Why not hire a tutor for your student’s BEST subject?

I've often recommended to our Collegewise parents that rather than hire tutors for their kids' weakest subject, why not hire one for their strongest?   Working to maximize a natural strength is always more rewarding than grinding through a weakness is.  And kids who spend all their time working to fix their academic flaws don't have the chance to dive in to the subjects that fascinate them.  They'll never know how far they could have gone with what they loved.  

According to this article in the New Yorker, that strategy of catering to strengths seemed to work out OK for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's parents: 


When he (Zuckerberg) was about eleven, his parents hired a computer tutor, a software developer named David Newman, who came to the house once a week to work with Mark.'He was a prodigy,' Newman told me. 'Sometimes it was tough to stay ahead of him.' (Newman lost track of Zuckerberg and was stunned when he learned during our interview that his former pupil had built Facebook.) Soon thereafter, Mark started taking a graduate computer course every Thursday night at nearby Mercy College. When his father dropped him off at the first class, the instructor looked at Edward and said, pointing to Mark, 'You can’t bring him to the classroom with you.' Edward told the instructor that his son was the student."

How to improve your admissions chances AFTER you apply

Seniors can still do a lot to improve your chances of admission even after you submit your applications.  That's the topic of our next College Admissions Live, our free online show

How to Make a Great Last Impression:
Improving your Chances of Admission After You Apply

With Kevin McMullin of Collegewise and Arun Ponnusamy of Open Road Education

Tuesday, December 7 at 6 p.m. PST. 

We'll talk for about 30 minutes and take questions for 15 minutes.  We hope you'll join us.

What you do vs. where you go

From Tuesday's New York Times


The key to success in college and beyond has more to do with what students do with their time during college than where they choose to attend. A long-term study of 6,335 college graduates published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that graduating from a college where entering students have higher SAT scores — one marker of elite colleges — didn't pay off in higher post-graduation income. Researchers found that students who applied to several elite schools but didn't attend them — either because of rejection or by their own choice — are more likely to earn high incomes later than students who actually attended elite schools.

Make sure you read that last sentence carefully. That was new information to me.  And believe me, I'll be repeating it. 

Updates on financial aid resources

Former high school counselor and continuing fellow inhaler of college admissions information, Cyndy, sent me this site.

I haven't tried it myself, but Cyndy has found it to be an "amazing resource" that she wishes was available when she was still counseling kids.

And I've recommended the book Paying for College Without Going Broke here before.  The 2011 version has now been released and there are a few disappointed reviewers on amazon.com who noticed that the book no longer includes the worksheets for calculating your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) using the institutional methodology.  I suspect this was due to in part to the protracted publishing process–maybe the newest information wasn't available when the book went to print?I'd still recommend the book as one of the best guides to understanding how financial aid really works. 

And to calculate the EFC using the IM, just go here (finaid.org is my other favorite financial aid resource).

A better way to give feeedback

A lot of meetings go like this:  Someone proposes an idea.  The group weighs in with feedback during which time certain people can always be counted on to criticize, refute, and give every reason why the idea won't work.  Whether you're a student in the Spanish Club, a counselor at a faculty meeting, or a parent at the monthly gathering of the PTA members, the next time someone proposes a new a fundraiser, a different system for scheduling student meetings, or a new way of recruiting parent volunteers, here are two ways to make your feedback more helpful. 

1. Start by saying something nice. 

When you start your feedback with, "Here's what I really like about your idea," or "Wow, that's creative.  I never would have thought of that," it puts you and the person with the idea on the same side.  It makes it more likely that any of your constructive criticism will actually be taken to heart. 

2.  Ask a question.

The best way to show someone you're really considering the idea is to show them that you really want to understand.  So ask a question.  Not a question that makes the person defend the idea, like, "We've always done the same fundraiser and it's great.  Why do you want to change it?"  Ask, "If we were to try this, what do you think some of the biggest advantages might be?" 

Our editors actually rely on these techniques when we give students essay feedback.  No matter what we think of a student's first draft, when we write our two paragraphs of initial feedback, we always start by pointing out what we like.  When we go through the essay and make comments, we don't just point out what needs to be fixed.  We highlight funny sentences, great word choice and effective images, too.  If a student proposes an essay idea that we worry might not be the best choice, we ask follow-up questions to make sure we really understand the idea.  And if sentences are confusing, we don't just write, "Confusing." We tell the student that we weren't sure what they meant and ask if they can tell us more about what they were trying to say. 

When you give good feedback, people will be more likely to implement your proposals.  Your criticism will be received without insult.  And most importantly, you'll be demonstrating to the entire group that you can be counted on to weigh in thoughtfully and honestly. 

If your son or daughter resists the college search

Jay Mathews has a great way of helping parents relax.  He'll remind you that teens are going to do things like pick colleges based on how good looking the students are, and he'll make you feel OK that your son or daughter is doing the same.  And yet he somehow manages to say things like that and without sounding like he's belittling kids.

His piece today is for parents whose kids arent's as interested in thorougly evaluating colleges as Mom and Dad might want them to be. 

"I have collected enough stories about children dragging their feet on college applications to know that losing your temper rarely works. Patience is usually the best strategy. The junior who refuses to talk about college will have a different attitude when he is a senior and some of his friends have realized high school is not forever. Applications can be put together quickly. Some colleges still have spaces long after application deadlines — indeed, long after they have sent out acceptance letters." 


Start here with your financial aid questions

I've shared the site finaid.org here before as a treasure trove of great financial aid information.  But this is one of those sites with so much information that it would be easy to spend a lot of time there and still overlook a tool or article that might have been exactly what you needed. 

Thankfully, they offer a great site map here.  Spend five minutes scrolling through the list and you're guaranteed to find exactly what you're looking for. 

You know a financial aid site is comprehensive when they even include a specific section with jokes.  I can't say that I knew there was such a thing as jokes about financial aid. 

Five tools for private counselors

If you're just starting a private counseling business or if you already have one that you're always looking to improve, here a couple tools we use that we've found particularly helpful.  I thought sharing what we've found works might spread the good word about some good products.

1.  Quickbooks

Quickbooks makes accounting easy.  You can invoice customers, track expenses and even accept credit cards (if you sign up for their merchant service).  Here's a bonus tip:  Hire one of their Quickbooks experts to set it up for you.  It's easy to install, but they can help you set up your chart of accounts and teach you how to use it properly.  Trust me.  We had one come visit us for an hour for only $75.

2.  Emma email newsletters

If you want to send out email newsletters to customers or prospects, Emma is a great tool.  You put your text in a template that Emma designs for you and then Emma sends it out.  Easy.  We use something called their "Trigger series" that actually makes all of this automatic.  I wrote 30 newsletters with tips about college admissions, and the day someone signs up to receive it, the trigger series sends one every three weeks, automatically.  You can create your own sign-up screens and Emma handles all the list management so you're not tracking people on a spreadsheet.  And the price is based on how many people you email.  We've got 2500 people on our list and it's still very reasonable.  It's a great tool.  In fact, we're featured as one of their "Customer stories."

3. Typepad

I write this blog on Tyepad.  We had our layout custom designed to include our logo and branding, but you can sign up for a free service and use one of their templates.  People talk a lot about social media and how important it is, but I don't think having a Facebook page or a Twitter account is as important as having something to say that people want to read.  And nothing we've done has helped us build more of an audience than this blog has. 

4.  Google Apps

Ah, Google.  Your Apps program hosts our email (with huge storage capacity) even though it's @collegewise.com, not @gmail.com.  You let us share documents through Google Docs.  You help us do all our summer scheduling of editors and interns using Google calendars.  And you do it all for free.   

5.  37Signals

OK, here's something that we don't use, but I want to find a way to.  37Signals makes software that's designed to make you more productive.  They've got a project management program, a program to keep track of your contacts and even some free programs like online to-do lists and editing of documents.  They're a good company run by smart guys who are passionate about what they do.  I've read their books and will probably be attending one of their seminars next year, and I'm not even a customer yet.   

It seems like some combination of their tools would be great for a private counselor but I just haven't identified the right way to use it yet.  If you do, write to me at kevin (at) collegewise (dot) com. (That's my cleverly coded email address so the spammers can't fish it off our blog).  In the meantime, I'm going to start 2011 with free trials of their programs (which they offer) to see if I can find a way to use them. 

Five ways to make a great impression on college interviewers before you meet them

You start to make an impression on your college interviewer before you ever sit down and answer your first question.  Here are five ways to make that impression a good one.

1.  Relax.

A lot of students panic when their interviewer first contacts them to schedule the interview.  Relax.  Nerves ruin conversations.  And you're not going to say anything that will destroy your chances of getting into college.  I'm not suggesting you should refer to your interviewer as "Dude" on the phone, (there's a difference between being relaxed and being disrespectful).  But if you can just be yourself, the interviewer will probably look forward to meeting you even more than she was before.

2. Be genuinely appreciative.

College interviewers deserve to be thanked (most are volunteer alumns who aren't getting paid to do this).  So why not lead with that and say, "Oh, thanks so much for calling"?  Or you could start your email reply with, "Thanks so much for getting in touch with me."   It's surprising how many students neglect to do this.

3. If you receive a voicemail or an email, return it promptly.

I've heard several college interviewers tell stories about leaving voicemails or sending emails to kids who don't respond for 3 or 4 days.  That doesn't send a very good message to your interviewer.  I'm not saying you need to be on high alert and respond within 15 minutes.  But during the college admissions process, it's a good idea to check (and reply) to your email at least once a day.  And if you get a voicemail from an interviewer, return it the same day if you can.

4.  Be excited about this opportunity.

Interviewers don't have enough power to torpedo your chances of admission unless you really do something stupid like admit how much you like to beat people up.  So be excited about it.  A college interview is a great thing.  You're going to sit with someone whose only agenda is to learn more about you and answer any questions you have about the school.   If the interviewer can hear in your voice that you are excited about the opportunity to meet, it's a validation of your engagement in the process.

5.  Say thank you.

I know I already told you to be genuinely appreciative, but it can't hurt for me (or for you) to say it again.  Thank the interviewer at the beginning and at the end.

Thanksgiving…college style

If you're a high school student or the parent of one, Thanksgiving will be a lot different someday.

When kids are in high school and they see their families every day, Thanksgiving can seem like just another holiday.  But Turkey Day is a big deal for college kids.  It means heading home to fill up their tanks with family time.  They get a home-cooked meal and time with their siblings and the chance to regale everyone with their college stories about dorms, classes and friends.  They're thankful for their new lives at college and for the home lives that are always there for them.

Parents of college kids get to welcome them home and celebrate the family being together again.  They're reminded what it was like to have a full house before their college students moved out.  Sure, parents might get a little nostalgic for those pre-college days when the kids were still home.  But the truth is that while parents will be thankful to have everyone back together, they're also thankful to see for themselves that their kids have become happy college students who are also a little older and wiser.

And nobody ever begins a Thanksgiving toast with, "I'm thankful I/you attend an Ivy League school."  

If your family is about to enter or is in the throes of the college process, let Thanksgiving be the day that you don't think about the associated stresses.  Don't think about the SAT or the trigonometry grade that won't raise higher than a B.  Don't think about what's happening in the admissions offices and whether or not your essays could have been better.  Don't think about how disappointed you'll be if Duke says, "No." 

Instead, just think about what you're thankful for.  It'll remind you how little the SAT matters in the bigger scheme of things.  And imagine what Thanksgiving will be like one day no matter where you (or your kids) go to college.