Senior Year Diary #2: Christmas & Colleges

Everyone welcome back our senior-year guest posters! If you enjoyed the introductory post, you'll be interested to learn how our senior year students are handling Christmas and college applications...

Hungarian Winter
 - Tigi Giti, Hungary

Hi All,

this post is going to be about the characteristics of the winter for Hungarian high school students.

First of all, most of the proms are in November/December: this is a school fest and has almost nothing to do with the American prom usually seen in movies. The senior classes learn a dance choreography (sometimes more) and perform it in a sports hall in front of their family, friends, teachers and younger students.

It’s a tradition to dance waltz, but some schools are more creative. Seniors receive their bands as a part of the ceremony: they can prick it on their coat, and this way everybody knows that they are seniors. My school has dark red bands, but the traditional color is blue. Proms are usually followed by after parties, which are only for students and friends. ;-)

Proms are considered important, but the majority is much more concerned about the end of the first term (17th of Jan) and the beginning of the application process for universities.

One can apply for uni/college via paper or Internet. The application process is very different form the English or American procedure:

21st of Dec to 17th of February: filling forms, scanning & uploading certificates and naming the places one applies for
May to end of June: school leaving exams
June: scanning & uploading the new certificates
July: result

The success of your application depends only on your grades at the end of 11th and 12th grade, and on the results of your school leaving exams (+ extra points can be gained with e.g. language certificates) -- no personal interview. Even though it would be nice to start preparing for the school leaving exams now, most of the seniors have many other things to do: scientific competitions, language exams and don’t forget that it’s Christmas!

Hungarians tend to celebrate every holiday by eating traditional, unhealthy food, and as my family doesn’t follow this custom, I can only mention two Xmas meals: chowder (halászlé) and bejgli.

Christmas is usually celebrated with the family: we give the presents on the 24th of Dec, but in the evening -- during the day they lie under the tree. Religious people are likely to attend the midnight mass and so on. It’s customary to visit the extended family on the 25th.

New Year’s Eve is a party night, which is spent with friends and usually not at home. Hungarian TV shows are so unbearable that I usually watch the countdown on ZDF or on other German channels. ;-)

I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year with this list of Hungarian Christmas songs. :-)

Take care,

"There's a new start ahead!" 
- Anu Krishnan, Indian citizen in Saudi Arabia

The last two months had been a downhill drive for me. Nothing seemed to go right.
I nearly failed Chemistry, seriously wounding my straight-A grade. And I'm not sure I'll get into the university of my choice, although admission here in India depends only on the final grade and overall grade in the university entrance exam.

Then came the next disappointment. I was one of a team of three girls selected to go for a inter-school quiz contest held in an another city which was 5 hours away by land. So, I got to go on a sort-of-road trip with two friends and stay in a luxury hotel, all at the expense of the school. But, the quiz in itself was a disappointment. The organisers were very partial and favoured their team by asking them really easy, obvious questions but asking us obscure ones.

Also, the last Thursday had been my last unofficial day of school. Yes, there are still winter classes, but they aren't really classes. The teachers will be available at school for four hours each day and if we have some doubts in the subject, we could get it cleared. But, for all practical purposes, it is a holiday.

After those, then comes the practical exams, preparatory exams, and then the major board exam. So, the part where we sit and study in class is over. I couldn't believe it and I've still not come to terms with it. The fact that my twelve years of schooling is nearly over and if all goes well, I'll be in college by next September.

Although the last two months weren't good for me, in many ways, I still have hope that the next year would be better. Even though it begins with an exam, a physics practical one.

Even though we don't celebrate Christmas, this festive season is quite contagious. It has made me realise that I ought to be happy for what I have and that there are others far less privileged than me. It has taught me to be grateful for all those little pleasures in life and not to worry about problems, because every problem will have a solution.

Lastly, I would like to wish everyone a hearty Season's Greetings and hope that the new year blooms bright, fresh, happy and prosperous.
It’s a College Wonderland
- Youngjoo Ahn, USA

In all seventeen years of my life, I knew January first as the start of the new year but this year there is a whole new layer to that. Almost all college applications in the United States are due on the first day of 2014 and it’s been a whole month of frantic writing.

Most students utilize It’s a website partnered with almost all universities to so that you can submit your applications from one site instead of making separate accounts with all your other colleges. You write one large personal statement and then however many supplemental essays the college wants you to write. My last application is due on the fifteenth of January!

College success is determined by a few factors and most colleges use the “holistic” approach as they love calling it. You send in test scores, your grade point average and transcript of all the classes you’ve taken, and of course the essays you spent so long writing. Some colleges offer an interview but the interview is not a very crucial part of the college process.

Common App claims a position as one of the most viewed pages and there can never be enough hot chocolate. Although I started writing my personal statement in the summer time, there’s nothing like a good old clock to appear next to colleges on the Common App to really boost productivity. The tree is decorated, lights strung, and presents wrapped but I spent this Christmas in my pajamas racking my brain for ideas about something noteworthy, ordinary, but meaningful that happened in my life.

Here are some tips for those who are frantically still writing!

The most important thing to do is research the college fully. Friends asked why I wanted to attend this university or that college and I realized I didn’t know enough to give them a convincing answer. After spending a couple of hours thoroughly searching the website, student blogs, or even the YouTube videos the college uploaded, I started to get a sense of the community, the curriculum, and the type of education each college had. Of course along the way, I found some colleges on my list that really weren’t compatible with my personality and learning style.

It’s easier to answer a question about your extra curricular activities or inspiring women in history if you understand what sort of values the college stresses. Some universities emphasize creativity while other universities want a more straightforward answer.

In the beginning of my supplement writing days, I thought a quick short cut would be to copy and paste existing essays to create something new and brilliant. Instead, like Frankenstein, I created a monster with good intentions but so haphazardly that everyone rejected it. Although it seems like a good idea to take pieces of essays you already wrote and mesh them together, it’s pretty obvious that you didn’t put in enough work to write something original, insightful, and well organized.

Double-check your application twice before you submit and make sure all the fields are completed. There’s nothing more you can after pressing the send button, so forget about it and enjoy the first day of the new year without any more college applications to worry about!

The crazy world of Dutch exams - Envy Fisher
- Envy Fisher, The Netherlands

You’re flipping, tripping, shaking,’ one of my friends told me last year about exams, ‘and then you screw it up.’

With the first round of exams a few weeks behind me, I can tell that it’s not as bad as he made it seem to be. An exam on itself is, with the right amount of studying and preparing, a piece of cake. It’s everything around it that makes it a total chaos.

Dutch senior year is entirely focused on exams. Yes, there are college applications, but no one is actually thinking about those. As long as we submit our application before the first of May, they can’t reject us. Unless you want to go to medical school, college applications aren’t high on your priority list. Instead, you focus on your exams and go entirely crazy when you put your brain in overdrive just to get that last bit of information in it just in time for the exam.

So if I’m not worrying about college applications, then what am I worried about? Maybe the Christmas prom? Nope, not even the Christmas prom can tear us away from our books. But before you all start thinking that the Dutch are the biggest nerds in the world, you should consider that Christmas prom (at least at my school) is nothing more than eating Chinese food and jumping through the school hall on last year’s biggest hits. It’s not that big of a thing and most people don’t even go…

Exams, exams, exams. It’s all there seems to be between October and February. As long as you’re well prepared, the only problem you’ll encounter is the feared Squeaky Chair. Or the kid who forgot to turn their cell phone off and gets a cell halfway during History. Or the teacher who gets so bored that he starts talking to you during your Math exam. Welcome to the crazy world of Dutch exams :)

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