Parent involvement in college applications

From Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admissions and Beyond

"What admissions officers look for most in an application is authenticity. An authentic voice is very clearly recognized by an experienced staff member who reads hundreds of applications each year.  The problem, however, is that we find far fewer authentic voices now, probably because so many applications have been coached to be something that others think the college desires, to be something other than who they really are.  Admissions officers everywhere tell students to be themselves in the application–and we really mean it because we have a tendency to eschew the overly packaged candidate.  Parents often do not realize that when they get overly involved in their child's application–when they help write the essays, for example, or dictate how their son or daughter should answer the questions–they can actually contaminate their child's authentic voice. Admissions officers may not see the match if the application reflects a mixture of the student and other adults pretending to be the student."

Marilee Jones

Former Dean of Admissions, MIT

Scheduling quiet time

What would happen if you turned off your phone and your email and just focused on your work for a couple of hours?  No emails, no phone calls, no texts.  Don't worry; they'll be there when you come back. 

What if you told your friends and family you weren't available during that time.  What if you knew that for the next 1 or 2 or 5 hours, not a single thing or person would interrupt you.  How much work could you get done?  How much more focused would you be? 

We're going to try it.

Starting this summer, the counselors in our Collegewise Irvine office are going to start scheduling up to five hours a week of "Quiet time."  During that time, we won't be answering emails or phone calls.  We'll just be focusing on our work, like reviewing applications and
essays, researching colleges for students, going through our files and
checking on the progress of our students. 

We won't even knock on each other's doors and ask if we need anything from Staples or if we'd like more coffee.  Quiet time will be sacred. 

We think it's going to help us get more done in less time and be even more effective in our work.  We think we'll get to spend more time with the families in our program.  We'll also get to leave work at a reasonable hour more often, even during busy season. 

As great as constant communication may be, we're all having to contend with a lot more interruptions than we ever have before.  There's something to be said for focused, uninterrupted quiet time to just get your work done.  We're going to try it; I think students should, too.

Thanks to Rework for the suggestion.

Fifty summer activities for high school students

What should you do this summer?

First, you should sleep in.  Not every day, but certainly more than you do during the school year.  You should have fun and hang out with your friends and do things that have absolutely nothing to do with college applications.  Colleges don't expect you to spend every waking second learning and volunteering and improving yourself.  It's still OK to be a normal teenager. 

But colleges are also looking for motivated kids who do other things in addition to logging some well-deserved rest and fun this summer.  You don't have to spend money on an expensive program; you just need to spend your time doing something interesting that excites you (while you deservedly relax and recharge your batteries a bit). 

So here's a re-post from May 2009 of fifty summer activities you can do for free or almost free.  All of these are positive, productive and interesting to potential colleges.  Pick the one(s) you feel you could really get excited about.  Or use them as inspiration to come up with your own ideas.  Then get going and have fun.

    50 Ways to Spend Your Summer

    1. Take an interesting class at your local community college.
    2. Get a part-time job at the mall. 
    3. See how many books you can read this summer.  
    4. Work in your family's business.  Consider doing so for free.
    5. Think of ten people–teachers, coaches, family members, relatives–who deserve your thanks.  Write them a hand-written letter of at least one page expressing your appreciation and detailing how they've impacted you.  Tell them what you're going to do to make them proud and spend the summer doing it.
    6. Take saxophone lessons.  
    7. Coach little league.  Or basketball.  Or soccer.
    8. Work at a summer camp.  
    9. Volunteer at the local mobile health clinic, or the animal shelter, or the public library.  
    10. Tutor kids.  
    11. Start a business with your friends.   
    12. Set a goal that you are 99% certain you won't be able to achieve this summer.  Then go all out and try to achieve it as though your life depended on it.  You'll either get there or get much, much closer than you were at the beginning of the summer. 
    13. Learn how to write computer programs.  
    14. Read to the blind.  
    15. Teach something.  
    16. Learn to paint.  
    17. Pick something that really interests you and see how far you can go with it.  
    18. Take classes to become an emergency medical technician.  
    19. Learn sign language.   
    20. Pick a cause in your community that you care about.  Find groups who care about it, too.  Organize people. 
    21. Offer to intern for free someplace where the work seems interesting, like the city councilman's office, or an advertising agency, or the local newspaper.  
    22. Play guitar at coffee shops and see how much money you can make this summer. 
    23. Learn CPR. 
    24. Cook dinner for your family once a week.  Each time, learn a new dish that you prepare.  Write your recipes down and make your own family cookbook. 
    25. Volunteer to lead tours of local state parks.   
    26. Buy a college guidebook and learn as much as you can about 20 colleges you know nothing about today.  
    27. Raise money for someone or something that needs it. 
    28. Learn something that is pure fun, like bongos or hip hop dance or how to make your own purses (check out your local community colleges' "community education" programs). 
    29. Pick something you love and figure out how to use it to make contributions to others, like playing piano in a jazz band, teaching residents at a retirement home how to use a computer, or helping run the lights for a play at the community theater.  
    30. Work full time and give all the money to a charity of your choice at the end of the summer.  
    31. Pick a subject that fascinates you and challenge yourself to learn as much as possible about it. 
    32. Learn karate. 
    33. Teach karate. 
    34. Join a book club. 
    35. Organize a book club. 
    36. Go to your school principal and ask what you could do, for free, to improve the school.  You could paint a classroom, clean lockers, or refurbish the lunch benches.  Better yet, enlist five friends to do it with you.  Don't just tell colleges you want to make an impact.  Make one.  
    37. Set a goal to learn as many new things as possible this summer–facts, skills, concepts, etc.  Write a blog detailing what you've learned so you can share it with cyberspace. 
    38. Build an iphone app. 
    39. Master one subject or skill you currently don't know anything about. 
    40. Hold informal soccer conditioning workouts, or barbecues for the new student council members so you can get to know each other better, or meetings at Starbucks with your co-editors to brainstorm story ideas for the paper this fall.  Show colleges you can organize people and lead them.    
    41. Have a neighborhood bake sale for the French Club in which all sales are conducted in French.  
    42. Get a group of kids from the drama club together and enroll in an improv class. 
    43. Pick a classic author and read all of his or her works. Find out what all the fuss is about Twain or Hemingway or Plath or Dickinson. 
    44. Take the hardest college class you can find and enroll in it "not-for-credit" so you can challenge yourself with impunity. 
    45. Visit as many colleges as you can in a 30 mile radius of your house.  Take your friends with you.  Write your own reviews of each school and share them with people. 
    46. Learn to cut and style hair.  You'll be a savior during prom season. 
    47. Vow not to watch any TV this summer.  Not one single second.  Pick something cool and fun and productive to do instead.    
    48. Find a class offered at a local college that looks fascinating.  Email the professor and ask if you can sit in on a session or two just to experience what the class is like.  
    49. Train to run a 10k, or a half-marathon, or a marathon, or to do a triathlon.  And get your friends to join and train with you.  Consider raising money with your efforts and donating to a worthy cause. 
    50. Pick the five most enticing things on this list and do them.  At the end of the summer, email me at kevinm (at) collegewise.com and tell me about your experiences.  I'd love to hear from you, and if you give me permission, I'll share your story here on our blog.

      A message for the senior class of 2010

      If you’re a high
      school senior, you've likely decided where you're going to college (and
      you probably won't have much reason to read our blog for long).  So
      before you go, let me just say–congratulations.  You did it.  I hope you've taken some time to celebrate the fact that you're going to college, wherever is is that you'll be going.

      Believe me, you've got a lot to look forward to.

      Whether
      or not you
      were admitted to your first choice school, you’re going to
      take classes that you actually want to take.  You’re going to learn from
      professors who have dedicated their professional lives to one
      particular subject and are willing to share their knowledge with you.
      You’re going to go to
      parties.  Good ones.  You’re going to date. 
      A lot.  You’re going to
      meet more new people and make more new friends than you’ve ever had the
      opportunity to meet in your life.  Some of those friends will be in your
      life forever.  Some will stand at your wedding one day.  Some will play
      with your kids and tell them how you both pulled an all-nighter in your
      dorm studying for your chemistry final or took a road trip for spring
      break.  It's going to be a great four years as long as you commit to
      making them great.

      Great college experiences are equal opportunity employers; they do
      not discriminate on the basis
      of where your school ranks of the US News "Best College" list.  So if you're not excited yet, it's time to get there.  Wherever you go, the opportunities will be there waiting for you to take them. 

      But remember, you
      don't get to do a first draft of college.  Wherever you're going,
      don't waste the next four years.  Lean into them.  Get all the learning
      and fun out of them that you can.  You deserve it.

      Thanks for reading our blog,
      congratulations, and have a great time in college.

      A reminder for students who are waitlisted

      Waitlisted students, even though you've elected to be placed on a waiting list for a college you really want to attend, you still have to officially commit to a school that accepted you, and today is the last day to do it.  Don't forget.

      And when you officially do commit, allow yourself to be excited.  Don't just spend the next week or two weeks or two months crossing your fingers that you'll be taken off the waitlist.  I know it's not easy.  But you really should make today a celebratory day.  This school you've picked said, "Yes."  They didn't need to wait to see who else enrolled before they admitted you.  They deserve some excitement, and so do you.  Make an emotional commitment to this school.  The waitlist school is your back-up plan.    

      College decision day

      Tomorrow is May 1, college decision day for seniors.  If you haven't yet signed your name and committed to a school where you'll spend the next four years, tomorrow is the last day to do it.  So… 

      1.  Remember to send your "Statement of Intent to Register" and your deposit to your chosen college.  And when you do, make sure you re-read your letter of admission.  

      2.  Return the paperwork to your other colleges indicating that you will not be attending.  It's a nice thing to do.  It makes the colleges' jobs easier knowing who doesn't plan on enrolling, and there are a lot of anxious students on waiting lists right now who can be admitted when colleges are certain of their enrollment numbers. 

      3.  If you're notifying a college in writing that you will not be attending, there's no reason to feel pressure to write a long explanation.  You're not breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend–you don't need to come up with reasons.  Just be brief, but nice.  Something like this would be fine…  

      "I am writing to inform you that after discussing my college options with my family, I've decided to attend the University of Michigan.  Thank you so much for considering me, and have a great year with your new freshman class."

      4.  This is a good time to review all of the material you've received from your chosen college.  Is there a housing application?  Do you need to submit final transcripts?  Is there an orientation you can attend this summer?  I know it can be daunting to sort through all the material you receive, but it's worth it if it means you won't miss something important.

      5.  You should celebrate with your friends and/or family tomorrow.  Tomorrow will be one of those rare "Once in a lifetime" days.  There will never, ever be another day in your life when you officially decide where to spend four years of college.  Treat it like a big day, because it is.  Even if the school where you're heading wasn't at the top of your list, you still have every reason to be excited.  C'mon.  Live a little.  You know where you're going to college next fall.   

      Making college worth your time, money and memories

      Interesting post from Seth Godin today that makes this argument–the notion that graduating from college is the key to future success has existed for hundreds of years, and it's about to be exposed as a scam for several reasons.

      1. With some notable exceptions, the educations offered by most colleges aren't really all that different from one another.  

      2. The price of colleges has risen much more than the pay increase you get from attending one has.

      3. The public is about to realize that colleges can easily manipulate their rankings, so the rankings really don't mean anything.

      4.  The data shows that the famous, most selective schools aren't necessarily better than the others. 

      I'm not sure I'm ready to write off the value of attending college, but I am absolutely ready to say this. 

      Just being a college graduate is not special; lots of people do it with varying levels of post-college success.  Just being there for four years doesn't guarantee you a better life.  And just managing to get accepted to a school that rejects most applicants isn't a guarantee that the world is going to throw jobs and money at you. 

      It's what you do while you're in college that matters, not where you go.  It's up to you to make your college years worth your time, money, and memories.

      Would you quit an activity for $1,000?

      A lot of students think that once they start an activity, they should never quit because it would look bad to colleges. But colleges don’t want you to just plod through something for the sake of sticking it out. Successful people not only know how to commit to things, but also how to quit.

      You change a lot while you’re in high school. A club or activity you joined as a freshman might lose some of its oomph by the time you’re a junior. Good quitters can sense when an activity, a job, a project or a relationship isn’t going anyplace good or is just making them unhappy. So they quit and move on, and they don’t beat themselves up about it.

      One of my former Collegewise students was a standout football player, but he quit right before the start of his junior year. Football was making him miserable. He realized he just wasn’t the type of guy who would ever enjoy, as he put it, “doing something where he was regularly congratulated for trying to take someone’s head off.”

      My student wanted to do other things that he thought would make him happier. So he quit, joined a steel drum band at his high school and started volunteering at his church. He went on to attend and graduate from Notre Dame.

      When you give time and effort to an activity, it should give something back to you. If you hate every second of marching band practice and are pretty sure that lugging your tuba around every day after school has caused permanent damage to your spine—stop. Don’t march in the band anymore. Find something else that you enjoy with lighter equipment.

      When quitting pays big
      Knowing that quitting is an option can also strengthen your commitment to things you really care about. The online retailer Zappos bribes new employees to quit. “The Offer,” as it’s known at Zappos, is the brainchild of CEO Tony Hsieh. Every new call center employee at Zappos goes through a four-week training program during which time they earn their full salary. At the end of the program, Zappos offers $4,000 to any new hire who wants to quit. Only about 2 to 3 percent of the people take the money and run.

      By giving new employees an easy way to quit, Zappos fills its ranks with people who really want to be there.

      Are you doing an activity that your heart’s just not in anymore? If the answer is, “Yes,” why are you still doing it? Why not find something you love enough that you’d never take the bribe to quit?

      Keep in mind, not all quitting is good. If you love being on the volleyball team, but quit just because you didn’t get picked as the starting setter, maybe you should stay and work to earn your spot back?

      You get to choose which activities you do outside of class. If you make the wrong choice, or if what used to make you happy just isn’t working for you anymore, don’t be afraid to be a good quitter and make a different choice.

      Excerpted from my book: If the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the Right College and Getting Accepted

      Inspiration is perishable

      I just finished a great business book called "Rework."  And like a lot of business books, it's got plenty of application for high school students, too.  Here's an example.

      Page 271:  Inspiration is perishable. 

      "Inspiration is like fresh fruit or milk.  It has an expiration date.  If you want to do something, you've got to do it now.  You can't put it on a shelf and wait two months to get around to it.  You can't just say you'll do it later.  Later, you won't be pumped up about it anymore.  If you're inspired on a Friday, swear off the weekend and dive into your project.  When you're high on inspiration, you can get two weeks of work done in twenty four hours.  Inspiration is a time machine that way…Inspiration is a now thing.  If it grabs you, grab it right back and put it to work."

      The next time you're excited about something, jump in and do it now.  If you've got a fundraising idea for the soccer team, start it.  If you write stories and come up with an idea you love, put it down on paper.  If you play music and get excited about putting a band together, get your first practice scheduled.  If you're excited about a new book or a project in physics or a new training program to get you in better shape for baseball tryouts, start.  Do it now. 

      What's the worst thing that could happen?  Maybe you're not as excited about the idea when it's finished.  But that's not likely to happen.  And even if it does, you'll probably have learned something along the way.

      More on parents (not) helping with college essays

      I got a few emails from parents in response to my post where I advised that they not get involved helping their kids with college essays.  Most completely agreed with me, but there were a few who swore that they helped their kids successfully (and that the acceptance letters from Princeton and Yale were proof that it worked). 

      I wasn't suggesting that no parent has the knowledge or ability to help your own kid with college essays.  I was saying that it's impossible for a parent to be a completely objective reader when the subject matter is your own son or daughter.  I was saying kids are inclined to resent their parents' involvement much like they resent you telling them what not to wear or whom to date.  I was saying that it's too much pressure, for you and for your student.

      The American Medical Association's Code of Medical ethics advises against doctors treating their own children for similar reasons.

      "Professional objectivity may be compromised when an immediate family member or the physician is the patient; the physician’s personal feelings may unduly influence his or her professional medical judgment, thereby interfering with the care being delivered…If tensions develop in a physician’s professional relationship with a family member, perhaps as a result of a negative medical outcome, such difficulties may be carried over into the family member’s personal relationship with the physician."

      I think kids should get help with their college essays.  All good writers get feedback, and re-writing is part of good writing.  Kids can ask their English teacher, counselor, or even a good friend who knows them well and will call them out for saying things like, "My trip to Europe afforded me a plethora of opportunities to broaden my cultural horizons."

      But it when it comes to parents helping, it really will take pressure off if you follow my (and the AMA's) lead here.