The kid who pitches in

Teachers, counselors, coaches–they all love the kid who pitches in.

The kid who pitches in…

  1. …puts your hand up regularly to ask or answer a question in class.
  2. …makes traditional flan for the Spanish Club's fundraiser.
  3. …says "Thank you" after meetings with your counselor.
  4. …offers to help clean up after homecoming.
  5. …helps clear the table after dinner.
  6. …does community service because you want to do it.
  7. …says "Hi" to your teachers when you see them in the hallway.  
  8. …offers to help the kid in math class who obviously is struggling.
  9. …grabs as many soccer balls as you can and puts them in the bag when your coach calls an end to practice.
  10. …picks up the soda can on campus and throws it away.
  11. …sticks up for the social outcast at school.
  12. …drives your friends home when they've had too much to drink.
  13. …remembers your parents' birthdays.
  14. …tells your teacher when you're really enjoying the class.
  15. …helps other people stay positive.  
  16. …asks, "What can I do to help?"
  17. …cheers your friends on at the football games and the school musicals.
  18. …puts your hand up when someone says, "I need a volunteer…"
  19. …stays late after practice to run extra laps with the captain. 
  20. …asks the new kid in school how things are going so far. 

Colleges love the kid who pitches in, too.

How to work with your high school counselor

First, two disclaimers: 

1) I am not a high school counselor, and I'm not related to one.

2 The vast majority of the students admitted to college every year do so without the aid of a private counselor like us.  This is not a post arguing that you need outside help to get into college. In fact, I'm actually arguing the opposite.

I often hear students and parents say that they don't feel well-supported by their high school counselors.

"My high school counselor doesn't even know me."

"The counselors don't tell us anything."

"My counselor doesn't know about college admissions."    

I don't think that's fair to most counselors.

In a lot of those cases, I think there's an unusual dichotomy at work–those parents and students have unrealistic expectations about what their counselor should be doing for them, yet at the same time, they are under utilizing what could be a great resource in their counselor.

What a shame.

If you want a good relationship with your high school counselor that will translate into college admissions support, here are five things parents and students can do.

1.  Develop realistic expectations about how much your counselor can help you.

Most high school counselors don't have the luxury of spending all day, every day, advising college-bound students.  They meet with the kid who's failing geometry and might not graduate, talk with the student who has an eating disorder, get involved when a teacher suspects a student is being abused, mediate parent-teacher conflicts, counsel the student with emotional problems, talk to the police when a student brings a knife on campus–you see where I'm going with this. 

Somewhere in between all of those things, they have to keep up with the constantly-changing landscape of college admissions and try to disseminate that information to students and parents.

If you attend a very expensive private school that has paid "college advisors" on staff who work with a small band of 25-40 students each, then you have every reason to expect that your assigned advisor should walk you through every step of the college process, help you with your college essays, review your applications, etc.  But if you're at a school, even a private school, where counselors work with 100 or 300 or even 800 students each, you need to adjust your expectations.  I'm not saying you shouldn't rely on your counselor for assistance, but you'll need to take some responsibility for driving the process forward. 

2.  Students should initiate regular college planning meetings with your counselor.

If you know you want to go to college, ask your counselor if you can schedule a meeting to discuss your plans.  You don't need to make this a weekly habit–once or twice a semester can be enough for many students.  Talk about the classes you're taking, the tests you'll need to take, and what some reasonable college choices might be.  And don't wait until your senior year to do it.  Starting early will also help you establish a relationship with your counselor so she can get to know you and give you even better advice.

3.  Attend your school's college-related events.

I can't tell you how many times I've been invited by good high schools to speak to students and parents about college admissions and had an audience of 30 from a student population of several hundred.  I hear the same thing from counselors when they do college planning evenings for families.  I often wonder how many of those students and parents who don't attend will later claim that the school didn't help them at all.

I know that high school students' schedules, and by extension their parents' schedules, are stretched thin these days.  But if your school does 1 or 3 or even 5 college-related events in a year, isn't it worth it to go?  Even if you only learned one or two good pieces of information at each (you'll likely learn much more than that), it would still be worth it if you really want to go to college and would like some guidance to help you get there.

4. Read what the counselors write for you.

I've met counselors who spend a great deal of time adding college information to the school's website where any student or parent can access it. Some schools even print this information up into bound packets and distribute them to students and parents.  A lot of that information goes unread.

College admissions is complicated; your high school counselor can eliminate some confusion for you, but she can't make it simple because it's not a simple process.  It might be intimidating to face all the information counselors cull together for you, but trust me, it's a lot easier than having to first locate all of that information yourself. 

5.   Give your counselor the opportunity to do a good job for you.

Are their some bad high school counselors?  I'm sure there are (just like there are some bad doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc).  But the vast majority of counselors I've met are good people who want to do what they can to see kids succeed.  Following the advice I've given you above will help give your counselor the opportunity to do that for you.       

It’s like Facebook for college searches is a free website on which current students at the
colleges discuss their experiences at their respective schools.  The site is full of
links to blogs and online newspapers, campus pictures, and videos for each
college.  Students can also
create a small social network of people interested in the same schools.

The Wall Street Journal said, “This is a college-information
resource built for the age of YouTube and Facebook.”  We agree.

We like Unigo because it gives them a much more
subjective view of a school than they can get from most guidebooks or from the
school’s website.

The only drawback (as of this writing) to Unigo is that they’re
still in the process of adding colleges, so it’s possible that a school you or
your student wants to research won’t yet be on the site.  But they seem to be adding schools at a good
pace, and we’re guessing that Unigo is going to become one of the most popular
college search engines for high school kids. 

How to tour a college without actually visiting

If you can get past the strange spelling of the name, is a great website that
offers online tour guides who give personal tours through campuses all over the
country.  The tour guides interview
current students, admissions officers, faculty, and professors while
highlighting notable information about each college.

Like, this site is new and still adding colleges,
so it’s not quite as robust as we’d like. 
But we’ll use and recommend just about any college resource that kids
will actually use as long as the information is good (which, in this case, it

A gift suggestion

One year from now, current high school seniors will be returning home for
the holidays as college freshmen.  I'm confident that their parents reading this will be proud and delighted to welcome them home, regardless of what college news comes in the mail in the next few

Parents, if you haven’t done
so already, why not tell your senior just that?  Tell your seniors that you'll be proud and happy to see them no matter which college they're returning home from one year from now. 

It’s the perfect gift to give a stressed senior this holiday season.    

When rejection is a good thing

Highly-selective colleges are always going to be picky.  They receive applications from the most qualified students from around
the world.  And almost everyone who applies gets rejected (about 10-15 out of
every 100 applicants gets in).  That's not going to change.

So you can lament that your test scores aren't high enough or that you don't have
enough AP classes or that you haven't yet achieved statewide or nationwide or worldwide acclaim
for one of your activities. 

Or you can reject that thinking.  You can reject the idea that not being good
enough to get into an Ivy League school equates to just not being good enough at all.  Reject the idea that your
admissibility to Duke is a measure of your worth.  Just reject it.

Instead, embrace the idea that hundreds of colleges will almost certainly
take you exactly as you are.  

How “B” and “C” students can show their potential to colleges

Too many students believe that if you don’t have perfect grades, perfect test scores, and a certificate proclaiming that you invented plutonium, you’re not going to get into college today.  That’s just not true.  If you’re a “B” or even a “C” student, you can still go to a good college if you want to.  Here a few tips to give you even more college options.   

1.  Remember that it’s never too late to improve.
If you feel that your GPA isn’t a good representation of how well you can really do, start improving now.  It’s almost certainly not too late.  Colleges will look closely at your junior year performance, and many will even take the first semester of your senior year into account.   They’ll also pay attention to your trend of improvement.  Don’t give up.  Show them that you’re getting better with age.  Even if you’ve only got one semester left to show colleges what you’re capable of doing, show them!  Start now.

2.  Maximize your academic strengths.
Yes, it’s important to try hard in all your classes.  But a lot of students spend so much time trying to fix academic weaknesses that they forget to make the most of their natural academic strengths.  If you’ve always liked history, take demanding history courses.  Be especially engaged your history classes by raising your hand and asking questions.  Take a Civil War history class over the summer at a local community college.  Colleges aren’t just looking at your overall GPA.  They’re always looking for individual areas of academic spark.  

3.  Be a savvy college shopper.
Don’t lament the fact that you won’t necessarily be competitive for the same twenty schools everyone else wants to attend.  Instead, embrace just how many college options you really have.  There are 2500 colleges out there and all but about 100 of them take virtually everyone who applies.   Buy a college guidebook.  Go to a local college fair.  Make it your mission to find colleges that are right for you.  (They are out there, we promise!)  You’ll be a lot more optimistic and the colleges will be impressed with your thorough college research. 

4.  Take responsibility for your academic performance.
A lot of students try to blame other people for their own academic shortcomings, saying things like, “I got a ‘D’ because my teacher didn’t like me.”  Colleges don’t want students who make excuses.  If you haven’t done as well as you’d like to have done in high school, admit it and be honest about why that happened.  Show colleges that you’ve learned from your mistakes by admitting fault and turning your performance around immediately.  Colleges will be impressed by the maturity you show when you take responsibility and do what it takes to change.    

5.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Many of the students who earn the best grades are also the ones who aren’t afraid to admit when they just don’t get it.  There’s no shame in asking for some help.  So if you didn’t understand a single syllable in your trigonometry class today, ask the teacher for help.  If you studied really hard and still did poorly on your chemistry test, meet with your teacher and try to find out where you went wrong.  And if you’re having trouble in a number of your classes and think you might need to make some changes, talk with your counselor and get her advice.  Students who are willing to ask for a little extra help when they need it are the ones who impress teachers, counselors and colleges.

Arrival times

Spend any time in an airport these days and you'll inevitably see lots of kids arriving home for the holidays from college.  They're pretty easy to spot.  They're wearing college sweatshirts, lugging duffel bags (that are probably full of dirty laundry) and they are usually being given a hero's welcome from their families.

Do you think any of those parents welcoming their kids home are thinking to themselves, "I'd be so much happier right now if he were coming home from an Ivy League school." 

I doubt it.

What’s your tag line?

It’s hard to be memorable in an application pool when you’ve been reduced to a few
pieces of paper sitting in a stack with thousands of other
applicants.  So one of the best things
you can do for yourself is to develop a tag line.

I don't mean that you need a slogan (it's never a good idea to write something like "Got Kevin?" anywhere on your application).  I mean that when an admissions officer wants to read your file again and is trying to locate it amongst all the other paper, will she be
able to say something like,

“Where’s that tuba-playing surfer from California?”

“Where’s that journalist who works at her parents’ dry

“Where’s that female ice skater who also plays on the boys’
hockey team?”

“Where’s the dancer who teaches a limbo class for senior

“Where’s that black belt in karate who can break concrete
with her forehead?”

See what I mean?

The way you make yourself memorable, the way you
separate yourself from the pack, is to distinguish yourself not necessarily as a better or smarter applicant, but as
an interesting one.  You are more than your grades and test scores.  You
are not the same as the rest of the applicants.  You are unique.  

But your unique qualities will be more evident if you’re
passionate about what you do, if you love to learn, if you have initiative, and if you're comfortable just being yourself.  Don't try to mold yourself into what you think the colleges want you to be.  Just be who you already are.

Try it.  You’ll probably end up with both a tag line and an admission to college.

Seniors, don’t forget to give thanks

Nobody gets into college alone.  There are always supportive people in your corner who help you get there.  So as you submit the last of your applications, take some time to thank the people who helped you. 

Here are some people who might deserve your thanks.

1. Your high school counselor. 

Even if you never actually met to discuss your applications, counselors do a lot of work for you behind-the-scenes that you might not be aware of.

2. Anyone who wrote your letters of recommendation.

3. The college rep who interviewed you.

4.  Your parents. 

From providing moral support to paying for the SAT tutor, your parents likely deserve a healthy dose of your gratitude. 

5. Your English teacher for reviewing your essays.

6. Anyone else who reviewed your essays as a favor to you (though I'm hoping you didn't shop them around to too many people).

7. The helpful admissions officer who answered your questions or called you to tell you something was missing from your file (don't blow this one off–say thank you!). 

8. Your older brother or sister who lent you some college wisdom.

9. The teacher or tutor who helped you improve your grades or your test scores.

10. Anyone else who helped you, gave you advice, encouraged you, provided emotional support, offered monetary support, or just generally took an interest in your college quest and your happiness. 

It's so easy to say thank you.  And you'd be surprised how often it comes back to you.