Applying For College: Successful Strategies and Common Myths

Where college application season often means reaching for the stars, it's also important to maintain perspective about your financial limitations.

Whether you believe higher education to be the pinnacle of all personal achievement or the biggest swindle in an age notable for the depravity of its swindlers, the cold hard truth is that if you go to college you'll end up with a better chance of success later in life. It's difficult for teens to get over this fact when the time comes to start applying for schools. How can you say, "hey, no pressure" when years of research and supposed common knowledge presents the opposite perspective? There is a lot of pressure to get into school, especially the right school.


But is all this tension really necessary?  "No," says experienced educator Leslie Turnbull, writing for The Week:

"Applying to and attending college is very important. 'Getting in' to a certain, specific school is not. The key is understanding the difference between those two things."

Her piece offers five bits of advice for maintaining perspective and understanding one's abilities and limitations when searching for the right school. For example, students and parents need to take a hard look at their finances before deciding to take out loans or settling on an institution that may not be able to offer adequate financial aid. This may seem like common sense to some. For others, getting into Stanford or Harvard is the end-all be-all.

Turnbull explains that it doesn't have to be this way. After all, the latest Nobel Prize winner in physics works at UC Santa Barbara, not MIT. Current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella didn't graduate from an Ivy League college; his diploma reads "University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee." (Of course, Turnbull's bio proclaims her a "Harvard-educated anthropologist," not that that's hardly relevant...). Her point is that folks are able to achieve great things on their own volition even if they don't attend the fanciest institutions.

Another useful piece of advice Turnbull offers is to ease up on the quest to amass the flashiest array of extracurricular activities. Having a little too much on your résumé may very well backfire. She quotes counselor Anne Love Hall:

"College admission officers are actually a little wary of applicants who claim to be able to letter in two Varsity sports while being active in student government and starring in the fall play and running the afterschool tutoring program and wailing on sax in the jazz band and volunteering in a lab on weekends. Admissions offers start wondering whether applicants are really committed to those activities, or just checking off items on some contrived list. You're better off being sincerely dedicated to a small number of things you actually care about."

For more strategies and myths, be sure to check out Turnbull's full article (linked again below) and let us know what you think. 

Read more at The Week

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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
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The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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