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June 13, 2022

3 Minutes Read

Hi friends,

Greetings from New York!

Inspired by the work of Cal Newport—his books include How To Be a High School Star, Deep Work, and Digital Minimalism—I decided to try his 30-Day Digital Detox Challenge.

It's not meant as draconian austerity, but more of a self-reflective exercise about personal values and actively choosing what's important in your life (exactly what colleges want to know about you). 

📱 For me, I decided to focus on my "phone" which had become my greatest distraction and source of anxiety. Because I value presence and inner peace, the way I used my phone was creating significant self-criticism. 

My initial move was to not be notified of or send text messages, read or send email, use the internet browser or scroll Linkedin— my social media of choice. As I quickly found, however, the pull of each was such a strong force that I had to actually remove the apps from my phone.

I am still using my phone to check the weather, get a ride, and make a dinner reservation, but it's a meaningful change. My phone is becoming technology that I proactively use, as opposed to reacting to demands for my attention from others. 


⚡ Outside-The-Box Extra-Curricular


While this shouldn't be the motivation, I would encourage a student to include a "digital detox" as an activity on their college application. An admission officer will be interested in your experience and insight. You might list it as:

Title: Digital Minimalist

Organization: Cal Newport 30-Day Digital Detox Challenge

Description (150 characters): Executed detox and long term removal of social media from phone. Increased attention span/reduced FOMO. Recruited 10 friends to attempt the challenge.  

📺 This may not be for everyone, but some of you reading this newsletter would probably benefit from trying it. Considering it? Watch Cal Newport explain further.  

If you have a question about this, or any other aspect of preparing for college, just hit reply and let me know. If you want to share this newsletter with friends, you can use the link at the bottom of this email 🙏.

Here's what I want to share this week:


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✍️School Writing vs. College Essay Writing


I want to tell you a little personal story. In high school I was known for being a “literary guy.” Junior year, I had written essays about F. Scott Fitzgerald, Toni Morrison and Shakespeare that earned a lot of praise from my English teacher.

But one day, during the fall of my senior year, the college counselor called me into his office and wanted to discuss my personal statement. He wasn’t mean, but he let me know that my essay was not helping my application. He said my writing was: too academic and not insightful enough.

My writing was full of big words and smart-sounding phrases, but my self-reflection was not very deep. On essays for English class, my words and analysis earned A’s, but when I searched for a  more casual voice, I had little success. In fact, I found it extremely difficult to write about myself.

I felt terrible for not living up to my potential. After 3 years of high school English, I struggled to write well in a narrative style. It wasn't until I was already in college that I studied how to write personal essays that were self-reflective short stories. And instead of using fancy thesaurus words, I gained the confidence to write with the kind of language I used with friends.

In retrospect, It's easy to see that the writing education I received in high school was good for academic achievement, but fairly poor for being able to tell compelling personal stories—the type of writing that sways college admissions officers.

The ACE method that Peter and I created brings clarity to the college essay writing process. It's a simple system with the kind of frameworks I wish I'd had when I was working on my own college essays. Review our introductory guide on How to ACE Your Personal Statement.

🔥 Savvy Applicants know the best college essays are not only great stories, they incorporate themes that support their overall application strategy—what we call the "Genius Zone." 

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A few more things...

  •  🏃🏻‍♂️ Race to the Top:  A new book by Tufts professor of sociology, Natasha Warikoo, explores exactly what the subtitle says: Asian Americans and Whites in Pursuit of the American Dream in Suburban Schools. She explains the differing "cultural repertoires" at play and their effects on students. Read an interview she gave to The Guardian.
  • 🌿 Harvard's Merit Trap: In light of the upcoming supreme court decision on Harvard's admissions policies, the WSJ published an opinion piece by conservative legal scholar Alan Dershowitz arguing for a "pure meritocracy." Not all of his points are convincing, but with a supreme court considering the once unthinkable with Roe, we may see another surprise in the Harvard case.
  • 💰 Million Dollar Degrees: I'm generally not a fan of attempting to measure the ROI of college degrees in monetary terms, but the CTAS newsletter has written about it in a nuanced manner that is valuable. In short, the study in question concludes: 1.Major is the most important factor, 2. Elite institutions can pay off — but not always, and 3. Many bachelor’s degree programs don’t make sense, financially. Read the full article here


And I'll leave you with a quote about authenticity from the man who brought us the iPhone, and image of what my paired down home screen currently looks like.

🗣️ Quote: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”– Steve Jobs

📸  Image: Yes, it feels a little uncomfortable to not check messages or email while I'm out, but I'm getting used to it...

Screenshot 2022-06-12 at 9.45.22 PM