My University of Maryland Transfer Application Essay

I applied to college the other day.

You might remember that about a year ago I asked the internet what I should do — return to university or not.

Most respondents said I should go back to school.

I’m excited to share (a year later) that I have taken the first step towards making that a reality. I’ve applied to become a part-time student at the University of Maryland.

I had a lot of fun writing my essay and I’m excited to share it here, online. The University of Maryland transfer application has no prompt. It’s pretty “wide-open”. The only restriction is a 300 word limit. It was a challenge to create a compelling argument in so few words. Hopefully I did.

The “prompt”

Please describe your past academic experiences and your reasons for wishing to enroll to Maryland at this point in your academic career. Students who have been out of school for several years, or who have a personal circumstance that affected performance, may wish to address that situation in their essay. Your essay should be no more than 300 words.

The essay

The University of Maryland has embraced the “Fearless Ideas” mantra. “Fearless ideas ignite bold invention.” “Fearless ideas drive passionate leaders.” “Fearless ideas launch daring ventures.” It is undeniable that fearless ideas are at the core of the University’s mission and vision.

At 21 years old I am fortunate to have experience pursuing “fearless ideas” — I founded a company from my dorm room while in college. Yet, one thing I am missing is a strong academic foundation. I’m excited to combine my experience with a world-class education.

In the past I have struggled to take schoolwork seriously, yet now with experience under my belt, I feel more prepared than ever to dedicate myself to the challenge. I am applying to the University of Maryland initially as a non-degree seeking student to help me pursue my own fearless ideas.

In December of 2014, my mother was diagnosed with a rare form of late stage lung cancer. When she told me, I knew that I needed to be at home to give and receive support. I withdrew from the University of Pittsburgh to live full-time at home in Maryland.

In the nearly two years since, I have started my career. I joined an established company called MarketSmart, founded by a University of Maryland alum, Greg Warner.

At MarketSmart I started as a graphic designer and web programmer — skills I had taught myself while in high school. Since then, my role has evolved. Now, I oversee an entirely new department that I helped create. I was given an opportunity to pursue a fearless idea, and I ran with it. Along the way I learned that it takes hard work to turn a fearless idea into a successful reality.

Returning to college is my latest fearless idea. I can’t wait to get started.

The decision

I was accepted as a student to the University of Maryland. I declined to attend.

The Life Lesson I Learned from Being Arrested

It was the second night of orientation week at the University of Pittsburgh. The awkward stages of figuring out who was “cool,” and who you wanted to hang out with was in full effect. I had requested to live in the athlete dorm, Sutherland Hall East. My wish had come true and I was surrounded by basketball players, football stars, track runners, and a myriad of other soon to be pro’s in their respective fields. To say I was determined to make a good impression on these people was an understatement.

I weighed 150 pounds, stood five feet (maybe) 10 inches tall, and had a fake i.d. Standing next to Mike, Jamel, or Dez was a physically demeaning experience, but my redeeming quality, the thing that I had that these division one athletes didn’t was that piece of plastic. I was 21 in the state of California. Kind of. The i.d in its infinite glory was “certified authentic,”, at least that was what my friend Nathan had said when he handed mine to me just a few weeks before school. “It’s authentic, it scans, it’s even got holograms and black lights.” I remember sitting in Nathan’s basement, his savvy and seemingly endless knowledge about i.d’s was comforting, and gave me the confidence to show it off to all of my soon to be athlete friends.

Everyone, even these superstar athletes were engaged in this feeling out process. No one was in their dorm room, everyone was in the hall. Everyone was talking, meeting, learning, gauging. Mike and Jamel stood at one side of the hall, Dez and Brylan at another, Izzy and Frederique in the middle. I wanted to make an impression. I had to make an impression. I stood on the periphery with John and Ray, two other non athletes. We listened, talked to ourselves about how cool it was that we were living with all of these people, and mainly watched.

Izzy brought up alcohol. I walked over to her, showed her my i.d and as smoothly and suavely as I could blurted out “What do you want from the store, I’ll get you whatever.” She grabbed the i.d, ran to Frederique, Mike – everyone and showed it off.

Mistake #1

I had $43 in my pocket. None of it was mine. Mike put in $10, Izzy and Fred combined for $15, and John and Ray threw in another $18. I was off. Walking out of Sutherland hall on a Saturday night at 11 pm with a backpack is suspicious. I told myself I was going to night class, a typical 11 pm Saturday night class. No one would bother me. It was cool but warm, with no breeze, and no clouds.

I made my way into the Peterson Events Center. I noticed a girl stuck outside trying to get in. I calmly mouthed through the glass door, “I’ll only open it if you give me a kiss on the cheek.” She laughed. I opened the door, “Nice try, but not tonight,” she said. “Where are you going this late at night with a backpack?” Were the next words out of her mouth. My night class cover had already been blown, “I’m running to the liquor store, do you know of any that are open?” She gave me a dumb look. A ‘is this kid serious, he must be a freshman’ type look. “My names Carly, and I’m going to give you a little tour.”

Carly and I walked through the Peterson, down past Fifth and Forbes Avenue and into South Oakland. She was a junior, 20 years old, a proverbial veteran of the Pitt party scene. We crossed through an empty parking lot. South Oakland was depressing. The houses were old. The beer cans that lay in the street were old. The smell was old. Carly led the way as we approached Semple street. She turned to me and said, “You can thank me later, the beer distributor is right there.” I was lost, but my target was in sight. Carly warned me not to buy from anywhere else. “The cops won’t bother you here, but anywhere north of here they might give you trouble,” she preached. She liked me; she was looking out for me. She had dealt with a freshman in my situation before, you could tell.

Carly turned left, towards her house, I turned right toward Mellinger’s Beer Distributor. It was now midnight. I approached the rust covered door, confidence at a peak, i.d firmly planted in my driver’s license slot of my wallet. I grabbed the iron door handle. Nothing moved. I looked above, the neon ‘OPEN’ sign wasn’t shining. I had come an hour late. I turned, expecting to see Carly there watching over my shoulder to make sure everything went smoothly, but she was gone. Lost, disappointed, and now suddenly nervous I walked back towards were I came, zigzagging my way through the streets.

In the distance I could see the clash of neon lights and the dark black sky. ‘THE ORIGINAL HOT DOG SHOP’ burst into my view. Carly had warned me not to venture into stores on Forbes Avenue, but my desire to impress my new “friends” back in the dorm was immeasurable. I strutted to the store, backpack firmly across my shoulder, confidence mildly restored. I approached the counter. “How much for a 24 pack of Miller High Life, and a twelve pack of Bud Light Strawberitas?” The women behind the counter calculated the total, “$36.24, I will need to see some i.d. please.” ‘Zachary Leonard Shefska, 6002 Sweetwater Avenue, Sacramento, California. Birth date 1/22/1991’ I handed the women the i.d. I knew all of its information by heart in case she questioned me. “I’m going to need you to sign this receipt,” she pointed to a piece of paper that appeared after she scanned the i.d. My name, fake address, and fake birth date appeared on the paper. I signed. She handed me my beer and I placed it in my backpack. One small issue, not all of it could fit. I walked out of the store with a 12 pack of Strawberita’s in hand.

Mistake #2

“Excuse me sir, I need to see your i.d.”

The officer had a small smirk, and I knew that in this moment my life was going to change.

“Officer, are you talking to me?”

I tried to play dumb, maybe he was talking to the man walking in front of me. His smirk grew larger, a sense of pleasure hidden behind his uniform.

“Kid, get over here and show me some i.d.”

I had talked to police officers before. I went to parties in high school. I didn’t drink very often, but I watched. And every Saturday night like clockwork police officers would arrive at these houses, and each time I would react the same way. I would walk to my car, talk to an officer or two on my way out and chuckle with them over the hilarity that ensues when police officers arrive. I had never gotten in trouble, I had never had a reason to get in trouble.

“Here you are officer.”

I opened my wallet without hesitation. I could get out of his situation I told myself, I had never gotten in trouble, I had never done anything wrong. My teenage cockiness had always prevailed. Sure I had that backpack full of beer, sure I was 18 years old, sure there was a police officer looking over my “certified authentic”, but actually fake California i.d, but none of this could stop me.

“Are you sure this is the real i.d. you want to give me?”

I’ve been scared before. I went to the principal’s office in middle school once. That was scary. This was different, this was the white knuckle, hard to breathe, verge of tears kind of scary. The ‘I don’t want my parents to find out’, ‘wow, how did I end up here’ kind of scary. The best kind of scary.

Reality had set in. I went back to my wallet, produced my Maryland drivers license and crumpled to the wall. It was only my second night of college and I had already gotten arrested.

Lesson learned

I didn’t get “arrested” arrested, I got quasi arrested, which in the grand scheme of things probably was for the better. Officer Cetra opened my bag, took out the 24 pack of Miller High Life and placed it next to me. He chuckled as he put the 12 pack of Strawberitas on top.

I sat against a wall in between Oakland Ave and Fifth and Forbes, head in my hands, feet firmly planted in place. 10 officers arrived, some young, some old, some somewhere in between. Officer Druskin, a 2010 graduate from Pitt offered some comfort.

“Kid, you messed up. You a freshman?” Without giving me the time to answer he went on, “Yeah that’s where you messed up. Why didn’t you go to Semple street? We don’t bother you guys down there.”

Carly had been right. Semple street, Mellinger’s, south Oakland, that’s where I should have been. It hit me, I realized there really was an area where the police would look past some 18 year old kids walking around with booze. I had so much to learn. Officer Cetra returned, his grin still firmly in place. He explained that he was letting me off easy, “I should take you downtown kid, showing a fake i.d. to a police officer is a felony.”

Upon further research I learned Officer Cetra was lying, attempting to scare me even more than I already was. Presenting a fake i.d. to a police officer was a misdemeanor in fact, yet it was the three month process of getting fingerprinted, mugshotted, getting a lawyer, and going to court that was more overwhelming and intimidating.

“Look for something in the mail, make sure you sign it and send it back to the court or else there will be a warrant for your arrest.”

I stood up from the cool cement sidewalk, grabbed my now empty backpack, apologized to the dozen or so police officers surrounding me, attempted to shake Officer Cetra’s hand and left. I had never wanted to be back home quite like I did that night.

Home was far away. Home, was the real address, on the real i.d that Officer Cetra eventually looked over. My new home, 3725 Sutherland Drive would suffice for the night. It would turn out that Sutherland Hall East would do more than suffice. Although the address on my driver’s license is in Maryland, my home both mentally and physically between the months of August and April was in Pittsburgh. I may not have been able to buy beer on August 22nd 2013, and I sure as hell didn’t look like the “cool” kid that I had intended, but eventually I fell into place.

It’s pretty amazing what can happen over the course of 8 months. Over the course of my freshman year at Pitt Dez and Brylan both ran new personal bests, with Desmond qualifying for the ACC Championship. Izzy decided to red shirt a year at her coaches discretion, and Frederique posted a career high 16 points in a game against Mount St. Mary’s. John and Ray became my good friends, and I managed to feel secure and content even without my fake i.d.

I may not run as fast, score as many points, or have that little piece of plastic, but that’s not the point. If college taught me anything it is this; get arrested, do it only once, and make sure it counts. It’s an eye opening experience, and if you are anything like me, it may just help you find your place.

Should I go to College?

At the end of this post there is a poll. It asks, “Should I go to college?” If you have a moment, please answer either yes or no. Thank you.

This August will be the first August that I am not going to school. At 20 years old I have never lived through a fall semester without going to mandatory classes of some sort.

I am an outlier. Nearly all of my peers are enrolled in either a two or four year university. Most everyone I know is ecstatic about returning to campus in the coming weeks.

Working full-time, commuting, and taking on more responsibility has made me feel older, wiser, and more experienced.

But, at what cost?

8 months have gone by since my decision to leave the University of Pittsburgh. I think now is a good time to reassess my situation and determine if I should plan a return back to school in the near future.

About me

I am going to tell you a little about myself and where I am currently at in my life. I am going to tell you where I want to go, where I want to be, and who I want to become. Please let me know if going to college would be beneficial on this journey.

Demographics

  • I am 20 years old.
  • I am a white man.
  • I have completed some college with no degree.
  • I am single.
  • I am employed.

Academics

  • I scored a 1900 on my Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).
  • I achieved a high school GPA of 3.6.
  • I enrolled in 10 Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
  • I was accepted to DePaul University, NorthEastern University, Drexel University, and the University of Pittsburgh. I did not get accepted to Villanova University.
  • I attended the University of Pittsburgh and had a GPA of 3.1.
  • I have 51 college credits.

Entrepreneurship

Present

Currently I work at a start-up company outside of Washington, D.C. My business card says, “web developer” on it. I write a lot of code, I learn a lot of best practices, and I dabble in design.

The CEO has a passion for teaching others. He mentors me. I have had one on one conversations with him about start-up financing, how to hire the right people, and how to build process. He has a passion for educating, and I am always a welcome audience. I am learning a lot from him.

The lead web developer has taught me how to be a professional. He has helped me learn to “slow down”, be more organized, and think more.

I work in an open office. I learn a lot from everyone – account managers, sales people, everyone.

Future

I recently did an in depth goal setting session. I have outlined goals for the next three years of my life. Those goals align with who I want to be, where I want to be, and what I want to be doing in the future.

In the future I want to be in business. (In the present I want to be in business.) In the future I want to collaborate with others. I want to continue learning new things. I want to be fundamental in building something that is useful, effective, and provides value.

I know I am passionate for a lot of things. I want a shallow knowledge of a breadth of topics, with a deeper knowledge in only a few.

With this information in mind, should I go to college?

Thinking About Goals Isn’t Enough

In ten days I will turn 20 years old. And, as with every birthday, I will reflect on the year past.

On my birthday I set aside time to think of goals that I would like to carry out over the next 365 days. In the past, these objectives have ranged from personal to professional, entrepreneurial to academic.

This year, unlike the 19 preceding ones, I intend to write down my goals. As I have recently learned from a mentor, writing down your goals is a difficult but necessary step towards achieving them. Thinking about something you want to do is easy and pleasurable. Writing it down, although more difficult, makes that thought more concrete and feasible.

How to write goals

Fortunately for you and I, many smart men and women have figured out a fairly straightforward formula for goal setting. I’ll be sharing the techniques that I have recently been taught, but keep in mind there are plenty of other good resources for goal setting (I’ve listed some at the end of this post). The most important thing is that you go a step beyond thinking about your goals and take the time to write them down.

Here is the 5 step process I have adopted and use for my personal goal setting.

  1. Visualize your life 3 years from now, 1 year from now, 90 days from now. Write a short paragraph about where you are, what you are doing, what a typical day in your life is like. Describe what you see and feel.
  2. Take your 3 year visualization, 1 year visualization, and 90 day visualization to build goals. Write an affirmative, present tense, quantifiable, and specific sentence (or two) that correlates with the short paragraph you have already written. Start with your 3 year goals, then 1 year and 90 days. A 3 year goal should build on a 1 year goal which should then relate to a 90 day goal. Write down 3-6 objectives for each time frame.
  3. Write down why you want to achieve the goals you have outlined above. Do this for every 90 day goal, 1 year goal, and 3 year goal. What benefit will be achieved?
  4. In a few brief sentences describe what achievement will look like. How will you know you have hit your goal? Again, do this for every time period.
  5. Create a list of steps required to meet your goal. What is the deadline for each step? Do this for every 90 day goal, 1 year goal and 3 year goal.

You will now have an outline for how you can achieve your goals.

Writing down these goals, and the steps that you plan to take to meet them is surprisingly challenging. Yet, it is by writing your goals down that the next step, actually implementing them into your life is made easier.

By planing and attaching deadlines to specific actions you will find yourself more dedicated and focused while being less stressed and worried. Going beyond thinking about goals is not easy, yet the long-term reward is well worth the struggle.

Goal setting resources

Groove blog

UC Berkeley – goal setting

NPR – writing down goals

Michael Hyatt – goal setting

Ted Talks – goal setting

SMART goals

Reading List for Young Entrepreneurs

Next week I am going on a short vacation. Which, after six months of working full-time, has allowed me to understand why adults have always loved taking time off at the beach.

The beach is a place where you can lay out, read a book, and do nothing. You can simply relax. Now more than ever have I looked forward to this prospect.

Relaxing and taking time away from work presents the perfect opportunity to focus on personal development. For a few days you can forget about the client project you need to build and solely concentrate on yourself. For me, this means reading.

Books are great (I would have never said this while I was still in college). Taking a few down to the beach while on vacation is a must, and for the past week I have been researching, reading reviews, and deliberating on what books I would purchase and take with me this year. Finally I came up with a list – the theme, entrepreneurship.

Zero to One – Peter Thiel

During my research I found a variety of different reading lists. On every list that was geared towards start-ups, entrepreneurship, or business Thiel’s Zero to One was on it.

After researching further, this book seemed like a must read. A paragraph from the websites about page sealed the deal;

The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. Copying others takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1. Tomorrow’s champions will not win by competing ruthlessly in today’s marketplace; they will escape competition altogether, because their businesses will be unique.

How Breakthroughs Happen – Andrew Hargadon

Hargadon is a graduate professor of technology management at University of California, Davis. Reading his How Breakthroughs Happen will serve as a substitute for no longer attending college classes. A short summary of his publication convinced me to purchase the book;

How Breakthroughs Happen takes us beyond the simple recognition that revolutionary innovations do not result from flashes of brilliance by lone inventors or organizations. In fact, innovation is really about creatively recombining ideas, people, and objects from past technologies in ways that spark new technological revolutions.

The American Challenge – Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber

Published in 1967, The American Challenge is by far the oldest book on my summer reading list. I came across it while reading an article on Peter Thiel’s book recommendations. Thiel said of the book, “[it] got a lot things right, but certainly there were things that didn’t quite happen, and you always have to ask yourselves why they didn’t. This whole category of past books about the future is a very interesting one, and that is one that I always recommend very strongly.”

Hooked – Nir Eyal

I came across Nir Eyal’s Hooked while researching books related to product development. Eyal is a successful business man who presents the “hook model” of engagement. A short summary of the book says;

Hooked is based on Eyal’s years of research, consulting, and practical experience. He wrote the book he wished had been available to him as a start-up founder—not abstract theory, but a how-to guide for building better products. Hooked is written for product managers, designers, marketers, start-up founders, and anyone who seeks to understand how products influence our behavior.

Resources

There are plenty of places online to find other reading suggestions. Here are a few tools I used to help create this reading list for young entrepreneurs.