On high-pressure parenting

Loyal reader George sent me this recent Economist piece, “High-Pressure Parenting,” which poses the following: “We invest far more time and money in raising our children than our parents did. [Writer] Ryan Avent wonders whether we’re doing it in their best interests – or in ours.”

As often as I share advice on this blog about resisting over-parenting, what resonated with me is that Avent, a parent himself, seemed to genuinely consider the quandary that many parents face. Are we putting our kids at a disadvantage if we don’t jump in and over-parent like seemingly so many other families are doing? He acknowledges that it’s difficult. He sees it firsthand with his own kids. And he ultimately arrives at this realization:

“But in life, unlike in education, there are no winners. University is full of binaries. You get into Harvard or you don’t. You graduate or you don’t. You finish top of the class or you don’t. Life is not like that. There is no finish line after which results are compared and winners and losers determined. Parents are investing massive amounts of time preparing their children to win a race that cannot be won. Those children learn to run like mad in pursuit of some elusive end result, until they give up or expire from exhaustion.”

We’re hiring in Southern California!

Our Collegewise offices in Southern California (Orange County and Los Angeles) are hiring for several positions, including college counselors and a full-time filmmaker. You can find the individual listings and all the associated information on our careers page. If you think that you or someone you know might be able to find a professional home here, we’d love to hear from you.

Truth, or nothing at all

I called a customer service line today and was greeted with an automated message that said,

“Thanks for calling_____, where delighting the customer at every interaction is our goal, because that’s what we do at ______!”

30 seconds later, a robot voice told me, “Extension 202 is not available. Leave a message.”

Is there any universe where that interaction delights somebody?

What’s the point of making that statement if you’re not going to make every effort to actually do it? You’re setting yourself up to disappoint, and you’re setting your customer up to be disappointed.

Private counselors, schools, and colleges, what would happen if you were audited to substantiate the statements you make on your website, promotional materials, or outbound recordings?

It’s tempting for businesses and other organizations to write or say what will sound impressive, compelling, or interesting. But those statements fall apart when the actions that follow don’t support them.

Better to have those statements tell the truth. Or remove them entirely and say nothing at all.

Where the good parts are waiting

Imagine if you’d spent three-and-a-half years of nearly full-time preparation to secure a date to the senior prom with one particular person. It would be almost impossible not to feel enormous gravity on the day you finally make the ask.

All the work and focus and dedication has come to this. Your friends are watching. Your family is watching. It’s finally here. No turning back now. Will it be a yes or no?

Of course, while the intensity of that drama will peak on that day, it will diminish every day after that. If you get a yes, you go to the prom together. If you get a no, you go to the prom with someone else. The drama of that one day is incongruous with the event itself. Getting a yes or no to the prom isn’t the same as getting a yes or no to whether or not you’ll receive a life-saving kidney transplant. But all the build-up sure can make it feel that way.

The day the decision from your dream college arrives is not unlike this.

Yes, your college education has a lot more long-term life consequences than your prom does. But when you’ve spent three years dreaming—and working toward the goal—of attending one school (or a short list of schools), the day that decision arrives will carry enormous gravity, especially given how many people close to you will want to know the answer, too.

But believe it or not, decision day will eventually prove to have been (almost) just another day. Whether your dream school says yes or no, the story that college will eventually hold in your life won’t be about this day at all. It will be about everything that happened next, how you went to that dream school—or how you found an even better fit someplace else–how you made new friends, how you found your calling, how you overcame unforeseen challenges, and how you learned and grew and had fun for four years.

Seniors, parents of seniors, and friends of those seniors, as decisions roll in, please try to remember that decision day is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning of one. And what happens next is where all the good parts are waiting.

Guidelines for emailing colleges

As juniors begin their college searches in earnest, it’s likely that you’ll have questions as you explore potential schools. And given that many (if not most) colleges will share an email address (usually monitored by the admissions office) where you can send questions, it’s important to remember that there are real people reading your inquiries so that you don’t inadvertently annoy the same people who may later read your application. So here are a few guidelines to start—and keep—you on the right email footing.

Please start with this past post about how to write a good email message. The advice applies to pretty much any email you write to someone who isn’t necessarily a friend or family member.

Then read this one with some more specific advice for emailing colleges.

Those two posts will tell you just about everything you need to know to write what will likely be a refreshingly good email message, and to avoid common mistakes.

But here’s one more tip—please respect their time.

Don’t ask a long list of 10, 12, or 20 questions. I often receive emails like this from people who are considering applying for a job at Collegewise, and it feels like I’m being asked to complete a homework assignment. If you have a question—or two, or maybe even three—ask them. But don’t turn your email into a written interrogation.

Also, try to ask questions that a person who has likely never met you could feasibly answer. Admissions officers know a lot about their colleges, but they likely know nothing about you. That’s why “Would it be better for me to major in biology or physics?” will likely be almost impossible for an admissions officer to answer responsibly. But, “If I would like to double major in biology and physics, would it be appropriate to indicate that on my application?” is a question that’s right in their wheelhouse.

My intention here is not to scare any student off from emailing a college. Don’t worry—you’d have to write something pretty inappropriate, offensive, or scary to actually damage your chances of admission with one or two emails.

But a student who (1) ignores these guidelines, and (2) does so over and over and over again will start to make a bad name for him or herself in the admissions office.

Is your weakness worth improving?

I’ve written before that too many college applicants spend their high school years trying to fix their weaknesses. Colleges don’t expect you to be perfect. If you want to stand out, you’re a lot better off maximizing your strengths than you are obsessing over what you think will be perceived as a blemish on your application.

But some weaknesses might be worth addressing. And since there’s no formula to help you decide when that’s the case, here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you decide whether to improve or just let it be.

1. Is it actually a weakness?
If you’re getting a D in math, or if you’ve lost friends because you just weren’t all that nice to them, those are weaknesses. And more importantly, they can be improved. But if you got a 1460 on the SAT and you were hoping for a 1500, you don’t have a testing weakness. Your score is good enough already—you’re better off moving on and maximizing a strength. Something just short of perfection is not a weakness. Neither is the identification of one thing that you’re great at. The college admissions process can skew your perception in these areas. So before you go dedicating time and energy to fixing something, make sure the weakness is real, not just perceived.

2. Is the weakness improvable?
Some clichés are true, and “Nobody’s perfect” is one of them. Not every weakness is necessarily improvable. And others that might be improvable can take a lot of work to actually do so. So before you dive in and commit to getting better at something, ask yourself if it’s something you really can improve, and if so, if you’re committed to doing the work it will take to get there. What you want to avoid is spinning your wheels and going nowhere, or spinning just long enough to improve a little, but giving up before you reach your goal. Decide ahead of time if this is a weakness you can change, and if you’re willing to do what it takes to actually do so.

3. Would you be happier or healthier if you fixed this weakness?
It’s hard to argue against fixing a weakness that you genuinely believe would make you happier or healthier if you improved it. But please ask yourself if doing so would actually make that change. Your doctor is the best judge of the health part, and it’s best to double check with her before you launch on your self-improvement plan. But you are the best judge of the happy part. Will this change make you happy, not just the colleges or your coach or your parents? I’m not suggesting that you (or your doctor) are the only one worth listening to. But you’ve only got so many things you can focus on at one time. Make sure that as many of them as possible are things that won’t just make you more successful, but will also leave you happier and healthier.

4. Is the weakness preventing you from doing something, or getting somewhere, important to you?
This is connected to question #1, but focused more on the outcome rather than the emotion behind it. If you’re 50 points away from the SAT score you need to hit for your dream school, that might be worth addressing, especially if you haven’t prepped yet. If the varsity basketball coach told you the only reason you got cut was because of your free throws, spend some time on the line. If you’re at a B+ in your history class and you need at least an A- to get into the AP level you really want to take next year, double down on your study time. Successful people work hard to overcome these kinds of challenges all the time. And putting in the work to reach a goal that means something to you is different from trying to fix every little thing that’s less than perfect.

5. What price (literal or figurative) will you need to pay to fix this?
Money, time, energy, and attention are at a premium for high school students and their families. Will spending more of each mean you’ll be spending less someplace else? And if so, can you afford to reallocate those funds? If you don’t need to pay any money to fix it, and you’ve got enough time, energy, and attention to go around, great! But if you’d have to spend money on a test-prep tutor your family has already paid more than was budgeted, or it would mean less time practicing the trumpet that you love, or you’d need to cut back on your time performing in the school play that’s just about the most fun you have all week, those are real prices to pay. And it’s worth asking yourself if the cost of improving will be worth the eventual payoff.

Collegewise is hiring a full-time filmmaker

*Update 2/20/17: This position has been filled! You can find our current openings here. Thanks for your interest. 

Collegewise has decided to hire a full-time filmmaker to capture what we believe, what we do, and how we do it. I’m sharing the entire job post below so interested parties can read it here, and to make it easier for readers to forward to anyone they think might be interested.

We’re hiring a full-time filmmaker

At Collegewise, we’ve spent 17 years helping our students tell their stories. Now we’re hiring a full-time filmmaker to help us tell ours.

  • Do you believe in the power of authentic stories?
  • Are you the person who can see what’s fascinating about others and their experiences?
  • Can you use film to capture and tell stories people can’t help but watch?

Collegewise, the nation’s largest college counseling company, is looking to hire a full-time filmmaker. Not someone who just shoots video, but a creative storyteller who can conceive of, film, edit, and produce a beautiful finished product.

What is Collegewise?
Collegewise is a college counseling company that helps high school students find, apply and get accepted to the right colleges for each student. Our goal isn’t necessarily to get every kid who works with us into an Ivy League school. Instead, we show families just how many wonderful colleges there are while helping our students apply and get accepted to schools they’re excited to attend. We do it all with just the right mix of advice, encouragement, and occasional cheerleading to make the process exciting and enjoyable. We also speak in public, write, and constantly look for ways to spread good college planning information to anyone who needs it, whether or not they join our program.

That’s our story in words. We want you to help us tell it on film.

Here are a few ideas we want to try:

  • Capture some of the hundreds of glowing testimonials we’ve earned from families.
  • Transform the trainings we offer internally and externally into engaging educational videos that counselors can watch when, where, and as often as they’d like.
  • Create a recruiting video to show job applicants what it’s really like to work here.
  • Introduce our counselors to families (here’s a sample we did with a freelancer a few years ago).
  • Capture the audience’s energy, reactions, and feedback when we speak at high schools and community events.
  • Show how we change a process that’s full of stress and negativity into a journey that families enjoy together.

Those are our ideas, but we also need your vision. There will be many days when you’ll decide for yourself what’s exciting, what’s possible, and what the most important thing to work on is. This job will be a mix of “What do I need to do today?” and “What can I do today?”

You won’t be making slick commercials here designed to sell. You’ll be making short, authentic documentaries designed to engage. We’re always telling our students to be themselves rather than fake versions of who they think colleges want them to be. Let’s walk that talk together. Capture what’s real about us and our work, then help us share it with people most likely to appreciate it.

You’ll have plenty of creative freedom, but you’ll also need to deliver effective and polished finished products.

Who are we looking for?

  • You have documented experience with the entire process of envisioning a film, capturing the footage, editing, and producing a beautiful finished product.
  • Like a great director, you know how to vet and choose who should go in front of the camera, how to make them comfortable, and how to get the best out of them.
  • Like a great producer, you know how to create a wonderful finished piece on time and on budget.
  • Since you’ll be a one-person film department, you’re comfortable with digital media and all the ways to share what you create.
  • Any experience creating educational content, especially in the form of online courses, will be a big plus but not necessarily a requirement.
  • We’re open to considering remote workers, but the ideal candidate will be located in Southern California so that you can regularly visit our Orange County (where we’re headquartered) and Los Angeles offices.

We’re looking for someone who’s ready to stop hustling to find your next freelance gig, and ready to start being an important, full-time part of something bigger. You’ll be one of us. You’ll come to our annual company meetup. You’ll visit offices, get to know our counselors and our customers, and join our marketing strategy meetings. We think you’ll tell our story better when it’s your story, too.

What’s on our watchlist?
Here are a few examples to get a sense of the type of finished products we’re looking to create here:

We’re not asking you to duplicate these—we want your own vision and style. But we hope this gives you some idea of what’s likely to resonate with us.

How to apply
If your interest is piqued, get to know us a little better on our website. Find out more about what we do, who you’d be working with, and what we believe. If you like what you read and think you could find a professional home here, please send an email to jobs@collegewise.com, and use the subject “Filmmaker.” Share why you want to work here, samples of your work, and anything else you think might help you stand out and help us get to know you better. You might also consider checking out our five tips for job-seekers. If you have questions about the job, please email us at the above address rather than call us. We promise to respond to you quickly.

Thanks for reading our post. We’d love to hear from you, but if we don’t, we hope you find the perfect professional fit someplace else.

It’s called trustworthy for a reason

Less than a month before my younger brother’s high school graduation, my mother was getting concerned that he was never going to complete the service hours required to pass his government class. That angst wasn’t entirely without merit. I don’t remember the specifics of the requirement, but with 30 days to go, the math was definitely not in his favor.

So while I was on a visit home from college, my mom somehow convinced me to inquire about the service status, and if necessary, to prod my brother into action.

Let’s just say my intervention was not at all well received.

I can see points on both sides here. The service hours were required to pass the class. No pass, no graduation. That would have been a calamitous end to an otherwise successful high school career.

But my brother’s resolute determination not to field status inquiries just made my mother that much more anxious. Imagine if instead he’d replied,

“Mom, I’ve got straight A’s, I’m ranked #1 in my class, I’ve been accepted to Harvard, and you’ve never had to ask me to do my work. I know this project is important. I won’t come to you a month from now and break the news that I’m not graduating from high school because I didn’t get this done. Please, just trust me.”

It probably would have made both their lives easier.

Parents, your kids will need to manage their lives without you once they leave for college. The time to let them develop those skills is now. And that will require some trust on your part.

But students, if you want your parents’ trust, you’ll need to earn it. The most effective way to do that is through your actions. Take responsibility for things you can do yourself. Show them that you’re able and willing to drive your own college process. Learn from your occasional mistakes. Then keep demonstrating that you deserve that trust.

And don’t forget that your parents have likely spent most of your life taking care of things for you. It’s nearly impossible for them to release all that responsibility overnight. It’s a transition, one that will require you to occasionally provide status updates you may rather not provide. Provide them anyway. Give a little more information than you’re inclined to. Doing so will eventually lessen their need to check up on you. And if it doesn’t, you’ll have the demonstrated track record necessary to have a conversation about giving you a little more credit, and a little more trust.

It’s called trustworthy for a reason.