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4 Sites You Wish Were Around When You Were Applying To College

4 Sites You Wish Were Around When You Were Applying To College

Fzzzztt!  Sparks are flying out of my computer like it’s the 4th of July, and after a few seconds the plastic around the keyboard begins to transform into a molten soup of graphite-colored pudding.

I work with high school seniors and counselors. As my laptop spirals down into an epic – and literal – meltdown, I can’t help but wonder what this sort of catastrophe would have meant for the college applicants of the past (i.e. before the year 2000). It would have been horrendous. Fortunately, the advent of cloud-based apps solved that problem.

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But what about the basic challenges related to building a decent college list, finding essay requirements, finding scholarships, and preparing for standardized tests?

Those challenges have not gone unnoticed by the educational technology community, and thanks to the innovative work of a handful of enterprising organizations, the college application landscape is changing in spectacular, mind-blowing ways. So….without further ado, here are four college planning sites you wish were around when you were applying to college:

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1. Zoomita

This application essay management system is truly revolutionary. Zoomita’s arrival has made the hardest part of the college application process a lot more manageable- and its free.

  • What does it do? Students create a college list. Then Zoomita reveals all of the required, optional, “sometimes required”, and program-specific essays for that list. Zoomita is also a sweet document management system that organizes all essay drafts in chronological order.  The concept of a doc management system without files or folders is….awe-inspiring.
  • Why is this important? Essays are the most time-intensive, anxiety-provoking part of college apps. Zoomita cuts through all of that like a samurai sword through tissue paper.
  • Social? Students can invite anyone to review a draft, much like Google Docs. The Zoomita team is also building a crowdsourcing system with anti-plagiarism technology that will allow students to get their essay reviewed by anyone on the app.
  • Drawbacks? We really want to see the crowdsourcing stuff. Please build that already.

2. Raise.me

Microscholarships. The coolest…thing…ever. Even better, it’s free.

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  • What does it do? High school students automatically earn scholarship money for getting a good grade in a class, participating in an after-school activity, volunteering, etc. Raise.me essentially rewards students for things they are already doing, and helps incentivize students to keep up the good work. Brilliant.
  • Why is this important? The cost of college is a major roadblock for many students and families. This site lowers the price-tag for college, while incentivizing exactly the type of behavior that makes students more attractive as candidates, and helps them succeed in college. Whoever thought of this is a straight-up genius.
  • Social? Most of the app is organized around individual performance, but students can earn additional scholarship money by inviting other students to the platform.
  • Drawbacks? Hard to think of drawbacks, other than the fact that the scholarships are not actual cash in your pocket, but are deductions from the cost of attending college.

3. Khan Academy

This online course juggernaut has an entire section dedicated to standardized test prep, and another section dedicated to college admissions. There are tons of exercises and practice materials available here, free of charge.

  • What does it do? Students take classes, watch videos, and browse exercises to develop their test-taking and application-building skills.
  • Why is this important? College applications in the United States favor students with a higher socio-economic status. Khan Academy is helping to level the playing field.
  • Social? Each lesson includes a thread where students can ask questions, provide comments, vote on responses, etc.
  • Drawbacks? It’s pretty hard to complain about free, high quality test prep.

4.  Big Future (College Board)

The publisher of the SAT offers a suite of college matching, career exploration, and financial aid resources on its Big Future website, free of charge.

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  • What does it do? Students can search for schools by type, location, majors, test scores, and a variety of other factors. Students can then create their own college list from the search results. The site also includes videos and articles on a range of other application-related subjects.
  • Why is this important? Applying to college is really about finding the right match. With close to four thousand U.S. colleges to choose from, it is nearly impossible for students to find all of their potential matches without the help of college-matching apps like the one on Big Future.
  • Social? Not really.
  • Drawbacks? It would be nice if the financial aid information for each college broke down average tuition by income.

It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in the last 10 years. Who knows what the next 10 years holds? I can’t wait to see.

Featured photo credit: COD Newsroom via flickr.com

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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