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.

Looking for colleges with no-loan policies?

The inimitable Mark Kantrowitz has not only put together a list of more than six dozen colleges in the US that have no-loans financial aid policies for low-income (and some for even middle income) families, he’s also listed the AGI (adjusted gross income) on which the policy is based for each school.

It’s hard to argue with the financial planning of choosing a college you don’t take on debt to attend. And this list is a good place to start if you’re taking that approach. But remember three things: (1) just because a college isn’t on this list doesn’t mean that all of their packages contain loans; (2) you don’t know the specific makeup (grants/scholarships, loans, and work study) of your financial aid package at any college until you actually apply for both admission and aid; (3) you retain the right to refuse the loan portion of any financial aid package you accept.

Learning door-to-door

An 8th grader from a local middle school knocked on my door over the weekend selling holiday wreaths as part of a school fundraiser. She probably had no idea that the simple act of attempting a task so many of today’s kids outsource to their parents was about to make me the easiest sale of her day.

I try to resist the tired middle-age proclamations about how things were done “back in my day.” In fact, I think that modern advances, especially around technology, are often making today’s kids’ lives harder, not easier.

But whether the kids of my generation were selling Girl Scout cookies or collecting our neighbors’ payments for the newspapers we’d delivered dutifully, I think our parents did us a favor by sending us out with nothing more than encouragement. It takes guts to knock on a door of someone who’s unlikely to be happy to see you. It takes guts to deliver a sales pitch to a stranger, to deal with rejection, and to keep coming back for more. And it takes guts for parents to let their kids develop their own guts.

When a school has a fundraiser based entirely around selling holiday wreaths, what’s the point of the entire exercise? Is it for a parent to sell the wreaths at work or even just to write the check, to take the work and experience and learning away? Or is it to send kids outside of our watchful gaze and let them learn to navigate their way in a world that doesn’t come with instructions or with a parent clearing away all the obstacles?

Some parents may push back and say that they’re just protecting their kids. I understand that inclination now that I’m a parent far more so than I ever did before. But not only does the data suggest that the world is safer for kids today than it ever has been—it also shows the alternative of keeping our kids on lock-down until they’re 18 or 21 or 37 puts them in a different kind of harm’s way.

Parents spend a lot of time swallowing their fear. It starts in the delivery room, and continues when watching kids toddle off to kindergarten and when they ride away on their bike for the first time. Parents who’ve already dropped an older child off at a college dormitory can attest to the lump-in-the-throat moment of watching them walk away to begin their lives as college freshmen (I get misty just thinking about it, and my oldest hasn’t even turned four yet).

This 14-year-old wreath-seller stood on my doorstep and delivered her pitch. She was nervous, but she did it. I asked her how things had gone that day—she sighed, but without an ounce of resignation answered, “I’ve gotten rejected nine times in a row.” She’d heard a range of reasons for the no’s—a few said they weren’t in the mood, a few others said they’d think about it, and one told her they didn’t believe that hers was in fact a real school and that the entire pitch was a scam.

But I think she’ll be even more likely to stand in the face of a future project where success isn’t guaranteed. I think she’ll be a little braver when she heads in to speak to her counselor or asks a teacher for help or sits for her college interviews. I think she’ll be more resilient if a part-time job or a prom invitation or a college says no. And I think those lessons will improve her odds in those and any other setting she faces where there aren’t any directions to follow, where her skills with human interaction and persuasion are a lot more important than her ability to select the right multiple-choice answer on a test.

And she’ll be back to deliver my wreath on Monday, December 10.

More helping, less hurting

It’s not easy for parents to offer helpful support to kids while simultaneously stepping back to allow them to drive their own lives. If you’d like some advice from experts on how to achieve that delicate balance, Join Collegewise counselors and fellow parents Kirsten Hanson-Press and Julie Simon at the following free webinar:

How Parents Can Help Without Hurting
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
5 p.m. – 6 p.m. (PST)
Click here for more information or to register.

I hope you’ll join us.