Scott Berkun, author of “Confessions of a Public Speaker,” was on NPR yesterday offering advice for commencement speakers. While it focused on speaking at a college graduation, the advice holds true for any high school student speaking at your graduation next month. You can download the audio file below. And here's a past post with more advice.
I once toured a college over the summer and noticed that one of the high school students in the group was wearing a jacket and tie. I’m guessing he was planning to take the school up on the offer to do an on-campus interview during his visit. But it was a scorching summer day, and by the end of the tour, the poor kid looked like he’d just finished playing a game of full-court basketball.
For any college interview, you can certainly wear your dress duds if you feel comfortable. But there’s no need to go quite so formal. Here’s a past post with some advice on the appropriate attire.
Also, if you’re touring a college over the summer and want to take them up on an on-campus interview offer, consider scheduling the interview before the tour if you can. You’ll not only be able to show your best self before you generate any post-tour perspiration, but you’ll also enjoy the tour a lot more if you’re not stressed about the interview to follow.
If the only option is to interview after the tour, try to give yourself a little breathing room before the two events to collect yourself and cool down. And remember that the best interviews are relaxed conversations. College interviewers aren’t out to get you. Try to enjoy yourself.
Seth Godin and Mark Cuban, two pretty successful guys with an uncanny ability to predict the next big thing, have each written blog posts about the coming meltdown in college education. Both of them point out:
- College has gotten expensive far faster than wages have gone up.
- The average college education alone doesn’t automatically lead to a successful post-college career.
- It’s far too easy to get student loans and far too difficult in today’s job market to earn a salary after graduation that is high enough to pay them back.
I think they’re right. The last generation knew that virtually any sacrifice they made to attend college would pay off. Today’s students don’t enjoy that guarantee. So here’s my advice.
1. Families should be cautious about taking on large debt to send a student to college.
From student loans (there is currently more outstanding debt for student loans than there is for auto loans or credit card loans), to parents borrowing against their homes, that’s a financial gamble that many families can’t afford to take. If you want advice about how to attend college debt-free, check out Zac Bissonnette’s Debt-Free U, the best book I’ve read on the subject.
2. It’s more important than ever for students to have remarkable college careers.
Every student should take road trips, go to great parties, and have plenty of good old-fashioned fun while you’re in college. But there’s no reason you can’t do those things and also graduate with four years of remarkable learning and a resume full of experience to help you land a good job. And you don’t necessarily need to attend a prestigious or expensive college to do it. Here’s a past post profiling a student who’s a perfect example of this.
I’m not arguing you shouldn’t go to college or pay to attend an expensive school. But like any investment, your college education is one that should be made with caution. And unlike other potentially expensive investments, the student can and must do a lot to influence the return.
It’s not the name of your college or the price of your degree that will make you successful. It’s what you do while you’re there.
Here's a good example for private counselors and other small businesses who maintain an email newsletter list. Allison in our Irvine, California office received this email from The North Face yesterday.
- The writing sounds like a real human, not a corporation.
- Customers have to opt-in to receive their emails. The North Face doesn't just assume customers want to receive them, leaving us to opt-out if we want to make them stop.
- It makes customers trust The North Face and leave people even more likely to buy from them again in the future.
Time Magazine ran a story recently about a growing trend: colleges—including Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Holy Cross in Massachusetts and the University of Richmond—asking parents to submit letters of recommendation on behalf of their student.
That’s a lot of pressure on a parent. So if you’re invited to submit a letter of recommendation for your son or daughter, here are a few tips.
1. Don’t worry.
Unless you write two pages detailing just how adept your student is at lying, cheating or setting the house on fire, it’s nearly impossible for you to single-handedly torpedo his or her admissions chances. You don’t have to say all the right things. You don’t have to write like Hemingway. Even if English isn’t your first language, your student won’t be penalized (in fact, that can actually make your support even more endearing). Colleges don’t do this to test you or your student. They’re just trying to inject a little more personal flavor into the process. Don’t let this addition to the application create even more pressure.
2. Be honest.
If you read a raving letter of recommendation for a job applicant that claimed he was perfect in every way, wouldn’t it be a little hard to believe? Successful college applicants (and teachers who write letters of recommendation) know that honesty goes a long way. If your student has struggled at times in high school, acknowledge it. If she rode the bench for two years of water polo but made you proud every day she left the house at 5 a.m. for practice, say so. If it’s been hard for your student to measure up to her two sisters who went to Ivy League schools, don’t be afraid to share it. A letter full of overwhelming and over-polished praise won’t ring as true as one that just tells the truth.
3. Focus on your student.
It’s easy for a parent recommender to focus on the reasons you think the school is such a good fit for your student, or how many influential alumni you know, or how much your family enjoyed the campus tour. But those subjects take the focus away from the point of the letter—your student. It’s fine to mention all of those things, but keep asking yourself, “How doest his help them get to know my kid?” That will keep you focused on the most important subject.
4. Don’t turn the letter into a sales pitch.
Reciting accomplishments that are listed on the application just repeats what a college already knows. Instead, use this as a chance for them to learn more about your student and your relationship together. If she’s helped you by taking care of her little sister every day, share it. If she burned her arm making fries at her part time job and refused to take a day off, tell them. If you left work early for the first time in your life to watch your son kick for the football team in the playoffs, that’s a nice family story worth sharing. Parents have a unique perspective, one these colleges want to hear. Sales pitches ignore that perspective.
5. Focus on recent history.
Every day of your student’s life has been important to you. But you’ve got limited space in this letter, and colleges are most interested in the high school years. You don’t have to ignore a past event that had an impact, but if you want to mention that your son had a serious illness as a toddler, or that he overcame a learning disability in elementary school, or that the divorce was hard on him in junior high, focus on how those experiences reflect in your student or your family today. Whether or not you can make that connection between past events and the present day is your litmus test for whether a past experience deserves to be included in your letter.
First, some employment perspective for recent (or soon to be) college grads: I feel for you. It’s a rough job market, I know. A recent Rutgers University study revealed that only 51 percent of students who have graduated from college since 2006 have a full-time job. Eleven percent are unemployed. It’s not going to be easy.
But it’s hard to be sympathetic towards a recent grad like the one profiled in this article who says she applies to five or six jobs a day (good), but wakes up at 9 a.m. because she has “nothing to wake up for” and spends the rest of the day “watching TV and reading — all while wearing makeup, just in case an employer calls for an in-person interview.”
C’mon. If you really want a job, don’t sleep in and watch TV all day. Get up earlier and spend the entire day looking for work. Contact potential employers. Customize your cover letters and resumes to each position. Call the place you’d love to work and offer to take on a project for free in your spare time. That will help your job prospects a lot more than watching TV.
Mark Cuban describes this well on his blog:
In this kind of economy, it really is a numbers game. You are going to have to keep on applying for everything and anything that opens a door you want to walk through. You can never slow down. It’s hard work finding a job. If you have bills you have to pay, and it means taking a night job in order to keep looking for the day job or to keep a job you want, do it. Be a waiter, a night janitor, wash clothes, sell vacuum cleaners door to door, whatever you need to do, all the while reminding yourself that it opens the door for your future.”
Now, for the high school students…
Get your first job while you’re in high school.
Everybody needs their first job at some point—the job you take because you don’t have any work experience and know you can’t afford to be picky. Why not do that in high school? It’s a lot easier on your ego to flip burgers when you’re seventeen than it is when you have a college degree. You’ll have something to list on your resume and references you can give to potential employers. Thrive at one job and you’ll have an advantage when you look to move on to your next one. Have a string of successes by the time you graduate from college and you’ll be ahead of the job-seeking competition.
I’ve been reminded while revising my next book that great writing eliminates all unnecessary words. I thought I’d been following the rule, but every page my editor sends back to me makes it clear that I need a refresher course.
Here are some examples of the edits, some more needlessly-wordy than others, all of which benefited from paring down the sentence to only its most necessary words.
The better your academic performance, the more college options you're going to have.
The better your academic performance, the more college options you will have.
All of those opportunities will be there waiting for you to take advantage of them and make your education what you want it to be.
All those opportunities to focus your attention lay ahead.
You’re more likely to enjoy your classes and teachers, to do better in school, and to be excited about the idea of learning in college.
You’re more likely to enjoy your classes and teachers, do better in school, and be excited about the idea of learning in college.
In my experience, that study says more about the students than it does about the counselors.
I think the study says more about students than it does about counselors.
Those kids work hard and get good grades, too, but they do so more because of their own curiosity than they are a sense of competition to get into prestigious colleges.
Those kids work hard and get good grades, too, but they do so because of their own curiosity, not an agenda to get into prestigious colleges.
College is going to give you the chance to completely take charge of your own education.
College will give you the chance to completely take charge of your own education.
Here’s a past post I wrote highlighting a book that teaches the importance of this skill. I think it’s clear that it’s time for me to re-read it.
Many public university systems (like the University of California) have specific requirements to be eligible for admission. It’s sometimes confusing to kids and parents who visit the “admissions” sections of those schools’ websites, see the formulas for grades and test scores needed for admission, and get the impression that meeting those requirements means they’ll get into the schools of their choice.
There’s a difference between “requirements for admission” and “requirements for eligibility” at these schools. A school (or a system of schools) that lists requirements for admission will usually come right out and say that you’ll be admitted if you meet those standards. Standards for eligibility, on the other hand, are telling you what the minimum requirements for consideration are. In our University of California system, meeting the minimum requirements means that you’ll be admitted to those schools in the system that accept all eligible applicants. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get into the specific school of your choice.
It’s like the difference between having the minimum GPA necessary to play on the football team and being named a starter—the former doesn’t necessarily lead to the latter.
Two salespeople have equal track records. One wants to close the sale at any cost, whether or not the product and the customer are right for each other. The other actually believes in what she’s selling and wants to help customers make good decisions, even if that means occasionally recommending a different product all together. From which of the two would you rather buy?
Two civic leaders with the same level of experience are running for mayor of your town. One cares about being electable and says what he thinks the voters want to hear. The other actually cares about the issues and genuinely wants to make the town a better place for its residents. Which one do you vote for?
A basketball coach has one spot left on the team and two players of equal ability from which to choose. One is primarily concerned with how much playing time she’ll get and how many points she can score per game. The other just wants to do whatever she can to help the team win, whether that’s averaging nine assists per game or being the loudest supporter on the bench. Which do you think gets picked?
Now, the college admissions version…
Two applicants are equally impressive on paper. One was obsessive about her GPA and had her mother argue with a Spanish teacher to get a grade raised. She cared more about how many community service hours she could list on her application than she did about whether or not she actually helped anyone. Then she wrote her college essay claiming that her volunteer work taught her the importance of serving others—she thought that would sound good to the admissions committee. The other applicant genuinely likes to learn. Her teacher letters of recommendation mention how insightful her questions and contributions are in class. She gushes when she talks about her volunteer work training guide dogs for the blind and wrote her essay about watching her first trainee, a German Shepherd named Toby, graduate and be paired with his grateful new owner.
Which one do you think gets picked?
If you still need a college to attend this fall, NACAC just released their 2012 Space Availability Survey listing 375 schools that still have space, financial aid and housing available for qualified students.