It’s safe to say that most people want to be an educated person.
Last night I was asking myself these two questions: Who is an educated person? What does someone have to know in order to be considered an educated person? Look at the following:
- Do you need to have an advanced degree in order to be considered well-educated?
- Does it mean being prepared to join the work force?
- Are there certain books that you have to have read?
I did some research in order to be able to answer these questions. After reading several lists of the characteristics of an educated person—including Harvard and Princeton University’s lists–I came up with the a list of the 50 characteristics of an educated person.
50 Characteristics of an Educated Person
1. An educated person has the ability to think clearly and independently.
2. An educated person has good judgment.
3. An educated person knows how to learn.
4. An educated person knows how to acquire desired skills by identifying and utilizing available resources, deconstructing the process required for learning a particular skill, and experimenting with potential approaches.
5. An educated person has the ability to take initiative and work alone.
6. An educated person has the ability to communicate thoughts and ideas in writing, clearly and concisely.
7. An educated person has the ability to speak clearly.
8. An educated person has the ability to reason analytically and critically.
9. An educated person has the ability to think inductively and deductively.
10. An educated person questions assumptions.
11. An educated person doesn’t blindly accept what they are told; they go see for themselves. They can discern truth from error, regardless of the source.
12. An educated person knows how to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information (between the important and the trivial).
13. An educated person knows how to make productive use of knowledge; they know where to get the knowledge that they need, and they have the ability to organize that knowledge into a plan of action that is directed to a definite end.
14. An educated person understands human nature and has the ability to establish, maintain, and improve lasting relationships.
15. An educated person knows how to establish rapport with others; they know how get others to trust and respect them.
16. An educated person knows how to cooperate and collaborate effectively with others.
17. An educated person knows how to resolve conflicts with others.
18. An educated person knows how to persuade others.
19. An educated person has the ability to conceptualize and solve problems.
20. An educated person knows how to make decisions.
21. An educated person has the ability to see connections among disciplines, ideas and cultures.
22. An educated person is able to cross disciplinary boundaries and explore problems and their solutions from multiple perspectives.
23. An educated person is someone who has been educated holistically: creatively, culturally, spiritually, morally, physically, technologically, and intellectually.
24. An educated person has a broad liberal-arts education. They have a good overview of the following subjects: the natural sciences; the social sciences; history; geography; literature; philosophy; and theology.
25. An educated person has depth of knowledge—that is, specialized knowledge–in a particular field.
26. An educated person has achieved victory over themselves; they know how to withstand discomfort in the short term in order to achieve important goals in the long term.
27. An educated person has the capacity to endure and persevere.
28. An educated person is self-aware; they know how to perceive and manage their own internal states and emotions.
29. An educated person knows where and how to focus their attention.
30. An educated person has ethical values and has integrity.
31. An educated person has the ability and the discipline to do what is right.
32. An educated person is well-read and has cultural sophistication.
33. An educated person has equal esteem for everyone, without regard to gender, race, religion, country of origin, and so on.
34. An educated person understands their obligation to leave the world a little better than they found it.
35. An educated person is capable of doing new things; they have the ability to generate ideas and turn them into reality. An educated person is innovative.
36. An educated person is one whose natural curiosity has been awakened with the purpose of satisfying that curiosity.
37. An educated person has the ability to identify needed behaviors and traits and turn them into habits.
38. An educated person has the ability to identify harmful behaviors and traits—including thinking habits that are not serving them well—and the ability to modify them.
39. An educated person has the ability to keep their life in proper balance.
40. An educated person has the flexibility to admit when they’re wrong.
41. An educated person has quantitative literacy; they know how to use arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and statistics to solve problems.
42. An educated person can speak at least one language other than their own.
43. An educated person has financial literacy; they have the knowledge necessary to make sound financial decisions.
44. An educated person is adaptable and knows how to deal with change.
45. An educated person knows how to handle ambiguity.
46. An educated person has the ability to explore alternative viewpoints.
47. An educated person has aesthetic appreciation; they can sing and dance well, play at least one musical instrument, and can appreciate architecture, great art, and other expressions of creative genius.
48. An educated person has developed the personal philosophy that will allow them to be happy and successful.
49. An educated person has the ability and the discipline to constantly improve.
50. An educated person has the ability to pursue lifelong learning.
I consider the 50 characteristics above to be those that are necessary in order to be a well educated person. In turn, being an educated person is an essential prerequisite for living your best life.
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Getting into an elite college has never been more cutthroat. Last year, Harvard’s admissions rate dipped to a record low, with only 5.3% of applicants getting an acceptance letter. Stanford’s rate was even lower, at 5.05%.
These days, it takes more than impressive grades, a full roster of extracurriculars, and a deep commitment to community service to get into a well-ranked school. Experts say that a stellar essay is the linchpin that will win the admissions department over. But what is less well known is that different colleges favor particular topics and even specific words used in essays.
This is a key finding from AdmitSee, a startup that invites verified college students to share their application materials with potential applicants. High school students can pay to access AdmitSee’s repository of successful college essays, while college students who share their materials receive a small payment every time someone accesses their data. “The biggest differentiator for our site is that college students who share their information are compensated for their time,” Stephanie Shyu, cofounder of AdmitSee, tells Fast Company. “This allows them to monetize materials that they have sitting around. They can upload their file and when they check back in a few months later, they might have made several hundred dollars.”
Shyu says that this model has allowed AdmitSee to collect a lot of data very rapidly. The company is only a year old and just landed $1.5 million in seed funding from investors such asFounder.org and The Social + Capital Partnership. But in this short time, AdmitSee has already gathered 15,000 college essays in their system. Many are from people who got into well-ranked colleges, since they targeted these students first. The vast majority of these essays come from current college students who were admitted within the last two or three years.
AdmitSee has a team that analyzes all of these materials, gathering both qualitative and quantitative findings. And they’ve found some juicy insights about what different elite colleges are looking for in essays. One of the most striking differences was between successful Harvard and Stanford essays. (AdmitSee had 539 essays from Stanford and 393 from Harvard at the time of this interview, but more trickle in every day.) High-achieving high schoolers frequently apply to both schools—often with the very same essay—but there are stark differences between what their respective admissions departments seem to want.
What Do You Call Your Parents?
The terms “father” and “mother” appeared more frequently in successful Harvard essays, while the term “mom” and “dad” appeared more frequently in successful Stanford essays.
Harvard Likes Downer Essays
AdmitSee found that negative words tended to show up more on essays accepted to Harvard than essays accepted to Stanford. For example, Shyu says that “cancer,” “difficult,” “hard,” and “tough” appeared more frequently on Harvard essays, while “happy,” “passion,” “better,” and “improve” appeared more frequently in Stanford essays.
This also had to do with the content of the essays. At Harvard, admitted students tended to write about challenges they had overcome in their life or academic career, while Stanford tended to prefer creative personal stories, or essays about family background or issues that the student cares about. “Extrapolating from this qualitative data, it seems like Stanford is more interested in the student’s personality, while Harvard appears to be more interested in the student’s track record of accomplishment,” Shyu says.
With further linguistic analysis, AdmitSee found that the most common words on Harvard essays were “experience,” “society,” “world,” “success,” “opportunity.” At Stanford, they were “research,” “community,” “knowledge,” “future” and “skill.”
What the Other Ivies Care About
It turns out, Brown favors essays about volunteer and public interest work, while these topics rank low among successful Yale essays. In addition to Harvard, successful Princeton essays often tackle experiences with failure. Meanwhile, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania tend to accept students who write about their career aspirations. Essays about diversity—race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation—tend to be more popular at Stanford, Yale, and Brown.
Based on the AdmitSee’s data, Dartmouth and Columbia don’t appear to have strong biases toward particular essay topics. This means that essays on many subjects were seen favorably by the admissions departments at those schools. However, Shyu says that writing about a moment that changed the student’s life showed up frequently in essays of successful applicants to those schools.
Risk-Taking Pays Off
One general insight is that students who take risks with the content and the structure of their college essays tend to be more successful across the board. One student who was admitted to several top colleges wrote about his father’s addiction to pornography and another wrote about a grandparent who was incarcerated, forcing her mother to get food stamps illegally. Weird formats also tend to do well. One successful student wrote an essay tracking how his credit card was stolen, making each point of the credit card’s journey a separate section on the essay and analyzing what each transaction meant. Another’s essay was a list of her favorite books and focused on where each book was purchased.
“One of the big questions our users have is whether they should take a risk with their essay, writing about something that reveals very intimate details about themselves or that takes an unconventional format,” Shyu says. “What we’re finding is that successful essays are not ones that talk about an accomplishment or regurgitate that student’s résumé . The most compelling essays are those that touch on surprising personal topics.”
Of course, one caveat here is that taking a risk only makes sense if the essay is well-executed. Shyu says that the content and structure of the story must make a larger point about the applicant, otherwise it does not serve a purpose. And it goes without saying that the essay must be well-written, with careful attention paid to flow and style.
Shyu says that there are two major takeaways that can be taken from the company’s data. The first is that it is very valuable for applicants to tailor their essays for different schools, rather than perfecting one essay and using it to apply to every single school. The second is that these essays can offer insight into the culture of the school. “The essays of admitted students are also a reflection of the community at these institutions,” Shyu says. “It can provide insight into whether or not the school is a good fit for that student.”
A final tip? If you want to go to Harvard and write about your parents, make sure to address them as “mother” and “father.”