Beyond the bottom line benefits

A lot of the reasons you go to college have to do with the bottom line.  If you have a college degree, you'll have more opportunities.  You'll get better jobs.  You'll have advantages that can lead to more success, more money, and arguably a better life than you'd have without a college education.  Those are the bottom line reasons to attend college–a means to an end.  They're all valid.

But college can give you other benefits beyond the bottom line.

In September, 1989, I started college and met my freshman roommate, Craig.  We lived in a dorm room the size of a matchbox and have now been good friends for 21 years, ever since that day we started our college careers together.

Tonight, I'm attending his 40th birthday party. 

People who went to college reap the bottom line benefits every day.  But ask them how their lives are better as a result of going to college, and they'll likely mention very different benefits, like the people they met who are still in their lives today.

You don't have to go to a famous college to reap the benefits–bottom-line or beyond-bottom-line.  

Getting into a good college is not that difficult

NewQuotation

Remember that getting into a good college is not that difficult.  It may not be a college that your grandmother has heard of, but you have a better choice of colleges and universities here than in any other country in the world. You might pause for a moment and appreciate that. Notice all those young people moving here from China and Korea and the Philippines and Egypt and Nigeria and other places? They know that you can get a splendid education in the United States with nothing more than a basic understanding of English and a willingness to work hard. The vast majority of colleges accept most of their applicants, and some good ones still have empty spaces in September." 

Jay Mathews
10 Ways to Survive 11th Grade

Don’t blame other people–find a way to make it work

When you're explaining any type of academic under-performance, be careful blaming other people. 

Sometimes your academic performance suffers for a legitimate reason.  Maybe you were ill and had to miss several weeks of school.  Maybe you were only recently diagnosed with a learning disability.  Maybe you had to help take care of your sister when your parents could no longer send her to daycare.  You shouldn't hesitate to explain those circumstances that really were beyond your control. 

But blaming other people sounds like this:

"I got a 'C' because of a personality conflict with the teacher."

"I didn't do well in Spanish, but the language department at my school is terrible."

"I was just 3 points away from 'A,' but my teacher refused to raise the grade."

When you make excuses like those that blame other people, the colleges inevitably think,

"Well, another kid in that class still got an 'A'."

I don't deny that those excuses may be legitimate in some cases.  But sometimes, you get a bad teacher.  It could happen in college, too.  And after college, you might have a bad boss.  Or a bad landlord.  Or a bad mother-in-law.  When that happens, you won't always be able to just resign yourself and blame someone else.  Sometimes you're stuck and you have to figure out a way to make it work.

High school is a great training ground for this.  If you really do have a personality conflict with a teacher, what are the other students doing differently that you are (or are not) doing?  If the language department at your school really is terrible, what steps could you take to improve your own learning experience?  And if you really were just 3 points away from an A, remind yourself that lots of things, from Olympic gold medals to sales awards at big companies are based on systems where the highest numbers win. 

Colleges–and future employers–aren't looking for the students who blame other people.  They want the students who find a way to make it work. 

Balance rigor with reality

Some students can take the hardest available classes and still do well, have fun, and sleep regularly.  But everyone has different abilities.  Part of being successful in high school means pushing towards, but not past, your own academic limits. 

You should enjoy your activities.  You should get enough sleep.  You should see your friends, have fun and occasionally do things that have nothing to do with college admissions or improving yourself.  

There is nothing wrong with a course schedule that demands hard work.  Some stress and the occasional late night are OK, too.  But no college in the world would want you to make yourself unhappy or unhealthy because of your classes.  Even the highest achievers still need to be happy and well-adjusted teenagers.       

If you’re hoping to go to one of those schools that rejects most of the people who apply, you’re going to need to take the most demanding courses offered at your school and you’ll need to get A’s in just about all of them.  But most of the over 2000 colleges don’t demand that kind of perfection from their applicants. 

Work hard and take classes that challenge your academic limits.  But balance that rigor with reality so you can be a happy and well-rested teenager, too. 

Ask Collegewise: How do I get started as a private counselor?

Liz asks :

I’m interested in becoming a private college counselor but I don’t have any experience.  Can you recommend some of the best ways to learn more about this field so I can get started?

There are a lot of ways you can learn more about college admissions.  Read books.  Go to conferences.  Read blogs like ours, or this one.

There are also a number of college counseling certification programs (many of which are offered online) that you could consider, like those at UCLA or UC Berkeley.

You can also learn about college counseling by actually helping counselors.  Why not contact a high school in your area and offer to volunteer your time as an administrative assistant to the counseling staff?  If you have a full time job and can’t be there during the day, offer to help them organize their college nights or to proofread their monthly newsletter.

You could also volunteer your time to programs that assist students, like College Summit.

Like any field, it’s going to take some time for you to develop an expertise.  But there’s plenty of room in the marketplace for people who want to help kids and are willing to put the time in to be great at it.

Thanks for your question, Liz.  If you’ve got a question of your own, email us at blog [at] collegewise [dot] com.

YouTube in college applications

Newsweek launched a new education site today, and I was interviewed for a piece about colleges inviting students to submit YouTube videos as part of their applications.  You can find the article here.   

Interests make you interesting

My friend's husband owns a bar.   Last month, I had a fascinating conversation with him about how he runs it. 

This guy was raised in Ireland and has a vision for how an Irish pub should be run.  He knows exactly what kind of feel the bar should have.  He knows how to adjust the volumes of the orders he places to stock the bar based on the seasons and how much business he can expect to see.  He knows what type of customer they want to serve and how to make those patrons happy.  And most importantly, he knows how he wants the Guinness poured.  

As he explained it to me, any legitimate Irish bartender knows that Guinness needs to be poured a certain way.  The glass needs to be held a particular angle.  The pour should be stopped halfway through and restarted again to help create the perfect head on top of the beer.  When a customer complains that he wants his beer faster, he'll remind the customer that he ordered a Guinness, not a Bud Light.  And nothing drives him crazier than seeing one of his bartenders rush a pour.  As he put it,

"If you're going to pour it, pour it right."

This isn't a guy who takes over a conversation by talking only about himself.  He only kept sharing more because I kept asking him questions about it. I was totally fascinated by it. 

I don't own a bar.  I have no interest in owning a bar.  And I don't even enjoy Guinness.  But the fact that he feels so passionately about what he does makes for great conversation.  It's interesting to learn about something from a person who knows so much more about it than I do.

That's what you want to do in your college applications. 

If you're a basketball player, there's a good chance the person reading your application wasn't.  If you're a guitarist, an artist, a stamp collector, an EMT, a dancer or a Civil War buff, chances are that your reader won't know as much about it as you do.  

So don't hide how much you know or how passionate you are about the things you do.  Show the colleges that you care about your interests like this guy cares about his Guinness.  Your interests make you interesting.  They make the colleges want to meet you so they can know more.  And when a college wants to meet you, that gets you a lot closer to being admitted. 

What you can learn from new college freshmen

Across the country this week, new college freshmen are moving into their dorms.  If you could see those kids, you'd notice something.

None of them are lamenting the rejections they got from schools back in the spring.  Nobody's talking about what their SAT scores were or whether or not they had 4.0 GPAs back in high school.  Nobody cares about any of that.  They're all too excited about finally being in college to spend time looking back. 

And none of the moms and dads who are helping their new college freshmen move into their dorm rooms are thinking about any of those things either. 

When you study hard and still get a ''C" on your chemistry test, or you take the SAT a third time and you still don't get the score you wanted, or you cross your fingers for an acceptance to Duke but a rejection arrives instead, it's easy to feel like your college dreams are slipping away.

But remember what those new college freshmen are reminding us this week.  At some point, you're going to be moving into a college dorm.  That's going to be an exciting day no matter what school you're attending.  And when that happens, things like your SAT scores aren't going to matter anymore. 

They next time you feel overwhelmed by the pressure of college admissions, when the stress is overshadowing any sense of fun and anticipation for your college future, think of those new freshmen and what it will be like when you're one of them. 

For counselors: Share your concerns with parents

When you're working with a student but find yourself on opposite sides of an issue with the parent, a good way to get back on the same side is to share your concerns rather than to debate.

For example, imagine a parent wants her student to add several more highly selective colleges to a list that you feel already has too many reach schools.  If you tell her that this is a bad idea, if you share statistics to show her that these are reach schools, if you tell her that her son has too many reach schools and needs to find some more realistic options, it creates a conflict.  It doesn't matter how gentle you are in your communication.  Even though you're confident in the advice you're giving, she hears you dismissing her request and maybe even feels like you aren't supporting her son.

Instead, just tell her what your concerns are.

"Dan is a good kid and he's worked hard.  He deserves to get a lot of acceptances and to have college choices he's excited about next spring.  But he's got a lot of reach schools on this list right now.  And if we add more, my concern is that he'll receive too many rejections and not enough acceptances.  And I don't want to see that happen to him."

Now she hears that you're just trying to protect her son from too much disappointment.  She's going to want the same thing.  Sharing your concerns instead of trying to win a debate puts you back on the same team.  Now you can work together find a solution that's best for her son. 

Sometimes parents make suggestions about what their kids should be writing in their college essays.  If you're worried that the parents' suggestions wouldn't serve the student's best interest, don't dismiss the idea.  Don't create an argument.  Just tell the parent what your concerns are.  

"I understand your suggestion and I actually agree with you that it could be an interesting story.  But sometimes parents notice things about their kids that kids don't notice about themselves.  Stephen didn't mention the community service experience as being important to him.  When I asked him about it, he didn't seem to have much to say.  I want the admissions officers to get to know the enthusiastic, likeable
kid that I know. My concern is that if we push him to write about community service, his heart won't be in it and they won't get to see the same kid that we see."

We teach our counselors at Collegewise that it's virtually impossible for a parent to be upset with you when you are genuinely, dutifully looking out for the best interest of their student.  Even if a parent disagrees with your recommendation, if they know that you're personally invested in the success and happiness of their student, they'll be appreciative of your intentions.

How great students are like Academy Award winners

Great students who get noticed by colleges don’t just have high GPAs.  They deliver great learning performances.

Lots of actors have great careers.  But the few who win an Academy Award are recognized for one particularly great performance when
the movie and the role and the script seemed to match perfectly with their abilities.  They’re not necessarily better actors than those who don’t win.  And they aren’t necessarily great in all of their movies.  But they work hard in every film, and when that one  perfect role came along, they made sure to deliver their best performance.

That’s a lot like how great students approach learning.

Yes, you should work hard in all your classes.  But the best students, the ones who love to learn and who will stand out to colleges are always on the lookout for their chance to shine in a subject.  They do more than just get an “A;” they actually turn the experience into an award-winning opportunity.

If you have a history teacher whose class you can’t wait to attend every day, jump in and deliver an award-winning student performance.  Put your hand up in class. Participate in the discussion.  Tell the teacher how much you’re enjoying the class, and be specific about what you find interesting.  Play the role of an engaged and enthusiastic learner, not just the kid who wants to get an “A.”

If you’re taking a video production class at school and you love it, find a way to deliver an award-winning performance and get really good at video production.  Read how-to guides about it.  Take a class outside of school at a college or community college.  Put what you’ve learned to use by producing great videos of water polo games, or the school musicals, or the graduation ceremony.

If you love Spanish, don’t stop at AP Spanish.  Go to Spain over the summer and come back fluent.  Volunteer as a translator or language tutor for recent immigrants.  Get a part-time job where your Spanish can be put to use.

And don’t do these things just because they’ll help you get into college.  That’s like an actor taking roles he doesn’t want to do just because he thinks they might earn him an award.  That doesn’t work in acting, and it doesn’t work in college admissions.

Award-winning performances come from someone doing what you love and flourishing at something you really enjoy.  That’s why it’s not realistic to be an award-winner in every class.  You’ve got to take the learning to new levels when the role is right.

Yes, it’s good to earn a high GPA.  That’s like an actor who always gets good reviews for his films.  But if you want to stand out to colleges, find the teacher, class and/or subject you enjoy the most and deliver an award-winning performance.