Thank a teacher

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and I’d like to use my Friday blog space to ask students and parents to take the time to express that appreciation to a teacher who deserves it.

I’ll admit that I’ve got a soft spot for teachers. My mom spent 30 years teaching high school English, every grade and every level, from AP seniors aiming for the Ivy League to the ESL class for recent immigrants who were learning the language. Nobody worked harder to bring Chaucer and Shakespeare and Twain to life for kids. Those kids are all grown up, many with families of their own. But she’s got memories (and a shoebox full of notes) of those kids who took the time to thank her for caring so much—about them, about English, and about finding ways to bring both together.

Teaching can literally be a thankless profession in that few of those who benefit from the work actually take the time to say thanks. This is normal (there’s a reason why parents have to remind kids to write thank-you notes to Grandma and Grandpa for those birthday presents). And in my entire educational history, I only ever took the time to thank one teacher. That’s part of the teaching gig, and you don’t sign up with the expectation to receive regular praise.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, especially during Teacher Appreciation Week.

High school counselor Patrick O’Connor captures this sentiment with his usual perfect pitch in this entry, “A Counselor’s Thank You to Teachers.”

“Making the most of college—and learning a trade for that matter—isn’t at all about getting in.  It’s about the absorbing, the becoming, the grappling of new ideas that doesn’t end until the idea is now an honored friend. That state of mind, the acquisition of the habits needed to do that kind of learning, is the essence of teaching.  It is alive and well in the classrooms of the colleagues I eat lunch with.  More important, it is in the hearts, minds, and souls of the students they serve.”

So write a short email. Stop by after class. Bring a card, a gift, or even an old-fashioned apple. Yes, the week is closing now and you don’t have much time, so if you can’t do it today, do it next week. Your thanks won’t be discounted just because it didn’t arrive during the official week to share them.

How and when you do it matters a lot less than just taking the time. And it doesn’t take much time or effort to deliver a thank-you to a teacher who deserves it.

Do what you would do for a friend

Parents, how would you respond to a friend who told you, “For the last nine months, I’ve been working a minimum of 60 hours a week. And I’m so tired.”

You’d probably be sympathetic. You’d show some compassion. You might even encourage them to take a vacation and lie on the beach for a week.

But you probably wouldn’t tell them that their competitors are working just as hard if not harder, or ask them for an update on their current projects, or remind them how important a good work ethic is to get ahead.

Today’s college-bound students are working longer hours, with more pressure around getting into college, and experiencing higher incident rates of depression and anxiety than ever before.

If your teen tells you that they’re tired, or even more insidiously, if you can read from their face and their lack of energy that they’re just worn out, don’t remind them how this will all be worth it one day. Don’t immediately strategize for ways they can do just as much work in less time. Don’t compare them to other kids (many of whom are just as tired if not more so).

Instead, just stop and listen. Ask about how they’re feeling. Let them feel heard, believed, and unconditionally loved and supported.

Do what you would do for a friend.

Free webinar: Financing Your College Education

Much like the process of applying to college, applying for financial aid can be confusing and stressful. Unfamiliar terms, conflicting information, complex application processes—it can all be so much more difficult than it needs to be. If you’d like some help making sense of it all, I hope you’ll join us for an upcoming free webinar:

Financing Your College Education: A Conversation with Jodi Okun
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
5 p.m. – 6 p.m. PDT

Jodi is the founder of College Financial Aid Advisors and the author of Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro. She’ll be joined by Collegewise counselor Michael Banks to discuss tips and techniques for navigating the financial aid application process while avoiding common mistakes. We’ll also record the webinar and share it with all registered attendees.

You can register or get more information here. I hope we’ll see you there virtually.

The pithy versions

Futures are influenced, but rarely decided, in high school.

The college you attend will matter less than what you do while you’re there.

What will you do today to capitalize on the opportunities that present themselves tomorrow?



The right answer, or unknown answers?

New research led by Prachi Shah at the University of Michigan shows that curiosity—which Shah defines as “the joy of discovery, and the motivation to seek answers to the unknown”–is one of the best predictors of academic success in young children. It’s also one of the best predictors of college admissions success for applicants.

Colleges are always on the hunt for students who will add to the intellectual vitality of the campus community. And that vitality isn’t encapsulated by a high school transcript. Do you have a favorite subject and teacher? Do you make an effort to learn about things—academic or otherwise—that interest you, not because you’re trying to boost your college applications, but because you genuinely want to know more? Are you excited to shop the academic supermarket waiting for you in college?

The joy you find in seeking and discovering answers to the unknown is just as valuable, if not more so, as the reward you find in seeking and discovering the right answer to a question on a test.

Webinar on highly selective admissions

I have no problem with prestigious colleges. My beef is with the obsession around them. This notion that you will find inherently better educations, experiences, or outcomes simply because a school turns almost all of its applicants away just doesn’t hold up. But plenty of students—including a good portion of our own Collegewise students and counselors—found their perfect match at one of those highly selective colleges. And if you think that’s where your fit might be, too, I hope you’ll join us for a free webinar on Tuesday, May 8, 2018 from 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. PDT.  Led by Collegewise counselors Monica Brown, Nandita Gupta, and Kavin Buck, who worked as admissions officers at Harvard, Stanford, and UCLA respectively, they’ll help you separate admissions fact from fiction and share insights about how you can improve your chances of admission. Best of all, they’re straight shooters, great teachers, and liberal administrators of the calm and sanity so desperately needed in the chase for a highly selective college acceptance.

You can find all the webinar information and the form to register here.


When readers graduate

For most families, the college admissions process–whether it was anxious, joyful, or somewhere in between–has a natural end date. And once again, that end date arrived this week on the same date it does every year–May 1, when seniors decide where they’re going to college. This is also the week that the number of readers subscribed to my blog drops, which is exactly what should happen. If you’re a soon-to-be college freshman or the parent of one, you’ve made it. You’ve graduated from this process. And the best parts are yet to come.

For the last three years, I’ve posted the same goodbye to graduates after the May 1 deadline, and it’s always one of my most read and shared posts. Here it is again below. For those of you who’ve let me join you for some or all of this journey, I hope you’ll take the time to read it so I can say goodbye, good luck, and thank you.

Goodbye to graduates
Portions reposted from May 2015


To students:

First, congratulations. Whether or not you’re attending your first-choice school, you should celebrate today. You’re going to college. This is a big deal, one that many of you worked incredibly hard for. Take a second to enjoy it before you rush to think about what’s next. The stress, the applications, the waiting and wondering—it’s all over. Put the college sweatshirt on. This is the good stuff now.

Second, remember that you won’t get to do a first draft of college. This is it. You get four years. So really lean into them. Learn as much as you can. Grow as much as you can. Have as much fun as you can. Don’t be that person who looks back on college and wishes you’d done more to enjoy and benefit from it. Your college can offer all the opportunities and benefits you’d hoped for, but you’ll need to take advantage of them.

Take the time to thank your parents. If they’ve been driving you crazy and you can’t wait to get out of the house, thank them anyway. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs there is. I didn’t get that until I became a parent myself, and you probably won’t, either. For now, just remember that while you may be a maturing adult now who’s ready to be out on your own, for most of your life you literally and figuratively could not have survived without your parents. Thank them now and you’ll be really proud of your maturity when you look back on this act years later. Really, trust me on this.

To parents:

Parents, congratulations to you, too. You’re officially sending your kid to college. One of the worst symptoms of college stress is that too few parents feel compelled to celebrate that milestone the way your parents did (or would have). But this is as big a deal today as it was in my day, your day, and every day before that. Do a parental high-five and soak this in.

Also, if your kids aren’t being all that nice and appreciative now, remember how little you knew at 18. They haven’t been on the planet that long. College and life will go a long way to mending this.

Remember that you get to demand a certain level of collegiate performance from your student, especially if you’re paying the bill. But consider demanding it in ways that aren’t measured just in GPAs and impressive accomplishments. You might consider bookmarking these past posts and emailing them to your kids after their first week of college.

How do you make the most of college?
How to build a remarkable college career
Turn college into career prep

And for everyone, I have a favor to ask.

I started writing this blog every day in 2009 because I wanted families to enjoy the process that you’ve just finished. If you’ve read and benefitted from what I share here, please pass it along to the next crop of college-goers. Tell a younger friend about it. Share it with a parent who’s about to go through this process with their own son or daughter. Or just forward a particular post that really helped you. Those of us who are trying to change college admissions have to stick together, so when you move on, I need to add new members to the band.

And finally, thank you for reading. It’s a privilege for me to be able to do this, and I hope it helped you enjoy your ride to college a little more.

Good luck, and have a great time in college.

Are you managing up?

“Managing up” is one of those buzz-phrases that’s both widely used and widely misunderstood. Traditional managing involves a person in authority asking a subordinate for updates, explanations, or other information. It’s someone reacting to a lack of necessary information, to something going wrong, or to another factor that has presented itself and is now a concern. But managing up is when the subordinate goes first. Before you’re asked, before it becomes an issue of concern for the person in power, you volunteer not just the information, but also the explanation or other information you would have inevitably been asked for at some point. Instead of authority managing down the chain of command, subordinates manage up toward those in power.

Here are some examples:

  • Students, tell your parents that you struggled on the exam you took today and that you’ve already asked your teacher if you can check in together about your work in the course.
  • Private counselors, reach out to the family you haven’t interacted with recently before they have to ask what their next step is.
  • Parents, tell your boss that the project is likely to be delayed, explain the reasons why, and reveal the steps you’re taking to make sure you’ll still deliver the finished product on spec and under budget.
  • Counselors, tell your principal that you’ve identified some weaknesses in your team’s admissions advising and that you’re creating training programs to address them.

It’s tempting to avoid preemptively answering questions you don’t want to answer. It’s tempting to keep quiet and try to keep those in power from noticing. It’s tempting to suppress an unsavory topic and hope that it will never come to light.

But managing up takes away the element of surprise for both parties. It establishes that you’re retaining responsibility. It reinforces that your concern goes beyond just your own interests. And it encourages confidence in those managing down that you can be counted on to manage up.

The parenting report card

Julie Lythcott-Haims nails it again in this Q&A with Your Teen, particularly with this piece of advice:

“If there is a parenting report card, it should be ‘Does your child do the right thing in the world, even when no one is looking or grading them?’ Their good character is the highest possible grade we could receive. As parents, we should show an interest in them, not just their grades and scores. When you first see each other at the end of the day, looking them in the eye, smiling, letting them see that their presence brings you joy, and saying, ‘Hi. How was your day? What did you like about today?’ Take an interest in what actually interested them in the day, instead of bombarding them with, ‘How’d that math test go? How much homework do you have?’ The first questions we ask when we reunite with them at the end of each school or work day really is a very clear signal to them about what matters to us. Many of us are conveying the impression that our kids’ worth value comes from their test scores and GPA. We’ve got to take that broader view, and value the human behind those achievements.”

Grades and test scores may not measure those character traits. But just about everyone else does, including many colleges.