Are bright, well-rounded kids boring?

We're training a new counselor in our Irvine, CA office.  Today we discussed highly selective college admissions–what it really takes to get into the most selective colleges. 

The problem with college admissions today is that all the highest achievers–from around the world–apply to the same 40 colleges.  So schools like Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Duke, Georgetown, Yale, Northwestern and the rest of the 40 most famous colleges have far, far more qualified applicants than they can ever possibly admit.  Some of them only admit 1 out of every 10 kids.  So most of the applicants, by comparison, don't stand out.  They feel inadequate because they haven't published a book or written a concerto or invented a way to travel back in time.        

Rachael Toor wrote Admissions Confidential about her time working as an undergraduate admissions officer at Duke.  Here's an excerpt from page 2:

"Most of the students I meet on my travels are BWRKs.  That's admissionese for 'bright well-rounded kids.'  You know, the ones who do everything right.  They take honors classes, study hard enough to be in the top 10% of their class, get solid 1350's on their SAT's (blogger's note:  That's like 2030 on the new scale), play sports, participate in student government, do community service (sometimes even when it's not required).  They're earnest, they're hardworking, they're determined.  They do everything right, and most of them don't have a chance of getting in.  We deny them.  In droves.  Another BWRK. Zip.  How boring."

That's a bleak outlook.  Unfortunately, the fact that these schools are so ridiculously hard to get into only feeds peoples' belief that famous schools offer better educations.  

It doesn't have to be that way.

If you're a BWRK, you are almost certainly not boring.  You're smart, you work hard, you commit yourself to activities, and you probably don't spend nearly enough time goofing off and just having fun.  In fact, you'd probably be even more interesting if you followed your real interests instead of just trying to please famous colleges.  But still, hundreds and hundreds of colleges are going to trip over themselves to accept you.  You just have to pick the right schools.

High school students (and their parents) have a choice.  You don't have to buy into the college admissions insanity.  You can reject the idea of desperately trying to stand out to Yale, and you can embrace the idea of working hard, being yourself, and finding the droves of colleges who absolutely love BWRKs. 

Get a job

Colleges love an applicant who's had a job.  And it doesn't have to be a fancy-sounding internship at your mom or dad's company.  Colleges–and future employers–are even more impressed by real, honest teenage jobs, like flipping burgers or coaching basketball or selling clothes at the mall.    

Colleges know that it takes initiative and responsibility to find and keep a job.  Look up the biography of a successful adult you know, and you're likely to find jobs in their past before and during their college years.

Today, Mark Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks, but when he was a kid, he sold trash bags door to door to make money to buy a pair of expensive high top shoes he wanted.

When he was in high school, Zappos
CEO Tony
Hsieh
ran the lights at a community theater, then became a game tester for Lucasfilm, then worked as a computer programmer.

When she was seventeen, Maya Angelou worked as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco. 

During high school, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor worked at a bargain retail store in
the Bronx and at the local hospital.

Sherwood Rowland won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1995 for his work identifying the causes of ozone depletion.  He spent portions of his high school summers running the local volunteer weather station, a job he cited as "my
first exposure to systematic experimentation and data
collection."

So if you're looking to learn, make some money, and impress colleges, get a job.  And someday when you're a big success, you'll have a great story about your first job back in high school. 

 

For counselors and companies: the importance of the first day on the job

People talk a lot about how employees need to make a great impression on the boss when they begin a new job.  I think it's even more important for the organization to make a great first impression on the new employee.

The last job I had before I started Collegewise got off to a bad start.  I'd moved across the country to take the job, and when I arrived for my first day of work, my boss was in meetings the entire day.  I had no computer, no phone, and no access pass to get to the meeting rooms on the second floor.  It took me almost a week to get all of the things I needed to actually start doing any work. 

I had been excited about the opportunity, but the first day–and the entire first week–showed me that I was working for a disorganized company and a frenzied boss.  That first week killed my excitement and any motivation I had.  So it's not surprising that we do first days a lot differently at Collegewise. 

New employees at Collegewise arrive to work with everything they need to get started.  The desk has been stocked with office supplies.  The computer and phone have been set-up.  The office is decorated college posters, and we get them a coffee mug from their collegiate alma mater. 

They have keys and a corporate card, and their business cards have already been printed.  We have all the forms they need to fill out ready.  We give them a Collegewise jacket and make sure their fridge is stocked with water and drinks.   

We give them our version of an employee handbook we call "Life at Collegewise" where we talk about everything from how to expense a trip to where the best lunch spots are near the office.  We proudly announce their arrival to all of our current families so they know who the new face in the office is.  Then we start them on our 40-hour training program to learn how we do college counseling.  And we've written a 14-page guideline called "Preparing for Your New Employee's First Day" to help our other offices do the same for their new employees. 

When you make your new employees feel welcome and give them everything they need to start doing good work, it shows them how much you pay attention to details.  But more importantly, it communicates that you expect big things from them, that you have expectations that they'll start making contributions right away.  Now any good employee will want to show you that your expectations haven't been misplaced.

Sure, it can't stop there.  You've got to make sure your employees have great second, and third and 303rd days, too.  But while you can't control everything that will happen during an employee's tenure, you have total control over the first day.  So why not make the most of it. 

Coming soon for counselors–notes from our conference

We spent last week at a conference and I missed a few of my regular blogging days.  I'm making up for them with some extra posts to fill in the gaps, but I also wanted high school counselors who read our blog to know that we'll by typing up the notes from the sessions we attended and bundling them together in a PDF file so you can share them with any members of your counseling staff who weren't able to attend.  Many of the sessions were specific to California (like UC and Cal State updates), but there were lots that could apply to any counselor, like changes to the Common App and guidance to share with students about standardized tests. We did this last year and had great feedback from counselors. 

It will probably take us a week to put the packet together, but if you're interested, just keep checking our blog–this is the first place we'll share it.   

Why thank-you notes are so great

I got a great thank-you note the other day.  It was thoughtful and
sincere and really made me feel like this person appreciated the
(actually pretty small) thing I did. 

It was also, of course,
totally unnecessary.  But that's why thank-you notes are so great. 
They're unexpected and a nice surprise.  They're free to the writer,
but worth a lot to the receiver.  It's rare that you can do something
so easy that's so well appreciated. 

So think about a person who's helped you or done something nice
who deserves your thanks.  Maybe it's a teacher, your counselor, your
boss, or a friend who helped you when you needed it.  Write a nice note of thanks and let them know you appreciate their help. 

If you need some tips to write a good one, here's a prior post.

One thing that great leaders do

Jim Collins, a professor at Stanford Business School, wrote a great book that studies history's most effective CEOs.  And one of the traits he found that they all had in common was a desire to see the company become even more successful after they left.  They did everything they could do to ensure the future success of their companies, including selecting and training their successors.  They didn't let their egos get in the way.  They never wanted people to talk about how great the company used to be.  They wanted things to be even better for the company's next generation.     

I think there's a lot of potential here for high school students here.  So much of what you do in high school is temporary.  You're the captain of the basketball team for one year.  You're the president of the French club, or the lead in the school play, or the school board rep, or a section editor of the paper for just one year.  Yes, you need to do a great job, and you want people to appreciate the impact that you make.  But you can make an even great impact if you set up your successor to take over and have even great success when you're gone.

The school year is ending (or has already ended) for many of you.  Are your successors ready to take over what you left behind?  What could you do to help them be even more successful?  You have two options–you assume that it's not your problem any more, or you can play an important part in helping your team, club, organization or other group be successful even after you're gone. 

Look for fun, not facts, on your campus visits

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post (and the author of Harvard Schmarvard, one of our favorites) has a great take on visiting college campuses.  I've shared it before, but since he's bringing the topic back up, I'll go ahead and share it again.  Here's his latest post

His idea that you can just see what you want to see on college campuses, that you can have a little fun without toting a clipboard and taking notes, also works for counselors

Tip for counselors: how to get the most out of a conference

The counselors from our Irvine office are attending the annual WACAC conference this week.  Good counselors and admissions officers spend a lot of time at conferences, so it's important to feel like it's time and money well spent.  Here are a few tips we've picked up during our conferencing years that might help.

1. Don’t be afraid to pick a session based on the speakers rather than on the subject.

Some of the best sessions we’ve ever attended at conferences discussed topics that had surprisingly little to do with our jobs.  But we know when someone like Bruce Poch from Pomona College or Paul Kanarek from The Princeton Review speaks, we always learn something.  Great presenters make for great sessions.  So don’t be afraid to occasionally pick a great presenter over a session whose subject matter might be more relevant. 

2. Try to have meals with people you haven’t met. 

If you’re here with colleagues like we are, it’s easy to huddle with familiar faces during the group meals.  But there are a lot of great people to meet here, and meals are a perfect time to do it.  In fact, some counselors are here without colleagues and will welcome the company.  So get to know new people during the meals. 

3. Attend the social events.
We do love a good conference social event.  It’s a great time to relax and have fun with both current colleagues and new friends who know that several hundred counselors and admissions officers coming together to discuss education makes for one heck of a party.   So no matter how inviting a quiet night in your room may be, spend a little time, well, socializing at the socials.

4. Be on the lookout for tips, information and advice you can use when you get back.
This is something we learned from conference veterans.  It’s great when you can leave a conference excited about new ideas that you can implement into your job.  Experienced counselors know this, and they spend most of the conference on the lookout for those insights.   They enter every session hungry for one piece of information, or one suggestion they can take back and use.  They think not just about what they’re learning, but also what to actually do with that knowledge when they get back.  So feed off that tendency.  Ask questions.  Write down your ideas as soon as you think of them.  Talk with your colleagues not just about what you learned at a great session, but also how you’re going to apply that knowledge back on the job.

5. Remember that you’re here for you, too.
We all go to conferences for the students that we serve.  But it’s also important to use conferences as a chance to have fun, to commiserate with colleagues about the challenges and joys of our jobs, and to recharge our batteries so we can do an even better job with our students when we get back.  If that means that you skip one session to connect over a beer with some new counselor friends you’ve just made, we think that’s OK.