I don’t know anyone more knowledgeable about the intricacies of college admissions and the best ways to help families manage the process than my business partner, Arun Ponnusamy. He’s conducting two free admissions seminars specifically for international families on September 24th and 26th. All the details are here. If you can join, you won’t be disappointed.
The big news? It’s free of charge. You can get your copy here.
Why did we decide to give this guide away?
We make our living working with families who hire us to help them manage their college application process. We work really hard to be great at what we do, we don’t charge more than we think is fair and reasonable, and we’re proud of the difference we make for those families. Previous versions of our Common App guide were priced at $10-$15, and we’ve sold nearly 10,000 downloads since we first released it in 2011, many of them to families who likely couldn’t have worked with us because of geography or economics.
But we’re also out to make a big difference in the college admissions world. We want students and parents to have access to good college planning information even if they can’t afford to pay for it. We want counselors and teachers to have more tools at their disposal to help kids get to where they want to go. And most importantly, we want to be a bigger part of those solutions. Between my blog, our free newsletter, and the hundreds of free presentations we give at schools and in our communities every year, we’ve always been committed to this goal. But we can do more, and we want to show the educational community that we’re doing what we can to walk our talk. Giving our guide away feels like the right thing to do.
Here are a few suggestions for how you might use our guide:
- If you haven’t started your Common App, complete each section with our help. We think your app will be stronger, and you’ll actually spend less time on the application by just getting it right the first time.
- If you’ve already finished your Common App, use our guide to do a line-by-line review before you submit.
- Struggling with just a particular section or two? Our guide can probably help.
- If you are the official college application reviewer in the house, use our guide to review your student’s Common Application (kids should always complete their own college applications even if a parent will review them).
High school counselors
- Looking to brush up on your Common App knowledge? Spend an hour with our guide and you’ll be a virtual expert.
- Do your students come to you with questions about the Common App? Keep a copy of our guide on your desk (or bookmark the link to save a tree), and use it whenever you need a second opinion.
- Share it with colleagues, teachers, and students.
- Post the link on your website or in your student newsletters.
- Our guide will teach you exactly what to look for when reviewing each of your students’ Common Applications.
- Share the link with your students for them to use at home while they complete their applications.
- Do you have partners, employees, or interns who work with students? Our guide makes a great training tool.
We’re not sure yet whether we’ll make future versions of this guide available for free, but this decision will stay in place for the 2015-16 version. We’re proud of it, we’re excited to share it with a wider audience, and we really hope you and your students enjoy it.
On Wednesday, September 9th, I’ll be sharing something here we’re really excited about. We think it will be of particular interest to seniors, their parents, and the counselors who are helping them apply to college. If you’re in one of those groups, I hope you’ll tune in on Wednesday.
Earlier this year, we decided it was time for a major overhaul to our Collegewise website. Since our last rebuild five years ago, we’ve gone from 4 offices to over 20, from fewer than 10 counselors to more than 30. But our site hasn’t grown well along with us. It’s not easy for visitors to find what they are looking for. And while we didn’t know what we wanted the new site to do well or how to measure success, we did know it was time to rebuild it from the ground up.
So, back in March, I re-read all of my favorite books and blog posts about website design, most by my favorite marketer, Seth Godin. I put together a PowerPoint deck with my (or really, Seth’s) 12 recommendations, the three most important of which were:
1. The goal of our site should be to please our one perfect audience. We’ll ignore everyone else.
It’s tempting for a business to build a website that will please everyone who might show up. For us, that could be parents, kids, counselors, potential employees, current customers, potential customers, etc. But a website that tries to please everybody ends up pleasing nobody. We needed to identify our one perfect audience and build the website for them. We decided that our perfect audience, the people that we had to please above everyone else, was a parent considering hiring a private counselor. Parents make those decisions within families. Those are our potential customers, and they’re the ones we want visiting us. We could still have sections of the site for other people (like our “Employment” section), but the overall structure, look, and feel of our website had to connect with our one perfect audience first.
2. Every page must have a point.
Why does this page exist?
What are we hoping the visitor will do after reading it?
How can this page convince them to take that action?
If we couldn’t answer these questions, we didn’t even bother building the page. These questions also forced us to be really disciplined. It’s tempting for a company to build web pages with what they think is important. But what’s important to us isn’t necessarily important to the visitor who shows up here. Building what you like doesn’t necessarily get the results that you want. So we used these questions as our guide, all while committing to building a site that looked and sounded authentically Collegewise.
3. Make it abundantly clear on each page what you want the visitor to do next.
Have you ever landed on a webpage only to be overwhelmed with too many options, links, buttons, etc., causing you to bail out and go someplace else? Attention is at a premium on the web. Most visitors won’t spend 30 minutes digging through every corner of your site to find what they want. In fact, most won’t spend 30 seconds on a single page unless they arrive resolutely determined to get something specific. For every page we built—from the homepage, to the counselor bios, to the storefront, we wanted it to be instantly clear what we hoped the visitor would do next.
Since March, Joel and I have been working with a website design company—me writing the copy and preaching relentlessly about the goals, Joel expertly managing the project, keeping both me and the designers on track. The new site will go live this month, and when it does, I’ll announce it here and share some screenshots that show how we tried to accomplish the goals above.
In the meantime, if you or your organization is looking to build or improve your website, here are my recommended sources for guidance and inspiration:
What works for websites today
Knock Knock: Seth Godin’s incomplete guide to building a website that works
How to make a website: a tactical guide for marketers
How to create a great website
The Big Red Fez: How to make any website better
Polarize me: If you want people to like you, first decide who needs to hate you
I started writing this blog every day in October 2009 just to see what would happen if I stuck with it. It’s taken a lot of time, energy, and commitment to get here, but almost six years later, I, and I think the rest of the Collegewisers, are really proud of the role my blog plays in our little college counseling corner of the world.
But we don’t do as well in other areas of social media, particularly on Facebook or Twitter. We set up my blog posts to automatically push to those platforms, but that’s a lazy way to do it. Yes, it lets us say that we have something to look at on Facebook and Twitter. But blogs, Facebook, and Twitter each do very different things well. We decided we had to make a choice—let’s either find Collegewise counselors who will commit to making our Facebook and Twitter compelling and great. Or let’s drop Facebook and Twitter altogether and re-focus those efforts elsewhere.
I’m happy to say that Collegewise counselors Colleen Boucher and Chelsea Block have volunteered to be our social media champions. They even devoured the incomparable Gary Vaynerchuk’s Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World before they ever went near a post or a tweet. They’ve thought a lot about what we could offer on those platforms that would be so good people would want to come back over and over again. And they’re about to start rolling out content for our subscribers.
If you subscribe to my blog, nothing is changing. You’ll still get one post a day, written by me.
If you follow us on Twitter, you’ll still get my daily blog post. But you’ll also start to see some posts that are more Twitter-appropriate—short, bite-sized chunks of compelling advice, news, or data.
And while my blog will still post daily to Facebook, followers over there will start to see more frequent updates that are more Facebook-ish in nature, whether it’s updates from conferences, feedback on admissions news, sharing of photos from our campus visits, etc.
Much like I said about my blog back in 2009, we don’t know what’s going to happen on Facebook and Twitter. But we’re excited to try, to learn more as we go, and hopefully to share even more great stuff with people who find and follow us.
This summer, our Collegewise counselors are giving free college admissions seminars in the following states:
You can find specific cities, with links to their accompanying schedules, here.
These events serve two purposes for us.
First, we believe that accurate, helpful college planning information should be more available to anyone who wants it, regardless of their ability to pay (that’s also why I write this blog every day). So our first goal in any speaking engagement is to be so good, to send the audience away feeling so much better about their ride to college, that they’re glad they chose to spend 90 minutes with us.
But these seminars are also great ways for families who might be interested in our services to see us in action. Families can see for themselves how knowledgeable and engaging our counselors really are. They can see our passion for college admissions and for making the process more manageable for families. Collegewise isn’t for everyone, and for those families who are considering hiring a private counselor, we think these seminars can help you make a more informed choice, whether or not you decide to work with us.
We work really hard to organize and deliver these, and families always tell us that they leave feeling much better about their college admissions process than they did when they arrived. I think you’ll enjoy them and hope you can join us.
Many international students applying to US universities have questions about curriculum, test scores, English requirements, and more. Join Collegewise counselors and international admissions experts, Tim Townley and Monica Brown, for a free webinar:
*Attendance is limited to the first 200 registrants*
About the presenters:
Tim Townley spent seven years as an assistant director of international admissions at Boston University where he also visited 13 countries annually as an admissions recruiter. He previously served as a college counselor at the American School in Switzerland where he advised students from more than 50 countries. Now a college counselor with Collegewise, Tim counsels international high school students and is the author of the Collegewise Guide to International Admissions.
Monica Brown was a senior admissions and financial aid officer at Harvard for four years where she was involved in determining the admissions status of hundreds of international applicants. Since becoming a counselor at Collegewise in 2013, Monica has guided students to admission at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Dartmouth, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Cornell, University of Chicago, Washington University in St. Louis, Rice, and many other selective schools.
Our Irvine, California, office is hiring 1-2 part-time assistants (we call them “college coaches”) to help us take great care of the families who’ve hired us and to keep our office running smoothly during our busy senior season. This job is part administrative, part counseling, part tutoring, and part customer service, and we will never ask you to do anything before we train you first. If you’re interested in joining our original, and largest, Collegewise office to work alongside some of our most experienced college counselors, all of the details are here.
One of the ideas that came from our company meet-up in Austin was to have our version of an employee handbook that clarified things like our policies. We’ve never been a place that wanted or needed rules to legislate our every move, but as our company has grown, it’s become more important for us to be clear about things like expense reporting, benefits, vacation time, etc.
Led by Arun, a team of our counselors put a list of ideas together. Then it went to the partners, where each of us worked on verbiage for the sections we felt most strongly about. We discussed. We debated. We reminded ourselves that we should consciously create the company that we would want to work for even if we weren’t running the place.
And after going through those steps, we ended up with “Life at Collegewise,” our version of an employee handbook. It explains our policies, what we believe, and how we want to run our offices—and it does it all in a way that stays true to who we are. We’re really proud of it.
Here are a few snippets:
From the introduction
You’ve joined a company full of smart people who want to work hard and who exercise good judgment. Our experience has been that these kinds of people don’t need a forty-page manual of rules and regulations to dictate what they can and can’t do at work. Still, it’s nice to know how things work and what’s expected of you. So, rather than your typical employee handbook, we put “Life at Collegewise” together.
While we don’t have a specific dress code—most of us dress casually without being too casual—we do want to look respectable, especially when meeting with families. Any time you’re going to meet with a parent, especially in an introductory meeting, it’s usually a good time to err on the side of professional (not in suits, necessarily, but certainly not in ripped jeans, flip-flops, and a college t-shirt). The same applies during any type of public speaking engagement. Good judgment will prevent egregious errors of style, but if you’d like more advice on appropriate garb for Collegewise, we do, in fact, have a guide. This should not come as a shock to you as we have lots of different guides, including one on how to make the perfect pot of coffee.
Vacation days, sick days, and personal days
Our policy for time off has always been a bit of a fuzzy one. But this fuzzy policy has good intentions. We hire overachievers and expect them to work hard (including on evenings and Saturdays when necessary). And we think people who do that without complaining should be able to take a day off when Mom comes to visit without having to cash in one of a specific number of allotted “personal days.” When you need a day, take a day. If you get the stomach flu, you should be able to stay home and throw up in peace without worrying about how many sick days you have. And people who work hard certainly deserve to take a vacation every now and then. Just keep your supervisor updated… For people who’ve previously worked in places where you knew exactly how many sick, personal, and vacation days you received each year, this can be a bit of an adjustment. But we think you’ll find that you actually end up with more scheduling freedom and more time off in exchange for working very hard and taking good care of your Collegewise families.
One of our core values is that we will make every reasonable effort to share college admissions information with kids, parents, and schools who need it, regardless of their ability to pay. We’re active in programs like College Summit and AVID, and we almost always accept speaking invitations from high schools in low-income areas, free of charge. We encourage you to participate in our outreach to kids, parents, and schools. If you’ve got ideas about ways we can better share our information with deserving families and schools who can’t pay for it, speak up! We want to hear from you. Of course, we need to remember that to stay in business, we also have to work with organizations and families who can afford to pay us. But we’ve always found that there’s room to do both—and also room to do even more of both.
Timeliness is next to…well, you know
In a company that relies on good judgment over rules, here’s one big, fat, hard-and-fast rule. You can’t ever be late to a meeting with a family. Ever. You need to be prepared and ready to meet before the kid and parent show up. If you go out to run an errand before your 3 p.m. appointment and come running back into the office at 3:05 to find the kid and parent waiting for you in your office, leaving you frantically pulling out the kid’s file and telling the family, “Sorry—there was just so much traffic coming back from the bank,” you have just had a very bad day at Collegewise.
Personal, Medical, Bereavement Leave
We understand that life happens, and by speaking to your supervisor, we can figure out a plan that works for everyone.
We’re a company that embraces family and children. (If we didn’t, most of us probably wouldn’t be working here!) By discussing your plans with your supervisor, we can work towards a schedule that keeps your family and the families you’re working with happy and well-supported.
Our Austin, Texas, office is hiring a part-time assistant counselor to work this summer and fall. If you live in the Austin area and would like to be a part of our mission to make college admissions more enjoyable for kids and parents, we would love to hear from you. All the details are here.