.  However, taking the tests cost money so that must be taken into consideration.  If money is an issue for your family do not give up because there are options available for getting a waiver to pay for the test.  Just talk to your college counselor and he/she can fill you in on how to do so.

The SAT and the ACT is important because most colleges have a score requirement as part of their admissions policy.  For example, a college or university may require that you have at least scored a 20 on the ACT in order for you to apply.  Another reason to take the SAT and ACT is for scholarship opportunities.  Most colleges offer specific scholarships based on SAT and ACT scores and the higher your score the more money you will receive.  You can refer to how the University of South Alabama offers scholarships as an example: http://www.southalabama.edu/admissions/ugscholarfreshman.html

There are classes and tutors that can help prepare you for the ACT and SAT along with self-help books that you can find at any major bookstore.  They can be useful because they provide examples to test questions and tips on how to prepare for the tests.

2. AP/Honors Classes

My high school did not have an honors program for classes so I can’t say much on that subject, but we did have advanced classes and AP classes.  There are other programs that allow you to take actual college classes early in place of high school classes, but since I did not do so I will focus on the program that I know.

AP stands for Advanced Placement and it is a program that allows for college level classes in high school.  Basically, a high school teacher takes a course and becomes certified to teach an AP class such as AP U.S. History or AP Composition.  They are then allowed to teach the AP course which is more rigorous than a typical high school class and is specifically designed to prepare the student for college level classes.  Toward the end of the school year the student can then opt to take the AP test for the course in order to try to get college credit out of it (at my high school the test was required).

The test is expensive (I think it was around $80 per test when I took it) so if you are going to be taking multiple tests a semester you have to take that into consideration.  Again, like the SAT and ACT there are opportunities to waive the fee if a student is from a low income family.  However, if the student scores high enough on the test (generally a 3 or above most colleges/universities count for college credit) then taking the test winds up being cheaper than taking the same class at a college or university where a single class can be hundreds of dollars, you have to buy expensive textbooks, and there are usually added lab fees to consider.

Even if you don’t take the test or score high enough to gain college credit, AP classes are still very useful.  My AP classes in high school prepared me for college by teaching me how to write college level papers and prepared me for college level classroom discussion.  I took five AP classes in high school: AP U.S. History and AP Composition my junior year and AP Government, AP Literature, and AP Art my senior year.  My English and history classes improved my paper writing, critical thinking, and discussion ability so by the time I got to college I was ready and didn’t have trouble adjusting.  My AP Art class went a long way in helping me learn how to properly manage my time since the art projects were so time consuming; I could not allow myself to try to do things at the last minute and had to learn to juggle my schedule.  Therefore, I highly suggest taking an AP class even if you don’t plan on taking the test.

3. Extracurriculars

When applying for college and for scholarships extracurriculars can give you an edge.  Joining a club, honor society, sport, or doing service projects can distinguish a student and give them a boost over their competition.  Working while in high school can prove you can juggle a schedule and can be responsible.  Gaining a leadership position is also recommended whether it be through student government or a club.

The reasons why extracurriculars are important is it can help some students who may not have a high GPA or score well on the ACT/SAT get a scholarship or into a college.  Many scholarships are based on service work or extraccuriculars so building up your experience is a good idea.  If a student has a high GPA, did well on the ACT, and is trying to get into a school with a lot of competition such as an Ivy League school, than extracurriculars could give them the extra boost he/she needs.  Such a student will be chosen over another student that has equally high scores but didn’t have any involvement in after school activities.

For example, in high school I was on the swim team, president of the history club, and joined the National Honor Society.  I also had service requirements for the National Honor Society and participated in service activities such as Coastal Clean-Up and kickball for kids.  Through history club I used to volunteer to run the concession stand at basketball games and we competed in competitions such as National History Day and We The People.  All the activities I participated in I included on my college application.

4. Awards

It is always good to try your best in school, keep up your GPA, and join a lot of organizations/competitions because it can lead to recognition.  Awards also look good on a college application so keep track of all of your accomplishments.  Some awards I had in high school included graduating with highest honors, getting awards for specific classes such as the US History award, getting the coach’s award from the swim team, and getting first place at National History Day for the individual documentary at the Mississippi state competition.

5. Scholarships and other options

When you are applying for college you need to look into scholarships.  This is the one area that I lacked in when I applied for college and it wound up hurting me later on.  You need to search for any scholarships you can apply for (which considering the time it will take to apply and how much the scholarship will give you) and go ahead and try.  As long as you’re involved in extracurriculars or have gained recognition you stand a chance on getting something.  You can get scholarships that are needs based, scholarships based on service, scholarships based on ethnicity, scholarships based on GPA/SAT/ACT, etc.  The reason why I stress applying for scholarships is I had a friend that applied for scholarships and received enough that it completely paid for his college education (needless to say I’m a little jealous).

You should also apply for grants or consider going to a community college to cover your basic classes before transferring to a four year university.  It is easier to get a full ride at a community college and you can work from home/live with your parents which can cut down on living expenses.  My brother choose this route and he’s going to wind up with far less college loans than me as a result.

Also, when applying for student loans be careful.  Try to get government/subsidized loans because they’ll have lower interest rates and will give you a little leeway when it comes to paying them off.  Private loans have higher interest rates and may force you to start making payments right away which could be difficult when you’re a full time student.

Also, when applying for colleges you need to start the application process early.  Most colleges require applications be turned in January/February of the year you will be entering college (basically your spring semester of your senior year of high school) so you need to be thinking about which schools to apply to your junior year and start looking at the application process early.  Furthermore, college applications also cost money so you must take that into consideration when deciding how many schools to apply to.  Never apply to just one either – you don’t know if you’re going to get in or if you may get a better scholarship to another school.

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Introduction

Now that it’s getting close to graduation, I decided I would write a blog to discuss some of my experiences along my journey as an English major.  I hope that what I have learned can help others who are English majors/minors or are getting a degree in the Humanities pick up some tips they can use as an undergraduate and understand different ways they can use their degree after graduation.  A common joke among English majors is that once we tell someone what we’re getting our degree in an automatic response is, “So, you’re going to teach?”  Unfortunately most people don’t realize that there are lots of ways to utilize their degree beyond teaching.

Therefore, my goal is to cover my experience choosing my degree as a freshman, deciding on classes as a sophomore, having to leave school for awhile between my sophomore and junior year, and then my struggle as a junior/senior trying to figure out what the next step will be to prepare for graduation.  I will also utilize a presentation that a friend of mine created called “10 Things I Wish I had Known as an English Major.”  She is a grad student and had a similar experience that I did as an undergrad and created an amazing presentation to help other undergrad English students no matter where they are in their education.  Hopefully the combination of personal experience and practical tips will be useful to anyone who stumbles upon this blog.

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