Things your teachers notice about you in class

I'm not a high school teacher, but I do a lot of our seminars at Collegewise.  And it's hard not to make judgments about a student by how he acts during a class.  Whether you're an "A" student or "C" student, I imagine that your teachers notice these things, too.

1.  Are you writing things down?

When I say, "Here's the most important piece of advice I can give you about college essays," I notice which 3 of the 20 students in the room don't bother to write down the advice that follows.  And I know the 17 who do take notes are engaged enough to want to make the most of our time together.  It tells me who's serious about getting into college.  Imagine if I were a chemistry teacher and one of those non-note-takers got a "C" and came to me to ask for extra credit so he could improve his grade.  Not gonna happen, kid.

2.  Do you seen genuinely happy to be there? 

I'm sure my trigonometry teacher in high school knew how bored I was by math because I spent a lot of time yawning in his class.  Now that I'm up in front of the classroom, I realize how bad the sleepers look.  Students who pay attention, who have pleasant expressions, who even acknowledge you with a nod of the head or a courtesy laugh at one of my stupid jokes, they come off like engaged learners.  Imagine if you were on a date and the person was yawning during dinner, doodling on the tablecloth and generally looking bored.  Wouldn't you be a little insulted?  Doing those things in class is like saying to your teacher, "I don't want to listen to you, and I don't want to be here."

3.  Do you ask good questions?

"Do we have to do this?" is a stupid question.  "What's an example of a college with strange essay prompts?" is a good question.  Whether or not you ask, and the questions you raise, they both say a lot about you as a student.  Questions that seek to help you better understand the material, or that just show you're interested and want to more, are good ways to show your teacher that you are an engaged learner. 

4.  Do you participate?

At a seminar yesterday, I asked, "Who remembers from our essay seminar how you take ownership of a story?"  I could have predicted which kids were going to put their hands up–those that had been writing things down and were engaged in the discussion (see questions 1, 2 and 3). 

5.  Are you nice to other students?

If a student is having trouble understanding, or if he asks a question that seems silly to you, or if he's just not as smooth and socially successful as the rest of the class, do you roll your eyes, snicker at him, or whisper a comment to one of your friends and then giggle?  If you do, trust me, your teacher notices.  And I'll tell you something–the kid who does those things is never one of the nice kids.  The nice kid who leans over and offers to help the struggling one, who whispers, "Hey, want me to show you how to do it?"  I like that kid.  Extra credit for you.    

How to be lucky in college admissions

If you want to have more luck in your life (and in your college admissions process), it turns out you can create it.

According to psychologist Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor: Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life: The Four Essential Principles,” lucky people think and behave in ways that unlucky people don’t.

Here are the excerpts from an interview in Fast Company magazine.  I think there are lots of ways to apply this to your college admissions process.

1. Maximize chance opportunities
“Lucky people are skilled at creating, noticing, and acting upon chance opportunities. They do this in various ways, which include building and maintaining a strong network, adopting a relaxed attitude to life, and being open to new experiences.”

Do you have the initiative to take a psychology class outside of school just because it looks interesting, or to try karate just because it looks fun?  Would you take the opportunity to start a car wash business with a friend or take a road trip to look at a college you’ve never heard of or introduce yourself to some students on campus once you got there?  Lucky students would do those things.  Unlucky students wouldn’t try anything unless they were guaranteed it could help them get into college.

2. Listen to your lucky hunches.
“Lucky people make effective decisions by listening to their intuition and gut feelings.”

Are you willing to listen to your gut instincts and apply to the colleges that you really believe are best for you, regardless of what your friends or the US News rankings say?  Would you write the college essay you want to write about how you sing in the shower even though your parents think you should write about doing community service?  Would you pick Oberlin over Princeton because it just felt right?  Lucky students would.  Unlucky students would never take what feels like a risk.  They always want to do what feels safe and guaranteed.

3. Expect good fortune.
“Lucky people are certain that the future will be bright. Over time, that expectation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because it helps lucky people persist in the face of failure and positively shapes their interactions with other people.”

Are you excited about your future life in college?  Do believe that you’ll learn and have fun wherever you go to school?  Do you have enough faith in yourself to know that your work ethic and personal characteristics, not the name of the college you go to, are what will ultimately make you successful?  Lucky students do.  Unlucky students believe that everything hinges on whether or not Stanford or Duke or UCLA says “Yes.”

4. Turn bad luck into good.
Lucky people employ various psychological techniques to cope with, and even thrive upon, the ill fortune that comes their way. For example, they spontaneously imagine how things could have been worse, they don’t dwell on the ill fortune, and they take control of the situation.

Whenever a parent tells me that her daughter is “just devastated” by a rejection from her dream college, there’s a part of me that wants to swoop in and tell that kid, “Get over it.  Do you know how many people would do anything just to have the chance to go to college at all?”

Lucky students don’t dwell on college rejections, or the fact that they lost the election for senior class president, or that the their girlfriend broke up with them.  They believe there’s too much life to live to get bogged down by those events.  They know there are other colleges and other offices and other girls out there, and that they’ll probably end up with a better one now.  Unlucky students just want to lament their fate.

You can be a lucky student (or parent) if you want to be.

How to write a good email message

Today's college applicant is much more likely to email, not call, someone with a question or request.  Whenever you email someone, the person on the receiving end is going to make assumptions and judgments about you based on what you write and how you write it.  So here's an email checklist before you send anything to an admissions officer, teacher, counselor, or anyone else involved in your college application process.

1. Do you actually have permission to email this person?  A college rep who hands you his card at a college fair and says, "Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions" has given you permission.  But just because you found the email address for the Dean of Admissions online doesn't mean she's invited you to email her.  Don't be a spammer.

2. Make sure your email address is just a name, not something embarrassing like sexyhotpartyguy33@email.com.  Get a new email address just for college application stuff if you have to.

3. Make the subject line something descriptive.  "Question" isn't descriptive.  "Question from a fall 2011 applicant" is.

4. Address the person by name at the beginning, like, "Ms. Harrington-"  Imagine if someone walked up to you and just started asking you a question without even saying hi first.  Wouldn't it be rude (and a little weird)?

5. If the person doesn't know you or may not remember you, identify yourself in the first paragraph.

6.Keep your email to one screen.  Don't write something so long that they have to scroll through it.

7. Use punctuation, capitalization, and proper grammar.  Don't make excuses not to do this.  This is not a text message.  Nobody ever looked stupid for sending a properly capitalized and punctuated email, but they have looked that way for ignoring the rules. 

8. Observe the difference between "your" and "you're."  Sorry–I know that's related to #7 but it's ignored often enough that I thought it deserved its own mention.

9. Don't ever type in all caps.  When you write "PLEASE RESPOND TO ME ASAP" it reads like you're yelling at the person.

10. Be careful with exclamation points for the same reason.  "I really hope you can write my letter!" sounds like you're yelling.

11. It's OK to write like you talk as long as you're respectful.  "The purpose of my email is to request your assistance with my college applications" is too formal.  "I'm writing to ask you if you might be able to help me with my college applications" gets the job done.

12. Use a normal font.  Think black type and normal size.  No bright colors, cursive, blinking lights or animated creatures of any kind.   

13. If you're asking for something, say "please."

14. Always say "thank you" at the end. 

15. Proofread it carefully.

16. Type your full name at the end of the message.  If you need a reply back, leave a phone number, too, so the person has the option of calling.

17. Don't include a quote in your auto-signature.  You don't need to remind this person that "the only way to have a friend is to be one."  And nobody in the history of email has ever read one of those quotes and said, "Wow, that really made me stop and think." 

18.  Be careful CCing people on the email.  The receiver doesn't know those people.  Imagine if you walked into this person's office and didn't introduce the two people you brought in tow. 

19. Think twice before you mark your email "urgent."  It might be urgent to you, but it's not necessarily urgent to the person you're sending it to.

20. Read it through one last time and try to imagine receiving this message yourself.  Is it clear?  Is it polite?  Does it make you want to reply?  If the answer to any of those questions is "No," wait to send it until you re-write your way to a "Yes."

*Bonus email tip that may or may not have to do with college admissions:

Are you angry?  Are you sending this email to someone who's made you angry?  Warren Buffet once said, "You can always tell a guy to go to hell tomorrow.  You don't give up that opportunity."  But once you put your anger out there, it's there.  You can't take it back.  So write it, but don't send it.  Come back tomorrow and read it again.  And if you're still angry, then click "Send."

How far can a love of learning take you?

I've written often on this blog that the most successful students work hard because they love to learn, because they're passionate about what they do, not because they want to be admitted to a prestigious college.  They don't make college the reward.  College is the fortunate byproduct of their drive to know more and to make an impact.

Richard Feynman was a professor of physics at Caltech who won the Nobel Prize.  He worked on the atomic bomb and was a member of the team that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.  And he also wrote a fantastic book about how the best scientists are driven not by the chance at fame or notoriety, but by the joy of learning something nobody else has known before.

Here's a short video of Feynman explaining that he doesn't care about awards, not even the Nobel Prize.  As he puts it, "I've already got the prize–the pleasure of finding the thing out."

What do you think he would have said to a kid who was taking calculus because "That's what Harvard wants"?

Why do you need a college to think you do good work?

From Seth Godin's blog today:

"If you're waiting for a boss or an editor or a college to tell you that you do good work, you're handing over too much power to someone who doesn't care nearly as much as you do."

Here's how I think high school students should apply this thinking to college admissions.  

Seth isn't suggesting that you shouldn't try to achieve your goals, or that there's no need to work hard to gain admission to college.

But if you work hard in your classes, you shouldn't need an admission from Yale to feel proud of your effort. 

If you spent every Saturday of your junior year volunteering at a local homeless shelter, you've done great work whether or not Duke says, "Yes."

If you played three years of varsity basketball, or had a successful stint in Model United Nations, or acted in plays, sang in musicals, trained guide dogs for the blind or flipped burgers for extra money, you don't need your dream college to admit you to know that you're a good, talented, hard working kid.

The pressure of college admissions has pushed too many kids to leave their self worth in the hands of a very short list of selective colleges.  They believe admission from one of these colleges will validate all of their efforts.  If you believe that, you're giving too much power to the colleges.

Study.  Work hard.  Be curious and engaged.  Be nice to other people.  Make an impact in activities you enjoy.  Show your enthusiasm for things you're doing.  I promise you that you will get into college.  Keep being that same engaged learner and doer while you're there and you'll be happy and successful, no matter which college is lucky enough to get you for four years. 

And parents, if you've raised a good kid who tries his best, who plays on the soccer team, who kids and teachers like, who's nice to his sister and always helps clear the table, you shouldn't need him to receive an admission from a highly selective college to be proud of him (or proud of the job you've done as a parent).

Recommended reading for leaders

If you're a student body president, team captain, section editor for the school newspaper, or in any other role where your job is to supervise or lead people, here are three great books to learn the skills you need to be great at it.

OneThing The One Thing You Need to Know by Marcus Buckingham

Leadership and management are not the same thing.  They require very different kinds of skills, and Buckingham explains how to do both.  He's also got a surprisingly simple secret for personal success that involves quitting.  It's a good read. 




Good2Great
Good
to Great
by Jim Collins

Collins is a professor at Stanford Business School who based this book on his exhaustive study of great companies and the leaders behind them.  Some of the findings are surprising, like the fact that charisma can be as much a liability as an asset for a leader, and that spending time and energy trying to motivate people is a waste of effort–if you have the right people, they will be motivated as long as you don't de-motivate them.

FirstBreak First Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman 

The authors worked for The Gallup Organization and did a comprehensive study to find out what great managers do differently.  If you're in any kind of supervisory role, this book will give you great ideas about how to manage the group and get the best out of each person.  Every single adult I know has a story about working for a terrible manager, but you can start learning to be a great one while you're still in high school

Why thank-you notes are so great

I got a great thank-you note the other day.  It was thoughtful and
sincere and really made me feel like this person appreciated the
(actually pretty small) thing I did. 

It was also, of course,
totally unnecessary.  But that's why thank-you notes are so great. 
They're unexpected and a nice surprise.  They're free to the writer,
but worth a lot to the receiver.  It's rare that you can do something
so easy that's so well appreciated. 

So think about a person who's helped you or done something nice
who deserves your thanks.  Maybe it's a teacher, your counselor, your
boss, or a friend who helped you when you needed it.  Write a nice note of thanks and let them know you appreciate their help. 

If you need some tips to write a good one, here's a prior post.

What students can learn from Major League Baseball

A lot of colleges' essay questions ask you to describe a time that you failed or made a mistake.  Nobody is successful all the time, so colleges don't expect seventeen year-olds to be perfect.  But they ask the question because the way you handle these circumstances says a lot about your character. 

Baseball fans saw a great example of that this week when umpire Jim Joyce absolutely blew a call that cost pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game.  The replay made it obvious to everyone, including Joyce, that he'd missed the call.  So he did something you almost never see an umpire do.  He admitted he was wrong and apologized. 

“It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the sh*t out of it, I just cost that kid a perfect game. I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay.”

He also apologized personally to the pitcher, Galarraga.

"Joyce felt badly enough about it that, long after the game was over,
he asked to meet with Galarraga. It’s an incredibly unusual move, but
given the circumstances, it was understandable.

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski brought Galarraga
from the home clubhouse into the umpires’ room.

'He asked if he could see Armando and I brought Armando in there,' Dombrowski said, 'and [Joyce] apologized profusely to him and he said he
just felt terrible. They hugged each other and Armando said, ‘I
understand.’"

Major League Baseball gave Joyce the option to take the next game off, but he declined, even though he knew what he was in for.  He said he was, "Ready for boos" and promised,

"I’ll take it.  “I’ll take whatever you can give me, and I’ll
handle it like a man, and I’ll do the best I can.”

And here's what happened in the next game.

Successful people don’t just “think” about doing things

Successful people don't just think about doing things; they actually do them.  That's why colleges are always looking for students who make things happen. 

According to his IMDB biography, Stanley Kubrick once said, "Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but the best thing that young filmmakers
should do is to get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of
any kind at all."  Note to potential film majors:  You don't become a filmmaker by talking about your favorite films.  You've got to actually make some.

Most people didn't know who Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were back in 1996.  Then they wrote "Good Will Hunting" and won an Academy Award.  They could have just talked about writing a movie; but they actually did it.

Bill Bowerman was a track coach at the University of Oregon in the late 60's.  He thought the standard racing shoes with metal spikes were too heavy.  So he started making his teams' shoes himself complete with rubber soles he forged on his wife's waffle iron.  A few years later, he co-founded a little shoe company called Nike.

Steve Jobs didn't know much about computers when he started Apple in 1976.  But his friend Steve "Woz" Wozniak did.  Woz had been building circuit boards that computer hobbyists could buy and turn into computers.  But he was just doing it for fun.  It was Jobs who saw the potential for the personal computer.  It took awhile, but he eventually convinced Woz to start a company with him–Jobs even sold his VW bus for $500 to help fund the start up (according to iCon).  Jobs wasn't just a thinker–he was the person who actually got Woz on board and started the company.

Ben and Jerry were sitting on the steps at Jerry's parents' house in 1977 talking about what kind of business they could start together.  They both loved to eat and decided to open an ice cream parlor because it was cheaper than opening a restaurant.  First, they took a $5 correspondence course through Penn State (they split the tuition and shared the material) to learn how to make ice cream. Then they found an abandoned gas station they could rent cheap and did all the renovations themselves.  They put the last coat of orange paint on the ceiling the night before they opened.  They combined thinking with doing (and eating) to start their business.   

What are you thinking about doing that you actually could be doing?

  • Does your softball team need to raise money new uniforms?
  • Is your senior class looking for a place to hold your prom?
  • Do you wish you knew more about the Civil War?
  • Do you need to learn more about which colleges are right for you?
  • Would you be a better basketball player if you could sink more free throws?
  • Does the homeless shelter where you volunteer need someone to supervise people on Saturdays?
  • Does the store where you work part time need a website?
  • Could you be the first chair violinist if you practiced a little more?
  • Does your soccer team need to organize practices for the summer?
  • Would it be great if your art class could display their work in the hallway?
  • Is there a kid at school who's being treated badly and would like someone to reach out and be nice to him?

Thinking about doing something is the easy part. It's the doing that's important.

Asking, “What can I do to help?”

"What can I do to help?" is a powerful phrase.  But someone who really needs you will be especially appreciative of the offer if you don't expect anything in return.

In the last week, my bank has started offering new products, discounts and benefits as "Our way of thanking you for all that you do."  I even got a call from someone who just wanted to "check in and see if I needed anything."  OK, that's nice.  But all I keep thinking is,

"Where were you guys 18 months ago when the bottom fell out of the economy?"

It's easy to offer help when it benefits you.  But tough times are great opportunities for you to make a real difference for someone who could use your help.  So reach out.  Offer to pitch in and help.  And do it without necessarily expecting anything in return.

You'll end up doing a lot for people at times when they really need it.