Silence = space for learning

One of Michael Bungay Stanier’s recommended strategies described in his book “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever is so simple that anyone can do it. And it can lead to more enlightening conversations with those in your charge, whether you’re a parent, a counselor, or a manager.

Get comfortable with silence.

Stanier’s book recommends seven essential questions for those you are coaching or leading. But in order for the responses to lead to better coaching for you and better learning for them, you need to give them time to formulate their answers. If a question is followed by even 3-4 seconds of silence, many people—and I’m one of them—feel compelled to fill that void by rephrasing, clarifying, or outright starting over with a new question. Instead, just do this (Stanier describes this in the first person, as if you’re reminding yourself how to handle these scenarios):

“When I’ve asked a question and she doesn’t have an answer ready in the first two seconds, instead of filling up the space with another question or the same question just asked a new way or a suggestion or just pointless words, I will take a breath, stay open and keep quiet for another three seconds.”

Stanier argues that it’s during these silences, when people are considering their answers, that they are forming new neural pathways and increasing both their potential and capacity.

Sometimes the best way to create space for learning is to stop giving advice and start listening.

What’s your big fear?

If you’re experiencing an unusually high degree of stress around something that doesn’t seem to deserve quite this much anxiety, the first step towards relief might be asking yourself, “What’s my big fear?”

Not the rational concern. Not the worries as you’d express them to a friend. But the big (and potentially irrational) fear that you don’t say out loud or maybe even acknowledge.

It’s the difference between:

I’m not sure NYU is the right school for me because I haven’t fully decided if business is the right major for me.


My big fear is that I’ll get to NYU and end up homesick, lonely, and depressed. All of this will happen in a new city that seemed exciting but it turns out just scares the hell out of me now that I’m there. And I’ll have to transfer, which will make me feel like a college loser because everyone else from high school will be raving about how college is the best thing ever and documenting on social media how great their lives are.

Once you actually acknowledge the big fear, you’ve isolated the emotion that’s driving it. Then you’ll be in a better position to focus on the real issue, whether it’s emotional, rational, or a little bit of both.

How to tell a college you won’t be attending

If you’re a senior choosing the college you will attend next fall, you might not have considered this question: How do you tell the other colleges who accepted you that you won’t be attending?

You have three options here:

1. Say nothing.
Please don’t do this. Yes, a college will eventually surmise that you won’t be attending when they don’t hear word (or receive a deposit) from you. But admissions officers are under a lot of pressure to manage the enrollment numbers for their freshman classes. Also, the sooner you share your plans, the sooner a student on the college’s waitlist can get the news they’ve been eagerly waiting for. And it’s just the right thing to do.

2. Send a simple two-sentence email (and use it for all of the colleges you won’t be attending).
This is much better than #1 and will score you some good karma points.

3. Or you could do what admissions veteran and college counselor Parke Muth suggests here.
Write the college a real email, thank them for their offer, and explain where you’ve decided to attend. Like #2, it’s the right thing to do. But this one is just classier and even offers the possibility of coming back to help you in the future.

Free webinar on college athletic recruiting

If you’re a two-time All American who started getting recruiting letters from coaches while you were still carrying a lunchbox to school, you’ve got a clear and unobstructed path to playing sports in college. But many athletes have to work a little harder to find the schools, connect with coaches, and make themselves an appealing candidate both on the field and in the classroom. For those of you without a stamped first-class recruiting pass, I hope you’ll join us at the following free webinar.

Scoring the Perfect Recruiting Offer
Wednesday, April 25
5 p.m. – 6 p.m. PST
Cost: Free

We’ll answer all the most common questions, from just how much weight recruiting can carry in the process, to how to find the right programs for you, to how to connect with coaches in a way that helps your chances.

More information, and the registration information, can be found here. And if you can’t make it live, please register anyway. We’ll make a video of the webinar available to registrants for up to two weeks after the event. I hope you’ll join us.

Potential today, and tomorrow

A parent recently posted a question in an online discussion forum about how to help her teen “fulfill his potential.” As is often the case, it comes from a good place, rooted in that universal parental goal to ensure that your kids have more than you did. She sees a smart, capable young man who gets mostly B’s with a smattering of C’s and doesn’t seem motivated to change those outcomes. She’s likely worried that he’ll one day regret this lack of effort–that he’ll realize that he’s got big aspirations for his life and be hindered from reaching them because of choices he made as a teen.

Most fellow parents can likely empathize. But it’s also important to remember exactly what potential is—the capacity to do or become something in the future. Having potential is about today. Fulfilling potential is about tomorrow.

Potential is realized at different points in different people. I’m sure there are 17-year-olds who have blossomed and are already pairing dreams with strengths and direction to fully realize them. But it’s far more common for people to discover their long-term talents, interests, and, yes, full potential during or even after college.

You can identify, nurture, and have faith in your teen’s potential. But you can’t fill it for them. Instead, pair high expectations with unconditional love. Encourage them to explore and even to make mistakes along the way. And appreciate the existence of potential today while awaiting the fulfillment of it tomorrow.

Tips for seniors picking colleges

If you’re a senior in the enviable position of deciding between multiple college acceptances, here are a few tips to help you make the right decision for you.

1. Remember that some uncertainty is normal.
Some students are sure about their final choice and are ready to sign on the dotted line as soon as the acceptance letter arrives. But many more are not. Some degree of uncertainty is normal for big decisions. So don’t be alarmed if you don’t feel as certain about your choice as your friends do. That uncertainty typically disappears as soon as you commit.

2. Know your cost before you sign.
Make sure you’ve carefully evaluated your financial aid award so you know the amounts of scholarships, loans, and work study you qualify for. Not all financial aid is free money, and it’s important not to get preemptively swept up in the total figure listed for the award.

3. Check your assumptions.
It’s common for families to make evaluative statements about colleges based on assumptions. Some examples:

College X is better for premed than College Y.

I should choose this school because it will offer great connections when I graduate.

This college will help me get into a good law school.

Are you able to substantiate those statements with facts, rather than opinions or hearsay? If not, then you’re working with assumptions that might be flawed. And that’s not a good way to choose a college.

4. Evaluate yourself, too.
Too many families make the final college decision based on the purported features and benefits of the college without considering if the student will actually take full advantage of them. Choosing a college is a little bit like choosing a gym. The offerings are only as valuable as the frequency and vigor with which you take advantage of them.

5. Don’t look for perfection.
Much like jobs, relationships, and families, there is no such thing as a perfect college. Every college campus has characteristics that could feasibly be improved, changed, fixed, etc. But the benefit of choosing a college that fits is that you’ll be more likely to take advantage of its strengths and less likely to be affected by or to even notice its weaknesses. Comparing supposed pros and cons between your options might help you organize your thinking, but it probably won’t guide you to a clear decision. Instead, consider the purported strengths and weaknesses. Then evaluate your ability and likelihood of leaning into the former and working around the latter.

The latest from Collegewise: counselor bio videos

Last year, our Collegewise filmmaker, Frank, suggested that we offer biographical videos of our counselors. Families want to meet the person they’d be working with before they hire a college counselor. While we offer a free introductory meeting for just that reason, we have lots of families who work with us online because they don’t live in a city where we have an office. And we wondered if even those families near our offices might appreciate the option of watching a two-minute video in addition to—or even in lieu of—a face-to-face introductory meeting.

So how do you make a bio video that someone would actually find interesting and engaging?

Frank and I tackled that question before tackling the project. And after some good brainstorming, we realized that Collegewise had already found the answer for us. A great bio video should be the filmmaking version of a great college essay. So we started the project by following our college essay advice.

1. Don’t try to impress; just be honest.
The resume can answer the question, “Is this counselor qualified?” The video should help answer the question, “Do I like this person?” And the best way to get someone to like you is to just be yourself. Nobody wants to watch a slick sales pitch. We wanted these videos to represent the real person the counselor is, not a fake version of who we were trying to guess someone might want them to be. That’s College Essay 101 at Collegewise, and we knew it wouldn’t lead us astray when making our bios.

2. Own your stories.
The best way to stand out from the bio video—or college essay—pack is to tell stories that only you could tell. We call that “owning your stories,” and you do it by injecting detail. Done right, no two Collegewise bio videos should be the same because no two Collegewise counselors are the same. Yes, they may have similar backgrounds, experiences, hobbies, etc. But the details behind those shared traits is where the magic is. Our videos had to capture it.

3. Don’t repeat information from your application.
Our counselors have bios on our website that detail their education and experience. A viewer doesn’t need that information repeated for them. So our videos had to reveal information that wasn’t anywhere on the resume, or new information about the topics on the resume.

4. Sound like you.
We wanted these videos to be authentic representations of each counselor, something that would make their friends and family who know them best say, “It’s just so you.” So we didn’t write scripts. We didn’t tell them exactly what to say and how to say it. We didn’t over-prepare or over-polish. First takes, like first drafts, are rarely perfect, so Frank did plenty of retakes. And like our essay editing process, he chose what clips to leave in and what to leave out, and shaped what the counselors gave him into interesting and compelling stories. But the finished product should not be a polished-to-perfection version that only exists on film. It had to look and sound like the real counselor we know and work with.

Our most important victory condition for this project was that if the counselors liked their own videos, if they were quick to share them with their friends and family or even to post them on social media, we’d know that we hit a home run. That’s exactly what’s happened.

Frank is still finishing the videos and they’re not up on our website yet. But here are a few sneak peeks for blog readers. I’m so proud of the work he’s done and of the counselors he captured. And I hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as we have.


Avoid financial aid scams

This CNBC piece shares some good tips on how to avoid scams that purport to help you pay for college, including:

  • Scholarship applications that come with a fee
  • Seemingly exclusive invitations to workshops that in reality are open to everyone
  • Seminars that promise better information than your high school counselor can give you

For honest, reliable advice, here’s NACAC’s list of trusted sources.

Does it have to be “crazy at work”?

When I started Collegewise, I had experience working in a small business, but not starting and running one. So I began a habit of reading business books. I wanted to fill the gaps in my knowledge, and I just found the topics interesting. Nineteen years and over 200 books later, none have impacted my approach to work and to building Collegewise more than Rework did, the 2010 best seller from the guys at Basecamp (formerly 37signals). Almost everything they recommended was simultaneously contrarian and obvious, which is what makes it compelling. That book made me a fan. I’ve since read hundreds of articles on their blog. I’ve listened to every podcast, interview, and recorded presentation. I even attended a workshop at their company headquarters in Chicago. When I’m looking for good thinking and good teaching from a good business, Basecamp is the first place I go.

Surprisingly, I’ve now inhaled so much of their advice that I actually don’t think I’ll be pre-ordering their new book, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. I’ve read or heard them express all the ideas within it because I’ve followed them for so long. I recall them saying in an interview that their books are like greatest hits albums. I love their music, but I already own all the hits.

If the book description resonates with you, maybe this will be your introduction to Jason and David from Basecamp.

“Long hours, an excessive workload, and a lack of sleep have become a badge of honor for modern professionals. But it should be a mark of stupidity, the authors argue. Sadly, this isn’t just a problem for large organizations—individuals, contractors, and solopreneurs are burning themselves out the same way. The answer to better productivity isn’t more hours—it’s less waste and fewer things that induce distraction and persistent stress.”

The pre-order link is here.

For waitlisted students

Imagine asking someone to the prom and getting this reply:

“Hmmm…maybe. I want to go with you, but I also want to see who else might ask me. So I’ll get back to you. Full disclosure, I can’t promise when I’ll give you an answer, or if it will even be before the prom takes place.”

That’s the high school date-to-the-dance version of being placed on a college waitlist. Instead of receiving an acceptance or a rejection from a college, you’re offered a spot on the waitlist and told that you might be admitted later if more space becomes available. But most schools can’t tell students who accept that waitlist option where they stand, or when they’re likely to know if they’ve been taken off the list and offered a spot. So the student is stuck in the college admissions version of purgatory–that means accepting a spot at a school that said yes while holding out hope that a maybe from another school turns to a yes.

If you’ve been placed on a waitlist and would like some straight answers about why they exist and what students can do to potentially increase their chances of being accepted , check out “Wait Listed: Questions, Ethics, and Strategies” from counselor and former associate dean of admissions at University of Virginia, Parke Muth.

And while you’re at it, here’s some other advice. If someone were to give you a “maybe” answer to your prom proposal, you’d be well within your social rights—and maybe better off—to simply decline and say:

“No hard feelings, but I don’t really want to sit around waiting for you. I’m sure we’ll both end up with the right matches we’re excited about. Best of luck.”

You can say pretty much the same thing to a college that waitlisted you.