New year’s resolutions for students and parents

One year ago today, I posted some recommended new year's resolutions for high school students and their parents.  This seems like the right day to revisit those (some resoultions are worth remaking every year)

For students…

1. Be excited about the opportunity to go to college…any college. I'm not saying you should give up and just be happy with any college that takes you.  I'm saying that if you decide there are only three colleges where you could ever be happy, that puts an awful lot of pressure on yourself.  The hard work you're doing in and out of school shouldn't just be about trying to get into Stanford.  It should be about learning, finding your passions, and enjoying your teenage years.  Wherever you go to college, you're going to meet new people, learn and have fun. That's reason enough to be excited.  So, keep working hard, but try to enjoy yourself while you're doing it. 

2. Quit something worth quitting this year.   Almost everyone has something in their life that's not making your life any better, something in which you're just going through the motions, or that's actually making you unhappy or unhealthy.  Identify one of those things in your life and quit.  Quit it today and replace it with something that improves your life.  If you used to love swimming but now you secretly dread it every day, quit and take the art classes you've been dying to take.  If you're tired of hanging out with kids who aren't nice to each other, quit the group and find nicer friends.  The message here isn't to quit and do nothing.  It's to replace the thing you quit with something more positive and productive.  Happy and successful people do that all the time.

3. Stop getting caught up in high school drama.  Some parts of high school are wonderful.  Other parts, not so much–like the popularity contests, backbiting, and social insecurity.  The happiest and most well-adjusted students I've met don't engage in the negative dramas of high school.  They're happy being themselves and don't care what other people think of them.  They're nice to the kids other students aren't nice to.  They don't gossip or speak badly of their friends or worry about what's popular.  It's hard to disassociate from the social dramas of high school, but you'll be much happier if you do.  And believe me, once you get to college, you'll see for yourself just how petty a lot of the bad parts of high school really were.

4. Do more things for yourself that your parents have been doing for you.  When you make your parents do things for you that you can and should be doing for yourself, you're making it easy and maybe even necessary for them to run your life.  If you're having trouble in a class, don't make your parents contact the teacher.  If you have scheduling conflicts, don't make your parents talk to your counselor to resolve them.  If you have questions about a college's application requirements, don't make your parents get that information for you.  These are things you can and should be doing for yourself.  So start doing them.  You'll be happier, your relationship with your parents will improve, and the colleges will be appreciative of your independence. 

5.  Look for ways to make an impact. One of the best ways to feel good about yourself (and frankly, to get into college) is to find ways to make an impact.  You don't have to be the captain of your soccer team to host the team dinner.  You don't have to be the smartest kid in your English class to participate and contribute to class discussions.  And you don't have to be the editor of the school paper to take a journalism class over the summer and then share what you learned.  Titles, leadership positions and awards aren't the only ways to demonstrate that you're valuable and appreciated.  If you make efforts to contribute and try to make an impact, you'll feel good about how you're spending your time–and people around you will take notice.    

For parents…

Why not capitalize on the annually-renewed sense of self-improvement that comes with the New Year and make some resolutions that will help you not just survive, but actually enjoy your student's ride to college? 

Here are my top five college admissions-related resolution suggestions for parents.

1. Put college admissions in perspective. Your student's college future deserves to be taken seriously.  But if you're panicked because your son scored 1900 on the SAT and "that's just not good enough for Princeton," you've lost sight of the big picture.  Going to college is important.  Going to a famous college is not.  Don't make the acceptance into one particular school the end-goal.  Instead, celebrate your student's opportunity to attend college–any college.  Recognize it as just one step in what will be a lifetime process of education, growth and life experience.   And while you're at it, pat yourself on the back for raising a good kid who's college bound.     

2. Spend more time celebrating your student's strengths than you do trying to fix weaknesses.  The pressure surrounding college admissions often breeds far too much focus on kids' weaknesses.  "Her test scores are low."  "Her GPA isn't high enough."  "She doesn't have enough leadership."  Focusing too much on weaknesses just hurts kids' self-confidence.  Don't forget to celebrate strengths, victories and other achievements that are worthy of parental pride.  Is she great at her job at the daycare?  Is he well-respected by his peers at the church youth group?  When she didn't get the lead in the school play, did she cheerfully offer to run the lights instead?  You know your kid is a good kid–so take the time to acknowledge the reasons why.  And remember that a GPA, test score or decision from a particular college do not measure your student's worth (or your worth as a parent). 

3. Don't run with the wrong crowd.  Some parents seem intent on turning the college admissions process into a status competition.  These are not the parents you want at your next dinner party.  They talk about how many hours of community service their kid has done and how expensive the SAT tutor is that they're housing in the guest room this summer.  They ruin the ride to college for everybody and, sadly, they don't ever seem to find any joy in this process, even when the most desirable schools say "yes."  So don't join in.  Associate with other parents who care more that their kids end up happy in college than they do about whether or not those schools are Ivy League schools.  They're more fun to be around at dinner parties anyway.

4. Encourage your student to take responsibility for her own college process.  Being a supportive parent is something you should be proud of.  But you should resist the urge to do things for your student that she can do herself.  College-bound kids need to develop their own initiative and independence if they want to get in and be successful at college.  Let your kids approach teachers when they're struggling in class.  Let your kids talk to college representatives at college fairs.  Let your kids fill out their own college applications and write their college essays.  Parents can be supportive partners, but you shouldn't take over the process. 

5. Enjoy this time as much as possible.   The worst part of the frenzy surrounding the college admissions process is that it ruins what should be an exciting time for both parents and students. You're only going to go through this process once with each kid.  So enjoy it.  Resolve to find the joy in it.  A positive attitude won't make things like the SAT go away, but it will help you revel in the parts that should be fun, like visiting colleges, discovering new schools that fit your student well, and watching kids make the transition from home room to dorm room. 

Happy New Year…

One resolution suggestion

If you're making New Year's resolutions this year, I just have one suggestion for you:

Make sure at least one involves maximizing a strength, rather than fixing a weakness.

A lot of resolutions address perceived shortcomings like, "Lose 10 pounds," or "Stop biting my nails."  It's never bad to make changes that will improve your quality of life, but why not promise yourself to get even better at something you're already good at?

If you love writing, make a resolution to take a college writing class or to write a short story this year.

If you're a hockey player with a great slap shot, make a resolution to practice until you have the fiercest slap shot in the league this year.

If you're saxophone player, pick three songs that are too difficult for you to play now and promise to learn them this year.

If you're really good with people, promise to find a job or activity in which you work in or lead a team.

If you love math, why not resolve to follow a math class at MIT online, or to learn more about a famous mathematician, or to deliver your best student performance in trig this year?

If you really enjoy helping people, find a community service project that will actually let you do more than just file papers, like working closely with the residents at a shelter for abused women or volunteering with a mobile health care unit that visits the poorest areas of your town.

If you love doing magic tricks, start doing shows at kids' birthday parties.

If you're a cross country runner, pick a local 10K race that's open to the public and try to finish in the top 20 or top 10.  Or go all out and try to win it.

There's plenty of honor in spending time getting even better at something you're already good at.  It feels great.  And the most successful, fulfilled people are those who maximize their strengths.  Why not use at least one resolution to maximize yours this year? 

Creating a pocket of greatness

Some people believe they can’t make a difference in their organization unless they’re in charge.  They think that unless they’re the CEO of the company, or the superintendent of a school, or the president of their club, they’re not empowered to do those things that would really make their organization great.

Jim Collins is a professor at the Stanford Business School who’s written several books about the workings and leadership behind great companies.  His website has several articles and MP3s in which he discusses his work.  Here are two pieces I found addressing the question of whether or not you really need to be in charge to create greatness.

“For many people, the first question that occurs is, ‘But how do I persuade my CEO to get it?’ My answer: Don’t worry about that… each of us can create a pocket of greatness. Each of us can take our own area of work and influence and can concentrate on moving it from good to great. It doesn’t really matter whether all the CEOs get it. It only matters that you and I do. Now, it’s time to get to work.”

“Take responsibility to make great what you can make great.  And let others do it in the areas that they can make.  And if the whole company doesn’t do it, you can’t change that. But you can take responsibility for your area.”

10 holiday reading recommendations

If you've got some downtime during the holidays and are looking for a good read, here are ten of my favorites from 2010 that I thought might pique the interest of students, parents or counselors.   

BornToRunBorn to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
Christopher McDougal

A tribe of Indians in Mexico who routinely run up to 200 miles wearing homemade sandals–and they do it because they love it.  It's a good reminder for students that you can accomplish some pretty incredible things when you love what you're doing. 

 

Rework Rework
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

For counselors, it's a great book about how to run a better business (or department) and get more work done in less time.

 

 

HowToBeAHighSchoolSuperstar How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out)
Cal Newport

I don't agree with the central message of the book that any student can somehow follow a program that leads them to greatness (as evidenced by his examples, superstar students become that way by not following a formula, but by pursuing their real interests).  Still, pages 51-76 about study habits and time-management should be required reading for all high school students.  

Linchpin Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Seth Godin

I'm a Seth Godin fan and I admit that I was a little disappointed after my first read of this.  His discussion of the lizard brain in all of us and how it rises up to sabotage us felt a little too much like it belonged in the "Self-Help" section of the bookstore. But it stayed with me enough that I've since read it again and I think that if you can hang in there through the lizard discussion, the central message of the book is a crucial one–you don't need anyone's permission to do great work and make something happen.  If you're not doing it, what are you waiting for? 

MeatballSundae Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing out of Sync?
Seth Godin

Another Seth Godin book I'd recommend to any business owner.  The internet has changed not only what people buy, but also how they buy them (remember when people used to pay a travel agent to find good travel deals?).  And yet a lot of business are trying to sell the same old stuff using the newest marketing.  That's a meatball Sundae.  You don't just need new marketing–you need new stuff.

LessStressMoreSuccess Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admissions and Beyond
Marilee Jones and Kenneth R. Ginsburg

While the first half of the book offers up sound, practical advice for parents from a former Dean of Admissions at MIT, the second half is complex discussion by a psychologist that read too much like a textbook to me.  Still, I'd recommend (the first half of) the book to parents. 

 

DebtFreeUDebt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents
Zac Bissonnette and Andrew Tobias

A must read for the cost-conscious college shopper.  It's also got the best, most thorough critique of the US News college rankings I've ever read.

 

 

 

DeliveringHappiness Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
Tony Hsieh

Zappos founder Tony Hsieh is a pretty fascinating guy.  He's a serial entrepreneur who's been starting businesses since he was in elementary school, and this is his story of how he built Zappos, what the company stands for, and how they've managed to revolutionize selling goods on the internet.

 

 

MadeToStick Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Chip Heath and Dan Heath

After I read this book, I had to go back and re-write all my seminar descriptions and rethink how I present information in talks.

 

 

MyAppetite My Appetite for Destruction: Sex, and Drugs, and Guns N' Roses
Steven Adler

To make my list all about business and college admissions would be a) taking myself too seriously and b) not entirely representative of what I read.

Steven Adler is the former drummer from Guns and Roses.  There is not a single productive takeaway for students, parents or counselors (other than, well, don't do heroin)–this one is all trash.  But reading books like this is the closest I'll ever get to being a rock star.  I read Slash's autobiography, too.  

And while I'm at it, I've also got a subscription to People Magazine.

 

Never end with Q and A

I think the worst way to end a presentation is by asking, "Now, does anyone have any questions?" 

It's a presenter's responsibility to make sure your audience gets what they came for.  When you take questions at the end, you lose control.  You're not in charge of what's asked.  You're not in charge of whether or not it's relevant to the talk, interesting to the entire audience, or even appropriate.  A questioner may represent the interests of a few people in the audience, but rarely all of them.

More importantly, when you do Q & A at the end, you neglect the most important part of your talk.

Hopefully, you're doing a presentation because you want the audience to do something with the information–to start their applications or consider your college or buy your counseling service.  The end of your presentation should call your audience to action.  It should send a clear message of exactly what it is you want them to do with the new information.  Everything you do in the talk leads to this.  And how you leave them feeling at the end is how you'll leave them feeling about your talk.

Why leave that up to someone else?

It's fine to take a few questions during your talk (stop at appropriate times and let people know how many questions you'll take before you move on).  And maybe let them know you'll answer any additional questions afterwards.

But don't relegate the end to Q & A.  That part of your presentation should be all you. 

Join us for the next episode of College Admissions Live tonight

Arun and I will be hosting our next episode of College Admissions Live, our free online show, tonight.

How to Make a Great Last Impression:
Improving your Chances of Admission After You Apply

With Kevin McMullin of Collegewise and Arun Ponnusamy of Open Road Education

Tuesday, December 7 at 6 p.m. PST.

On our free online channel

We'll talk for about 30 minutes and take questions for 15 minutes.  We hope you'll join us.

For colleges: What if you showed instead of told?

Colleges spend a lot of time and money marketing to kids.  They all promise wonderful educations and experiences.  But when schools all make the same promises, colleges all start to sound the same.  So here's an idea for those in charge of college marketing efforts.

Why not prove it to your prospective students by showing–not telling–them?

All colleges claim to have great professors.  What if your best math professor did a ten-minute video once a week for a semester to show high school kids just how easy trigonometry can be?  What if your most popular writing instructor gave weekly tips to help high school students write better papers?

Your Nobel Prize-winning faculty member could help 11th graders make sense of chemistry.  Your most published history professor could help kids be more prepared for the AP exams. Spanish, French and German professors could make basic language instruction more memorable by sharing subtleties of the vernacular that are common knowledge in the respective countries not normally taught in the high school classroom.  A drama or music professor could share tips on how to nail on audition. 

If your school claims to have great services to LD kids, why not have that office produce a monthly newsletter sharing ways kids can overcome test anxiety, or advocate for themselves, or better manage their disabilities?  Would the students (or their parents) who became reguarly viewers be much more likely to apply later?

Even admissions officers could get in on the act and teach kids instead of marketing to them.  You could show students what goes on behind the scenes of an admissions office.  Let them hear your version of why "Soccer taught me to commit to me goals" is a cliche topic, or why you ask kids to write an essay about how they would contribute to the campus community, or ways kids could better choose their teachers to write letters of recommendation.

Any college who did this would build a willing audience of students who come back week to week to learn from you.  Show them you can teach them now, and you'll spend less time and money telling them why you should be the college that teaches them later. 

Take a class at Harvard, Stanford or MIT for free

Not many people in the world have ever experienced calculus at MIT.  No surprise there since you had to, well, get into MIT, which almost nobody does.  But now you don't have to get in.  You don't even have to apply.  All you need a computer to experience calculus…MIT style.  Here it is.  35 lectures, all free.  No grades.  No pressure.  Just watch and learn for the fun of it (if calculus is your idea of fun).

Even if you don't like math, c'mon–that's pretty damn cool. 

Academicearth.org features online lectures and full courses from colleges and universities.  There are so many lectures available from the Stanford Business School that there's a good chance I won't get any work done for the next three-and-a-half weeks.

Look at some of the great classes you could take: 

One of the most popular courses at Harvard is a philosophy course called "Justice: What's the right thing to do?"  The professor examines difficult moral dilemmas and then challenges your opinion with new information, tackling subjects like affirmative action and-same sex marriage.  Interested?  Here it is.  12 lectures.  You're taking one of the most popular classes at Harvard.  Free.   

Organic chemistry has dashed the pre-med hopes of countless students who just couldn't survive it.  Why not test drive it at UC Berkeley?  Here it is.  26 lectures, all free.  

Are you a Civil War buff?  Want to take a class at Yale that examines the causes and consequences of the American Civil War?  Here they are.  27 lectures, all free.  

Two things worth noticing here:

1. Now more than ever, you don't need a high GPA, perfect SAT scores or a lot of money to learn about subjects that interest you.  Access to quality education is increasing all the time.   Real learners don't have to go far, or pay a lot, to feed their minds.

2. Who's really more intellectual?  The kid whose parents pay thousands of dollars to send him to a summer school session on an Ivy League campus?  Or the kid who takes history classes at his local community college over the summer, checks out every book on the Civil War from the library, and watches free history lectures like the ones at academicearth.org?

Few qualities are more appealing to colleges than a genuine curiosity and interest in learning.  There are more opportunities to demonstrate that trait now than there ever have been before.

On Veteran’s Day…

College applicants, Veterans Day is a good day to remember that you are lucky to be living in a country that has the strongest and most accessible system of higher education in the world, a country that encourages anyone who wants to do so to go to college, a country where you get to decide for yourself what direction you want your life to take when you become a legal adult. 

If your biggest worry is that you might not get into your first choice college, you're very, very fortunate.  We all are.