First, peel the garlic

I enjoy cooking. But I really do not enjoy peeling garlic, especially for a dish that needs more than a clove or two. It takes too long. Some bulbs are just uncooperative. The paper goes everywhere, it sticks to the knife, some always clings to the garlic like a life preserver, etc. I love what garlic does for the right dish, but the work necessary to get it to that point can rob some of the joy from my favorite hobby.

The best way to minimize that frustration? Peel the garlic first. Just grit my teeth and get it out of the way. I still don’t enjoy it. But I get to put it behind me and enjoy the rest of the prep. I don’t have the garlic looming over me. Peeling the garlic first minimizes its negative impact.

The project, the conversation, the chore–whatever it is that you’re not looking forward to or even dreading, imagine how great you’ll feel when it’s done. Why not let that feeling start sooner rather than later?

Enjoy the parts you love. But first, peel the garlic.

Hitting reset

One of the best parts of college that’s waiting for you if you want it is the chance to hit the reset button.

It can be difficult to reinvent yourself in high school even if you really want to. You become known as the drama kid, the jock, the brooding musician, etc. If it’s the role you decided to play, one you’re both happy and comfortable with, great. But if your role felt assigned to you rather than chosen by you, or if you’ve grown out of your high school persona, it can start to feel like you’re an actor who’s been typecast and keeps getting offers to play the same character over and over again. You want to do something different, but that change might feel like an intimidatingly large course correction, one that you may not even be empowered to make.

But eventually, you’ll show up to college with little to no history. Nobody knows or cares what your reputation was in high school. They aren’t predisposed to see you the same way other people have seen you since you were fourteen. The judgements, the limits, the baggage, the anchors weighing you down–you can leave them all behind and start fresh. Hitting the reset button can be pretty exhilarating, especially if you’ve wished you could do just that for some time.

Part of enjoying the college admissions process is looking forward to the opportunities waiting for you on the other side—learning whatever interests you, discovering your talents, growing, meeting new people, making new friends, and having fun in ways that haven’t been available to you before. That excitement, that eagerness to get there and take advantage of what’s available, is also an admissions advantage. It’s not enough to just hope to get in. Colleges are looking for those applicants who are even more excited about what comes after the “yes.”

One of those things to be excited about—if you want it—is the chance to start over. And like just about everything else waiting for you in college, that opportunity isn’t limited to the schools that say no to most of their applicants.

If it feels like some (or all) of high school just isn’t working for you anymore, the chance to hit the reset button is coming soon.

For graduation speakers

A student who will be delivering her high school graduation address emailed me last week asking if I had any advice. As is often the case with a blog I’ve written every day for nearly eight years, that advice was somewhere, and not so easy to find, back in the archives. If you or someone you know might be interested (and if you’re attending a school where you weren’t required to submit the speech ahead of time to be selected), here’s my post from 2010, “How to write a high school graduation speech.”

Where’s the handbook?

When someone new joins your club, organization, team, counseling office, etc., how do they learn how things work? Do you have a process to teach them what you stand for, how you operate, who does what, etc.?

If not, you might take a look at the employee handbook that Basecamp, the software company, recently made public. It’s a great example of an organization that’s thought carefully about how and why they do things, explained it in clear, thoughtful writing, and likely helped every newcomer not only feel excited about the place they’re joining, but also start producing great work even more quickly.

And here’s a past post with some snippets from Life at Collegewise, our version of an employee handbook.

For no reason (?)

The teacher gave me a C…

My parents grounded me…

My boss fired me…

The principal suspended me…

My coach benched me…

…for no reason.

Are you sure? Or do you just not know the reason?

It’s possible you’re the victim of someone else’s bad day or bad mood. If you’re not sure, just ask, like this:

Can you help me understand why so I don’t make this mistake again?

You may not agree with the answer. But at least you’ll know the reason. And you’ll be able to avoid a repeat performance.

Game changers

A game changer is a person or thing that dramatically alters the course, strategy, or state of something. The birth of commercial aviation. The technology that killed the music industry as we knew it. The studies that showed sugar, not fat, is the real dietary enemy to our health.

But opportunities for game changing—and game changers—are everywhere. And you don’t need a disruptive technology or course-changing innovation to do it. The right person can change the game with effort, positivity, caring, etc. to make a fundamental impact worthy of the game changer title.

Ever had a meal at a restaurant where the server changed the experience (and the game) for the better?

Ever seen a fellow student who made club meetings or golf practice or the part-time job more enjoyable for everyone?

Or a counselor who makes you feel comfortable enough to open up and share your real worries about college?

Those aren’t radical innovations or initiatives. Just one person bringing their unique talent to a situation and fundamentally changing it for everyone involved.

It’s tempting for students going through the college admissions process to look for opportunities to check off boxes: run for a club office, get community service hours, snag the award or the honor that really pops on the application. Those aren’t necessarily bad instincts. In fact, those are all potential opportunities to change the game. But they aren’t the only ones.

You don’t have to change the world to stand out to colleges. If you’re looking to stand out, find an opportunity, even a small one, where you can make a real difference.

Make the game smaller, then find a way to change it.

For retiring readers

Every year, the number of readers subscribed to my blog drops sharply after May 1. That’s exactly how it should be. When seniors decide where they’re going to college, there’s not much left to talk about with your counselor or to read about on a blog like mine. Even the college counselors understand that every year, a portion of our constituency retires and moves on.

For the last two years, I’ve posted the same goodbye to graduates after the May 1 deadline by which seniors must commit to their chosen colleges. And it’s always one of my most read and shared posts. So I’ve copied it again below. For those of you who will soon be off to college (or parents who will soon be sending your college freshman), I hope you’ll take the time to read it so I can say goodbye, good luck, and thank you.

Goodbye to graduates
Reposted from May 2015

Today is graduation day for a lot of my blog readers. Not the official high school graduation, but, May 1, the final day for seniors to decide where they’ll be attending college next fall. When a student has made that decision or a parent finally knows the college fate of their last one to leave the nest, there’s no need to come back tomorrow for my advice about how to pick colleges or write the essay or maintain your sanity in what’s become an unnecessarily stressful process.

So, for those of you who will be moving on, here are my parting words.

To students:

First, congratulations. Whether or not you’re attending your first-choice school, you should celebrate today. You’re going to college. This is a big deal, one that many of you worked incredibly hard for. Take a second to enjoy it before you rush to think about what’s next. The stress, the applications, the waiting and wondering—it’s all over. Put the college sweatshirt on. This is the good stuff now.

Second, remember that you won’t get to do a first draft of college. This is it. You get four years. So really lean into them. Learn as much as you can. Grow as much as you can. Have as much fun as you can. Don’t be that person who looks back on college and wishes you’d done more to enjoy and benefit from it. Your college can offer all the opportunities and benefits you’d hoped for, but you’ll need to take advantage of them.

Take the time to thank your parents. If they’ve been driving you crazy and you can’t wait to get out of the house, thank them anyway. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs there is. I didn’t get that until I became a parent myself, and you probably won’t, either. For now, just remember that while you may be a maturing adult now who’s ready to be out on your own, for most of your life you literally and figuratively could not have survived without your parents. Thank them now and you’ll be really proud of your maturity when you look back on this act years later. Really, trust me on this.

To parents:

Parents, congratulations to you, too. You’re officially sending your kid to college. One of the worst symptoms of college stress is that too few parents feel compelled to celebrate that milestone the way your parents did (or would have). But this is as big a deal today as it was in my day, your day, and every day before that. Do a parental high-five and soak this in.

Also, if your kids aren’t being all that nice and appreciative now, remember how little you knew at 18. They haven’t been on the planet that long. College and life will go a long way to mending this.

Remember that you get to demand a certain level of collegiate performance from your student, especially if you’re paying the bill. But consider demanding it in ways that aren’t measured just in GPAs and impressive accomplishments. You might consider bookmarking these past posts and emailing them to your kids after their first week of college.

How do you make the most of college?
How to build a remarkable college career
Turn college into career prep

And for everyone, I have a favor to ask.

I started writing this blog every day in 2009 because I wanted families to enjoy the process that you’ve just finished. If you’ve read and benefitted from what I share here, please pass it along to the next crop of college-goers. Tell a younger friend about it. Share it with a parent who’s about to go through this with their own son or daughter. Or just forward a particular post that really helped you. Those of us who are trying to change college admissions have to stick together, so when you move on, I need to add new members to the band.

And finally, thank you for reading. It’s a privilege for me to be able to do this, and I hope it helped you enjoy your ride to college a little more.

Good luck, and have a great time in college.

Bounce back with three P’s

According to Martin Seligman, author and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, our ability to deal with setbacks has a lot to do with three P’s: personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence.

Personalization: Is the failure or setback a fundamental problem with you? Snapping at a good friend one day doesn’t make you a bad friend or a bad person—it just means you weren’t as patient as you could have been in one instance, and you can try to do better next time. The denial from a college, the low grade on a test, the election loss or less-than-stellar play performance or absence from the list of those who made varsity—none of those things mean that you are a failure. Just because something happens to you doesn’t mean it happened because of you. Take a good, honest look at your role in the setback. Own and learn from the parts that actually have something to do with you. Then try to let everything else go.

Pervasiveness: Will this event affect all areas of your life? Or just specific parts? For example, a bad haircut might make you shudder at the thought of showing up to school tomorrow. And it might make you a lot less confident at the formal dance coming up. Those are real feelings. But your health, your grades, your family, your spot on the baseball team—most parts of your life will still be intact. The same can be said about most college-planning disappointments. Lament the portions that are affected (temporarily), but remember just how bad things would really need to be for the phrase “My life is ruined” to be accurate.

Permanence: Will this last forever, or will it go away in due time? Most non-tragic setbacks and the effects associated with them do not last forever. Yes, a denial from your dream college will remain. But the sense of loss you might be feeling will not. Almost nobody sulks through their freshman year of college lamenting a different school that said no. There will be too much learning and fun happening for that. It’s OK to be disappointed by a setback. But try to be realistic about just how long the effects will last.

For more on the three P’s, and maybe more perspective on the difference between a disappointment or setback and an actual tragedy, read or watch Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s 2016 commencement address at UC Berkeley, delivered just one year after her husband died unexpectedly.

Should you really visit colleges?

Most families who are college searching have heard the advice about visiting schools. It makes sense. It’s hard for students to commit to spending four years someplace they’ve never even seen in person. But much of the advice surrounding college visits is difficult to follow, especially if students don’t have the resources to spend on substantial travel.

For example:

You should visit colleges. There’s just no substitute for actually being there.

Fair enough. But easier said than done, especially if the student is applying to schools that require significant travel to get there. That time and expense adds up fast. And what if a student is applying to 8 or 10 or 12 colleges? Do you really need to book that many trips to be a responsible college searcher?

Don’t visit during the summer—nobody will be on campus. Visit when school is in session so you can fully experience it.

Good advice in theory. Hard to pull off in practice. “Get good grades in challenging courses” is college prep 101 advice. Now students are supposed to take time off from their own schooling to visit colleges?

Demonstrating interest is important to getting in. That’s why you have to visit!

True for some schools, but even for those, it really only applies to students who live close by and can visit at little to no expense. I’ve never heard of a college that would penalize an applicant for electing not to incur expensive travel expenses to visit a school they haven’t even been admitted to yet.

Take the tour, sit in on a class, talk to students, tour the local area, meet with an admissions officer, tour the dorms, etc., etc., etc.

I’ve worked with plenty of engaged students at Collegewise. But I’ve never met one who wanted to turn a college visit into a combination of a homework assignment and boot camp. And even a seasoned adult can only hear so many spiels about school history and how many volumes are in the library before their eyes glaze over.

So, what’s the smart, responsible approach to college visits that won’t necessarily break the bank? There’s no one right way, but here are a few resources.

Here are two past posts, this one with a basic tip, this one with five.

Here’s a recent New York Times article arguing for skipping the visit. Each family should make their own decisions, but I’m including it for any readers who may be feeling like the visits just aren’t worth it.

And if you want to do a deeper college visit dive, here’s our Collegewise College Visit Guide. It includes frequent planning mistakes and how to avoid them, advice on how to spend your time on (and off) campus, and suggested questions to ask admissions counselors and current students. Best of all, it’s free.