The Missing Piece

November 10, 2009

Applying to college and time management: from myth to power

busy, time

When it comes to managing our time, and for special projects such as applying to college or advancing work goals, myths about time and productivity abound.

I love this quote by Thoreau because it encourages us to think about how we use our time, and to realize that not all work is productive work.

Here, I want to talk about some of the myths related to time management that I have studied as a business journalist, English facilitator in Dakar, and project coordinator.  

Myth 1. Working alone provides more focus.

Many of us isolate ourselves when we want to finish an urgent task — but in historic cases — when people are on deadline and are producing a very important project, they tend to work in groups. Think about newspapers, or the cooking of Korite dinner.  Why work alone on an essay or application when you can gain the input and support of a group of people? People inspire us, give us great ideas, and also monitor our execution of tasks. People are our allies and mentors. And they range from professional guides such as college admissions advisors at Chez Alpha, to everyday friends and family.

A good approach to working with others is to talk with your allies and discuss your need for their help. Gain the consent and interest of your allies,  and talk about times you’ll anticipate and engage certain activities.

Myth 2:  More information is better than less

Recently, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s stunning  book “Blink” about making decisions in quick splits of time, particularly using organized thought, intuition, and human feeling to make better choices. In one chapter, he studies doctors who have to diagnose heart conditions in the emergency room and learned that many of them in a Chicago ward, guess wrong, and send patients home who actually need intense immediate care. 

Gladwell found that these doctors don’t have a set method of diagnosing  heart patients. Rather, these doctors spend several hours running dozens of soft and hardcore tests — when really, to decide if a heart problem is urgently serious, a specialist can perform just three targeted tests and greatly approve the accuracy of their diagnosis.  In that Chicago hospital — administering three heart tests– and not a dozen systems of investigation, that is —  less-not-more — has saved many lives.

Likewise, we can create a method for making decisions regarding which college to attend,  and what jobs to join or create. That procedure can include just three things we’re looking for in a successful university or job. For college, that may be attending a school with an excellent writing program, notable faculty, and in a diverse city.  We can make stronger decisions by looking at the way things can meet our most essential goals.

And sometimes, decisions require a swift understanding of our feelings — and that’s all. So if you find yourself writing an admission essay or cover letter that does not excite you — it’s probably best to stop and re-consider why you don’t feel good about the project. When our heart is a guide, we tend to work faster, harder, and passionately toward a goal.


Next week, the Missing Piece will publish part 2 of this blog.

For now, I’d love to read from you. What myths about time management are you changing?

–Malena Amusa


October 27, 2009

Going to business school? What’s your start-up idea?

startup inc

Check out start-up success stories at Inc.

In an age of fast-growing start-up companies, it may be hard to convince a business school admission why you need a business school education to launch a company– if indeed that’s what you want to do.

You can start by discussing the merits of your business plan and how a degree will set off your start-up? But first let’s look back.

A start-up is a new and limited operating company under fast development. Unlike big corporations, start-ups tend to do what corporations can’t like provide better customized experiences for clients and reach intimately niched markets. A start-up can be as focused as managing a team of washers to do laundry for families in Dakar.

If you want to start a company from a fresh idea and with a small group of people? Then you want a start-up?

Now why do you need business school?

Perhaps you’re looking for a specialized network a business school can provide or the chance to learn a noteworthy skill in business school that can launch your start-up which needs intellectual support. It’s up to you to answer: how will business school push my great start-up idea?

Some experts say if you’re in business school — quickly decide if you’re a job-hunter or a business-starter. There’s a reason. If you want to start a company, it’s a good idea to start in college. The Business School Journal reports:

A business student is someone that goes to business school, takes courses, graduates and looks for a job. An entrepreneurial student is someone that starts their own business while still in business school.

Some people are natural entrepreneurs, even students. Numerous successful business powerhouses – such as Dell Computers, Microsoft, FedEx and Apple – got started in college. You don’t have to be a geek, but you do need some basic accounting, advertising, market research and business skills, and a specific salable skill (how you’ll earn your income). College is actually an ideal place to start a business because students tend to be bright-eyed, passionate and unjaded. As well, classmates tend not to mind other classmates promoting their business.

Having a few start-up ideas can expand your purpose in business school and enrich your experience, particularly by mastering how to design products, services and income.

–Malena Amusa

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 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

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