Preparing for College
Our family has met with several college counselors as my oldest will be finishing up 10th grade and entering her clutch junior year of high school. The higher education stakes continue to rise and a strong application is not built by happenstance.
Out of the gate, grades and standardized test scores will put boundaries on the application. There is not much you can do about this entering your junior year.
Next, the pillars of athletics, volunteer work and extracurricular activities build the story. Athletics are foundational for service academies and do not hurt any application. Volunteer work is often overlooked and could be working at soup kitchens, tutoring students or structured. Extracurriculars are the hardest to define and span the gamut of travel, youth organizations like scouting or armed forces auxiliary groups, music and the arts, school clubs and hobbies.
Finally the feared college essay is the intangible that can propel a meh application or raise a red flag for a strong application.
For between $5-$20K, you can hire someone to hold your hand through this process. An expert in the field has connections, historic evidence and suggestions that can change your student's life.
I see the attraction. My own upbringing was scattershot. I was raised in a middle class home. My father was an Industrial Engineer who valued education earning a BSME in India and a MS at North Carolina State. My mother raised us having never finished college. Her street smarts are unparalleled.
Flashing back, I did not struggle to get good grades in primary school. Grades were the only priority in our household. I did not have any chores, except for helping with yard work. I took an interest in cub scouts and then boy scouts. I played little league baseball as a 2nd grader and some church league basketball as a middle schooler. We traveled to India and around the country.
In high school, I continued to get good grades graduating with a 4.0 in 1989 (8th in my class of 606). Any volunteer work came from scouting. I ran Cross Country and Track in 10th, 11th and 12th grade (I got involved because a friend of mine was going to do Cross Country). I did a science project as a 9th grader (encouraged by my teacher). My extracurriculars included knowledge bowl, math bowl and membership in Mu Alpha Theta (math honor society) and the National Honor Society. I completed my Eagle Scout. Aside from some baby sitting jobs and science tutoring, I did not work in high school. The summer after 9th and 10th grade, I do not recall anything that stands out. In all likelihood, I rode my bicycle and we traveled. I did raise money and participate in (2) MS 150 bike rides. I took a Kaplan prep course the summer after 11th grade. I went to Philmont Scout camp the same summer? After 12th grade, I worked at McDonald's. I did not take advantage of the arts, Model UN or Boy's State.
In terms of adversity, I was in a car crash being a passenger is a single vehicle road departure that resulted in spinal injuries. I was in the hospital for a few weeks and then in a brace with limited activity for a several months during my junior year. The crash was caused by reckless driving that I did not do anything to discourage.
I applied to (8) engineering schools based on my academic strength in math and science. I selected the schools based on US News & World Report articles. I was rejected by Princeton, MIT, Stanford and the US Air Force Academy (Al Gore wrote my recommendation, but I was a medical DQ based on my health history). I was accepted by Duke, Georgia Tech, University of Illinois and Purdue. I remember really struggling with the MIT interview. They asked about reading and the last book I read for fun was a Ken Follett novel. I accepted a spot at Purdue having being offered a $1500 scholarship.
At Purdue, I did fine as a freshman, making a few friends, getting involved with the triathlon club and made good grades finishing that year with a 4.0 GPA. I did fraternity rush in my second semester and accepted a bid from Delta Sigma Phi. Being exposed to alcohol and to a much lesser extent drugs was an inflection point in the negative direction. I did have the opportunity to play intramural sports including basketball, flag football and softball. We did support the community through Habitat for Humanity and other charities. I otherwise did not take advantage of the opportunities at Purdue. I was in trouble with the law and my grades dipped to a low of 2.2 in my first semester junior year before rebounding from there forward. My Dad had a heart attack during my sophomore year. I started taking medical school pre-requisites after my sophomore year in a bid to apply to medical school. I worked in a microbiology lab as a lab assistant my senior year. The summers were hit and miss. After freshman year, I worked in restaurants. After sophomore year, I volunteered at the Med downtown, waited tables and adventured to California via bus to attend a series of Grateful Dead concerts with a high school friend. After junior year, I took biochemistry at Memphis State to fill out my pre-requisites. After senior year, I worked at St Jude Children's Research Hospital. I graduated with a 3.3 GPA in 1993 (top third of my class).
Failing to get into Medical School, I started a one year Master's at Northwestern University. My grades were solid, graduating with a 3.8 in 1994. I did some research on hip implants and then PCR assays. I had an opportunity to polish my speaking and presentation skills. I did not do any extracurricular activities.
I applied a second time and was accepted to Indiana University and East Tennessee State University. As unorganized as I was, I missed a paperwork deadline at ETSU and enrolled at Indiana. I went through the motions, but my drinking was in full force. I held it together enough to pass. After year one, I worked in a biology lab on campus helping research Swine Small Intestine as a surrogate tendon replacement. After year two, I dug in with both feet for the US Medical License Exam boards part I and managed to skate by. I was asked to leave during my third year getting in trouble with the law and failing to own up to my previously undisclosed criminal record. I left school in 1997.
I applied to University of Colorado to pursue an MBA starting in the fall of 2003. For three years, I worked full time and took night school graduating with a 4.0 GPA and the top 10% of my class in 2006. I did not participate in any extracurricular activities. Students did put together a team for the Entrepreneurial Challenge.
My undergraduate education was paid for by my parents. I took out loans for Northwestern and Indiana that my parent's and I paid back 50/50 over 8 years. My employer paid for University of Colorado.
Career kickoff. After leaving school I did odd jobs, until I fell into a career by happenstance. I went from a 21st Amendment Liquors, Red Lobster, Hauser Chemical, Feiger Health Research Center, temp agency to StorageTek. I applied for an assembly position at StorageTek and was offered a job that had just been opened as a Manufacturing Engineer. The line manager who interviewed me ended up having a long career in Human Resources. From there, I was poached to design engineering. After finishing my MBA, I got into Program Management. Since 2017, I have been bouncing as a Frac Field Engineer, ITS Transportation Engineer and now a Safety Transportation Program Manager. I still do not have a goal, but my story still positions me for future continued employment.
As an adult, I have done some volunteer work (most notably in 12 step programs, our elementary school, the HOA and the Arvada Triathlon Club), participated in community sports leagues (basketball, softball and flag football) and have had good professional performance reviews (in Technology, Oil & Gas, and Transportation). I have never managed others. My hobbies and interests have spanned coin collecting, rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing, tennis, endurance sports and most recently archery and CrossFit training and "coaching." As a family we have traveled, gone on adventures and supported one another though the vagaries of life including births, deaths, promotions and layoffs.
Although haphazard, my path has been looking at the story my life told and then using that hammer to find a nail. My career has been similar without an overarching goal or endpoint.
Alternatively, my wife knew what her nail looked like (wanting to pursue the law as an Air Force Officer). She then set out to build out the best hammer she could through being the valedictorian of her graduating class, participating in Girls State and sports, accepting an ROTC scholarship at Tulane, working as an RA at Tulane.
My younger sister, wanted success and has worked hard and reached for it. My baby sister wanted to be a doctor and crafted a story to get there.
My 15 year old is beginning to tell a story. My 14 year old is still surveying the landscape and is honest that she is still exploring.