The best way to show interest in a college

A parent at a seminar last weekend asked me how students should best show interest in a college.  She knew that colleges appreciated and often reward students who show a genuine interest in the school because those kids are more likely to accept an offer of admission.

The truth is that no expression of interest—including attending a college fair, making a personal connection to an admissions officer, visiting the school, etc.—is as effective as just applying to the right schools in the first place is.  A student who does some thoughtful college soul searching, who deliberately and thoughtfully searches for and finds the right colleges for her– her interest will be apparent because it’s real.  She’ll have good answers to the “Why this college?” question.  She’ll just fit the school. She’s more likely to attend if admitted, and her application will show it.

Here are a few more Collegewise tips to show interest in a college.  But even they only work if you’ve looked for and found the right schools.

Grandma and Grandpa know best


Whether grandparents get involved in the college process or not, their primary role is to remind the student that college doesn’t represent life’s pinnacle (even as the college guide section of the bookstore continues to grow). Yes, the college years are a big investment. They are an exceptional privilege. And life on a college campus may very well be the last time when students will live in an intentional community of their peers. But when compared to a fully lived life, four years spent on a college campus is just that: four years. A grandparent’s wisdom and perspective can help make that clear.'"

Peter Jennings
Director of College Counseling, Concord Academy
The full text is available here

How PSAT scores are like a Facebook profile

If you’re a junior who recently took the PSAT and you checked the box indicating that you were interested in receiving information from colleges based on your scores, get ready.  Over the next 6-8 months, you’re likely to receive a mailbox full of glowing letters of interest encouraging you to apply.

For PSAT takers who opt in to this communication, colleges purchase the names and addresses based on your scores and a variety of other factors like your classes and grades as you indicated them in the questionnaire, your intended major, where you live, your ethnicity, etc.

Frustratingly, some schools that routinely reject the vast majority of their applicants send out warm and fuzzy letters like these encouraging students to apply.  It’s important to remember that these “search letters” as they are called, no matter how glowing and complimentary, are based on this limited information and don’t necessarily mean you will be admitted.  It’s like reaching out to somebody over Facebook that you’ve never actually met based solely on their profile.  You have some basic information, but you don’t necessarily know for sure that you want to hang out with this person. 

It’s never a bad thing to get information from colleges who tell you they’re interested in you.  But it’s still important to talk to your high school counselor and get a real sense of your chances of admission before you actually apply.

Make your next presentation equipment-free

I speak at a lot of high school events and conferences.  And whenever the organizers ask me if I need anything for my talk—a whiteboard, a chalkboard, an overhead projector, a laptop, a screen, a can of Red Bull, whatever—my answer is always the same.

“Nope—I’m all set!”

Unless the room and crowd are large enough that I need a microphone, I go AV (audio visual) free for all my presentations.  Here’s why I think other counselors and educators should, too.

1. More equipment means more potential for problems.

Every piece of equipment you need for your presentation is just another chance for something to go wrong.  What if the bulb burns out in your projector?  What if the cables aren’t long enough to reach from the power outlet to your laptop?  What if the motor in the screen shorts out and you can’t lower it for your presentation?  What if the pens for the whiteboard have dried up?  I’ve seen all of those things happen to speakers. And instead of calmly and confidently starting their talks on time, they were flustered, late, and had to open with apologies to the audience.  I’m not just being a technophobe here.  If it could happen to Steve Jobs, it can happen to me (and to you).

2.    No equipment makes you a low-maintenance speaker.

The more you need, the more work you create for the person who invited you.  I don’t want a counselor or conference organizer to regret inviting me before I even show up.  And I’d rather the organizers spend their time promoting the event than worry about getting me a ground floor room opened for me at least 30 minutes beforehand with a screen and an overhead projector with laptop capability positioned no farther than 10 feet from the nearest power outlet.  If they can just get the room open and deliver a crowd, I can take it from there, which brings me to…

3. No equipment puts you in control.

Without any equipment, the only thing I need to worry about is the one thing that matters most—the quality and content of what I’m going to say.  I know that no matter what happens, as long as I take care of my responsibility to deliver a good talk, everything else will be fine.  And instead of spending half an hour before the talk making sure my AV equipment works, I can find a quiet spot and review the talk one last time before I’m on.

4. Equipment almost never improves a presentation.

In the history of public speaking, no audience member has ever left a presentation saying,

“I really loved the bullet points on slide 18!”

And yet at so many of the conferences I attend, the speakers are totally dependent on their PowerPoint slides.  Instead of looking at the audience, they look at their slides.  Instead of speaking naturally and sharing relevant examples, they read from their slides and expect the audience to stay interested.  AV becomes a crutch rather than something that improves the talk.  The more you rely on the slides, the less likely the audience will be to listen to you.

5.  You’re good enough without the AV.

If you’re invited to speak to a group, it’s not because they like your technology; it’s because they believe you’ve got something interesting and useful to say to their group.  And they’re right.  So give yourself enough credit to be able to say it without the help of technology.   Trade all the time you would have spent finding the right clip art for your slides and practicing timing the talk with the PowerPoint and spend it on proving to the organizers they made the right choice.  You’re good enough on your own.

If you absolutely insist on using technology, here’s a tip.  Start by preparing your talk without all the technology.  Make it as good as it can possibly be on its own.  And be ready to deliver it that way.  Then add in the technology if you’re sure it’s necessary (it’s probably not, but if you’re going to do it, get the talk right first).  That way, if something goes technologically awry, you can fall back on your original version of the talk, equipment-free.

Where did the 2011 Nobel Laureates go to college?

If you win the Nobel Prize, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve made it.  Your parents can be proud.  Here's where the 2011 Nobel Laureates went to college.

Harvard (2)
UC Berkeley
UC San Diego
University of Colorado at Boulder
University of Arizona
Stockholm University
Technion (Israel Institute of Technology)
Two 2011 Nobel Prize winners didn’t earn undergraduate degrees (one of those did get a masters at Eastern Mennonite University)

Go look up the colleges the members of Congress attended, the fortune 500 CEOs, your family doctor or lawyer or accountant, your school superintendent, and virtually anybody else you know (or can look up) who is successful.  I’m serious—make a list of where successful people went to college and you’ll get a list that looks a lot like the one above. 

Sure, you’ll end up with some highly selective colleges.  It’s not surprising when you consider the intellect and work ethic students need to demonstrate to get accepted to those schools.  But you’ll also find less selective colleges, too.   

You don’t need to go to an Ivy League school or any other highly selective college to be successful.  You just have to work hard and make the most of the opportunities presented to you during and after college.

A chance to help someone…and get something in return

I wrote an entry last week about how to improve high school fundraising, and I mentioned that it’s always good to give contributors something in return.  It’s nice when both the giver and the receiver can win in the name of a good cause.

If you are South Asian, here’s a cool opportunity to maybe save somebody’s life, get some publicity, and win $10,000.  And even if you aren't South Asian, you can still register and have a chance to help someone else, which is really what this is all about.

While there's room for debate about the precedent of awarding prizes for a bone marrow match, I'm not sure the person with Leukemia has time for that discussion.

This seems like the right day to share the entire speech

Here's Steve Jobs giving the commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005. He might have promised the audience he was going to share, "… three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories," but those are some pretty great messages contained in the three stories.


When you’re having one of those days…

You don't have to love the Dallas Mavericks to agree that their owner, Mark Cuban, has been pretty successful.  And whether you're running a business, counseling at a high school, raising a teenager or just trying to get through the SAT and AP Chem, it's nice to know that even the most successful people have those kinds of days every now and then.

From Cuban's blog:


Everyone gets down…the key is how soon you get back up.  I can’t count how many times I have gotten up in the morning dreading the day. I wasn't motivated, I was tired. I just wanted to crawl back in bed.  Other times, I had lost a deal, we had lost a game, something wasn’t working. I just wanted to crawl under a rock and disappear.  EVERYONE goes through those moments. The key is how you fight through them.  Knowing that everyone has those days, the people who truly will be successful are those that fight through the quickest and come back stronger and smarter."

How to get students to talk to you about college

30things A few weeks ago, I wrote a post sharing something smart that Katie in our Bellevue office was doing–printing a mock-up of my post on things you can do in college even if your school isn't a famous one, putting stars next to those she got to do when she was at Colgate, and posting the list in her office for her students to see.  Since then, all of the counselors in our Irvine office have done it, too (the photo at the left is Breanne's list).  And our counselor friend Teri at Palos Verdes High School shared it with her staff and teachers.  It's a great way to get kids to see that even the most responsible, professional adults were at one time just college kids trying to find their way.  We love how our students ask us about our starred items and how they want to hear our college stories. 

I wanted to make this a little easier for people to replicate.  So,

1.  Here is the version of the piece that Katie and our counselors used.   Download and print it.

2.  Put a star next to the items you did while you were in college.

3.  Write the name of your college at the bottom (our counselors pasted in the logos from their respective colleges).

4.  Post it prominently in your office or classroom.

5.  Forward this post to your colleagues so they can do the same.

How many more college conversations would be sparked between students and faculty if every teacher, counselor, administrator, etc. at a high school posted this? 

How many more colleges would kids be open to learning about–schools they didn't know of or consider before–if they found out their math teacher or band director or principal attended one of them?

How much more honest would kids be with you about their college dreams and anxieties if you were willing to take the first step by starring this list honestly and posting it?

Why not find out?

Questions and answers from The Choice blog

Last week, The Choice blog had several entries where readers submitted questions to be answered by authors (one of whom is a former dean of admissions at Stanford) of a new book on college admissions.   A lot of the questions, from course selection, to how well colleges know particular high schools, to the influence of athletics, are very common.  So I thought I’d share the entries here so readers can learn from the answers.  The answers came over three posts, here are #1, #2 and #3.