Category: school

One Vote to Rule Them All

I blog about the school budget a fair bit. Okay, a ton. And some of you are no doubt sick and tired of hearing about me prattle on about the topic.

Boy, do I have a deal for you.

If you go out and vote to APPROVE the budget TODAY, then I won’t blog about the school budget again until next year. How’s that sound for a deal? Last year we had to do this vote about . . . four times? Three? I lost count, between all the meetings and referendums. Sometimes we had to vote no. Sometimes we had to vote yes. It was an absolute nightmare, and it really strained our entire community in a very unpleasant way.

We can avoid all of that if everyone who finally turned out to show their huge support of the schools last year turn out right now. Today. To vote YES on the budget.

It’s true that the budget has gone up this time. It should. We’re falling woefully behind, and our students are feeling the impact of this. I’ve blogged about the topic (at length). Anyone who tries to start arguing that our budget is bloated and full of fluff isn’t someone who’s taken a realistic look at the cost to educate students in the modern day. We can have a discussion about who should foot the bill (the state vs. local tax payers), or what the state mandate should be for various pieces of education (special education costs, etc.), but the bottom line of that bill as it stands today isn’t really up for debate in my book. All those other conversations are separate, and should be handled in a different forum.

Today, vote yes. Approve the budget with one vote, and let’s be done with it.


Poll times are as follows:

Chesterville – 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Industry – 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
New Vineyard – 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Temple – 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Weld – 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Farmington – 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
New Sharon – 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Starks – 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Vienna – 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Wilton – 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.


Confession time: I’ve worked at my university for more than ten years, and Saturday was the first time I’d ever attended graduation.

There have been many reasons why I didn’t go, ranging from family crises to just plain laziness. It seemed like something ancillary to what I did. I didn’t really have any strong connections to any of the students, did I? Not like they would have with their professors. I didn’t even go to my Library Science graduation. Why should I go to someone else’s?

So what persuaded me to go to this one? Some of it was my new role as Library Director, certainly. I felt like the library has a part in student lives, and it would be good for students to see a representative from the library at this, the most important last step of their schooling. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think my presence there made any students tear up or anything like that. I’d honestly be surprised if any students really noticed I was there. (Well, except for the part where they asked university staff to stand up, and I was like the only staff person in a twenty person radius of seated people . . .)

If anything, I think it was important to me to go to the ceremony. It had a bigger impact on me than I expected, certainly. Because as much as I liked to tell myself I hardly knew any of the students, when I was watching them go across the stage and get their diplomas, I was surprised to see just how many of them I did know. Students I’d taught in the graduate program. Students who had worked at the library. Students I’d played Magic with over the years.

And then of course there were the other members of the university in attendance. The professors, administrators, fellow staff. It was moving to see so many people I know and work with day to day gathered to celebrate. After all, the whole reason we exist is to do what we did on Saturday: to take in students and send out graduates. It’s a very rewarding feeling, seeing so much success gathered in one spot.

So will I be going back to graduation? Without a doubt. Not just because the library should be represented, but because I’d like to experience that same thing again. It’ll be a great reminder on days when I’m feeling pulled in a hundred directions, overworked and exasperated. A reminder for why I do all that I do. Paychecks are definitely a big part of why I work, but I’m very grateful for the reminder Saturday that they’re not the only reason I work there.

Congratulations, Graduates!!


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Crunching the School Budget Numbers (Again)

Like many of you locals (I assume), I read the latest round of budget proposals and felt a fair degree of shock. After all was said and done, the final proposed school budget ended up being $35.5 million, up $200,000 or so from the figure I used for my last round of analysis. And you’ll recall at that point that I cited how yes, the budget was going up, but it was more or less a return to where things had been back in 2015, and that the last two years had seen budget decreases for area towns.

Still, $200,000 is far from nothing, and the article in the Bulldog paints a bleak picture:

The budget would result in a 6.25 percent increase in local assessments. Specifically, Chesterville would see a $116,428 increase to $1.05 million, or 12.4 percent; Farmington would see a $248,819 increase to $4.77 million, or 5.5 percent; Industry would see a $104,147 increase to $924,000, or 12.7 percent; New Sharon would see a $48,311 increase to $1.05 million, or 4.8 percent; New Vineyard would see a $42,515 increase to $743,000, or 6.1 percent; Starks would see an $83,029 increase to $463,000, or 21.8 percent; Temple would see a $6,129 increase to $425,000, or 1.5 percent; Vienna would see a $36,470 increase to $722,000, or 5.3 percent; Weld would see a $60,815 increase to $524,000, or 13.1 percent; and Wilton would see a $46,227 increase to $2.82 million, or 1.7 percent.

Some towns are seeing increases of up to 21.8%? That’s steep by any definition of the word. True, some of that is out of the school district’s hands. It rests on how the state values each town, which goes up or down each year, depending on a number of factors. But I really began to wonder if the school board hadn’t finally gone too far.

And yet I recalled from earlier research that our district is very much on the low end of how much we spend per pupil. The school board was saying this new budget is bringing vitally needed services to our district. Could it be this is simply just taking us back to where we need to be?

So I crunched some numbers, my favorite school budget pastime. And I found what the per pupil spending was for our school district as of December 1, 2017, and I compared it to all the neighboring school districts (since budget hawks often cite the poor economy of our area as the reason for why our budget should be low). Here’s what I found:

School District State Ranking (240 total) Per Pupil Spending
RSU 78 (Rangeley) 35th $16,325
RSU 10 (Rumford) 44th $15,290
RSU 59 (Madison) 93rd $12,659
RSU 74 (New Portland) 112th $12,135
RSU 58 (Phillips) 116th $12,000
RSU 38 (Mount Vernon) 119th $11,984
RSU 54 (Skowhegan) 130th $11,715
RSU 73 (Jay) 159th $11,041
Fayette 169th $10,876
RSU 18 (Rome) 170th $10,846
RSU 9 (Farmington) 177th $10,711

That, my friends, is pitiful. Our school district was dead last among all its immediate neighbors. It’s a sign of the budget crunch we’ve been under for the last several years, as a group in the district has expressed outrage at the current cost of educating students in our society.

So what will the new budget do to these numbers? Shoot us straight to the top, right? With all that unbridled spending? Well, I crunched those numbers, too. Assuming our per pupil spending is increased 5.68% (the total increase of the budget), we end up at $11,319, which would shoot us up to just above Jay, if Jay didn’t increase its budget one penny this year.

But actually, it’s worse than that. As I noted last time, we’ve added 75 students this year, so the money we’re putting into the district gets split among more students. Taking that into account, our per pupil spending will end up at $10,959. Just above Fayette. (Again, assuming Fayette and RSU 18 don’t increase their budgets at all.) I would not be surprised at all if we’re still dead last, even after this budget increase.

I’m not trying to say this budget increase is nothing. But the cost to educate students has gone up across the board in our country, for a variety of reasons. Some like to say, “We did just fine with a piece of chalk and a chalkboard in my day.” Sure, but little things like the internet change all that. Compare the environment our children face today, from smart phones to school shootings, and trying to insist things still be done as they were fifty years ago is foolhardy.

Our students deserve better, and that’s why I’ll be voting to support this school budget, and I hope you do too. The budget meeting to vote to approve this budget is May 7th at 7pm at the high school. That’s where we’ll need to show up and vote in person. It’s where budget hawks have tried to pack the meeting before to slash the budget, and it’s vital we get a good turnout. (Even more vital, as I’ll be unable to attend. I’ll be at National Library Legislative Day in Washington DC that day, trying to convince our senators and representatives to continue to fund libraries at a national level.)

Assuming the budget is approved at that meeting, we’ll then all need to vote May 15th in our town offices to finally approve that budget. Plan accordingly, and stay tuned . . .


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If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

On Stephen Hawking

I’ve been a fan of Stephen Hawking’s since I was in 1oth grade. That year in English, we had to do a research project. (It was called an ISearch Project, as I recall, because we were allowed to use the first person when writing it.) As my topic, I chose black holes, mainly because I’d seen a movie: A Brief History of Time, which was based on Hawking’s book:

I thoroughly enjoyed writing that paper, and it made a big impact on me. Big enough that right up until college, one of the careers I was thinking about was becoming a theoretical physicist, which I imagine not too many high schoolers rattle off among their top choices. (Somewhere in an alternate universe, who knows what I’m up to at this point. Probably galactic domination.)

This was in 1993, so . . . 25 years ago. From that time forward, I liked reading about Stephen Hawking, doing my best to keep up with what he was talking about. I got to see him in person at a lecture in Utah the same year. (It was in Abravenel Hall in July of that year.) It was a big auditorium (about 15,000 or so), so it wasn’t like I was up close and  personal with the man, but it was still fascinating to hear him “speak” about his research.

I’ve been inspired by his ability to make so much out of a life many thought would be impossible. I’m amazed he lived so long and accomplished so much.

At the time, the ISearch paper seemed like this huge undertaking. Because I’m a stickler for organization, I still have a copy of the whole thing, though it’s in an older format that took a bit of finagling to read on today’s machines. And so I present to you today, in honor of Stephen Hawking’s passing, my most cutting edge 10th grade research in all its glory. (There was an oral report that went along with this. I remember making a big poster for it. Sadly, I don’t have a copy of that.)

Black Holes and Their Possible Effects On Man

Black holes.  The very words we use to describe these phenomena inspire mystery.  When I started this report I knew very little of black holes.  The majority of my knowledge came from a remarkable biographical movie called A Brief History of Time.  It describes the life and research of today’s most intelligent scientist, Stephen Hawking, who has spent the last couple of years researching black holes.  Although most of the information was extremely complicated, I learned, in rather vague terms, a lot more about black holes than I knew originally.  Even with my original knowledge and the information I had gained from the movie, I still knew little.

A black hole is much smaller than a pinhead but infinitely more dense so that the gravitational pull it has creates an object called an event horizon- the area where the gravitational pull begins to take effect.  Even more amazing, this pull is so great that nothing, not even light, can escape once it is caught.  Because the black hole allows no light to escape, it is virtually invisible.  In addition, I learned that inside the event horizon, time itself slows down so that somone inside the black hole would age much slower than a person outside it.  However, once inside the black hole, he would have very little time, at most a couple of days, before he met the black hole itself, killing him.  I decided that I wanted to discover what black holes are and, if man could reach one easily, how they might change our society.

To understand what a black hole is, you must first understand how it is formed.  It begins with the birth of a star, which occurs when a great amount of gas, usually hydrogen or oxygen, condenses together because of gravitational attraction (Hawking, Time 82).  As far as I know, gravitational attraction is the force that draws two atoms together due to their gravitational pulls.  Because it is soon too dense for all the gas to fit, the gas particles begin to collide into each other (Hawking, Time 82).  As the gas does this, it heats up, eventually causing the oxygen or hydrogen to form into helium, releasing the built-up heat (Hawking, Time 82).  After a while (it varies from star to star) the large amount of heat released stops the condensation of the gas that makes up the star, and the star has a long life spanning quite a few millenia (Hawking, Time 83).

There comes a time that that life must end, however.  The gas runs low and the star begins to contract again (Hawking, Time 83).  However, it soon gets too dense, and in order to prolong its life it must expand rapidly, at which point in time it will go one of three routes (Hawking, Time 83).  There is a specific size of star, called the Chandrasekhar limit, that determines which route the star will follow (Hawking, Time 83).  If a star is less than or equal to the Chandrasekhar limit when it begins to expand, it won’t die but will soon stabilize and live forever as a white dwarf or a neutron star (Hawking, Time 84).  If it is over the limit, on the other hand, it will either throw off enough weight to go under the limit or collapse into a point of singularity, a black hole (Hawking, Time 84-85).  However, at present there is only one object in space that might be a black hole (it exists in Cygnus X-1, part of the constellation Orion);  man knows of no others (Patz).  However, some scientists have estimated that there may be relatively small black holes about as far away from Earth as Pluto (Hawking, Essays 109-110).  Personally, I believe that because there are so many stars in the universe, there could be quite a few black holes there, as well.

The possible black hole we know of has many interesting characteristics.  From research it has been determined that the only ways to detect a black hole are by the enormous amount of X-rays it gives off or by getting close enough to sense its intense gravitational pull (Patz).  This is because the black hole creates no noise and you can’t see it because its gravity lets out no light (Patz).  (The reason that light can be affected by gravity is rather complicated, and won’t be discussed in this paper).  Most black holes rotate around an axis, much like earth, and, depending on how fast the rotation is, have a slight or distinct bulge in the center (Hawking, Time 91).  As for their size, Professor Hawking has said that “a black hole weighing about a billion tons (about the mass of a mountain) would have the radius of about ten to the negative thirteenth centimeter (about the size of a neutron or proton).”  To give you an idea of the amount of force a black hole’s gravity has, if someone got caught in its pull, by the time they reached the black hole itself the bonds holding each atom together would have broken down, leaving only separate protons, neutrons, and electrons (Patz).  This aspect surprised me.  I had been aware that the gravitational forces of a black hole were intense.  However, I had not imagined they were strong enough to tear apart the very building blocks of life itself.

The next part of a black hole is what I consider to be the first obstacle in the way of finding out more about the actual black hole.  Surrounding the black hole is a barrier of intense heat and pressure, called the event horizon, that can’t be penetrated by anything, physical or technological (Patz).  The event horizon is far away from the black hole itself and is billions of times larger.  As  Stephen Hawking says, it is the “wave front of light that just fails to escape to infinity but remains hovering at the Schwarzchild radius” (Hawking, Essays 103).  The Schwarzchild radius varies for each star and is two times Newton’s constant of gravity (G) times the mass of the star (M) divided by the square root of the speed of light (C) (2GM/ C) (Hawking, Essays 103-104).  As I interpret it, this radius is the point of no return from a black hole, the place where light itself begins to be affected by the hole’s gravity.  As far as I know, the reason no one knows what a black hole itself looks like because it is invisible, and anyone who could pass the event horizon to see it wouldn’t be able to get back out to describe it to us.  BEfore our knowledge of black holes expands, I think we’ll first have to devise a method of getting paast the so far impenetrable event horizon.

The final aspect of black holes is Hawking radiation.  Hawking radiation, discovered by Prof. Hawking through some fairly new theories, is the one thing that ever comes out of a black hole.   To begin, scientists have discovered that space, a gigantic vacuum, is not as empty as they originally hypothesized (Folger 101).  Throughout it, pairs of “virtual particles”, subatomic pieces of matter and antimatter, rapidly pop into space by stealing energy from any nearby source, collide together, and explode back into nothingness (Folger 101).  This works like clockwork until black holes enter the picture.  If virtual particles are “born” next to a black hole (a source of energy), there is a way they can survive (Folger 101).  When the particles pop into existence, they recieve a tiny “push” of energy that shoves the pair apart from each other before they collide back together (Folger 101).  However, in a pair formed near a black hole, one of the particles may be “pushed” past the event horizon while the other is “pushed” out of it, letting one of the particles escape (Gribbin).  These particles that escape from the black hole are called Hawking radiation (Folger 101).  This radiation allows for the death of black holes (Folger 101).  This, too, surprised me.  I had always pictured black holes as being immortal.  This however, was just one of my many beliefs that were changed through this report.

The death of a black hole is a rather long, intricate process.  When Hawking radiation escapes, with it goes the small portion of energy which it stole from the black hole (Folger 101).  According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, energy is equal to mass (Folger 101).  Since the radiation took its energy from the black hole, the black hole lost that energy and its equal in mass, resulting with a small diminishment in the size of the hole (Gribbin).  With enough of these small robberies, the black hole will eventually disappear and die (Folger 101).  However, because the black hole is continually growing by consuming more mass from its surroundings, the death of any black hole will not occur until eons after all the material in the universe is contained within a black hole (Folger 101).  This concept should not be that unsettling.  After all, “all things come to an end,” and the human race will probably be extinct by then, anyway.

In addition, there are three other objects in space that are related to black holes.  The first of these are white holes, believed to be the exact opposite of black holes.  Scientists hypothesize that an object might go in through a black hole and come out through a white hole (Patz).  By their reasoning, if there is something out there that takes everything in, there must be something that shoves everything out (Patz).  I agree with the scientists because it seems quite logical.  Like black holes, white holes may be invisible as well or have other characteristics that hide them from our view right now.  I believe, however, that we will one day find them.

The second “hole” is a possible link between white holes and black holes.  This new type of hole is a worm hole, a passageway that connects two regions of space, possibly a white hole and black hole (Freedman 59) or a black hole and a black hole (Davies).  A worm hole linking a black hole to a black hole wouldn’t do much as far as space travel is concerned because in both, the traveler, if he survived, wouldn’t be able to get out (Davies).  A worm hole between a black hole and a white hole, however, has some interesting characteristics.  This type of worm hole would be a very fast “short cut” between two far-away regions in space because it does not follow the regular rules of space and time (Freedman 59).  One of the problems is that worm holes are very unstable, and if someone were to try to pass through them, that someone would probably upset it, causing it to close and thus kill the traveller (Freedman 61).  As I figure, the traveler would also have to pass through the singularity of a black hole making the chances of passing through a worm hole look pretty slim.

Where I had given up hope, however, another had “just begun to fight”.  Professor Kip Thorne believes man could use “exotic matter,” matter more dense than the worm hole itself, to hold open and stabilize a worm hole so that it could be used ((Freedman 61).  There are two problems with this (Freedman 61).  First, this would give the worm hole negative mass and energy and anti-gravity, going against the laws of general relativity (Freedman 61).  Second, it is not known if exotic matter can interact with people (Freedman 61).  (Thorne himself gives it just a 50/50 chance (Freedman 64)).  Thorne’s answer to this is that either it’s impossible, exotic matter doesn’t interact with people (it passes through regular matter), or, most unlikely, humans could put a vacuum tube down the worm hole, protecting the people from the exotic matter.  Even if scientists got past that step, it is still unknown how to construct exotic matter that doesn’t contradict the laws of physics (Folger 61).  I believe that if any new discoveries on this subject are ever made, it won’t be until we find a worm hole close enough to study.  That is definitely going years to discover.

It is because of all these interesting characteristics of black holes, white holes, and worm holes that rather interesting theories have developed as to how they could affect our lives.  Aside from the belief that black holes are going to eventually kill the universe (Folger 101) and the idea that worm holes may be a faster method of space travel (Freedman 61), the first of these is the age old concept of time travel.  Because, as I had learned from the movie, it is somehow presumed that black holes are believed to slow time down inside them, I assumed that mankind might one day make a spaceship to travel into the future.  I believed this to be possible if the spaceship could build up enough speed to glance off the event horizon, going enough of the way into the black hole to slow time down for the ship but not getting pulled all the way into the hole.  I then thought that the ship could bounce back out of the black hole at some point in the future.  Of course, I had hardly expected to be correct in my hypothesis.

However, I found out that time travel is possible through the use of a black hole.  If the spaceship was strong and fast enough, it could “bounce” off a black hole and use the gravitational assist of the event horizon to propell it even faster, approaching the speed of light (300,000 km/s) (Patz).  It could then use this tremendous speed to escape from the black hole and go into the future (Patz).  However, this plan is somewhat flawed.  First of all, it would require a lot of precision to avoid falling into the black hole (Patz).  The slightest miscalulation would send the ship on a one way trip to oblivion (Patz).  As I learned in my interview with Mr. Patz, the other big problem is slowing the ship down.  He said that a ship going that fast would take an extremely long time to slow down.  While this may present some problems, the fact still remains that the people inside the ship would, in effect, be going into the future (Patz).  However, the passengers wouldn’t be going ahead in time (Patz).  They would still be going at 300,000 km/s no matter what and would arrive at their destination the same time as they would have if time hadn’t slowed down when they were going at that incredible rate (Patz).  To the passengers, however, the journey would have seemed faster because their time had slowed down (Patz).  How much time they had lost would be determined by how long they had been travelling at that great rate, I suppose.  I was, of course, very interested that my hypothesis had been partially true.

Another theory on time travel centers around worm holes.  Prof. Thorne believes that if one end of a stable worm hole is spun at a speed near the speed of light, a “time hole” would be created that would allow travel back in time to the conception of the time hole, no earlier (Freedman 61).  The reasons for this are extremely complicated and won’t be discussed here to save you a boring lecture.  However, a time hole is very unlikely.  Professor Thorne says, “The chance of achieving any sort of time travel within the next thousand years are nil.”  For starters, it is not known whether worm holes can be spun or if there exists any easily moved object with which to spin them (Patz).  Add to this the fact that scientists don’t even know if worm holes exist and if they can be stabilized, and the hopes look pretty dim (Patz).  I doubt this theory will ever be realized.  With all its flaws, it seems to me impossible that it could be even partially true.

Another interesting theory I had heard is that black holes may lead to alternate universes that are connected via black holes.  It is not very likely that, even if this fact were true, it will do anyone any good (Patz).  The black hole would almost definitely destroy any thing that fell into it if the event horizon didn’t get them first (Patz).  So, even if there were an alternate universe, the only thing of the traveler that would enjoy it would be his neutrons, protons and electrons (Patz).  I believe, however, that black holes might lead to alternate universes.  It would take a lot more technology to get past the event horizon and the singularity of the black hole, but I don’t think we should give the idea up yet.  After all, a couple of decades ago, no one even thought it was possible to fly, let alone go into outerspace.

The next theory has physicists intrigued the most.  It is the idea that what goes into a black hole can’t be recreated through anything, not even Hawking radiation (Folger 100).  Physicists center their studies around the recreation of the past using the future (Folger 100).  However, if there is something that exists in the universe that utterly eliminates the past, physics has just been eliminated as well (Folger 100).  Naturally, the physicts have developed theories, three to be exact, on this subject (Folger 102).  Although none of them really help physicists of today, I suppose they must make an effort to reassure themselves that their jobs exist.

The first theory on this subject is the already mentioned belief that the past can’t be recreated.  Because the radiation comes out at the event horizon, far away from the actual black hole, Hawking radiation all looks the same, much like steam that only appeared from a glass of hot chocolate when it was miles away from the glass, with its scent and distinguishing characteristics all long gone (Folger 101).  The second theory is that Hawking radiation has distinguishable characteristics- we just don’t know what to look for (Folger 102). The last solution is that the information never emerges- it’s not contained within the Hawking radiation (Folger 102).  They believe that when the black hole dies, it leaves a jumble of information that is in some way inaccessible (Folger 102).  This theory isn’t too much different from the first one, though it may be more comforting to the physicists to know the information is there, even if it cannot be seen.  I believe that it will take time and a closer real black hole to determine which theory is right.

I find the next theory to be the most interesting.  Scientists have hypothesized that general relativity and quantum physics, a set of rules having do do with subatomic particles, will one day be combined to form a law that governs everything (Folger 106).  Scientists believe that if there is a place to do this, the best possible place is a black hole (Folger 106).  The probabilities for at least a change in the current theories of relativity are good, seeing as how Einstein died before he came close to finishing his theories (Patz).  I don’t know of any theories that scientists have developed yet that sooner or later haven’t been proved wrong.  In addition, I know that scientists have been encountering numerous problems with the current theories when dealing with objects such as black holes.  Therefore, I feel fairly sure that Einstein’s theory will also be proven false.

Through this report I have learned a great deal.  Even though there are no 100% certain black holes found as of yet, I believe, as Mr. Patz does, that we will find something that at least resembles a black hole, even if it isn’t everything we thought it would be.  I think that if we one day get adept at space travel and reach a black hole, at least someone will try to go into the future.  I further believe he/she will have a good chance of succeeding.  I believe that white holes and worm holes exist, but I don’t think they’re distuinguishable from black holes, given that they’re all singularities.  Therefore, I don’t believe we’ll find out if they exist until we get close enough to one to find out.  However, I don’t think either of these new holes will really affect our society aside from the scientific gains involved.  I predict that our theories on black holes will change drastically over the years as scientists gain new information.  However, I believe it will be a long while until black holes have an impact on our lives.  At that point, they may change our societies in ways we cannot even imagine.

Works Cited

Davies, Paul.  “Wormholes and Time Machines.”  Sky & Telescope January 1992: 20-23.  Rpt. in SIRS:  CD-ROM.  CD-ROM disc.  SIRS, 1992.

Folger, Tim.  “The Ultimate Vanishing.”  Discover October 1993:  98-106.

Freedman, David.  “Cosmic Time Travel.”  Discover June 1989:  58-64.

Gribbin, John.  “The Birth and Death of the Universe.”  Unesco Courier May 1991: 36-40.  Rpt. in SIRS:  CD-ROM.  CD-ROM disc.  SIRS, 1992.

Hawking, Stephen.  A Brief History of Time From the Big Bang to Black      Holes.  New York:  Bantam Books, 1988.

—Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays.  New York:  Bantam     Books, 1993.

Patz, Derrik.  Telephone Interview.  5 December, 1993.


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Admission Essay Tips

I’ve had several friends and family members mention their children are working on admission essays for college right around now, and it’s made me nostalgic. Back in the day, I moonlighted as an admission essay advisor. (Actually, I checked to see if my old company is still kicking around, and it is. They specialize in law school applications, and they’re now charging $895 for the full service. Honestly, when you consider how important it is to some aspiring lawyers to get into “the right” law school, and what that might do for them long term, I think it’s a pretty good investment. They end up with some pretty stellar essays, if I do say so myself.)

I won’t go into detail about what we would talk about during the drafting process. It’s too complex to really get down into a blog post, probably because in many ways, it felt much more like therapy than it did like simply drafting an essay. I think many people expected us to just say “write this,” but we’d start right at the beginning with coming up with the proper topic. Something that represented the person and was compelling. That’s harder than it sounds (and it sounds pretty hard.) We’d ask them to do a ton of free writes on various topics, and then we’d sift through those free writes for nuggets that could be used later on.

I did that for a few years. I was never as good at is as the founder (who was just fantastic), but I think I did an okay job. And from my experience with it, I do have a few recommendations for people who are looking to write a good essay for a college application.

  • Be yourself. Honestly, I think this is one of the biggest principles people should keep in mind. The rest of your application will detail all about how smart you are, the classes you took, your extracurriculars. The essays are a chance for you to literally show the committee who you are beyond those facts and figures. Don’t tell them what you think they want to hear. Everybody’s doing that. I know you might not think you’re unique. You’re wrong. It’s just that it can be hard to see yourself accurately enough to realize the things you do that are really you.
  • Don’t fall into the rut of just rattling off the first topic that comes into your head. These usually fall into tropes that a whole slew of people are also writing on. The Big Sports Game. How Hard My Life Is. How I Overcame That Hard Thing. I’m not trying to say you can’t write on those topics, but if you do, you raise the baseline of how good your essay needs to be to stand out. Think of it like this: the committee is reading through hundreds of essays. Which will be easier to stand out with: one of a hundred essays that talk about The Big Sports Game, or one of the only ones that discuss how hard it was to give up your addiction to broccoli? I guarantee you one of those will be more memorable than the others.
  • Show, don’t tell. I know, it’s a principle that’s been repeated so many times it seems trite, but it’s repeated because it’s true, and it’s a huge key for a good essay. Here’s the thing. The committee doesn’t know you. If you use your essay to tell them who you are, then they are liable to question your claims. If, instead, you show them who you are, then they will believe it so much more easily. I could tell you I’m a hard worker. Great. You might or might not believe me. But I could also tell you that I worked sixty hours a week for a charity drive for the last three months of my junior year, all while keeping straight A’s and taking care of my ailing French poodle. (Note: not actually true.) But if I tell you that story, you will likely come to the conclusion that I am a hard worker. If I don’t have to come right out and say it, it’s so much more powerful.
  • Provide details. This is connected to the Show Don’t Tell principle. Get specific. Don’t tell me the room was messy. Describe the mess. The smell. The way the molding potato chips squelch under your feet after three months.
  • Keep it focused. Decide what you want the takeaway of the essay to be, and then make sure that’s what it’s centered around. You don’t have a lot of space. It’s going to have to be tight to have it be good. Too many people try to throw in everything they can think of to try and fill all that space. If you’re doing it right, you’re going to be bemoaning how little space you have to get it all done.
  • Take time. When I was working with clients, I would work with them for weeks. Months, sometimes. Lots of people sit down and try to bang out an essay in an hour or two. If you wait until the last minute to do it, then that’s what you’re stuck with. If you start well ahead of time, you have so much more time to get it done right.
  • Don’t worry too much about the prompt. Most of them are pretty generic on purpose. Write a great essay, and then tailor it to the prompt if you absolutely need to. But they’re almost all there to try and get you to show who you are. Start with that.
  • Be careful about what you include. The wrong sentence in an essay can stick out and erase everything else you had in there. You might have a gorgeous essay that’s just incredible, but if you throw a quote from Hitler or Stalin, that’s going to be the one thing the committee ends up remembering about you. “Do you remember the kid who quoted Hitler?” (Hint: that’s not a good thing.) In other words, watch out for sexist, racist, elitist language.

Honestly, this is a topic I could probably write three or four more posts about easily. I think the biggest takeaway is to remember that the essay represents who you are individually. It’s your chance to show the committee why they simply have to have you come to their school. So many people will be trying to just wow them with the same themes, over and over. Make yours unique and well-crafted, and you’ll really stand out as an individual.

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