How to write more

In the name of public health, we all find ourselves in a situation now where, with the exception of a trip to the grocery store or a brief moment outside to go for a walk, we are inside our homes for the entire day. Parents are working from home and students are learning remotely, yet somehow we still find ourselves with an overwhelming amount of downtime. There are many ways we can use this time: read a book, watch a movie, clean the house, lounge on the couch, exercise, learn a new skill, spend time with your family, avoid your family, and so on. Some of it is productive and some of it is unproductive—as it should be, for we need not get caught in the trap of turning all our free time into “productive time” simply because we are now at home 24/7. However, if you do find yourself getting a bit antsy or with a burning desire to self-improve while faced with an abundance of free time, you may want to think about using this time to write. When else will you have the time to focus on writing that isn’t an essay for school, a practice standardized test, or a report of some sort? Rather than simply tell you to write, however, I’m going to tell you exactly what to do to maximize your enjoyment of writing and increase your skills as a writer.

Follow these steps in order:

  1. Free write

All writing begins with just that—writing! Don’t focus on how or what at this stage, just write something. Getting something down on the page is the most important step of writing. It doesn’t need to be perfect; in fact, it most likely won’t be. Don’t worry! At this stage, we are just focused on getting your thoughts onto the page.

Task: Free write for 10 minutes a day. In can be about anything and take any form.

  1. Read

No, this is not a mistake. To write you need to read; to write more you need to read more. It’s that simple. Writing and reading are intertwined, and their connection only becomes more apparent as you write more often, in more styles, and with more rigor.

Task: Increase the amount of time you read per day by 10 minutes. For example, if you read for 20 minutes a day, try reading for 30 minutes. If you don’t read at all, start at 20 minutes and build from there. Anything less than 20 minutes is great, too, but keep in mind that we need to read a decent amount to write a decent amount.

  1. Summarize

Being able to summarize information is one of the most important yet underappreciated skills in writing. A summary cuts down a large amount of information into its essential points. A good summary sacrifices detail but not substance. Even though it is one of the shortest and most challenging forms of writing, it is also one of the most useful.

Task: Write a summary of your daily reading in 2-3 sentences. If this seems too challenging, you may go up to 5 sentences. When you are comfortable with 5 sentences, pull it back to the prescribed 2-3.

  1. Respond

The reading response utilizes the skills you build while free writing but focuses your output. There is no “correct” way to respond to a reading, so, like the free write, your reading response can take many forms. Write in the first or third person, be formal or informal, offer an opinion, conduct an analysis—get creative! The only real requirement of a reading response is that you respond to the reading.

Task: Respond to your daily reading in one paragraph.

There you have it: free write, read, summarize, respond. To write more, all you need to do is those four things. And the more you do them, the more your writing will improve. You have the time, so if you’re interested in writing more, why not use it to write more?

What is a mentor?

Context: As the newest mentor on the BEEC team, I thought it was important to ask myself the question “what is a mentor?”

A common way to begin an essay is to provide the definition of a word from a reputable dictionary. I hate this way of beginning an essay, not because it is overused (although it is) but because it lacks creativity. Still, it has a use, and for the purpose of this essay, it is actually quite apposite. So here we go… According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a mentor is “a person who offers support and guidance to another; an experienced and trusted counselor or friend.”[1] My personal experience supports this definition of a mentor, but it also tells me that this definition is missing a crucial component. To the OED’s definition I would add that a mentor is an influence that changes one’s life. I have been lucky enough to have two mentors who meet this definition, and it is they who will demonstrate the extended meaning of mentor which I have articulated here.

The first mentor who changed my life was one of my undergraduate professors at UCLA. I enrolled in one of his courses because I was somewhat interested in the content, but I came out of it a with a thirst for knowledge that I had never felt before. It was not the material per se but rather the way this professor presented it: every idea, detail, and question challenged my assumptions about the world. More powerfully, his approach to thinking and knowledge in general, so enlightening as it was, toppled my own way of thinking and established a foundation of knowledge that I still hold today. And that was only after one course! After I expressed a strong interest in learning more, the professor took me under his wing. He gave me books to read, hired me as his assistant, and groomed me for graduate study. I read things differently, interpreted material creatively, and viewed the world critically. This mentor taught me the importance of inventiveness and imagination in thought, and in doing so, he taught me how to think.

As with my first mentor, I started working with my second mentor on a whim. I had been physically weak throughout my twenties, the time of life when most people are at their strongest. Fed up with my quality of life, I started working with a personal trainer. We started slow, but eventually the momentum picked up to the point where I was training five days a week. Not only did my trainer guide me through the technical aspects of the process, but he also motivated me to constantly work harder. Unexpectedly, as I trained more frequently and with more intention, I became a different person. Qualities I never possessed like discipline, determination, and perseverance became indispensable aspects of my character. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, though I imagine it was a mixture of both, my trainer had been developing these qualities in me day in and day out. They didn’t come easy and they are always being improved upon, but these qualities can’t be learned — they must be earned. This mentor, then, by constantly helping me redefine what I am capable of, taught me who I am.

Undoubtedly, both these mentors had an influence on my life that was so great it changed me on a fundamental level: one taught me the value of thought-work and one taught me the value of hard work. Both mentors gave me something I hadn’t possessed before, and in doing so, both caused paradigm shifts in my life. One way of thinking overtaken by another way of thinking, one way of living overtaken by another way of living — both entirely new experiences that supplanted an outdated precursor. My mentors offered me support and guidance, and my trust in their experience is undeniable; for this, they fit the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of mentor. By altering the course of my life, however, they have also demonstrated that mentor has an additional, and dare I say, more accurate meaning.

[1] “mentor, n.”. OED Online. December 2019. Oxford University Press. (accessed February 24, 2020).

The Effect of COVID-19 on College Admissions: Top 50 Universities

The spread of coronavirus has ushered society into uncharted territory. No one is untouched by this phenomenon, including colleges and universities nationwide. Each university is tackling this crisis in its own way, but there are some common responses among the top fifty universities.

At this time, all universities have cancelled on-campus events through April, and most have cancelled them outright. These events include tours, orientations, interviews, stay-ins, welcome events, etc. Some schools have moved orientations online, but this is still a rare approach.

Admissions offices are closed at every school, but communication is available through email and sometimes phone. Only a few schools have pages dedicated to answering admissions-related questions coming out of the crises, but all of them have pages dedicated to COVID-19 news/updates as they pertain to the university. Though helpful, these pages are meant for current members of each university community such as students, faculty, and staff, not so much for admitted or prospective students.

Generally, most long-term decisions haven’t yet been made among the universities.  This is not surprising given the uncertainty about how long the pandemic will disrupt the normal order of things. An optimistic perspective would have things return to how they were, but I’m not sure anyone can make this assumption yet, nor should they. Still, universities are taking the cautious route by pushing big decisions pack as much as possible.

One exception is Case Western Reserve University, which has decided to go “test optional” for the Fall 2020 application season. I wouldn’t be surprised if more schools went this route given the uncertainty about when standardized tests will be up and running again. An interesting case will be the University of California, which was scheduled to announce its decision on “test optional” admissions in May. Whether the decision still comes out then is unknown, but there is no doubt that current events will now affect the outcome.

Like all of us, schools are handling this crisis in their own ways on a day-by-day basis. Each school is making and will continue to make the choices that they think work best for their campus communities. The best advice I can give students and parents now is to pay attention to each school’s COVID-19 page for the most up-to-date information. Yes, this is may turn out to be a tedious task, but there is no single approach to the current situation.

A good resource to cut down research time is the NACAC College Admission Status Update: Coronavirus Update page. This page compiles information regarding schools and admissions, addressing things from whether the schools are still accepting visitors (they are not) to deadline adjustments to links with more information. Students and Parents should refer to this list if possible, as it summarizes the information they are most likely interested in knowing. Refer to the table below to find out if a top-50 school is in the database. If it isn’t, refer to the link provided if available. If a link is not available, contact the admissions office directly. Keep in mind that all schools are working remotely or with a limited staff.

Ultimately, the best advice I can give now is BE PATIENT. It’s still too early to know the long-term effects of the coronavirus on admissions and university functions. Universities know this, so their focus right now is addressing the needs of their current students. Other decisions will come in time. Still, universities have made it clear that, given the interruption to normal school functions, each student applying in Fall 2020 will be evaluated based on whatever circumstances they have encountered. That is to say, focus on doing well in whatever situation you find yourself. The schools will understand.


School Info Available on NACAC Explicit Info re: Admissions on Webpage Info
Princeton No No
Harvard No No
Columbia No No
Yale No No
Stanford No Yes
Chicago Yes
Penn Yes
Northwestern No No
Duke Yes
Hopkins No Yes
CalTech Yes
Dartmouth Yes
Brown Yes
Notre Dame Yes
Vanderbilt Yes
Cornell No No
Rice No Yes
Washington (St. Louis) Yes
Emory Yes
UC Berkeley Yes
Georgetown No Yes
Carnegie Mellon Yes
Michigan Yes
Wake Forest Yes
Virginia Yes
Georgia Tech Yes
Tufts No Yes
UNC Chapel Hill No Yes
Rochester No No
UC Santa Barbara Yes
Florida Yes
UC Irvine Yes
Boston College Yes
UC San Diego Yes
UC Davis No Yes
BU Yes
Brandeis Yes
Case Western Reserve No No Test-optional admissions for Fall 2021
William and Mary Yes
Northeastern Yes
Tulane Yes
Wisconsin-Madison No
Villanova Yes
Urbana Champaign No Yes
Texas-Austin Yes
Lehigh Yes

How to Read More

Reading is one of life’s great joys. It also happens to be one of the best ways to become a better student, a sophisticated writer, and a creative thinker. But with so school, homework, activities, and family obligations, how does one find the time to read? In addition to this question, you may also be asking yourself, “Don’t I read enough in school already? Why should I read even more? We’ll get to all of these questions, but let’s start with the second and third.

It is true that as a student you do quite a bit of reading in school. In addition to volume, the variety of reading content is much greater in school than most people would attempt on their own. This is because most students are required to take courses in several different subjects to satisfy graduation and college admissions requirements. The difficulty of the reading is also greater than most would attempt on their own because each grade or level of school is preparing you for another, more difficult level.

Importantly, however, the reading you do in school is incredibly focused: you read what other students read, and what you read is decided for you based on criteria dictated by the state or expected by colleges. Instead of helping you stand out, then, this type of reading makes you more like every other student, and no matter how hard you work, as long as you are working within the confines of your school reading list, you will never be able to develop a unique way of thinking. So, although you may read a lot as a student, if you are not reading on your own, you are not reading enough.

The solution is simple: read more. But how? The first step is choosing something to read that you will enjoy. Remember, our goal here is to get you to read more; if you’re already busy with schoolwork and other activities, the only way you will find the time and energy to read more is by choosing something that interests you. The options are endless—fiction, nonfiction, magazines, newspapers, blogposts—just make sure it is something you will look forward to reading. If you’re at a loss about what to read, consult best-sellers lists on Amazon and in The New York Times, or visit a local library or bookstore and browse the shelves.

After choosing something to read, the next step is making time to read. Yes, I said making time to read not finding time to read. You don’t need to read for an hour a day to reap the benefits of reading more—you just need to read more! An hour would be great, but if all you can spare is ten minutes a day, then read ten minutes a day. You can probably spare more than ten minutes, but if you are so busy that thinking about a timeframe longer than ten minutes stresses you out, budget for ten minutes and maintain that as a firm daily minimum. Then, over time, as your time management improves, you can add 5-10 minutes to that minimum weekly, biweekly, monthly—whatever works best for you. Who knows, you may even find yourself reading past the minimum on a regular basis!

In short, there are only two steps to reading more: choose something to read that you will enjoy and make the time to read it. It’s that simple. Before you know it, you will have accumulated a large amount of total reading time. This will bring improved reading comprehension, better writing, and in increased capacity for critical thinking. Reading will cease to be a burden on your free time and will instead become an activity you can actually enjoy.