I AM PTK: Natalie Seales

Natalie Seales is wrapping up her first semester at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University near Washington, D.C. She’s a long way from her Mississippi home, but she’s studying in her favorite city in the world, and Phi Theta Kappa helped her get there.

Natalie isn’t intimidated by new cities — her family moved 11 times while she was growing up, living in seven states. She was homeschooled and started kindergarten at age 4, so she’s a year younger than her classmates.

The independence of homeschooling taught her responsibility, which factored into her choice to attend Jones County Junior College (now Jones College) in Mississippi. Natalie also found that she wasn’t great at taking standardized tests, but that wouldn’t hold her back at Jones.

She joined Phi Theta Kappa primarily for the scholarship opportunities, but she soon became involved in the volunteer events. She even met her two best friends through PTK. During her sophomore year, she served as the Vice President of Service for her chapter.

“It was one of the most formative experiences of my collegiate career,” she said. “Organizing events, communicating with a large group of people, being point of contact for members — these are skills I use every day now.

“The work I’m doing in law school — I got preliminary experience as my time as an officer.”

Natalie certainly benefited from the scholarship opportunities, too. She was named Mississippi’s New Century Scholar and was one of 20 selected for the All-USA Academic Team in 2016, and she also received PTK’s prestigious Guistwhite Scholarship.

She transferred to the University of Mississippi, which gives a full tuition scholarship to the state’s New Century Scholar. Add a Phi Theta Kappa transfer scholarship and an academic excellence scholarship, and her tuition and living expenses were covered.

“I really wanted to go to Ole Miss, so these scholarships made living away from home possible for me,” she said. “It completely paid for two years of my life.”

Natalie started at Ole Miss as a journalism major, but a communications law class changed her plans. She fell in love with “the details and intricacies of the law” and knew law school would be her next step.

She visited George Mason and loved it. When it came time to apply, she again reached for skills she gained through PTK.

The law school didn’t conduct interviews, so admittance relied heavily on the application. Natalie looked to her experience completing the All-USA and New Century Scholar application — and the application itself — for guidance.

“It was by far the most extensive application I’ve ever done,” she said. “I had a ton of material I was able to pull from, and I had confidence that I could clearly communicate through the application.

“My experience with such an extensive application process was paramount to my applying for law school.”

Natalie expects to graduate in 2021. She’s leaning toward communications law at the moment, but she said if there’s one thing she’s learned so far in law school, it’s how little she knows.

Still, while her first year has had its difficulties, she’s confident she’s on the right path. She approaches every situation with a humble and teachable attitude, and she learns every chance she gets.

And, Natalie believes it’s important to give yourself credit for what you’ve done.

“There will always be someone better than you at any given task,” she said. “Diligent, ethical hard work goes farther than you might think.”

Photos by Ariel Cobbert

5 Building Blocks for Transfer Success

Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by International Vice President for Division 4, Philippe Schicker.

The building blocks to a successful transfer journey are as necessary as vowels are to our language — and as easy to remember. With scholarship deadlines, finals week, and college application deadlines approaching, I am breaking them down into categories and sharing what has worked for me and some of my close friends.

This is a guide on how to not completely drown in your work, along with some personal anecdotes.

Apply yourself

Before starting, you should do some soul searching. What is it that you want to do? What are you hoping to achieve? How would YOU like to make an impact?

Then, think about how to get to that goal or at least the next step. Use tools like PTK’s Transfer Edge or PTK Connect to look at all aspects of a school. Do some research and see what schools offer a degree program regarding your passion.

I know that I want to become an engineer. More specifically, I plan to study engineering with an emphasis on renewable energies. This shrunk down the universities I was researching since only a few offer pathways like that.

Lastly, create a list. This can be a big one with universities that somewhat fit you. Look at some pros and cons and put it all in a spreadsheet. That worked for me, but any way for you to stay on top of it is perfect. This is a process, so don’t rush.

Extracurricular

Extracurricular activities are not just what you have done. It is very likely that you have done service projects, are in an honors society or campus club, on a team, or started a business. These are all fantastic achievements and definitely deserve a spot in your application.

However, you should also look at the schools on your list to see what they can offer you. Is it a small liberal arts college or a big research institution? How does campus housing look, and what does the school offer outside the classroom? Will you be able to participate in intramural sports, Greek life, undergraduate research, and clubs that sound interesting, or is the school part of a big football conference?

These are all aspects to consider. Due to my penchant for the sciences, the universities I am looking for have opportunities for research and collaborative teamwork, but also a way for me to use that scientific knowledge to advocate for change. Always remember though, if the school does not offer exactly the organization you are hoping for, you can always create one!

In the end, it is as much about what you can offer the school as it is about what the school can offer you.

Informative decision making

It is time to narrow down your list. You should make conscious decisions about which schools would actually be a good fit for you. Hopefully researching some of the programs helped to shorten your list.

You should also look at financial aid offerings and merit-based scholarships. As an international student with very little financial backing, this is one of the most important aspects for me.

In my opinion, you should have around 10 schools you are genuinely considering. This list should also be diverse. Some of them should, of course, be so-called “reach schools” — universities that are hard to get into … your dream schools.

Additionally, you should have some “target schools” on your list. These are really good schools that are transfer friendly and, while you cannot be sure to get in, it is much more likely.

Lastly, you should have some schools where you can be fairly sure to get in, whether it’s because your GPA is way higher than the required one or because your current school has some sort of transfer agreement.

Organize

Once you have finalized your list and are happy about those schools, it is time to really sit down and get to work. Make sure you know when the deadlines are! Nothing would be worse than finding a university you are excited about, only to miss your chance because you missed the deadline.

Understand what is required of you. What do you have to submit where and by when? Are personal statements, essays, a resume, an art portfolio, and letters of recommendation required? If so, make a list or find a way to stay on top of this.

Ask your professors, advisors, and mentors for that recommendation letter way ahead of time. They get a lot of requests, and to ensure yours is outstanding, they should have multiple weeks to prepare it. After writing out which schools need what, I have been going to my professors and asking if they would be willing to write a recommendation and how much time they would like.

Make some time to sit down with them and really talk about the school, your passions, and your hopes for the future. These are all details the professor can use to make the letter more personal. If you cannot make that happen, write it out and send it to them via email.

In the end, universities look at recommendations to get to know you from more than just one point of you, so you want to make sure those letters help you.

Utilize your time

You are almost there. Try to finish your applications at least a week before the deadline. This will give you time to ask others to look them over. A second or third pair of eyes can never hurt, and maybe they will catch something you missed.

Ultimately, you do not want to give the university a reason not to take you. Double and triple check that all documents are in place. If you have to send transcripts and submit test scores, ensure they are on their way.

Last but certainly not least, submit before the deadline. I don’t just mean two hours before the application closes, but rather two days before. Systems crash and students from all over the world are submitting as well, so you do not want to leave anything to chance. You have just spent countless hours researching, drafting, and finalizing your application — you do not want some malfunction to stop you from applying.

Now all that’s left is for you to finish the year strong and hope for the best. You have done everything in your control to make this the perfect application. Go relax a little.

You Got This.

Get Your Transfer Edge

The landscape of higher education can be difficult to navigate, especially for first-generation and non-traditional college students. When it comes to transferring to a four-year college, the waters become even more muddied.

PTK recognized this and responded with Transfer Edge, a free online course designed to prepare students of all backgrounds to successfully transfer. More than 1,000 students have enrolled in the self-paced interactive course so far, and some have already finished it.

“As a first-generation college student, the program was such an eye-opener and was very detailed,” said Romana Vargas, Vice President of Scholarship and Recording Officer for the Omega Sigma Chapter at Houston Community College in Texas. “I feel more confident about applying to the university of my choice and more proud to be a PTK member.”

One challenge with transfer education is that there are many variables to consider, including the differences among each student’s journey. Transfer Edge walks students through common themes and best practices that will give them the very best shot at successfully transferring to a university that meets their academic and career needs.

In The Talent Blind Spot, the Aspen Institute found that, each year, more than 50,000 high-achieving, low- and moderate-income community college students do not transfer to a four-year institution. Approximately 15,000 of these students have at least a 3.7 GPA, suggesting they could succeed at even the most competitive schools.

“Many students often lack the supportive resources and point people to guide them through transfer,” said Benjamin Fresquez, program associate with the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, who attended a National Summit for Excellence in Community College Transfer Success at PTK Headquarters in June.

Transfer Edge seeks to put resources directly in the hands of college students. You’ll find videos, readings, web resources, and quick quizzes that test your knowledge as you go along. Transfer Pro videos feature experts in transfer success, and we also share transfer advice from successful alumni who have gone through the process. There are also discussion forums to get answers from and share ideas with other transfer students.

Transfer Edge features five sections:

1. Seek Funding: Complete the FAFSA

  • Learn the purpose of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
  • Determine your status as a Dependent or Independent Student
  • Explore sources based on your demographics
  • Successfully complete the FAFSA

2. Search: Research Your Transfer Options

  • Identify best practices for starting the transfer search
  • Create a personal transfer timeline
  • Demonstrate mastery of selective college admissions
  • Explore self-advocacy as a key transfer tool

3. Select: Choose Schools that Match Your Goals

  • Evaluate the transfer credit process
  • Demonstrate understanding of major selection as it relates to transfer
  • Explore best practices for comparing universities
  • Examine strategies for making university visits productive

4. Secure: Submit Winning Transfer and Scholarship Applications

  • Identify best practices for writing transfer essays
  • Evaluate the process of applying for scholarships
  • Demonstrate mastery of scholarship resume building
  • Understand the elements of a strong transfer admission application

5. Succeed: Ensure a Successful Transition to University

  • Demonstrate mastery of transfer transition best practices
  • Explore the resources available to transfer students
  • Identify first steps to take upon arriving at university
  • Examine the elements of a strong resume

Enroll in Transfer Edge today at getanedge.ptk.org.