Today’s post: take two

My original post for today lost the final two paragraphs somewhere between last night’s queuing and today’s posting.  I don’t have an explanation, but it made for an abrupt ending.  Here’s the complete post.

I received an email from a parent yesterday that described how she’d been contacting alumni interviewers to set up the interviews for her daughter. Regular readers won’t be surprised that I responded with a gentle reminder that the person hoping to attend those colleges—her daughter—was the one who should be scheduling the interviews. I’ll admit that I took it at first as yet another example of a parent hijacking the process instead of allowing her student to do what she was perfectly capable of doing for herself.

But then I remembered my life at age seventeen.

Before I went to college, I never once scheduled a doctor or dentist appointment. In my house, everything from orthodontist visits to driver’s tests was handled by my manager. Her name was “Mom” and she did an excellent job.

I did schedule my own college interviews (and did all my applications myself). I don’t remember how or when we made the management hand-off, but somehow, we got that right in the McMullin household. I’m sure my mother deserves all the credit for that part, too.

Most of the teens I’ve met at Collegewise are lucky enough to have similar in-house management teams. It’s normal, and parents make it look deceptively easy.

But the college admissions process is their time to show you and the colleges that they’re ready to start managing their own lives.

You don’t need to abandon all of your previous management responsibilities. Parents can advise, encourage, and even provide some organizational support. But don’t take over the parts that kids and should be doing themselves. Let them start learning how to do your job.

Parents: retire from your management duties

I received an email from a parent yesterday that described how she’d been contacting alumni interviewers to set up the interviews for her daughter. Regular readers won’t be surprised that I responded with a gentle reminder that the person hoping to attend those colleges—her daughter—was the one who should be scheduling the interviews. I’ll admit that I took it at first as yet another example of a parent hijacking the process instead of allowing her student to do what she was perfectly capable of doing for herself.

But then I remembered my life at age seventeen.

Before I went to college, I never once scheduled a doctor or dentist appointment. In my house, everything from orthodontist visits to driver’s tests was handled by my manager. Her name was “Mom” and she did an excellent job.

I did schedule my own college interviews (and did all my applications myself). I don’t remember how or when we made the management hand-off, but somehow, we got that right in the McMullin household. I’m sure my mother deserves all the credit for that part, too.

Most of the teens I’ve met at Collegewise are lucky enough to have similar in-house management teams. It’s normal, and parents make it look deceptively easy.

But the college admissions process is their time to show you and the colleges that they’re ready to start managing their own lives.

You don’t need to abandon all of your previous management responsibilities. Parents can advise, encourage, and even provide some organizational support. But don’t take over the parts that kids and should be doing themselves. Let them start learning how to do your job.

Lying by application omission

I haven’t met many students or parents who want to write something on a college application that is blatantly untrue. But I’ve met plenty who wanted to leave something off an application that the college is clearly asking for. For example, if you’re asked to list all colleges you’ve attended, you can’t conveniently omit the community college where you took that summer math class that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped.

Katherine in our Redondo Beach, California office shares this story of a Cornell University student who was not only expelled for failing to disclose that she’d attended a community college (even though she never actually completed a course), but is also being asked to repay over $100,000 in financial aid she’d received.

Lying, even by omission, just isn’t worth the risk on a college application. There’s no expiration date on the offense (even if you’re found out once you’re in college), and it’s much harder to explain yourself after the fact than it is to do so in the application itself. Telling the whole truth is always a better, safer strategy.

Don’t make the chase about getting in

I remember when a student I was counseling came into my office one day and told me that he’d signed up to take two summer courses on the Civil War at a local community college. He never asked me if it would help his chances of getting into his dream school. He never asked me if doing something different would make him “look better.” He never tried to impose strategy on what was already a noble motive. He was fascinated with the Civil War, he wanted to learn more about it, and he could chase that interest by taking courses down the street from his house for about $20 a unit. Done. No strategic discussion necessary.

That kind of curiosity and initiative is exactly what colleges want from applicants (he later attended Yale…as a history major).

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t make deliberate college planning decisions or that you shouldn’t ask for advice. But when you drive all your decisions by what you think will look best to colleges, you become more about the chase to get in and less about the chase to learn, grow, and experience new things.

When you become all about the chase to get in, you lose your identity. And you look a little desperate. Would you attract someone you wanted to date by basing your every decision on what you thought they might appreciate? (“No” is the correct answer, by the way.) It doesn’t work in dating or college admissions. Far better to be your best version of yourself and trust that the right partner or college will appreciate the real you.

Instead of chasing your desire to get admitted to a prestigious college, chase things that don’t rely someone who’s never met you to say “Yes.” Chase opportunities to get smarter, learn more about yourself, meet people, and to have fun. Those are guaranteed to pay off no matter where you go to college.

If you share it, they will read

It was about ten years ago that I first started getting the question during seminars, “Do colleges look at your (insert popular social media tool here)?” The question often came from parents who were smartly concerned about what their kids might choose to post online.

More recently, I’ve heard from students and some parents who take offense to the idea that a college would do such a thing. Some think that reading what an applicant posts online is unprofessional and even that it violates a student’s privacy. Debating whether or not those arguments have legs misses the larger point. Once you put something online (without appropriate privacy settings), you relinquish all control over who views it, how it colors their perception of you, and what they choose to do with that information. And it’s naïve to assume that anyone—colleges, potential employers, people you’re about to go on a first date with, etc.—would flatly refuse to google you out of respect for your privacy.

I have never met a college admissions officer who had the desire or time to read every applicant’s Twitter, Facebook or other online postings. But does it happen occasionally? Of course it does. Hacking into your private Twitter feed would be a violation. But reading your public tweets is just consuming what you chose to give the online world. To object to them reading it is like playing guitar on a crowded street corner and then taking offense when someone chooses to stop and listen.

If you share it, someone will read it, so it’s important to protect and even cultivate your online legacy.  Share—or don’t share—accordingly.

Passion carries

“Passion” is a frequently-used college admissions term. Colleges want it, and students are advised to discover, pursue and demonstrate a passion for something while they’re in high school.

But I haven’t heard a lot of discussion about why passion is such a desirable trait. Passion is appealing in an applicant because students who have it tend to carry it with them to college, whether or not they continue to direct that passion to the same interest.

Let’s say you love playing the trumpet. You’re in the school jazz band. You take private lessons. When you could be doing lots of other things, you choose to practice your trumpet or play in live performances. It’s fair to say that you’re passionate about the trumpet.

Now, maybe you decide to major in music while you’re in college. Or maybe you play in the university marching band. Or maybe the trumpet becomes a hobby, and you form your own little jazz quartet that plays at the campus pub on weekends. In any one of those scenarios, your passion for the trumpet benefits your new college.

But even if you leave the trumpet—or music entirely—behind after high school, odds are that you’ll bring your passion with you to college and redirect it somewhere. Maybe you’ll find a new form of expression, like art. Maybe you’ll enjoy time as a bio major in the lab. Maybe you’ll join a campus debate, mock trial, or intramural sports team.

You know how good it feels to commit yourself to something. You don’t mind practicing because you know that’s how you get better. Those feelings are familiar to you because you learned them as a high school trumpet player. Your trumpet may be left behind, but the passion carries with you.

So don’t worry if you haven’t found a passion that you’re ready to commit your life or even your college years to continuing. Enjoy and work hard at what excites you today. If you later decide to bring that interest with you to college, you can pick schools that will give you that opportunity. But if you decide to leave the interest behind, plenty of colleges will be happy to welcome you—and your accompanying passion—to their campuses.

Are you asking for help the right way?

When successful students have trouble understanding the material, they don’t hesitate to ask their teachers for help.  But there’s a right way and a wrong way to ask, and doing it the right way starts long before you need the help.  Here are two past posts, one from me, one from Cal Newport, on not just how to ask, but also how to be the kind of student who deserves the help.

 

Know more than just the name

Richard Feynman was a professor of physics at Caltech who won the Nobel Prize. He worked on the atomic bomb and was a member of the team that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Here’s a video of Feynman explaining why knowing the name of something isn’t the same as actually knowing it.

If you’re interested in any college just because it’s prestigious, then you don’t know the college. You only know the name.

I don’t think Feynman’s message here is that you should necessarily know everything with certainty (you won’t know for sure that a college is right for you until you actually enroll). Instead, he’s preaching curiosity. There’s value in wanting to know more and refusing to accept the surface explanation.

That’s a good way to approach your college search. Are Dartmouth and Williams and Rice great schools? Maybe for some people. Maybe even for you. But a curious college searcher will want to know more than just the name. And that searcher will probably have a more successful college process.