Time on your collective hands

If you could make your regular meetings for your counseling office, student club, or parent organization more enjoyable, and do so without reducing the quality of the decisions reached, would you be interested? If so, shorten the meetings. New research shows that even shortening a 1-hour meeting to just 50 minutes can make a difference without detriment.

Do that with every meeting you schedule, and you could regain the equivalent of at least one full day’s work. Multiply that by the number of people who regularly attend your meeting and you’ve really got more time on your collective hands.

What is college for?

All this college preparation, all the associated anxiety, all the information-seeking and financial planning and candidacy strengthening that’s so ingrained in today’s families, it might make sense to stop occasionally and ask, “What is college for?”

More specifically, what is college for for you? Is it so you can get a good job after college? Is it so you can find your path in life? Is it so you can have four years of new friends, learning, and experiences?

There’s no universal right answer that fits every student. Your background, goals, finances, etc. can shape a lot of what exactly college will be for you.

But when students really dig into this question and answer it honestly, they often come to one or both of two conclusions:

1. The colleges they’re considering don’t closely match what they’re going to college for.
2. Dozens of other colleges—potentially far less selective (or expensive)—exist that could give this student exactly what they’re looking for.

You’ll probably find and get accepted to more of the right colleges for you if you start by asking, “What’s college for?”

Failure statements

If you don’t put any effort into a class–you don’t participate, complete assignments, or study for the big exam–and you fail, you’ve made one kind of statement with that failure.

But when it comes to something that might not work—leading a fundraiser, trying out for the team, producing a musical in your community, etc.—if you really put in the time and the effort to get the result you wanted and things still just don’t go your way, you’ve made a very different failure statement.

The former statement is: I didn’t care enough to try.

The latter statement is: I cared enough to try in the face of potential failure.

Make enough good failure statements and you’ll eventually have plenty of successes to talk about. And you’ll inevitably have plenty of college options.

College interviews: starting well is half the battle

You can substantially improve your entire college interview—and really any interaction you have with someone you’re meeting for the first time—in the first five seconds. Just do two things.

1. Say hi, then say your name. Example, “Hi, [I’m] Kevin McMullin.”

The “I’m…” (or “My name is…”) is implied. Add that prefix if you feel more comfortable doing so. But there’s a subtle implication of confidence and maturity if you go with the just-the-name approach.

2. Simultaneously smile, look the person in the eye, and shake their hand.

First impressions matter. When you demonstrate—right away—to your college interviewer that you are a confident, self-assured, engaged teenager who’s comfortable interacting with an adult, they will immediately assume that this conversation will be a lot more enjoyable than so many of their other interviews with petrified teens who struggled to build a rapport or to contribute to a good conversation.

And even more importantly, you’ll be acting like a student who will engage with faculty and staff in pursuit of your goals while you’re in college.

Sure, you’ll need to do your part during the ensuing interaction to substantiate that first impression. But starting well is half the battle.

Just five more…

Seniors, if you need an extra boost of motivation to get you through a college application, try Dan Pink’s “Just five more” (questions, minutes, sentences in an essay, etc.). Trust me, the advice will work much better for you than the delivery style might (I could feel my 17-year-old self rolling my eyes). A little momentum might take you a lot further than just five more.

Healthy tension

Parents, the next time you’re tempted to ask your teen, “How are your college applications going?” Consider replacing it with this exercise:

1. Ask, “How are you doing?”
2. After the likely reply of “Fine,” ask, “How are you really doing?”
3. Simultaneously with #2, radiate a sense of safety and concern rather than panic and judgment.
4. Be quiet longer than it’s comfortable to do so.

Number 4 is the most important because it creates tension. Embracing the tension of quiet leaves space for your teen to answer. Replacing the tension of quiet with more words removes that space.

Don’t fill the space. Let the space work for you and for your teen. And a revealing conversation may ensue.

Some tension is healthy tension.

Real world attitudes

There are two problems with perfect GPAs, perfect test scores, MVPs, student body presidents, and most other accolades that can be listed on a college application: none are universally attainable (genes dictated I could have been a competitive miler in high school) and almost none of them translate easily into the adult real world.

Yes, the lessons and work ethic developed in pursuit of them is invaluable. But you don’t have to reach the pinnacle to develop those lessons. And that leads to the broader point.

Generosity, insight, loyalty, honesty, fun, tenacity, creativity and dozens of other traits—each is an attitude. Attitudes are universally available. Attitudes are not dependent on your genes or your economics or your chosen high school. Attitudes are choices. And attitudes put to great use become skills. You can learn each one if you’re willing to make the choice.

Attitude isn’t easily captured in a GPA or a test score. But it always translates to the real world.

More downtime, and more sleep

Here’s Challenge Success’s Playtime, Downtime, and Family Time: PDF for Teens; Common-sense strategies for promoting teen health and well-being.

And for teens (or parents!) who are convinced that you can get by with less than the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep, Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams is a worthwhile and potentially alarming read.

Let’s get some more downtime—and some more sleep—into all our lives.

Better posture

“Will this be on the test?” and “Tell me what to do” work occasionally in high school. But that approach is working less often and less reliably every day in the real world.

As often as you can, approach the things that matter to you in high school not by looking for a right answer and waiting to be told what to do. Instead, try:

“Here’s what I think we should do.”

“Here’s why I think that’s right.”

“Here’s what I’m hoping will happen if it works.”

“Who’s with me?”

That’s the posture of the leader who seeks to solve problems without a right answer. And colleges can’t get enough of those people.

Don’t make today a cliché

Thanksgiving can mean radically different things for different families. But for those of us who will be gathering around the table with our loved ones today, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to slow down, to step away from our buzzing phones and gadgets, and to take some time to thoughtfully consider just how much we have to be grateful for. Gratitude has been scientifically proven to alter the way our brains work. We’re happier, more productive, more patient, and ultimately more successful when we focus on what’s right and what we have rather than what’s wrong and what’s missing.

Last year, I wrote this Thanksgiving post reminding families not to let college admissions and all of its associated stressors seep into your Thanksgiving. After 19 years and helping over 12,000 of our Collegewise students find their way to the right colleges, I promise that not one of them sustained admissions damage by taking Thanksgiving off from the race. I hope the past words, and the included wisdom of veteran (non-Collegewise) counselor Patrick O’Connor, resonate with you this year, too.

Happy Thanksgiving.