The one applicant

Here's my college admissions version of this blog entry I read about competition. 

Imagine you're a college admissions officer reading stacks of files
every day.  Lots of applicants look the same.  But every now and
then, one of them stands out.  Here are some examples.

Lots of the applicants volunteer at hospitals.  One of them is also
a trained EMT who volunteers at a free health clinic on the weekends
where people without health insurance can get medical care.

Lots of the applicants are student body presidents.  One of them
was previously the student body treasurer who learned how to use Quickbooks
accounting software, implemented it, and saved the school several
thousand dollars in accounting fees.     

Lots of the applicants are Eagle Scouts.  One of them also teaches
outdoor survival skills during the summers and writes an essay about
the time he and a Boy Scout buddy voluntarily lived in the woods for
five days and brought no food or drinking water with them just to
sharpen their survival skills.

Lots of applicants are involved in the National Charity League. 
One of them started volunteering at a literacy program when she was a
sophomore and has now taught 32 previously illiterate adults to read.

Lots of applicants are in the school plays.  One of them took also took a carpentry class, read books about set design, and now leads the group of students who builds all of the sets for the school's drama productions.

Lots of applicants play sports.  One of them also coaches a 10-12
years-old girls' softball team and is one of the most sought after private
softball pitching coaches in the area.

Lots of applicants play in the marching band.  One of them organized
a field trip for the band to drive four hours on a Saturday to watch
the Ohio State marching band practice just to see how it's really done.   

Lots of applicants are cheerleaders.  One of them approached local
businesses and got sponsorships to send the team to a special camp over
the summer so they could learn advanced stunts.

Lots of applicants have straight A's.  One applicant has mostly A's
with two C's in math, but excels in her English classes, won the
English department award, took poetry classes during the summer, writes
a column for the school newspaper that not everybody likes (but many
students love) and started an on-campus book club that meets at
Starbucks on the weekends to discuss everything from Harry Potter to

Lots of applicants have high test scores.  One applicant has high
math scores, but also takes college level math classes, worked with a
professor over the summer to help her prove a previously unproven theorem.

Lots of applicants tell the college they're applying
because, "It's a good school."  One applicant gives a detailed,
thoughtful account of her visit to the college and recalls the exact moment she knew "there was
chemistry between us."

In those pairings, which applicant is more memorable, more interesting, and more likely to get the nod from admissions?

It's a lot easier to be the applicant you can and want to be, to exert your own talents and be your own person, than to try to be just a little bit better than everyone else using the same old metrics. 

Don't try to be like lots of applicants.  Be the one applicant. 

Two questions college recruiting hopefuls should ask themselves

There are two important questions you have to ask yourself if you want athletics to help you gain admission to college.

1. How badly do you want to play your sport at the college level?

If your answer is, “Not that badly, but I’ll do it if it will help me get in,” then college athletics won’t likely be in your future.

Think of it this way.  If you were considering who to ask the to prom and you heard one of the people you were considering say this about you, “I don’t want to go prom with him, but I guess I would if nobody else asked me,” would you take that as a good sign?

Of course you wouldn’t.  She doesn’t want to go with you.  And it doesn’t sound like you’d be having a good time together anyways.

College coaches don’t want you if the only reason you’re expressing interest is to get admitted to the school.  That’s why coaches don’t just evaluate your talent; they make every effort to evaluate your desire to play at the college level.  Coaches have a limited number of spaces to fill on their teams.  They want to know that the people who agree to fill those spaces will be dedicated athletes, not people who will quit as soon as they move into the dorms.

2. “How good am I?” 

Are you recognized as being a good athlete at the county level, state level, or national level?  Have your coaches or opposing coaches suggested that you have the ability to compete at the collegiate level?  Does your success in my high school sports career seem similar that of the high school careers of athletes who are
currently playing your sport at the collegiate level?

To help you answer this last question, visit the websites of 7-10 schools that interest you.  Go to the athletic section, look up your sport, and read the biographies of all of the players.  Within these biographies, there will almost always be information on their high school careers.  This will help you gage your sports success against athletes that were recruited by this particular school.

If most of the players were all-league, captains, MVP etc. and you are achieving these same accolades, you might have found a good
athletic match at this school.  If, however, all of the athletes were featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated while still in high school, and you surmise that you not at the same level,
you may want to investigate some different schools.

You have to ask yourself both–and you have to answer them honestly.

College admissions simplified

My friend Paul Kanarek at The Princeton Review speaks weekly at local high schools on the college admissions and testing process.  Lately, he's been pointing out that admissions officers really just want to know three things about applicants. 

1. Are you smart enough to succeed here?

2. Do we like you?

3. Do other people like you?

If you look at every element of your application that admissions officers evaluate, from the classes you take, to the impact you make in your activities, to the subject on which you choose to write your college essays, every one of them can be traced back to one of these questions.

Two ways sports can help you get into college

There are two ways that a successful high school athletic career can help you get admitted to college.

One is to be so good that a college coach says, “I want this kid on my team so badly that I will my forfeit my salary and donate blood to get him here.”  When a college coach makes a firm decision that he wants you on his team, athletics can be a huge advantage to you.

But we can’t forget the second way that athletics can help you.

Athletics can help you get into college even if the coach has no idea who you are.  Just because you aren’t being recruited doesn’t mean that an admissions committee won’t be impressed with your accomplishments.
Athletics are an extracurricular activity, just like drama, music, clubs, or student government.  If you dedicated significant time and showed your passion for the sport, an admissions committee will be impressed, just like they’d be impressed if you were the editor of the paper or if you acted in your school play.

Don’t assume that only the recruited athletes get the admissions benefits.

Why are you going to college?

Seriously, why do you even want to go to college?

I'm not suggesting that you shouldn’t go.  But most people never stop to ask themselves
this basic question.  And it’s an
important one, especially if you want to find–and get in to–the right school.

For example, look at these different responses to the
question, “Why college?”

  1. Because I have to know more about physics.
  2. Because I want to be a journalist, and I have to go to college to do that.
  3. Because I want to be able to study exactly what interests
  4. Because I want to meet new people and have new experiences.
  5. Because if I don’t go, my parents will give my room to my
    brother and make me live in the attic.  I don't want to live in the attic.  It's scary up there.   

These are very different answers, and you probably have your
own.  Or maybe you’ve never really
thought of it before and you’ll need some time to consider it.

That’s what makes the college search difficult.  For most high school students, picking a
college is like entering into an arranged marriage without dating.  You can’t be expected to know everything you
want from a college experience, because a lot of what you’ll inevitably take
away from college will be the things you never expected to find.

Nevertheless, your reasoning for wanting to go to college is
central to picking a school.  If you want
to meet a variety of different people, you probably shouldn’t go to a commuter
school near your home.  If you have no
idea what you want to study or what you want to do with your life, don’t go to
a school with exclusively pre-professional programs.

I don’t expect that you will read this entry and have a perfectly defined answer to the question, “Why college?”  It’s part of the continuous college
soul-searching process that you need to do. 
So, as you go through your college search, keep asking yourself why you
are going in the first place.  This will
help you stay focused on the big picture. 

And when the colleges you eventually choose ask you to explain how they ended up on your list, you'll have a much more thoughtful, revealing answer than the standard, "Um, it's a good school."  

So you want to play sports in college

If you are a four-time All-American quarterback who can no longer open the door to your bedroom because it is so full of recruiting letters, you don’t need to read this blog post.  All you have to do is avoid felonies and interceptions and you’ll probably get into a college with a football team.   

But there are a lot of students out there who have had more modest, but still admirable, athletic success in high school and they’d like to try and parlay it into an admission to college—maybe even to a school to which they would otherwise not stand a good chance of gaining admission.  

If you want to explore college athletics, here's the most important thing you can do.

Don't stand still.

Standing still seems to be a bad thing in almost every sport.  Coaches are always telling you to “move to the open space,” “move to the ball,” “move to the bench until you learn not to shoot at the wrong goal,” etc. 

Standing still and waiting for college coaches to find you is the worst thing you can do if you want to get recruited to play sports in college.  You are going to need to find them, to contact them, to initiate the first, second, and third moves.

Here are some important steps to take:

1. Learn the rules governing eligibility and recruiting.

You can find them on the NCAA’s website.

2. Find out which schools offer your sport

Go here on the NCAA's website. 

3. Get your coaches on board.

If your coaches don't know that you are interested in playing in college, this would be a good time to tell them.  Make sure they know where you are interested in attending, too.  You don’t want a college to call your coach and say, “We understand that David is interested in playing soccer for us,” and have your coach respond,

        “What?  David who?  Oh, THAT kid?  He is?  Is he CRAZY?” 

That would be bad. 

College coaches like to communicate with their own kind.  You, your parents, and anyone who knows you will sing your praises about how wonderful you are.  But your coaches can tell college coaches exactly what they want to know, in exactly the right language. 

4. Ask your coach's advice

Your coach can tell you what else you can do to help your recruiting cause, what other schools you might want to consider, and of course, what you can do to improve your game even more.

5. Initiate and maintain contact with college coaches

Send an email to college coaches at your schools of interest, or fill out the online recruiting form, and do so early in your junior year.  Let them know that you are interested in their program.  Provide them with a resume that summarizes your achievements.  If a coach is impressed with what you have accomplished, she may ask you to fill out additional forms for prospective athletes, to continue to update her, or to send her a game schedule.  Make sure to keep in mind that these kinds of responses do not necessarily mean you are being recruited.  But it does mean that the coach would like to learn more and to keep informed of your athletic progress.

Start with these five–just don't stand still.

So, what’s your major?

One of the great things about college is that everyone receives a standard issue pick-up line to use whenever you'd like–"What's your major?"  I'm not saying it's a good line.  But it's a line, and it's an opener that won't offend anybody.  Sometimes you just need a good opener.

But you don't necessarily need an answer to that question when you're applying to college.

Obviously, when you’re considering a college, you need to
think about what you want to study.  But
keep one thing in mind—the average college student changes his or her major twice
while they are in college.  If you don’t
know what you want to study, don’t panic—it’s normal.  You’ll just want to make sure that you pick a
school that can accommodate students who don’t know what they want to

If you think you are interested in business, it obviously
wouldn’t make sense for you to apply to eight colleges that don’t offer a
business major.  But we recommend that
you don’t focus all of your college match efforts on the availability or
reported strength of a major.  After all,
if you elect to attend a college because it has a strong business program, and
you decide after the first semester that you no longer want to be a business
major, you might regret your choice of college.   

Here’s a tip.  Let's say you
think you might want to be a business major.  Visit the websites of a few
schools that interest you and read about their business programs.  Print up a list of the
required courses you’ll have to take as a business major, along with the descriptions
of what is taught in each course.  If you
say to yourself, “Calculus?  Finance?
Accounting?  Statistics?  I thought I was going to be learning how to
do marketing and advertising!” then you know that this particular business
program might not be for you. 

Need help picking a college major or a career?

The Princeton Review has some good tools on their site for researching college majors.  You can search for virtually any major and
find a description of the major, a sample undergraduate curriculum, advice on
how to prepare for that major while in high school, and a listing of schools
offering the major.

And would you like to know what it will take to
become an FBI agent?  A news anchor?  A software engineer?  Check out their information about careers,
including what sort of education you need, what your work life will be like,
and what kind of salary you can expect to make over your career. 

Where college research has been done for you is a site
where college counselors post and edit lists of colleges based on specific
criteria.  Need to find a list of 3-2
architecture programs?  How about a list
of schools that have good dance programs for students who don’t want to major in
dance?  Or schools with a snowboarding
team?   Someone else has probably
found—and posted—it for you. 

It’s like Facebook for college searches is a free website on which current students at the
colleges discuss their experiences at their respective schools.  The site is full of
links to blogs and online newspapers, campus pictures, and videos for each
college.  Students can also
create a small social network of people interested in the same schools.

The Wall Street Journal said, “This is a college-information
resource built for the age of YouTube and Facebook.”  We agree.

We like Unigo because it gives them a much more
subjective view of a school than they can get from most guidebooks or from the
school’s website.

The only drawback (as of this writing) to Unigo is that they’re
still in the process of adding colleges, so it’s possible that a school you or
your student wants to research won’t yet be on the site.  But they seem to be adding schools at a good
pace, and we’re guessing that Unigo is going to become one of the most popular
college search engines for high school kids.