The Common Application is an online application that allows students pursuing an undergraduate degree to fill out one singular application to apply to over 900 colleges and universities across the globe. This application makes it easy for first-year applicants to apply to multiple schools without having to juggle the different pieces of completely separate applications.
Just like with any college application, when you prepare to apply to colleges using the Common Application, you will need to get a few things put together before you go ahead and hit "submit."
Some of the key components to your application include your high school transcript, letters of recommendation, activity and involvement lists, and academic honors and achievements. While these are all super important pieces of the puzzle, today we are going to focus in on a completely different section of the application, which is the essays.
On the Common Application, you may notice that there are a few different sections of essays that come up: the personal essay, college-specific questions, and writing supplements. Most colleges and universities that use the Common Application will require you to write the personal essay. The college-specific questions and writing supplement requirements vary across schools; some may require them, others may make them optional, and others may not have any to begin with.
I know I said earlier that this post is going to focus on the essay-portion of the Common Application, but when I said "essay", I meant, more specifically, the personal essay!
Usually there are around 6 prompt options for the personal essay, which is great because out of the 6, you can pick the one that resonates with you the most and write your essay in response to that prompt. For the 2021-2022 year, the Common App added a 7th prompt.
Here is the full list of the 7 Common App prompts for 2021-2022. Underneath each prompt, I have also bulleted some ideas and suggestions on how to respond to or approach each one.
Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
There you have it, the 7 Common Application prompts for 2021-2022, accompanied by some brief thought bubbles, dissections, and things to think about!
I know that the process of writing your Common App essay can seem daunting (I wrote mine not too long ago!), but ultimately, after spending some time brainstorming, refining topics and ideas, and chatting with friends and family, I can guarantee that you will come out of the process with an awesome and unique essay that is bound to WOW those admissions people!
If you're looking for more fab resources specifically on writing those college essays, I highly recommend heading over to the College Essay Guy Blog!
Other recommended reading:
I have spoken to a LOT of students (mostly through Instagram, but also through my office hours sessions) who have requested I post more information and resources for those of you who want to study in the US.
So, if you're a student currently living in a country other than the United States, and you are considering (or already planning on) coming here to pursue your higher education degree (whether it's undergrad or grad), you've come to the right place.
FULL DISCLAIMER: As someone who attended college in the US as a US citizen and non-international student, I am definitely no certified guru on all of the ins and outs of what goes into this process.
However, I have been doing a fair bit of research on this over the last few weeks per your requests, so now I want to share the wealth of my findings with you here!
Without further ado, below, I will outline the general process of everything you need to know in order to prepare to and successfully study in the US.
First things first, you're going to want to start by doing some research on the schools that you might be interested in attending. If you are interested in coming to the US for your undergraduate degree, it is recommended that you start this process anywhere between 12 and 18 months prior to when you would start your first semester.
You'll want to start the process by making sure that the schools you are looking at are certified by the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). You can do this by heading to this school search.
Luckily, there are literally thousands of schools on this list, so I am positive that you will have no problem shortlisting at least a few after you've narrowed down your criteria.
Speaking of narrowing down your criteria, if you want to make this process as seamless as possible, you'll likely want to answer a few of these questions below to help you get started and pick some schools:
*Why do I want to study in the US?
1) what type of program am I interested in?
2) will I need financial assistance, and if so, how much?
3) what are the specific deadlines for the schools I am interested in?
4) is there any specific area of the country that I want to study in?
5) what type of school do I want to attend (for example, a large public university or a small private college, a city school, or a rural campus?)
After you've answered hopefully all of these questions, you can look to the next step, which is focusing on how you are going to finance your degree.
Your education, like a lot of other things, is an investment in your future, so it is of the utmost importance that you spend a considerable amount of time assessing your options financially and factoring cost into the equation as you think about what schools you're interested in.
It's no secret that studying in the US can be expensive. However, it doesn't necessarily have to be. Location is one thing you will definitely want to keep in mind here. Certain schools are notably more expensive than others because they are located in areas with a high cost of living.
If you know that you are on a budget, consider focusing your research on public universities (they tend to be less expensive than private schools) that are located in more suburban or rural areas, as opposed to bustling cities.
Also on the topic of finances, as an international student looking to study in the US, you, unfortunately, cannot apply for the FAFSA or federal aid. However, lots of US colleges and universities offer generous scholarships and tuition opportunities to international students.
This great resource allows you to search through these opportunities and offerings based on degree level, US state, and location. I suggest you use this tool to look up the opportunities that all of the schools you are interested in have to offer.
PS - the easiest way to keep track of all of this information is definitely through a spreadsheet. I definitely recommend creating one where you can keep track of all the financial information you find about the schools you want to apply to, so you can eventually compare!
Now that we've gotten some of the finance stuff out of the way, we can focus more on the actual admissions process.
Since the majority of you who have reached out to me have been asking specifically about undergraduate degrees, I'm going to walk you through some key pieces of the undergraduate admissions process, highlighted directly from the EducationUSA website:
One thing I additionally want to note is that each US college and university has its own specific set of application requirements, so be sure to check on each school's website to make sure you have everything you need to apply!
Once you have gone through the admissions process and you have been accepted to the school(s) you applied to, you can look into the next step, which is applying for your visa.
Along with your acceptance to a school, you will receive what's called a Form I-20, or "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status". After you receive this form, you then must pay a fee (called an I-901 SEVIS Fee) so that you can be issued a visa. If you do not pay this fee, you cannot go through the visa process, so make sure you pay it!
The proper visa for students coming to study in the US through an undergraduate program is the F-1 visa. This page highlights everything else you will need to guide you through the visa application process.
Once your visa is fully processed, you can continue to prepare (mentally, emotionally, AND financially) to head over to study in the US! Speaking of financial preparation...
Hopefully whatever school you end up deciding to enroll in has some decent scholarship and financial aid opportunities to help you fund your education.
But, I would be remiss to leave out the importance of applying for outside (private organization) scholarships from this post!
These scholarships can be a great way to help supplement any of the aid that you receive from your school itself.
After that, take a look through my database of scholarships to find other opportunities that you might be a good fit for.
So with that, I think I have covered pretty much everything there is to know (on a somewhat high level) about studying in the US. Happy researching, applying, and attending!
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has turned nearly every aspect of our lives upside down, on top of truly (and literally) giving us a run for our money. One specific area which has been particularly impacted by the pandemic is the world of higher education, and even more specifically, the college admissions process.
As any students (and parents) reading this will know, the college admissions process is made up of several key components: GPA, personal statements and supplemental essays, teacher recommendations, and extracurricular involvement, with perhaps the most hotly debated component over recent years, but especially recent months, being standardized test scores.
For the past few decades, students have been told and often reminded of the importance of preparing, sitting for, and succeeding on their standardized tests.
Standardized test scores have proven to be of the utmost importance at the most rigorous and competitive institutions, where test-scores were almost forced to become the primary differentiator between students who proved to be equally high-achieving and promising in the other categories of admission.
Despite this fact, it has become a popular belief (and students have not been wrong to believe it), that test scores are a key factor in the college admissions process.
The raging and flaring pandemic that has been on our hands over the past year has notably wreaked havoc on students’ abilities to successfully register and sit for SAT and ACT exams. In December 2020 alone, nearly 124,000 students were unable to take the SAT due to test center closures, and this number has been steadily ebbing and flowing throughout the entirety of the pandemic.
The fact that many testing appointments have been interrupted, and locations have been essentially shut down due to COVID, has certainly impacted high school seniors who are currently applying for college. In addition to this, it has also had a significant impact on younger high school students who are trying to figure out their admissions strategies and if they should even be preparing to sit for the exams at all.
So, with hundreds of thousands of students nationwide being shut out from taking these exams that, for so long, have been considered a vital component of the college admissions process, what is the proposed solution?
In order to combat the complications that the pandemic has brought upon students and their families as it relates to standardized tests, 1,685 accredited four-year colleges and universities to date have implemented some form of test-optional policy for incoming students.
The term “test-optional” refers to colleges and universities across the U.S. allowing students in upcoming admissions cycles to forgo submitting standardized test scores as a part of their college applications.
The majority of schools have gone test-optional, meaning that students fully have the option to decide whether or not they want to submit standardized test scores. This is the solution that many schools have settled on to tackle the issue of students not being able to successfully sit for the exams when they intended to.
Other variations of the test-optional policy structure include “test-blind” and “test-flexible”.
The test-blind policy, which is currently only being implemented by approximately 65 schools, does not allow any students to submit standardized test scores (and they will not be considered if submitted), regardless of whether or not students were actually able to sit for the exams.
The test-flexible policy allows students to submit alternative standardized test scores (such as AP or IP exam scores, and, up until recently, SAT Subject Tests), in lieu of SAT or ACT scores.
At the end of the day, the majority of schools are and have been adopting the traditional test-optional policies, in which students who are unable or choose not to sit for SAT or ACT exams will not have their applications penalized by admissions committees when it comes to making acceptance decisions.
Currently, the majority of those 1,685 schools are undergoing trials for test-optional admissions. Some institutions are indicating that it is only for the year, while others are using this time as an opportunity to launch several years-long trials of test-optional admissions. It is certainly wise to be following in the footsteps of the institutions that have committed to undergoing several years-long trials of the process.
This has been deemed the best way to perform research and collect data to analyze whether or not test-optional admissions is the way of the future, a turn that many people in the higher education space, myself included, see as a viable and more equitable possibility in comparison to the current policies that are in place.
Rob Springall, assistant vice president for Undergraduate Education and executive director of Undergraduate Admissions, says that “Penn State looks at the student’s academic record in high school, with special focus on the academic areas that relate to their intended major. For students who have not declared a major, the admissions team looks at the student’s overall academic performance in high school”.
Springall explained that Penn State has always put less weight on test scores than on other components of the admissions process, such as high school performance.
He is certainly not alone in making this type of claim; dozens of other colleges and universities have been reverting back to a similar statement in an effort to comfort students that applying to college without a test score is okay.
In the (now, likely) event that students do not submit test scores, institutions have been placing emphasis on a holistic admissions process, meaning everything that you do and can submit, such as your school grades/GPA, the rigor of your courses, teacher recommendations, extracurricular involvement, and personal statements will be weighed more heavily.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of colleges and universities have gone test-optional, students and their families across the US have responded with a certain sense of ambivalence in regards to whether or not they can actually believe the claims that students who don’t submit test scores will still be equally considered alongside their peers that are able to.
Multiple headlines and recent news articles have documented this belief among families, noting that many students are still pushing to get one of those coveted seats at an ACT or SAT test center, even as the global pandemic rages on.
Janet Godwin, the CEO of the ACT, has stated that many students are still choosing to go through with trying (or planning) to push through wherever possible because they want to “demonstrate what they can do”.
But the question is, why are students and their families so skeptical of the claims being made by higher education admissions officials in regards to test scores?
The simple answer is that ACT and SAT test scores are currently one of the primary concrete determinants that can be used to assess a student’s ability and likelihood for success at any given institution.
Standardized test scores have been ingrained as being crucial into the minds of students and their families alike for decades, especially for those students who are competing for spots at institutions with single-digit acceptance rates, making it difficult to simply accept that scores are no longer important or necessary.
At the end of the day, admissions officers and teams are trying to push students and families to not just hear, but to truly believe the statement that “optional does, in fact, mean optional”.
NACAC, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, put out a statement in an attempt to appease students and families alike, saying “The colleges with test-optional policies in place affirm that they will not penalize students for the absence of a standardized test score. Together, we strongly endorse a student-centered, holistic approach to admission that will not disadvantage any student without a test score.”
Penn State University is one of the many accredited schools, and one of the approximately 900 top-ranked universities, that has made the decision to extend test optional policies for the next two years, in order to “alleviate some anxiety” that many students are facing now due to the pandemic.
Under these test optional policies, students applying to PSU through the Fall of 2023 will have the option to choose whether or not they want to submit standardized test scores (SAT or ACT). Since Penn State implemented these test optional policies, they have proven to be fairly popular among incoming freshmen.
Mark Hatch, VP for enrollment at Colorado College, a private and selective liberal arts college located in Colorado Springs, has stated that his team made the decision to go test-optional pre-pandemic in August 2019.
However, this was only after years of conducting research and analyzing the true impact of test scores on the admissions process. Ultimately, they found that test scores had “a marginal benefit in predictability”, and that other factors such as GPA and class rank were sufficient on their own.
In addition to these findings, another primary reason many schools and higher-ed institutions are now (or have been) in favor of eliminating standardized tests is due to factors surrounding equality.
Take Penn State’s statistics for example. As of December 1st, nearly 58% of all PSU applicants for the Summer/Fall 2021 class chose to not submit test scores as a part of their application.
Among that 58%, Penn State has taken careful notice that a solid percentage of those students are either first-generation or coming from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. This speaks waves about what so many institutions have been getting at for years: the fact that standardized tests favor wealthy students who have the financial resources to prepare and succeed more so than their less well-off peers.
It seems like the COVID-19 pandemic has been an opportunity, and perhaps exactly what higher education institutions needed, in order to start to push away from putting a stressful emphasis on standardized test scores.
Longtime critics of the SAT and ACT have rightfully stated that these exams are a prime example of how the higher education system favors wealthy students who have the resources (think: private tutors, access to books) to adequately prepare for and succeed in the exams.
Steve Syverson, a retired senior admissions official at the University of Washington at Bothell and Lawrence University, believes that "Lots of colleges didn't really even need to require the SAT, as they were already admitting everyone who was admissible, but they didn't want to eliminate it as a requirement because they felt it would devalue them. In a sense, the pandemic -- and the pervasive adoption of temporary test-optional or test-blind policies -- gave them permission to eliminate the requirement. And I believe a large number of institutions will not return to requiring it. So I think there's no going back."
Merit scholarships, also called academic scholarships, are simply scholarships that students are eligible for based on their grades, test scores, class rank, and other components of their application. According to a study by NACAC, approximately 80% of colleges and universities use standardized test scores to determine and distribute national merit scholarships.
Merit scholarships have notably always been determined partially by the standardized test scores that students submit, with school grades being another primary determinant. Once applicants are admitted to a given school, the school is then comparing qualified student A with qualified student B. Without a standardized test score as an objective numerical differentiator, this makes the process of awarding merit scholarships difficult.
Jeff Schiffman, director of admissions at Tulane University, says that in this process of determining merit scholarships, the admissions committee looks for other “tiebreakers” in addition to (or in place of) test scores, such as an outstanding letter of recommendation or extracurricular activity.
For now, it also seems like the safe option to submit test scores if you have had the opportunity to take either exam if you were satisfied with the outcome, especially if you are hoping to earn some sort of merit scholarship from the schools you are applying to.
I believe that the pandemic has brought a unique silver lining to our attention in relation to the role of standardized tests in the college admissions process of the future.
While schools going test-optional is certainly an opportunity to rebalance these wealth inequities that are often (and rightfully, in my opinion) associated with standardized tests, adopting these policies does mean that the topic of how merit aid and scholarships play into testing will have to be reconsidered.
So, where does this leave us? I guess we'll just have to wait and see ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Listen up! I, Ayden, will be the first person to tell you that private scholarships can be of great help when it comes to paying for your higher education, given that you have your strategy and put in the time and effort.
However, it is super important to also be aware of the other various forms of aid that you might be eligible to receive so you don’t miss out on any opportunities to lessen your college costs. So, in this post, I am going to discuss another common form of aid that tends to get overlooked: State-based aid!
Every state within the US offers its eligible residents at least one, if not multiple, opportunities to get some help in paying for school. While the majority of these state-run programs only require you to have filed your FAFSA in order to be considered, there are some that have additional application requirements and guidelines, or may even ask you to complete a separate application altogether.
Speaking of the FAFSA, have I mentioned the importance of filing early? As I mentioned, a lot of these state-based aid programs require you to have filled out the FAFSA in order to be considered.
In addition to this, state programs sometimes also operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. This essentially means that it is of the utmost importance to complete your FAFSA on time, if not as early as possible, in order to maximize the amount of aid you can possibly receive.
Below, I have outlined most, if not all, of the state-based aid programs and resources that are available to students all across the US. Simply search for your state, and click around to read more on the various forms of aid that you might be eligible to receive.
The COVID-19 pandemic has successfully inserted itself into essentially every aspect of our lives at this point, and unfortunately, it has mostly not been for the better, although any optimist will likely be quick to highlight those few gold nuggets and silver linings.
One particular area of the population that has been struggling to navigate these turbulent times is the area containing prospective, current, and recently graduated college students. With the costs of higher education only on the rise and the rough circumstances of the pandemic leaving millions of people jobless or furloughed until further notice, families are struggling to come up with the funds to pay for or pay off college-related expenses.
Enter all the news on newly-elected president Joe Biden’s plans and proposals to both provide some much-needed relief to those being weighed down by the burden of thousands in student loans while also lowering the costs of tuition for many current and future college students.
In this post, I will highlight several areas of Biden’s currently enacted and proposed plans as they relate to student loans, college tuition, and higher education in general. Keep reading for the tea!
During his first day in office, President Joe Biden made the move of extending student loan payment forbearance to September 30, 2021, a decision made primarily due to the pandemic and its detrimental impact on millions of Americans.
Essentially, this means that the majority of federal student loan payments are on pause, and any new interest on loan balances will be waived.
In addition to this push back on the date, Biden and his team are also pushing for an immediate canceling of $10,000 of student loan debt for all, a move which would “wipe out debt completely for nearly 15 million borrowers who owe $10,000 or less” (Nerd Wallet).
Along with the immediate $10,000 cancellation, Biden has also recommended that federal student debt should be completely canceled for borrowers who attended a public college or university and currently earn less than $125,000.
One important thing to note about this recommendation is that it does not apply to graduate school tuition.
Essentially, Biden’s revised plan proposes that borrowers would not have to start paying back their loans until they earn an annual income of over $25,000.
Once borrowers earn over this number, their repayment plan would then cap at 5% of disposable income, a much more reasonable number than the current options, in which the minimum is set at 10% of disposable income.
Not only is Biden proposing to make monthly student loan payments more reasonable, but he is also pushing to make it so the remainder of your student loan balance will be automatically forgiven after 20 years of payments.
This is in comparison to current repayment plans, which offer forgiveness after 20-25 years of payments.
Students whose family incomes are less than $60,000 per year are eligible for either some or all of a Federal Pell Grant, which is currently worth $6,345.
While this is a great help, it still leaves quite a bit of tuition and expenses on the table for the majority of students attending four-year colleges.
Biden hopes to increase this number while simultaneously loosening the eligibility rules so that Pell Grants can be given out to more “middle-class” students.
Perhaps the most noteworthy part of Biden’s plan is his proposal to make undergraduate tuition-free for students who fall into the following areas:
1) if you attend a public college or university and your family income is below $125,000 (4 years tuition-free)
2) if you attend a community college (2 years tuition-free), and
3) if you attend an HBCU or a tribal college or university (2 years tuition-free).
Students should note that these free college tuition plans do not include non-tuition expenses such as room and board, textbooks, and other fees.
So, I’ve covered quite a bit of information regarding Biden’s current and potential future plans of action as they relate to student loans and college tuition.
I’d be remiss to end this post without quickly elaborating on exactly how these current and future plans can actually impact you! Here’s the lowdown…
If you are a college graduate and you have debt - congrats! Well, not about the debt, but because Biden’s extension of student loan payment forbearance means that if you are not currently in the position to be paying off your student loans, then you can put that worry on the back burner for a few more months.
Lots of people have been asking questions along the lines of “If I am still in a position to be paying off some of my student loans during these difficult times, should I be doing so?”.
Since I am very admittedly no financial expert, here is a little nugget of advice that I found while perusing Student Aid’s section on Student Loan Payment Forbearance:
“Continuing to make payments during the payment suspension could help you pay down your loan balance more quickly because the full amount of a payment will be applied to principal once all interest accrued prior to March 13, 2020, is paid.
You may either leave your loans in the “administrative forbearance” status (meaning the requirement to make payments is suspended) and make payments anyway, or opt out of the administrative forbearance/suspension of payments and continue to make payments.”
If you’re looking for a more in-depth answer, I highly suggest clicking the hyperlink above and reading through all of the Q & A’s on COVID Forbearance and how it all works. If you have any other questions that Student Aid has not covered, be sure to reach out to your specific student loan servicing company to get those clarified.
If you are a current college student - Now, if you are still enrolled as an undergraduate student at a college or university, unfortunately, Biden’s current plans and hopeful proposals in relation to paying off student loans don’t quite impact you just yet.
Usually, you are not required to start paying off student loans until an average of 6 months after you have actually graduated, so even if you’re a college senior graduating this May, Biden’s extension likely won’t impact you too much either, unless it gets extended again of course!
If you are a future college student - Pay close attention to the latest news and updates on Biden’s plans to hopefully expand the eligibility rules for students qualifying for federal Pell Grants as well as information on actually transitioning to making college tuition-free for students under certain circumstances.
So, quite a bit of information has been unpacked here! At the end of the day, it is crucial to ensure that you are keeping up to date with these plans (both ones that are in effect and future ones) and how they might impact you, on an immediate level but also for months and years to come.
Whether you’re just starting college this year or you’re already an upperclassman, it is likely that you have already acknowledged at least once (if not many more times!) how expensive college can be. Between buying textbooks, covering tuition and room & board, and paying for food, we know how it feels to be on the struggle bus when it comes to having money in college. Luckily, there are many possibilities for making money while you’re in school, even if you are a full-time student. Read on to learn more about how you can earn a few extra bucks to help you fund your education (to complement all of your scholarship winnings, we hope ????)!!
Looking at the resources offered on your school’s website is perhaps the easiest place to start your search for earning money. Most colleges and universities have a section of their website dedicated to student resources.
While this page may look different across each school, its general goal is to allow students to browse on-campus jobs, to learn more about work-study programs available, and to read about job placement opportunities. A few of the most common jobs we’ve found on these student job boards are for Teacher’s Assistants, Tutors, RA’s (Resident Advisors), Campus Tour Guides, and various positions in campus buildings.
You may also be wondering about work-study programs and where they fit into the equation here. Federal work-study is a way for undergraduate and graduate school students with financial need to earn money to put towards paying for their education. The work-study section of your school’s website is likely to be separate on the page from the normal job board (and may even be in a different location altogether), so be on the lookout for that resource!
Aside from on-campus jobs and opportunities, one popular way that many students choose to earn cash for college is through working for a delivery service. These jobs are often great for college students because they allow you to work flexible hours. You may have access to different opportunities depending on where your school is located, however, it is likely that at least one of the most popular companies operates in your area. The majority of these positions require you to have a car, bike, or scooter to make deliveries but depending on where you live, you may be able to deliver on foot. Check out the opportunities listed below if a food delivery job sounds interesting to you!
Another option for earning money while you’re in college (that you can even do from your couch!) is taking surveys. Each website offers different payouts for certain types of surveys; a shorter survey might pay $.50 or a few bucks, whereas a longer and more intensive survey could put $50 in your pocket on the spot. Popular survey websites include Vindale, Survey Junkie, and Swagbucks.
Last, but certainly not least, there are a bunch of other options that students can pursue to make some extra cash, such as:
Look, it’s no secret that the way students have learned to study over the years has significantly changed since, say, our parents were in college. Being constantly surrounded by technology is one factor that has both aided and hindered our ability to learn new material, stay productive, and retain information. On a personal level, I feel like I am always reading articles online claiming to have the ~BEST~ study hacks, however, upon reading them, I feel like I am reading the same old tricks in the book that are always mentioned. So, in this short post, my goal is to highlight a mix of the tried-and-true study hacks with, hopefully, some strategies that are new to you!
The study hacks which are so commonly mentioned across the web definitely do have merit to them - which is why they are so widely spoken about - so you may see some of those below (all classic ones that I use myself, of course)! Additionally, it’s helpful to keep in mind that while some study hacks may work great for you and your brain, and some may not - it’s all about finding that perfect balance.
Without further ado, here is my shortlist of study hacks that will, if implemented correctly, hopefully help you to ACE (yes, ace!) your classes in the new year!
While this tip may seem overrated, I feel like in recent years there has been an expectation with studying that you need to be in the library for hours upon hours before your exams, head down, grinding, with absolutely no breaks whatsoever. Students often forget that even your brain needs a break sometimes!
Taking regular breaks (which means not one break every 5 hours!) can not only boost your attention span when you are studying, but it can even help to keep you motivated, too.
Each individual’s brain and attention span functions differently, so while maybe your friend sitting next to you may only feel like she needs to take a break every 2 hours, you may find that another time schedule works better for you. Most experts recommend taking a break at least once every 90 minutes, if not more.
The Pomodoro Technique is one method that I personally found a lot of success in using when I was in college. Essentially, you use a timer to work in intervals, generally consisting of 25 minutes of hard and focused work followed by a 5-minute break.
You may be thinking, 25 minutes is almost no time at all! How am I supposed to be productive in that time frame?! The great thing about the Pomodoro Technique (and other similar ones) is that it forces you to keep your head down and focus during those 25 minutes because there is an instilled sense of urgency that you want to get X task accomplished before the next break.
This study hack is also a great option for students who tend to have trouble focusing for long periods of time, because at 25 minutes a piece, that’s about as short as it gets! If you’re like me and you constantly have the urge to check your phone, this is the time where you turn it on airplane mode, stuff it in the bottom of your backpack, and get working. Once your 5-minute break comes around, that is the time for you to check your phone (ah, so satisfying!), stretch, take a short walk, and get a snack.
Again, this is one of those study hacks that, more often than not, gets extremely overlooked by students. While it certainly varies from class to class, it is no surprise that the majority of college classes involve quite a bit of reading. And unfortunately, some of that reading may not always be the most enjoyable.
However, it’s gotta get done! And by get done, I do NOT just mean skipping to the back of your assigned chapters, reading the summaries, and typing out a few measly notes. Believe me, I have done this, and believe me, it DOES NOT help you one bit. If you want to use your time wisely and actually read to understand the information, you’ll want to start practicing active reading.
Active reading is reading to comprehend the information. When you read actively, you are not just reading the words to yourself and letting them glaze right over you. You are critically engaging with the material in a way that helps it to stick to your brain like glue. Here are a few active reading strategies that I find to be most helpful:
Mnemonic devices are an amazing study hack. There, I said it! In case you haven’t heard of the term before, mnemonic devices are word associations, acronyms, poems, or rhymes that link information you want to learn or remember with information that is already in your brain. This study hack is great for memorizing lists.
For example, when I took a course on professional and personal goals as a sophomore in college, I learned about creating SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) goals. In order to remember all 5 of these components, I created a mnemonic device for myself:
S - Sarah (Specific)
M - Made (Measurable)
A - A (Attainable)
R - Ridiculous (Relevant)
T - Taco (Timely)
For me, the crazier or sillier the mnemonic device, the more likely it is that I will remember it. For this one, I’m picturing a taco that is truly stacked with all the best and yummiest things you can think of. Guaranteed that I’ll never forget what SMART means again!
You may have decided early on in your school career that you like or prefer to study solo. If that is you, I strongly urge you to follow me here and try this one out! If you have friends in your classes, or even just people you would feel comfortable with meeting up with (virtually or in person) to talk through the material, I suggest you try it.
This study hack is great because, as I mentioned earlier, it encourages you to talk through the concepts, definitions, and general ideas out loud, a strategy that can subconsciously increase your understanding of the topic and make it easier to remember.
The great thing about this hack is that you don’t need to only speak to someone who is also in your class. Teaching the material to someone else (who has no previous knowledge of the topic) is a great way for you to test yourself and how much you know. If you are having trouble explaining certain concepts to someone else, then that is a good indicator that you should take some time to go back to those and study them more.
Plus, another great part about studying with friends is that they may have spent more time on a certain topic than you did, so you can use the time that you spend studying or reviewing together to go over those topics you may have missed in more detail.
You may not want to believe this study hack, but it’s true. There are multiple studies out there that conclude that students who take handwritten notes often perform better than students who take notes on the computer.
While there are a few reasons why this might be the case, one likely reason is that when you sit down in a lecture hall (or even just to study) and you start typing out notes on your computer, you are much more likely to want to type out every last word that is spoken or that you see. Compare this to when you sit down to write your notes by hand; no way are you about to write down every little thing!
Writing by hand forces you to focus more intensely on the information being presented, compartmentalize it, and actively determine what concepts are worth writing down or noted and which, for the time being, are not. This is not to say that anything you don’t write down isn’t important, but hopefully, using this technique, you can internalize the information on a deeper level and walk away from your class knowing that you covered at least most of the important info!
This final study hack is one that I will stand by until the end of time! Quizlet is such a crucial resource, and for the most part, it can be used in nearly every college class that’s out there. When I was in school, I used Quizlet for just about everything, from memorizing quick terms to understanding full concepts and processes.
There are a bunch of really cool features that Quizlet offers. On the most basic level, you can create flashcards for your material and go through them virtually. However, to add to this,
Quizlet also has a learn feature, which takes you through all of your material in a methodical and effective way (using small chunks!). Sometimes you might be prompted to write a whole definition, while other times you might be asked to simply pick out the correct response out of a list.
One of the things I love about the platform is that it tracks your progress in a very easy to see way, which can be extremely motivating! Whether you’ve used it before or not, I highly recommend this awesome (and free!) study hack to every student out there.
So, there you have it - my list of underrated (and hopefully unique) study hacks! I hope that this list has inspired you to try out a new technique the next time you are studying for an exam or taking notes in class. If you do try one, let me know how it goes!! Happy New Year and happy studying!
PS - if you found this post helpful, be sure to check out my post on how to successfully study from home!
If you're looking for scholarships to apply for, take a look at these recent posts:
Myth or fact?: Only 11% of first-generation, low-income college students complete four-year degrees.
Unfortunately, this is a fact, but the good news is that America Needs You, aka ANY (pronounced Ay-En-Why) has been on a continuous mission to change this statistic for the better.
Just over 10 years ago, the organization was created after its founders identified the need to break down the barriers that prevented first-generation college students from successfully graduating and transitioning into the workforce. They realized that, while there are so many great organizations out there who work with helping high school seniors get accepted to four-year colleges, there was just as much of a necessity to help those make sure those same first-gen students completed the next milestone.
So, if you’re a first-generation college student (or even if you’re not!), keep reading to learn more about ANY - an awesome organization helping out students all across the country.
The ANY Fellows Program is a 2-year program for “high-achieving, low-income, first-generation college students” that aims to help Fellows to maximize their full potential through focusing on 4 different areas: career development, networking, guided support, and 1:1 mentorship.
As previously mentioned, there are 4 main components to the ANY Fellows Program.
The Fellows Program follows a highly rated curriculum that covers a wide range of topic areas such as career exploration, college completion, and professional skills development. Throughout the 2-year course of the program, Fellows have the chance to participate in 28 full-day workshops.
Through workshops, career days, and internships/job opportunities, Fellows are given the chance to interact with a diverse range of employers to help them grow their network professionally, academically, and socially.
ANY provides both academic and personal support for each and every Fellow that is a part of the program. For example, if a student is currently enrolled in community college and is looking to transfer, ANY will help guide the Fellow through that transition and any challenges that may come with it. Also, the program provides Fellows with $2,000 in grants and contributions over the 2-year program, to help them pay for things such as business attire.
Finally, and perhaps the coolest part of the program, is the 1:1 mentorship that takes place. Each Fellow is matched with a Mentor Coach, who attends full-day workshops with the Fellow, provides industry insight, and helps the Fellow stay on track both professionally as well as academically.
Great question! As per the ANY webpage on eligibility, here are the following requirements that a student must meet in order to be eligible for the program:
Amazing news! ANY is currently recruiting for their 2021 Fellow Cohort! If the eligibility requirements above apply to you, or if you know someone who is eligible who may be interested in applying, click here to learn more & apply!
It’s no secret that the world of higher education (think: universities, professors, and students) is going through a rollercoaster of tough times due to the unforeseen circumstances of COVID-19.
On a daily basis through my role here with Access Scholarships, I have had the opportunity to interact with high school and college students (maybe even you!) from across the country. I have been able to listen to the feelings, stories, and lately, worries of those students about what the future of higher education looks like.
Aside from fears surrounding navigating college during COVID-19, the other prevailing topic of discussion revolves around everything related to paying for college. To provide some unique insight, tips, and words of wisdom to our students, I thought who better to turn to discuss these topics than US News paying for college reporter Emma Kerr. So, without further ado, here are Emma’s top tips and pieces of advice for all students on paying for college, navigating college during COVID-19, and more.
As Emma highlighted in our interview, there are two different “buckets” when it comes to paying for college: federal financial aid options (FAFSA, pell grants, federal work-study) and options outside of that (think: scholarships, 529 plans, working part-time jobs, support from parents, etc).
Bucket one, which features the federal financial aid options, includes things such as the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), Pell Grants, and federal (paid) work-study programs. These options are crucial for students to be taking advantage of since there is no penalty or fee for applying for them and the money-saving potential is high.
Perhaps the largest component of bucket two is the 529 college savings plan. The 529 plan, which is generally started by the parents, is likely one of the earliest actions taken to help plan ahead for paying for the costs of college. According to the Sallie Mae annual study on How Americans Pay for College, (a great resource for students to read and be aware of!) 44% of student college costs are covered by parents income and savings, and more than ⅓ of families used a college savings account such as a 529 plan in 2020.
In addition to the 529 plan, we have scholarships, which, according to the Sallie Mae study, were the second-largest source of funding for college in 2020 (utilized by 58% of families). Scholarship money, similar to grants, is money that does not have to be repaid, which means it should be another essential starting point for students entering the world of paying for college.
As you can see, there are a lot of options out there when it comes to funding your higher education. To learn more on this tip, Emma highly recommends reading through the Sallie Mae study to get a better idea of your available options and what breakdown will work best for you!
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) opens on October 1st. As Emma puts it, the FAFSA “opens doors to federal, state, and in many cases, institutional financial aid, so it is probably the most important step you can take when you are thinking about paying for college”.
Potential scholarship and grant aid that can come from filling out the FAFSA is huge. So many students leave that money on the table by completing the FAFSA by the deadline. Some colleges have earlier deadlines than others so students must identify those deadlines and be cognizant of them.
Also, in terms of state aid, depending on which state you live in, the aid can run out, which means it is crucial for students to apply for the FAFSA as early as possible, to ensure that they receive the maximum possible amount.
This is a tip that I myself have mentioned countless times in the past, but it is one that is certainly important enough to be repeated and emphasized time and time again!
As Emma pointed out during our discussion, there are so many scholarships out there that only receive a handful of applicants each cycle, making them low in competitiveness for students who are looking to earn some extra cash. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance for students to diversify the sources that they use to search and apply for scholarships. Aside from our scholarship directory, US News also has its own robust database of scholarship opportunities for students to search through, and there are dozens of other great online resources for students to use.
In addition to these online resources, it is also important for students to be searching for scholarship opportunities within their local community (for example, your high school website) as well as through their college or university once they arrive on campus. So, make sure you are covering all possible bases when applying for scholarships to give yourself the greatest chance for success.
Emma elaborated on this tip by stating, “We often hear from sources about the issue of parents and students not communicating and being on the same page about what can be afforded. So, it must start from the place of knowing what you want to get out of college and how much money you have available to achieve that, and then moving on from there,”.
With the increasing costs of attending college these days, Emma is certainly correct in her statement. Students must ask themselves some tough, but important questions such as “Is college worth the cost?” and “How much can I afford?”. While the answers to them may be more clear for some students than for others, regardless, asking and solidifying these answers (and making sure all key players are on the same page about them), is crucial before getting too far down the pipeline.
There’s no other way to say it other than that college is expensive. Emma put the process of attending college into perspective when she told me, “You are mortgaging your future”. On the topic of loans specifically (which, as you hopefully already know, must be paid back!), Emma advises students to make sure that they are fully informed in these key areas: what that loan is, how long it is going to take to repay it, what kind of salary you would want to ideally have to carry that loan, and what your goals are for the future beyond higher education.
It is also worth mentioning that most private loans don’t have forbearance (paying less than normal) or forgiveness (no longer being expected to repay), so it is always suggested to go the federal route first.
Students have a tendency to go with the flow when it comes to navigating the college process, understanding costs and benefits, and pinpointing options for paying for college along with identifying long-term goals associated with attending.
Oftentimes, federal aid packages can be confusing to read or misleading in terms of what is being offered and what you are expected to pay back later on. Therefore, starting early with educating yourself on what your options are and what the fine print means will only benefit you later on!
As I have touched on in previous tips, it is definitely important to identify what you hope to get out of attending college before stepping foot on campus. This doesn’t mean that you need to have your major, long-term career, and full life plan solidified by any means, but it does mean that all students should think long and hard about the major options that are available to them and make the decision that they believe will 1) be a return on the college investment, and 2) lead them to a happy and satisfying career.
Emma expanded on this tip by saying: “Students should never have a dream school and feel like they cannot access it due to financial constraints. A lot of times, a student or their family will see a huge number on the university’s website and this can be very intimidating. I would suggest that students utilize the net price calculator, which will help to give students a more accurate sense of what they will pay, based on their family’s income level and financial need.”
Although this last tip is not quite related to paying for college, it is certainly an important one that all students of all ages should keep in mind. The pandemic has made so many aspects of our lives more complicated and difficult, so setting aside the time to identify what your needs are and what works best for you (not only in school but in life in general) is crucial. Take this as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and work on doing the things that will maintain and improve your mental health rather than deteriorate it.
In conclusion, my interview with Emma certainly hit on a wide variety of important topics related to higher education, paying for college, and more. I hope you learned a thing or two while reading this piece, and a big shoutout to Emma for providing such great tips and advice!
Emma Kerr is a paying for college reporter at US News and World Report.
If I could engrain one piece of advice into anyone on a college campus, it would be to get involved! The best way to meet people just like you and make lifelong relationships, professionally and socially, is to find a club or organization that fits you. Here are five ways to find the most perfect way for you to get involved on campus.