Two Minnetonka High School students have been selected to blog about their college application process for The New York Times.
Abigail “Abby” Hansen and Rachel Yang were chosen to the group of eight high school seniors in the U.S. to detail their college search for readers. Each student will write on the blog once or twice a month throughout the school year.
A blog is a personal journal, like a diary. But here, thousands of people can read it.
“The point is to put a human face on this world of college admissions,” said Phil Trout, MHS college counselor. “The challenges and emotions, the highs and the lows.”
When MHS was invited to submit names for the blog position, Trout asked teachers to nominate students.
“I nominated Abby because she is not only an excellent writer, but she is authentic and thoughtful,” said Maggie Shea, MHS writing center coordinator. “She balances sports, rigorous academics, volunteering and outside interests with grace and a great attitude.”
“Reading Rachel’s writing is just fun,” said English teacher Kelley Mosiman. “Rachel has a natural, engaging voice. I knew she would see this opportunity as the real thing, and yet be true to her talents and trust her instincts.”
Readers can monitor the girls’ entries online.
The site lists the colleges to which each blogger applied and is updated when they are admitted or declined. Readers can post comments.
“All the responses I’ve received are positive and encouraging,” said Hansen. “It is nice to hear from people who are having the same issues and trials as you are, and also to know that it may be helpful for other people to read about yours.”
“There's so much support in the comments,” agreed Yang. “I feel like I have this little support group.”
Hansen has applied to four colleges and has been accepted to three so far. They are all in the Midwest, but she has not decided where she will go. “I need to have that gut feeling that I can be happy and successful at the school I choose,” she said.
Yang has applied to five schools (with plans to apply to more) and has been accepted by two. Her first choice is Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and she is waiting for their response.
“We tell students 'Your task is to find the fit,’” said Trout. “That means finding a good match, considering things like the campus culture, student body size, and the mission of the institution.”
The girls are learning to balance the time-consuming college search with their busy schedules.
Hansen is captain of the girls swim team. She is an avid horseback rider who started at age 8 and now teaches riding lessons. “I don’t own a horse, but I still ask for one every birthday and Christmas,” she said.
Yang is a competitive figure skater, plays violin and tutors inner-city kids. She is also editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, Breezes.
Both girls volunteer as student writing coaches in the MHS writing center.
Some students feel that being involved in extracurricular activities boosts their admissions prospects.
“It looks good on applications, since it shows you as a well-rounded person,” said Hansen. “It keeps me sane too, so I don't drive myself crazy by focusing too much on school.”
“I think everything is a factor in admissions, especially in liberal arts,” Yang said. “It’s about the idea of a community and trying to find unique members of that community.”
Trout says the impact of extracurricular activities on admissions depends on each school and its selection formula.
The college application process has changed from twenty years ago.
“The internet has made it much easier for students to obtain information,” said Trout.
It also means much of the work is done digitally. “I applied online and set up an account so I could check the status of my application,” said Yang.
Another difference is that some schools have become more selective.
“My dad drew squiggly lines on his SAT, instead of actually taking the test, and was still able to go to University of Wisconsin-Madison,” said Hansen. “He's always amazed when we talk about friends not getting accepted to Madison.”
The pool of college applicants has also become more diverse.
On her blog, Yang refers to herself as “halvsie-Chinese.”
“My dad was born and raised in mainland China and my mom is Caucasian and grew up in Minneapolis,” she explained. “Occasionally my dad will cook something traditional, but we don't speak Chinese at home or celebrate Chinese holidays. We're actually pretty Scandinavian, I guess.”
Despite the lagging economy, Trout hasn’t seen a decrease in MHS students attending college.
“I have noticed more families having conversations about value,” said Trout. “They are assessing what they’re going to get for their investment. There is lots of interest in merit scholarships and financial aid.”
“Money is a big factor,” said Hansen, who plans to be a veterinarian. “Vet school will be very expensive, so I want my undergrad to be as cheap as possible. Graduating with exorbitant debt would not be ideal.”
Of the 729 seniors in the MHS class of 2012, Trout predicts that 93 percent of them will attend post-secondary institutions after graduation.
According to Trout, the average senior applies to four or five colleges. Most MHS students apply to both in-state and out-of-state schools.
“After the events of 9/11, there was a concern about how that would alter the college search experience,” Trout recalled. “We wondered whether students would be hesitant to go farther away from home. Ten years later, I can tell you that is not an issue.”
About half of the MHS class of 2011 attended college in a state other than Minnesota.
Looking back on their high school careers, the seniors offer some free advice to underclassmen.
“Make friends with your teachers, or at least treat them as fellow people,” said Hansen. “It makes class so much easier to be on good terms with your teacher.“
“Part of starting high school is being unsure of yourself,” said Yang. “In fact, part of ending high school is being unsure of yourself. I don't think uncertainty is bad; it's normal. Embrace your uncertainty.”
Yang discussed the uncertainty of the college search in her December 22 post. She wrote, “It’s a big decision that the Me of Today doesn’t feel qualified to make for the Me of The Future.”
And what will this Me of The Future look like?
Yang wants to be a journalist or writer. “It would be awesome to work for NPR or This American Life,” she said.
Hansen hopes to have a veterinary practice. “And finally, I’ll have my own horse,” she added.
Both girls are excited to head to college this fall, but admit that leaving home will be bittersweet.
“I will miss my family terribly,” said Hansen. “But I’m ready for a change.”
“I've shared a room with my sister, Laura, since we were really young,” said Yang. “It'll be weird to room with anyone else, and I'll miss her a lot.”