Five ways judging Junior Miss is like being an admissions officer

I spent most of Monday doing my duties as an academic judge for a local Junior Miss pageant. Deciding who'd earned the highest academic achievement scores (which is based on qualities like strength of schedule, GPA and test scores) was a lot like being a college admissions officer.  For example…

1.  I'm impressed by the kid who takes hard classes, even if she doesn't get A's.  And if you take easy classes and gets A's, I have to wonder why you didn't challenge yourself more. 

2. If you take AP classes, you should take the AP tests.  Not taking them makes me wonder why you didn't. 

3. The PSAT is a practice test.  I'm more interested in how you did on the real thing (the SAT or the ACT).

4. When a school ranks its students, it makes my job easier because it's a nice shortcut.  But I don't need that numerical rank to figure out who the highest achievers in the class were.

5.  Transcripts, GPAs and test scores don't tell me anything about who you really are.

So let me just riff about #5 for a second.

I was only judging one thing–academic achievement.  I wasn't trying to decide if each candidate deserved to win the entire contest.  So in that way, my role was much different from that of an admissions officer.

Still, I couldn't help thinking how lifeless transcripts and test scores are.  That's why the essays in college applications are so important.  That's why you can't waste that opportunity by writing a safe, unrevealing essay about how your trip to France taught you to appreciate that foreign countries are different.  In fact, it would have been hard not to resent (a little) the kid who writes that essay. 

Your college application can't just be a lifeless stack of paper.  You should use your essays to inject your personality and maybe even a little soul into the process.  When you get that opportunity, don't waste it.  Use it.

“I’ll do it”

"I'll do it" is a powerful phrase. 

It's the opposite of "I'm too busy," or "That's not my job."  Unless you're responding to someone asking, "Who wants to light things on FIRE?!," then pretty much everybody, from clubs to teams to teachers to colleges, likes the person who quickly says, "I'll do it."

Last Friday, our blog feeds stopped working properly.  So I posted an ad to Craigslist looking for a web developer who could fix it.  I offered $200 plus a $50 bonus if he or she got it done that day. 

I got a lot of responses that wanted more details, or wanted to negotiate the price, or just rattled off their qualifications.  None of them said those words I was looking for.

But then I got an email from Brian that just said, "I'll do it."  He told me he'd start right away and I could pay him when he fixed it.  Done.

Brian didn't get it done that day.  Turns out it was a much longer project than he thought it would be.  But he stuck with it, worked over the weekend, and about 4:30 on Monday, it was completely fixed.

I paid him the $200 plus the bonus.  It wasn't done the same day, but he made my life easier.  He didn't haggle about the price or ask a bunch of questions to see if he really wanted the job or even try to protect himself by making me pay a portion up front.  He just said, "I'll do it."  And he did it. 

So while I'm hoping there won't be a next time, if we have problems with our blog again, I won't be posting an ad.  I'll go right to Brian.  I'd recommend him to anyone looking for web development help.  It's possible that someone else may have twice the skill that he has and could have completed the job in one day, I don't know.  But Brian said, 'I'll do it" first and followed through.

So, what are you going to say the next time you hear…

"Who would like to show the new kid around school?"

"Who can help me coach at a youth soccer camp this weekend?"

"Who's interested in learning more about the Civil War?"

"Who can staff the front desk at the homecoming dance?"

"Who would like to run for treasurer of the student body?"

"Who can help me put up signs to advertise for the bake sale?"

"Who would like to volunteer at the shelter with me this weekend?"

If you become known as someone who says, "I'll do it," and then does it right, people will appreciate you, they'll rely on you, and they'll recommend you when anyone asks. 

Why we’re not in your reader right now

OK, it looks like we're back; our new posts are now appearing in peoples' readers.  If you're a subscriber, you probably missed a few feeds in the last week, but we've got the posts here for your reading pleasure.  Thanks for your patience.  And thanks to Brian for fixing this for us.

I've heard from several subscribers that our blog feeds aren't showing up in your Google readers.  I've got someone looking into it right now, but in the interim, I'm just going to forge ahead and keep putting up my daily posts.  Apologies for the lack of feeding.  

PS:  If you're an expert in Typepad and Feedburner, and you understand how the rss.xml file from Typepad interacts with Feedburner for social media shortcuts, let me know if you'd like a freelance job fixing the bugs in our code.  Email me at kevinm (at) collegewise (dot) com. 

What to do if you were rejected by all your colleges

If you're a senior who was rejected by all your colleges, you can probably still go to college in the fall.  But if you want to do it, you'll have to jump on the project right now.  Here are a few steps to take to give yourself some options.

1.  Meet with your counselor.

This is a time when you want your counselor to know what's happening in your life.  She may be able to suggest schools that are still accepting applications, give you more advice about how to get off waitlists, appeal rejections, etc.  And ask her about public university options available to you, which brings me to…

2.  Look into public universities in your state.

Most states have public universities that are required to admit students who meet minimum eligibility requirements.  That doesn't mean they're required to admit an eligible student who didn't apply before the deadline, but it's an option worth investigating, especially if it's a school that didn't receive as many applications as they'd hoped.   

3.  Use the Common App to find schools still accepting applications.

Go to the college search section of the Common Application website, select "first year student," "Fall 2010" and enter today's date under "deadline on or after."  I just entered 4/19/2010 before writing this and there were 115 schools that came up.  And a lot of them are good schools. 

4.  Use the College Board's college search function.

If you use the search function on College Board website and select "More than 75% accepted" under the "Admissions" section, you'll find a lot of colleges will still be accepting applications. 

5.  After May 1, watch for NACAC's "Space Availability Survey"

After May 1, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling conducts a survey of colleges to find out one thing–who's still got room for freshmen?  Then they publish the results of the survey in early to mid May.  So after May 1, check the NACAC website every day.  Or just keep reading our blog and we'll let you know when it's up.

Where can the things you do today take you?

One of our Collegewise students from the class of 2005 wrote her essay about how certain she'd been that being a lifeguard on the beach would be the best summer job she could get…but that she couldn't have been more wrong.  Turns out that the beach she was assigned to had no waves or currents, so nobody ever needed to be rescued.  I remember her telling me how boring it was, that all she did for 8 hours a day was stare at the water and respond to the 30 people who'd come by her tower just ask where the bathrooms were.  But she did enjoy learning all the first aid during her training, and was even able to use it when her friend cut her leg badly at a school dance.  

I found out today that she was just accepted to medical school.  You never where the things you're doing today might take you in the future.

You’ll win if you love it

I just finished reading a great book about the best distance runners on the planet–the Tarahumara Indians in the Sierra Madre mountain range in Mexico.  The Tarahumara routinely run 100-200 miles in rugged terrain wearing homemade sandals.  And the best part is how much they love doing it. They smile and enjoy themselves while they're running.  Even when they were brought to the US and began competing in (and winning) 100-mile ultra marathons, they're just laughing and having fun while they do it.  The author says that while we run to win races or to punish ourselves for eating a big slice of cheesecake last night, the Tarahumara run for one reason–because they love to do it.  And nobody can do it better. 

Now, you know there's a college admissions lesson coming here…

The most successful college applicants I've ever met didn't take hard classes because they wanted to get into famous colleges; they took hard classes because they wanted to be challenged and learn something.  They didn't do community service because they wanted to put it on a college application; they did it because they really wanted to help someone.  Their excitement about college has nothing to do with getting into an Ivy League school.  They might be happy to go to one but that's not why they do what they do.  They're happier, more interesting, more confident and just plain cooler than kids who make all their decisions based on what they think Stanford will appreciate.

Like the Tarahumara, they do it because they love it.  It's not about winning a competition for them.  And yet they beat out the other applicants who spend four years of high school trying to make themselves competitive without enjoying most of the experience.

It's your choice.  Which kid do you want to be?

 

College essay lessons from Warren Buffett

An interesting piece, “Start-up Lessons Learned from Warren Buffett” that analyzes why Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders is an example of masterful communication.  Turns out these are great pieces of advice for writing college essays, too.

Here are the points the article raises, along with my college essay version of the advice.

1.  Converse like a real human being.

Buffett doesn’t hide behind business-speak–he just writes clearly, as if he were talking to you over lunch.  He could sound like one of the world’s foremost authorities on investment (he is), but instead just goes for a conversational tone.  That’s exactly how you should write your college essays.  No kid in the history of kid-dom has ever said to a friend, “Participating in the ASB has taught me valuable lessons about working well with others.”  Don’t hide behind college-essay-speak.  Just say it.

2. Admit mistakes and move on.

Buffett’s been wrong before. But when he makes mistakes, even big ones, he doesn’t make excuses.  He accepts responsibility and then moves on.  A lot really successful people today made dopey mistakes when they were teenagers.  If you’ve done the same, you’re in good company.  But don’t blame other people or try to explain away your failures.  Accept responsibility, learn what you can, and then move on to bigger and better things.

3.  The power of humor in business.

Buffett knows how to entertain a reader with lines like,

Charlie and I enjoy issuing Berkshire stock about as much as we relish prepping for a colonoscopy.”

You don’t necessarily have to be funny in your college essays.  But you do have to entertain your reader.  Admissions officers are tired and bored during admissions season.  You have to do your part to hold their attention.  Good writers know how to do that with lines like these, courtesy of some of our Collegewise kids.

“Even with all its problems, my car has never stalled or failed to get me where I want to go.  When I went to crash a sorority beach party with some friends, the car (thank god) made the whole trip”

“I was the only girl on the cross country team who had a 12 year-old brother at my races yelling, ‘Run faster!  You’re fat!'”

“I had a knack for business at age 10.  That’s when the snow cone empire first took off. “

Take the advice or leave it.  But remember that Buffett is worth 47 billion dollars.

 

Should you appeal a college’s rejection?

Students occasionally ask us about appealing admissions decisions from colleges.  An appeal is really just a  formal request, in writing, that a college reconsider your application for admission.  Some colleges also invite you to include extra material that wasn’t in your original application, such as another teacher recommendation or a report card from the first semester of the senior year.

So, should you appeal?

As unfair as the admissions process may seem, most colleges are very thorough in their evaluation of candidates. That’s why the few appeals that are successful usually bring to light new information that was not available to the college when they were reviewing your application. For example, if your 7th semester grades were a dramatic improvement over your previous grades, or your club that you started raised a large amount of money for a charity event you planned, or the new internship you just secured happens to be in the field you plan on majoring in, these are things that can be taken into account when reconsidering your application.

What not to do

Some students want to appeal a decision because they simply believe they are stronger applicants than other students from their school who were admitted. But colleges won't consider this a valid reason to overturn their original decision. Don't point out the reasons you think you deserve the admission more
than they did.  That just makes you look bitter, and you didn't have access to those applications.  You don't know what their essays were about, or what their letters of rec said, or what their individual circumstances might have been.  Keep your tone positive and focus on what you have accomplished since you applied.

How to appeal

If you decide you want to appeal, carefully read the decision letter the college sent you, and research the admissions section of the college’s website to see if any information about appealing decisions is provided. Some colleges will come right out and tell you that they do not accept appeal requests. Other colleges will not only tell you that they accept appeals, but will also tell you exactly what to do in order to appeal the decision. Follow all instructions the college provides. And if any of their instructions seem to contradict what you read in this guideline, do whatever the college tells you to do.

Write a letter as soon as possible explaining why you want the admissions committee to reconsider your application for admission. Be polite and respectful, and make sure to present new information; don’t just rehash what was in your application. If the college indicates that extra letters of recommendation will be accepted in appeals cases, consider asking a teacher to write a letter of recommendation (a different teacher than you used before). However, you should only do this if you feel this teacher will be able to present new and compelling information.

Final appeal thoughts

I know it’s disappointing not to be accepted to a school you really wanted to attend, but the very best thing you could do while you’re waiting for your appeal decision is to start falling in love with one of your other colleges that said, “Yes.” Visit those schools again. Buy a sweatshirt. Start imagining yourself there. You’ll feel much more positive and encouraged by focusing on a great school that admitted you, rather than lamenting the decision of one who said, “No.”

And remember that the vast majority of college freshmen report that they are happy with their college experience, even those students who were not admitted to schools that were their first choice at the time. Whether or not your appeal is granted, you’re going to go to college with a bunch of 18-22 year-olds and all you have a lot to look forward to.

Introducing our new college counselor: Stefanie Potts

Both parties have kept the news under wraps until it was appropriate to reveal it, but today we can finally announce our newest college counselor.  She's Stefanie Potts.

Who's Stefanie?

First off, Stefanie's someone we like.  She's smart.  She's a great writer and communicator.  And most importantly, she's a good cultural fit here–she's serious about work without taking herself too seriously.   

Since October 2007, Stefanie's been an assistant director of undergraduate admissions at USC.  She's evaluated over 4,000 applications, interviewed over 400 applicants, and each year conducted over 75 presentations.  She also worked in the admissions office at Wash U as an undergrad.  In fact, we really got the sense that Stefanie has been working in college admissions since she was about 18.  That beats all of us. 

Why did we pick Stefanie?

First off, we didn't find Stefanie; Stefanie found us.  A year ago, she sent us a cover letter, a great cover letter that she'd obviously sat down and written just for us.  It was clear she'd taken the time to read our website and get a sense of what we were all about. 

Then she showed up at my college essay workshop for counselors at an annual conference we attend.  No assistant director of admissions at a selective college needs to be taught anything about college essays.  I think she was sizing us up.  I think she wanted to see if we really had the goods and if we seemed like the kind of people she wanted to work with.  I have to admit, I was kind of impressed by that.

But when we finally had her come visit us for an afternoon, it was clear just how perfect she is for this job.  To be a great college counselor here, you've got to be someone that kids will like and parents will trust.  She's got that.  Stefanie knows a lot about college admissions.  She wants to use that knowledge to help kids navigate the process better.  And she wants to do it here.  We liked all those things.

We're really excited

Stefanie will be starting in our Irvine, CA office in June.  She'll be helping seniors with college applications this summer and fall, conducting seminars for our Collegewise families, and fielding our questions about what really went down with Pete Carroll. 

So, everyone say hi to Stefanie Potts!

For those who Twitter…

We can't unleash our full college counseling potential in just 140 characters.  But we can post the links from our blog entries to Twitter for those readers who prefer, well, Tweeting.

Here's the link if you'd like to follow us: http://twitter.com/Collegewise

And if you were previously following us on Twitter and were wondering what happened to our account, that "Wiselikeus" wasn't us.  It was someone pretending to be us, which was a little weird.