Guest Post: The Importance of Saying Thank You

By Elizabeth George

As the school year winds down, it’s tempting to rush out on the last day of class without so much as a glance back at the teachers whose homework assignments have made you so eager for summer break. However, if you can curb your itch to sprint out of school long enough to hand them a thank you note, send a thoughtful email, or even just stay a few minutes to chat, expressing gratitude for the work your teachers have put into preparing you for college is well worth the effort.

When you take the time to thank your teachers, you open yourself to a relationship that goes beyond the cold exchange of their lessons for your attention. Gratitude is an easy place to find common ground, to make your instructors feel appreciated, and to warm them to you as a friend as well as a student. While an end-of-the-year thank you note may seem small and simple, it will make an important impression that teachers will recall when it comes time to write college recommendation letters. Expressing appreciation tells them that you’re not entitled and that you take an active interest in your education rather than a passive back seat. Saying thank you is an easy way to form close bonds with people who can help guide you long after you leave their classrooms, and the more open you are to forming genuine relationships, the more honest and enthusiastic advocates they can be for you in the future.

Seek out those instructors whose courses challenged you, whose passion for the subject ignited a love of learning in you, and whose personalities make them people you’d like to know outside the classroom. Talk to them about their paths, ask for advice, and listen intently. Your teachers will go to bat for you if they know your character and can write extensively about your interests and goals rather than simply reiterate your resume.

Saying thank you at the close of a school year, or even the end of a lesson, for that matter, isn’t just the polite thing; it’s the smart thing. Get to know the people whose opinions of you could sway the admissions committee at your dream school and whose support will get you through many more struggles ahead. I still reach out to my high school teachers, and it became evident in college that I wouldn’t have been there without the skills and encouragement they gave me. High school may only last four years, but the relationships you form with your educators can help you through a lifetime.


Guest Post: What I Wish I Had Known When I Applied to College

By Elizabeth George

With graduation nearing for college seniors, it’s a time of valuable reflection. If we could do it all over again, would we have applied elsewhere? Knowing all that we do now, what questions would we have asked before finalizing our college lists? A few Duke seniors share their advice.

"I think I had the impression that once I got into a top school school, it would be easy from then on out, that getting accepted would be the hardest part. I wish I’d had more realistic expectations of how difficult college classes would be-- pamphlets, websites, and tours don't reveal that. I also wish I had known how a college's housing situation impacts campus culture. When most people live on campus, academic and social life don’t really have separate spaces, and there isn’t much private time.” -Aitana, Biology

"I think I placed too much gravity on campus tours and first impressions of a place, and I wish I’d made more of an effort to ask people at the schools questions about their experiences and get more perspectives on a place than just my perception of it from the outside. I think I cared way too much about things like what dorm rooms looked like or if the dining hall was cool, and now I realize things like campus-wide events, social atmosphere, and collaboration vs. competition in class are so much more important, and it’s hard to get a feel for those things without reaching out to current students.” -Kelly, Neuroscience

"I wish I hadn't bought into name as much as I did-- I applied to a lot of schools based on their name and not based on what they had to offer.” -Graeme, Public Policy

"Try not to only talk with campus reps or anyone that the university is in some way encouraging to be their spokesperson. You want to know the reality of campus life, and to do that, you need insight from students who will tell you how it is without sugarcoating anything. If possible, exploit any connection you have to students at the university you want to attend so you can see the good, the bad, and the ugly in addition to the romanticized image the admissions office wants to send you— because, honestly, some days it’s exactly how they depict it, but it’s unrealistic to set your expectations on the picturesque image they use to sell the university.” -Kelsey, Computer Science 

"Don’t let a bad tour guide ruin your impression of a school that you previously liked." -Zach, Biomedical Engineering.

"How do the current students, what they talk about, and the energy they show align with the kind of person you want to be? You should choose the place where you feel you can be the best version of yourself, not where you think you’ll be developed into someone radically different.”-Uzoma, Mechanical Engineering

Four years wiser, these seniors know what homework they would have done in their college searches. The most important facets of student life are often things we overlook in the overwhelming college application process, but seeking and taking the advice of students who've been there can help.

Personally, I wish I had known how painful it would be to leave after four too-fleeting years. When I chose Duke, I had no concept of how important this community would become to me, how large and loving a family it would grow into, and how vital the support of those people would be in surviving the academic rigor. I love this place, and I'll miss it immensely. I advise students to apply to schools where such a feeling is the consensus among graduating seniors.




How I Spent my Summer Vacation...

Stressed about making the most of the summer? Don’t sweat it. These tips can guide you to experiences that will enrich your life and your college applications. The summer can be an excellent time to explore possible areas of interest (both as future academic majors or career paths), develop new skills, earn money, and even have fun while doing something meaningful. Here are a few suggestions for where to start:

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GUEST POST: Decisions, Decisions

by Elizabeth George, Grey Guidance

So you’re in! Colleges have made their decisions, and now it’s time to make yours. When you commit to a school, you’re not just choosing curriculum and housing—you’re deciding where you’ll make your home for the next four years. To ensure you’re making the best decision for yourself, consider these tips:

  1. Visit, if possible. Even if you’ve toured the school before, it helps to walk around campus and try to visualize yourself living there. If you can’t make the trip, look online for a virtual tour. 
  2. Write down the pros and cons for each school, giving extra weight to what’s most important to you. If you took notes on your visit, review them again to see what your initial take-aways were. Factors like size, campus culture, academic opportunities, Greek life, religious affiliation, and location could all influence whether or not a school is the right fit for you.
  3. If applicable, compare your financial aid packages. If you feel equally at home at two or three different schools, considering the adjusted costs of attendance might help sway your decision.
  4. Ask the right people for their input. It never hurts to have more information, so asking current students or alumni about their experiences can give you a real sense of what life would be like for you at their school. You’ll likely receive a lot of unsolicited advice from distant relatives or acquaintances about your college decision, but ultimately, heed your gut and the people closest to you.
  5. Commit. Once you’ve taken the time to weigh all of this together and made your decision, be confident in it. There is no need to second-guess yourself. Officially accept your admission, and focus on getting excited about this new stage of your life.

GUEST POST: 6 Tips for Writing a Strong Supplement Essay

by Elizabeth George, Grey Guidance

  1. Show you’ve done your homework. Schools want students who demonstrate a genuine interest in what their institution has to offer. What unique aspects of that college attract you? i.e.Opportunities in service are extremely important to me, and the variety of service-learning courses and Duke Engage programs the University offers assures me that I will be able to pursue that passion on both local and global levels. 
  2. Leave your resume out of it. Admissions officers already have your list of achievements and activities, so use the essay to show how you think and what kind of person you are. i.e. Instead of My team ended up winning the state championship, try It wasn't until they blew the whistle at the state championship that I realized how crucial my trust in my teammates was for our collective performance under pressure. 
  3. Be authentic. It will be obvious if your construction of yourself is too tailored to what you think the school is looking for. What truly makes this school a good fit for you? What (admissions-appropriate) experience are you most excited about? i.e. Wherever I make my home for the next four years, I want to build a strong sense of community. In Duke’s collaborative work spaces, its Cameron Crazie spirit, and its commitment to diversity, I can’t wait to find a family.
  4. Avoid clichés. This is a general rule for essay writing, but when your admissions officer is reading her hundredth supplement, it is especially important for your language to be original and free of trite phrasing.
  5. Be memorable. Eliciting emotion—making your audience laugh or cry—can help you stand out against the stack of students applying for the same spot.
  6. Write, read, and revise. When you draft your essay, write it all the way through, read it aloud, and revise until your voice comes through in a natural-sounding rhythm.