Merry Christmas

Seasons Greetings to All!

I’d been feeling the holidays, stuffing myself and going through the different ways spice up this Christmas. Here’s one of my favorite.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through Wall Street,
Not a guru was stirring, ‘mongst the trading elite.
The stocks were all laid on the exchange floor with care,
In hopes that a bull market soon would be there.

The brokers were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of stock gains danced in their heads.
Readers in ‘kerchiefs, and I in my cap,
We all settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the Street there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the marble of the NYSE,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to the powers that be.
When, what with my wondering eyes should I spy,
But a mischievous stockbroker yelling, “Sell!” and, “Buy!”

With his sly little grin, he looked quite like trouble,
I knew in a moment it must be a bubble.
More rapid than eagles his stock picks they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now Groupon! Now, Zynga! Pandora and LinkedIn!
Someday maybe Facebook for money to be sinked in!
To the top of the market! To the top of the Wall!
Now buy them up! Buy them up! Buy them up all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to IPOs the troubled stocks flew,
Into portfolios of junk bonds and ETFs too.

Just then, in a twinkling, I heard in the dark,
People shouting and drumming in Zucotti Park.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney a Stock Market Santa did bound!

He was dressed all in red, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes weren’t tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of optimism he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
He started to share his good will and cheer,
Predicting a happy and healthy new year!

“The stocks will go up, with very few laggards,
You’ll probably land a few dozen ten-baggers!
Diversify, study, and keep your course steady,
Within a few years, retirement funds will be ready!”

His prediction was sweeter than fresh maple syrup,
No hard landing in China! Forget about Europe!
I was so filled with cheer I was nearly immobile,
We could recoup our losses from trusting MF Global!

He spoke these few words, then went straight to his work,
And picked all the winners, then turned with a jerk.
Laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, to his sidekicks, the elves,
“Here’s to happy portfolios in 2012!”

Let’s sing-a-long.

Curated Interview From College Admission Officers (From Reddit’s IAmA)

As requested, IAmA college admissions officer, AMA.

  • What are the qualities you look for the most in an applicant? Do they need to be smart, artsy, quirky, or all of the above?

At my school, we do consider consider how a prospective applicant would fit in with the rest of the student body. Generally, this is due to the fact that we are fairly small, and we require everyone to live on campus. Not every student would do well in this sort of living environment. On the whole, we look for students who are intellectually curious, and would be capable of contributing to the academic and social life of the college.

  • A lot of people say that a college essay needs to be quirky or weird to get you noticed. Is this true, or do people also write equally good, yet strictly utilitarian, essays?

It depends on the school. At some schools, they simply want to see if you are able to write at a college level. Being able to write well can definitely set you apart from other applicants, although some students take it too far. The essay is your chance to let us know who you are, and is especially important if you did not interview.

  • How is an admissions decision made? Is it like a board of people who decide together, or are applications allocated to different groups/people who made decisions without input from the rest of the board?

This also varies greatly by school. At my school the applications are read by members of the admissions committee. Each application is read three times, typically by the counselor who is assigned to that particular geographic area, along with two other committee members. Decisions are generally made by the committee, although individual members can state their case if they disagree with the committee’s decision.

  • So basically it’s SAT score and GPA?

No, not at all. We are holistic in our admissions process and honestly SAT and GPA are not the most important factors. We consider rigor of secondary school education, along with class rank, to be the most important factors. We also consider things (in no particular order) such as geographic location, extracurricular, awards/honors, writing sample, interview, LoRs, personality, diversity, and alumni connection. The only factor we don’t really consider is your ability to pay and whether not you would need financial aid.

  • Does your college accept International students? If yes, what are some common issues you find on these applications?

Yes, we do accept international students. Frequently we run into the issue of having transcripts translated, but usually most students know how to deal with this. We have an entire office on campus dedicated to helping international students transition into college life here. The biggest issue is financial, since international students are not eligible for federal financial aid. However, we do offer institutional aid for international students. International students are the only category where we do consider the ability of the student/family to pay in the admissions decision, since it is a major factor.

IamA college admissions officer. AMA

  • What is the overall process of selecting a student for admission at the universities you’ve worked at (from application to acceptance)?

Once a student’s application is complete, I do a first read on the application and recommend a decision, then one of my bosses does a second read and signs off on the application. At my last school, I did the read on the application and would sign off on the final decision unless I wasn’t sure of what to do, in which case it would go to a committee made up of all of the other admissions officers and myself.

  • How can a perspective student catch your attention?

Students who ask a lot of questions grab attention. They have to be good questions, though, not things where you can easily find answers to them on the website. Say nice things to us, we like to hear nice things!

  • What are some major Do’s and Dont’s for college applications and essays?

The number 1 thing is to proofread (not like I did with this post)…lots and lots and lots. Don’t make mistakes in it, at all. Have everyone and your next door neighbor proofread it and spend some time on it. Also, don’t write what you think we want to hear. If I read one more "this is how (fill in x sport) changed my life" or "I look up to (fill in family member) because…" I will tear my eyes out. Be unique, don’t be afraid to be different.

  • How important are extracurricular activities/GPA/Standardized Testing Scores?

In order of importance (different at every school): 1. Grades/Type of classes that you are taking (AP/Honors/etc.)–Usually first 2. SAT/ACT scores 3. Personal Statement 4. (far fourth) extracurricular/recommendations. There’s a common misconception that being super super involved is going to get you into college. Yes, we like to see that you are involved–we don’t like to see people with no extracurricular. BUT, we don’t really care if you are the president of 15 clubs if you have a 2.0 GPA.

  • Any general advice for applicants?

Do the application early, and spend time proofreading. Visit the colleges/unis that you are interested in. That won’t just help you, but we like to see that you visited. Think about why you are actually applying to the school–and make sure they know your reasoning in some way. Just remember that you will need to pick a school eventually, so keep that in the back of your head while you’re doing this whole thing.

  • International Students: How does the weightage of parameters change for international students?

International students are judged pretty similarly to domestic. We care a bit more about your standardized test scores (TOEFL or SAT/ACTS) since we do need something that will compare you to domestic students.

  • International Students: How much does country of origin/study matter?

Country of origin doesn’t matter a whole lot. It doesn’t hurt to be from an underrepresented area, but at the end of the day most countries are underrepresented. At my school, major doesn’t matter a whole lot–but that really differs.

Unfortunately, ability to pay is going to factor in quite a bit more for international students. Not saying it’s fair, but there are many less financial aid options for international kids, so we want to make sure you can afford it.

Getting Your Teacher’s Recommendation Letter

A significant part of the US application package is the teacher’s recommendation letter. When I first started out asking for recommendation, I was having a hard time with it. My teachers that I seek out had never wrote any recommendation letters before. I was the first, at least the first student that they taught, who was planning to study in the US.

Luckily, I have good relationship with most of the teachers. I held some post of power that requires me to have more contacts with teachers that the average student might have. In this case, I have a legs up as they know me better and could provide examples to point out my strong traits instead of just writing “He is a smart student, a good leader etc.” Instead, I got: “He is responsible, I relied on him to do …”

Just tooting my horn a little, I held the post of Class Monitor during my final year of high school not through election, but because my teacher felt that I did such a bang up job that they want me to continue my good work for the subsequent years. So, I have a lot of goodwill and examples for support when I asked them for a recommendation.

Hence, before you start asking for recommendations, nurture a good relationship with your teachers first. That way, they will understand you better and will find it easier to give substance for your character portrayal.

If you want to, write down what you did before, your accomplishments, what you think could jog the teachers mind about you on a piece of paper. You should not direct them to do your bidding but rather lead them. The recommendation letter is
for the recommender to write something about you that you couldn’t show through your certs, cv, results etc. It is about their personal observation, their personal experience when dealing with you. So, make it easy for them to put it on paper. Prepare everything before meeting your teachers first and when asked, guide them on how to prepare the letter. Let your teacher judge your worth of salt and give them ample time to write it up.

But, for the average Malaysian, you tend to be in local college when you are starting your application. So, should you reach out for your college lecturers or your high school teachers. There is no concrete answer to this but for you to consider the tradeoff. Your high school teachers might understand you better but your lecturers could provide a more recent picture.

When I was still applying, there’s a rumor that a friend from my batch approached an American professor for a recommendation letter. What he wrote down in return was just this, “I highly recommend this student to your institution.” My friends and I have a great laugh from it. I never did confirm to see whether the letter is true. I don’t know how the admission committee would judge such a recommendation letter but that friend is studying in Berkeley now.