For those playing the admissions waiting game

Kavita Varma-White, a parent whose senior is completing the college admissions process, posted 8 things I wish I’d known about the college admissions waiting game on the Today Show’s website. I found her advice sensible and timely. And of course, I enjoyed the shout out to Collegewise counselor Tom Barry in point 8, where Varma-White writes about celebrating every offer of admission.

How to search for scholarships safely

Last week, I posted a recent listing of scholarship search platforms, along with a warning from a high school counselor that she’d stopped recommending one site based on the spam it generated for her students. Here’s a recent Time piece, The Scary Thing You Don’t Know About ‘Free’ Scholarship Searches, with advice from privacy and college experts to help families “avoid becoming a target for marketers.”

How to get to the point

Basecamp’s Dan Kim shares “the single best way to improve your writing” here. From emails, to website copy, to college essays, I can’t think of a piece of writing where the advice doesn’t apply.

Our new filmmaker is here, and soon to be filming!

This week, Collegewise welcomed our new full-time filmmaker, Frank Martinez, to the family. We got over 70 applications for the position, we narrowed it down to three applicants, and we extended one offer—Frank’s. There are some important lessons that applicants to both jobs and colleges can learn from the way Frank approached this recent hiring process with us. And none of them require that you necessarily know how to capture good footage.

Seek the fit
Frank didn’t apply for a job—he applied for our job (in fact, his former high school guidance counselor reached out to him and recommended he apply). Our job posting, mission, and culture intrigued him. He really felt he could do great work here, and he explained why throughout the application process. It’s entirely possible that Frank was applying elsewhere, too. But every interaction he had with us demonstrated that ours was a gig he wanted. Hiring and college admissions can seem impersonal. And sometimes it can be, especially at the largest institutions. But more often than not, a human being is reading that application, and they’re doing so to find not just the right employee or student, but also the right human being to join the group. The best way to prove that you’re a good match with a company or a college is to start by picking companies or colleges that are actually good matches for you.

Make the effort
It takes effort to seek and communicate the fit. And Frank’s application had effort all over it. He wrote a personal cover letter just for us (a fantastic one, by the way). He’d taken the time to read not just our post, but also our website, many of our blog articles, and our Five tips for job seekers. During our interviews, he had thoughtful questions and ideas that showed just how much time he’d spent learning and thinking about us. I know it’s tempting to treat applying like a numbers game where you hope to improve your odds of winning by simply playing more often. But sending the same impersonal, recycled materials makes you look lazy. Not bothering to follow the application instructions makes you look lazy. Asking questions that are clearly answered with even a cursory review of the website makes you look lazy. Effort, on the other hand, always stands out.

Show your great work
Great filmmakers have a body of work, one that they can share through the wonders of the internet. Frank’s films did more than get my attention. They moved me. They made me want to keep watching and to learn more about the subjects. He didn’t have to talk about his work—he could actually show it to me. Not all applicants applying for jobs—or students applying to college—are doing so in fields where they can post the work itself online. But what could you point to as evidence of your work and its impact? Maybe you created a new training program to bring new employees up to speed? Maybe you rewrote and redesigned the organization’s website? Maybe you ran a fundraiser that got new uniforms for the high school basketball team. When you can point to, post, or otherwise share not just what you did, but also the results of your efforts, you’re likely doing great work and making an impact.

Before Frank started, I asked him to make a short video that we could share on his first day introducing himself to everyone at Collegewise. Creating a short, entertaining video is not a difficult assignment for a great filmmaker. But finding the right tone and approach that will resonate with nearly 50 people, most of whom you’ve never met or even spoken with, on your very first day of work—that is not easy. But Frank took the project on and made something smart, endearing, and just plain good–a video that all the Collegewisers seemed to agree proved that he’ll fit in just fine here. Here it is.

We’re excited to have Frank with us, and as he begins to capture more about Collegewise, I’ll share some of his great work here.

The best scholarship search sites? just published a list, The Best Scholarship Search Platforms of 2017.

Like most rankings lists (especially college rankings), it’s not an exact science. But I do like that they “spent over 40 hours researching 17 of the most popular sites across five core metrics including search functionality, scholarship availability, ease of use, application tools, and additional helpful resources.” And for several of their top picks, they do provide a more detailed explanation of how that platform earned its spot.

One heads up—While Fastweb ranked #1, and the explanation seems sound, Becky, a high school counselor and loyal reader, alerted me several months ago that Fastweb had become a source of too many spam emails, and even some pushy marketing phone calls for her school’s families who’d used it. Fastweb was the original brainchild of financial aid guru Mark Kantrowitz, who’s long since moved on. But his new home, Cappex, comes in at #2 on the list. While I can’t compare and contrast the two services, if Kantrowitz’s wisdom built #1, it’s probably worth trying his new tool at #2.

Where do leaders come from?

Is it necessary to hold a club office, or found an organization, or otherwise do something worthy of a leadership title to impress colleges? No. Not even close. There are countless roles on college campuses that require students from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives to fill and flourish in them. Your particular skills can come from formal leadership positions, but they could also come from volunteering, playing the tuba, holding a part-time job, or virtually anything else that you cared enough about to commit to it.

But while the formal positions and titles aren’t prerequisites for college, the behavior and impact of real leadership is always appealing. And thankfully, there are plenty of ways to lead without running for office or telling people what to do.

If you’d like some more perspective on just exactly what leadership is, how it’s viewed by colleges, and why those experiences are important, I hope you’ll check out these two reads.

First, a past post of mine, including the articles that are referenced and linked within the post. And this piece, Take Me To Your Leaders: What College Admission Deans Are Looking For, by Brennan Bernard, a high school counselor and education writer. Bernard asked a number of college admissions officers to share their thoughts on what it means to lead. Don’t expect a roadmap with a list of activities and roles that will satisfy the definition, because as you’ll see, their answers vary.

Here’s an example:

“Leadership is deep engagement in an area of interest—not necessarily an officer in an organization. Rather than the president of the student government, I love the student who has been the chair of the dance cleanup committee for a few years. Who wants that job? And yet, she consistently gets a few students who will stay late after the dance to clean up the detritus left by classmates. That, to me, is leadership. No accolades but lots of commitment and follow through.”

Deb Shaver, Director of Admission, Smith College

Yep, that’s good leadership.

I hope the differences in their answers will relieve, not frustrate students. There are lots of ways to lead. Almost certainly, one of them will be a natural fit for you, something that you enjoy and are good at. If you commit your time to that kind of endeavor, you’ll learn a lot, you’ll enjoy it, and you’ll impress colleges.

It turns out that leaders can come from everywhere.

Do your kids know what’s expected of them?

I may preach that kids need to take charge of their college admissions process. But parents, especially those paying the bill, have every right to voice their opinions, including what you expect from your kids when it comes to their education. But are those expectations clear to your kids? That’s a different question than, “Have you made your expectations clear?” You might think that your words and actions communicate clearly to your teen. But what’s clear to you may not be clear to them. And given how much stress can surround the process for the entire family, it’s worth taking the time to make sure you’re on the same page.

For example, you might expect nothing more than their best effort. You might expect that they choose whatever path makes them happy. You might expect that they get admitted to the most competitive college possible, that they take over the family business, or that they make the family proud by becoming the first member to graduate from a four-year college.

But whatever the expectations, the first step to your kids potentially embracing them is to make sure they really understand just what those expectations are.

Here are two past posts, one with my recommended parents’ pledge to high school kids, and a second about the potential value of high expectations when combined with unconditional love.

Just stop doing it

I enjoyed Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike. But to me, something about one early passage in particular just didn’t sit right. In 1962 when Knight was first getting the tiny company off the ground, he recalls having this realization while on a run:

“So that morning in 1962 I told myself: Let everyone else call your idea [about starting a shoe company] crazy… just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop. That’s the precocious, prescient, urgent advice I managed to give myself, out of the blue, and somehow managed to take. Half a century later, I believe it’s the best advice—maybe the only advice—any of us should ever give.”

And he kept coming back to that theme repeatedly, pointing to it as the guiding principle, the secret to his success.

We’ve all heard the mantra, “Never give up.” We’re taught not to be quitters, that sheer determination is what separates the people who achieve their goals and those who get left behind.

But here’s the thing that became clear as Knight recounted his story: Nike was successful in large part because Knight was willing to stop.

He stopped working a job as an accountant. Twice.

He stopped working as a professor at Portland State University.

In fact, Knight originally started his shoe company as the American distributor of Tiger brand running shoes manufactured in Japan. The Nike that we all know today only exists because Knight stopped selling the Tiger shoes and began manufacturing his own.

When you’re almost 80 years old, as Knight is, and you look back over your proudest and most significant accomplishments, from entrepreneurship to marriage, you’ll inevitably see a refusal to give up when things were difficult as an important ingredient in the success.

But achieving those milestones will mean letting go of other things that ultimately prove to mean less. Knight was focused, driven, and committed to the work that mattered the most. But he was also a quitter. A smart, tactical quitter. And it helped him and Nike get where they are today.

That’s what kept nagging at me with each passing chapter.

Then, in the final pages of the book, as Knight looks back and ponders the unlikely story of his “crazy idea” growing into Nike, a tale with all the successes enjoyed and the failures overcome, he reflects:

“And those who urge entrepreneurs to never give up? Charlatans. Sometimes you have to give up. Sometimes knowing when to give up, when to try something else, is genius. Giving up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop.”

There it is. It’s not necessarily wrong to stop one thing. Sometimes stopping something is the key to succeeding in something else. Just don’t stop permanently.

“Just do it” was a great Nike slogan. But it turns out that “Just stop doing it” can be a pretty effective strategy, too.

Here are a few past posts, here and here, for high school students on the potential value of quitting. And a final one to make sure that you don’t end up punishing the people staying behind when you decide to move on.

Strengths-based parenting

I write often here about the value of kids maximizing their strengths rather than fixing perceived weaknesses. Doing more of what you enjoy and are naturally good at will always take you further—and make you happier—than constantly trying to fix yourself in the elusive (and unattainable) goal of perfection.

The Gallup Organization has long led a strengths-based movement, and in 2016, they released Strengths Based Parenting: Developing Your Children’s Innate Talents. The book doesn’t just share how to help your student become even more of who they already are; it also helps parents identify their own strengths so they can be even more effective and supportive parents.

The author, Mary Reckmeyer, argues that helping kids identify and embrace their natural strengths is the best way to set them up for future success. But don’t buy the book with the hopes of finding a magic formula for higher grades or test scores, the secret to Ivy League admissions, or a placement test to identify your student’s future career. Here’s how Reckmeyer defines the success that strengths-based parenting can foster.

“By success, I don’t mean wealth or status. By success, I mean happiness, fulfillment and a life well-lived—a life with everything your child needs and most of what he wants. And, crucially, a life in which he has the ability to use his talents to create an environment that sustains and motivates him with the people he cares about and who care about him. That’s success. Fortunately, those elements of success are things parents can directly influence.”

That’s an outcome that most parents I’ve met would embrace, no matter where their kids end up going to college.

It works for a prodigy

In just a few short years, Wesley So has risen from a celebrated chess up-and-comer to one of the best players in the world. His current 56-game win streak includes four major tournament wins and a victory over Magnus Carlsen, the current world champion.

When So decided that he wanted to make the leap from a recognized prodigy to a top professional chess player, he knew he needed more time to study, and less stress in his life. He got both when he consciously decided to spend less time on the internet and social media.

If it helped the prodigy reach his goals, what could fewer internet distractions do for you?

You can read the story of So’s rise—and his internet usage decline—here.