Prep Talk Blog > November 2008

There's already a long list of considerations when applying to college (location, size, diversity of the student body). But in a more environmentally conscious society, a new issue is becoming a bigger deciding factor.  I'm not talking about the availability of cable in dorms. What I'm referring to is a school's "green factor" or its commitment to sustainability.

Unless you've already saved the whales and written an application essay on it, this might not seem like a very important issue when choosing where to go. However, a school's green factor can have a big impact on your quality of life as a student there. Are you a vegetarian? Can you afford a car in college? Environmental awareness isn't just better for the earth, it's better for the students too! Going to a greener school can offer you special benefits such as:

  • A better classroom experience with cleaner air and more natural light
  • A healthier dining hall that offers organic or locally grown produce and more options for vegetarians
  • A comprehensive education on how the environment impacts your field or career of interest
  • Transportation alternatives, such as bikes and shuttles, that are cheaper and more convenient than driving
  • Opportunities to get involved in student campaigns, clubs, and jobs that promote campus sustainability
These are all factors that can significantly affect your standard of living. Not all universities offer these perks and initiatives, but college students everywhere are beginning to demand and expect more environmentally responsible policies at their schools. As applicants, you should too. To do your part to help the planet, you can:
  • Do research online using green college rankings, such as The College Sustainability Report Card, which reveal the universities with the best and worst practices.
  • Talk to your parents about why sustainability matters and how it affects your education.
  • Ask questions about sustainability policies when you're visiting campuses.
  • Once you're on campus, continue to promote environmental accountability and participate in student initiatives.

With the earth's diminishing resources, green is a school color every university can use.

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Now that you know how a greener campus can affect your quality of life, how can you find out which schools promote sustainability? Surprisingly enough, you can refer to "greenness" rankings. Here are a few resources you can turn to:

These rankings evaluate everything on campus from energy efficiency to recycling programs to building designs. The College Sustainability Report Card utilizes the complex methodology, which analyzes everything from dining hall waste to bike rental programs. The Report Card uses 43 indicators to "grade" each school and rank it against its peers.

Many schools top multiple lists including the University of New Hampshire, Carleton College, Middlebury College, University of Colorado, Oberlin College, and several Ivies. Sierra Club also calls out the five least eco-friendly schools: the College of William and Mary, George Washington University, Texas Tech University, Howard University, and Valdosta State University. If you or your parents would like to ensure your future on a sustainable campus, ask tour guides and representatives about initiatives, such as recycling programs and community gardens.

No longer are colleges and universities being held accountable only to academic standards. As major institutions, they are increasingly looked upon to implement practices that support not only their students' education, but also their health and future well-being. Soon, U.S. News and World Report, the biggest player in the college rankings game, might be weighing in too.

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When you’re exploring different college options, one main consideration you make is if you can get into the schools you’re applying for. It’s easy to forget that there is a second challenge: keeping up with your coursework once you are attending the school.

Two Challenges

Everyone probably wishes they could get into Ivy League schools like Harvard or Princeton. After all, they are incredibly prestigious, and degrees from those institutions would surely help you stand out in the working world. While it’s easy to daydream of getting into a very tough school, it’s also important to think about how you would perform once you are attending. It’s vital to remember that the more selective a school you attend, the more rigorous the academics will be, as they expect a lot from their students. The workload is much more challenging than at a less-selective school, so the hard part doesn’t always end once you receive your acceptance letter. The work will continue once you are there.

If you get into a school that you thought may be out of your reach, you need to do some self-assessment and decide if you are up to the challenge for four years of rigorous coursework that may or may not be at your level. Do you want to go somewhere where you will need to spend the majority of time studying, or would you rather go somewhere with less emphasis on academics? How strong of a student are you? How important are extracurricular activities to you? Will you be disappointed if you don’t have enough time to play sports or join clubs?

My Story

I was never a bad student, but I was never a perfect one, either. I got a fair mix of A’s and B’s in high school. However, I was extremely active in extracurricular activities; I was the vice president of orchestra, I was in a wonderful community service group, I ran track, I helped start an independent newspaper. I was creative and took all honors and AP classes, so I thought I would do well at Brown, an Ivy League school in Rhode Island that is known to have many smart but laid-back, artistic types. Despite its relaxed image, it is still a very tough school to get into.

I applied to Brown and I was asked to interview with a local alum. The interview went well, and my interviewee told me that if anyone got into Brown from my high school, she thought it would be me. Unfortunately, nobody from my high school was accepted – they just weren’t looking for our demographic that year.

At first I was devastated. I thought I would fit in so well there. But my mother said something that really made me think. She reminded me that if I had gotten into Brown, it would have been a constant struggle to stay on top of the academics. It is an Ivy League school and the course work is demanding. Because I was never a stellar student, if I were to go there, I would most likely have to work extra hard to do well and pass my classes.

While it was a slight blow to my ego, I realized she was right. I would probably have to work so hard to stay afloat that I wouldn’t get to enjoy other aspects of college as much. I began to understand that I needed to find a school that was still well respected but wasn’t as academically rigorous. I did find a school that was perfect for me – the University of Texas, which is becoming more prestigious each year. Most of the classes were challenging and stimulating enough for my intellectual needs, but it was on par with my academic abilities, so I was able to keep up and maintain a good GPA. I still had enough time to enjoy other activities and wasn’t always stressed about academics like I would have been had I gone to a much more challenging school.

If You Get In, Give it a Shot

Let’s say that your dream is to go to Stanford, but you’re not sure if you’re Ivy League material. Here’s a good planning strategy: Apply to a few schools you’re sure you can get into – perhaps University of California at Irvine or Santa Barbara. Then apply to a few that you are likely to get into – perhaps Berkeley or University of Southern California. Then, apply to Stanford in case you do get in. If you don’t, you will still have other great schools to fall back on.

Now let’s say you are accepted to Stanford, but you’re concerned it will be too challenging. First, don’t decline the offer if you think it is something you will regret. Why? Because you can always transfer to another school if you aren’t happy there. If you made it into a school as well respected as Stanford, many other colleges will be happy to have you. So, if you do get into that stretch school and it’s your dream to go there, go there and give it your very best shot. You might surprise yourself and flourish there.

But if you realize that it is too much work to stay afloat, you can consider transferring to a school that still has a great reputation, but will not cause as much stress and will give you more time to pursue interests outside of academics. Sometimes it takes time to find a school that meets all your needs, and there is nothing wrong with that.

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Sure, there are college scholarships offered for star football players and academic champions, but did you know you can get money for college for a huge variety of other factors, including your height?

Tall Clubs International, a social organization for people who are taller than usual, offers a college scholarship every year. At its annual convention, the group gives out a scholarship of up to $1,000. While this may not sound significant, remember that every little bit helps – you can always apply for multiple scholarships and combine the money.

How tall must you be to qualify? Women must be at least 5’10” and men must be at least 6’2”. Sorry, shorties; this isn’t the scholarship for you.

If you fit the height requirement and are interested in getting the money, you first need to find the Tall Club International chapter closest to you (it must be within 100 miles of where you live). There are 54 active clubs throughout the United States and Canada. Click here to search for the nearest club.

Once you’ve found the closest TCI chapter, send them an email at the listed address and ask about their student scholarship program. They may then appoint you as their candidate for the scholarship, and put you in the running for the overall organization’s scholarship. If you do not follow these steps, you will not be able to qualify.  The winner will be announced at the yearly convention.

If you are afraid you won’t qualify for a typical college scholarship, don’t worry; there are plenty of unique scholarships available! If you’ve never thought your height would get you anywhere, you could be wrong -- your college education costs may be trimmed down simply because you’re a few inches taller than your peers!

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Ever wish expressing interest in a school were as easy as poking someone on Facebook? Well, thanks to Zinch, now you’re one step closer.

The social network wants colleges to know that you’re “more than a test score”. Each user creates a resume-like profile that features facts like their extracurricular interests and long-term plans. Creative users can also upload music or videos, creating an online portfolio of sorts. These profiles are made available to admissions officers, who are supposed to use them to get a fuller picture of each applicant. Colleges also have pages on the site and students can express their interest by leaving a message on their wall.

Zinch is hugely popular, but the website lacks some crucial resources. On Zinch, you can talk to your “dweebs” (friends) or “shout out” to schools, but there’s not a lot of advice about how to choose the right college or prepare your application. There’s also the question of how seriously admissions officers take the student profiles. Anyone who wants to get admitted will have to apply through the regular, formal process and though Zinch can help you find out about a cool school you haven’t heard of before, it’s unlikely that your Zinch page will be getting you in.

One thing’s for sure: the site is fun and its social networking format is familiar to high school users. Just don’t take it too seriously, and definitely leave groups like “That’s What Your Mom Said” to Facebook.

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Do you think it's fair if college admissions professionals "google" you or look at your Facebook profile during the admissions process?
Yes. If it's out there, it's fair game.
No. If it's not part of my official application package, it shouldn't be considered.
I don't know.
The poll is closed.


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Don Munce