Friday, October 17, 2014

Time Lapse

Boston, Massachusetts
August 2014
P.S. I made this skirt!

A month and a half before eagerly-awaited marathon, runner develops patellar tendonitis and cannot run more than twenty minutes without excruciating knee pain.

Welcome to episode two of my soap opera life.
(As a quick refresher, the premier episode was about getting into a car accident on prom night).
If all had gone as plan, I would've traveled to Hartford, Connecticut for my first marathon last weekend. But life had a mind of its own, and instead, I found myself in Boston, Massachusetts for a mini-vacation. 
It wasn't easy for me to defer my race entry. I vowed not to go down without a fight, but after a two weeks of vigorous cross-training and no improvement in my knee, it was clear that the marathon would have to wait. I wanted to be able to enjoy my workouts--the liberating long runs, the satisfying fartleks and tempos, the empowering tests of my mental and physical capacity. I didn't want to slave away in the gym to maintain the same fitness--hours in the pool, on the bike, or elliptical were mind-numbing, and I had had enough. 
To say that I'm disappointed would be an understatement. But I realize that things don't always work out the way we envision. I'm hoping for recovery, growth, and delayed gratification. My body is not invincible, and I must train accordingly. It's too early to make any grandiose plans of another marathon; I'd be completely content for the time being to simply ease back into running. Baby steps. And we'll take the rest from there. 
I have not surrendered.
*                    *                     *
I made the most of things and traveled with a few friends to Boston over fall break. While I would've loved to be running, it was undoubtedly refreshing to see the city again. I had been there once with my family before college orientation, so the trip was deeply nostalgic, almost surreal. Had the past month and a half actually happened?
October 2014
One of my favorite parts of the trip was not the sights, the shopping, or the food (though all were incredible--especially the food), but seeing friends from home. Since I stayed with a friend at MIT, I was able to catch up with her and meet new people and experience another school culture. Then, serendipitously enough, another high school friend spotted us in Chinatown, so we met up to walk Seaport and Little Italy the next day.
I even got to fulfill #7 of my bucket list: meet a fellow fashion blogger in person! Since discovering Brittney's blog, Another Beautiful Thing, last year, I've never ceased to admire how well she balances fashion, personal life, and commentary on her blog. She was just as insightful, kind, and polished in person, and I'm so grateful to have had the chance to chat with her.

Wishing you all well--when I can again drop notes on your blogs is still up in the air, but it may not be until the end of this semester. For now, blogging will simply be a means of gathering my thoughts, but I hope to rejoin the community soon enough.

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Simplicity

What my social media looks like ft. What college actually looks like
Original instagram post here

Blogs, like any other social media, project polished versions of our lives. Crisp photos, carefully-planned outfits, and selective details easily create an aura of enviable sophistication. I openly admit, however, that I'm not nearly as put-together as my posts may otherwise imply. While I love fashion, I take a healthy number of comfy days each week. While I often wax philosophical about profound events, I experience just as many uneventful days as the next person. While my life looks wonderful and happy all the time, it's actually as tumultuous as everyone else's.
 So in the spirit of reality, I present to you two everyday summer looks--not your typical blog fare.

I've been feeling unsettled lately about my social media posts--it seems dishonest to only share the happy, fun, put-together moments and brush the gloomy, stressful, and messy ones under the rug. So this post is a testament that I am human--that I sometimes dress casually and that life brings me ups and downs too.

It's unusal for me to talk outfits before my usual ramblings, but my move towards minimalism in style also reflects my move towards conciseness in expression (you'll see what I mean in just a bit). Please enjoy the tangle of thoughts to follow.
On my last night in my hometown, I plucked a laminated index card from the mirror in my room. In my handwriting, it read:

I will stay positive even when the skies are gray; I will make my own sunshine.
I will be an idealist even in a world of cynics and doubters.
I will pursue the life that I crave, not just one that is practical.
I will be a true friend but also not neglect myself.
I will speak what’s on my heart, even if I am afraid.
I will chase life with a determined gleam in my eyes.
T-shirt, Old Navy | Skirt, Target | Belt, Forever 21 | Shoes, Kohl's

Last year at a Rotary youth leadership conference, we created mission statements, and this was mine. While my ideals remain the same, I realized, after a bit of contemplation, that I could express my values much more succinctly. I still keep the old index card in a special spot on my dorm drawer, but joining it is a new friend:

I will be irreplaceable.

Technically, we’re all dispensable. Sports teams will continue to practice, bond, and achieve despite losing members at graduation. Employers will hire another who can complete the job just as well. Schools will maintain their daily routine. Friends will keep trekking down their own trails. Life will go on, no matter who you are.
But my irreplaceable means much more than the technical definition. I want to be such an impact that while life will go on, it will definitely be different. I want to leave such a uniquely-shaped hole that while it may easily be plugged, people must work to completely fill it; they must strive to improve themselves and their environments. It’s not realistic to affect everyone I encounter so deeply, but it is completely plausible to reciprocate for the people who have deeply impacted me.

I see it this way:

Only the optimistic can discern rays of hope beyond the clouds.
Only the ambitious can soar to once-unfathomable heights.
Only the adventurous can seek beyond the immediate.
Only the genuine can remain true to themselves and to others.
Only the courageous can find their voice in spite of fear.
Only the passionate can reach fulfillment.

Only the irreplaceable can embody all these ideals. One word goes a long way.

I strive to be irreplaceable--to maximize my potential and encourage others to do the same. To illuminate my surroundings and beyond.
Top, Goodwill | Skirt, Target | Shoes, Target

As for the precious creature that joined me in the first set of outfit shots, he's unfortunately not mine, but I was lucky enough to steal him and his owner for a mini-photoshoot. You met George in a previous post, and here's a couple shots of him and his dog, Brutus.
It's safe to say that I miss home quite a bit. Only know you love it when you let it go, right? But we learn the most about ourselves in unfamiliar situations, and I'd definitely still learning.

I'm still not quite ready to immerse myself in blogging, but again, if you'd like to drop me a note, feel free to shoot me an email. Hope you all are well, and I can't wait to catch up again.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tumultuous

Sweater, Kohl's | Skirt, Persunmall | Socks, Target | Flats, Target
Photos by Jingwen Zhang

Since it's been over a month, I thought I'd let you know I'm still alive. The tumultuous waves of college adjustment have yet to subside to (relatively) calm waters, but I'm trying. Again, much has happened--from a family trip to Boston, orientation, a running injury, the beginning of classes and extracurriculars--they are stories, photos, and details that I crave to share.

For now, the first set photos taken on my college quad will have to suffice. I hope to be back soon--to catch up with you all, to be inspired and to inspire. But in the meantime, I've begun a new project: a street style blog at Amherst College (fb page here, tumblr here). Feel free to follow along as I document the vibrant, talented, and stylish people on campus.

The seas may be stormy now, but I'll keep sailing with the same determination, passion, and vision until clear skies emerge.

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P.S. This post is no-comment since I can't yet find time to respond to previous notes, but if you'd like to catch me up on your life or offer me some college advice/share your experience, shoot me an email at lily@imperfectidealist.com. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

College Admissions: Advice from a College-Bound Freshman

August. For me, it means savoring the final weeks of summer and packing for college move-in. For high school seniors, however, the stakes are much higher. August for them means a scramble to finish neglected summer work, grueling mandatory sports practices, and perhaps most intimidating of all: the release of the Common Application

For them, college applications no longer rest at a comfortable distance in the future--they are real, they are here, and they are now. The application process is undoubtedly overwhelming, but it's completely manageable. There are a few things, however, that either I or my classmates wish we had known before embarking on this tumultuous journey. I'm definitely not an expert, but I've learned much from my own experiences and observations, and hope to help as much as I can. Below is a casual guide including my personal advice to make the next few months as smooth as possible. 

Note: In case you were wondering, I'll be attending Amherst College, a liberal arts school in Massachusetts. I applied to multiple private colleges, many of which were selective, so these tips will likely be more relevant to students who plan to do the same. Also, this post does contrast greatly with my usual content, so if you're a regular blog reader, don't feel inclined to plow through this. I did include, however, links to a couple essays I had mentioned in earlier posts, so feel free to scroll down to the bottom of number 1 for those. See you soon with an outfit/ramblings post!

1. Know the basics
ED vs. EA vs. SCEA vs. RD vs. Rolling
So much confusion surrounds the types of applications that I'll actually cover this before types of schools. Below is a handy little chart I made using Google Draw that briefly explains the differences. If you'd like to print it, you can find the document here.
To remember the difference between ED and EA (most commonly confused), note that "decision" in ED indicates that you have already made your decision; you will attend that school if accepted. "Action" in EA, on the other hand, simply means that you're acting ahead of normal deadline time.

If a school offers ED, then it will not offer EA and vice versa. All the early applications, however, show interest and dedication to the school, which may increase likelihood of admission. But this is particularly true for ED, the binding option. Schools want to have as high a yield (percent that accept offer of admission) as possible, and agreeing to attend if accepted positively contributes to their stats.

ED, however, is not for everyone. Since you must withdraw all apps to other schools if you're accepted, you cannot compare or negotiate financial aid packages. If maximizing financial aid is important to you, it may be unwise to apply ED. Read up on your school's financial aid policies and see number 3 for more info.

To clarify, SCEA and Rolling admissions are both more obscure; you'll likely not encounter them unless you apply to the most prestigious Ivies (Harvard, Princeton, Yale), or large state schools (Alabama, Arizona), respectively. There is even a 6th type of app, which is EDII (basically a delayed ED with later deadlines and later notification dates) that I didn't even include in the chart, and schools such as Vanderbilt and Davidson offered this option last year. 

Two other terms you should know are deferrals and likely letters. They're completely unrelated, but they're two admissions notifications that I encountered and had to research. A deferral may occur if you apply ED, EA, or SCEA, but the school is unsure if your application is strong enough, so they move your app to the regular decision pool for further review. If this happens, you won't receive a decision until RD notification. Deferrals are less common for ED, but are definitely present for EA and SCEA; the prominent Ivies, for example, often defer the majority of their SCEA applicants (see here). 

Likely letters, on the other hand, indicate you're a strong applicant who has caught the school's attention; you will be accepted if no outstanding changes to your candidacy occur. They're usually sent a month or two in advance of RD notification to make more time for you to visit campus or to invite you to participate in a recruitment program. For example, I received a likely letter from Vanderbilt in early February that invited me to an on-campus diversity weekend in mid-March. 

Research university vs. LAC:
The biggest difference is size--research universities are often much larger than liberal arts colleges. This is partially because research universities include both graduate students and undergrads, while liberal arts colleges have only undergrads; if you subtract the grads, however, a research university is often still larger than an LAC. At a research university, you'll likely find larger lectures but perhaps more opportunities (emphasis on professor research, graduate classes, more programs). At a liberal arts college, you'll likely find fewer programs, but much more attention in class. If you plan to go to grad school, liberal arts may be a wise choice because professor recommendations will usually be more personal. Either way, it really comes down to personal preference--it is very possible to go to a prestigious grad school from a research university and it's just as possible to research at a liberal arts college.

SAT subject tests:
If you're considering more selective schools, please don't forget to check their testing requirements. For many, you must submit at least 2 SAT subject tests to be considered for admission. These tests are much less painful than the normal SAT; SAT subject tests are only an hour long and concentrate on one subject, such as Chem or Lit. If you plan to apply ED, EA, or SCEA, be sure to sign up for the October test date. 

Recommendations:
Ask early (now, if you haven't yet); you should give at least a month in advance, but earlier is even better to beat the rush. Teachers you've had in your upperclassmen years are preferable, and if you need two, aim for ones of different subject areas, like English and Science. You may also need a counselor rec, and be sure to ask in advance as well; it's a crazier time than usual for them, and they take care of many students. On the Common App, waive your right to read these recs--it shows that you trust your teachers and counselor to speak of you positively. And once the craziness dies down, be sure to show your appreciation with a thank you card, and keep them updated on your search.

Essays:
These are a time to reflect on what you've done and who you've become. You don't need to tell your entire life story for admissions officers to get a sense of who you are, and you don't need to be super formal and serious. Give them an insightful slice of your life and be yourself--if you were to drop your essay on the floor without a name, people should be able to decipher who wrote it. Since the Common App prompts haven't changed from last year, feel free to read my essay here. It's pretty unconventional, which is a testament that essays probably won't make or break your app. Aim for a well-written, personal piece and you're good to go.

As for supplements, one of the most common is "briefly describe or elaborate on an extracurricular activity" or "why [school]?" It's smart to recycle if your schools have the same prompts, and don't feel guilty for doing so (but please don't recycle for the "why [school]" prompt--that would be bad). You can take a look at my activities supplement here, and see how I edited it to adhere to word limits.

Interviews:
Relax, most of them are casual conversations. Dress up, but don't look overly formal; I suggest a sports team dress-up day outfit. Be ready to talk about your activities and answer questions such as "why did you apply to [school]" and "how do you see yourself contributing to [school]." Come prepared with your own questions--what was your favorite professor like? Why drew you to [school]? Best and worst part? Follow up with a thank you email.