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Staying Productive and Motivated

Graduating college seniors are facing a tough job search in a down economy.  But that doesn't mean you can't do something noteworthy while you're looking.  This blog post has some great ideas for ways to stay motivated and make yourself even more marketable for potential employers.  I'm posting it here for college grads, but also for high school students who might be looking for ways to spend a productive and fulfilling summer (in fact, it's reminiscent of our list of "50 Fantastic Summer Activities for High School Students").

50 Fantastic Summer Activities for High School Students

The New York Times ran an article today about the National Young Leaders Conference–one of many organizations that offer high-priced summer programs for students, but that misleadingly market the programs as auspicious honors for which only a few outstanding students are selected.  It's a good reminder to be suspicious of any "honor" for which you have to pay (a lot) to receive.

You don't have to spend money on an expensive program to impress colleges.   Here are 50 fantastic 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, 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.

Free Collegewise seminars in Southern California and the Pacific Northwest

Secrets of College Admissions
A free seminar for students and parents

Leaf transparentFind out how selective colleges and universities really evaluate students.
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Learn Collegewise strategies students can use to improve their chances of admission.
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All attendees will receive a free copy of "Collegewise Admissions Secrets," a collection of ten articles by our college counselors on topics like, "Secrets of Ivy League Admits," "The Most Overused Essay Topics and How to Avoid Them" and "How B and C students Can Show Their Potential to Colleges."

If you live in Southern California or the Pacific Northwest (Bellevue, WA), we'd love to see you at one of our seminars.  Dates, times and locations are listed below.

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5 Tips for High School Academic Success

Report_card_2 You don’t need to read our blog to know that getting good grades will help you get into college.  But here are five tips you might not have thought of, tips that anyone from “A” students to “C” students can use to be more successful in high school. 

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1.  Get to know your high school counselor (and when you do, be nice).

Your high school counselor is not only a resource for you, but can also be your advocate with teachers and colleges.  So before you pick your classes, meet with your counselor.  If you have a question about college, ask your counselor.  And if you happen to have an extra batch of fresh-baked cookies lying around, bring some to your counselor.  We’re not saying you should schmooze with insincerity; we’re saying that you should acknowledge, appreciate and benefit from your counselor’s willingness to help you. 

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The One Thing You Need To Know About…

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The more advice you’re given about college admissions, the more complicated the whole process seems.  So this month, we picked some of the most common college admissions topics and, for each one, asked ourselves, "What’s the one thing a student really needs to know about this?"  Read one to find five of those of those one-things.      

1.  College Essays

Don’t write what you think the colleges want to hear.  You’ll inevitably end up writing about how community service taught you that it’s important to help people, or how your trip to Spain taught you to appreciate different cultures.  And those are the essays that everybody writes. 

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For the Admissions Officers…

College_fair_2 As Arun and I gear up for our annual trip to NACAC, I remembered a conversation I was lucky enough to have with Llloyd Thacker of the Education Conservancy at last year’s conference.  The subject was college fairs, and how so many admissions officers are under enormous pressure to generate student interest in their schools.  Given that the vast majority of admissions officers we’ve met are smart, likeable people with a genuine interest in education and students, how could these reps use a college fair to really help kids make even better decisions about their educations and their futures (if these reps were allowed and encouraged to do so)? 

Here were some of the ideas we discussed, (though I’m sure the best ones are probably all courtesy of Lloyd). 

1.  Don’t focus only on the features of your college–share the real benefits of the process of education (this one was definitely Lloyd’s).

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Easing the Stress

Stress_2 Boy, do we like Jay Mathews, Education Columnist for the Washington Post and author of one of our favorite admissions books, Harvard Schmarvard.   And his most recent column, "Ten Ways to Reduce College Application Stress" reminds us why.

Some of the tips actually suggest ways the colleges could do more to ease the stress on kids, like tip #3,  "Make the super selective colleges tell all potential applicants that their admissions processes are often irrational and that getting accepted is akin to winning a lottery."

I like tip #9 the best–"Repeat this phrase every day: In America, people succeed because of the quality of their character, not the notoriety of their college." 

And as usual, he's got great data to back it up.

Thanks Jay!

Everybody Loves Arun

Day one at NACAC reminded us of two things–We come here as much for the people as we do for the workshops, and the vast majority of the people working in admissions are smart, honest, and interested in doing what’s right for kids.

We have to start this entry by acknowledging that it seems as if everyone attending NACAC has worked with or heard of Arun.  And all of them seem to like and respect him.  Alex and Kevin have had absolutely no qualms riding Arun’s coattails throughout our stay here.  And what colorful coattails they are.  Yesterday, Arun was sporting a look that involved a pink dress shirt, red track jacket, and blue pinstriped blazer–yes, all at the same time.  Alex and Kevin admitted that while we would look absolutely ridiculous in that outfit, Arun somehow managed to pull it off.  We’re kicking ourselves for not photographing him.  One counselor and at an elite New York private high school admired Arun’s look with the comment, "Wow, look at you!  You look so LA glossy."  Thus far, nobody has referred to Kevin or Alex as "glossy." 

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That’s Wha’TIME Bloggin’ About…

What has long been somewhat of an underground college admissions sentiment is about to get a Time_image_2 front page voice this week when Time Magazine hits the shelves with the cover story, Who Needs Harvard?  Forget the Ivy League—The new rules of the game say the best fit is what matters.

Time didn’t exactly break this story.  Loren Pope’s Colleges That Change Lives (which they mention in the article) touted the potential benefits of schools that lack the Ivy League label, as did Jay Mathews’ Harvard Schmarvard and Lloyd Thacker’s College Unranked.  In fact (darn it), Collegewise has been doing our part—it’s a little part, but it’s our part—telling every student and parent who will listen that the most selective schools aren’t necessarily the best

But this week, newsstands will carry a mainstream media publication whose cover story will inspire something other than the usual college admissions anxiety and confusion.  High school students and parents have been waiting a long time for this, and so have we.

It’s about Time.