Posts Tagged mentor

Flash Cards!

joseph-85Big Surprise: Finals time was stressful.  Couple that with the other assignments that have been looming at the end of the syllabus and everyone can tell you the time is overwhelming.  For a while though I thought I had it beat.  Every semester I get better at finishing assignments earlier.  This semester I was doing very well, albeit not talking to many people, and sitting in exhaustion at the circulation desk at my library job about to fall asleep.

I had thought long and hard about the phrase “Idle hands make sin;” about how in high school I had 7 classes and a great deal of other activities to engage in and I seemed to have so much more time.   I did recognize that at my high school there was almost no homework (and by oxy standards no homework at all.)  At oxy though, I serve on a couple committees, work, and volunteer with a few clubs.  Compared to high school I’m not doing anything, and I have very little free time to be spontaneous.  So I signed up for a fifth class hoping that my self-regulating academic capabilities could help me through.

They did, but since I can’t focus on work for more than 45 minutes to an hour without some irresistible compulsion to move or walk around, I ended up staying in the library until 5 in the morning quite often.  But my studying this semester was revolutionized, especially for Econ and German. I was saved by some advice from my German instructor. Two words: Flash Cards!   For just about forever I’ve been stubborn about flash cards.  When I was a reading mentor for younger students years ago, I was supposed to use flash cards to help the kids.  The kids never responded positively to them and I had grown a sort of dread and hatred myself towards what appeared to useless little pieces of paper that taunted the poor children who didn’t have parents that taught them to read when they were younger.  Reading books with them I always thought was much more effective.  Also flash cards just mean memorization, and I’ve never been good at that or found it particularly useful.

Anyway, don’t let biases keep you from doing something that can help you.  For me, it was the simple act of writing the information down onto the flash cards that I found so helpful.  It ended up making this an A- semester and made Christmas break all the more sweeter, until I got this flu that has lasted literally a week.  I should write a post about how much I get sick.  Thankfully, I’ve got this over the break, because it would have been a disaster during the school year.

Big Bro

duylam-85I must say from the get-go I never really had a “mentor” or someone who helped me along the college process, at least not in the strictest sense. And this is true for many first generation students. We just don’t have anyone who takes our hands and shows us the ins and outs of looking for colleges or helps us fill out financial aid or any of that.

CollegeConfidential was my guiding light as far as the whole process goes. Everybody has a different story, but please listen to this one piece of advice: do not not ask for help. When I was beginning my search I just told my mom “Yeah, yeah, I got this, don’t worry. I got everything down.” Well sure I thought I had everything down, but now that I’m in college I’ve talked to more admission officers and financial service officers, and I regret not asking for help.

Yes, I know you have no questions, everything seems pretty straight forward. Red buzzer. Did you know you could go back and appeal for larger financial aid package? If you get into multiple schools, and the one you reaaaaaaaaallllllllyyyy want to get into does not offer the package you can afford, you should try appealing for a larger package.

That’s just one thing you learn once you start talking to people who have been through the college process before. And you know what? I know you don’t have questions, but maybe you should talk to someone anyways. Just ask: hey so what was applying for college like for you? Or my friends’ and my personal favorite, what goodies do you got in that college bag? Hah we don’t really talk like that.

The point being is that you should just get a feel for what has been done, what has succeeded in getting more aid, acceptance, etc, and what has not succeeded. If you’re stuck in an area where not a lot of people have gone to college, you should just go up to your guidance counselor, and ask them about their experience. That’s what I did, and I really love my high school counselor. She was the one who told me about CSO in the first place.

As I’ve said, I never had anyone really tell me what to do or how to do anything as far as college. This is good and bad. Good because I have had the freedom to do what I want and there is nothing like staying up until 1am looking at colleges with your buddies. Bad because I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing.

*** I just got a text from my good friend, David Ngo. He has midterms right now and his text couldn’t have been any better for right now. “Gotta dig deep and find the source of strength and see [life] from a bigger perspective.” What’s the bigger perspective for you?

What I mean is what is the reason you’re doing what you are doing? Why go to college? For a better future? Yes that is the answer, but why do you want the better future? Simon Sinek asked me the same thing and it is something worth asking yourself…

Whatever the reason, there is, as I have come to find out, a person or people behind the reason. My mom was the biggest factor in me coming to college. Her story is a bit too intimate for me to share so publicly, but I’ll talk about the theme that is universal to most, if not all, first generation students.

The weight that is put on your shoulders is a weight that many first generation students feel. I dare not call it a burden, but rather a 1000 ton brick on your back. And that is why we do what we do. Because we love our families, because they expect so much from us,  because we expect so much from ourselves, as the forerunners for wealth in the future generations,  this is what fuels our passion.

I may be generalizing way too much, forgive me if I am. I may sound corny, but this is coming right from my soul [this sounds pretty corny looking back]. If you have more reasons as to why you strive so hard or have someone special who has motivated you feel free to put it down in digital form!


seanna-85While I hope no one followed my example, my actual college application process was hectic.  I had everything in order theoretically…great grades…pretty test scores…more extracurricular and community service hours than I could list…I was in tip-top shape—ready for anything!  My I’s were dotted, and my T’s were crossed.  Only one more thing to do.  Apply.  As you’re reading this, you might be thinking that this was me around mid-November, early December at the latest.

Well…you’re wrong.  This was me on December 26th.  Regular decision deadlines for most schools in the country were January 1st.  Did I mention that my application process was hectic?  For four days, I thoroughly researched the 25-ish schools on my list and started finalizing details.  A mentor had to sit me down and say, “Pick 10 from this list, and send in the materials—you have to make your decisions…NOW!”  Obviously, I did make the decisions, and I did post-mark my apps by the deadline…however, it was still unnecessary stress that could have been avoided had I stopped procrastinating on FINALLY choosing my top schools.  By now your applications are in, so let’s discuss what I felt like afterwards.

Three words: relieved, anxious, and tired.

I was relieved that the formal process was done.  Now, all I could do was wait for the colleges to decide if I was a prospectively good fit for their school environment.  I’d passed the tests, made the grades, gave back to the community… now I could breathe a little.


Now that I’ve given that piece of advice, back to my second feeling.  I felt anxious about getting the responses in the mail.  I liked something (or many things) about each school, and non-acceptance letters would feel like a personal rejection of me.  I was worried that I could have done better on the essays, and perhaps I didn’t “sell myself” correctly.

Tired because I’d been striving for perfection for six months…in and out of class.  Senior year can seem like a whirlwind of activities…I’d be lost in the next set of things to do without realizing that I’d finished the last ones.  Hopefully, your year hasn’t been like that too much.  However, I was tired, and I still had to find energy and enthusiasm to finish out the school year.

So, after waiting for a few months, I started receiving the college decisions in the mail.  My first acceptance letter was amazing…I can’t quite describe the feeling.  I was wanted…on a 4-year college campus.  For someone from a family who doesn’t pump out college graduates, this was something new…a goal apart from everything else I’d worked for.  All of the work…the stress…the time management…the effort…the tears and the struggling…it was all worth it.

So hat’s off to you for completing the applications.  Now…sit back…relax…you’ve got amazing things coming your way!

Video blogging with Seanna

seanna-85Hey Everyone! I’m back at Pomona for my second semester. CSO’s Executive Director Matt Rubinoff stopped by campus to visit and pulled out his Flip Video. Here I reflect on my experience so far at Pomona and offer some advice for current high school students on choosing the best college for you.

College on a Dollar-Menu Budget



My senior chemistry teacher belabored the fact that graduate and medical schools will look at grades in Organic Chemistry to weed out the strong from the weak.  She told us that OrgChem isn’t grotesquely hard, but instead, it highlights your ability (or lack of ability) to memorize and compartmentalize gigantic chunks of information into a comprehensive learning style.

In my mind, Organic Chemistry and graduate school admission is analogous to the FAFSA and undergraduate admission.  Separates the strong from the weak.  So you’ve chosen the schools you want to apply to, written the essays, gained acceptance, and narrowed it down…now it’s time to TALK MONEY.  And contrary to what the financial college pamphlets may lead you to believe from the smiling faces on happy high school students, this time can be just as stressful, if not more, than the actual admissions process.  Just depends on several factors.

A. Parental and Mentor Knowledge of FAFSA process

B. Your access to parental and mentor knowledge of FAFSA process

C. Parental Aptitude at Organizing Past Financial Records from Tax Season


D.   College’s Level of Helpfulness in Providing Financial Support

*Private or State public school?  Large or small endowment?  Need-blind admission?    No-Loan Policy?

E.    High school’s Knowledge of College Financial Process

F.    Personal Knowledge of College Financial Process

So, if you are lucky enough to have parents that have conquered this process a few times before and have great organizational skills (know where last year’s W-2 forms are at)…you’re on the right track.  If your high school has a great counselor program that is actively in touch and “in-the-know” about the financial aid process, you’re zipping right along.  And finally, if your college is miraculously helpful and easy to reach during this money-crazed period, you are IN THE END ZONE! BINGO! WAY TO GO!

But…in the off-chance that your parents aren’t exactly sure of what they’re doing, or perhaps…know next to nothing…

And your high school counselor vaguely knows the process…

And your college can only be reached during the hours that you are attending class…and do not return calls after many urgent voicemails, and cannot be contacted by email, Skype, Facebook, or text…

Then you are closer to my experience of FAFSA and the financial aid process.  I still get goose bumps thinking about some of it.  Personally, my family didn’t know that much…my high school counselors knew mainly about in-state assistance, and a few of my schools seemed impossible to get in contact with.  I sat down with my mom one night, and three hours later, we’d battled through FAFSA.  I still had to make three corrections later on, in fear that the IRS or some similar tax-service would consider my accidental errors an attempt to harbor money from the country.  However, after the FAFSA, it was time to sit around and wait until I received initial offers.

This next statement is not an attempt to sell my school…just an acknowledgment of the truth.  Pomona was AMAZINGLY helpful with financial assistance.  I was able to reach them during office hours (2-hour time change might have made a difference), and often, they knew what I was referring to before I did.  After receiving the first offer, I was able to repeal the amount after explaining that my family’s situation was not correctly represented on the FAFSA.  Cutting to the end of the story, I accepted an amount that alleviated all stress from my family’s end, allowing me to attend a school that would have been completely out of my league.

For high school students, I’d recommend that you talk to high school counselors and do your best to get in touch with the financial aid counselors at your top colleges.  Sit down with your parents in plenty of time to complete the FAFSA, and try to have all of the necessary materials beforehand.  Keep financial aid a top priority until after you receive an offer that works for you.  Try not to get discouraged…and keep your goals in mind.

It’s one of those—“Keep your eye on the prize”—sort of things.  It’s easy to get caught up in the stress and frustration of finding the money you need…but at the end of swimming upstream in search of it, you’ll find that it was well worth it!

Asking for help

khadijah-85I’ve been back in Los Angeles for break, and Matt Rubinoff, CSO’s Executive Director, visited me this weekend. Of course he brought his Flip Video. Here’s some advice on asking for help and finding a mentor to help you get to college.

Do you feel like time is running out?

joseph-85That’s how I felt last year at this time. The leaves were falling off the trees, the air had a bite, and the sun was setting earlier.  The election season was over, and I had spent the last few months putting off thinking about college in favor of work and the campaign.  Fall had come, and it didn’t wait for me.  I had done most of what was expected so far thanks to the guidance from a caring teacher, but I hadn’t even begun to consider what schools to apply to. In fact, all I had really done was take the ACT with writing.  The deadlines were coming though, and I had made sure in advance I hadn’t missed any.

An important conversation that I had with one of my mentors earlier that year left me with an interest in Liberal Arts colleges.  After leafing through a book with overviews of schools throughout the country in the days following the election though, I had a good idea of what institutions interested me.  This is a practice I highly recommend to all of the high-schoolers out there.  In fact, it was the Insider’s Guide to Colleges that first informed me of Occidental College’s existence.  That Oxy wasn’t even on my radar before is important because it shows the importance of broadening the scope of your horizons.

When applying to schools, listen to others but also think for yourself.  What you want is important, and it is your education on the line here.  Many high school students aren’t getting fantastic advice in their schools.  In my case, I was lucky to have it from one teacher and a whole host of mentors outside of my school.  If you feel the same way, I would recommend looking around the other regions of your life for advice.  The internet is a tremendous resource as well, but I recommend using your informed instincts there as anywhere else. Just don’t be afraid of rejection.

Finally, the last bit of advice I have is this: Get your applications done in plenty of time so you can make sure it is done correctly.  I can’t stress this enough.  All the mysterious people you are sending your application to will see are the words in front of them. Make sure that it’s you that they can see, and take the time to be certain. You won’t regret it.