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5 Common and Helpful Tips to Spruce Up Your College Application

5 Common and Helpful Tips to Spruce Up Your College Application

Every college career starts out with an application, and applying to college can be both exciting and scary as the applicant competes with others for a limited number of spots. The applicant will want their application to stand out from among the rest, which means that a lot of thought and effort must go into crafting it. While each school will have its own criteria for assessing applicants, it is still possible to improve an application so as to maximize the applicant’s chances of being chosen; factors like correctly timing the application and researching the institution can greatly affect an individual’s prospects. Below are a few bits of advice for successfully applying to a college.

1. Write an Excellent Application Essay

In other words, applicants should avoid writing the safe and generic essays that admissions officers see on a daily basis. They will need to be creative and original; most importantly, the applicant will need to reveal something about themselves that sets them apart from their competition. The admissions staff will want to know how the applicant thinks as well as how they handle certain situations. The application essay should be expressive of the individual’s own thought process and ideas, and it is best to have it proofread by an English teacher or someone with strong English language skills to eliminate any errors. Applicants should remember that the admissions officers want to know about them, their thoughts and ideas; any editorial alterations to the essay should be minimal. Applicants should note that admissions staff are experienced at ferreting out work written by others.

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2. Apply Early

Admissions departments at many schools report having to cope with a slew of applications on the deadline day, which makes it difficult for them to single any one student out from the rest. By sending in an application early, a student can separate themselves from the pack and signal that they are serious about attending the school.

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3. Avoid Ignoring Clearly-Stated Instructions

Admissions staff may take this as a sign that an individual is unprepared for the complexities of college life. Students often fill out online forms incorrectly because they have failed to thoroughly read instructions; this makes the work of reading their application more difficult. Other signs that a student is unable or unwilling to heed instructions come in the form of asking questions when the answers have already been given or are readily available on the school’s website. College life requires a certain amount of independence and self-guided learning, so applicants should read materials carefully and strive to find answers themselves before needlessly spamming a school’s admissions department.

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4. Use Letters of Recommendation Carefully

Applicants should ensure that the person referring them is capable of expressing their endorsement properly and has only positive things to say about them. Also, it is best to use a letter of recommendation only if its contents are different from those of the application essay. Applicants should note that the source of the letter is sometimes as important as its contents—a recommendation from a teacher in whose class the applicant has performed well is not quite as impressive as one from the teacher of a class that they struggled to pass. Just like the application essay, letters of recommendation should feel heartfelt and honest.

5. Avoid Being Disrespectful to Admissions Staff

While this may seem obvious, applying to colleges is more stressful for some than for others; not everyone is capable of managing that stress well. It is important that applicants avoid letting their emotions overcome common sense and derail their attempts to get into a school. They should always be well-mannered and courteous to admissions staff.

The most important thing to remember when applying to college is to always be honest and open. The goal is to find a college that is a good fit for the applicant, and this cannot be done if they are not candid and forthcoming.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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