A good source for SAT Subject Test requirements

So if you need information about SAT Subject Test requirements, here is the best place I've found to start.  The folks over at Compass Education Group have researched which schools require the SAT Subject Tests (formerly called the SAT-IIs) and shared everything they've found here

Of course, you should always check with the individual colleges (as you should with any admissions policy).  But Compass makes that easy by giving you the link to each of the colleges' websites where you can find this information. 

Why high school activities can be career training

Getting ahead in your high school activities is a lot like trying to get ahead in a company.  Yes, you've got to make your boss (president, coach, editor, etc.) happy.  But you can do other things, too, that will be noticed and appreciated.   

1.  Figure out how to make your customers happier.

If a business delights its customers, that business is going to grow.  And if you are an integral part of making customers happy, you're going to have a good career.

Does your club or organization exist to provide something for others–like a service, entertainment, or guidance?  If so,  you've got customers.  The school newspaper and the student government exist to serve students.  Dance teams and cheerleaders exist to entertain fans at sporting events.  Peer mediators exist to resolve conflicts between other students. If you're in any organization that has customers, what ideas do you have that would make customers happier?  What contributions could you make to help achieve that goal. 

2. Energize and inspire your co-workers.

Some people at work just know how to make everyone else around them better.  They usually lead by example and show other people what it looks like to cheerfully work hard in an effort to make things happen.  They never say, "That's not my job."  What could you do to inspire the people around you and lead by example?  What recognition or acknowledgment could you give to other people to let them know that you recognize and appreciate their efforts.  What could you do to help your fellow tennis teammates, or members of the Spanish Club, or musicians in the jazz band celebrate and enjoy their experience even more?  Start by being as engaged and enthusiastic as possible, and other people will follow.   

3. Develop a deep product knowledge.

A copywriter at an ad agency who knows how to write good copy will do a good job.  A copywriter at an ad agency who knows how to write great copy because she's studied how to do it, who's also researched the most successful ad campaigns and knows the copy by heart, who's read about the business of advertising and has learned why some companies succeed and others fail, who wants to sit in on the meetings with the entire team so she can learn more about account management, design and media planning, that copywriter is going places. 

What more could you learn about your "business?"  Whether you're on the tall flag team, the school yearbook staff, the Red Cross Club, the student government, the school newspaper, or the football team, I promise you there is more you could learn about what it takes to be successful. You don't necessarily have to learn everything, but the more you know, the more valuable you will be.

Don't wait until you have a career to learn how to get ahead.  Start getting ahead now. 

Two questions college recruiting hopefuls should ask themselves

There are two important questions you have to ask yourself if you want athletics to help you gain admission to college.

1. How badly do you want to play your sport at the college level?

If your answer is, “Not that badly, but I’ll do it if it will help me get in,” then college athletics won’t likely be in your future.

Think of it this way.  If you were considering who to ask the to prom and you heard one of the people you were considering say this about you, “I don’t want to go prom with him, but I guess I would if nobody else asked me,” would you take that as a good sign?

Of course you wouldn’t.  She doesn’t want to go with you.  And it doesn’t sound like you’d be having a good time together anyways.

College coaches don’t want you if the only reason you’re expressing interest is to get admitted to the school.  That’s why coaches don’t just evaluate your talent; they make every effort to evaluate your desire to play at the college level.  Coaches have a limited number of spaces to fill on their teams.  They want to know that the people who agree to fill those spaces will be dedicated athletes, not people who will quit as soon as they move into the dorms.

2. “How good am I?” 

Are you recognized as being a good athlete at the county level, state level, or national level?  Have your coaches or opposing coaches suggested that you have the ability to compete at the collegiate level?  Does your success in my high school sports career seem similar that of the high school careers of athletes who are
currently playing your sport at the collegiate level?

To help you answer this last question, visit the websites of 7-10 schools that interest you.  Go to the athletic section, look up your sport, and read the biographies of all of the players.  Within these biographies, there will almost always be information on their high school careers.  This will help you gage your sports success against athletes that were recruited by this particular school.

If most of the players were all-league, captains, MVP etc. and you are achieving these same accolades, you might have found a good
athletic match at this school.  If, however, all of the athletes were featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated while still in high school, and you surmise that you not at the same level,
you may want to investigate some different schools.

You have to ask yourself both–and you have to answer them honestly.

Are you the next Bill Gates?

Bill_gates_03In high school, Bill Gates was a kid who was absolutely fascinated with computers.  He got himself excused from his math classes so that he could learn more about programming.  He would sneak out of the house at night to use a computer on the University of Washington's campus (the college kids were using it during the day).  His high school hired him to write computer code to schedule students into classes.  So Gates did–and made sure the software would automatically place him in classes with a higher ratio of females to males.  He wrote a program in high school that would count traffic, and sold it to the city for several thousand dollars. 

According to the book Outliers, Gates estimated he spent about 10,000 hours learning and exploring computer programming during his youth.  He loved it, and was totally obsessed with it. 

I didn't go to high school with the man, but I am certain that Bill Gates never once concerned himself with whether or not his passion for computers would get him into a "good" college.  He didn't ask if it would "look good" on his applications.  He didn't worry if he should be getting more leadership positions or joining more clubs or doing something else that highly-selective colleges were "looking for."  He just found something he loved, devoted himself to it, mastered it, and used his knowledge to impact his school and his city. 

The results speak for themselves…

1. After high school, Bill Gates went to Harvard.

2. Today, he is the founder of Microsoft and has a net worth of approximately 56 billion dollars.

You can't fake passion.  And that's why colleges look for it.  They don't want someone who chose activities based on what he thought would be impressive.  They want the next Bill Gates (though they would likely prefer that you not drop out of college, which Gates did to found Microsoft in 1975).

   

College admissions simplified

My friend Paul Kanarek at The Princeton Review speaks weekly at local high schools on the college admissions and testing process.  Lately, he's been pointing out that admissions officers really just want to know three things about applicants. 

1. Are you smart enough to succeed here?

2. Do we like you?

3. Do other people like you?

If you look at every element of your application that admissions officers evaluate, from the classes you take, to the impact you make in your activities, to the subject on which you choose to write your college essays, every one of them can be traced back to one of these questions.

Are you indispensable?

I just finished reading an interesting book called "Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?"  It wasn't written for high school students trying to get into college; but if you took its lessons and applied them to your high school life, I think you'd find yourself happier, more fulfilled, and more appealing to colleges. 

Here's the gist of the book:  If you want to have a successful career that you enjoy, it's not enough to just work hard, follow instructions, do what your boss tells you to do, and avoid mistakes.  That's fine if you do that, but it won't make you indispensable.  A boss can find lots and lots of other people who will follow instructions and do good–but not indispensable–work. 

Indispensable could mean being the best sales person who makes millions for a company.  But it can also be the grocery checker who's so warm and enthusiastic that customers love her and specifically come to that store because of her. It could be the waitress at the coffee shop who remembers customers' names and their favorite drinks and makes a great impression on everyone.  It's anyone who loves her work, puts her whole self into it, and in the process delights customers and co-workers.  It's these people who are getting and keeping the best jobs today because they're indispensable.  They can't easily be replaced.

Being indispensable isn't all about talent.  It's about attitude, investment, and energy that you bring to your job. You don't have to be the CEO of a company to do that, and you don't have to be the club president, the editor of the school newspaper, or the captain of the football team to do it in high school.

If you're on the student government and end up with the job of collecting tickets at the door for the homecoming dance, you can do that one of two ways.  You can show up on time, sit where you're supposed to sit, collect the tickets, not make any mistakes, and leave when it's over. 

Or you could show up a little early to help set up.  You could suggest that the table be moved to a different spot, because you can see that its current location will make it difficult for people to make an orderly line once the big crowd shoes up.  You could smile and enthusiastically greet people when they arrive.  You could tell people how great they look (and be especially complimentary to those kids who don't hear that kind of praise very often).  At your break, you could offer to go get some water and snacks for everyone working the table with you.  You could figure out ways to keep being valuable once most of the students have shown up, like picking up the tickets that students have dropped on the ground, checking in with the chaperones to see if they need anything, and offering to run out for more ice when you see it's running low.  And when the dance is over, you could be one of the last to leave, staying to help clean up and offering to help carry the tables back the cafeteria where they came from.

Which of those two approaches makes you more indispensable to the student government?  Which makes a bigger impression on the people around you?  And most importantly, which makes you feel better about yourself when you go home that night? 

Taking tickets is not a highly-visible job.  It's not something you'll list on your college applications.  It's not going to win you any awards.  There are few reasons to do it if you expect a tangible and immediate reward in return.   

But you have a choice about how to approach your role for that one night.  You can phone-it-in, do what you're supposed to do, and not make any mistakes.  Or you can use it as an opportunity to actually do a great performance, to bring your whole self to the role, to lead by example and show people that you're the kind of person who brings a lot to any job you do, whether or not it's important and visible. 

It's this kid, not necessarily the ones who have the most impressive titles, who's going places.

When I've written about kids who are active and engaged in class, those are the kids that teachers find indispensable. 

When I've written about kids who bring a positive attitude and work ethic even if they're not the best player on the soccer team, those are the kids that coaches find indispensable. 

When I've written about the kid who does community service not to chalk up hours but because she cares deeply about the mission of the organization, or the kid who doesn't get the lead in the school play but volunteers to run the lights, or the water polo player who leads the team's fundraising drive, or the kid who doesn't hold an office in the Spanish club but makes authentic tamales everyone loves for the meetings, or the kid who does scientific research with a college professor because he just has to know more about physics, those are the kids that are indispensable.

So, are you indispensable?  If you're not, what could you start doing today to become that way?

No fear of failure

I write and talk a lot about the importance of celebrating your strengths as opposed to spending all your time trying to fix your weaknesses.  But here's a secret about smart, confident, successful people–they actually fail a lot.  

Those people don't like to fail, but they understand that the more often you challenge yourself, the more often you're going to fail.  And they're not afraid of it.  They know that you can't have a big success without some failures along the way.  And the most likeable of them aren't afraid to talk about their failures. They'll share those stories openly and maybe even laugh at themselves when the failure was embarrassing.

When you can laugh about a failure, a weakness, or something that was outright embarrassing, it's endearing.  It shows confidence and how comfortable you are just being yourself.  People love hanging out with others who are like that.  And colleges love those people in their classes and dorms.

Those who can laugh at themselves would have no trouble completing the following statements.  In fact, they'd probably enjoy it.

1.  I am quite possibly the world's worst__________.

2.  The most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me is ___________.

3.  It bothers me that I don't seem to be very good at ___________.

4.  I think my greatest weakness is____________.

5.  An example of a time I failed (and I mean really failed) was ___________.

Try it.  Complete the blanks and have a laugh. 

I'm not saying you should resign yourself to failure and give up.  I'm saying that the only people who never fail are the ones who always take the easy way.  Take the harder way and have a laugh when it doesn't go so well.

There's a reason why college applications and interviewers ask questions like these (#5 shows up on lots of college applications).  They want the people who are confident enough to risk failure and still hold their heads high when it happens to them.

5 questions you should be ready to answer in college interviews

Most college interviewers aren't trying to test you; they're really just trying to get to know you better.  If you're ready to give *good answers to the following five questions, you will almost certainly be prepared for just about anything you're asked.

1.  Why are you applying to this school?

2.  What's your favorite subject, and do you intend to pursue this in college?

3.  What do you enjoy doing when you're not in class?

4.  What are three interesting things about yourself that I wouldn't know from your application?

5.  What's an example of a mistake you made, a failure you endured, something you aren't good at, or anything else that you probably wouldn't bring up unless somebody asked you about it?

Your motivations for college, your intellectual interests, your interests outside of class, your personality, your level of humility and self awareness, those are the kinds of things interviewers want to get a sense of.  Be comfortable discussing them and you'll probably have a great interview.   

*A good answer is one that's honest, that's not contrived to sound impressive, that reveals something about yourself and that has a personal anecdote to back it up.  You're just trying to help them get to know you better.  You're not weaving a tall tale.

What Nike and highly-selective colleges have in common

Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player in the history of the game.  When he came into the league in 1984, nobody had ever seen spectacular, high flying dunks like Jordan could do.  He won six NBA championships.  He was the league MVP 5 times.  He led the league in scoring 10 times.  He was Defensive Player of the Year in 1988.  He could shoot three-pointers.  He could rebound.  He was a leader, a tenacious competitor, and just to top it all off, he was one of the worst trash talkers to ever play in the NBA (I would have been, too, if I could back it up like Jordan did).

It was no surprise that when Nike introduced their Air Jordan basketball shoe early in Jordan's career, it became the hottest selling athletic shoe of its day.  Nike's marketing execs were smart enough to attach their brand to Jordan and bet on him early.  They could see that he was great and was only going to become even greater. Over 25 years later (and nearly a decade since Michael left the game of
basketball for good), the Air Jordan is still one of the most popular basketball
shoes.  It was brilliant marketing foresight.

That's a lot like what highly selective colleges are doing when they select kids. 

The nation's most selective colleges get applications from the smartest, most exceptional applicants in the college admissions pool and then reject almost all of them.  For the 10% that are accepted, the colleges are betting on their success like Nike bet on Jordan.  Given what those kids have already accomplished by age 18, it's a smart bet. 

So, how much credit do the colleges deserve when those kids go on to do great things?

I think that to give too much credit to the most selective schools for the greatness of
their graduates is a bit like saying that Michael Jordan achieved his success
because of his trademark shoes. 

Successful people don't do great things just because they attend a famous college.  They do great things because they've worked hard enough to become great in the first place.  Kids who have the intellectual curiosity, work ethic and passion for their interests to be accepted to a highly-selective college are more likely to apply those same traits once they get there.  Put a bunch of those kids together and you have a lot of potentially great future college graduates.  They were, after all, great before they ever moved into the dorm.

I don't have anything against highly selective colleges.  I don't deny that they can offer a unique experience for an exceptional kid who's seeking the opportunity to surround herself with ridiculously smart, motivated, passionate students who are also published authors, concert pianists, patent holders, all-American athletes, artists, physicists, etc.

But that experience is a product of the population as much if not more so than it is of the college and the education it provides.  Nobody with an ounce of common sense has ever believed that a basketball shoe alone would actually get you into the NBA.  Please don't believe that a famous college will make you great. 

When he was a kid on the varsity team, Jordan wasn't dreaming of having a shoe named after him.  He just wanted to be a great basketball player.  So don't make your high school years about trying to get accepted to an Ivy League school.  If that's the only reason you're working hard, you're missing the point. 

Your goal should be to become great–at math, painting, the drums, hockey, poetry, drama, computer programming, video production, singing–whatever it is that you love to do.  Work hard enough at being great and the right colleges will appreciate you.  

Then you can bring your greatness (and your shoes of choice) with you to college.

How important are PSAT scores?

I think students and parents need to find reasons to stress less,
not more, about the college admissions process.  The PSAT is a good
example of this need. 

The stress students and parents feel
regarding PSAT scores (which are being returned to students about now),
is often totally out of proportion with the actual relevance of the
scores.  

The PSAT is just a practice test.  That's all.  It
was created to let students take a non-threatening trial version of the
SAT before they take the real thing.  It can't hurt you.  It can't
damage your future.  No student in the history of college admissions
has ever been rejected by a college because she scored poorly on the
PSAT. 

Even good PSAT scores don't actually get you into
college.  If you did well on the PSAT, it's good news because you will
likely do well on the SAT when you take it–and that exam absolutely can
help you get into college.  Doing well on the PSAT is like doing well
on a practice test a teacher gives you before the big final exam; it's
a good sign but you'll still need to score well when it counts. 

In
fact, the only way colleges use PSAT scores is to purchase names for
direct marketing mailings.  If you took the test, you and your mailbox
will see what I mean later this spring.

So if you didn't do
well on the PSAT, don't launch into a full scale panic attack.  As my
friend Paul Kanarek from The Princeton Review always says at the dozens
of PSAT scores back sessions he does at high schools every year, "You
are not allowed to panic over your PSAT scores." 

For anyone
who's not happy with your PSAT scores, use your results as your early
warning signal that you might want to do some work before you take the
real SAT.  That's what test preparation is for (a service whose cost
ranges from thousands of dollars in private tutoring to $15 for a good book).

Now, I can hear some people saying, "But it's NOT just a practice test!  What about National Merit scholarships?" 

Yes,
a small number of students (about 8,000 of the 1.5 million test takers)
are awarded scholarships every year, and the PSAT scores are the first
of many rounds of qualification you must endure.  If you're notified
that your PSAT scores qualify you for future consideration, that's good
news (being in a line for future potential scholarship money is always
good news).

But for everyone else, again, don't panic.  You're
in good company with the other 1.5 million test takers who will still
have plenty of the over 2,000 4-year colleges from which to choose.

My
point here isn't that students should blow off the PSAT.  My point is
that students and parents would be well served to remind themselves
that if you lose sleep over your PSAT scores, you're placing far, far
more emphasis on the exam than any college will.  That would be like
playing one bad game of pick-up basketball with your friends and
worrying that you won't make varsity because of it.  It just doesn't
make sense.

Less stress, not more.