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First-year files: Semester at Sea

August 2nd, 2022

Have you ever considered studying abroad in college? What a great opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture and lifestyle while continuing to take courses to complete your degree. The opportunity to study in a different country can be one of the most defining experiences of your lifetime.

Some students put study abroad programs at the top of their priority list when searching for the right school. If this is important to you, make sure to include the qualities of a study abroad program in your college search. Many colleges offer possibilities, although students often find programs offered by other institutions and transfer credits back to their home colleges.

When creating a college list, Samantha, a previous Shrop Ed advisee, set her sights on colleges with great study abroad programs. However, like so many things in life, plans changed and she found Semester at Sea. Her experience is very intriguing and I am grateful she was willing to share her deep reflections on the experience with us.

Samantha’s Semester at Sea….

When envisioning my perfect college experience, I had always dreamed of studying abroad. In researching colleges, I was drawn to several universities solely for the dazzling study abroad programs they offered. However, I quickly became sidetracked by all the shining bells and whistles – school spirit, research labs, clubs and organizations, Greek life, dormitories, and much more. By the time I enrolled at the University of Texas, I was completely unaware of the abroad experiences my home university had to offer.

When I began searching through UT’s study abroad opportunities, I was underwhelmed by the programs offered and confused by how few pertained to my major or offered the courses I needed for my degree plan. To make matters worse, programs were swiftly being canceled due to COVID-19. The pandemic threw a wrench in many college sophomores’ and juniors’ plans, as study abroad programs were dropped one after the other. I had just about assumed that my study abroad dreams were over.

Fortunately, one of my floor mates suggested that we both apply to a study abroad that happened to be unaffiliated with our university – Semester at Sea is a “multi-country study abroad program on a ship open to all students of all majors, emphasizing global comparative study.” What photos and words on a page cannot explain is the truly unforgettable gift Semester at Sea is for 400+ students a semester.

This study abroad program is accredited by Colorado State University, which made it easy to transfer credits back to UT, and offers courses from Oceanography to Economics. The wide array of courses makes it possible for just about any college undergraduate to find just what they are looking for. Professors bring a wealth of knowledge, energy, and creativity. Classmates come from countries that many have never even heard of. Overall, I had the opportunity to study, sleep, eat, swim, play, and relax on a cruise ship turned college campus, the MV World Odyssey. And best of all, I didn’t just have the opportunity to visit one country, but rather sixteen varying countries and cultures.

Growing up, I traveled internationally several times with my family. Semester at Sea offered an experience in which I could experience countries I had previously visited through a new perspective and explore unfamiliar countries, as well. By the end of my experience abroad, I had traveled to Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Malta, Spain, Gibraltar, Portugal, France, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, England, and Morocco. I made amazing friends, countless memories, and unforgettable experiences along the way.

With all the unforeseen challenges we experienced while navigating many different time zones, I prioritized quick calls home after every in-port experience. These calls also allowed me to update my family members on my travels in the process.

In giving advice to younger students considering study abroad, I would have to say, “lean into the discomfort.” Applying and eventually embarking on a study abroad experience will inevitably push you outside your comfort zone. Fortunately, this is the very point of studying abroad. In the midst of all the potential discomfort, you will learn to trust in your abilities, recognize your strengths, and view each day as an opportunity to absorb the wisdom around you, all while having a wonderful, gratifying experience. You will also learn to find comfort in newfound friendships, supportive professors, and communication with family members back home. In short, the study abroad experience is not only exciting but also challenging, and you will learn to love both.

Through my academic voyage with Semester At Sea, I cultivated three practices that I have implemented into my daily routine. Firstly, while studying abroad, I grew to prioritize a healthier work-life balance. Life on a ship offered a significantly different change of pace in which I was able to stay true to my academic responsibilities but also prioritize rest, healthy eating, and recreational time with friends. Back in Austin, I plan to follow a healthier routine in which I prioritize eight hours of nightly sleep and devote time to activities that genuinely make me happier, including playing tennis, cooking new meals, and spending time with friends. Through my experiences, I quickly began to view our world as a treasured gift, worthy of preservation, exploration, and study. People often say, “you learn something new about the world every day.” Through my academic voyage, I challenged myself to learn three new things a day – one new thing about myself, one new thing about a friend next to me, and one new thing about our big wide world. I have brought this practice home and am reminded of “The Big Three” via a sticky note on my bathroom mirror.

My many perspective changes are just small results of the impact Semester at Sea has had on me. I have never been more embraced by a community, eager to absorb my surroundings, or genuinely excited to learn. I can also confidently say that the experience cultivated empathy, challenged my perspective, and led me to absorb more information in my singular semester abroad than in all my previous five college semesters combined. I’m happiest to say my study abroad friends, memories, and lessons learned will surely last a lifetime.

Summer accomplishments: Common App and main essay

July 19th, 2022

Time flies when you’re having fun and this summer is no exception, so we’re thrilled to see seniors get a jump start on college application work! Many have begun working on the Common Application and are aware that the site will be closed briefly at month’s end for its annual “summer refresh.” When the site becomes available again on August 1st, colleges’ new supplement questions will appear. Rest assured that students’ work within the main Common App portion of their accounts will resurface then, too.

Students who have worked on anything in the “My Colleges” tab of the Common App, or anything involving recommenders, should follow steps shared below by the Common App. 


Each year on August 1, Common App launches our refreshed application with updated information, including any new questions and new colleges. Students will need to sign in and refresh their Common App accounts for the new cycle. 

Many colleges change their questions from year to year, so if students started working on responses to college-specific questions, they should sign in before July 27 and take the following steps:

  • Save any responses to college-specific questions or writing supplement questions somewhere outside of Common App. We recommend using Google Drive or similar storage apps. 
  • Document counselors, teachers, advisors, and other recommender names and emails outside of Common App. Students will need to re-add and re-invite these individuals if they intend to apply after August 1.

Heading into the fall semester with a few things checked off on your application list will certainly help ease some of the stress related to application season. Essays can be the most time-consuming part of the process, so you certainly don’t want to leave them to the last minute. The essay and college supplement questions are your chance to reveal yourself to each admissions staff in a more personal way. When it comes to essay tools and resources, no one does it better than The College Essay Guy. Linked below is an incredible guide to help you get started on brainstorming and drafting your way to a wonderful essay.

Personal statement guide linked below from The College Essay guy:

The Free Guide to Writing a Personal Statement

Welcome to the Guide.

I’m excited to be a part of your essay-writing journey.  There are four basic parts of this guide.

Hour 1 – Everything you need to brainstorm a topic and structure your essay.

Hour 2 – How to write a Narrative or Montage Essay with a few sample essays.

Hour 3 – Writing the first draft and getting some initial feedback.

Next Steps – I set you up to write an awesome draft of your Activities List and Additional Info section, point you in the right direction for getting started on your supplemental essays, and lots more.

I recommend that you bookmark this page so that it’s easy to access as you work through it. This is your home base throughout your essay writing process.

Read more at The College Essay Guy>>

Thinking about applying Regular Decision to Tulane? Think again!

July 5th, 2022

After developing a balanced college list, the next step and some might argue one of the most important is deciding whether to apply Early Decision, Early Action or Regular Decision. Fully understanding the different application options is key to managing your college application process.

Capture Tulane: Image via Inside Higher Ed

The headline of the article linked below may have some readers wondering if applying Early Decision is a must. It is true that some colleges value ED applicants more than others, but ED is only for students who feel 110% certain that they’d be thrilled to enroll if admitted, as it is an ironclad commitment. Do not pursue an ED path for purely strategic reasons.

Early Action, however, particularly if the plan has no restrictions, feels to me like the applicant’s friend. Students aren’t obligated to enroll if admitted; they may continue other applications and wait to compare offers before making an enrollment choice.

How can you know whether colleges value ED and EA applicants? Research acceptance rates for ED, EA and RD, as these numbers are useful when trying to understand how the odds of admission can change depending on the plan selected. Looking at the percentage of entering first-year students admitted via ED is also telling. What you’ll learn about Tulane in the article below may surprise you.

Article linked below from Inside Higher Ed, written by Scott Jaschik published on June 27, 2022

Tulane Admitted Two-Thirds of Students Through Early Decision

Tulane University has become more and more popular with applicants in recent years. Last year, Tulane received more than 45,000 applications, a record, which was 55 percent more than the university received five years earlier.

Last year, the university announced that half of the students who enrolled applied early. At the time, President Michael Fitts said, “While many universities have pared down their expectations and ambitions during the pandemic, Tulane continues to perform at an extraordinarily high level in all areas, including attracting the best and the brightest young scholars from around the country.”

Tulane launched early decision in 2016. This year, the numbers of applicants and early applicants (Tulane has two early-decision programs) were even better than last year.

Read more at Inside Higher Ed>>

Rising first-year files: The importance of a great college fit

June 21st, 2022

Talk of creating a “balanced college list” is commonplace in the world of admissions but some may wonder, what does it mean and why is it important? Finding the best college for you always begins with self-discovery. What are your core values, your interests, your goals? Then identify the priorities you are looking for in a school: academic, social and financial.

As many of you know, here at Shrop Ed we advise students to break up their college list into three categories of admission odds: red light, yellow light and green light. This is a crucial part of the process so students can remain realistic about each school’s degree of selectivity. Regardless of admission chances, we urge students to think carefully about whether each college on the list truly feels like the right fit.

In today’s blog post Luisa, a Shrop Ed advisee, is kind enough to share her story of navigating the application process. Luisa had her sights set on Harvard and like so many applicants, had to readjust her sights. She was admitted to another Ivy and other highly selective colleges, but ultimately found that her green light option provided an amazing set of opportunities as well as a warm and inviting environment. With the help of her balanced college list and following her intuition, Luisa found the right fit as a Turing Scholar at the University of Texas, Austin. We are grateful that Luisa was willing to share her story, as so many students may relate.

Luisa’s experience of navigating the college admissions process is shared below…

Like many second-generation immigrant kids, I was raised on stories of how the previous generation grew up poor, thousands of miles away in their home country. They saved hard, studied harder, and made their way to the land of opportunity. They made their families proud, and now it was my turn. I had to go to Harvard.

As I couldn’t exactly apply only to Harvard, I applied to eleven schools total, only one of which was a green light school. Though most would probably not consider UT Austin a green light (especially for my major of Computer Science), as a Texas resident I knew I would at least be auto-admitted to the College of Liberal Arts because of my academic record. Besides, I wasn’t really going to go to UT.

In January, I received my UT decision. I’d gotten my major of Computer Science as well as been accepted into all three honors programs I applied for: Turing Scholars (CS honors), Dean’s Scholars (College of Natural Sciences honors), and Plan II Honors (Liberal Arts honors).

I was already excited just to receive the obligatory acceptance letters in the mail. To my surprise, there was something else written on the letter from Turing Scholars. I got a personal handwritten note from the director of the program, and with it, a first inkling that there might actually be something special here.

In March, I attended the Turing Scholars open house event alone. Professor Lin, the director of Turing, waved me over from where I was awkwardly hovering in the corner. I was already freaked out to be talking to him, and even more so that he actually recognized my name. Again, there was that sense of something special—something I’d never felt with another school. After spending the day learning about Turing, that sense grew into the strangest feeling that I’d found somewhere I belonged.

An eternity crawled by before Ivy decision day finally arrived. 

Like the vast majority of Harvard applicants–and vast vast majority of non-ALDC (recruited athletes, legacies, those on the dean’s interest list, and children of faculty and staff) applicants–I didn’t get in.

Still, I had been accepted into Rice, UCLA, and Dartmouth.

Of those three, Dartmouth was the top choice. At the admitted students’ day in Hanover, I learned that to be a Dartmouth student, I’d have to take a 100-person-large intro to CS class, be limited to a max of four classes a term, and have far greater requirements in Government and English as part of their liberal arts education. If I wanted to do research, I would have to go around asking professors, as there’s no established undergraduate research program.

Even when I tried to be present, while walking across the Dartmouth Green or sitting in on a sample Linear Algebra lecture or visiting the little shops lining the streets of Hanover, I found my mind wandering back to what I would have at UT Austin.

At UT, I would be one of 50 Turing Scholars in a department of 600 CS majors for my year. I’d take front-loaded classes with the same small cohort of Turing Scholars–five honors CS courses in the first year–a structure that allows 75% of Turing Scholars to get internships as freshmen. A requirement of the program is to write and defend an honors research thesis, many of which have been published and presented at conferences. As a Dean’s Scholar, I would write another research thesis. I’d also be automatically admitted into UT’s Freshman Research Initiative where I could spend up to two semesters in a research stream of my choice, ranging from autonomous robots to fish behavior. Truly a STEM kid’s paradise.

I was caught between the old dream and what was growing into a new dream that was all my own. Blinded by “prestige,” it took another eternity to realize the old dream wasn’t right for me. Dartmouth was not what I wanted. Even Harvard wasn’t really what I wanted. I’m proud to be a Longhorn of the class of ‘26, and I wish you all the best of luck as you fine-tune your college lists to represent what you truly want.