Get a job

Colleges love an applicant who's had a job.  And it doesn't have to be a fancy-sounding internship at your mom or dad's company.  Colleges–and future employers–are even more impressed by real, honest teenage jobs, like flipping burgers or coaching basketball or selling clothes at the mall.    

Colleges know that it takes initiative and responsibility to find and keep a job.  Look up the biography of a successful adult you know, and you're likely to find jobs in their past before and during their college years.

Today, Mark Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks, but when he was a kid, he sold trash bags door to door to make money to buy a pair of expensive high top shoes he wanted.

When he was in high school, Zappos
CEO Tony
Hsieh
ran the lights at a community theater, then became a game tester for Lucasfilm, then worked as a computer programmer.

When she was seventeen, Maya Angelou worked as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco. 

During high school, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor worked at a bargain retail store in
the Bronx and at the local hospital.

Sherwood Rowland won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1995 for his work identifying the causes of ozone depletion.  He spent portions of his high school summers running the local volunteer weather station, a job he cited as "my
first exposure to systematic experimentation and data
collection."

So if you're looking to learn, make some money, and impress colleges, get a job.  And someday when you're a big success, you'll have a great story about your first job back in high school. 

 

One thing that great leaders do

Jim Collins, a professor at Stanford Business School, wrote a great book that studies history's most effective CEOs.  And one of the traits he found that they all had in common was a desire to see the company become even more successful after they left.  They did everything they could do to ensure the future success of their companies, including selecting and training their successors.  They didn't let their egos get in the way.  They never wanted people to talk about how great the company used to be.  They wanted things to be even better for the company's next generation.     

I think there's a lot of potential here for high school students here.  So much of what you do in high school is temporary.  You're the captain of the basketball team for one year.  You're the president of the French club, or the lead in the school play, or the school board rep, or a section editor of the paper for just one year.  Yes, you need to do a great job, and you want people to appreciate the impact that you make.  But you can make an even great impact if you set up your successor to take over and have even great success when you're gone.

The school year is ending (or has already ended) for many of you.  Are your successors ready to take over what you left behind?  What could you do to help them be even more successful?  You have two options–you assume that it's not your problem any more, or you can play an important part in helping your team, club, organization or other group be successful even after you're gone. 

A fundaising secret for high schoolers

If you're trying to raise funds for your team, club, school newspaper or grad night committee, here's a tip that will help you tug at the generosity of others–don't let your parents do the fundraising for you. 

We're always willing to do our part to support high school activities.  And it makes sense for us to give back to the communities who bring their business to us. 

But when a parent calls me and asks if I'd be willing to support her son's soccer team by running an ad in their team directory, the first thing I wonder is, "Why isn't your son making this call?"

I know that parents are just being supportive and they should be applauded for that.  But when parents take this job away from kids, they take away a lot of the learning–and earning–kids should be doing themselves. 

Students need to learn how to approach people they don't know, how to make a phone call, and how to write a properly punctuated and grammatically correct email.  They need to learn how to shake a hand, how to follow up, how to send a thank-you note, and how to gracefully take, "No" for an answer.  When kids do their own fundraising, they learn these lessons.

It's much harder for a business owner to say, "No thanks" to a polite teenager who's just trying to raise some money for the soccer team or the pep squad or the school newspaper than it is to say, "No thanks" to a parent.  I'm not worried about hurting a parents' feelings.  But I want to reward that kid for making the effort.

Don't tell me that you're too busy.  I know you're busy.  But you have to be willing to earn support if you want people to support you.

It's OK for parents to advise.  But the more kids do for themselves, the more successful they'll be.   

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.

      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

      You’ll win if you love it

      I just finished reading a great book about the best distance runners on the planet–the Tarahumara Indians in the Sierra Madre mountain range in Mexico.  The Tarahumara routinely run 100-200 miles in rugged terrain wearing homemade sandals.  And the best part is how much they love doing it. They smile and enjoy themselves while they're running.  Even when they were brought to the US and began competing in (and winning) 100-mile ultra marathons, they're just laughing and having fun while they do it.  The author says that while we run to win races or to punish ourselves for eating a big slice of cheesecake last night, the Tarahumara run for one reason–because they love to do it.  And nobody can do it better. 

      Now, you know there's a college admissions lesson coming here…

      The most successful college applicants I've ever met didn't take hard classes because they wanted to get into famous colleges; they took hard classes because they wanted to be challenged and learn something.  They didn't do community service because they wanted to put it on a college application; they did it because they really wanted to help someone.  Their excitement about college has nothing to do with getting into an Ivy League school.  They might be happy to go to one but that's not why they do what they do.  They're happier, more interesting, more confident and just plain cooler than kids who make all their decisions based on what they think Stanford will appreciate.

      Like the Tarahumara, they do it because they love it.  It's not about winning a competition for them.  And yet they beat out the other applicants who spend four years of high school trying to make themselves competitive without enjoying most of the experience.

      It's your choice.  Which kid do you want to be?

       

      A college admissions secret

      Did you know that colleges love stamp-collectors?  They go just crazy for stamp collectors.  Can't get enough of 'em.     

      OK, I'm kidding (a little).  Colleges don't have a special affinity for stamp-collectors any
      more than they do any other activity.  What colleges love is passion. I
      t
      really doesn't matter what your passion is–dance, art, sports,
      reading, rodeo, student government, working a part time job at a burger
      joint, juggling, magic or, yes, stamp collecting.  A kid becomes much
      more interesting to an
      admissions officer when that student is genuinely passionate about her activities.

      Colleges would, in fact, appreciate a student who was super-serious about stamps.  The more into it you were, the better. They'd like the kid who visits stamp shows on the weekends, who reads stamp-collector magazines, who belongs to stamp-collecting organizations, who takes classes and writes articles for stamp-collector newsletters.

      So go after your passions.  Celebrate them.  Take them to a reasonable and productive extreme.  And don't worry whether the colleges will like them.  If it's important to you, and you inject your intellect, talent and energy into it to make something happen for yourself or others, the colleges will care about it, too (as long as it isn't illegal). 

      And when you apply to college, share your passions–in the applications, in the essays, and during your interviews.  Help the colleges learn about them.  Don't keep them secret.  

      Don’t be a title collector

      In their efforts to impress colleges, a lot of students become title collectors. 

      They're driven to accomplish things so they can list them on their resumes.  And when they apply to college, they can't wait to rattle off their list of leadership positions held, awards won, and total number of community service hours completed.

      But titles aren't unique.  They're everywhere.  You're not going to impress a college with a long list of titles alone.  It's much more important to make an impact. 

      Every school paper has an editor-in-chief.  But not every school paper has a section editor who takes a journalism class at a college and then offers to share the material with the rest of the writers on the paper once he completes the course.

      Every basketball team has a captain.  But not every basketball team has a point guard who organizes informal practices during the summer so they can run the team's new offense.

      Every student body government has a president.  But not every student government has a treasurer who researches examples of effective high school student governments and shares ideas with the president about how they can better serve the students.

      Every high school musical has a lead.  But not every high school musical has a lighting tech who hosts a viewing of the Broadway production of the musical (on DVD) at her house the weekend before opening night. 

      Every orchestra has a first chair violinist.  But not every orchestra has a second chair oboe player who convinces the conductor of the local community symphony to come to one of their music classes to talk about life as a professional musician. 

      Every high school physics class has a student with the highest grade.  But not every physics class has a B student who organizes an all-star team of classmates to compete in the county-wide high school physics Olympics. 

      There's nothing wrong with titles.  A lot of them are bestowed upon hard-working, passionate students who are making an impact.  But don't become the editor or the president or the captain just so you can say you held the title.  Your goal should be to make an impact first. 

      The collection of titles will almost certainly follow. 

      Who needs a champion?

      In my life before Collegewise, I worked for a local office of The Princeton Review, best known as an SAT prep company.  But they prepare students for other exams, too, and for a two year stretch that immediately preceded my time there, the Princeton Review office where I worked enjoyed record-breaking enrollments in their LSAT course (the LSAT is the entrance exam for law school).

      But the enrollments never returned to those record highs.  Not even close  So I asked my boss what he thought had changed, and I never forgot his answer.

      “Because The Princeton Review had an LSAT champion in Ian.”

      Ian was in charge of running the LSAT courses during their heyday at The Princeton Review.  He knew everything about the exam and loved teaching students how to beat it.  You could feel that energy when he would do free seminars for pre-law students.  Teachers he hired caught his contagious enthusiasm and passed it on to the students.  When Ian would write letters home to students about course details (yes, this was 1991 before everyone had email), he would always inject humor and spirit into his communication.  He wasn’t just phoning it in.  He loved what he was doing and he was exceptionally good at it.

      During Ian’s tenure, everyone involved with the LSAT courses could sense they were getting involved in something special, something they couldn’t find from the competition.  You can’t fake that kind of enthusiasm Ian displayed.  That’s why students enrolled in record numbers.

      As my boss put it, “Once Ian took over the courses, the students just kept coming.”

      What project, organization, class, club or team in your life needs a champion?  What do you think would happen if you took it on the way that Ian took on the LSAT courses?  And most importantly, what would people be saying about you when your tenure as the champion was over?

      If you want to make an impact that people will appreciate, find something or someone who needs champion.

      Not all quitters are created equal

      Quitters often get a bad rap.

      You've probably heard this advice:  "Whatever you do, never give up.  Don't be a quitter." 

      But you've probably also heard the advice, "Find what you love to do.  Pursue your passions."

      How can anyone possibly do both of those things simultaneously? 

      We're conditioned to think that the only way to succeed, the only way to get ahead and achieve is to refuse to quit no matter what happens.  We're taught that success will come if we just keep going.

      But if you follow that advice all the time, how are you supposed to find what you love to do?  It doesn't work.  And that's why a lot of the happiest, most successful people have quitting in their history. 

      I'd like to propose that not all quitters are created equal.  There are good quitters and bad quitters. 

      If you get one low grade on a math test and refuse to try anymore, you're a bad quitter.  You're giving up because something got difficult, and nobody who succeeds in life regularly gives up as soon as something gets challenging.  If you love being on the volleyball team but quit just because you didn't get picked as the starting setter, maybe you should have stayed and worked harder?  And if you quit your part time job just because you don't like the way your boss gets mad when you show up late, you really have some lessons to learn about the way the work world functions. 

      But there are also good quitters.  

      Good quitters quit the right things at the right times.  They can recognize when something they're involved in isn't bringing them any happiness or fulfillment.  They can sense when an activity, a job, a project, or a relationship isn't going anyplace successful or productive.  They'd rather spend their time on something with more potential.  So they quit and move on.  And they don't beat themselves up about it.

      One of our former Collegewise students was a standout football player at his high school.  But he quit right before the start of his junior year.  Football wasn't making him happy.  In fact, it was making him miserable.  And he had been grinding through it just because he didn't want to be a quitter. 

      But as he told us, he came to the realization that he simply longer wanted to do something in which he was regularly "congratulated for trying to take someone's head off."  He wanted to be doing 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.  They didn't mind him being a (good) quitter.  

      Here's the most important characteristic that distinguishes good quitters from bad quitters; bad quitters want to quit so just they can stop doing something.  Good quitters want the opportunity to do something else, something better for them, something they really want to throw themselves into, something that might even be harder.

      For good quitters, it's not about getting more time to sleep or watch TV.  They quit because they've got bigger goals, not smaller ones. 

      Quitters never win?  I don't buy that.  Bad quitters might never win.  Good quitters win all the time.

      So don't be afraid to quit.  Be afraid of being a bad quitter.