Tips on how to stop hovering

Some ideas spread far and wide quickly, then seem to fizzle just as fast. In 2009, one book ignited the barefoot running craze. In just a few months, runners everywhere were going natural or tiptoeing along in form fitting, paper thin shoes that looked like a cross between scuba gear and rubber gloves for your feet. And within just a few years, while the lessons covered in the book might still have had legs, the accompanying barefoot mania had passed. Barefoot running might have its merit, but in practice, it was largely a passing fad.

On the other hand, Julie Lythcott-Haims’s book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, has been enjoying a different arc. Her message has been spreading slowly and deliberately since the book’s release two years ago. Parents, counselors, and administrators have been passing along their copies, inviting her to speak on their campuses, and urging parents in their own circles to take and follow Julie’s advice. Today, Lythcott-Haims is on a regular speaking circuit. And the press is giving her supportive messages a nice lift. Here’s a summary of the tips she shared during a recent radio interview (the link to the audio of the interview is at the bottom of the article).

Her book might have taken a while to take off. But I’m really hoping its slow and steady burn is a sign people see her approach as one worth keeping, rather than just a passing fad that will eventually run its course.

For counselors: What’s new with the Common App?

The folks at the Common App held a free webinar for counselors yesterday: “What’s New With The Common App: Enhancements.” If you didn’t get a chance to attend, our counselor Tom Barry shared the following summary for our Collegewise counselors.

You won’t need to find your way around a brand new Common App with your students this year. In fact, the key changes are mostly minor and will not affect all applicants.

1. Students can now self-report courses and grades within the Common App tab.
There aren’t many colleges on the Common App that ask students to self-report their courses and grades, but for those that do, the Common App now offers them a place to do so.

2. Students can upload Google Drive text files directly into the “Essay” boxes. 
This won’t replace the option to copy and paste. But one potential benefit is that uploading a document could help a student avoid those pesky formatting challenges that seemed to pop up so often.

3. The “Activities” dropdown menu will now include “Internship” and “Social Justice” categories. 

4. Students can select up to three advisors who will be granted access to their account in order to evaluate progress. 
This number is in addition to the formal school counselor and the teacher(s) submitting letters of recommendation.

We’ll also be releasing our updated annual Collegewise Common App guide around July 15. When it’s ready, I’ll share it here.

Mental list vs. physical list

Crossing an item off a to-do list feels great. You get to physically delete it and enjoy the mental freedom of knowing it’s done. But in today’s world of incoming media, distractions, and constant multi-tasking, adding an item to your to-do list—and getting it out of your head—can bring almost as much relief as crossing it off will.

Adding something to a physical to-do list frees up the energy of maintaining a mental one. You can exert more effort actually doing those things when you’re not exerting effort to remember them.

For more on this, here’s a past post with some advice from Ari Weinzweig, co-owner and founding partner of the Zingerman’s deli empire.

Expressions of appreciation

Last October, I invited counselors, teachers, students, and parents to take a page from what had become a viral, press-garnering video of Oak Park High School’s Positivity Project, where each teacher identified one student who inspired them and made them want to come to work every day. Cathy, a counselor at Hastings High School in Hastings, Michigan, took me up on it. She brought the idea to their student counsel, who took ownership of the project and garnered overwhelming support from the faculty to do so. But they also added a great twist—they not only invited teachers to present to students, but also students to teachers, and students to each other.

I’m not sharing their video here, because those expressions of appreciation weren’t necessarily meant for public viewing. But the results are just as heartwarming as those in Oak Park High School’s video. Both teachers and students appear so happy and grateful to receive their acknowledgements. It’s such a simple gesture to thank someone, to tell them you appreciate who they are and what they do. It takes less than 30 seconds. But the lift that expression gives someone goes far past the brief interaction.

The videos are great because they allow those expressions to live on. But counselors, teachers, students, and parents, remember that you don’t need to make a video to tell someone how and why you appreciate them. The absence of a camera won’t detract from the impact of the sentiment.

Thank you, Oak Park High School, for initiating such a wonderful project. Thank you, Cathy and the Hastings students, for taking the time to do this for your own community. And thank you to those of you who show up here regularly to read my blog. I appreciate you. You’re the reason I keep writing every day.

Manage your time like the great athletes

“Interval training” is a model where instead of one long but moderate effort, an athlete will exert many brief, high-intensity efforts during a training session, each followed by a short rest. Pioneered in the 1930s by German running coach Woldemar Gerschler, who led multiple runners to Olympic medals, interval training has since been the dominant training system for elite athletes in all sports. But it turns out this doesn’t just work for athletes. Author Brad Stulberg’s recent article, “To Get Better at Managing Your Time, Borrow a Training Strategy From Elite Athletes,” shares the work of behavioral scientist K. Anders Ericsson, who studied what separates the great performers—artists, musicians, chess players, doctors, athletes, etc.—from everyone else. His most important finding:

“It’s not that the best performers put in more practice time than their peers (often, they don’t). Rather, it’s how they practice: with full attention, focused on high-quality work, and in chunks of 60 to 90 minutes separated by short breaks. In other words, interval training.”

Here’s the best article I’ve found on how to apply this model to studying. And remember, those elite athletes aren’t checking their text messages while interval training. A high-intensity, focused effort for anything also requires that you eliminate distractions.

Enjoy the off-season

At Collegewise, our students work on applications and essays during the summer before their senior year. We’ve found that it’s a lot less stressful for students than trying to fit that work in around their academic and activity commitments during the fall. Those applying to rolling admissions schools can actually start their senior year with a few college acceptances in hand. And that work during the summer is one of the reasons most of our students are able to submit all their applications by Thanksgiving. Working now leads to relaxation later.

But we still encourage them to enjoy the off-season.

Parents, as your students finish their school year and head into the summer, please take stock of just how hard they’ve been working, how many late nights they’ve been spending, and how few days off they’ve been enjoying since September. It might not be a concern if your student hasn’t exactly been stressing out or burning the midnight study oil. But if your son or daughter has been keeping hours that look less like those of a junior in high school and more like those of a junior associate at a law firm, it’s unreasonable to expect them to sustain their effort and their sanity without a break (even those junior associates still take the occasional vacation).

Summer should be productive and fun for kids. Whether they’re working a job, taking classes, attending a summer program, etc., please encourage and allow them to balance those productive pursuits with rest, relaxation, and just plain teenage fun with their friends. Their minds, bodies, and applications will be stronger if you allow them to enjoy the off-season.

Talk it out

There are times that I’m reminded to follow a piece of my own advice I’ve shared here. Yesterday was one of those times.

As I shared last week, I’m rewriting the “Careers” page of the Collegewise website, starting from scratch. I want the copy to convey the right messages, to sound like us, and to draw in the kind of people who would be happy and successful at Collegewise. It’s a long process to get that messaging and tone right, sometimes one that means reworking even a single sentence 3 or 5 or 10 times until it reads perfectly. Some of that is to be expected—good writing does mean good editing. But it’s still a process, one that takes a lot more time than the total number of words might appear to take.

I spent yesterday with Frank, our filmmaker, shooting what will become our recruiting video. The questions he asked covered some of the same subjects I’ve been trying to capture in writing:

What traits do you look for in the people you hire?

How would you describe the Collegewise vibe?

How can people take ownership over their job at Collegewise?

What makes Collegewise a great place to work?

What does Collegewise do better than anyone else?

Why do you love working here?

But unlike the process of writing about those subjects, the process of talking about them came easily. The words just spilled out in a natural conversation. Sure, they might be more punchy and precise if they were edited like a written piece. But as far as messaging, I said exactly what I wanted to say. And most answers only required one take. I didn’t get a case of “talker’s block.”

Whether you’re writing website copy, an important email, or a college essay, before you write it out, try saying it out loud. Pretend you were talking with a friend or colleague. You’ll inevitably find that the words come a lot more quickly and easily. You’re probably more likely to say what you want to say with take number one than you are to write what you want to write with draft number one. And chances are, you’ll still spend less time writing and editing your way to a great finished product.

I’ve said—and written—about this before. But like me, maybe a few readers needed a reminder to talk it out before you write it out.

On your permanent record

As first reported in The Harvard Crimson and later covered in national news, at least ten incoming Harvard freshmen had their offers of admission revoked this week after they posted offensive memes and messages in a private Facebook group chat. Not surprisingly, it’s generated a lot of discussion amongst counselors, ranging from expressions of relief that those kids won’t end up in the dorms this fall to reminders that colleges do care what kids post on social media. For student readers of this blog, I hope you’ll take this story as a potent illustration of the power, and the staying power, of the internet.

For better or worse, you can’t be punished for having immature, uninformed, or even downright ugly thoughts. But once you put those thoughts on the internet, even in a private group, you’re signing your name to them. And if those words are shared, it will not be treated differently than if you’d stood up in front of your school and said the words, or worn a sweatshirt emblazoned with those words. And if it goes viral, as it did in this case, you might as well have just said those words on the news. Once it’s put in writing and shared publicly, it all becomes part of your online permanent record. At that point, whatever your original intent was in sharing them won’t matter.

This might sound like I’m overly dramatizing the risks of posting online, but I think this recent incident at Harvard shows otherwise. It doesn’t matter if what those students shared were deeply held beliefs or fleeting, flippant thoughts (either of which they’d likely have the opportunity to explore and reconsider once they got to college). They got accepted to Harvard, they shared offensive postings online, and now they’re out.

The internet gives a voice and a platform to anyone who wants it. Use that opportunity to share things you’re willing to stand by as part of your online permanent record, because that’s exactly what they just might become.

Artificial stakes

Last week, my wife and I took our son to his preschool orientation. Not surprisingly, the event was age appropriate. Ten minutes of remarks (for the parents) followed by 90 minutes of playground time (for the kids).

What I kept thinking the entire time was just how pure school is at his age. There’s no talk of GPAs or test scores. No stress about which AP classes are offered. No concern over whether or not he’s choosing activities that will stand out on his college application. And when fellow families asked me what I did for a living, nobody saw it as an opportunity to get college admissions advice for their two-year-old. It’s preschool. It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s fun. And as we were driving home, my son said, “I miss my school.”

Sadly, I wonder at what point in his schooling he’ll stop missing it when he’s not there. Or even worse, maybe even start dreading it.

I realize my preliminarily relaxed preschool experience isn’t the same for everyone. But for most parents, this is the relative calm before the future storm. Not tomorrow, not next year, but eventually, the talk and concern and competition will turn towards getting into college. Those messages are bound to seep in no matter how much of Pop’s calming Collegewise influence he’ll be able to stand.

Life won’t be like the preschool playground, and I’m all for kids learning how to work hard, how to take responsibility and how to handle occasional stress. High school can be a good teaching ground for these skills. But if teenagers are continuously seeing and hearing messages that one upcoming grade, test, or admissions decision will somehow carry lasting weight to their future, it’s no wonder so many kids end up either anxious, sleep-deprived, or at the other end, disengaged from their educations.

Parents, if you have the same concerns for your own kids, no matter what age they are today, try to remember just how many of those high stakes you and your kids hear about are actually artificial. Yes, entrance to an AP class, a test score, and a GPA all carry some weight. They come with some consequences. But almost all of that influence is short-term. Your teenager will not be behind the curve of life at 30 because of one academic outcome when he was 16.

High school (and life) will not be as carefree as preschool is. But it’s best not to be affected by artificial stakes.