Things that shouldn’t matter at all when picking colleges

Here a few factors I think should have absolutely no influence over where you apply or attend college. 

1. Where your friends want to go

Going to a college where you don’t know anybody can be an intimidating prospect.  And after four years of high school, you might have some pretty close friends who seem the perfect companions for your upcoming college years.

But the cold, hard truth is that you will not be going to high school anymore.  You are about to go to college.  You’re going to have to make this decision based on what is best for you, not based where your friends will be.

2. Where your boyfriend or girlfriend wants to go

No matter how strong your romantic connection and conviction may be, I don’t recommend that you allow it to be a factor in determining where you go to college. 

3. Trendiness

In some cases, teenagers adopt a dog-like pack mentality.  It is a scientific phenomenon that as yet defies explanation.  But if there is a significant jump in applications to a particular college, you can be that school will be on kids’ lists the following year.  We see it happen all the time. 

Sometimes, this might happen for good reason.  After all, there are a lot of great colleges out there who deserve to have their good word spread. 

But if the only reason you are applying to a school is because everybody else seems to be doing it, you might want to think twice before you fill out the application.

4.  Where the school is ranked on the US News list

It's funny how many the same schools who are so proud of their US News ranking would be unimpressed if a student cited it as a primary reason he wanted to attend.  Really?  That's like spending an inordinate amount of time, money and energy to get the perfect outfit before a date and then penalizing your date for telling you your outfit looks nice.   

Don't pick your colleges because of where they are ranked.  The rankings are very controversial, and they change every year.  So you could effectively pick a college ranked in the top ten and have it drop to outside the top 15 before the following year.  Is it worth this risk?

5.  Anything you'd be embarrassed to admit to the college when applying. 

You should be proud of your reasons for applying to a college.  If you're not, you need different reasons (or different colleges).

 

Putting standardized tests into perspective

A lot of people have completely lost their minds.

Nowhere in the word of college admissions has so much of the
population gone so far over the deep end as they have with standardized
tests.  Sixth graders are taking SAT prep
classes.  People are paying obscene
amounts of money (sometimes upwards of 10 or 20 thousand dollars!) for the
“best” prep tutors.  Families are taking tutors with them on vacation so as not to break the summer prep streak.  

In some cases, people are right to be concerned.  If you want to go to Yale and you have a
1520 on the SAT, your chances are probably going to be slim.

That’s the bad news.

But most of the over 2000 colleges out there don’t expect
sky-high test scores.  There are plenty of good colleges out there that will gladly take a good kid with average or even below average test scores.   

In fact, Fairtest,
an
organization that works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized
testing, maintains a list of over 700 schools where SAT/ACT scores are
not even required for
admission.  Id love to see that list grow to include all four-year
colleges–dare to dream.

So, that’s the good news.  You can pretty much walk into the SAT, take it cold, and
as long as you don’t draw dirty pictures on the answer sheet, you’ll still get
into college.  I'm not suggesting you should actually do it that way, but test scores are not a life or death experience.  Don't treat them like one.  Maintain your perspective.

So you want to play sports in college

If you are a four-time All-American quarterback who can no longer open the door to your bedroom because it is so full of recruiting letters, you don’t need to read this blog post.  All you have to do is avoid felonies and interceptions and you’ll probably get into a college with a football team.   

But there are a lot of students out there who have had more modest, but still admirable, athletic success in high school and they’d like to try and parlay it into an admission to college—maybe even to a school to which they would otherwise not stand a good chance of gaining admission.  

If you want to explore college athletics, here's the most important thing you can do.

Don't stand still.

Standing still seems to be a bad thing in almost every sport.  Coaches are always telling you to “move to the open space,” “move to the ball,” “move to the bench until you learn not to shoot at the wrong goal,” etc. 

Standing still and waiting for college coaches to find you is the worst thing you can do if you want to get recruited to play sports in college.  You are going to need to find them, to contact them, to initiate the first, second, and third moves.

Here are some important steps to take:

1. Learn the rules governing eligibility and recruiting.

You can find them on the NCAA’s website.

2. Find out which schools offer your sport

Go here on the NCAA's website. 

3. Get your coaches on board.

If your coaches don't know that you are interested in playing in college, this would be a good time to tell them.  Make sure they know where you are interested in attending, too.  You don’t want a college to call your coach and say, “We understand that David is interested in playing soccer for us,” and have your coach respond,

        “What?  David who?  Oh, THAT kid?  He is?  Is he CRAZY?” 

That would be bad. 

College coaches like to communicate with their own kind.  You, your parents, and anyone who knows you will sing your praises about how wonderful you are.  But your coaches can tell college coaches exactly what they want to know, in exactly the right language. 

4. Ask your coach's advice

Your coach can tell you what else you can do to help your recruiting cause, what other schools you might want to consider, and of course, what you can do to improve your game even more.

5. Initiate and maintain contact with college coaches

Send an email to college coaches at your schools of interest, or fill out the online recruiting form, and do so early in your junior year.  Let them know that you are interested in their program.  Provide them with a resume that summarizes your achievements.  If a coach is impressed with what you have accomplished, she may ask you to fill out additional forms for prospective athletes, to continue to update her, or to send her a game schedule.  Make sure to keep in mind that these kinds of responses do not necessarily mean you are being recruited.  But it does mean that the coach would like to learn more and to keep informed of your athletic progress.

Start with these five–just don't stand still.

A simple tip for college interviews

Want to do something simple that will help you have a great college interview? 

Look like you're enjoying yourself. 

It’s hard for an interviewer to
relax and enjoy your company if you are twitching, sweating, and appearing to be
on the verge of complete respiratory failure. 
So relax.  Smile.  Don’t be afraid to be yourself.  The more relaxed you are, the easier you will
be to talk to, and the better the interview will be.   

So, what’s your major?

One of the great things about college is that everyone receives a standard issue pick-up line to use whenever you'd like–"What's your major?"  I'm not saying it's a good line.  But it's a line, and it's an opener that won't offend anybody.  Sometimes you just need a good opener.

But you don't necessarily need an answer to that question when you're applying to college.

Obviously, when you’re considering a college, you need to
think about what you want to study.  But
keep one thing in mind—the average college student changes his or her major twice
while they are in college.  If you don’t
know what you want to study, don’t panic—it’s normal.  You’ll just want to make sure that you pick a
school that can accommodate students who don’t know what they want to
study. 

If you think you are interested in business, it obviously
wouldn’t make sense for you to apply to eight colleges that don’t offer a
business major.  But we recommend that
you don’t focus all of your college match efforts on the availability or
reported strength of a major.  After all,
if you elect to attend a college because it has a strong business program, and
you decide after the first semester that you no longer want to be a business
major, you might regret your choice of college.   

Here’s a tip.  Let's say you
think you might want to be a business major.  Visit the websites of a few
schools that interest you and read about their business programs.  Print up a list of the
required courses you’ll have to take as a business major, along with the descriptions
of what is taught in each course.  If you
say to yourself, “Calculus?  Finance?
Accounting?  Statistics?  I thought I was going to be learning how to
do marketing and advertising!” then you know that this particular business
program might not be for you. 

Need help picking a college major or a career?

The Princeton Review has some good tools on their site for researching college majors.  You can search for virtually any major and
find a description of the major, a sample undergraduate curriculum, advice on
how to prepare for that major while in high school, and a listing of schools
offering the major.

And would you like to know what it will take to
become an FBI agent?  A news anchor?  A software engineer?  Check out their information about careers,
including what sort of education you need, what your work life will be like,
and what kind of salary you can expect to make over your career. 



50 things…

Here are fifty things you can do in college, even if the school isn't a famous one. 

  1. Eat late night pizza in the dorms.
  2. Take road trips.
  3. Play intramural basketball games.  At midnight.
  4. Choose classes you want to take.
  5. See how many straight nights you can eat spaghetti.
  6. Be a resident advisor in the dorms.
  7. Do research in physics with a professor.
  8. Meet your future husband or wife.
  9. Meet the person who will one day be your maid of honor or best man.
  10. Paint your face in the school's colors for the big game.
  11. Have a professor who tells you that she sees great potential in your work.
  12. Enjoy late night conversations with your new friends in the dorm.
  13. Create memories with your friends that will make you smile when you're fifty.
  14. Write for the campus newspaper.
  15. Sit with a professor during her office hours and realize you're chatting with the person who wrote the textbook you're using in class.
  16. Play mud football games on Sundays.
  17. Study abroad in Italy.  Or Greece.  Or Australia. 
  18. Pull an all nighter studying with your friends.
  19. Go to parties.  Good ones.
  20. Participate in campus traditions.
  21. Sing (obscene) songs to your college's rival at the homecoming game.
  22. Work a part-time job at the campus coffee shop, or the library, or at the restaurant in town.
  23. Discover your academic passions.
  24. Play in the school's marching band.
  25. Participate in the engineering Olympics.
  26. Feel like you're getting a little smarter every day.
  27. Realize that you are actually excited to attend your classes.
  28. Leave everything you didn't like about high school behind.
  29. Go on a camping trip with your new friends.
  30. Find an internship in a career that looks interesting.
  31. Meet mentors who will help you reach your potential.
  32. Celebrate the end of finals week with your fellow students.
  33. Take a class that has absolutely nothing to do with your major just because it looks interesting.
  34. Go to the school's football games.  Or the basketball games.  Or the hockey games.
  35. Spend Thanksgiving with a friend's family because they live closer to campus.
  36. Camp out to get basketball tickets.
  37. Eat Top Ramen, or cereal, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner.
  38. Write a senior thesis on a subject you get to pick.
  39. Spend your summer getting career experience in an area you find interesting.
  40. Study in the park.  In between Frisbee tossing.
  41. Excel academically and enjoy what you're learning.
  42. Make the kind of friends you know will be in your life for a very long time.
  43. Do community service with your college friends.
  44. Find your natural talents and interests.
  45. Discover what you want to do with your life.
  46. Do things that, one day, your kids won't be able to imagine mom or dad doing.
  47. Join a fraternity or sorority.
  48. Participate in an outdoor education program.
  49. Graduate and marvel at how far you've come, how much you've grown, and how much you've learned over the last four years.
  50. See how proud your parents are at your graduation.

How many of those are actually factored into the US News College rankings?

Where college research has been done for you

Collegelists.pbworks.com is a site
where college counselors post and edit lists of colleges based on specific
criteria.  Need to find a list of 3-2
architecture programs?  How about a list
of schools that have good dance programs for students who don’t want to major in
dance?  Or schools with a snowboarding
team?   Someone else has probably
found—and posted—it for you. 

The kid who pitches in

Teachers, counselors, coaches–they all love the kid who pitches in.

The kid who pitches in…

  1. …puts your hand up regularly to ask or answer a question in class.
  2. …makes traditional flan for the Spanish Club's fundraiser.
  3. …says "Thank you" after meetings with your counselor.
  4. …offers to help clean up after homecoming.
  5. …helps clear the table after dinner.
  6. …does community service because you want to do it.
  7. …says "Hi" to your teachers when you see them in the hallway.  
  8. …offers to help the kid in math class who obviously is struggling.
  9. …grabs as many soccer balls as you can and puts them in the bag when your coach calls an end to practice.
  10. …picks up the soda can on campus and throws it away.
  11. …sticks up for the social outcast at school.
  12. …drives your friends home when they've had too much to drink.
  13. …remembers your parents' birthdays.
  14. …tells your teacher when you're really enjoying the class.
  15. …helps other people stay positive.  
  16. …asks, "What can I do to help?"
  17. …cheers your friends on at the football games and the school musicals.
  18. …puts your hand up when someone says, "I need a volunteer…"
  19. …stays late after practice to run extra laps with the captain. 
  20. …asks the new kid in school how things are going so far. 

Colleges love the kid who pitches in, too.

How to work with your high school counselor

First, two disclaimers: 

1) I am not a high school counselor, and I'm not related to one.

2 The vast majority of the students admitted to college every year do so without the aid of a private counselor like us.  This is not a post arguing that you need outside help to get into college. In fact, I'm actually arguing the opposite.

I often hear students and parents say that they don't feel well-supported by their high school counselors.

"My high school counselor doesn't even know me."

"The counselors don't tell us anything."

"My counselor doesn't know about college admissions."    

I don't think that's fair to most counselors.

In a lot of those cases, I think there's an unusual dichotomy at work–those parents and students have unrealistic expectations about what their counselor should be doing for them, yet at the same time, they are under utilizing what could be a great resource in their counselor.

What a shame.

If you want a good relationship with your high school counselor that will translate into college admissions support, here are five things parents and students can do.

1.  Develop realistic expectations about how much your counselor can help you.

Most high school counselors don't have the luxury of spending all day, every day, advising college-bound students.  They meet with the kid who's failing geometry and might not graduate, talk with the student who has an eating disorder, get involved when a teacher suspects a student is being abused, mediate parent-teacher conflicts, counsel the student with emotional problems, talk to the police when a student brings a knife on campus–you see where I'm going with this. 

Somewhere in between all of those things, they have to keep up with the constantly-changing landscape of college admissions and try to disseminate that information to students and parents.

If you attend a very expensive private school that has paid "college advisors" on staff who work with a small band of 25-40 students each, then you have every reason to expect that your assigned advisor should walk you through every step of the college process, help you with your college essays, review your applications, etc.  But if you're at a school, even a private school, where counselors work with 100 or 300 or even 800 students each, you need to adjust your expectations.  I'm not saying you shouldn't rely on your counselor for assistance, but you'll need to take some responsibility for driving the process forward. 

2.  Students should initiate regular college planning meetings with your counselor.

If you know you want to go to college, ask your counselor if you can schedule a meeting to discuss your plans.  You don't need to make this a weekly habit–once or twice a semester can be enough for many students.  Talk about the classes you're taking, the tests you'll need to take, and what some reasonable college choices might be.  And don't wait until your senior year to do it.  Starting early will also help you establish a relationship with your counselor so she can get to know you and give you even better advice.

3.  Attend your school's college-related events.

I can't tell you how many times I've been invited by good high schools to speak to students and parents about college admissions and had an audience of 30 from a student population of several hundred.  I hear the same thing from counselors when they do college planning evenings for families.  I often wonder how many of those students and parents who don't attend will later claim that the school didn't help them at all.

I know that high school students' schedules, and by extension their parents' schedules, are stretched thin these days.  But if your school does 1 or 3 or even 5 college-related events in a year, isn't it worth it to go?  Even if you only learned one or two good pieces of information at each (you'll likely learn much more than that), it would still be worth it if you really want to go to college and would like some guidance to help you get there.

4. Read what the counselors write for you.

I've met counselors who spend a great deal of time adding college information to the school's website where any student or parent can access it. Some schools even print this information up into bound packets and distribute them to students and parents.  A lot of that information goes unread.

College admissions is complicated; your high school counselor can eliminate some confusion for you, but she can't make it simple because it's not a simple process.  It might be intimidating to face all the information counselors cull together for you, but trust me, it's a lot easier than having to first locate all of that information yourself. 

5.   Give your counselor the opportunity to do a good job for you.

Are their some bad high school counselors?  I'm sure there are (just like there are some bad doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc).  But the vast majority of counselors I've met are good people who want to do what they can to see kids succeed.  Following the advice I've given you above will help give your counselor the opportunity to do that for you.