How to get quiet teens to open up

While Claire Lew’s “11 ways to get feedback from your most introverted employee” is a great read for managers, I think virtually every one of those tips could work well for counselors and parents looking to help more reserved teens open up about school, life, college, etc. For parents, though, I’d recommend ignoring #8: “Bring a notebook” (no need to formalize the talk quite so much when it’s in the family).

Counselors: before you deliver your next workshop

One way high school counselors can share admissions information and advice with their community of students, parents, and faculty is to hold a workshop or other group gathering. To make these meetings as valuable as possible for you and for your attendees, consider asking three questions ahead of time.

1. What change are you hoping to make?
There’s no need to bring everyone together just to share information—send an email, write a blog, post the information on your website, etc. and you’ve just saved a lot of time for everyone. When you put people in the room, you’re trying to get them to change in some way. You want them to start filling out applications, to follow the new letter of rec protocol, to write better essays or get over their fear of the FAFSA or think more about college fit than prestige. Identifying ahead of time the change you want to make helps you structure the talk to actually make that change happen. And you need to know where you want your audience to go before you start telling them how and why they should move.

2. How will you know if it worked?
You’re spending time creating this talk, and your audience is spending time to come listen. How will you know if it worked? What signs will you look for as evidence that your talk got the job done? Will you hear from the English teachers that the first drafts of the college essays had improved? Will you have fewer students arriving at your offices three days before holiday break to ask for college admissions advice? Will you increase the number of first-generation students in your senior class who attend college next year? Whether the change you were seeking to make was big or small, identify ahead of time how you’ll decide whether or not your talk actually drove the change you wanted.

3. What will happen if the change does—or does not—take place?
Will there be a reward for attendees who successfully make the change? Will there be a punishment for those who do not? (Hint: potential rewards work better than potential punishments do.) You can’t force people to learn or to do something. They need to want to make the change, and that journey has more gravity when there are consequences attached. So, will students who follow your letter of rec guidelines be given priority? Will you be imposing a strict deadline by which you will no longer be available to answer application-related questions? Will students who’ve submitted all their applications enjoy a stress-free holiday break? Whatever the consequence of making or not making the change, make it clear to the attendees. You need them to do more than just sit through the presentation. You want them enrolled in this journey. And helping them see the benefits or disadvantages based on whether or not they follow your lead will make people more likely to act.

Getting started as a private counselor

People often ask our Collegewise counselors about the best way to get started as a private counselor. Here’s a recent podcast, and some past posts of mine, that should help any committed professional take productive first steps to get started.

On this 1-hour podcast, marketing expert Seth Godin recently shared the steps he would take if he were starting a new business today. His insight about marketing with—not at—people works very well in an industry like ours where trust is so essential.

Here are a few past posts of mine:

Some advice, here and here, on getting started.

And an early-stage marketing idea can be found here.

My thoughts on certificate programs in college counseling.

Some recommended basics on which to build your business.

And finally, some advice on how much to charge.

For counselors: download our NACAC notes

NACAC Notes 2017The annual NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) conference serves up some of the best, most up-to-date information about college admissions. But it’s expensive to attend, and many high schools aren’t able to send their counselors.

Since 2009, our Collegewise counselors have shared with high school counselors our notes from the sessions we attended. This year’s bundle of notes is complete, and you can download your copy here.

Please share them with your colleagues who might be interested (there are no copyrights or other restrictions). I hope you find them helpful.

Enrolling now: “How to Write Letters of Recommendation”

My online course for counselors and teachers, How to Write Letters of Recommendation, is currently open for enrollment. I think you’ll find that this course has the power to transform the way you and your colleagues approach these letters. You’ll give your students an even bigger admissions lift. And you’ll spend less time writing, rewriting, and wondering if you’re giving the colleges what they’re looking for. The course includes videos and downloadable materials, all of which can be completed at your own pace. It’s fast, it’s focused, and best of all, it’s just $19, with a money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied for any reason. All the details are here. I hope you’ll join.

Who’s it not for?

For private college counselors running your own shops, one of the keys to standing out and doing great work is deciding who you–and your expertise–isn’t for.

What kind of guidance or support can a potential customer request—and be perfectly willing to pay you for—that you’d politely decline and refer them to a competitor who’s a better fit?

I don’t mean a family who’s requesting a service that’s wildly out of your expertise, like asking you to tell them what kind of roofing to put on their house. I mean a family who wants a type of college advising that you have actively decided is not where you hang your professional hat.

Maybe a family has an athlete who’s hoping to be recruited, or a student who’s not that engaged in the college process and needs someone to light the fire, or parents who are primarily concerned about the cost of college and are hoping you can help secure financial aid and scholarships. It’s hard to imagine any counselor who could help all of those families equally well. And if you can’t do great work for a family, don’t they deserve to find someone who can? And don’t you deserve the opportunity to do your best work? Saying no gives you both that opportunity.

It’s temping when running any business to say yes to anyone who’s willing to pay you. You want to pay your bills. You want to earn a living. You want to grow your business. Why shouldn’t you say yes, especially in the early stages, if all it will mean is a little extra work and learning on your part?

But saying yes to everyone is a path to owning a business that’s just like all the others. Deciding who your work isn’t for is step one to creating a business people talk about.

Imagine the wedding photographer who says, “I’m sorry, but I don’t shoot outdoor weddings.”

Imagine the caterer who says, “I’m sorry, I don’t cater events for more than 15 people.”

Imagine the accountant who says, “I’m sorry, I don’t work on taxes for people who aren’t business owners.”

Now the photographer can focus on becoming so good at servicing the unique needs of her clients that she becomes known as the one you call when your wedding will be indoors.

The caterer can put his energies into becoming the one in town that people talk about because of the show he put on for their dinner party.

The accountant can become the one in town that small business owners talk about because she helped them make their businesses more financially sound.

Sure, you’ll still need to do great work to stand out. You’ll need to create experiences for your customers so remarkable that they can’t help but talk about you. But it’s a lot easier to do that for a smaller segment than it is to do it for everyone. And the first step towards identifying your smaller segment is to decide which members of the larger segment just shouldn’t hire you.

If you have trouble deciding, consider three things.

1. Who’s your ideal customer, the person who’s predisposed to be thrilled with what you do and how you do it?

2. Are there enough of those people to sustain your business?

3. And most importantly, what could you learn, do, and provide to that group that would make them feel like you’d created the perfect service for them, one that understood their desires, fears, and hopes for their college process?

Now, who doesn’t fit in that group?

To find the groups that will buy, appreciate, and talk about your best work, start by deciding who your service isn’t for.

For counselors: What’s new with the Common App?

The folks at the Common App held a free webinar for counselors yesterday: “What’s New With The Common App: Enhancements.” If you didn’t get a chance to attend, our counselor Tom Barry shared the following summary for our Collegewise counselors.

You won’t need to find your way around a brand new Common App with your students this year. In fact, the key changes are mostly minor and will not affect all applicants.

1. Students can now self-report courses and grades within the Common App tab.
There aren’t many colleges on the Common App that ask students to self-report their courses and grades, but for those that do, the Common App now offers them a place to do so.

2. Students can upload Google Drive text files directly into the “Essay” boxes. 
This won’t replace the option to copy and paste. But one potential benefit is that uploading a document could help a student avoid those pesky formatting challenges that seemed to pop up so often.

3. The “Activities” dropdown menu will now include “Internship” and “Social Justice” categories. 

4. Students can select up to three advisors who will be granted access to their account in order to evaluate progress. 
This number is in addition to the formal school counselor and the teacher(s) submitting letters of recommendation.

We’ll also be releasing our updated annual Collegewise Common App guide around July 15. When it’s ready, I’ll share it here.

Counselors: Upcoming changes to the Common App

Counselors, if you’d like to get a peek at the changes to the Common App, they’ll be hosting a free webinar, What’s New With The Common App: Enhancements, on June 12 from 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. EST. All the details are here. And thanks to Collegewise counselor Tom Barry for alerting us.

We’re also planning to release our updated annual Common App guide around July 15. We’re waiting until then because the Common App folks plan to continue tweaking the app through July 1st. Once our new guide is ready, I’ll share it here.

Five ways counselors can get honest feedback from students

The pressure of the college admissions process doesn’t just cause some students to measure and make every decision based on how they think it will affect their admissions chances. It also leaves many students out of touch or even completely unaware of their honest feelings, desires, and goals. For the counselors trying to not only advise them, but also help kids find happiness and fulfillment wherever they go, it can be difficult to get real, honest answers to college-related questions. Here are five ways to help students let go of the admissions implications and actually reveal what they really think and want.

1. “If you could never list this on your college applications…”
Do you have a student who’s debating between two concurrent classes? Or trying to decide whether or not to attend a summer program? Or asking if they should continue with their community service project, sport, or other activity they might now be second-guessing? Remove the admissions implication of the decision by posing the scenario, “If you could never list this on your college applications, what would you do?” This scenario often strips away the desire to please colleges and helps kids tell you what they actually would want to do if colleges would never be privy to it. Maybe they know which class they want to take but are just afraid they won’t do well? Maybe their parents are a lot more excited about that summer program than the student is? Maybe they’ve fallen out of like with an activity but are worried that leaving it behind will make them look like a quitter to their colleges? The student may or may not be best served by actually doing what they answer in this scenario. But at least you’ll have a better sense of what the student actually wants.

2. “What would you do if a million dollars were at stake?”
I call this the “million dollar scenario,” and it’s a great way to help a student differentiate between an excuse and a real obstacle.

“I can’t get to school on time for a class that early…”

“I’ll be too busy to study for the SAT this summer…”

“I can’t get a good grade in her class because the teacher doesn’t like me…”

A counselor can say, “If you were promised a million dollars if you pulled this off, what would you do differently?”

Now you’ve got the student thinking of solutions rather than excuses. The described actions might not be worth pursuing if it’s clear the student would be sacrificing too much sleep, sanity, or happiness to win the big prize. But as a counselor, once you’ve got the student proposing just exactly how something could get done, you can assess whether the proposed actions are actually in the student’s best interest.

3. “On a scale of 1-10…”
If you want to gauge how serious a student is about an expressed interest or desire, pose a “scale of 1-10” scenario, define the ranges, and then listen carefully to the answer.

“On a scale of 1-10, how important is it for you to play sports in college? 1 means you’d gladly leave your sport behind, 10 is that you would not attend a college where you would not have the opportunity to play your sport.”

“On a scale of 1-10, how hard do you work in your studies? 1 is you don’t work at all, 10 is that you couldn’t possibly work any harder.”

“On a scale of 1-10, how sure are you that you want to major in business? 1 is that you’d go to a college you liked even if it didn’t have a business major, 10 is that you would never go to a college that had everything else you liked except a business major.”

Bonus tip: if you sense that parents and the student aren’t exactly on the same page on a topic, pose the 1-10 scenario to both parties, and let each answer separately.

4. “It’s just you and me talking right now…”
Ever feel like your student is giving canned answers, maybe channeling their parents or what they imagine colleges would want to hear? Pause, assume a relaxed posture, and say, “It’s just you and me talking right now…” The emphasis you’re going for here is not confidentiality (although that’s important, too). You’re reminding the student that this is just a conversation, not a test, an interview, or anything that will later be transcribed to colleges. It helps students worry less about giving what they think is the right answer and concentrate more on finding—and sharing—the honest one. I’ve found this technique particularly useful when helping students brainstorm responses to a college essay prompt. Their most meaningful activity, their interest in the school, the time they failed or made a mistake–remind them, “It’s just you and me talking right now” and you’ll usually see them relax and open up with fewer reservations.

5. “If there were a state law requiring/prohibiting…”
If a student has trouble considering a scenario without letting go of the college admissions implications, take admissions off the table and replace it with a state law.

“If there were a state law prohibiting you from taking the SAT again, what would you do with that time you would have spent preparing?”

“If there were a state law requiring that every word of this essay response be not only true, but also sincere, how would you describe your reasons you want to apply to this college?”

“If there were a state law prohibiting you from participating in more than three activities, which ones would you feel OK leaving behind?”

With all of these tips, a savvy counselor will still need to evaluate and discuss whether or not a student’s honest answer is actually an advisable course of action to take. But one of the challenges of working with teens, particularly those who are pressured by the college admissions crunch, is uncovering the real thoughts and feelings behind the college applicant. When that pressure keeps a lid on students’ responses, use one of these techniques to help them open up.