Search Results for: potential

Bad writing in business…and college essays

Here's an excerpt from Jason Fried's article in Inc. this week, "Why is Business Writing So Awful?"

When you write like everyone else and sound like everyone else and
act like everyone else, you're saying, "Our products are like everyone
else's, too." Or think of it this way: Would you go to a dinner party
and just repeat what the person to the right of you is saying all night
long? Would that be interesting to anybody? So why are so many
businesses saying the same things at the biggest party on the planet —
the marketplace?

Writing that sounds like everyone else is bad writing–in business, and in college essays. 

As Jason points out, bad business writing has phrases like, "Full-service solutions provider" and "Cost-effective end-to-end solutions" and "Provider of value-added services." 

Does any potential customer read those words and think, "Now THIS is EXACTLY what I've been looking for!!!"  No.  That writing doesn't help you understand what makes the product unique, what it can do that other products can't, or why you can trust its makers more than you can trust those at other companies.

Bad college essays have phrases like, "I gained valuable life lessons," and "I came to appreciate the value of helping others," and, "I improved my leadership qualities."  

No admissions officer will read one of those phrases and say, "FINALLY!  A kid who discovered that helping people is important!"   Those phrases aren't unique.  In fact, they're cliches.  They make you sound like every other kid who is applying.

If you don't want to sound like every other kid, don't write like every other kid.  Instead, write what you really mean.  Write it like you would say it if you really wanted to make a point.  Don't just write about things you think sound good; write what you really want to say.

Here are some examples from real Collegewise kids:

"Everything to do with horses smells bad.  They smell bad.  The saddles and blankets smell bad.  All of their shampoo and medicines smell bad.  So as a competitive rider, I pretty much stink all the time.  And it's absolutely worth it."

"Ten
minutes into my first shift as an EMT, I was in the back of a speeding ambulance doing chest compressions on
a 19
year-old motorcycle accident victim who'd just gone into full cardiac
arrest.  At some point in the next 8 hours of that shift, I was sure for
the first time in my life that I had found what I am meant to do."

"I can make a mean hamburger.  In fact, I'm a professional.  I've got four years of professional hamburger-making experience." 

You are not like every other kid.  Your experiences are not like those of other students.  Don't let bad writing kill your uniqueness. 

Fifty summer activities for high school students

What should you do this summer?

First, you should sleep in.  Not every day, but certainly more than you do during the school year.  You should have fun and hang out with your friends and do things that have absolutely nothing to do with college applications.  Colleges don't expect you to spend every waking second learning and volunteering and improving yourself.  It's still OK to be a normal teenager. 

But colleges are also looking for motivated kids who do other things in addition to logging some well-deserved rest and fun this summer.  You don't have to spend money on an expensive program; you just need to spend your time doing something interesting that excites you (while you deservedly relax and recharge your batteries a bit). 

So here's a re-post from May 2009 of fifty summer activities you can do for free or almost free.  All of these are positive, productive and interesting to potential colleges.  Pick the one(s) you feel you could really get excited about.  Or use them as inspiration to come up with your own ideas.  Then get going and have fun.

    50 Ways to Spend Your Summer

    1. Take an interesting class at your local community college.
    2. Get a part-time job at the mall. 
    3. See how many books you can read this summer.  
    4. Work in your family's business.  Consider doing so for free.
    5. Think of ten people–teachers, coaches, family members, relatives–who deserve your thanks.  Write them a hand-written letter of at least one page expressing your appreciation and detailing how they've impacted you.  Tell them what you're going to do to make them proud and spend the summer doing it.
    6. Take saxophone lessons.  
    7. Coach little league.  Or basketball.  Or soccer.
    8. Work at a summer camp.  
    9. Volunteer at the local mobile health clinic, or the animal shelter, or the public library.  
    10. Tutor kids.  
    11. Start a business with your friends.   
    12. Set a goal that you are 99% certain you won't be able to achieve this summer.  Then go all out and try to achieve it as though your life depended on it.  You'll either get there or get much, much closer than you were at the beginning of the summer. 
    13. Learn how to write computer programs.  
    14. Read to the blind.  
    15. Teach something.  
    16. Learn to paint.  
    17. Pick something that really interests you and see how far you can go with it.  
    18. Take classes to become an emergency medical technician.  
    19. Learn sign language.   
    20. Pick a cause in your community that you care about.  Find groups who care about it, too.  Organize people. 
    21. Offer to intern for free someplace where the work seems interesting, like the city councilman's office, or an advertising agency, or the local newspaper.  
    22. Play guitar at coffee shops and see how much money you can make this summer. 
    23. Learn CPR. 
    24. Cook dinner for your family once a week.  Each time, learn a new dish that you prepare.  Write your recipes down and make your own family cookbook. 
    25. Volunteer to lead tours of local state parks.   
    26. Buy a college guidebook and learn as much as you can about 20 colleges you know nothing about today.  
    27. Raise money for someone or something that needs it. 
    28. Learn something that is pure fun, like bongos or hip hop dance or how to make your own purses (check out your local community colleges' "community education" programs). 
    29. Pick something you love and figure out how to use it to make contributions to others, like playing piano in a jazz band, teaching residents at a retirement home how to use a computer, or helping run the lights for a play at the community theater.  
    30. Work full time and give all the money to a charity of your choice at the end of the summer.  
    31. Pick a subject that fascinates you and challenge yourself to learn as much as possible about it. 
    32. Learn karate. 
    33. Teach karate. 
    34. Join a book club. 
    35. Organize a book club. 
    36. Go to your school principal and ask what you could do, for free, to improve the school.  You could paint a classroom, clean lockers, or refurbish the lunch benches.  Better yet, enlist five friends to do it with you.  Don't just tell colleges you want to make an impact.  Make one.  
    37. Set a goal to learn as many new things as possible this summer–facts, skills, concepts, etc.  Write a blog detailing what you've learned so you can share it with cyberspace. 
    38. Build an iphone app. 
    39. Master one subject or skill you currently don't know anything about. 
    40. Hold informal soccer conditioning workouts, or barbecues for the new student council members so you can get to know each other better, or meetings at Starbucks with your co-editors to brainstorm story ideas for the paper this fall.  Show colleges you can organize people and lead them.    
    41. Have a neighborhood bake sale for the French Club in which all sales are conducted in French.  
    42. Get a group of kids from the drama club together and enroll in an improv class. 
    43. Pick a classic author and read all of his or her works. Find out what all the fuss is about Twain or Hemingway or Plath or Dickinson. 
    44. Take the hardest college class you can find and enroll in it "not-for-credit" so you can challenge yourself with impunity. 
    45. Visit as many colleges as you can in a 30 mile radius of your house.  Take your friends with you.  Write your own reviews of each school and share them with people. 
    46. Learn to cut and style hair.  You'll be a savior during prom season. 
    47. Vow not to watch any TV this summer.  Not one single second.  Pick something cool and fun and productive to do instead.    
    48. Find a class offered at a local college that looks fascinating.  Email the professor and ask if you can sit in on a session or two just to experience what the class is like.  
    49. Train to run a 10k, or a half-marathon, or a marathon, or to do a triathlon.  And get your friends to join and train with you.  Consider raising money with your efforts and donating to a worthy cause. 
    50. Pick the five most enticing things on this list and do them.  At the end of the summer, email me at kevinm (at) collegewise.com and tell me about your experiences.  I'd love to hear from you, and if you give me permission, I'll share your story here on our blog.

      For those who Twitter…

      We can't unleash our full college counseling potential in just 140 characters.  But we can post the links from our blog entries to Twitter for those readers who prefer, well, Tweeting.

      Here's the link if you'd like to follow us: http://twitter.com/Collegewise

      And if you were previously following us on Twitter and were wondering what happened to our account, that "Wiselikeus" wasn't us.  It was someone pretending to be us, which was a little weird. 

      For independent college counselors: be undeniably good

      Steve Martin said it best on the Charlie Rose show:

      “When people ask me how do you make it in show business or whatever, what I always tell them–and nobody ever takes note of it ‘cuz it’s not the answer they wanted to hear–what they want to hear is, ‘Here’s how you get an agent.  Here’s how you write a script.  Here’s how you do this…  But I always say, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’  If somebody’s thinking, ‘How can I be really good?’, people are going to come to you. It’s much easier doing it that way than going to cocktail parties.”

      That’s good advice for anyone trying to make it as an independent (private) college counselor, too.

      I mention this because some independent counselors I meet at conferences lament that admissions officers won’t talk to them. They complain that high school counselors don’t want to work in tandem with them.  They want to know how we market ourselves, where we find potential clients, and how we get speaking engagements.  A lot of those particular counselors are looking for shortcuts where they’re aren’t any.

      The independent counselors who are full every year, who love what they’re doing and have raving fans, who are liked and trusted and admired in the profession, they got that way by being undeniably good.  That’s the starting point.  Do a great job for your families.  Inhale college admissions information and share it with other counselors.  Attend conferences.  Do sessions at conferences.  Tour colleges.  Read all the books about admissions.  Read all the press about admissions.  Make families happy and keep your promises.  That’s how the best counselors–and there are lots of them–do it.

      Stop looking for ways to get people to pay attention to you.  Instead, start being so good that they don’t have any choice but to notice.

      Five tips for seniors to help you pick your colleges

      May 1 is almost here, the official deadline when seniors must formally commit to the college at which they'll spend the next four years.  If you're in the enviable position of struggling with multiple college choices, here are five tips to help you make a good decision.   

      1.  Stop and smell the letters.

      I don't mean that you should literally sniff your acceptance letters (that would be ineffective and, well, strange).  But when faced with a number of college acceptances from schools they want to attend, a lot of students forget to celebrate how lucky they are, and some go as far as to lament how stressful it is to have too many choices.  Don't be one of those people.  If you have 2 or 4 or 10 colleges from which to choose, you should celebrate what you've accomplished.  You're going to college.  You get to pick which college you want to attend.  Life is good.   So embrace your options, feel proud that you worked hard enough to earn this, and enjoy the process of deciding where you're going to spend the next four years.

      2.  Expect to be uncertain.

      A lot of high school students expect that they should be certain of their choice when they decide where to go to college.  We can make this easier: don't expect to be certain.  In fact, expect to be uncertain. Selecting a college is a big decision.  And big life decisions almost always come with some uncertainty (why do you think so many people are nervous on their wedding days?).  You likely won't be sure that you've made the right college choice until you get there, eat some dorm food, and get lost trying to find a class (it happened to all of us).  So if you're feeling unsure about your choice, don't worry; it just means you're giving this big life decision the care and attention it deserves.   

      3.  Visit the colleges that interest you most…again.
      If you're really interested in attending a college, you've probably visited already.  Visit again.  We know–you only have a few weeks.  Do it anyway.  Take a day off school if you have to.  Unless it's too far (and too expensive) to see again, visiting a college campus after you've been accepted lets you walk on campus and say, "I can be here this fall if I want to be."   It gives you a chance to potentially experience that feeling that you've found your college home.  And if that happens, you're right there on campus and can buy a sweatshirt with your new college's name on it. 

      4.  Trust your instincts.
      A lot of students will try to weigh the positive and not-so-positive traits of their colleges choices.  They might even seek advice from people they trust.  You should do all of these things.  But in most cases, you can't pro-and-con your way to a college decision.   No matter what the pros and cons are, and no matter what anyone tells you, you are the one who will spend four years at the college you choose.   At some point, your gut instinct has to kick in.   So listen to it.  You'd be surprised how right it usually is.

      5.  Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect college.
      Great college experiences happen everywhere, including at non-Ivy League schools and at colleges in Delaware.  But there is no college that will be perfect in every way for you.  It's going to be up to you to make your college experience perfect for you. So whatever you do, pick a college where you feel excited to spend four years, a place where you can't wait to go to class, to meet new friends, and to find what college life has in store for you.   If you accept that it will be your responsibility to make the most of your college experience, you'll be a lot more likely to find a school on which you'll look back after four years and feel you made the perfect choice.

      And seniors, in case we don't see you back around our blog, congratulations, and have a great time in college…

      Please don’t play the multiple deposit game

      Seniors who've been admitted to several desirable colleges need to make some difficult decisions next month, as colleges require admitted students to declare their intention to enroll by May 1.  It can be a stressful time especially for a student who is really struggling with the decision. But whatever you do, don't try to cheat your way to more time by placing multiple deposits.

      Some families plunk down deposits at multiple colleges in an attempt to buy a little more time for their kids to choose which college to attend.  The thinking is that you can hold your spot at a few schools and then back out of the additional schools when you eventually name the chosen one.

      This is bad idea for a number of reasons. 

      I know that this is your search process and you shouldn't make decisions based on other people.  But when you place multiple deposits, you're taking spots that other kids desperately want.  That's not a nice thing to do. 

      Also, deadlines are real.  And sometimes, we have to make difficult decisions under time pressure because of those deadlines.  Successful people accept this and find a way to get things done when they need to be done.  The truth is that you're unlikely to gain any additional clarity surrounding your college
      choices by (literally) buying another week or two to think about it.  Take the allotted time to consider your options, but make your decision by May 1. 

      And most importantly, if you place a deposit at more than one college and any of your schools find out that you're doing this, they can revoke your offer of admission (even if they're the school you eventually did choose).  College admissions officers take violations like this very seriously.  Imagine how a boss would react if she extended a job offer to someone and found out that he'd been dishonest with her during the interview process.  What if she found out he'd misled other companies with whom he'd interviewed.  Wouldn't that taint his reputation and cause the boss to take back his job offer, even if all of his credentials were still legitimate?  That's how colleges feel when they find out an accepted student was dishonest.

      If they catch you lying (and that's what you're doing when you place multiple deposits), no college will care about your GPA or SAT scores or your certificate proclaiming that it was, in fact, you who discovered what really killed the dinosaurs.  You'll be out.   

      I know what some of you are thinking. "How will a college possibly know if I place multiple deposits?"

      Whatever the likelihood is that a college could discover it, is the risk worth the potential reward?  I don't think it is.

      Knowing your path vs. finding it

      20 years ago, the student body president of my high school went on to
      UCLA as an economics major.  He said he might want to
      be a politician someday, which made sense at the time.  But today, he's an emergency
      room physician and the Associate Medical Director for NBC
      Universal. 

      In first period Spanish, our teacher used to ask the same
      kid every morning to read the daily bulletin.  He did everything he
      could to draw that process out and delay the start of class, including
      making up stories off the top of his head.  His record was a 20-minute
      class delay. He went to UC Santa Barbara, primarily for the same
      reason a lot of kids still do–because of this
      And today, he's the vice principal of a high school.

      But
      the math wiz who scored over 750 on
      the math SAT (with no prep) as a junior, he went to UC Berkeley as a
      mechanical engineering major, then got his PhD in engineering.  Today, he's the director of engineering at a company
      making cleaner, renewable fuels.  I'm guessing that none of his old friends
      who find him on Facebook are
      surprised by what he's doing or how successful he is.

      The engineer became what he knew
      at age seventeen he wanted to be. 
      He picked his college and his major based on a career path that he'd
      already identified, one for which he'd already discovered the aptitude to be successful.

      But
      the doctor and the vice-principal didn't go to college to follow a
      path; they went to college to find one.  Rather than identifying their
      future careers while while they were in high school and then choosing a college and a major that would take them to that future, they used their
      time in college to discover what their real talents where and to find the path they wanted to follow.

      A lot of parents we meet at Collegewise
      express concern that their kids don't know what they want to study in
      college.  I understand those concerns, and I don't think a student should apply
      to college without thoughtfully considering what their potential
      academic interests might be.

      But most teenage kids aren't like the engineer I knew back in high
      school.  Most are more like the doctor and the vice-principal, excited
      for the opportunity to attend college for reasons that have nothing to
      do with future careers.  I think that's OK. 

      Most successful people didn't pick their path back in high school.  Instead, they discovered it when they were in college, a time in their lives when they had the freedom explore their interests.

      If you're a parent and you chose your college like the engineer did,
      understand that while that worked very well for you, it might not work
      so well for your kids.  If your student can't plot the
      next four or ten or thirty years of his life, he's not necessarily directionless; he's just a normal
      teenager. 

      He'll find his path once he gets to college.

      A fundraising idea for high schools sports teams

      If you're a high school athlete (or the parent of one) and your team needs funds for uniforms, travel, or new equipment, you might consider re-evaluating your usual fundraising and trying something a little different. 

      Instead of selling candy bars or getting businesses to purchase ads in a team directory, I think there's a huge opportunity for athletes to show a little more initiative, for the teams to generate even bigger funds, and for the sponsors to reap the rewards of supporting the team.  Here it is.

      1.  Nominate 2 teammates to serve as fundraising chairpersons.

      Parents can serve as advisors for this project, but don't take it over from the kids.  If the team really needs money that badly, the teammates should care enough to take on this project themselves.  Let the team nominate the most motivated, organized teammates to head the project.

      2.  Have the team pick the 20-25 local business they patronize most often.

      Hold a team meeting and ask each member to write down the five local business that they visit (and spend money) most often.  Where do you and your friends eat pizza?  Where do you buy gas?  Where do you see movies?  What clothing stores do you frequent the most?  Compare everybody's lists and pick the 20-25 businesses that appear most often.

      3.  Write letters (not emails!) to the businesses asking for sponsorships. 

      Write each business a letter (you can re-use parts of the letter but each one should be personalized to each particular business).  Make sure it's a letter–email is too quick, too easy, and much more likely to be deleted.

      Here's what should be in the letter.

      • An introduction.  Tell them where you go to high school and what team you play for.
      • Explain that you are approaching local businesses looking for sponsorships.  Tell them why do you need the money, what you are you going to use it for, and what is your goal is
      • Explain that the team met and picked the businesses they frequent most often.  Then tell this business specifically why they made the list.  "We like your pizza much better than Pizza Hut's, and we have all our team dinners with you, too" or "Every member of our team buys a smoothie at your store at least once a week–my favorite flavor is banana raspberry, by the way."  
      • Offer to do something for them in return to help them promote their business.  Suggest things you can do, like have a parent hand out coupons for 1/2 off smoothies at each one of your games for a sponsorship of $500.  Or have the whole team where t-shirts promoting the business on game days for a sponsorship of $1000.  

      Here's a big one. For a sponsorship of $5,000, make a promise to the business that every team member and her parents will buy all of your gas or smoothies or pizza from the sponsoring business for a period of 1 year (you could make up little cards with the team name to give the manager every time you buy, so he or she knows how much business you're giving them).  

      I'm a small business owner, and I can tell you that a smart business will see that this math works in their favor.  15 players on a team means about 40 potential customers if you include parents.  If each of those 40 customers bought just 6 large pizzas in a year, the pizza joint would make its $5000 back. And those customers will inevitably bring in more business in the form of friends who aren't even on the team.  For the right business, it's both a profitable decision and a chance to do right by kids in the community.

      You could also allow a business to suggest an idea for a particular sponsorship (you don't necessarily have to do what they suggest, for the amount the suggest, but they can at least suggest it).

      • Have a reply form where they can choose their option, and make one of the options "Please contact me to discuss."  Include a stamped reply envelope and hand-write a return address where they can send the form and a check. 
      • Once you get your funds, assign 5 different team members (not the fundraising chair persons–they're doing enough) to be in charge of contacting the businesses, thanking them, and coordinating the promotion of their business.
      • Throughout the season, take pictures of your team promoting the business.  Get a group shot of all of you in front of your lockers at school wearing the local deli's t-shirts.  Snap a photo of the fans holding up their coupons for half priced smoothies.  Take a picture of the starting center eating two slices of the sponsoring pizza place's pizza at the same time.  Have some fun with it.  Once every couple weeks, email a few of the photos to the store managers so they can see you in action.
      • At the end of the season, pick the 2 or 3 most artistic members of the team (OK, or the most artistic parents if no member of the team is artistic) to make a nice collage with a photo of the team signed by the players, a big thank-you for sponsoring them, and a collection of the photos you took of the promotion.  This shows the partnership–they helped you and you helped them.  And it's something that a local business can put up on their wall proudly. 

      I know what some of you are thinking.  It's too hard.  It will take too long.  It's not worth the effort.  I get that.  But if it's not worth the effort for you, then why should the local business sponsor you?  What's in it for them, really?  I think businesses should support the communities that support them, but why not set it up so both parties benefit? 

      If you do this and it works for both parties, you haven't just secured a one-time small donation.  You've created a partner in the community, a business who will follow and support your team, and one who won't need to be convinced to sponsor you again next year.

      You'll make more money for your team, you'll gain a long-term team supporter in the community, and you'll have a great story to tell colleges. 

      Looks can be deceiving

      My accountant is the most responsible and successful people I’ve ever met.  But he used to spend spring breaks with his fraternity in Rosarito, Mexico sleeping in tents on the beach. 

      That’s nothing compared to the college shenanigans of my lawyer and my liability insurance agent.  Sure, they’re buttoned-down, successful family men today.  But I know some college stories about them that aren’t so responsible.  In fact, I have first hand knowledge of their exploits. 

      I went to college at UC-Irvine with all of these guys. 

      Long before we ever scheduled official lunch meetings to discuss tax implications, copyright law or workers compensation insurance, we spent our college years living together, playing intramural basketball, cramming for finals, playing video games, cooking spaghetti ten different ways, embarrassing each other in front of our girlfriends and, yes, going to our share of (good) college parties.

      Don’t get me wrong.  All of us had goals to make successful post-college lives for ourselves.  So we made sure to get our work done.  But that was no reason to pass up late night basketball games once we learned how to slip (read "trespass") into the gym unnoticed after hours.  We’d play until midnight, cap off the evening with cold “refreshments” at our apartment, and then get up and go to class the next day.

      None of us left college with an Ivy League degree to flaunt to future employers.  UC-Irvine doen’t have Harvard name-brand prestige.  But we spent four years at the right college.  And look where we are today.   

      The accountant and the lawyer are both partners in their respective firms.  The insurance agent owns his own insurance company.  And one of us started Collegewise (and is writing this blog entry).  The old basketball team seems to be doing just fine.   

      Colleges don’t make kids successful—kids have to do that themselves.  But the right college can be the catalyst to turn youthful potential into grown-up success. 

      We didn't need a school at the top of the US News college rankings to make us successful.  Nobody does.  Wherever you go to college, use that time to find your academic interests, to discover your talents.  And for goodness sake, have some fun while you're there, too.  We're happy with our lives but I'd be lying if I told you we didn't miss our late night basketball games every now and then.  They were an important part of our college experience    

      Anyone who looked at how my buddies and I spent our days in college might think we weren’t learning, but we were.  In college, looks can be deceiving.  

      Treat rejections like break-ups

      When someone breaks up with you, you have two options.

      1.  You can enter an extended period of mourning.  You can blame yourself and say you weren't pretty enough or smart enough or fun enough.  You can wallow, shun other potential dates, and remain convinced that you'll never find love again.

      2.  Or you can mourn–briefly–and move on, assured that there are plenty of good matches out there for you who will appreciate you for you who are. 

      The second option is far, far better than the first.

      A college rejection should be treated like a break-up except for one crucial difference; break-ups are personal, college decisions are not.  They might feel that way, but the fact that you were rejected does not necessarily mean that the admissions office didn't love your essay or appreciate your activities or think you wouldn't be a great addition to the campus.  Sometimes is just means that there weren't enough spaces to go around. 

      Post-rejection dejection is normal.  But wallowing in a college rejection, telling yourself that you might have gotten in if your test scores were higher or if you took another AP class or if your essay were just a little stronger, that's like beating yourself up after a break-up.  It will only make you feel worse and delay your opportunity to find a better match.  

      The best thing you can do is accept the rejection and move on to one of the colleges who was smart enough and lucky enough to offer you a spot.