The Missing Piece

September 29, 2009

The college application essay: telling your story

Here’s a funny look at one man’s approach to acing your college admission essay.


The college essay is a major challenge for students seeking admission.  Students find the writing process intimidating. 

So students write about their achievements instead of personal experiences.  Students write using huge vocabulary words and complex sentences.  Students focus on their accomplishments and personal experiences without answering the essay question.

College admission boards use college application essays to learn more about students.  So students must use the college application essay as their personalized introduction to college admission boards. 

My suggestion is to treat each college application essay as if you were on a n important date.  You know, you meet that special someone and you want to make a good impression.  With that analogy in mind:

Step 1: Find a story to tell. 
Students writing a college application essay must use this opportunity to introduce yourself to the college admission board.  You don’t want to waste the opportunity listing your every accomplishment.  Instead, you want to discuss your personal experiences.  You can find a story to tell by asking yourself the following questions:
                        What do you want people to know about you? 
                        What makes you unique? 
                        What challenges have you overcome?  

Step 2: Write in your own words.  
It sounds cliché but be yourself.  The college application essay is not a test of intellect. You don’t need  to use huge vocabulary words and complex sentence structures.  Instead, write about yourself the way you would talk to that special someone.
Step 3: Focus on the essay question and be concise. 
Students failing to answer an essay question hurt their chances for admission.  It’s easy to lose focus telling a story in your own words.  So remember the purpose of your story in relation to the essay question and be concise.   
For prospective students, writing a college essay is a challenge but it can be achieved.  My suggestions are to find a story to tell, write in your own words, focus on the essay question and be concise.

–Makeysha Durham


September 22, 2009

The Reality Check: a look at paying for college

Filed under: Global education, cross-culture, communication advice — chezalphabooks @ 2:17 pm
How many times have I heard a student insist they want to study in US, Canada or the UK and then state with great authority that they can afford to pay 6,000 dollars per year.  Here is an update. 
 Realistically, 6,000 dollars per year will barely cover the cost of housing not to mention tuition, books, clothes, transport, and student insurance.
When it comes to college at home or abroad, to keep moving forward, many of us must adjust our goals and select programs we can afford. 
[Photo: Know How 2Go Ohio]
Here are three ways to think about the reality of your school selection. 
First: Be willing to search for alternative study options even if that means staying in your own country.  Look around and see there are numerous successful people in your country. Ask them where did they study and you may find many of them did not go abroad. Perhaps they wanted to but could not afford it or their parents did not support the idea.  With an open mind, begin to look seriously at study options at home or in a neighboring country.  Take note, the streets of New York are filled with immigrant taxi drivers.  Ask them how they came to America and over 50 percent will tell you they came to study and ran out of money. Many did not have the money to fund four years of college when they arrived.
Second: Be creative in reviewing your options.  When money is the biggest issue a student must be willing to take different paths. If you visit China, Malaysia, Singapore, or Oman, for example, you will find good students from various African countries. However, students from Francophone countries tend to focus on the big three destinations: US, France or Canada.  These countries are excellent options if you can afford them!  But if you do not have the money then begin to get out there and find a good program you can afford elsewhere.  Believe me in 2009 with an emphasis on globalization there are excellent and affordable programs on all seven continents. 
Third: If someone is sponsoring your education be clear about how much they can afford to pay and if they are serious.  If your uncle says he will help with your college fees, he may be thinking he will contribute 2,000 dollars a year.   You may assume he will pay up to 10,000 dollars a year.   At this point, you have a serious communication breakdown.  Your parent or sponsor who says they are willing to help with your education must also be willing to provide various official documents such as bank statements and in some cases, a copy of their work contract. Make  sure you and your sponsor are able to provide bank-statement-proof of your income and financial status.
Students around the world diversify their educational dreams every day.  Some students realize after finishing secondary school they must work one year to raise more money for college.  Students who want to start immediately at a bigger more expensive university decide to begin at a two year college that is much less expensive.  Some students choose to study part time and work at the same time. 
However, as you work your way through that reality check, the important thing to remember is that even when a dream has been adjusted it can still be achieved.
–Angela Franklin

Navigate college websites like a pro

Filed under: Global education, cross-culture, communication advice — chezalphabooks @ 12:48 pm

A college website is a wonderful information tool. It is a map that can take you anywhere you want to go if you know how to read it.

Many students struggle to find needed information.  And they may not take enough time to view the website and understand how to navigate the website. Luckily, many college websites are fairly similar. 

Usually, there will be a tab called ABOUT US.  Here you can find the university history, mission and vision statements, and info about the Board of Directors. 

The ADMISSIONS tab, or PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS tab, will show you academic and admission requirements, including requirements for international students. You can also find the application form here. To apply, you can complete the application online or fill it out and mail it back later.  Most important, in the admissions section you can find tuition/fee information.

If you want to know what courses you can study there is a tab for ACADEMICS.  Here you can learn about bachelor and master degree programs available.  The academics section will often give detailed information about professors, and curriculum.  

STUDENT LIFE is where you can find information about student services, housing, cafeteria, and the library. 

If you have trouble finding  an answer, try typing that word into the search engine. Sending an email asking about a fact that is available on the website may send admisions the wrong message about your organization.    So take your time and really review the website. 

Admissions officers respond to hundreds of students a week.  Therefore, when you do need to communicate with the admissions office, ask specific well thought-out questions.   Organized information gathering and great questions will make a good impression.

—Angela Franklin

“Argument” is the magic of presentation

Filed under: Global education, cross-culture, communication advice — chezalphabooks @ 12:32 pm

One of my English students counts the day of his master’s thesis presentation as one of his harshest.  

My student had prepared his data for months. He had so much to share. But that day, he fell apart. He got nervous and tongue-tied. He just wanted to stop talking.

As he told this story, I sat and smiled. How many times have we all been in his shoes: wondering why suddenly, in the heat of a presentation, we’ve lost our way? 

Looking ahead, I went on a hunt to find the best verbal talks that rang with clarity, confidence, and vision.  

I landed at — a site full of lecture videos from the TED conference which gathers the world’s top ideas producers.  

Watching reminds us of the magic of presentations. Videos on this site transformed me on the spot.

Presentations can condense years of study into an instantaneous moment of awakening.  

Here are some tips I gathered from, for preparing your presentation.  

* Define your argument? What’s the compelling point of your talk? 

* Think phenomenally. Assuming your audience is as smart or smarter than you, in what ways can you innovate your ideas, your argument, your style? 

* Identify the great story that can ground your presentation of data and facts in human interest.  

* Be detailed and humorous. Be unafraid and challenging.  

* Ask questions and argue for bold solutions.  

* Win over you audience.

—Malena Amusa

September 18, 2009

When it comes to college, apply and diversify

Your deadlines are set. And you have decided which universities you want to apply to. Now, you sit down to fill out your numererous applications, for programs, for scholarships. This could take days, weeks…

But wait.

Here are five tips to keep in mind — to help you avoid common college application pitfalls.
1.    Presentation matters. An application should be typed or written with a superior pen preferably in black ink.   No application should be submitted with tomato stains or coffee mug rings. Nor should the application be sent by mail crunched and folded. A well prepared application submitted with the required documents will make a good presentation and will be noticed in the pile of wrinkled applications.

2.    Email addresses speak.  The address you share with all of your friends such as sweetpants@, thuglife4ever@, and yourthiof@ may not be the impression you want make.  Use an email that is professional for business.
3.    Passing grades vary.  Schools vary in terms of how difficult it is to get in and how selective they are. Although a 10 means you have passed the BAC it may not be enough to help you gain admission at each and every school of your choice.  You may end up competing against students who have completed their A levels, International Bac, Iranian Concurs, etc.  In this arena the passable on the BAC just may not be enough to gain your admission in the most competitive school of choice but it may help you gain admission somewhere else. This is where the expression “there’s something for everyone” comes into mind and you may need to find that something that is right for you.

4.    Get a plan A, B, and C.  Even if your dream is to study internationally you should have several plans for how to achieve this goal. Go ahead, apply to the school you have always dreamed of in Spain or the UK but also apply to a school in your home country. Have a backup plan. Therefore if you are refused admission to your school abroad (and students get refused everyday) you will still have a Plan B and when October comes around you will be in class.

5.    Scholarships are tricky.  Most schools will require students to complete a scholarship application and also write a personal essay. Writing in to detail about each and every personal and financial struggle you have may not always work to your advantage.  Most scholarships are not merely looking for poor students but bright, hardworking, articulate students who will benefit from additional support. The essay is a great opportunity to define your dreams and aspirations and tell how this scholarship will help you achieve your long term goals.  But begging in any instance or concluding your essay with a desperate plea such as “aidez moi, aidez moi, aidez moi” does not insure you will be considered for a scholarship.
The stages of college application are many, but you can excel at them all with great qualifications, application, and options.

—Angela Franklin

A successful interview requires self-discovery

After some hours of struggling to answer questions about his past work experience and life, one of my English students, an energy and economics expert, realized: “Ah, mastering an interview requires self-discovery.”

I couldn’t agree more.

 To talk convincingly about our experience, our visions, and talents, we must know deeply our journey: what we want and how we have pursued our dreams. We have to take that intimate walk into our own hearts, uncovering our best understanding.

Questions & Answers at dusk by Massimo Benenti.


So now, how do we decide which stories to share about our work? Well, first, let’s keep in mind that we don’t have to reveal everything about our lives. If we’re on a job interview,  talking about the boss we disliked or the major we canceled, might be distracting.

Rather, for any interview, wouldn’t it be more fun if we offered a sincere commercial of our best feats, capabilities, and intentions.

What would we say if we were introducing ourselves to Barack Obama?

When teaching my students writing and English, I often see them struggling to organize the data of their passion, even after they discover it.  We all have so many great stories and ideas inside of us.

So after discovery, the next challenge is to control the data in our conversations. And I believe, once we embrace the map of what we truly want and the compass of who we truly are, then interviews about our work and lives can be as vivid and pleasing as a walk on the beach.

—Malena Amusa

September 16, 2009

Hello world!

Filed under: Global education, cross-culture, communication advice — chezalphabooks @ 11:19 am

Welcome to “The Missing Piece” — the global education and career-advancing communication blog of Chez Alpha Books & English Language Services, based in Dakar, Senegal.

“We help you find the missing pieces to complete your global education!”

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