Only human

In one week, I received 900 inquiries from people who’d seen our employment ads and wanted to work at Collegewise. We’re such a lucky company to have that many people interested in working here, and I never take that for granted.

But more than half of those people clearly didn’t bother to read our postings or the directions within them. Instead, they emailed me basic questions like, “Where are you hiring?” and “What are the job responsibilities?” A few didn’t even get that specific and just asked, “Can you tell me more about Collegewise?”

With that many applications to get through, it’s unlikely those people will be chosen for an interview.

We spend a lot of time working on our website and our employment postings. We’ve thought a lot about the kind of information people might like to know about us so we can make it as easy as possible for them to find it. That’s why anyone who spends five minutes on our website can read our story. They can learn all about available positions and the job responsibilities of a Collegewise counselor. They can even link to a past blog post with tips for job seekers hoping to work here.

Is it dismissive to write those people off? Could I be passing on someone who might be a great counselor? Maybe. But I’m only human, and those questions come off as lazy, to me. They want me to take time to give them information when they haven’t invested any time of their own to find it. If they make that mistake themselves, I can’t trust them to prevent a Collegewise student from doing the same thing with an admissions office.

If you’re applying to college this fall, remember to do your part. Don’t call or email the admissions office to ask basic questions that are answered on the website (and parents, don’t ever do that for your kids). Don’t make them do the work for you. No, they may not automatically hold that against you when you apply. But they’re only human. And when you show that you’re wiling to take their time without investing yours (or to even make that call yourself), it’s difficult to ignore.

Instead, take the time to learn about the colleges you’re applying to and the programs that interest you. Review the information the college has taken the time to share on its website. And if you still have questions, then call or email. Admissions officers are nice people and they’ll be happy to help you, especially if you let them know that you looked for the information on their website but were unable to find it.

You should also take some comfort in knowing that the human leeway goes both ways here. Admissions officers don’t expect you to be perfect. They know that even the best kids occasionally make mistakes. As long as you’re polite, respectful of their time, and thankful for the help they provide you (good traits to have outside of college admissions, too), they’ll almost certainly say something to the effect of, “No problem—you’re only human.”

Don’t wait to reinvent yourself

I knew a guy back in high school who got mostly C’s and didn’t participate in any activities. After graduation, he headed off to a college that admitted pretty much everyone and was generally regarded as a party school (a reputation he certainly did his part to maintain based on his tales from his freshman year in the dorms). He was a nice guy; he just didn’t expend much effort in school. If asked, I’m guessing most people from high school wouldn’t have expected much of him in the future.

Today, I learned through the wonders of Facebook that he runs a large, very successful psychotherapy practice.

My message here is not that high school doesn’t matter. These years are formative, and the more you can develop traits like a work ethic and an investment in your future, the more successful you’re likely going to be.

But who you are at 17 doesn’t necessarily define who you’ll be at 40. A “C” in algebra, a below-average SAT score, a cut from the basketball team, none of those things have to matter in the not-too-distant future if you don’t want them to. You just have to keep going.

I don’t know when or how my high school acquaintance reinvented himself. But I’m guessing he had some serious ground to make up to get admitted to graduate school and start down the path to where he is today. It couldn’t have been easy.  He should be really proud that he’s doing great work he cares about in a way that he probably never could have imagined for himself when he was 17.

If you’re a C student who’s not trying very hard, it doesn’t mean that you have to be that way for life. Don’t lock yourself into that role just because you think it’s too late to change. Colleges love to see upward trends where students get academically better with age. And once you get to college, nobody will know or care what your persona was back in high school.

If you don’t want to be a C student for life, don’t wait to make the change. Start today. It probably won’t happen overnight. But once you start the process, momentum becomes your friend. Don’t wait to reinvent yourself.

We’re growing in California and North Carolina

Last month, four wonderful new counselors joined our Collegewise family. First, we’ve added two Los Angeles-area counselors with a long history of helping parents make sound educational decisions.


Patti Winkel
College Counselor
Pasadena, CA
Patti graduated from Connecticut College with a degree in theater. True to the liberal arts college ideal which espouses a well-rounded and relatively unrestrictive education, she took classes in child development, psychology, and French Literature while somehow securing approval to substitute Poets for Physics as her science requirement and avoiding mathematics entirely. After a successful marketing career which included launching her own educational marketing consultancy, Patti co-created KnowsyMoms, an online resource which provides parents with not only everything they need to help their kids be successful in college, but also advice and encouragement to help parents adjust to and embrace what Patti calls “staying connected while letting go.” Cheering for and supporting your college student from afar? Yes. Calling your student’s sociology professor to demand that the final be rescheduled to a later hour because 8 a.m. is just too early for him? No. It’s a balancing act, one that Patti and her site can help any parent master. An active volunteer with the South Pasadena School District for sixteen years while raising two boys and seeing them off to college, Patti was the first vice-president of programs for the South Pasadena High School PTSA and has won several PTA honorary service awards. She also takes acting classes on Tuesday nights and occasionally sings with the Golden Bridge Community Choir in Hollywood. She is not, however, able to throw or catch anything. Always the last to be picked in gym class, Patti embraces her athletic shortcomings and swears that if she ever pens an autobiography, it will be entitled, And You Get Patti.


Kirsten Hanson-Press
College Counselor
Los Angeles, California
Before joining Collegewise in July 2014, Kirsten was the executive director of the Parents Education League of Los Angeles, a non-profit organization that helps parents navigate the often bumpy road of school choice in Los Angeles. While education has been a lifelong interest, Kirsten also spent over a decade as a producer and production manager for the Disney Channel, Moxie Pictures and Lifetime Television, heading commercial and independent projects including the infamous final music video for Biggie Smalls. Needless to say, whether you need helping finding the right high school, college, or director for an iconic hip-hop artist’s latest video, Kirsten can expertly and patiently guide you towards the right choice. In fact, guiding has long been a talent of Kirsten’s—she recently got back in the boat (and on the water) as a crew coxswain and oarswoman with the L.A. Rowing Club after a 25-year hiatus from the sport. Kirsten says that the fact that she lettered in both crew and debate in high school is proof that she has always had a big mouth. After studying mass communications at Emerson College, Kirsten never stopped learning or studying and has devoured courses in film studies at the American Film Institute, early childhood education at UCLA and organizational management at Antioch University. A parent-educating, lifelong-learning, boat-guiding, entertainment-producing mother of two, Kirsten also enjoys hiking, adventurous road trips, and using her keen design eye to transform any space.

Our Northern California crew just keeps getting even better, this time with Marisela Gomez, director of our new office in Morgan Hill (within shouting distance of the Silicon Valley):

MariselaGomezMarisela Gomez
Morgan Hill, California
After earning a BA in sociology and three minors (ethnic studies, international studies, and Spanish studies) at Santa Clara University, Marisela launched what would become a 12-year career as an admissions officer and enrollment manager. While reading all those applications in the Santa Clara admissions office and spanning the state to give admissions talks to transfer, international, and high school families, Marisela also earned a master’s at Santa Clara in educational administration. When she decided it was time to work someplace other than the campus where she originally arrived as a college freshman, Marisela brought her deep admissions experience and passion for helping students to Collegewise in July 2014. Marisela says that she is an annual recipient of the World’s Greatest Mom award. Sure, it’s an award she assigns to herself and we haven’t actually seen a physical manifestation on the wall or in the trophy case, but her husband and two kids swear that the award is not only real and very richly deserved, but also takes the form of her beloved Lululemon jacket. How does Marisela so skillfully balance the demands of school, work, and family without ever seeming to run out of energy or enthusiasm? Coffee, preferably iced black coffee. And lots of it.

And finally, Collegewise is moving into North Carolina, land of Blue Devils and Tar heels, with our fabulous new director, Jenny Peacock.


Jenny Peacock
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Jenny had what can only be described as a meteoric rise in the world of admissions. After a college internship in the financial aid office at her alma mater, Peace College (now William Peace University), Jenny moved into Peace’s admissions office first as an assistant director, eventually scaling the peak and becoming the director of admissions. After 12 years, thousands of applications, and too many admissions committee meetings to count, Jenny decided she wanted to spend all of her time doing her favorite part of the job—counseling students—and joined Collegewise in August 2014. Originally from the South, Jenny loves southern cooking and has very strong opinions as to the superiority of Eastern North Carolina barbecue over, well, every other kind of barbecue. It’s a vinegar/pepper base vs. tomato base distinction that apparently has sparked controversy and debate all the way to the highest levels of the North Carolina state legislature. Let’s just say that if you think all barbecue is the same, you could be wading into some deep vinegar and pepper with Jenny. But she might be willing to overlook any barbecue-based differences if you were willing to help her check off an item on her pre-age 40 bucket list—to go noodling (she’s yet to find anyone willing to join her in a quest to catch a catfish with her bare hands).

We just couldn’t be happier to have Patti, Kirsten, Marisela and Jenny with us. They’re already doing great work and helping families enjoy a more successful, less stressful college process.

Advice for teens from Twitter’s founder

In the final minute of a podcast hosted here on Dan Pink’s website, Twitter and Jelly co-founder Biz Stone was asked what three pieces of advice he would give to seventeen-year-olds. Here they are:

  1. Failure. In order to succeed spectacularly you need to be willing to fail spectacularly.
  2. Creativity. It’s an endless resource. You’ll never run out of it, so don’t be afraid to use it.
  3. There is compound impact in altruism. Helping other people really is helping yourself. You shouldn’t think of it as giving away, whether it’s time or money. You should think of it as gaining something—and you’ll win.

Parents: Put yourself out of a job

Julie Lythcott-Haims is a parent, a former dean of freshmen at Stanford, and the author of an upcoming book on the effects of helicopter parenting. In this brief TED Talk, she reminds parents that it’s your job to put yourselves out of a job, and you succeed only if you’ve raised an independent adult.

And from her blog entry, We’re Not Going to College:

“We seem so afraid on our kids’ behalf – of strangers, of missed opportunities, of failing to keep up with the Joneses – and our fears impel us to always be there, present, hovering, poised to prevent, protect, intervene, advocate, and defend. We speak up for our little Jane when little Johnny snatches her toy. Or rush to apologize for or defend little Johnny when he’s met with the scornful eyes of the parents of Jane. We get in fights with refs, coaches and other parents on the sidelines of our kids’ games when we’re advocating for our exceptional children. We supervise recess in elementary school to make sure everyone is getting along and no one is excluded. We attend back to school nights with a vengeance, paying attention to what “we” need to do in order to be successful in the sixth grade. We argue with the teacher about our kids’ less than perfect grades in middle and high school, as if the teacher has made a mistake instead of our perfect kid. It’s as if we are the ones heartbroken over the snatched the toy, as if we are donning the jersey for the big game, or waiting for a turn on the tire swing, or sitting in a desk in a classroom endlessly raising our hand. As if we are the ones trying to get into college.

But ‘we’re’ not going to college. Really, folks, college is not for us. Remember back to your own college years and try to place your parents’ involvement in the picture – you’ll recall they were hardly there at all. That’s the way it should be.”

Financial Aid 101

Kalman Chany is a financial aid expert and the author of Paying for College Without Going Broke. This free guideline, Financial Aid 101, available on his website, is a great introduction to the financial aid process.

During the college admissions process, it’s important that families discard hearsay and seek out good advice from people who know what they’re talking about. When it comes to financial aid, it’s hard to find a better source than Kal. In fact, he and Mark Kantrowitz are my own go-to sources when I need information to pass on to our students or to blog readers.

Batching towards productivity

The term “batching” refers to grouping similar tasks together. For example, if you are writing an essay but stop to read and reply to every email the minute it arrives, it’s impossible to get into the zone with the essay. “Batching” in this case would look like this: you would focus for let’s say an hour on the essay, then take a break to read and respond to every email you received during that block of time.  This eliminates distractions while you write your essay. Your focus improves. And you get better work done in less time. It really does work.

A few “batching” proponents include:

Scott Young, author of Learn More, Study Less, who got straight A’s in high school and in college while studying far less than any of his friends.

Tim Ferris, author of the 4-hour workweek.

And Cal Newport, study skills author and relentless proponent of focused, distraction-free work. This article is particularly helpful as Newport does acknowledge that batching can be difficult and even frustrating. But his conclusion is that ultimately, batching is an effective way to get more done in less time.

Nowhere to go but forward

From Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams:

“The right college is the last, best chance for masses of teenagers to find themselves in a situation where they have no choice but to grow. And fast. The editor at the Harvard Lampoon experiences this. I felt it when I co-ran a large student-run business. The advanced physics major discovers this on her first day at the high-energy lab, working on a problem no one has ever solved before. That’s the reason to spend the time and spend the money and hang out on campus: so you can find yourself in a dark alley with nowhere to go but forward.”

Seniors: five ways to still improve your chances

For applicants applying to college this fall, there are still things you can do to improve your chances of admission. Wild swings don’t work here—creating three clubs just so you can list them on your application won’t make a difference. But here are five ways you can make yourself a stronger applicant and boost your chances. Some of these might seem obvious. But even those students who might say they already know these things often look back at the end of the process and wish they’d followed them.

1. Seek out good advice.
Too many students seek out credible advice after it’s too late to really do any good. For example, if you wait to visit your high school counselor until after you’ve been waitlisted by a college, she may be able to help you, but likely not as much as she could have back before you applied. Talk to your counselor. Ask colleges questions at college fairs and at their presentations. Seek out information and advice from people who really know what they’re talking about, not from your friends and neighbors.

2. Enroll in a challenging senior year schedule.
The senior year counts in college admissions. Most colleges will evaluate the rigor of your courses, and many will also look at your grades from your 7th semester before they make an admissions decision. So enroll in the most rigorous courses you can reasonably handle and keep working as hard as you can. College is school, and flexing your academic muscles as a senior proves that you’re training properly.

3. Consider re-taking the SAT/ACT.
I like to see students spend less time preparing for and taking standardized tests. But a big score boost can definitely improve your chances of admission. So consider taking them again if you think you can make a substantial improvement. If you need advice about whether or not to take it again, here’s a past post that might help.

4. Apply to the right colleges.
Applying to 15 reach schools is no way to set yourself up for application success. Instead, strive for a balanced list of colleges that you would be happy to attend and where you have a strong chance of admission. You can’t balance your list in retrospect when things don’t go your way. Instead, balance it at the beginning of the process.

5. Spend time on your applications and essays.
Lots of us procrastinate—I do, too. But it just doesn’t make sense to put in three years of hard work trying to get into college and still find yourself scrambling to complete your applications the night before they’re due. Don’t do that to yourself. Your college applications and essays are representing you. If you want them to represent you well, you have to put time, thought, and attention into creating them.