Here's Your Guide to Studying Abroad (And Paying for it!)


Studying abroad, which basically means studying in a country at an institution that is not in your home country, is a great way for college students to experience new cultures, lifestyles, and places while still having the opportunity to take courses to move closer to earning a college degree. 

Before I even enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I knew that studying abroad for a semester was something that I wanted to do. And luckily, I was able to find a program that fit my major and my needs, and ultimately make it happen! 

In the spirit of optimism that COVID situations start to mitigate and consequently, study abroad programs resume, below you will find my guide, which answers the most common questions on studying abroad and on everything that you need to know to do it successfully. 

Note: This Q/A and guide was written specifically from the perspective of a US resident/student relocating out of the US. If you are a non-US resident looking to study in the US, check out this post!


When do college students typically study abroad?

Junior year is the most popular year for college students to study abroad. 

This definitely makes a lot of sense, considering you will probably spend your entire freshman year and at least part of your sophomore year taking general education classes. This means that by the time junior year rolls around, you will have not only likely completed most of your general credits, but you will also at that point have chosen a major, allowing you to get specific with the program and courses that you take while you’re abroad. 

The other “pro” of studying abroad as a junior is that you have the first two years of college to get acclimated, spend time on campus, and go through the process of researching and preparing to actually go abroad. 

Personally, I studied abroad during my second semester of junior year, and I think it was just the right time. I was beginning to take more classes that were specific to my major, and I had been on campus for just over two years, so a semester away studying in and exploring a different place sounded appealing. 

Plus, the majority of my friends who were also planning on studying abroad were going during that semester, so it made sense because then we would all be away together and all come back together - much easier for coordinating leases and things like that! 

Other times you can study abroad

Junior year isn’t the only year that you can study abroad, though. I have heard of students enrolling in programs during their senior year, sophomore year, and surprisingly, even for the first semester of their freshman year! 

To me, the clear downside of studying abroad in your first or final year of school is that these are the semesters where you are respectively just getting used to and wrapping up your college experience. So, they are probably going to be the ones where it would be easier to be physically on campus so you can figure everything out. 

Ultimately, the time (and semester) that you go abroad will likely become more clear for you once you have researched the programs that you are interested in and read more about how the courses that are offered will fit into your path for completing courses required to graduate.

Speaking of researching those programs...


Where can I find study abroad programs to apply for?

This is a very valid question. I remember at the beginning of my first semester of sophomore year, I had started speaking with friends who were telling me that they were starting to look into program options for studying abroad the following spring. 

And I was like, “Um, what? Where do I find this information?!” 

Now that I am a veteran with the study abroad process, I can share with you the two main options you have in terms of finding study abroad programs to apply for. 

Option one is to do research on the programs that are offered directly through your school. To find these, you can start with a simple Google search such as “[Insert School Name] + study abroad programs”. 

For me, since I was in the business school, I knew that I wanted to look at study abroad options that were available directly through the UW-Madison School of Business. So, this is what my initial search looked like (and you can of course modify it to accommodate your major/area of study):

study abroad uw madison

While studying abroad is an experience that will surely enrich your life in many ways outside of just academics, the most important thing that you will want to get squared away is finding a program that is a good fit for you in terms of offering the classes (or equivalents) that you will need to graduate. 

The last thing you want is to go abroad for a semester, take a bunch of classes, only to return to find out that none of them translated into valuable credits to put towards your graduation! 

One major upside of choosing a program that runs directly through your school (which is what I did) is that you can enroll with a higher level of certainty that the program (and its courses) will translate into valuable credits that you can add towards helping you graduate on time.

The importance of double-checking

Notice though that I said “a higher level of certainty”. I want to be clear that there are programs that might be offered through your school that are not necessarily compatible with your specific area of study and course track. 

So, even when you’re researching the programs that are offered through your school, you will need to do some additional research to make sure that the classes that are offered through that specific program will translate into credits that you can use. 

If you’re not totally sure about the specifics of a program and whether it is the right fit for you academically/course-wise, my best suggestion is to reach out to the contact or person who is the representative for the program to inquire further.


Option two of places to look for study abroad programs are programs that are outside of your college or university. You can locate these types of programs by just googling “Study Abroad Programs + [insert your major or desired study location]. 

One example of an external study abroad program is Spanish Studies. They offer programs in Spanish-speaking countries like Spain, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Argentina. 

From my experience, the most common reason why students choose to go this route is when they know that they want to study in a specific location, but their school doesn’t offer its own program to send students there. So if, for example, you really want to study abroad in Argentina, but your school doesn’t have a program that goes there, this is where you would seek out Spanish Studies. 

However, my advice if you go this route is to be aware of the extra legwork and potential risks that might come with ensuring that an external program aligns with your academic requirements.

Me and my friend - she visited me in London!

Where can I go to study abroad?

The answer to the question of where you can study abroad is that it depends on which route you go in the section above. 

Are you only interested in studying abroad through the programs that are offered by your institution? If so, then your options of where you can go will be limited to those destinations. 

Keep in mind though that most school’s study abroad programs will have partnerships with universities in the most popular destinations. So, if you have your heart set on Florence, Italy, and you attend a school with a decently robust study abroad program, the odds are in your favor that you will be able to go there. 

Back to the topic at hand! If, conversely, you're okay with researching programs and options that are offered outside of your school then the options are endless! 

Photo from my time studying abroad in London

Where should I go?

Now, the question of where you should go is a whole different ball game. 

If I was pretending to be a college sophomore and approached anyone I know who studied abroad to ask their opinion of where I should go, chances are, they would say the name of the city that THEY studied in. 

What I’m trying to say is that if you start asking around talking to students who have done certain programs, you will most definitely get some biased answers.

My advice on choosing a destination

So, my advice on how to navigate this process is as follows:

  • If you’re only interested in programs that are offered through your school, I recommend first going to your school’s study abroad website and narrowing down the options that are available to you based on your major and the classes you need to take. 
  • If you’re okay with looking at programs that are both internal and external, then you can start by looking at a map, picking some places that seem interesting to you, and get researching. 
  • Regardless, of which bucket you fall into for the above, you will now want to approach the choosing process similar to the way that you approached the college admissions process itself. This means asking yourself some important questions and identifying things such as...
    1. If you want to be in a big, bustling city, or somewhere more rural 
    2. What part of the world you want to explore 
    3. What languages you speak or take in school (also consider the amount of each population that speaks your native language) 
    4. How far away from home are you okay with being 
    5. How much you are okay with spending for a program (every program is priced differently - will cover this more below)! 
  • Once you have made a list and answered these questions for yourself, you can then do more research into the countries and cities that meet your specifications. 

From my experience, the places that were the most popular among the people I knew included England, Ireland, Italy, Spain, France, Australia, Germany, and Israel, 

However, I also knew people who went to Argentina, South Africa, Japan, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. 

I know that a little ways up the page, I told you that you should steer clear of choosing a study abroad destination based on someone else’s opinion because they will likely be biased for any number of reasons. 

However, once you have narrowed your list and are looking to choose between a few places, this is a point in which I would actually recommend reaching out to anyone you may know who studied in those places. 

When I was doing study abroad research myself, I got coffee with a mutual friend who had studied abroad in Copenhagen, to learn more about his experience living and attending school there, and to get insights on what was great and what wasn't.


What are the benefits of studying abroad?

In my opinion, there are quite a few benefits of studying abroad apart from the obvious pro of getting to take classes in a new and cool place.

Starting with some of the benefits that I personally can relate to…

Studying abroad made me more independent.

When I went abroad to England (through a Wisconsin program), I had a few friends who were on it too, but no one who I was extremely close to. So, there were plenty of days on my program where I took it upon myself to go out solo and explore places that I wanted to see and experience.

It helped me to expand my cultural horizons.

If you have any experience using LinkedIn, or if you’ve read my eBook, you probably know about the alumni tool and how cool it is. Being able to add another school to your LinkedIn profile will help you to have a reason to connect with people who work at companies you’re interested in that also attended that school. Plus, if you are ever looking to move/work abroad, having previous abroad experience on your resume/LinkedIn can be helpful.

It’s proven helpful in my internship and job searching.

While I was abroad in London, which is arguably one of the most American-like abroad destinations (especially given that there is no language barrier) I still was able to learn about and adapt to a more European way of life while I was there and traveling around to various countries. I met people in classes who were also international students (but not from America) so that was another cool part of the experience.

It helped me to further develop existing friendships and to make new friends.

Because I was abroad in London on a program that was specific to UW-Madison students, it gave me the opportunity to expand my friend group of people who were actually going to my school back home that I hadn’t even known! If you are like me and you go to a big school, this can be pretty funny and cool.

It gave me the chance to go outside of my comfort zone and explore new interests.

I know I already mentioned becoming more independent, but with this I mean that by being in a new place, I was more willing to try new foods, explore new places, and adopt new hobbies. Before I went abroad, I didn’t like shopping that much, but now I’m a big thrifter!

What are the setbacks?

One POTENTIAL setback that you might encounter from studying abroad is if the classes that you take while you’re there don’t transfer easily back to your home institution. However, with enough careful research and double-checking, this is something that you can easily avoid. 

On top of that, the only other possible setback to studying abroad is that it can be expensive. Similar to the cost of attendance for your home institution, you will have to pay tuition and fees and room and board. 

But on top of that, it’s likely that while you’re studying abroad you will want to eat out at restaurants, take part in fun experiences and excursions, and travel around or outside of your country to visit the sites. Unfortunately, these things all cost extra money on top of the normal costs that you would have in a semester. 

You definitely don’t want to fly all the way over somewhere only to then figure out that you don’t have any extra money budgeted to spend on enjoying yourself while you’re there. So, before you bite the bullet and sign up for a program, you will want to compare the different program’s costs so you can see which ones fit your budget best. 

This leads me to the next common question...

Can I afford to study abroad? Are there scholarships?

You’ll find that some study abroad programs are more expensive than your home institution, some are cheaper, and some are just about the same. Depending on the amount that you currently pay in tuition, the cost of a program might surprise you in a good way or in a not-so-good way. 

According to Education First, most study abroad programs cost between $10,000 and $15,000. However, this doesn’t include things such as flights to and from the destination, meals, and pocket money. 

Luckily, to answer the second part of this question, YES! There are tons of scholarship opportunities of all kinds that are available for students who are looking for money to study abroad. A few of the most well-known scholarships that are specific to study abroad include the Boren Awards and The Gilman International Scholarship Program

However, there are so many more scholarships out there that you can find by searching through the Access Scholarships database, looking on Google, and of course, doing research on your school’s website to see what scholarships they offer for study abroad.


Overall, in my opinion, studying abroad is a great experience that has a ton of benefits in addition to giving you the opportunity to take classes and study in a different country. While the process itself may not always be straightforward, hopefully, this guide has cleared up some of the major questions that you may have been wondering about the process! 

If you’re even slightly curious about or interested in potentially studying abroad at some point during your undergraduate academic career, I highly encourage you to just start by doing some research. This means going onto your school’s website, and reaching out to your academic advisor to see if you can make it align with your goals. 

Have questions about studying abroad that I didn’t answer in this guide? Send me an email or DM me on Instagram and we can chat!

8 Things to Do Once You've Committed to College

If you’re reading this, it’s more likely than not that you have committed to college, so, congrats! It was only a few years ago (okay, maybe like 6?) that I went through the college admissions process for myself, and I can still remember how excited I was to finally commit to my top school, The University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Like many processes though, once you have made the decision to commit to a school, the work and planning certainly doesn’t end - there’s more that must be done! So, in this post, I’m going to outline the 8 things I did, that you should definitely do, once you’ve committed to college.


#0: Hit the online bookstore.

This was definitely the first thing I did after committing to UW.

I was so excited, that before I had even put down the deposit, I had ordered a hoodie and hat from the bookstore to celebrate!

This step is of course not totally necessary, but I think it’s a fun way to celebrate your decision to commit to college because it gets you in the spirit! 

#1: Notify your other acceptances that you will not be attending.

This is one thing that most students, in their excitement of having finished the application process and committing to a college, tend to forget about.

However, it’s an important (and courteous) thing to do. Why? Well, since your commitment to your college of choice solidifies that you are not going to attend the other schools you were accepted to, by letting them know that you won’t be attending, they can open up your spot to someone who was waitlisted. 

The process for declining acceptances looks different for each school.

Some schools may include information in your acceptance letter or on your online portal about how to decline admission, whereas others may have a form somewhere on their website that you can fill out. If you’re unsure of where to look, I suggest googling something along the lines of “how to decline admission for [insert school name]”.

#2: Submit an enrollment deposit.

Naturally, now that you have verbally committed to the school of your choice, you also are going to have to make a deposit to confirm your enrollment to officially solidify things. Similar to #1, there is definitely information on how you can go about doing this in your acceptance letter and/or on your application portal. 

Enrollment deposit amounts vary, and can be anywhere from $100 to $1,000. Keep in mind that this deposit is usually non-refundable after a certain point, so if for any reason you decide to back out after your school’s deadline, there’s a good chance that this money won’t get returned to you.

#3: Take any required placement tests.

Once you have confirmed your admission and officially committed to college, at some point in the spring or summer, you can expect to receive information about taking placement tests. Each school has a different policy for when these tests get taken and which ones you must take. However, if you are attending a 2 or 4-year college, it is likely that you will be required to take at least one. 

These placement tests are used to help your school determine what level you are at in subjects such as math, English, foreign languages, etc, so that they can figure out which introductory level classes you should be starting out in. 

After I committed to UW-Madison, I was sent information to sign up for a time slot to go to a local testing center and sit for a few different placement tests. If I remember correctly, I took one for math, English, and Italian. I am NOT good at math, so my score there did not place me out of absolutely anything. However, my English score, along with my AP scores, allowed me to place out of certain introductory-level English and writing classes, so that was ideal! 

One other thing I should note about these placement tests is that they are not tests that you are expected to prepare or study for. While your score matters in terms of helping the school determine which classes you can start out in as a freshman, your scores aren’t used to determine scholarships or anything like that, so you can take a deep breath and chillax!

#4: Get ready for orientation.

Things are certainly looking a bit different this year because of COVID, but usually, orientation is a time where incoming students gather on campus to start to get acquainted with everything you will need to know to have a successful transition from high school to college. 

Orientation usually takes place over the summer and can be anywhere between a few days to a week long. Every school’s orientation is different, but most of them include advising sessions, informational Q&A sessions, and the chance for you to, of course, meet and interact with other incoming students.  

I remember flying out to Madison, Wisconsin around the end of my senior year (I think it was in June or early July?) for orientation. I met a lot of people, which was definitely a little bit overwhelming, but the experience was definitely helpful because I had the opportunity to explore a bit more around campus when it was emptier (summer break). I also made my initial first-semester schedule during orientation. 

Regardless of whether or not you can actually get on campus for orientation this year, I’m sure that your school will have lots of accessible resources and people that you can reach out to to have a valuable, albeit a different, orientation experience. Be sure to utilize everything that they send your way.


#5: Start searching for a roommate.

Now that you’ve committed to college, if you’re anything like me, you’re thinking about the next steps in terms of what life on campus is going to be like. And, a big part of life on campus for a lot of students is the dorming/roommate experience. If you have already decided that you want to go random, then you can probably skip this step, but if not, keep reading! 

After I decided on UW, I joined a bunch of Facebook groups, GroupMe chats, and other online forums for the Class of 2020. These were a great way to meet incoming students who were in the same boat as me. Recent advancements in technology can certainly be used to your advantage to help you find a roommate. 

Also, if you aren’t on it already, I recommend joining Zeemee. It’s an app designed to help high school seniors connect with other students (both high school and college level) and with schools themselves to learn more about them in a unique way. The app is basically a combo between Discord and a dating app, so you fill out your unique profile and you can mention on there if you are looking for a roommate. Super easy and fun! 

I remember just chatting up different people, asking about their interests and what they liked doing in their free time, and other basic things like that. I eventually connected with a girl through some mutual friends, and since we both lived in NJ, we were able to meet up before confirming our decision to room together. 

#6: Do some dorm room shopping!

Along the same spectrum of searching for a roommate, I was also very eager to get to planning out what my dorm room would look like and how I wanted to decorate it. This part of the process, if you enjoy designing and online shopping, will probably be very fun and exciting for you, just as it was for me! 

Before you go ahead and start ordering things galore, I suggest making some sort of spreadsheet or word document where you can write down all of the things you need and the things you already have, so that you don’t go buying things you don’t need. Lots of websites out there have checklists for moving to college, which are definitely helpful in making sure that you buy and pack everything that you need to live comfortably. 

Also, one additional thing that you will want to consider is the logistics of buying things and moving in. Are you attending school somewhere where you can drive there and back, and easily fit most of the stuff in your car or a U-Haul? If you are attending school somewhere that is a long drive or flight away from where you currently live, then you will also want to keep that in mind. 

Since I flew out to school (15-hour drive, no thank you!), I got a lot of my freshman year dorm things shipped directly to campus so that I wouldn’t have to pay additional shipping costs. I highly recommend you do the same, and plan in advance for this!

Back to the dorm room shopping. I recently updated my student deals page, to feature things such as dorm room essentials, and other fun stuff like that. Be sure to check it out so you don’t miss any of the must-haves!

#7: Apply for scholarships

This wouldn’t be a productive blog post if I didn’t plug the importance of still applying to scholarships even once you’ve committed to college! Depending on the financial aid package you received from your school, you may find that there are some gaps in terms of how much you were given and how much you are left to pay. 

Luckily, scholarships are available to you even after you’ve graduated from high school and basically until you graduate from college or grad school! Be sure to head over to my scholarship search to find some great scholarships that you can apply to to help you shave some off of what you owe in tuition + fees.

Pro-tip: Get ahead by reading through my blog post on 50+ college scholarships!

#8: Enjoy the summer!

I can still remember how relieved I was to be done with the college prep and application process because it was definitely a stressful time that felt like it would never end. I’m here to tell you that, at one point (whether it’s sooner or later), it WILL end, and then you can take some time to relax and enjoy yourself before jumping into a new chapter of academics and life! 

Again, if you’re like me, you may feel the need to get going at warp speed to start working on the next big chapter/preparing for it after you’ve finished the admissions process. I highly suggest, if you can, to take a bit of a break if you can before jumping right into all of the college prep/dorm room things. You have been working so hard to get to where you are now, and you deserve a break! 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, be sure that you don’t put important things off until too late during the summer. It’s all about finding the balance between giving yourself a rest and making sure that everything that needs to get done, still gets done, so that you can start off on the right foot.

Should You Take a Gap Year?

Jump Ahead To...


    A gap year is when a student takes a year off of school to pursue something that is generally not related to advancing their education through a degree. Students often choose to take a gap year after graduating from high school but before enrolling in a higher ed institution.

    However, there are also other times in which students might take a gap year, such as while in college, or after graduating from college but before enrolling in a master’s program or starting a full-time job.

    In this post, I will highlight everything you need to know about taking a gap year, from what goes down during it, to pros and cons, to common questions, and even a mini-interview with someone who is currently on a gap year!

    Also, read until the end to hear a little bit about my own thoughts on taking a gap year, and to get more information on additional gap year-related reading.

    Gap year travel

    What can you do during a gap year?

    There are lots of possibilities for things you can do to get the most out of taking a gap year. A few of the most common activities that students choose to take part in include independent or structured traveling, volunteering, adventure activities, and obtaining work experience.

    Reasons students take a gap year

    There are several reasons why a student might choose to take a gap year at any given time.

    One popular reason students cite for taking a gap year from their education is to be able to gain unique life experiences. This could be through backpacking across a continent, performing service or volunteer work with an organization, learning a new language, or a myriad of other experiences.

    With these types of life experiences, of course, comes learning about new cultures, meeting new people, and gaining life skills that can be helpful for future success.

    Another common reason for taking a gap year is that it can be a great opportunity for students to gain work experience in the field they are interested in pursuing. This could be through a local apprenticeship, an internship abroad, or anything in between.

    Students may also choose to take a gap year for reasons other than personal and professional development; taking time off between high school and college to work a full-time job can be a viable option to earn some cash to help you out financially in terms of paying for your education.

    Gap year pros

    Gap year pros 

    Taking a gap year has proven to have positive effects on students’ development, academic performance and motivation, and maturity and independence.

    In fact, according to the 2020 Gap Year Association survey of nearly 1,800 gap year participants, students indicated that the top three impacts of being in a program included:

    • It helped them to learn how to interact with people from different backgrounds or cultures different from their own
    • It increased their maturity
    • It improved their self-confidence

    A few additional pros to taking a gap year include:

    • It can improve your communication and problem-solving skills
    • It can open you up to new friendships that you might not have made otherwise
    • Depending on how you spend your time during your gap year, this could be an impressive experience to leverage during internship and job interviews

    Another major benefit of taking a gap year is that it can allow you to recover from academic burnout, open you up creatively, and leave you feeling more motivated to get on campus (or return to campus) and hit the ground running.

    Federal data from 2017 shows that at least ⅓ of college students choose a major and then change it at least once within three years. If you’re someone who is perhaps indecisive about which major or career you want to pursue, then taking a gap year to get some work experience could be a great way to help reduce the likelihood of changing majors and running into problems with having to do extra semesters.

    Gap year cons

    There are many pros to taking a gap year, as I have pointed out above. But, I’d be remiss to write a fully informative post on gap years without mentioning the cons.

    I definitely think that, in order to be successful in taking a gap year and assimilating into an academic environment, you have to really have the motivation to do so. I know plenty of people who would take a gap year and never want to go back to school! You have to be the type of person who wouldn’t lose momentum after taking some time off.

    A potential con of taking a gap year is that, if you don’t plan it out correctly, you could potentially end up wasting your time. The last thing you want is to take a gap year and end up not doing anything with it.

    While this is certainly not always the case, taking a gap year has the potential to be an expensive endeavor. If you choose to go down the route of going with an organized program, or, if you don’t plan out your travels or endeavors in enough detail, you can easily end up spending more money than you originally planned. Watch out for this!

    Gap year volunteering

    Common questions and answers on gap years 

    Q: If I want to take a gap year between high school and college, how does that impact the college admissions process?

    A: Most schools will accept you and then give you the opportunity to defer your admission to the following year.

    Because of this, and because it is much easier to go through the college admissions process as a senior in high school than having to do it during your gap year, most school counselors and higher ed admissions officers will encourage students who are planning on taking a gap year to apply for college before going on the gap year.

    If you get accepted into a college or university and want to defer your admission, you usually have to send a letter to the admissions office discussing your request to defer admission and outlining what you plan to do during the gap year.

    Q: Can I still be eligible for financial aid/scholarships if I take a gap year?

    A: Yes! If you fill out the FAFSA and then decide to take a gap year, all you have to do is fill it out again the following year when you do get on campus. In terms of scholarships, some scholarships offered by the colleges and universities themselves can be deferred along with admission private scholarships, however, this definitely varies.

    Many private scholarships have rules such as “student must be currently enrolled or planning to enroll within X months” - if this is the case, then if you do win a private scholarship, you can save it for when you go back to school and start paying off your tuition.

    Q: What do college admissions committees think of gap years?

    A: The phenomenon of taking productive gap years is becoming increasingly more popular nowadays. Because of this, you shouldn’t worry too much about a college admissions office frowning on your decision to take a gap year. In fact, lots of top schools encourage gap years, and some even have specific programs for students interested in taking them.


    Getting the lowdown on gap years from someone who is currently on one!

    Let's be real. I can do all the research, write a whole post on everything you need to know about taking a gap year, and even give you my own thoughts and opinions on taking one.

    However, I truly think that the most helpful perspective one can get when covering this topic is the perspective of someone who is actually currently on a gap year herself.

    So, I briefly interviewed my friend Jess. She lives in England and graduated from high school last year. Here's what she had to say on the topic of:

    When she decided she wanted to take a gap year...

    "Probably when I was 14, but I definitively decided around 16. In the UK, you take your main exams at 16 and 18, so if you don’t want to go straight from high school to college, or if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, around 16 is the time that you would generally start to solidify the decision." 

    Why she decided to take one...

    "You don’t want to end up with a degree that is something you don’t actually want to go into. Your education is a big investment of both time and money, so you want to make sure that it’s what you want to do.

    For me, the area I wanted to study last year is not at all what I want to study now. A lot has changed, so I’m happy that I’ve had the opportunity to have a shift of perspective and take a step back and think about what I actually enjoy and want to do. 

    Also, sometimes you need to have time off to be able to take a step back and give yourself a break. I think it's important to have time to recharge because your last two years of high school can be really intense."

    What she's been up to during her gap year...

    "The pandemic has obviously made taking a gap year in 2020-2021 a lot different than what it would've been like if I had taken it during a "normal" year. However, I have still had the opportunity to travel, go on a service trip, and hopefully get some more fun stuff in over the summer before starting at university in September!"

    What ideas she has for making a gap year productive...

    "Traveling and backpacking-type trips are definitely popular. You can also do more volunteer/service work projects, for either a few months or a whole year.

    Ski seasons and summer seasons are good options as well because they're really fun and you get paid, so you can make money instead of spending it.

    Au pairing, which is like nannying, can also be a unique option and opportunity to get abroad experience while also getting paid."

    Advice she has for students who are thinking about taking a gap year...

    "I definitely recommend a gap year for anyone who is thinking about it. More than anything, it's a good opportunity to work on adjusting to being around new people in a new environment, which is something that you would experience when first getting to college anyways.

    A gap year can also be a good prep stage for helping you develop socially. If you’re not sure what subject you want to study, this can be a good time to help you work it out before you’re in your degree.

    Also, it's a great life experience in general. Having been able to get work experience, travel, and volunteer has definitely helped to create a less intense and stressful shift from high school to college."

    Other things students should know about taking a gap year...

    "Gap years can be expensive, but they don’t have to be. It can be inexpensive and accessible if you go about it the right way, travel to the right places, and get the right type of work experience. Don’t be put off by the fact that some programs out there can be expensive.

    Also, lots of people say that they will do a gap year after graduating from college, but it doesn’t always work out. So, if you can do one between high school and college, I recommend it!

    Thinking and Awareness

    My thoughts on taking a gap year 

    When I was in high school, the idea of taking a gap year had honestly not even crossed my mind. I didn’t know anyone who was doing anything similar, so I never considered it. It was only when I got to college that I met other students (not many, though) that had taken gap years in between high school and college. 

    Having friends in the UK, Australia, and other parts of the world, I have learned from them over the years that in countries other than the US, taking a gap year is quite common.

    If I had the chance to rewind on my high school/college experience, I personally would definitely consider taking a gap year before starting college. As it has done for lots of students, I think it would have been a great way to help me build up life skills, confidence, and independence before going back and settling into academics. 

    In general, I do think that our society tends to put too much stress and emphasis on students going through the motions of graduating high school, moving on to the next step of education, and then graduating and going out into the world to get jobs. 

    From my own research, I know that the number of students taking gap years is on an upward trend, which I think is awesome. I hope that this post, along with some of the resources I have provided below, can help to illuminate more about gap years and help you decide if it's the right choice for you!

    So, is a gap year in the cards for you?

    Ultimately, this question is one that only you can answer. I do personally think that the potential pros outweigh the potential cons.

    But at the end of the day, taking a gap year is a big decision that will have a significant impact on your future, so you need to sit down, do some research and thinking, and decide if it is the right choice for you!

    Gap year resources and reading 

    Habitat for Humanity - 

    World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms -

    Youth Services America -

    Other blog posts

    What Type of College Degree is Right for You?

    Jump Ahead To...


      Countless numbers of studies over the years have shown that college graduates experience lower levels of unemployment, and earn more, than their non-degree earning counterparts. 

      In addition to these statistics, there are also several other “pros” of obtaining a degree, such as increased access to job opportunities, personal growth, greater opportunity to build a professional network, and higher levels of job satisfaction, just to name a few. 

      While this information is good to know, it is also worth noting that obtaining a degree can be expensive. And by expensive, I mean very expensive. 


      The ultimate question

      So, for many students across the globe, the conundrum becomes “Is obtaining a degree worth the investment and debt that it is likely to incur?” 

      This may not be the answer that you want to hear, but the answer that I have for you is that it depends on a few different things. Most careers don’t require you to have a Ph.D., a greater portion will require that you have a bachelor’s degree, yet others might say that an associate’s degree or even a Professional Certificate is just the ticket. 

      Taking steps towards an answer

      So, before you dive right into a four-year college, or make the decision to go back to school to get your master’s degree, start with a little internal digging, or what I like to call, “soul searching”. 

      Ask yourself these questions to try to figure out if there is a career path or specific field that you know you want to pursue:

      Key questions to ask yourself when thinking about a career path


      1.What are my interests? 

      In answering this question, you will want to consider some of the things that you are always game to learn more about and get involved in.

      Now, not everyone is able to take the things that they are interested in and turn them into full-time jobs or careers. For example, I love to cook, but you won’t catch me leaving my day job to become a chef! However, depending on where your interests truly lie, taking those interests and incorporating them into your career might be feasible. Maybe you love helping children, in which case, there are tons of jobs and career paths out there that focus on that. 

      2.What skills do I have? 

      This question can usually be answered best by thinking back to past experiences that you have had, whether in specific jobs, your academic career, or in your everyday life outside of those areas.

      You’ll want to try to come up with a list of both hard skills (i.e. web development, writing, mathematics) and soft skills (i.e. leadership, patience, agreeableness), since skills in both of these areas are key to success in most jobs. 

      3.What are my dreams? 

      This is the final question you will want to ask yourself. Think about if there is anything in particular that you have always said “Wow, I would love to do that for a career”.

      Keep in mind that while some people know what they want to do early on in their lives, a lot of us do not, and it might take time to experience a few different options (and learn from them) in order to narrow down what it is we are actually passionate about. 

      In asking yourself these questions, and hopefully answering them in as much detail as possible, you are helping to illuminate the way in terms of getting to the bottom of determining which career path is the right one for you. 

      If this soul-searching activity has led you to make the decision that you will, should, or want to obtain a degree beyond your high school diploma, that’s great! However, you still may be wondering which type of degree is the right one for you.

      Below, I have highlighted the main types of degree options that are out there, including key information on what type of student/career each degree is most-suited for and cost considerations to keep in mind. 


      Trade School Degree

      What it is: Unlike an undergraduate degree, which often requires students to take courses that are not always 100% focused on their established major, a trade school degree or program is one in which you will likely focus solely on learning and becoming good at the trade in which you plan to pursue.

      Trade school programs are generally significantly cheaper (usually between $5,000 and $15,000) and shorter than undergraduate degree programs (most can be completed in less than two years). 

      Who it’s designed for: If you are planning on entering a technical field in which you must have a very specific set of skills, then this could be the option for you. In fields such as HVAC, contracting, massage therapy, and hairstyling, employers put less emphasis on your degree credentials (i.e., where you got it from) and more emphasis on your skillset.


      -If you know exactly what you want to do and are simply looking to develop the skills you need to become certified for that specific trade, then this route will definitely save you time and money. 


      -These degrees focus less on giving you the “overall package” in terms of learning about lots of different topics and meeting people who are pursuing degrees in other areas.

      -By going the trade-school route and obtaining those specific skills, if you ever decide later on down the line that you want to sidestep into a different type of career, you may have to go back to school. 

      Undergraduate Degree

      An undergraduate degree, which is typically the next-in-line degree that students will go for after earning a high school diploma, comes in a few different forms. 

      Usually, an undergraduate degree will consist of “general education” classes (which are broad) and major-specific classes (which are more narrowly focused on what area you want to pursue). 

      The two main types of undergraduate degrees are Associate (2-year) and Bachelor (4-year).

      Associate's Degree

      What it is: The associate degree is a 2-year degree that is normally obtained through community college. As of 2019, there were approximately 940 community colleges all across the United States. Despite this, there are some 4-year colleges and universities and vocational schools which also offer Associate degrees. 

      Who it’s designed for: The ideal candidates for an associate degree are 1) someone who is looking to approach the college process in a more economical way, and 2) someone who is looking to jump right into the job-world as soon as possible. 

      Associate degrees are more economical than Bachelor's degrees because the cost of attending a community college is generally much cheaper than attending a four-year college or university (because it is a shorter program and just because of the nature of the schools themselves). 


      -If you are looking to save money and get into the job market ASAP, but you want to earn a degree and pursue a career in a field that is not covered by a trade school certification, then this might be a good option. 

      -Students can also use an Associate degree as a stepping stone into the Bachelor degree to save LOTS of money (see “Transfer degree” below)


      -Depending on where you go for your Associate degree, you may find that the selection for majors is limited. 

      -Associate degrees (aka, community college) can sometimes be seen as less prestigious than a Bachelor's degree. Unfortunately, prestige is still something that most (but not all) employers consider when looking at your resume to determine potential prospects of employment. 

      -If you attend a community college, you may find that the atmosphere is not as vibrant or “happening” in comparison to if you were on the campus of a four-year college or university.  This could be because many of the students who attend community college choose to commute. While this is great for saving money, it can mean that you will be getting less of the “traditional college experience”.

      Bachelor's Degree

      What it is: The bachelor's degree is the type of college degree that is most commonly referenced when people talk about “going to college”. According to US News, there are over 4,000 colleges and universities across the US in which you can possibly attend to complete your bachelor's degree. 

      The bachelor's degree generally takes about 4 years to complete and is a required prerequisite to attending graduate school.

      Most bachelor's degrees are composed of three different types of courses: general education, major-specific, and elective. 

      Who it’s designed for: Unlike associate degrees, there are generally a lot more options for majors and areas of study when you pursue a bachelor's degree. While there are MANY different types of bachelor degrees, the two most common are B.A. (Bachelor of Arts, which is usually liberal arts-focused) and B.S. (Bachelor of Science, which is usually more science-focused). 

      Most four-year colleges and universities offer hundreds of options for majors that students can pursue. These range from mechanical engineering to economics to psychology to textile and fashion design (just to name a few!). 


      -The bachelor's degree is usually considered to be the degree that employers look for when you are applying for entry-level jobs after graduation. 

      -When you obtain your bachelor's degree, it generally places you in a higher potential earnings range than if you were to obtain a trade school or associate degree, which can lead to more opportunities for professional advancement, a greater level of job security, etc.

      -Whether you live on campus or not, the majority of students who obtain bachelor's degrees from four-year colleges and universities tend to be involved in other activities and organizations that happen on and around campus, which can make it seem more vibrant. 

      -Oftentimes, there are lots of opportunities to network and meet students from different places who are pursuing degrees that can be vastly different from your own. 

      -Rather than just taking classes that are relevant to what you want to pursue, the bachelor's degree requires you to take general education classes first, which can be helpful if you are not completely sure what you want to do for your career (I know I wasn’t!). 


      -The most obvious and biggest con to obtaining a bachelor's degree is that it is oftentimes extremely expensive, and has the potential to leave you with a fair amount of debt, depending on your situation. 

      Transfer Degree

      What it is: The transfer degree is obtained when you start out attending a community college and, once you complete your associate degree at a community college, you can then transfer to a four-year college or university to attend for your junior and senior year.

      Who it’s designed for: The transfer degree is designed for students who want to graduate with a bachelor's degree but do not want to pay the full sticker price of attending a traditional college or university for four or five years. Once you complete your associate degree at a community college, you can then transfer to a four-year college or university to attend for your junior and senior years.


      -The main benefit (and the reason why students will transfer) is because it can save you money since you will not be paying the price of attending a four-year school for all four years. 

      -If you are not sure if a four-year degree is right for you, starting out at community college and obtaining an associate degree might be a smart move, both for your career and for your wallet.


      -The only potential con to the transfer degree is that there is risk involved when it comes to transferring from a community college to a four-year college or university. This move can require a significant amount of time and effort spent into researching the process and figuring out which schools you are interested in are “transfer-friendly”.

      Graduate Degree

      A graduate degree is next-in-line degree after you obtain your bachelor's degree. Obtaining a graduate degree is by no means the norm, but depending on what field or career you are going into, it may be necessary. 

      The length of time to complete a graduate degree can vary immensely, with a time investment ranging from one to eight years. In terms of competitiveness, graduate programs tend to be more rigorous than bachelor programs, with more of an emphasis on individual research. 

      Some professions that require a graduate degree include physician’s assistant, social worker, and psychologist. For a more robust list, click here.

      Master's Degree

      What it is: The master’s degree is a common type of graduate degree and can be pursued anywhere from directly following the completion of the bachelor's degree to later on in life. Master’s degrees do not have general education requirements and are focused specifically on helping you to gain more knowledge and advance your skills in the field that you intend to go into. 

      Most master’s degrees take between one and two years to complete. There are around 100 different concentration options for master’s degrees, but some of the most common areas of study include business administration (MBA), social work, engineering, and education.

      Personally, I feel like the relevancy of obtaining a master’s degree has been contested in recent years. Some professionals that I have spoken to have advised me that it is not always worth the investment and that you can gain similar skills and experiences through a job in your desired industry. However, this is still largely a personal preference in terms of what you think will be the best for you. 

      Who it’s designed for: If you are looking to get an additional “leg up” in terms of looking good to potential employers, then having a master’s degree might be for you. 


      -Greater earning potential than if you have just an associate or bachelor degree

      -Makes you more marketable to employers


      -Can be very expensive! 

      Doctoral Degree

      What it is: The doctoral degree is one step up from the master’s degree. In order to be eligible to apply for a doctoral degree, you must have obtained your bachelor’s degree. Depending on the area that you are going into, you may or may not also need a master’s degree.  

      Doctoral degrees are the highest possible type of degree that a student can earn in a specific area of study. The two types of doctoral degrees are the Ph.D., which has an emphasis on research-based study, and the applied degree, which has an emphasis on teaching. 

      These degrees can take up to six years to complete, depending on the concentration. 

      Who it’s designed for: The doctoral degree is designed for people who want to enter into the “upper echelon” crew of higher education. 


      -Having a doctorate degree typically means that you can expect to be paid more 

      -Often leads to greater job security 

      -People with doctorate degrees are pretty dang respected in their field! There is a significant amount of credibility that comes with obtaining a doctorate due to the amount of time and effort that goes into the process.


      -The fact that they can take anywhere between four and six years to complete makes them a significant investment of time. 

      -They tend to be especially challenging (since they are at the highest degree level)

      -More money spent on education


      In conclusion

      So, I know that I have thrown a TON of information at you in this post. The main takeaway that I want you to get out of it is that there are so many options in terms of types of degrees that are out there for you to pursue. I am not saying this to overwhelm you, but rather to remind you that there is a path out there that is right for you. 

      Ultimately, the type and/or the number of degrees that you earn is dependent on factors such as your intended career, how much time you want to commit, and how much money you have or are willing to invest in your education. 

      Generally speaking, the higher the degree that you are able to obtain, the greater level of prestige you will be met with, which often comes with more money and more opportunities. 

      However, if, in order to obtain those degrees, you will have to set yourself back significantly on the money front, this is definitely something to consider ahead of time and factor into your decision-making process. 

      At the end of the day, regardless of what type of degree you are going for, the great news is that there are scholarships out there for you to apply for to help reduce your costs! 

      Head over here to our search tool to get started with your scholarship search.

      Other recommended reading 

      Everything You Need to Know About the FAFSA

      Jump Ahead To...


        While preparing for your first (or subsequent) year of college is often an exciting journey, the process of planning, researching, and figuring out how to pay for college can turn it into a stressful one.

        In this post, I will take you through the most common questions and answers pertaining to the FAFSA and applying for financial aid, and include some bonus resources to help you get ahead and stay on track. 

        Common FAFSA Questions / The Process

        • Question 1: What is the FAFSA?

          FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Once you have filled out this form, your college or university will take your information and use it to determine your eligibility for receiving financial aid to help you pay for school.

          The FAFSA form is available on or around October 1st of each year, and you fill it out for the first time as a senior in high school.

          Here is a link that will show you information on the various FAFSA deadlines (there are deadlines by college, by state, and more!).

          In order to maximize your chances of getting aid (some schools operate on a first-come, first-serve basis), I recommend that you complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after the application opens.

        • Question 2: How does it work?

          The process of submitting your FAFSA may seem daunting, but if you follow these steps, it doesn’t have to be!

          Step 1: Create your FSA ID.

          Your FSA ID is a username and password that allows you to easily access your FAFSA form, the myStudentAid app, and more. Creating your FSA ID takes just a couple of minutes, and we highly recommend you create your ID before you sit down to fill out the FAFSA, as this will cut down on potential delays in the process. 

          *Important note* If you are a dependent student, one of your parents will also need to create his or her own FSA ID (the parent who creates the ID should be the one whose information is reported on the FAFSA form) in order to be able to sign your application once you have finished filling it out.

          Step 2: Gather the necessary documents to apply.

          According to, the following documents or information may be helpful to have on hand as you fill out the FAFSA:

          -Your SSN (Social Security number) AND your parents’ SSN if you are a dependent student. 

          -Your driver’s license number, if applicable. 

          -Your Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen

          -Tax information or returns for both you AND your parents (parental tax information needed for dependent students only). This includes the IRS W-2 and 1040, and possibly other information depending on the state and country you live in. 

          -Money and banking information such as: 

          1. Checking and savings account balances.
          2. Investments (stocks, bonds, real estate)
          3. Business assets for you and your parents if you are a dependent student

          It is crucial to make sure that you have all of this information on hand and organized for when you go to fill out the FAFSA.

          *Tip from me: Print out all necessary documents and information, label them, and store them in a folder that you can both easily access and keep somewhere safe so it won’t get lost or damaged. If you want to save some trees, consider organizing everything into a folder on Google Drive that you can easily share with your parents.

          Step 3: Fill it out! 

          Students have four options when it comes to filling out the FAFSA:

          1. Apply online
          2. Apply via the myStudentAid mobile app
          3. Apply via PDF
          4. Apply via print-out of the PDF (must be mailed in)

          I recommend either applying online at or using the mobile app.

          When you are filling out the FAFSA, you will see that you must list at least one school to receive your information. Each school you list on your form will use your information to determine how much and what types of aid you are eligible to receive.

          When you fill out the form online or in the mobile app, you can list up to 10 schools, but be aware that if you fill out the form via PDF, you may only list up to 4. 

        • Question 3: Which schools should I list on my FAFSA?

          Simply put, you should list any school that you are planning on applying to on your FAFSA form, regardless of whether or not you have been accepted. 

          Quick tips for filling out the FAFSA:

          -Double and triple-check that your name and SSN match what is listed on your Social Security card

          -Make sure you enable pop-ups from to ensure that the application functions properly

          -Create a save key at the beginning of the application, which you can use if you want to complete the form in multiple sittings while still saving your information as you go. Make sure you write your save key down!

          Step 4: Sign and submit. 

          Make sure that you sign in with your FSA ID when you go to sign and submit your FAFSA, as this will ensure that the form is processed correctly and quickly.

          Once you have submitted your form, you should automatically receive a confirmation email (check your spam/junk mail too!).  

          *Tip from me: If you have a sibling who also needs a FAFSA form filled out, check your confirmation page for the option to have the parent information transferred to the other student’s application.

        • Question 4: What do I do once I’ve submitted my FAFSA?

          Once you have submitted your FAFSA, you can log into your account at (with your FSA ID username and password) to check on the status of your application.

          Within a few weeks of submitting your application, you should receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), which is essentially a summary of all of the information you submitted in your FAFSA. It is your job to go through your SAR and make sure all of the information is 100% correct! 

        • Question 5: When and how do I find out how much aid I am eligible to receive?

          Once you have been accepted to a college or university that was listed on your FAFSA, that school will send you either an electronic or paper offer (aka award letter) which will tell you how much aid you are eligible to receive. 

          *Tip from me: Once you have received your award letter, it is important to go through it and understand exactly what types of aid are being offered (loans vs grants/scholarships), what aid you really need, and then decide what you are going to accept

        Conclusion & More Resources

        Now, you should be fully versed on what the FAFSA is, how to fill it out, and what to do once you have received your aid offer. For more information on the FAFSA, check out our bonus resources below!

        How to transfer tax information into your FAFSA

        “After the FAFSA: What Happens Next?” Video

        Other Recommended Reading

        Dissecting the 2021-2022 Common Application Essay Prompts

        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.


        Common Application Prompts: Listed & Dissected

        Prompt #1

        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.

        • Take each of the words "background", "identity", "interest" and "talent" and brainstorm a list of things about you that falls into each word bucket. Then, you can go through and try to identify which, if any, of those words (attributes, situations, etc) has a story behind it that resonates with you the most, and might make you stand out from other applicants
        • Example: you are a competitive swimmer, and you feel that your passion for swimming is something that defines who you are as a person.
        • Going off this swimming example, you would likely want to touch on answering questions such as:
          • The role that swimming has played into your life
          • What you have learned from your experiences as a competitive swimmer
          • How have these experiences molded you into the person that you are today, and the person that you want to be when you step foot on campus?

        Prompt #2

        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?

        • Start by making a list of challenges/setbacks/failures that you have faced throughout your life. For each item on the list, also answer how it affected you, and what you learned from it.
        • Remember that you can (and should) focus on both big and small challenges that you have faced, and that sometimes the most impactful learning experiences don't come from the events that we perceive to be the most significant.
        • Tip #1: if you choose to go with this prompt, be sure that you are addressing a challenge, setback, or failure that truly is one of those things. Writing about a time where you and your friend failed at the Cinnamon Challenge is probably something you should steer clear of! Getting an A- instead of an A+ on your physics test might feel like a failing grade to you, but be sure you are taking the time to consider how your situation comes off to others who are looking at you from the outside in.
        • Tip #2: It can be tempting with this prompt to dive into a reflection of a challenging time or situation that you have been in. Of course, you should address the challenge itself in your essay, but make sure that you are spending an adequate amount of space discussing the positives that came out of the situation, such as how the setback has made you stronger, more detail-oriented, etc.

        Prompt #3

        Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

        • This prompt asks you to get personal in addressing your beliefs and ideologies. These beliefs can be about serious topics (gay marriage, climate change) or slightly more lighthearted topics (you wanting to start up a club at your school that an advisor doesn't believe is worth starting).
        • Regardless of which route you go, this prompt is looking for insight into your morals and values, that you make your points with well-thought-out confidence, and for evidence that you stand up for your beliefs.
        • If you consider yourself to be a particularly persuasive person and passionate about standing by your beliefs, then this prompt can be a great way to showcase those through a real-life situation you have encountered.

        Prompt #4

        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?

        • This prompt is unique from the rest in that it asks you not to focus on what you have done for others, but what others have done for you, and how that action has impacted you. It is a great prompt because it challenges you to acknowledge gratitude.
        • To get started with this prompt, I suggest you brainstorm a handful of situations in which the actions, intentions, or words of another person have positively impacted your life. The person can be a family member, a friend, a stranger, a teacher, or even a public figure. The opportunities are endless.
        • Ultimately, you want to leverage whatever situation you choose to give the admissions committee more insight into yourself, your aspirations, your values, and the way you relate to others.
        • Questions to think about:
          • How do you express gratitude towards others?
          • Think about a time when someone has gifted you with something (could be a physical gift, or the gift of knowledge, advice, perspective, etc). How did receiving this "gift" make you feel?

        Prompt #5

        Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

        • The accomplishment, event, or realization that you choose can be positive or negative and of any size, as long as it has led you to grow as a person. Use this prompt to highlight qualities of your personality that can really only have a chance to shine through the essay.
        • Make sure that you dedicate a substantial amount of words to discussing the various impacts that the accomplishment, event, or realization has had on you and how it has made you feel - think hard and long on developing those insights!
        • Example: Maybe you started out volunteering with an organization that you originally felt disconnected from, and throughout your time there, you developed a newfound appreciation for X?

        Prompt #6

        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?

        • This prompt asks you to dive deep into showing the admissions committee how your brain works and how you like to challenge yourself with learning new things.
        • Whatever you choose to write about, try to approach it in a creative way. This is your time to shine in talking about something that is extremely unique to you, so keep that in mind when you go to write about it!
        • Your goal with this prompt is to successfully get your reader to become captivated in wanting to learn more about your topic, as well as learn more about you as a person.
        • Questions to think about:
          • What interests you?
          • How do you like to learn new information? (Through books, through people, through the internet, etc)
          • What does it look like when you "go down a rabbit hole"?

        Prompt #7

        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.

        • This prompt is truly all-encompassing and really allows you to go down whatever path you please. My suggestion with tackling this prompt, if you choose it, is to think long and hard about what you want the admissions committee to know about you, your character, and your overall potential, that they can't already infer from the rest of your application.
        • When brainstorming for this prompt, think about if you only had a few minutes to chat with a complete stranger. What you make sure to tell them about yourself? What could you simply not leave out of the conversation?
        • Generally, the great thing about prompt 7 is that, after you have gone through mini brainstorming sessions for prompts 1-6, if you don't feel like you can completely capture what you want to say in just one of those, you can move on over here!
        • A question to think about:
          • What makes you truly unique?

        Common Application Prompts: Wrapping Up

        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:

        Your Guide to Writing a Great Personal Statement

        Here's Your Guide to Writing a Great Personal Statement

        Ah, the good old personal statement essay. This essay, which colleges and universities often require for you to submit along with the rest of your application, is often considered a small but mighty contribution. 

        Unlike your SAT/ACT scores, GPA, and transcript, the college admissions essay is one of the few pieces of your application where you have the opportunity to tell your story, what makes you tick, and show why you will be a great fit on campus. When reading your essay, college admissions officers generally search to answer the following three questions:

        1. Who is this person? What are they like? 
        2. Will this person positively contribute to our campus? 
        3. Can this person get across their ideas in a succinct, put-together manner?

        Therefore, it is crucial to make sure that your essay checks off a few major boxes before you go and hit “submit”.

        The text What's your story? appearing behind torn brown paper

        Your personal statement should…

        1. Be an honest and accurate portrayal of yourself 

        While there is certainly never an appropriate time to bend the truth, this is even more so the case when writing your admissions essay. The whole point of the essay is that it is supposed to show admissions officers the “true you”. Officers are looking for proof that you possess the qualities of a strong and qualified applicant (think: empathy, perseverance, creativity, etc), so be sure that whatever story you tell highlights your strengths! 

        2. Have a concrete theme (though you don’t need to reinvent the wheel)

        One common misconception about the college admissions essay is that you need to write about a HUGE time or event that completely altered your life and the entire universe. This is far from the truth! While your topic or story does not have to be about something so big, it should be something that is personally important to you. Regardless of the topic you choose to write about, you should be writing with a clear theme and message in mind that wraps your story together. 

        3. Show, not tell 

        If you are writing about a certain summer job you had and how it impacted you, the one thing you should AVOID doing is plainly stating what you did and the impact it had. Be specific in telling your story, and explain the significance of the job through the details. Your goal should be to write as if you are allowing the reader to physically be in the room with you, witnessing what you went through in those moments. If you feel that this is an area you may need help with, your English teacher can likely provide some extra tips and tricks! 

        4. Be free of FLUFF 

        Because the essay is generally limited to 500 words, every single word counts! This means that you must be extremely careful to ensure that you are only including words and sentences that are relevant to telling your story. This is where it is important to differentiate between information that is crucial for the admissions officer to know (so that they can fully understand your story) and information that might be helpful to know but will not “make or break” the overall message. 

        5. Entice the reader from the very first sentence

        Although it depends on the size of the school and how many applications are received, it is safe to say that admissions officers read A LOT of essays (think: hundreds, or even thousands!). Because of the sheer volume of essays they receive, it is your job to differentiate yourself as much as possible through your style and story from the very first sentence! Starting your essay with something along the lines of “Once upon a time…” or “Five years ago, my life changed forever” is probably not going to make you stand out. Get creative with your introduction to get your readers hooked!

        6. Be free of cliches 

        This one goes along with the fact that admissions officers read so many essays each season. You want to avoid making your essay sound predictable, and you certainly don’t want your admissions officer to roll their eyes at a play on words you made that is corny or overused. Since you are trying to prove to your readers that you are going to bring a fresh and new perspective and ideas to campus, make this evident through your style.

        7. Be well planned, edited, and proofread

        Imagine you sit down one Saturday and decide to tackle your college admissions essay. You spend the next few days thinking about ideas, planning, writing a draft, and then you submit it. What is wrong with this picture? The answer is a lack of editing and proofreading before submission! You may spend a sufficient amount of time brainstorming and planning your essay, but that won’t matter in the end if you submit an essay full of spelling or grammar mistakes. Therefore, it is important to make yourself a checklist before you get writing so that you don’t forget to spend an ample amount of time planning, editing, and proofreading your essay before you submit it. 

        Now that we have covered the essentials of what your college admissions essay SHOULD include, let’s touch on a few important and common questions that students tend to ask

        Does my personal statement have to be exactly 500 words?

        The answer is, it depends! Some prompts might specify that your essay should be “at least” 500 words, while others may say something like “In 500 words, tell us a story about a time when…”. The general rule of thumb is that if the prompt says something like “at least” or “no more than” 500 words, be sure to adhere to those borders. However, if the prompt does not specify, then you should aim to be as close to 500 as possible, but don’t worry about hitting it exactly on the dot. 

        What kind of tone does my essay need to have?

        Students tend to get the idea that your personal statement essay must be the most professional-sounding and seriously written piece of work in their repertoire. This is not the case! While it should sound polished and it should definitely be edited and proofread, the tone of your essay can be whatever you feel like will get the message across the best. After all, you want admissions officers to hear your voice through your writing. 

        How unique does my topic have to be?

        While it would certainly be to your benefit to write about something that is unique to you, if nothing terribly unique comes to mind in your brainstorming, consider writing about a pivotal event or experience in your life, but doing so with a unique or uncommon approach. 

        In conclusion… 

        While the 500-word essay, or personal statement, may seem daunting, it certainly does not have to be if you save yourself an adequate amount of time to brainstorm, draft, write, edit and proofread before submitting. Ultimately, your essay should be 100% unique to you, and it should help admissions officers gain a better idea of what kind of person you are and what you bring to the table. Therefore, your essay should sound like it is written by YOU, and not by a robot or third source. Remember that while there is no “correct” structure, format, or tone that you must write your essay in, at the end of the day, it should tell a true and engaging story that shows your personality and who you are. Now that you have the tools and knowledge to write a killer 500-word essay, happy writing! 

        (Bonus resource: If you are looking for some inspiration to get your creative juices flowing, check out these 26 Outstanding College Essays!)

        If you liked this post, check out these other articles related to college:

        How to Get Involved in College

        10 Extracurricular Activities that Look Great on College Applications 

        Other Recommended Reading

        Want to Study in the US? Read this.

        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.

        Preparing to study in the US

        Start with some basic research

        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?)


        Look into the financial aspect

        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.


        Dive deeper into finances with this tool!

        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, onto the admissions process

        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:

        • Educational credentials: This is typically your secondary/high school diploma and transcripts, as well as any final national exams required in your country. Transcripts are certified copies of your educational record, courses, and grades. An original transcript or certified copy sent by your secondary/high school is generally required for each institution you apply to for admission, along with translations into English.
        • Standardized test scores: Scores may be required to assess your academic ability and English proficiency level.
        • Recommendation letters: The head or principal of your school, your school counselor, your personal tutor, teachers, coaches, or supervisors from professional experiences may write recommendation letters. Your recommenders must be able to write about your work and be able to assess your potential to do well pursuing a higher education degree. Be sure to choose someone who knows you well.
        • Essay/personal statement: This is your chance to write about your interests, long-term goals, and strengths – one of the most important aspects of your application.

        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!


        Now, you're ready to apply for your visa

        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.

        Last, but certainly not least...


        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.

        If you're not sure where to get started with applying for these types of scholarships, I recommend you start by heading over to my blog post on Scholarships for International Students.

        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!

        Other Recommended Reading

        Test-Optional Admissions: A Curated Report

        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.

        The critical role of SAT and ACT exams in the college admissions process

        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.

        Now, a worldwide pandemic brings complications with standardized testing 

        Making Friends in College During COVID

        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?

        A pivot to test-optional admissions policies 

        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. 

        IMAGE: Brendan Church
        IMAGE: Brendan Church

        Back up for a second...what is test-optional? 

        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.

        Is test-optional admissions forever, or just temporary?

        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.

        IMAGE: Ben Mullins
        IMAGE: Ben Mullins

        So, without test scores, what does the admissions process look like?

        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.

        IMAGE: Emily Morter

        But really, does test-optional actually mean test-optional?

        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 struggle to “undo” popular beliefs 

        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.”

        A deeper look into one of the highest enrolled universities in the country 

        IMAGE: Patrick Mansell
        IMAGE: Patrick Mansell

        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.

        Findings from recent test-optional studies point in favor of wiping out exams altogether

        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.


        Test-optional policies bring about an opportunity for major changes (and for the better)

        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."

        IMAGE: Shutterstock
        IMAGE: Shutterstock

        Wait a second, what about merit scholarships?

        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.

        At the end of the day...

        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)_/¯.


        Other Recommended Reading

        State-Based Aid

        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.