Wow. It's actually crazy to think that it's that time of year again for students all over the States to fill out the application to go on YES Abroad. It barely felt like any time at all that I was filling out the application to come to Bosnia. And it feels almost less than that when I first applied in 2010 (I was rejected, in case anyone was wondering). This is the fourth application season I've gone through. Twice actually filling it out, once witnessing it from abroad, and now witnessing it from within the States after my own exchange.
The application season is stressful, no doubt. You think you have four months to complete your application, which you do, and that seems like so much time! But then the holidays roll along and you get caught up in singing 'Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer' and eating turkey and next thing you know the application is due!
I took all four months to complete the application. Whether it was switching in and out my pictures or editing my essays or getting good recommendations, I was constantly working on it. The first time I did it, I wasn't really thinking anything through (hence why I was rejected). My essays were short and incomplete, my pictures not really clear on what I did, and I didn't explain my extracurriculars well enough to give anyone a clear idea of what I liked to do. So! For you current applicants for 2014-2015 (what even. How.) I have some advice.
1. Get a second opinion. And I don't mean from one of your friends. I mean, go to your English or History teacher or parent/guardian or someone who knows what a good application looks like. They will help you make yourself sound wonderful (when I'm sure you all are ;) ) and having a well-crafted essay definitely helps. I got my mom to edit my essays with me, rewording things that didn't sound right or adding things I didn't think of and it turned my essays into wonderful little pieces of work.
2. Take your time. This is extremely important. Most people will want to book it out in a night or two, but taking your time is really key. You can go over essays and change things you don't like, add things that you've begun, and be overall satisfied with your finished works. Plus it diminishes the stress when you aren't thinking, "Oh gosh this needs to be done by tomorrow and I've only written a sentence and put my information in." If you can slowly go through everything, you'll be sure not to miss anything and get everything perfect.
3. Talk to alumni. Whether it's for your sake or your parents, it's always good to talk to people who have been on the program before. It makes you feel secure and comfortable with what you're doing, not to mention they give you great help during the entire process. I had my list of alumni I talked to and they encouraged me and helped me like some people just couldn't. They assure you things will be alright and push you to keep going. There is a Facebook group so be sure to join it! You'll find people just like you, too. :)
4. Research. You may not know a lot about YES Abroad or the countries you are applying to study in and the last thing you want happening is saying something along the lines of, "I want to study abroad, especially in a south east Asia country like Oman!" It just won't look right. Having a basic knowledge of the countries you want to study abroad in is always good to use so you can convince the reviewers that you really want this.
5. Write your essays carefully. Your essays will always be tricky. It's difficult sometimes to convey feelings into words, so definitely think them through and plan them. It's easy to start rambling and stray from the original topic. With the Host Family letter especially, be honest, definitely, but careful with your wording. Don't use popular American slang or idioms that won't translate well into the foreign language of your potential host country and family. Make it clear what kind of person you are, your hopes and dreams, your family, all while using clear language that can be translated well. Again, don't lie about yourself or make yourself sound better/worse than who you are. Get that second opinion to help you write an honest essay of how people perceive you, so your potential host family/country know you before they even get to meet you.
6. Really, really want this. YES Abroad is pretty crazy in knowing the people who really want this and who would be good for this program. This program isn't some easy vacation where you can chill the entire year. It's important you have real, honest reasons why you want to be a part of this program. You have to want to challenge yourself and be tested. Don't try painting yourself in this grandeur, making yourself sound better than you are because they will see through you in the interviews. Learn your reasons for going and voice them properly. Don't go on a social media site being a know-it-all and respect everyone else applying. You have to be good for this program and to be good for the program, you have to be good with everyone else.
I hope this all helps and I wish luck to all the current applicants! Feel free to contact me on Twitter @KateWells7 or comment on my blog. Here's the link to the application: http://www.yes-abroad.org/pages/how-apply
Anyway, I have to go write an article for www.goabroad.org where I'm soon going to be a published writer there! So crazy to think that.
Until more advice and nostalgia,