college admissions

“I’m transferring and plan to major in education/business/engineering/sociology/music/ art/film production/psychology/creative writing/computer science/archaeology/(fill in the blank), but I don’t have any experience in the field. The only place I ever worked is McDonalds.  How can I answer the application question related to prior experience?”

First of all, know that schools do not require you to have had experience at this stage in your academic career. That question is designed to provide an opportunity to describe any experience you have had, but not everyone will already have had internships or summer jobs in the field they plan to pursue. A lack of relevant experience will not be held against you, but evidence that you have benefited from whatever experience you do have will certainly work in your favor. So…

If you are planning to major in:

Education? At McDonalds, you have had a great deal of experience observing developmental differences among children, reading readiness levels, evidence of self-confidence, play-related learning, decision-making, communication skills, and parental interactions.  You will easily be able to build on those observations and bring them to bear on classroom discussions about how to effectively support children and parents through the educational process.

Business? This one’s a no-brainer.  At one of the most successful businesses in the world, you were able to observe effective business practices at all levels. Marketing, accounting, customer service, human resources, supply and demand, effect of competition, impact of a down economy on sales? You’ve seen it, and those observations will deepen your understanding of the theories you will be learning in upper-level classes.

Engineering? Remember that time the french fry machine broke down because of a faulty design? And how frustrating it was to watch handicapped people try to access the condiment station?  Remember how your shiftmates were always talking about that one process that would work so much more smoothly if only someone would invent a machine that could do part of it?

Sociology?  What better place to observe a “slice-of-life” than McDonalds.  You’ve seen the affluent business man come in every morning for his $8 breakfast, complete with pricey lattes at the McCafe, and you’ve seen the homeless guy who always used to hang around the parking lot until he’d scraped up enough money to buy an item off the dollar menu.

Music?  My goodness, if ever there was a place to inspire the availability of better “music for public spaces”, it’s McDonalds!  You’ve seen first-hand the impact of volume, tempo, and tone on the demeanor and buying habits of the general public.  You’ve seen music consumers of every age and demographic.  You *know* you can have an impact on people by creating music that will move or inspire them!

Art? From “theme décor” to the choices of color on restroom walls, you know for a fact that the components of art not only affect commercial success, but also the overall happiness of customers.  From small children happily coloring on placemats, to the old man wistfully studying the historical “Wild West” reproduction on the wall next to his table, you have seen first-hand that art is personal.

Film Production?  Remember when you were in the middle of a long slow shift and couldn’t keep from day-dreaming about a film crew suddenly bursting through the door to catch a segment of “everyday life” at McDonalds? Everyone from the servers to the customers would have had a role. As Director, the whole set was at your command. With a degree in film, you could make it happen!

Psychology? Anyone who has worked in a customer service capacity has learned *tons* about psychology! Handling the irritated customer whose order didn’t come through the way they wanted? The co-worker who called in “sick” all the time and how the manager handled that situation? Parents at the end of their rope after a long day, dropping in to feed their cranky famished kids on the way home from day care? The developmentally-challenged adult employee who maintained the serving area and wash rooms? Those observations will be useful examples when you are studying theories of human behavior in the classroom.

Creative writing?  No matter how gifted a writer you are, you may find you need to sell your words commercially to put bread on the table. Copy-writing for print advertorials?  Proposals to headquarters for a new product line? Training manuals for new staff members? Descriptive text about the latest scratch-off game? If you were willing to work at McDonalds, you know what it means to put in the hours necessary at a less fulfilling job in order to finance your dream of writing the next great American novel.  And that quirky middle-aged woman who used to stop in for a small cone every Wednesday? The vivid scarf she always used to wear might just show up on one of the characters in your best seller!

Computer Science?  Proprietary corporate formulas to track consumer habits, employee records and management marketing decisions? Apps for hand-held devices allowing customers to speak an order into their phone, pay for it electronically, and pick it up at the window without waiting in line? Built-in touch-screen tabletop games to keep restless kids occupied while the food is getting ready or the parent checks in at work with Wi-Fi?  You know the need is there – you saw it first-hand while working at McDonalds.

Archaeology? This one’s my favorite!  What could the experience of working at McDonalds possibly do to enhance the application of an Archaeology major?  Well, think for a moment about archaeologists of the future.  Imagine the excavation of an American city in ruins when they come across the rubble of a McDonalds.  Logos, Bluetooth headsets, foil condiment packets, car keys (what do you suppose this so-called civilization used *those* for?) a Star Wars backpack with a perfectly-preserved Twinkie inside – what a find!

Bottom line? No matter how humble, don’t let the lack of directly-related experience stop you from a creative evaluation of the positive characteristics and qualities you did gain from whatever experiences you did have.  Clearly, they helped shape you into the desirable applicant you are today for any major!

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3 Oct 2010, by admin

Make It Your Own

A frustrated student once told me “But everyone cheats! All my friends are getting someone else who writes better than they do to write essays for them. Why shouldn’t I do that, and why won’t you do that for me?”

Having been on an admissions committee, I can assure you that any product provided for you by someone else will be inferior to something you yourself have produced, and in the end will not serve you well.

There is a story about one student who wrote a wonderful essay – although riddled with typos and grammatical errors, it was full of “heart”. He worked for a long time with a dedicated and ethical adviser to polish the tone so that he was presenting the very best word portrait of himself, such that any admissions officer would have developed a full and positive impression of this young man after reading his work.

Unfortunately, a family member later persuaded him to hire a “ghost writer” to produce an essay which the family had been led to believe was superior because it was so “slick”, “made him sound good”, and would, they presumed, be more effective in getting him admitted to a “top” school.

Unsurprisingly, three of those top schools to which he applied received multiple duplicates of that same essay, from different applicants, all of whom were immediately disqualified and barred from admission to the UC system and to any schools at which the common application was used.

Another very compelling reason to “be yourself” is that if you misrepresent your abilities to the degree that you are admitted to a school at which you will then struggle to survive, your higher education experience will not be a good one. In the long run, it is far far better to have been a successful fish in a less notable pond, than a floundering fish in a highly prestigious one.

And finally, by resorting to a fabricated piece of work, you will have robbed yourself of the incomparable feeling of accomplishment that will come when you hit “send”, and which will be magnified many times over when those “fat envelopes” of admission start arriving in your in-box.

Ask for help generating ideas on what to write about? Great! Find supportive readers who know you well to review your early drafts and offer suggestions? An excellent plan. Give your final draft to objective and critical readers for review and final polishing? Definitely!

But even through round after round of editing, be very sure that the final product remains your own. Don’t let other people put words into your mouth or alter your own unique “voice”.  In the end, you are your own best spokesperson, and the one and only person who can most effectively present your qualifications to the school that is right for you.

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Copyright © Carroll McNeill 2010, All Rights Reserved
It's a matter of words... for when the right words matter.