Sep 28, 2009

Make Up Your Mind

Mind over matter dictates that with the right attitude, a person can achieve just about anything. When confronting great intellectual difficulty, this ideal becomes particularly critical. However, few people realize just how dramatic the opposite effect can be. With the wrong attitude, you could defeat yourself without even trying.

In “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, authored by noted Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, this idea is explored through the concept of a “Fixed Mindset” versus a “Growth Mindset”. Dr. Dweck visited “Countdown To College Radio” last year to discuss her findings on student intelligence and motivation.

Dr. Dweck’s research revealed that, depending on a specific mindset, coping with failure could lead an individual down two separate paths. A “Growth Mindset” allows the individual to see failure as an opportunity to improve and learn, with success stemming from a change in strategy or method. By contrast, an individual with a “Fixed Mindset” will take failure as an indication of personal inability, and consequently, performance will decrease and the individual could give up on the difficult task all together.

These opposite attitudes hold many other consequences. Individuals with a “Fixed Mindset” will try very hard not to look dumb or stupid, and will usually only proceed with something (like a new activity) when they know they’ll be good at it. “Growth Mindset” people will jump into something new headfirst, ready to tackle any obstacle. They may fail a few times, but they will learn from their mistakes and correct them so they aren’t repeated in the future.

Academics are no different. Study habits for a “Fixed Mindset” student will mean cramming in as much information as possible with minimal effort and a heavy reliance on natural ability to carry the grade. “Growth Mindset” students will relish in the challenge of new material, and will really go in-depth to learn it. If both mindsets were to receive a poor grade, the “Growth Mindset” would take advantage of all the resources available to understand and correct why they did not get the grade they wanted, while a “Fixed Mindset” student might consider dropping out or even cheating.

Next week, we’ll take a look at where these two attitudes come from and what you can do to help your mind grow.

Sep 21, 2009

College Application Letter of Recommendation

Everyone knows that the right connections can take you anywhere. Sometimes all it takes is a foot in the door to gain access where everyone else is turned away. This is a fact of life that is universally applicable, no matter where your goals may lead.

Getting into college is no different. But even though you may have never met the dean of the school of your choice or had a close family friend on the admissions board, there are still ways to use the opinions of others to sway things your way. One perfect way to do this is the letter of recommendation.

Consider who you want writing yours. Pick a teacher whose class you enjoy. Whatever you present to the letter-writer in class will be presented to the letter-reader in admissions. If you are attentive, responsible, and show initiative in class, your teacher will write that in. If you fall asleep and rarely turn in homework, your teacher will write that in. You want to present admissions with the ideal student- find the teacher who will best see that side of you.

Also consider the authority of the letter-writer. A brand new teacher will not hold as much sway as the head of a department. However, it is always better to pick the person who knows you best, even if they aren’t as far up the totem pole as some other choice.

Make sure to give your teacher enough time to complete his or her task. It’s hard for someone to say you have disciplined work habits when you’re trying to get something done at the last minute! Depending on workload, you should give your teacher about a month to get the letter done. While this may seem like a very long time, teachers are usually way too busy to think about much more than grading and running a class. Let your teacher of choice know as soon as they are chosen. Ask about their schedule, let them in on your deadlines, and try to find something that works for them. Remember, asking for a letter of recommendation is more than just a favor- they are putting their own reputation on the line for you!