Collegewise’s employee handbook is now public

Last month, I released a brand new version of “Life at Collegewise,” our employee handbook. Joining a new company can be a difficult adjustment when you don’t know how things work, you don’t completely understand the culture, and you’re constantly having to ask questions. With nearly 70 fellow Wisers spread out all over the country (and increasingly all over the world), it’s even more important for us to make sure that those joining our family feel at home as quickly as possible. “Life at Collegewise” is here to help.

This document has always been private, shared only with current or soon-to-be Collegewise employees. Until today. Here is “Life at Collegewise” in its (almost) entirety. I’ve removed only two portions from this public version: (1) the steps to file an expense report (because really, who wants to read that if you aren’t filing one?), and (2) our company glossary, because it’s full of esoteric insider terms that just won’t make sense if you don’t work here.

So why share it?

First, we’re proud of what we’re building here, and even more importantly, that we’re all in this together. The words in “Life at Collegewise” are mine, but the work, the ideas, the initiative, and the investment—everything that makes us who we are—are the result of the collective contributions of everyone here today, and yesterday. It feels good to celebrate and to share it.

Second, we’re always preaching to students, colleagues, and colleges to be themselves. Contrived attempts to appeal to the masses are not good recipes for producing great work. “Life at Collegewise” is our way of saying, “This is who we are, this is what we care about, and this is why those things matter to us.” It won’t resonate with everyone, and we’re OK with that. The people with whom those beliefs and actions strike a chord are most likely to appreciate why, what, and how we do things.

Finally, I hope that “Life at Collegewise” inspires some change-makers at other companies to rethink their own life at work. Collegewise is not perfect—far from it. Nineteen years in, we’re still a work in progress, and we’re always trying to get better. But making things better starts with believing that things can get better. I hope “Life at Collegewise” makes you a believer, too.

And if you decide after reading “Life at Collegewise” that you might like to experience life here as a fellow Wiser, check out our open positions here. You might also enjoy this short video courtesy of our full-time filmmaker.

Join us for a free event in White Plains, NY

Collegewise is hosting a free event in White Plains, New York, open to students, parents, and counselors.

Highly Selective Admissions: Debunking the Myths 
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. EDT
White Plains Performing Arts Center
11 City Pl. 
White Plains, NY 10601

About the speakers:

Arun Ponnusamy is Collegewise’s Chief Academic Officer and is widely regarded as one of the most knowledgeable college counselors and admissions experts in the United States. In his previous admissions roles, he evaluated the files of over 7,500 seniors applying for admission to the University of Chicago (his alma mater), Caltech and UCLA.

Nandita Gupta is an online counselor at Collegewise who previously worked as an admissions officer at Stanford University where she evaluated thousands of domestic and international applicants. A graduate of Princeton, Nandita also completed stints in investment banking at JP Morgan in New York City and executive search with globally renowned Russell Reynolds Associates in San Francisco.

All the information and the form to register are here. I hope you’ll join us.

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.


Join us at our standardized testing webinar

It’s not just the perceived importance of scores, or even the associated preparation, that makes standardized tests such a source of stress in the college admissions process. It’s making decisions that should be simple, but aren’t. What tests should you take? When should you take them? Is there an advantage to taking the SAT over the ACT, or vice versa? If you’re looking for straight answers from people who aren’t trying to sell you a test prep program, I’d like to invite you to our free Collegewise webinar:

Testing 1, 2, 3: Standardized Test Planning Made Easy
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
5:00 PM – 6:00 PM PST

Our presenters are a father/son team, Paul and Jordan Kanarek. Over 30 years ago, Paul founded The Princeton Review of Southern California. 25 years later, Jordan followed his dad’s testing footprints and ran The Princeton Review’s private tutoring program in Washington, DC. Today, they both work at Collegewise, and they are the first people our trainers and counselors go to when they need to learn, teach, and share the best, most up-to-date advice around standardized testing. They are also gifted speakers and teachers who frequently receive testimonials from schools and organizations who invite them to speak to their families.

If you’re getting the sense I’m selling them hard here, it’s true. The stress, confusion, and resulting insanity surrounding standardized testing has reached epidemic proportions in high school. Give Paul and Jordan an hour of your time, and I promise you will come away feeling more informed, less stressed, and fully capable of making sound standardized testing decisions. All the details are here.

Should you invite anonymous feedback?

I had a great conversation with a Collegewise employee yesterday about the potential value of anonymous feedback at work. If we provided a forum to invite our employees to share feedback without requiring them to attach a name to their thoughts, would that give a voice to people who might otherwise be reluctant to share their opinions? There are a lot of legitimate reasons why there might be benefits to gain, but here are five reasons I came away believing that anonymous feedback is a bad idea for us, for most organizations, and even for high school students.

1. It sends a message that it’s not safe to speak up.

Sure, you can pitch anonymous feedback as the opportunity to speak up without fear of consequences. But it also reinforces the notion that this is a place that might take punitive measures with someone who dared to share an opinion. Once you instill that fear, it’s hard to remove it. And while there may be some places where fear brings out the best in some people, work is rarely if ever one of them.

2. It absolves the submitter of all responsibility.

When you sign your name to your opinions, you assume responsibility for what you say and how you say it. Is your feedback clear? Is it thoughtful? Does it come from a good place of wanting to help or otherwise make things better? Anonymous feedback makes that responsibility optional, but not required. And that can bring out the worst in people. Look no further than the anonymous comments on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean. If you want someone to treat your feedback with respect and to take responsibility for acting on it in some way, show them respect—and assume your own responsibility—at the onset by including your name with your thoughts.

3. It chips away at trust.

When feedback comes in the form of criticism, no matter how constructive, the receiver can’t help think, “I wonder who said that?” Then people start making unfounded guesses about the source. They start looking at their colleagues with suspicion instead of trust. The gossip starts to spin about who might have said what about whom. That feels an awful lot like the parts of junior high that we all hated so much. And nobody wants their work environment to feel that way.

4. Anonymity makes the feedback difficult if not impossible to act on.

One of the most important things any organization can do is respond to feedback from its constituents. Sometimes that response is to do exactly what was suggested. Sometimes it’s to reach out to the submitter and learn more. Other times it’s to make the person feel heard, but explain why you can’t or have decided not to act at this time. We don’t always get that action right at Collegewise, but we’re always trying to get better at it. When the feedback is anonymous, it’s much harder to take any productive action at all. And no action eventually leads to no more useful feedback.

5. It robs the submitter of a great opportunity.

People who share thoughtful, respectful feedback are demonstrating engagement. They’re showing that they care enough about the person, the cause, or the organization to raise their hand, share an opinion, and stand by those thoughts. They can then participate in the ensuing discussion or even lead the charge to make change. Over time, that person can establish a reputation as a high impact player, someone who makes things happen for the organization. Even a high school student can do this if they share useful feedback with their organizations, their teachers, or their school, then follow that feedback with a pledge to be a part of whatever happens on the other side. I can’t imagine a college that wouldn’t appreciate a student who engaged in this way, always coming from a place of wanting to make things better not just for themselves, but for everyone involved.

Collegewise is hiring nationwide

Collegewise is looking for the next batch of smart, passionate, interesting people to join our team.

Do you want your work to feel like a calling where you make a difference every day?

Would you like to help more families benefit from a service that helps students achieve their educational goals?

Are you looking for the training, resources, and support necessary to do the best work of your career?

We have open positions for:

  • College counselors
  • Director of College Counseling
  • Director of Finance
  • Inside salespeople
  • National Head of Sales
  • Online college counselor

A little more about Collegewise
Collegewise believes that the college admissions process has spun out of control for high school students and their parents. Too much anxiety and confusion. Too little appreciation for the wonderful educations and experiences waiting at so many schools beyond just the famous ones. And we’re out to change all of that. Together, we’ve built the nation’s largest college counseling organization with over 60 highly trained counselors injecting guidance, perspective, and occasional cheerleading into the admissions process for the families who join our programs. Since 1999, we’ve helped over 10,000 A-students, C-students, and everyone in between find, apply to, and attend the right colleges for them.

Open positions nationwide
We’re currently hiring in seven locations nationwide, and we have one online counseling position for a person who could live virtually anywhere on the East Coast. If you’re looking for an opportunity to learn and grow as a professional, to make a difference for kids and parents, and to do it all with smart, passionate, supportive co-workers who bring their hearts to work every day, we hope you’ll consider joining us. Let’s make a dent in the college admissions universe together. You can find all the information about us and our open positions here, and you can view our short video about life at Collegewise here.

Know someone who might be great?
If you know someone who might enjoy working at Collegewise, please send them the link to our Careers page. If we end up hiring them, we’ll pay you $700 after the person completes three months of successful work.

Recruiting vs. hiring at Collegewise

When I ask my colleagues what they like most about working at Collegewise, most of us agree that it’s the people.  We love looking around the room at our annual retreat and being reminded once again just how many amazing folks are here that we’re proud to call coworkers. Why do so many great people, most of whom likely had plenty of other employment options, end up here? The truth is that while there is no substitute for creating a great place to work that’s worthy of great people joining it, the way we treat the process of finding and securing an employee sets a tone that draws in the kind of people who thrive here and repels those who just won’t. The best way to describe our secret is that we don’t actually hire people. We recruit people.

Hiring vs. recruiting
Hiring is a means to an end. Hiring says, “We have an open position, we need to fill it quickly, so let’s find someone who needs a job and seems like they can do this one.” Hiring is faster and easier than recruiting. You can run a help wanted ad that reads like all the others. You can post it in as many places as possible. You can make it easy to apply—just send us your existing resume and cover letter; no need to do any extra work to be considered. You can churn all those people through a formulaic process that treats applicants like numbers.

If your goal is to fill open spots quickly with people who need a job and have the skills to do this one, hiring works! But you don’t build the kind of remarkable team we’ve assembled here by hiring. To do that, you have to recruit.

Recruiting is a thoughtful, slow, and deliberate effort to find the very best person for each role.

Recruiting doesn’t just look for someone who can do the job—it also looks for the right attitude and fit. Recruiting requires that someone invest their own time, thought, and energy to apply. It weeds out people who are interested in a job more than they are in this job. Recruiting can get the right person to stop what they’re doing today and come join us.

Recruiting also recognizes that a candidate isn’t just evaluating the potential job that waits on the other side; they’re also evaluating the company they’d potentially be working for. So recruiting demands that we treat every interaction as if we’re on stage.

How do our employment ads read? How do we communicate with people once they’ve applied? How do we interact with them during the interview process? How do we treat them when we make a decision? Do we leave those that we offer a job feeling like they’ve found a home? Do we leave those that we didn’t offer a job feeling like we’re a good company who treated them with respect? Hiring doesn’t care about any of those things. But recruiting does.

The price of recruiting is that it takes more effort, more energy, and more time. It also means that we’ll pass on good but not great people, and positions can go unfilled longer than we’d like them to. But the patience almost always pays off with hires who thrive at Collegewise.

Is it worth it?
The stakes are very high when you offer someone a job. When you make a bad hire, it doesn’t just affect you. It affects your team, it affects the trainers, it affects the managers, it affects the customers, it affects the coworkers, it affects the company, and it affects the person you hired. That’s a hefty long-term price that a lot of people have to pay.

But if we take the time to find, attract, and invest in the very best people, then we’ll end up with a larger version of the team we have now—a group of a passionate, talented, remarkable folks who are enrolled in the journey we’re on together. It’s a lot harder to recruit, but a lot more likely we’ll build something even more extraordinary if we do.

If you’re in a hurry to assemble a group of people who can do the work, then you should hire. But you won’t attract remarkable people with an unremarkable process. Hiring gets faster short-term results, but recruiting gets more remarkable long-term results.

Care to join us?
This January, we’ll be in recruiting mode again and looking to add great new additions to our work family in a variety of roles. If you’d like us to reach out and tell you when those positions are officially posted, first, take a look at what life at Collegewise looks like. And if that piques your interest, just fill out this short form. We’ll send you an email in early January with a link where you can view our open positions and apply if you choose. I hope we’ll hear from you.

Free webinar: Visual and Performing Arts 101

For students who are interested in studying visual and performing arts, Collegewise is offering the following free 90-minute webinar:

Visual and Performing Arts 101: An Inside Look at the Admissions Process
December 6th, 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. PST
Cost: Free
Presenter: Kavin Buck, Visual and Performing Arts College Counseling Specialist, Collegewise

Click here to register.

Topics covered will include: 

  • What types of colleges, universities and conservatories are available
  • Suggestions on how to narrow your search
  • Insider tips on how to effectively complete the supplemental applications (including portfolio advice and audition hints!)

KBuckAbout our presenter:

Kavin Buck has worked for more than 30 years in arts, education, and admissions. Before joining Collegewise, Kavin enjoyed stints as Director of Admission at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, Director of Enrollment and Outreach at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, and most recently, Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. He is the co-author of A Guide to College Choices for the Performing and Visual Arts, and he maintains an active practice as a painter and sculptor.

There is no cost to attend, and you can find more details and registration info here.

I hope you’ll join us.

How can you give “props”?

Arun recently launched a new channel on our company chat platform called #props. For the uninitiated (and for my 75-year-old parents who read this blog), “props” are the modern “kudos.” As the header of the channel describes, its purpose is “[College]Wisers giving thanks, shout-outs, and accolades to other Wisers.”

It’s so simple, and it probably took less than five minutes for him to create the channel. But in just a few short months, the impact #props has had on us, our morale, and our company has been bigger than anyone could have predicted.

Every day, #props sees dozens of new messages thanking or otherwise recognizing our Collegewisers. From one colleague thanking another for their assistance preparing a presentation, to a trainer lauding a new counselor for a great first month, to an employee acknowledging her manager who always seems to go the extra mile, every visit to #props is like jumping into a sea of positivity.

Counselors, managers, salespeople, part-time editors, even entire teams–everyone has had an opportunity to bask in the glow of a well-deserved #props mention.

Since we don’t all work in the same building (we’re spread out all over the country and other parts of the world), we miss a lot of opportunities to see for ourselves those moments where a colleague chips in to help, offers their unique expertise, or does particularly great work with a family who benefited. But #props lets us all feel like we were there to see it happen.

Just as importantly, #props helps everyone focus on what’s great about our jobs. Application season can be a busy, stressful time at Collegewise. But one visit to #props can remind anyone here just how lucky we are to do what we do with our Collegewise colleagues.

Best of all, #props creates a self-sustaining system of praise. When someone publicly thanks or otherwise recognizes you, you can’t help but scan your world for opportunities to pay that act forward to someone else. The more props we get, the more we give (and vice versa).

How could you implement a similar system in your counseling office, classroom, club, organization, or other group?

How could you make it easy for your cohorts to offer sincere praise to those who deserve it?

What kind of difference could it make for you?

It’s hard to imagine a simpler way to bring out—and recognize—the best in people.