Whether or not you’re in charge

You certainly don’t have to be a CEO to benefit from Claire Lew’s advice in her new post, “How to influence culture when you’re not the CEO.”

And here are two past posts of mine about how to make a difference even when you’re not in charge, one on how to be a leader without a leadership position, the other on creating a pocket of greatness.

To be successful in college admissions, at work, in your club or PTA or counseling office, look for ways to make an impact, whether or not you’re in charge.

When the talk turns towards college

I posted a reminder for parents earlier this month that there are far more fascinating conversations to be had with your teens than those that revolve around college admissions topics. And I still maintain that you have a far more important job than that of college application general manager in your house. But there are times, especially for parents of seniors at this time of year, when you just can’t ignore the application deadline elephant in the room. Done right, a related conversation can leave your teen feeling supported, encouraged, and well-reminded that your relationship won’t change based on which colleges say yes or no. Here are a few tips to help you handle those conversations well.

1. Trade judgement for empathy.
Yes, it’s possible your student has procrastinated, ignored advice, or made other decisions that have put them in a more stressful position now than they needed to be in. Guess what? Seventeen-year-olds are supposed to make those mistakes. In fact, they can learn from them. Believe me, they’re likely feeling judged enough by the entire process without Mom or Dad chiming in. So instead of judging, try empathizing. Make an honest effort to understand how they’re feeling. The truth is that you don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager in the world today, much less one who’s applying to college. If you make the effort to empathize, you’ll find the conversation will change. You’ll ask more questions. You’ll listen more. And you’ll probably come away with a better understanding of your teen and what they’re experiencing right now.

2. Offer an invitation, not solutions.
You’re the adult in this relationship, and it can be tempting to offer solutions that you know will help your kids get completed applications out the door. But even the most well-intentioned offers can still be received by teenagers as a sign that you just don’t believe in them. Asking, “Is there anything I can do to help?” seems generous and unobtrusive, but often doesn’t yield an affirmative response. So instead, try offering an invitation, like, “If there’s anything I can do to help, will you tell me?” This sets the table for a future conversation even if your teen isn’t presently in the market for parental assistance.

3. Don’t draw comparisons.
What other kids or other families are doing during this time just doesn’t matter. In a process that’s all about comparison between applicants, resist any inclination to compare what your student is or isn’t doing with the actions (or inactions) of other students. Even when meant in a positive way, these comparisons just heighten kids’ feelings that their college application process really isn’t theirs at all.

4. Build on good news.
Has your teen made progress with their applications? Do they have a list with at least a few schools their counselor said were sure things? Even better, has your student already applied to and been accepted at some colleges? Don’t ignore those wins in favor of focusing on what’s left. Instead, celebrate them. Remind your kids how far they’ve come, how much they have to look forward to in college, and how happy you are about the positives worth celebrating. Progress, wins, and good news are like emotional fuel to help your kids face whatever comes next. Don’t miss the opportunity to build on this good news.

5. Remind them what won’t change.
The stakes can feel so high during the college admissions process: first-choice schools, competition between friends, joy and despair when decisions arrive, not to mention the sea of change coming when kids inevitably leave high school and head to college somewhere. In your conversations, it’s helpful to remind kids of those constants that won’t change–most importantly, your love for them. Remember, it’s likely abundantly clear to you how much you love your kids and how little their grades, SAT scores, or college decisions are likely to change that. But it’s not always clear to the applicant in the house. Any step you can take, whether in words within these conversations or actions outside of them, will go a long way to giving a sense of comfort and resilience to kids who are immersed in a process that can chip away at both.

Free webinar: Visual and Performing Arts 101

For students who are interested in studying visual and performing arts, Collegewise is offering the following free 90-minute webinar:

Visual and Performing Arts 101: An Inside Look at the Admissions Process
December 6th, 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. PST
Cost: Free
Presenter: Kavin Buck, Visual and Performing Arts College Counseling Specialist, Collegewise

Click here to register.

Topics covered will include: 

  • What types of colleges, universities and conservatories are available
  • Suggestions on how to narrow your search
  • Insider tips on how to effectively complete the supplemental applications (including portfolio advice and audition hints!)

KBuckAbout our presenter:

Kavin Buck has worked for more than 30 years in arts, education, and admissions. Before joining Collegewise, Kavin enjoyed stints as Director of Admission at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, Director of Enrollment and Outreach at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, and most recently, Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. He is the co-author of A Guide to College Choices for the Performing and Visual Arts, and he maintains an active practice as a painter and sculptor.

There is no cost to attend, and you can find more details and registration info here.

I hope you’ll join us.

A seventh grader can do it

This post showed up on a local parent listserv last week (I inserted the “xxxx” portions to protect the poster’s identity).

Hi, my name is xxxx and I’m a 7th grader at xxxx. I take advanced math and love it. If you are looking for an affordable math tutor with a great attitude about math for your child I am able to tutor up to 6th grade and charge $15 an hour. Is transportation too hard? No worries. I’ll come to you! Please email me at xxxx if you have questions or are interested.

This is one of those seemingly simple things that can have a lot of value when the student is allowed to drive it.

This student is promoting themselves. They wrote the ad, they posted the ad, and they’ll be fielding the incoming inquiries. If it’s successful, they’ll end up managing a schedule, showing that they can fulfill their responsibilities, and answering to their paying customers. They’ll inevitably learn from this experience even if they don’t receive a single inquiry.

It might be tempting to discount those merits. After all, it’s not that hard to post an ad. And lots of kids babysit or do other part-time jobs. But one of the shifts I’ve witnessed since I started Collegewise almost twenty years ago is that too many high school kids will sit back and let their parents handle this sort of thing for them (I wrote about one who posted on the very same listserv). And my wife and I routinely get parents knocking on our door to raise money for their students’ cheerleading or softball or football teams, with their kids nowhere in sight.

Parents, the next time you’re tempted to step in and help with pitching or fundraising or any other endeavor that will ultimately benefit your student, step back and consider whether this is something they could and should do for themselves. Guiding and encouraging is one thing. But taking it over entirely is another.

It’s easy to come up with excuses for why your kids can’t take it on. But if a seventh grader can do it, your high schooler can, too.

Five questions for your college interviewer

Students often wonder what questions they should ask their college interviewers. It’s a good instinct to think about this ahead of time. If you’re genuinely interested in the college, it stands to reason you’d have a question or two of your own. And the best questions are those that are genuine, that come from a place of real curiosity, interest, and a recognition of the opportunity before you to speak with someone who went to the very college you’re applying to.

Here are a few question suggestions that could open up some interesting conversations with your interviewer. Don’t jettison genuine questions of your own to replace with these—they’re not inherently better than what genuinely interests you. But if you just can’t come up with any questions of your own, these are good bets.

1. When you picked this school, was it an easy choice for you?
What a great opportunity to learn about your interviewer’s college process. Maybe this school wasn’t their first choice. Maybe they were wavering between two schools and didn’t know they’d made the right decision until a semester or two into their time there. Maybe they transferred, or chose it because of the financial aid package, or their parents imposed their college choice on them. Your interviewer was once where you are today, a college applicant who didn’t necessarily have all the answers. Take them back to that time and see what you can learn from their experience.

2. What role did your college play in helping you get where you are today?
It’s always interesting to learn how a successful, engaged person ended up where they are today in life. Invite your interviewer to show you the connection between their time in college and their life today. The answer will give you a real glimpse into the influence colleges do—or do not—play in shaping life after college.

3. Are you still close with anyone that you met in college?
It would be weird to ask your interviewer, “Are you married?” or “Do you have a best friend?” But asking about their connections to people they met in college is a different—and totally appropriate—story. Connections made in college are one of the most common reasons people look back fondly on those years. And there’s nothing wrong with showing an interest in the personal side of their college memories.

4. Do you think students you speak with are interested in this school for the right reasons?
There is no short list of “right reasons” to choose any school. But your interviewer probably has strong feelings about what makes this college so special, reasons that may not be clear on the website or in the college’s presentations that they make at college fairs. This question invites them to share those thoughts. And it never hurts to get your college interviewer to talk about what they think is important about this school.

5. If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything differently in college?
This question just hits all the right notes. It shows you’re interested in the interviewer’s perspective. It shows you’re thinking not just about getting into college, but also about making the most of it once you’re there. And it shows you’re not just like every other applicant who waits passively for the interviewer to ask all the questions. Your most important goal in a college interview is to have an interesting conversation with an adult. That means answering and asking questions, talking and listening. When you ask a good question that gets your interviewer talking, especially one about their time in college, sit back, listen attentively, and know that you’re doing your part to accomplish your goal.

Time, budget, and scope

When you’re working on a project and it becomes clear you’re going to miss your deadline, you can change the time, the budget, or the scope.

Changing the time means adding more of it by extending the deadline.

Changing the budget means spending more—money, energy, resources, etc.

But changing the scope actually means doing less. Cut the project in half. Remove a feature or a requirement. Take away something that’s just not necessary, get everything else right, and ship it. Changing the scope can actually be like a purification system. Get rid of everything that just doesn’t matter and spend your remaining time and budget on things that do.

Many seniors are worrying about completing their college applications on time. So what are your options?

You can’t change the time—college deadlines are fixed.

You can change the budget by spending more of your attention and energy than you currently are. It’s entirely possible that you’ve been under-spending in those areas and it’s time to reallocate those resources.

But don’t forget to take a hard look at the scope.

Do you need to apply to 15 or 17 or 22 colleges? (You don’t.)

Do you need to apply to those three schools that you don’t know much about but everyone else seems to like?

Do you need to apply to that fifth reach school just because you think that adding more to your list will increase your odds?

I wouldn’t recommend chopping down a list that your counselor has already approved without discussing it with them first. But if you’re feeling pressed by deadlines and just don’t have any room left to spend more, consider changing the scope of your college application project.

If you were in the room

I’d love to see high school students spending less time preparing for standardized tests and more time trying to solve interesting problems. Here’s one.

You’re in charge of the homecoming committee and you’ve just learned that hackers have stolen the names, email addresses, and credit card information of 160 families who used the website you set up to sell tickets. But the unknown hackers promise to delete all the personal information if you just pay them $50.

What do you do?

If you tell the affected families, you’ve just created a huge headache for yourself and for everyone affected that might have never materialized had you paid the $50.

If you keep it a secret and pay the $50, the hackers might use the information anyway. And there’s still that chance that someone could find out and leak the secret.

What are you going to do?

This is the dilemma Uber faced recently. And while Uber may be a large company, that decision came down to a small room of individuals who had a choice. We know how their choice worked out for them.

What would you have done if you were in the room?

From today to tomorrow

College planning demands that you think about the future. What kind of college do you want to go to? What do you want to study? What do you want to do after college? It’s healthy to thoughtfully consider questions about your future. But if you feel overwhelmed, unsure, or just plain tired of trying to predict who, what, and where you’ll be tomorrow, spend more time considering who, what, and where you are today.

You’re not going to be the same person two, five, or ten years from now. Those changes are what make your time in and after college so exciting. But making decisions based on things that haven’t happened yet is like investing money in an idea that hasn’t become a legitimate business or product yet. It might pay off just as you’d expected. But that’s a lot of risk to take on based on only a prediction.

If you say you want to be a doctor tomorrow, is that plan reflected in what you’re doing and learning today?

If you say you want to go to a small college because of personal attention with professors, how often are you participating in class, interacting with your teachers, and meeting with your counselor today?

If you say you want to study business because it interests you, how are you feeding that interest today? Do you have a part-time job (fast food, coffee shops, and stores at the mall are all businesses)? Do you read about successful entrepreneurs? Do you investigate what you’d be learning as a business major, how business programs at one college compare to others, or whether people who’ve succeeded in business actually studied it in college?

If what you’re doing today doesn’t match your vision of tomorrow, that leaves you with two options. You can change everything you’re doing in the present to match your proposed future self. Or you can ask some tough questions about whether that future vision should really be driving big decisions like where you apply to college.

There’s not necessarily a wrong answer between those choices. But most people don’t end up in a good destination tomorrow by taking a path that feels wrong today.

Let today happen

Parents, while your kids are still in the house, you don’t have to wonder if you’ll all be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner together. Whether you’re at your home table or visiting far-flung family members, your kids are along for the Thanksgiving ride.

Today is a good day to remember that it won’t always be that way.

Soon, your kids will be in college. Then they’ll be starting their lives, with jobs and priorities and families of their own. Watching them do those things can and should be a joyful parenting period of your own—especially the Thanksgivings when you’ll all be together! But turkey (or tofu) time together won’t necessarily be an annual guarantee. That’s why it’s so important to enjoy what you have together today.

You might be tempted to let the college application process invade your Thanksgiving. It’s not easy to shut off what might have been daily conversations about essays and applications and SAT scores. But those topics and to-do’s won’t disappear if you ignore them for one day. No student in the history of the college admissions process has been shut out of a college because their family declared Thanksgiving college-talk-free.

Parents, give yourselves and your kids a break today. Take a breath and appreciate your guaranteed Thanksgiving time together while you have it. As high school counselor Patrick O’Connor said so eloquently in his recent piece, “What you can — and can’t — say to a high school senior at Thanksgiving”:

“College will be great, but college is tomorrow, and Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude for today. Let that happen.”