College essay writing 101: “Allow yourself to write badly.”

By Amara and Bushra Mir, Teen Ambassadors of the Co Lab's Quality Education Hub

College essay writing 101: “Allow yourself to write badly.”

Yup, you heard that right! Writing college essays can be ok.


“Stick with” makes you “stand out” - you don’t have to write the most unique essay ever, just try to be genuine and show your interests and personality.

Write many drafts: “The importance of allowing yourself to write badly”, “murder your darlings” (helpful and engaging book if your local/school library has it: Write Your Way In by Rachel Toor).

Biggest tip, especially with writer’s block: just write and write anything! You never know if a random essay about hating a movie could turn into one you love.

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Applying to College 101: Where should I apply?

By Bushra and Amara Mir, Ambassadors of Co Lab's Quality Education Hub

Applying to university, especially in the US, can sometimes seem like a monumental task. However, at the quality education hub, we believe information about the whole process should be made accessible and available for everyone. 

We’ll be starting an “Applying to College 101" series, including to-do lists, possible webinars, helpful articles, book recommendations, and steps for before, during, and after the college application process. We will also include specialized information for international applicants. The information will be a compilation and synthesis of resources online, including experienced students, college counselors, and admissions officers. Catch up through the Teens Dream Co Lab Instagram and through our blog!

Here’s the first installment!  

First, we highly encourage anyone in the process to do additional research and apply where they feel comfortable. These points are not strict guidelines to adhere to, but ideas to help students navigate the process.


  • There are many types of universities that prioritize different values and long-term goals. Make sure to evaluate what your goals are and know that it’s okay to apply to multiple of these categories if you’re unsure about what you would like to do:
    • 2-year (e.g. community college or an associates degree) vs. 4-year universities (bachelors or another specialized degree)
    • large research institutions (provides larger student population, focus on research) vs. Liberal Arts Colleges (LACs) (provides greater undergraduate support, smaller student population)
    • Or vocational, army, and technical schools for your interests
  • You can also consider size, undergraduate support level, campus setting and culture (rural vs. suburban vs. urban), diversity, and other extra priorities (e.g. housing, greek life/party culture, sports, clubs)
    • Note: this would be more important in picking which university you would like to attend, but this can make sure that you would be happy attending whichever university you get admitted to


  • Consider if weather/environment/part of the country you would be in is important for you
    • Safety/crime-level of the surrounding area

Price (loans, no debt, financial aid, etc.)

  • Some schools are need-blind (your financial needs to attend the school are not considered in your application) and some are need-aware (your demonstrated financial needs are considered in your application) 
    • Note: most universities are need-blind for US citizens or legal residents but are need-aware for international students 
  • Out-of-state (more often more expensive) vs. in-state price (more often cheaper)
    • Public universities tend to be cheaper and private universities tend to be more expensive
  • Consider if you want to take out student loans, or if not, apply to universities that can provide merit scholarships or meet full demonstrated need if you’re admitted

Academic thresholds (25-75th percentiles of test scores/GPA) 

  • These are not restrictions, but possible indications of what scores the students who choose to attend have achieved
  • Try to be between the 25th and the 75th percentile in GPA and/or test scores for the universities you apply to—these are the score ranges that show up when you google “___ university/college [sat/act/gpa] scores”

Availability (and strength) of programs that you want

  • Focus on STEM vs. liberal education - which one do you want?

Good range of schools that you like

  • Based on admitted student academic thresholds, make a list of at least...
    • 1 safety school(s) (schools where you are above the 75th percentile)
    • 2 target/match schools (schools where you are within the 25th-75th percentile and have a similar profile with other admitted students) 
    • Possibly reach schools (schools with selective admission rates and/or schools where you are below the 25th percentile for) 
      • especially relevant during COVID as admissions for universities became more competitive
  • Make sure to find safety schools you would genuinely want to attend, as the college admissions process can be unpredictable

Rankings can be a good starting point but they are not the end-all-be-all—rankings tend to measure graduate research output and other factors, not the quality of undergraduate education, so they are very skewed

How to find more universities you like

Follow our Instagram and keep up with the blog for upcoming posts!  Our next blog in this series will be on the application process!

Women of Color Artist Event hosted by Gender Hub

By Olivia Romito and Sejal Singh, members of Gender Hub

On Sunday, April 25, the Gender Equality Hub and the Arts Hub hosted a virtual Women of Color in Art Webinar. The Gender Equality Hub is focused on fostering a conversation about gender equality including issues such as toxic masculinity and finding ways to empower women of all different identities. The Arts Hub’s main objective is to partner with other hubs in order to use art as a catalyst for change. This event was an amazing collaboration between these two hubs and addressed many different, important issues. Both of the artists were amazing, and they allowed us to look at their art and even gave us insight into their artistic process. It was great to hear about the struggles and opposition that these women faced, and how they were able to push through adversity to pursue their dreams.

The first artist who spoke was Hilltop Wright. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design from Howard University, where she graduated in 2016. She does not like to define herself as having just one profession: rather, she says that she is an artist, architect, and placemaker. She currently works in an architecture firm in downtown DC. A lot of her work is centered around schools, and she recently was given a whole block to work on. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Hilltop took the initiative to help artists who were hurting. She provides a development program for artists, and recently she organized a parking lot mural for people to come together and “express their voices via a parking space.” She wants to help her fellow artists find their voice, as she knows how difficult that can be. Hilltop considers herself to be a freelance artist, and she dabbles in a little bit of everything: flower umbrellas, illustrations, and paints just to name a few. When asked about her experience as a gay woman of color, she admitted that she has struggled with her self-image and even mentioned that she, “struggled with not being taken seriously by others, especially male artists.” Having experienced discrimination based on her gender and sexuality, Hilltop explained how it is important to persevere, even in the face of adversity. She then began to describe the main focus of all of her art: women. She loves to paint and draw women, but there is something very unique about her artwork: she does not paint skin tone. One quote that really stuck with me was, “We are already living in a world that is so biased. I don’t have time for that.” The sad truth is that we live in a very divided world, and by making the unique choice to paint without skin tone, Hilltop hopes to do her part to bring people together and to fight racial injustice. 

The second artist who spoke at this event was Ameya Okamoto. She is currently a second-year student at Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. She is an artist and organizer based in multiple cities across the country, including Portland, Boston, and Washington D.C. Her mentors have encouraged her not to focus on just one thing, which is why she never limits herself. Growing up, she attended many different events with her family, and because of these experiences, she became a leader of many organizations and clubs in high school. One of the most empowering moments in her life was when a friend passed her a megaphone during an activism event because it showed her that her voice matters. After this, she purchased a megaphone and covered it with her artwork. As a woman of color, society tends to suppress her voice, but this megaphone serves as a reminder that her voice is powerful and can induce change. She encourages everyone to purchase a megaphone so that they never forget the influence that their voice can have. She loves using her voice and art to bring people together, which is reflected in her numerous community art projects.  Her work largely concentrates on social justice issues, and she uses art as a way to respond to events that happen around her. This past September and October, she was one of the artists that worked on the AAPI Black Solidarity Mural located in Old Town/ Chinatown. This was a great way to involve the community and use artwork to inspire social change. She has partnered with many different social justice organizations to use her artwork to make a difference. Her main medium is digital art, and she creates self-portraits, infographics, murals in communities, and more. She also works individually with families who have been greatly impacted by racial violence, and uses art to help them heal. She first heard Toni Cade Bambara’s quote “the role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible” at an equity clinic in high school, and it has been her guiding motto ever since. Based on this quote, she founded the organization IRRESISTIBLE, which is focused on making social change accessible to everyone. She hopes that her art can invite more people into the conversation about social justice. 

Q & A:

Q: What does art mean to you?

Hilltop: To her, art means freedom, opportunities, and experience. Overall, art gives her “good vibes.” 

Ameya: She believes that art can be whatever you make of it, and it is all about just expressing yourself. What truly makes a piece of art is the intention behind it and its ability to express some sort of idea, or process, or vibe. 

Q: How is your identity important in your work?

Hilltop: In her work, a lot of the time it is a reflection of herself. She paints women of color, and she sees herself in each of her pieces. She feels very vulnerable when she paints, almost as if she is giving a piece of herself away.

Ameya: She once took a course on complex personhood, which is the idea that each person has their own experiences and identities. Art is all about creating a sense of complex personhood, and she tries to create art that expresses the complex personhood of herself and others. 

Q: In consideration of racism and sexism that has been prevalent for centuries, do you have advice for rising generations of women of color when it comes to overcoming challenges (in the art world or general)?

Hilltop: It is very important to find support from others, and to support others as well. She would not be the person that she is today without the connections she has made and the people that motivated her.

Ameya: Hope is the most powerful thing you can give someone. It is extremely important to hold onto your hope and find community. She also believes that once one milestone is reached, we must always be thinking about where we can go from here and what milestones we can reach next.

Q: What drives your art and how did you get started? 

Hilltop: She did not take art seriously until her senior year of college, but she had always been a very creative person. She wanted her voice to be heard, and she thought that the best way to express herself was through art. Women rule the world, and she wanted everyone to know that. She was really inspired by women’s empowerment, and most of her work is focused on that.

Ameya: She says it is hard to identify something specific that got her started. Like Hilltop, she also feels as if she is getting a late start in the game, and part of this may be because she is a child of immigrants and a woman of color. She is thinking about transferring to art school and realizes that there is no correct way to do life and that you cannot strategize your way into art. External factors such as white supremacy and capitalism make it feel as if there is a timeline to get things done, but this is not the case. She wants everyone to remember that the art world picks and chooses who we pay attention to, and just because nobody is paying attention to your art, it doesn’t make you less of an artist. 

Overall, there were many important takeaways from this event. It was extremely empowering for young female changemakers. The speakers showed us how to power through adversity and challenges, and to speak up for what we believe in. They made us realize that everybody has the capability of becoming an artist, and in fact, we are already artists. This idea can be translated to other aspects of life, showing us that we have the capability to follow our dreams and create change. It was also incredible to see the passion that both artists had for their work (both the artwork itself and their efforts to encourage social change). Hilltop and Ameya were very motivational, and their words provided guidance for all of the attendees. We learned many important life lessons, and their powerful words will stick with us as we follow our dreams and strive to become changemakers. 

You can learn more about Hilltop by checking out her Instagram account @hilltop_high. She encourages anyone in the D.C. to get involved with the parking lot mural. To keep up with Ameya’s work, you can follow @ameyamarie or @artistirresistible on Instagram. She hopes that everyone will buy a megaphone to remember that their voice matters. 

A Word on Bullying...

By Aakash Palathra, Member of the Co-Lab Mental Health Hub

Imagine a dark, dark prison, where you feel like you could never get out of the endless torture. Day after day people would come to torture you taking your soul away from your passions. Despite your pridefulness making you unable to falter, it was just fuel to the embargo, making the insults harsher, the duration feeling like eons knowing I would never tell anyone, that I would “fight on”. I had to go through this constantly during elementary school and constantly pondered the value of my own existence. I was shackled in the worst time of my life but worse, I lost a portion of my childhood.

I remember getting beaten up, insulted, experiencing lacerations not only to my body but to my mind. I remembered getting insulted, separated, shoved, kicked, slapped, racially slurred. Slowly the darkness accumulated around me as my teachers went away, my friends went away, my parents could not help me despite all their efforts. They were gone, gone, gone. I got framed for things I did not even do; people were spared when they should’ve been punished. Slowly the dark wrapped around me like a veil separating me from the outside world. My own “friends” made an account that poured hatred against me. The darkness kept covering. I questioned myself. The common understanding of me at the center of all this trouble. The darkness kept covering.

An immensely painful thing about bullying is that it spreads, giving individuals usually two options - to become the bully or the nonchalant bystander. Most were bystanders yet it was painful seeing the handful of bullies. Hatred spreads like a plague - you either rid it from you or let it fester to spread it to others. It fills your mind with motivation and incentive only to fulfill its goal, to hurt, to make one suffer. It feels wrong, illogical, for the bully not to bully because this hatred is a parasite, relying on you to make their dreams a reality. If not...

Yet, somehow, I survived these horrific elementary school years. Thankfully my outrageously large ego spared me from any worse actions or thoughts.  It could’ve gotten worse for me, but as I stated earlier it had a cost. They knew they could do it because they knew I wouldn’t tell anyone, ask anyone, get help from anyone.

The last but most important thing I had was support. That was the light that reached me from beyond the dark veil. Though my parents found it difficult to help they tried to comfort me during these frustrating times. I had a couple of friends that I desired to continue fighting for. I had the belief that somehow the dots, the stars would align and I’d be able to escape from the prison. After elementary school, I had that break to be able to go to a new school. This was one of the most fortunate periods of my life. But it might not have happened. I may not have been lucky.

Regardless of the happiness, I obtain now I will forever be scarred by the bullying I experienced within my life. I find it hard to trust people I don’t know for long periods of time. I tend to avoid social cliques with certain criteria, and I find it hard to converse with others.

To the bullies, it’s a parasite and you must rid it from yourself. It will ruin your lives and it will be the only thing you focus on. To the bullied, it’s hard and you will need support whether it be internal or external. But if you are able to overcome it, you will be unstoppable.

If you are a teen and want to help reduce the stigma around mental health, join our weekly meetings virtually led by teens with adult mentors. Sign up for our Hub orientation here.

Partnership with Smithsonian Affiliates!

The Global Co Lab Network and its project Teens Dream were delighted to again partner with the Smithsonian in this year's annual Teens Dream Video Competition, specifically with the Smithsonian Affiliates!  Nine US museums worked with teens in their area to encourage them to submit to the global competition.  Aligning with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, their innovative solutions come from around the country and provide fresh insight into problem-solving for their communities - in their homes, schools, and hometowns. As part of the Smithsonian's Earth Optimism initiative, these students, working with mentors at Smithsonian Affiliate organizations, created two-minute videos to present ideas that can be replicated and scaled, and present a sense of hope in the dialogue around conservation and sustainability. The Smithsonian teen submission ideas presented here were awarded recognition and/or implementation of $500 mini-grants by this year's Teens Dream Changemaker Challenge competition. This collaboration was made possible by a grant from the Smithsonian Women's Committee.

Wildlife Conservation Hub's Info Session with Rhinosaverz

By the teen leaders of the Wildlife Conservation Hub, Sara Bigley, Ankitha Venguswamy, and Maria Alonso Novo

On December 27th, 2020 the Co Lab's Wildlife Conservation Hub came together with changemakers around the world to discuss the critical issue of wildlife conservation and preservation of biodiversity. The two speakers that were featured were Ms. Tendai Gumbo Wilkinson, an educator and artist working within the nonprofit organization Rhinosaverz as the project facilitator, to inspire and connect artists of all ages to use art to connect and heal, and Mr. Charles Summerfield, the founder of Rhinosaverz, musician, and conservationist. Through our info session, we were able to discuss topics like preservation of resources, being environmentally conscious in our decisions as a consumer, and the halting of single-use plastics. Charles was able to describe the actual situation on the ground in South Africa, with his experience working with rangers in the region, about the extent of the poaching crisis causing many species of animals that are extremely endangered to be on the brink of extinction. Especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, poachers are even less restricted in their access to wildlife because of the lack of regulation from governmental organizations. Tendai emphasized the need for young people to get involved in these crises, and make a difference in whatever way they can, whether it be through fundraising for conservancies and on the ground efforts, creating art, or raising awareness, we all have a part to do in our communities. 

Through our info session, our hub was also able to connect with people from many different countries, including Jazmin Salazar from Mexico, who has created the project Wocean and “The Earth Talk” podcast to showcase stories of people working in the field of wildlife conservation and marine life conservation. She said “Only by knowing, we can create the change we want to see,” and advocates for more teen involvement in long-term projects dedicated to saving wildlife. Other organizations that Charles has worked with in the past have included the Save the African Rhinos Foundation that has done work in the national parks, and aided rangers in South Africa by giving them resources and food supplies. He has worked with the biggest rhino orphanage in South Africa, Care for Wild, which is a sanctuary for rhinos to develop and be released into the wild under protection. The Tikki Hywood organization was another foundation Charles has worked with that has advocated for the protection of the pangolin, a highly endangered species. Above all, Charles and Tendai underscore the importance of giving back to the communities we are all in, our social circles, and our peers. “If everyone gives themselves a little piece of action… that is the one thing that I would really really inspire anyone to do.”

If you are interested in watching our full info session, please click here.

Image by Nel Botha from Pixabay


Co Lab Hunger Hub Reaches out to Arlington Public Schools in Virginia!

By Hub Member Yosief Tewelde and Hub Ambassador Eryk Schumacher

The Zero Hunger SDG Hub is a resource for teens globally that want to end hunger and promote food sustainability in their own communities. This hub is focused on goal #2 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which is Zero Hunger.  The mission statement of the Zero Hunger SDG Hub: “We are a global community of teen changemakers who are empowering each other to eliminate hunger and create food sustainability in our own communities.”

Most recently, the Hunger Hub has embarked on a mission to educate teens on how they can propagate vegetables. So far we’ve presented to VA Arlington County’s Career Center Culinary Arts class. The presentation was great and shared info on the Hub and the types of things they have done in the past, such as a "Share Table" in D.C. where the youth learn how to share food and reduce food waste -- it should not be seen as a bad thing -- it is really great. They also shared a suggestion for a community garden that they want to start in Arlington - they are looking for teens in Arlington who want to help get that started. Then finally we learned about plant propagation, a great interactive way for all of us to get involved. Then finally we talked about how to join the Hub which you can do here.  Join us!  .   


The Effect of Coral on Marine Biodiversity

Written by Sarah Bigley, Maria Alonso Novo, and Ankitha Venguswamy, of the Co-Lab Wildlife Conservation Hub

Coral reefs are home to the world’s most abundant source of marine wildlife, including many diverse species like sea turtles, sponges, jellyfish, sharks, dolphins, sea birds, crabs, and over 4000 different species of fish. It is estimated that around 25% of marine biodiversity can be found in coral reefs, and the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia itself is the largest coral reef system in the world, housing over 1,500 species of fish and other organisms. The Indo-Australian archipelago has some of the most diverse marine wildlife in the world because of the large populations of coral that grow there. However, historically, the Indo-Australian archipelago has been challenged by its sensitivity to climate change and sea levels. 

In one study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a group of researchers studied how coral reef populations affected marine wildlife during the Quaternary period, around 125,000 years ago. By reconstructing coral reef paleo distributions from the Quaternary era, they observed that cold temperatures and sea level drops caused massive coral habitat loss. Many of the coral reefs killed resulted from the rise of the sea surface temperature, which impacted the surrounding area by killing a lot of fish. It was observed that on “short temporal and small spatial scales” the corals can fluctuate greatly, which affects the composition and abundance of certain species. Stable coral reef populations help with marine diversity by acting as refugia — an area where organisms can survive through a period of unstable/ harsh time with a difficult climate (glaciation in this case). This prevented species loss because it provided habitat for the many species of fish. In the study, they measured the global distribution of fish species richness from the past 3 million years (sediment cores gave clues to the sea surface temperature and sea level paleo conditions of the habitat). The three species of fish studied, Pomacentridae, damselfishes; Labridae, wrasses; and Chaetodontidae, butterflyfishes; all had population increases when isolated in refugia. It is likely that historical barriers, like those created by the sea level drops in the Quaternary, contributed to the isolation of species by cutting off local sea basins. This wasn’t just because of the water temperature, because scientists also examined other fossils from the same period but from further away from the Quaternary coral reef, which proves the positive effect of the coral.

The study concluded that areas that retained suitable coral reefs served as refugia which was a key part in “buffering species from extinction” (Pellissier, 1017). In a time when marine wildlife is rapidly decaying from climate change causing ocean temperatures to rise, which can change how fish species migrate and can kill coral reefs, it is important to be advocates for the protection of these species. The Wildlife Conservation Hub, a team that is part of the Global Co Lab Network, is committed to raising awareness and doing our part to understand the effects of our actions on the environment. We have worked with non-profit organizations in the past like Rhinosaverz, which works on the ground in South Africa for wildlife protection against poaching, artists like Emily Tin Yang who has fundraised for wildlife conservation organizations, and Wocean, an organization started by two Mexican students who created “The Earth Talk'' podcast to share stories of people in the field of wildlife conservation. We have also started an Instagram campaign to educate others about the protection of wildlife and you can see more on @teensdreamcolab on Instagram. We are passionate about the protection of wildlife both on land and in the ocean and hope our message will inspire you to learn and protect our planet. We would love to have you join us.  To learn more, see here.



Mental Health Hub and Arts Hub Have Art Therapy Session You can Watch Anytime!

By Annabel Williams, Teen Ambassador, Co Lab Arts Hub

Schoolwork, politics, COVID-19, social stuff, and so much more—the world is a stressful place right now, especially for teens. Personally, since distance learning started, I have had trouble managing my own stress, staying motivated, and prioritizing my mental health more than usual. As an artist myself, I found solace and peace in this crazy, stressful moment by falling back to my pens, paints, and sketchbook.

Art, among other creative forms, can be a useful tool to help one grapple with their emotions, relax, and bring positivity and improve self-esteem. Art therapy is said to help people explore perceptual, sensory, kinesthetic, and symbolic opportunities while expressing their emotions in a visual, understandable way. In a 2018 study, researchers found that art therapy can lead to significant improvements in overall mental health.

Art therapy is a popular and easy way to bring the plentiful benefits of art into the lives of people of all ages and skill levels, especially those not already engaging in frequent art or creative activities. Anyone can practice art therapy! 

Teen Dream’s Mental Health Hub and Arts Hub have collaborated to create an Art-Therapy session which was held on November 21st, 2020! We selected a few of the numerous art therapy activities/techniques to engage teens in a 1-hour zoom session. We had a wonderful trained art therapist, Cecilia Eirin, join us to speak more about the benefits of art therapy before having Hub-members lead the teens through the art activities. 

Our hope is to get as many teens as possible to watch our recording of that event so they can do art therapy at their leisure and be able to take away some of the activities we teach to utilize whenever they are feeling anxious and overwhelmed.  Tell your friends about it too!


Be Kind to Your Mind!

Written by Ryann Chalmers, Teen Ambaassaador of the Co Lab’s Mental Health Hub

Our Global Co Lab Network Mental Health Hub is teen-led and meets virtually weekly to raise awareness on different mental health illnesses and provide resources through our social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and youtube. Our Hub posts educational slides frequently on our social media networks in order to keep the conversation going.

For this month we have created a Mental Health Hub mask that promotes “Be Kind to Your Mind”!   Please help us spread this message with our cute mask here!  You can buy our mask here – each $10 mask sold gives $2 to our Hub to help us continue our work!  

Mental Illness Awareness Week was earlier this month in October.  There are many ranges of mental health illnesses.  The commonly known ones are Anxiety Disorder and Depression while others are less commonly known such as borderline personality disorder, dissociation, and psychosis. Everyone in the world should be aware and educated on these different types of mental health challenges and work to reduce the stigma associated with them.  Even though this mental health campaign is only one week, we should be educating ourselves all year! 

Encourage teens to join our Mental Health Hub by taking this short orientation after which they will be invited to join our Hub!