Take a course to de-stress?

Last February, I shared a New York Times story about the most popular class taught at Yale: Psychology and the Good Life. It was designed to help Yale students overcome the harmful life habits developed in high school that the course’s professor, Dr. Laurie Santos, describes as the “mental health crisis we’re seeing at places like Yale.”

I wish I’d caught this a few days earlier, but Santos began teaching an online version of the course, called “The Science of Well-Being,” on May 21. But the course appears to still be taking enrollments. It’s free if you’re willing to forgo the certificate of completion, $49 if you’re not.

If you’d like a little encouragement to give the course a shot, you might be motived by a recent profile in the Washington Post that describes the results Yale students are experiencing with the course.

Let them fly

Before he joined Collegewise, where he now spends his days guiding kids through the college application process, counselor Tom Barry worked in admissions at Colorado College and earned a master’s in education from Stanford. So he knows a lot about college admissions. But he’s also taken the usual crash course in parenting since becoming a father himself last year. And in his Collegewise bio video released yesterday, I thought Tom offered up some advice to parents that’s both sage and empathetic.

“In some ways the college admissions process feels like a referendum on whether or not that decision to play in the sandbox on a random Tuesday when they were three was the right choice or not. But one thing working with students year after year, and working on the admissions side, has taught me is that no one decision is going to make or break this process. And it should be an exciting process. It should be fun to watch your child grow and make these decisions on their own. And of course, [you will] be there to guide them and work with them along the way. But it’s not about the parent anymore. You’ve set them up to thrive. And this is where they just let their wings go and fly.”

Do the hard work to set them up. Then do the often harder work of stepping back and letting them fly.

On getting our kids back

I’ve shared enough of Julie Lythcott-Haim’s growing body of work around her book, How to Raise an Adult, that not only does she likely need no introduction to regular readers, but she also might be—through my actions, not her own—on the verge of oversaturating the Collegewise blog audience. But that’s a risk I’m willing to take. The anxiety among teens, the pressure around college admissions, the struggle for parents trying to navigate this new world with their kids that’s so much different from the one we lived in while we were in high school–Julie’s message is too vital and her perspective too wise not to share at every opportunity.

Thanks to the generous folks in the Laguna Beach Unified School District in Southern California, her recent talk to their community was both recorded and generously shared on YouTube. I hope you’ll watch it, and my guess is that most parents will be as struck as I was by how much empathy she has for her fellow parents. She and her husband have wrestled with the same questions and scenarios so many parents are experiencing as they try to balance pushing and guiding with supporting and cheerleading. I think her personal stories of her own experiences with her son will resonate with you. And I suspect you’ll be as moved as I was when she shares the tale of her sophomore, who struggled to keep up with his rigorous schedule, the culmination of which she put so endearingly: “Sawyer dropped Spanish. And we got Sawyer back.”

You can watch the entire video here. Many thanks to the LBUSD for capturing and sharing it.

Announcing the Collegewise Scholarship Program

At Collegewise, we make our living working with families who can afford to hire us. But we’ve always felt a responsibility to be generous with our time, our resources, and our counseling to help get information and assistance to kids who won’t have a Collegewise counselor to guide them. One of the ways we’ve done that is to work with students pro-bono. What we haven’t done is formalize this work. We’ve never established how many pro-bono kids we can help through the process while doing a good job for both them and for our customers. We’ve never publicized any program like this or offered an organized way for students to raise their hand for consideration, or for counselors on the high school side to identify kids they believe would benefit. That’s about to change.

The Collegewise Scholarship Program
This week we’re proud to announce the Collegewise Scholarship Program. Championed and brought to fruition by our own Casey Near, this program will assist U.S. students of limited means who would benefit from working one-on-one with a Collegewise counselor. We’ll help them build their college lists. We’ll help them craft their applications and essays. We’ll act as the project managers, answer their questions, and cheerlead them through a successful college application process.

How to apply
This year, we’re accepting applications from rising seniors in the class of 2019 residing in the United States (including DACA students). For students interested in applying—and for high school counselors who’d like to share this opportunity with particular students—the application is available here. The deadline to apply is June 22nd. If spaces are still available after that date, we’ll consider applications on a rolling basis. If you have any questions, please email scholarship@collegewise.com. We’re excited to have the opportunity to help more kids find their way to the right colleges, and to do even more to help level the college access playing field.

Collegewise’s employee handbook is now public

Last month, I released a brand new version of “Life at Collegewise,” our employee handbook. Joining a new company can be a difficult adjustment when you don’t know how things work, you don’t completely understand the culture, and you’re constantly having to ask questions. With nearly 70 fellow Wisers spread out all over the country (and increasingly all over the world), it’s even more important for us to make sure that those joining our family feel at home as quickly as possible. “Life at Collegewise” is here to help.

This document has always been private, shared only with current or soon-to-be Collegewise employees. Until today. Here is “Life at Collegewise” in its (almost) entirety. I’ve removed only two portions from this public version: (1) the steps to file an expense report (because really, who wants to read that if you aren’t filing one?), and (2) our company glossary, because it’s full of esoteric insider terms that just won’t make sense if you don’t work here.

So why share it?

First, we’re proud of what we’re building here, and even more importantly, that we’re all in this together. The words in “Life at Collegewise” are mine, but the work, the ideas, the initiative, and the investment—everything that makes us who we are—are the result of the collective contributions of everyone here today, and yesterday. It feels good to celebrate and to share it.

Second, we’re always preaching to students, colleagues, and colleges to be themselves. Contrived attempts to appeal to the masses are not good recipes for producing great work. “Life at Collegewise” is our way of saying, “This is who we are, this is what we care about, and this is why those things matter to us.” It won’t resonate with everyone, and we’re OK with that. The people with whom those beliefs and actions strike a chord are most likely to appreciate why, what, and how we do things.

Finally, I hope that “Life at Collegewise” inspires some change-makers at other companies to rethink their own life at work. Collegewise is not perfect—far from it. Nineteen years in, we’re still a work in progress, and we’re always trying to get better. But making things better starts with believing that things can get better. I hope “Life at Collegewise” makes you a believer, too.

And if you decide after reading “Life at Collegewise” that you might like to experience life here as a fellow Wiser, check out our open positions here. You might also enjoy this short video courtesy of our full-time filmmaker.

How many days are left?

How many days are left before:

…you walk out of your favorite class for the last time?
…you play your last baseball game, or act in your final high school play, or work your final shift at your part-time job?
…you graduate from high school?
…you leave for college?

And parents, how many days are left before your student says goodbye and departs for college?

Calculate the number of days. Even an approximation is fine.

And then consider this final question:

What do you want to do with those days?

Your answer just might change what you do today, tomorrow, and the day(s) after that.

The “A” is not the point

Another good share from Challenge Success, this time from Mary Hofstedt, Community Education Director, in her latest piece, “A New Normal.”

“Another friend’s son (I’ll call him Alex) attends an elite high school in Silicon Valley. My friend was concerned about Alex’s academic motivation (he is a B student), and wondered why, if he could get a B, couldn’t he work just a little harder and get the A-? Alex explained to his mom that he was learning what he wanted to learn, liked school, and by being okay with a B, had time for friends, sports, and sleep. My friend left the conversation frustrated. Then she thought about it. She realized Alex was a healthy, balanced kid. That was the point. Not the ‘A.’”

Talking to kids about grades

With end-of-year report cards right around the corner, this two-minute video from Denise Pope at Challenge Success shares some great advice on how to talk to your kids about grades. The summary: (1) Focus on effort and learning over performance and grades; (2) let them know that your love for them is not conditional based on the content of their report card (that’s not always obvious to many kids).

A journey, not a race

Before her 12-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a stress-induced illness, Vicki Abeles was not a filmmaker. But after watching her own middle school-aged children struggle with the anxiety and fatigue that has become so common with kids loaded with academic and extracurricular demands, she began a journey of questioning, researching, and learning that culminated in her directing the 2010 film Race to Nowhere, a documentary featuring real students “pushed to the brink by over-scheduling, over-testing and the relentless pressure to achieve.” Eight years later, she’s an outspoken advocate to challenge the way we prepare kids for success, and to bring about change in American schools.

Her recent piece, “An Ivy League Acceptance Doesn’t Spell Success,” is one of those where I just can’t pick a favorite passage and would rather just paste the entire text here. But what I liked most about it is that she doesn’t just make an argument—she actually gives parents actionable steps they can take to help inspire their kids to lead happy, fulfilled, and successful lives.

As parents, many of us are under our own pressure from all the messaging that the world has changed since we were in high school and that any student who isn’t at the top of the class with an Ivy League offer of admission in hand will somehow be at a life disadvantage. We don’t want our kids to be left behind. We don’t want them to later be disappointed by dreams they can’t reach because they—or we—just didn’t push hard enough when it came to grades, test scores, and getting admitted to prestigious colleges.

But Abeles isn’t arguing that kids shouldn’t work hard, that education isn’t important, or that we should all collectively embrace student disengagement in favor of full-time frivolity. She’s arguing that what’s being accepted as normal in many communities is hurting not just our kids’ mental and physical health, but also their chances of being successful in a world that cares about qualities far beyond grades, test scores, and the relative prestige of a college attended.

And for the naysayers who insist that Abeles is missing the mark, I’d only remind you that I work with former admissions officers from Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Caltech, UCLA, MIT, and a host of other highly selective schools. And every one of them would make similar if not identical recommendations to Abeles’s for their own Collegewise students, and for their own children.

Our kids can’t enjoy a journey to anywhere if they’re constantly engaged in a race to nowhere.

Join us for a free event in White Plains, NY

Collegewise is hosting a free event in White Plains, New York, open to students, parents, and counselors.

Highly Selective Admissions: Debunking the Myths 
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. EDT
White Plains Performing Arts Center
11 City Pl. 
White Plains, NY 10601

About the speakers:

Arun Ponnusamy is Collegewise’s Chief Academic Officer and is widely regarded as one of the most knowledgeable college counselors and admissions experts in the United States. In his previous admissions roles, he evaluated the files of over 7,500 seniors applying for admission to the University of Chicago (his alma mater), Caltech and UCLA.

Nandita Gupta is an online counselor at Collegewise who previously worked as an admissions officer at Stanford University where she evaluated thousands of domestic and international applicants. A graduate of Princeton, Nandita also completed stints in investment banking at JP Morgan in New York City and executive search with globally renowned Russell Reynolds Associates in San Francisco.

All the information and the form to register are here. I hope you’ll join us.