Monday, August 8, 2011

A General Degree

I felt so strongly about this post that I just had to share:

It's so true (the 'don't jump into a specific degree' part, not the part about gap years - that's another issue in itself). And also why I like the American system. It gives you time to explore your interests, your options. It gives you the chance to get to know yourself better. Too often I hear stories about friends/family being pushed into pursuing a degree for the namesake, or because it sounds good and that's what you do.

Many people have slammed the new Melbourne Model (which is loosely based on both the American and European models). They say it's too general, pointless, a waste of time and money. But I disagree. Of course if you know exactly what you want to do in life you should go ahead and dive right into it, you should completely disregard what I am saying. But at 17, 18, and 19, a lot of us don't. We don't know what's available to us in the job market. We are still discovering ourselves, we are still heavily influenced by our parents beliefs.

I was talking to a friend when we realized that at least 50% of our group of friends from high school were studying either dentistry, medicine or pharmacy. It's the Asian epidemic. If you want to be rich, successful, become a doctor. If you're smart, become a doctor. Your parents proudly boast at family dinners: 'She's doing medicine.' It's drilled into our heads that our life is set if we're in any one of these fields. So how do we know that the choice is ours, that this line we're going down is what we want, not what our parents want for us? How can we know that this is what will make us happy?

I'm not saying that all med students have been coerced by their parents, but I'm sure a large number of them have been influenced by that belief. Why do you want to do medicine? Why do you want to be an engineer? Because my parents said I should? What do you really want to do in life? 

Anyway, I'm drifting here, back to the topic at hand.

So is this a waste of money? A sort of mandatory post-grad degree? An extra few years before I can come out, work, and repay my student debt. Yea, I suppose when you put it that way it is. Then again, if you charge headfirst into it, realize 2 years later it's not what you want, and change your course enough, you'll probably spend a similar amount. I heard of a friend who did 4 years of medicine then decided it's not what he wanted and went back to square one doing something else. I applaud his courage.

Education should not be about status or wealth. It should be about learning for the sake of learning; growing as a person, an individual. Your work, your job, should not be about status or wealth. It should be about constantly challenging yourself, doing something you love, something you want to.

You say it's too idealistic, that we do what we must to survive. But in the end extrinsic rewards will never satisfy us as much as intrinsic rewards do. And you will find that you put more effort into something you like and enjoy rather than something that you find less appealing. At least I do anyway.

Will you turn pro Amanda? 
--I doubt it, I'm not good enough. 

So why play then? Why practice so hard? Why spend so much time and money on it? 
--Because I like it. Because it challenges me, it excites me. I love the sense of satisfaction when I come in with a good score, or the thrill of sinking a long putt. I don't care if I make it a career, I just want to get better.

It's that drive that gives me purpose and makes me happy.

So after all that rambling, what are you getting at Amanda? 

I guess, my point is don't rush into this decision. Explore your options, don't limit yourself. Talk about it, read about it, ask your parents, your counselor/adviser/teachers, make it something YOU want to do. Find something that drives YOU.

Parents shouldn't pressure their children to do what they want them to do in life. You guide and open doors for us, but you shouldn't make our choices for us. We should be given the chance to explore our options and our interests before we commit to a decision that will decide our future.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Amanda’s Unofficial Guide for Potential Student-Athletes

Disclaimer: This post in no way guarantees admission/acceptance to a university. It should not be taken as an official guide/way of going about the recruitment process (so don’t follow my advice to the letter, use your own good sense as well); it is just my way of opening up another door of opportunity for a talented bunch of people. Good luck!

I believe not enough people know just how great the opportunities are for student athletes in the US. Varsity sports open a whole new door for international students to explore the American College experience. You get the opportunity to go to great schools with funding, have amazing experiences, and do what you love.

For those of you who know nothing about it and randomly stumbled across this post but think ‘hey, that sounds interesting!’ I encourage you to first go online and find out more. Go do your research – ask questions, google, read! Then once you have an idea of what you’re in for, come back and read on.

This post targets international student-athletes who want to give US varsity sports a shot but don’t quite know where to start. I must warn you that it is a long and tedious process, but well worth the effort. I myself am a golfer, and having just been accepted to an Ivy League school, I thought I’d give you a run through of how I did it.

I am a golfer, so this post will reference golf a lot, but in general I would expect the system to be similar for most sports. I am basing most of this on my own experience so it is very likely that you will choose to do something differently, or something may happen in a different manner. The process of recruiting in Ivy league schools is also quite different from other schools (see link, and this one), and I chose schools based on academics rather than their sports program as well, so that may be different for you too.

There is no ‘correct way’ to do this, but the ultimate goal is the same. I tried to make this as general as possible, so just pick and choose information relevant to you, and I hope this helps you get there.


1. Compile a Sports CV/Resume
Ever since I can remember, playing collegiate golf has been my ultimate goal. So first thing’s first, keep a record of all the competitions/tournaments you’ve taken part in. Note the dates, results, but also field size, and if possible, newspaper clippings/website articles/link to results page. For golfers try and note also the Course Rating and length of the course – it gives coaches a better idea of the standard of competition.

Include a page with some biodata/background info about yourself. Contact details, academic background, a photo of yourself, other extracurricular activities (Music? Volunteer work? School captain?  Student Rep Counsel? you get the idea). Other activities you do are just as important as your sport, so don’t neglect the other aspects of your life. I am an 8th grade pianist and was editor of a school-based newsletter.

2. Compile School Records/transcripts
Scan your school transcripts from Years 9-12 (ie. Form 3-5) and save a copy on the computer. Coaches will ask for these for academic pre-reads later on so it’s best to keep them all together and neatly compiled.

3. Short list your college choices – where do you want to go?
Once you’re in about form 4/Year 10-11, start narrowing down college choices. Start thinking seriously about where you’d like to go.

Firstly, you should know that colleges offering varsity sports are categorised into 3 divisions: Division 1, 2, and 3.

Basically, the difference between Division 1 & 2 schools is the size of the school, the funding available for sports, and the number of sports they offer. Many people will claim that Division 1 schools offer better competition because they have the best players, etc. and in most ways that is true. But I have friends in Division 2 schools that have the best time and play just as many events as those who choose a Division 1 school, so don’t be biased. Visit the NCAA website for more info.

Division 3 however, is very different. They tend to be the small liberal arts colleges, and those who are more academics focused rather than sports focused. Student athletes here do not receive athletic scholarships, rather they rely on other academic grants/financial aid from the school. Some great schools that I looked at in this league included Williams College, Amherst College, etc., so another great opportunity available here for all.

Look also at location – I wanted an East Coast School so I looked around that region a lot. That area can get really cold though so also factor in weather when deciding. Golf-wise, many people I know choose Florida, California, Texas, somewhere a little warmer, where you can golf almost all year round.

For golfers, Golfweek’s college golf team ranking is a good place to start and get an idea of where a team stands. You can also try the NCAA School listings, NCAA Golf Team Rankings or Golfstat’s rankings.

For other sports just google ‘College [insert sport] team rank’, or try the NCAA Website or NCAA School listings and look for your sport there.

Look at individual and team scoring stats. What scores do they shoot? Ask yourself: Can I make those scores? And you have to be realistic here. Take into account the fact that you will be dealing with both school and golf, and having to look after yourself and deal with other pressures as well. But of course, don’t underestimate yourself either.

Go to the school’s athletics website, check out their schedule, their roster, the coach’s profile, everything!! Because there may be things that you don’t like about the team (and that’s very important, because they will be the ones you spend time with travelling, training, competing).

For golfers, also think about how much you want to be playing. Usually a team of 5 go to events (it varies), so not all players will get to play at the same event. Do you want to go to a very competitive school with a big team where you will be fighting to get a chance to play? Do you want to be at a lower ranked team but get to play all the events? Look at the makeup of the team as well. Are there many seniors that will be leaving the year you’re looking to join? This generally means the coach will be looking for more players to fill the spots. (Freshmen – 1st year, Sophomore – 2nd Year, Junior – 3rd year, Senior – 4thh and final year)

Also think about what you want to do in college (academically). Some schools are not as prestigious but are renown in certain courses. So do your research and give it some thought. For me, the academics were the main factor that determined where I wanted to go. I knew that I wanted a good school, and that was most important to me. I ruled out schools that did not have a strong academic reputation, and I considered Division 3 Liberal Art Colleges as well. But of course this is all up to you. And most importantly the school must suit you.

4. Email Coaches
Once you’ve narrowed down the search, start emailing coaches. You can email as many schools as you like (I contacted about 30 schools maybe?), but don’t overwhelm yourself either.

I started doing this at the start of Year 11 (Form 4). Get the coaches’ email address off the school’s athletic site and send them your CV. Write a short introduction, attach maybe videos of you competing if you have any (golfers – your swing), and then wait.

It usually takes a few days for a reply to come back to you, and there are all sorts of other regulations about contacting recruits (set by the NCAA) that they have to follow as well, so don’t lose hope. But at the same time, keep your options open and be realistic – if you play off a handicap of like 10 and the team you’re considering has an average score of 75, you can consider reconsidering.

5.  Keep in touch
Once you have some reply from coaches, keep in touch with them. Keep them updated of your progress on and off the course, and try to get an idea of where you stand. Some coaches will seem more eager than others – don’t worry, you will be able to tell – but never feel obliged to join a team. Always keep your options open, and remember that your needs are the most important.

Coaches will often ask to do an academic pre-read. This is where they take high school transcripts, SAT scores, etc from you, and pass them on to the admissions office to see whether you will make the grades. The academic level/selectivity here depends on the school (as it normally would). After admissions has done a read (normally without any rush, it would take maybe about a month), the coaches will let you know if they think you are a fit for the school, and where they would like to take it from there.

Often coaches may already have someone in mind as a top recruit and so you may not hear back from them for a while. If you feel like you are left hanging and are not sure about where you stand, email them and just ask. If ever you have any questions about anything, just be frank and ask. They are normally very direct and honest with you.

You should also ask about money and scholarships if they are interested in you as a player. Make it clear how much you expect, be it a full/half/whatever scholarship.

And with schools in the Ivy League, they don’t offer athletic scholarships, so you will be relying on financial aid. There is a limited amount of financial aid available for international students so it is quite competitive. You can request to have a financial pre-read done (ask the coach about it), where you submit the financial aid application and they give you an estimate of what you could potentially receive. Financial aid in this case is need-based, so you pay what you can and the school will subsidize the rest.

Basically, be it scholarship, grant or financial aid, make sure you do ask the coach about it and find out how much you can potentially receive. Never assume.

After a few months, you’ll be able to rank your preferences – in terms of how much the coach wants you, how much they can offer ($$$), and how much you like the school and see yourself fitting in – and see just which schools you will be seriously considering.

Another point I want to bring up is the idea of a backup plan. You should always have a backup plan in case anything falls through. For me I looked at staying in Australia for uni so I applied and got both my offers at USyd and UMelb just in case anything didn’t work out in the US. In doing this I felt more secure and didn’t lose sleep, so I highly recommend a Plan B.

6. The SATs
Ok, I wasn’t sure where I should have put this bit in because it really is up to you when you want to do it. I do however encourage you to do it as early as possible. I did it at the beginning of Year 12/Form 5, and already that was much too late.

In hindsight, I probably would have liked to do this towards the beginning/middle of Form 4. Then it gives you time to resit the tests if you’re not happy, and also you’re not as busy with other schoolwork at the same time. A lot of coaches will also ask you for SAT scores towards the beginning of recruitment to get an idea of how you stand in terms of admissions, so that’s another good reason to get it done early.

SAT Subject tests? It was required for the schools I applied to so I did chem, bio and maths2. Not all schools require the SAT 2, so check to see if the ones you want to apply to do.

Toefl? I didn’t do the toefl because I had 2 years of education in Australia (where English was the language of instruction), so my English level was satisfactory. I think there are also exceptions for those who have a SAT reading/writing score above a certain score (usually something like 640 or 670), but do double check on the school’s website. Many of my friends did end up doing the Toefl so if you’re unsure, email the school’s admissions department and ask.

7. The NCAA
To play any Division 1 or 2 (don’t think you need to for Division 3) sport in the US, you need to get clearance from the NCAA.­­ To do this, you register on the NCAA Clearinghouse website. It’s all done online now so just follow the instructions.

You will need to send your SAT scores to them direct from Collegeboard – so make sure when you take your SATs the NCAA is one of the recipients of your scores.

You will also need to send your high school transcripts (year 9-12), an English translation (if it’s not already in English), proof of graduation, direct to the NCAA. There are specific instructions on how they want you to send them, and exactly what they want you to send them so check on the website as well. From what I recall, it must be mailed, not faxed or emailed, but MAILED. It must also be an original, OR if it is photocopied, it must be:
  • Certified as true copies - each page is certified and stamped as a true copy
  • Forwarded from the principal or headmaster of the secondary school.
  • With a cover letter from the school official
  • Arrive in an envelope sealed by the secondary school prior to providing the documents to the student.

*There is a lot to be done so PLEASE CHECK THE WEBSITE and make sure you do everything.

8. Applying
The American school year starts in the fall (September) and ends in summer (May). The main round of applications (Regular Decision – RD) are due end of December and you usually get your offers late March/Early April. There is also Early decision (ED) which is similar to the Australian Early Entry Scheme (apply to your top choice before main round applications). That usually closes Early (1st) November and you get decisions Mid-December.

So when to apply? This is where it gets hazy for me because I started my college search process late and only applied RD, so I don’t know how it works for ED in detail.

For Ivies ED: I assume if the college is very interested in you and vice versa, you would get a ‘likely letter’ in October, and be encouraged to apply ED by the coach.

Ivies RD: A similar sort of situation should occur for RD as well. You apply RD, and once the application is submitted, you should get a ‘likely letter’, and the coach may ask for a verbal commitment from you (that you will attend the school and play for the team). And that’s what I did. I applied Regular Decision to a few universities and decided later on when I got my ‘likely letter’, or some sort of verbal offer from coaches.

For other Div1/2 schools: There is also normally a signing period (varies between sports, usually November for golf) where players sign National Letters of Intent, like a binding contract confirming their intent to join the team and for the team to offer the player a scholarship for the coming year. But again, I didn’t do that, so I can’t tell you for sure what that entails.

So if you don’t fall into the bracket of ED or an Early Signing, but coaches haven’t ruled you out either, just apply to the schools you feel you stand a chance with and keep emailing coaches to find out more. Push them a little and always ask if you’re unsure. But remember to have a backup plan handy.

Whatever way you go about applying/deciding though, I do encourage you to get into it early. The process is not very complicated, but it is very different from the Australian (and many other countries) process. For Ivy League Schools, all potential recruits are required to go through the same application process as everyone else, so you still have to do everything.

First of all, most schools use the common application. It’s like a universal form that you fill in once and can submit to all the different schools you want to apply to. Not all schools use it, but there are very few that don’t. Check on the school’s admissions website for more info on how you should apply.

There are many parts to the application as well. So it is very time consuming to try and coordinate everything. It took me at least 2-3 months to complete the whole thing from the moment I first looked at the form to the moment I submitted it all. I also had the HSC to worry about, so no overlooking schoolwork etc.

First you have the common portion of the application that includes the essay, personal info, etc. Then you have the portion the school needs to fill in for you, including teacher recommendations, high school transcripts, etc. And on top of that most schools will have the supplementary portion that is specific for the school you want to apply for. This often includes an essay about why you want to go to that particular school, and anything else the school might feel they want to know about you.

Then there’s a fee you have to pay to apply. This depends on the school you are applying to. Usually it ranges from about $40-$80. It is advisable to apply for a fee waiver because you have nothing to lose, and it can turn out to be a lot of money if you want to apply to say 4 different schools.

I won’t go into detail about the application because there is just too much to cover, and there are some great resources already out on the net, so do your homework. I will however, link some useful sites that I used:

9. What now?
So if you’re an ED, Early Signing, or RD (post verbal-commit) person, you’re set. Sit back and prepare for college.

If you’re RD and nothing is confirmed as of yet, keep in touch with coaches, continue to email and push them. Ask and see where you stand. Do you still have a chance? If you feel you do, don’t lose hope. But be realistic and have a Plan B ready.

Once you’ve committed to a team, and once you’ve got your offer from the school, rejoice and celebrate because you’re almost there! You will still need your final clearance from the NCAA (which the coach and school officials will help with), and to get all the paperwork, visas, normal uni enrolment stuff, etc done, but you should be pretty much set now.


And so it is here that I will leave you. I hope this post has helped, and if you have any suggestions/questions/comments, anything you want me to expand on, just drop a line. I wish you all the best! There are so many opportunities for you out there, so dream big, the world is at your feet. Good luck! :)