On demonstrating interest

For some colleges, an applicant’s demonstrated interest in the school can influence an admissions decision. But as their most recent blog entry points out: (1) the University of Virginia isn’t one of them, and (2) trying too hard to look interested isn’t a good admissions strategy, especially if you start to annoy admissions officers.

Here’s a past post on how to effectively show interest in a college without making the process even more stressful or expensive.

Just be authentic

We try to follow our own advice here at Collegewise. So it’s not surprising that whether we’re presenting ourselves to an audience, to a potential customer, or even to cyberspace on our website, we do what we tell our students to do in their college applications and essays—just be authentic.

Some people disagree with us when we say that college admissions should be enjoyable, that the prestigious colleges don’t have the market cornered on turning out happy and successful students. That’s OK. When we’re honest about who we are and what we believe, the people who disagree with us can find someone else who matches their view of the college admissions world. And the people who believe what we believe know they’ve found the right place to call home.

When you present yourself to colleges in your applications and essays, be authentic. Sound like you. Help them understand who you are and why you’ve chosen to spend your time the way you have in high school. Admissions officers want to get to know the authentic you, not some contrived version of yourself that you hope will impress them.

Your authentic self won’t please all colleges, and that’s OK. One of those schools that says yes will be the right place for you to call home.

Make matches moving forward

Matchmaking—finding the fit between a student and a college—is one of the best ways to ensure a less stressful, more successful college process. When you find colleges where you could be happy and successful, that fit your budget (or where you’re likely to receive need- or merit-based aid), and where your chances of admission are strong, you set yourself up to have many great college options from which to choose. Matchmaking puts you in charge of your college process.

But matchmaking doesn’t work in reverse.

“What is Harvard looking for?”
“Would Northwestern want me to go to a summer program or get a part-time job?”
“Will my chances of getting into Chicago be better if I declare a major in math?”

Questions like those come from students attempting to matchmake in reverse. They want to change themselves to fit the colleges they like instead of finding schools they like that already fit.

I’m not suggesting that students should rest on their laurels. When you work hard to improve your grades, when you raise your test scores, when you make an impact in activities you enjoy—you’re exerting efforts that could add potential colleges to your list and improve your chances of admission at many schools.

But you shouldn’t fundamentally change your interests, your activities, or your future plans just to fit what you think one college wants. Reverse matchmaking isn’t effective or healthy. It gives too much control to colleges and too little confidence to applicants who are left feeling that they don’t measure up just being who they are.

Instead of matchmaking in reverse, make matches moving forward. Challenge yourself. Work hard. Commit to activities that matter to you. Then find colleges that fit who are predisposed to like you just the way you are.

Pick a slice

After I do one of our college essay seminars for a crowd, I’ll often meet students afterwards who are torn between potential stories for an essay. Their indecision usually sounds something like this:

“One story would show my (insert strength or personality trait here), but the other shows my (insert a different strength or personality trait here).”

My answer usually reminds them they can’t possibly share everything about themselves in one college application. For each essay, the best approach is almost always to pick one slice of your life and use the essay to really help the reader understand it.

Human beings are complex. None of us can be thoroughly explained in one college application any more than we could help someone understand everything about who we are in a brief conversation.

So release yourself of that obligation. You can’t cover everything. Instead, pick a slice. And if your story makes your best friend say, “This is so you,” you probably picked a good slice.

Try a no-multi-tasking experiment

I’ve written several posts (here’s one, and another) on the value of eliminating distractions and doing focused work. And one of the most crucial steps towards distraction-free focus is to stop multi-tasking. For more on that topic, here’s a great guest post on the Harvard Business Review. What I like best is that rather than promising to eliminate multi-tasking altogether, the author simply tried an experiment for one week. Once he saw the benefits, it was much easier to stick to it.

For financial aid research

One of the best sources for information about particular colleges’ financial aid offerings is The College Navigator, which I profiled in a past post.  If you’re the type of college researcher who wants to dig into specifics like the average amount of aid for each school, how that aid is distributed (grants, loans, work study), and how aid packages tend to change in subsequent years of college, I’ve yet to find a better resource than The College Navigator.

Don’t hide behind words

In his recent internal announcement of the company’s plans to layoff 18,000 workers, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella began his email:

Last week in my email to you I synthesized our strategic direction as a productivity and platform company.”

It’s possible that sentence is meaningful to someone in the tech industry. But all signs point to business-speak.

Business-speak pretends to say something without saying anything. It lets people hide behind words. And I doubt that anyone has ever been excited, reassured or otherwise moved by business-speak.

Whether you’re writing an announcement to your team, an email to a teacher, or an essay as part of your college application, whatever it is that you want to say, come right out and say it. Write it as if you are talking one-on-one with someone.

You’ll say a lot more when you don’t hide behind your words.

Take more out of college

If you want to get more out of college, take more out of college.

Back in May, I shared the recent 2014 Gallup Poll, “It’s Not ‘Where’ You Go To College, But ‘How’ You Go To College” which showed no difference in college graduates’ workplace engagement or well-being whether they attended a college that was public, private, highly-selective or less competitive. But it’s worth taking a look at the college factors that were found to affect the quality of your college experience and your well-being later in life, such as:

Graduates who worked closely with a professor who took an interest and mentored them were twice as likely to be engaged at work and thriving in terms of their well-being.

Graduates who had a deep involvement in a job/internship, a long-term school project, and/or an extra-curricular activity were twice as likely to be engaged at work.

Students with no student loan debt are three times more likely to be thriving in terms of their well-being than are those with between $20,000 and $40,000 in loan debt.

The best part: you have influence—and even complete control—over those factors. Don’t sit back and wait for a college to give them to you.  Take them for yourself.

Start by working hard in high school. Find colleges that fit you where you can be happy and successful. Apply for financial aid and make sure you have plenty of schools where you are a strong applicant. And once you get there, get busy building a remarkable college career.

The stats don’t lie. The students who take more out of college (and don’t take out more debt than their budget allows) get more out of college.

We’re growing on both coasts

We’ve got three fantastic new counselors starting at Collegewise this week whom I’m excited to introduce:

​First, meet Emily Hayden, Collegewise counselor in New York City.

EmilyHBlogWhile earning a masters in school counseling from Columbia University, Emily spent a year in the college counseling office at The Beacon School in Manhattan where she not only advised students through the college search and application process, but also conquered that persnickety copy machine that had bested many a formidable counseling colleague before her (why does it say “paper jam” when there is no paper jam?!). That kind of efficiency and mental fortitude was not surprising from Emily—she also earned a B.A in psychology from NYU in just three years. And back in high school, Emily won the Principal’s Award given to the student the principal felt was an all-around good kid who really contributed to the community. Whether you need to get into college or just print 10 sets of double-sided stapled copies, Emily will be there to expertly and patiently guide you. In spite of her near untarnished track record of success and impact with whatever she tries, Emily does admit to being an absolutely atrocious singer. Let’s just say that if she were to audition for American Idol, she’d be discarded like a bad copy machine. When she’s not counseling, conquering, or otherwise achieving, Emily enjoys exploring New York City on foot, avidly following celebrity gossip websites and magazines, and attending New Jersey Devils hockey games with her dad, a season ticket holder.

Now, meet Katie Sprague, who’s joining Emily in the New York City office:

KatieSBlog​After graduating Magna Cum Laude (that’s Latin for “No B’s on this transcript”) from Penn State University where she studied psychology and worked as a teaching assistant for the course, “Psychology of Adolescence,” Katie earned a 4.0 GPA while completing two masters degrees at Columbia University in psychological counseling and school counseling. During her time in graduate school, Katie spent a year in the counseling office at the High School for Math, Science and Engineering in New York City, where she guided a caseload of students through the college application process and ran a regular stress management support group for seniors. It’s almost hard to believe that such a driven, over-achieving success story also revels in Googling (and goggling) pictures of puppies, babies, and as she puts it, “anything mushy.” A true renaissance woman who helped pay for college and graduate school with side gigs as a bartender, Katie still holds the district and high school records for pole-vaulting back in her hometown. Yes, if pressed, Katie could calmly guide a group of stressed teenagers through the college application process while simultaneously sprinting down a runway and launching herself 11 feet in the air using a very long pole. She is also a former competitive gymnast who can walk on her hands and do a backflip. The secret to her boundless energy and vast array of both physical and psychological skills? Carbohydrates—Katie has also been known to eat an entire loaf of garlic bread for dinner.

And switching coasts, Orange County native Lauren Clifford is joining our Irvine, California office.

LaurenCBlog​Lauren graduated from UCLA—go Bruins!—where she studied English and developed a healthy appreciation for Victorian literature (she maintains that Wuthering Heights is the greatest novel of all time). It was during those formative college years that Lauren began working first as an essay editor for a local private college counselor, later completing a stint as a private SAT tutor. After earning a masters in English at NYU where she attended on an academic scholarship, Lauren left New York City behind to return home to Orange County where she was warmly welcomed by family, old friends, and her new co-workers at Collegewise. Lauren’s enthusiasm for all things academic and college-related was evident back in her high school days at Mater Dei—go Monarchs!—when she would eagerly anticipate that wonderful day in the fall when she could, once again, go to Staples to buy pens, notebooks, and printer paper for the upcoming school year. A dedicated counselor who can advise, edit, and guide with the best of them, Lauren does admit to having absolutely terrible hand-eye coordination. In fact, Lauren was likely the first youth soccer player in history to win the “Best Smile” award at the team banquet, presumably because her coach could not identify a single athletic contribution for which Lauren deserved recognition. Sure, she may not be our first pick for the office softball team. But she is absolutely a first-team, all-state starter for the office book club.

Welcome, Emily, Katie, and Lauren!