Search Results for: potential

“It’s a good school.”

"It's a good school."

That's got to be just about one of the most banal (yep, somebody's bringing out an SAT word!) reasons you can give for being interested in a college.

Don't tell a college that you're applying because, "It's a good school."  When your college interviewer asks you what got you interested in Yale or Duke or USC or whatever the college may be, don't tell them, "It's a good school."  Citing that as a reason to apply is akin telling your parents you want to marry someone you barely know because your friends say she's "pretty cute."   The interviewers, the colleges, and your counselor will all think that you (almost certainly) know little about the school other than the fact that it's famous. You'll be outing yourself as someone who hasn't thoughtfully considered your colleges.

Instead, try this.  "It's a good school for me."  

When you can follow that answer with a detailed description that backs it up, it's usually a sign that you've done some thoughtful college soul searching.  It shows that you've considered what you want your college experience to be like, what you hope or expect to gain from your time on campus, and how you see yourself learning and contributing while you're there.  

Spend the majority of your college search seeking out the colleges that will fit that statement.  You'll inevitably spend as much time thinking about yourself as you do about potential colleges.  That's a good thing. And once you identify the schools and the reasons why you're picking them, you'll have a lot of things to say after,

"It's a good school for me."

Don’t rely on “who you know”

Chuck Norris
once cut me off in traffic.  Seriously.  He was polite and waived a
sign of apology.  And we all know that if Chuck Norris cuts you off,
you'd better thank your lucky stars it wasn't the other way around.  

Still, I'm not about to tell you that I know Chuck Norris.  Never actually met him.  The cut-off was the beginning and the end of our time together. So if you need someone to take
care of some messy business, I won't say, "Want me to text Chuck?" 

In my experience, someone who has real connections with people of influence doesn't feel the need to talk about it.  I
like to believe that hard work and success brings these people enough pride
that they don't feel compelled to remind me who they know.

So I'm always skeptical when someone voluntarily tells me, "I've got connections." 

In over 15 years working with high school students, I have met only
one kid who I am absolutely sure was admitted to the college of his choice
because of a connection.  His father called me in the fall and said,

"Kevin, I'm going to be honest with you.  My son knows where he
wants to go to school, and I know he's going to get in because I'm
giving them a building.  But I want to make sure he writes a good
college essay so he doesn't look like a privileged jerk."

I loved his honesty. 

But every other time a parent has told someone here at Collegewise that they "know someone" who can reportedly "get their student in," it never seems to pan out.  So the student and the parent with the reported connection end up feeling disappointed, frustrated and sometimes even a little misled.  

The reality is that the people making decisions in colleges' admissions offices aren't beholden to many others.  You might know an influential alum who sits on the board, or a professor in the sociology department, or a friend who's the head of alumni interviewing, but deans of admission don't answer to those people.  So the only way a connection can change the course of an admissions decision is if the school's vital interests are potentially at stake (don't want to reject the kid whose dad is paying 20 million dollars for the new science research center). 

I worry about the lesson it teaches kids when parents feel the need to pull connections on their kids' behalf.  It sends the message that an admission to one particular college is the measure of success, one worth taking the college admissions equivalent of a wild swing.  Won't those kids feel even worse about themselves if the connection doesn't result in an admission?

I wish that parents with reported connections would just tell their kids,

"I know someone at College X who might be willing to tell you more about the school. We could have lunch with him and log some father-daughter time if you'd like, maybe hear some of his college stories?  Of course, if I set it up, you have to pay for my sandwich.  That's the cost of doing business with Dad."  

Keep it fun.  Don't ratchet up the pressure. Don't make promises on behalf of your connection.  It's better not to rely on who you know.

By the way, I'm sure Chuck wasn't running late that day.  As I understand it, if Chuck
Norris is running late, time knows to slow down. 

Place your bets

For colleges, selecting a freshmen class is a lot like betting on horses.  As anyone who’s spent time at a racetrack will tell you, it’s hard to pick the winners.  A horse can have the best trainers, the right physical attributes, and a 26-pound jockey who can get a horse to deal blackjack, but still come in dead last. 

When a college accepts you, they're betting that you will perform well over the next four years.  High grades, good test scores, and successes in your high school activities indicate that you have the potential to do well in college.  But much like horse racing, there’s no guarantee that you will actually live up to those expectations once you get to college and the race starts.  It helps your case if the college can sense you weren't someone who made all your decisions based on what you thought would please colleges. 

The best way to show colleges that you're a safe bet is to be authentic in your pursuits.  Seek out the subjects that really interest you.  Pursue activities you really enjoy.  Make an impact.  Leave a legacy.  Challenge yourself.  Gracefully accept your failures and move on productively.  And most importantly, be who you want to be–a quarterback, a math nerd, a trombone player, someone who watches foreign films nobody else likes, a poet, a budding physicist, an interpretive dancer, or some bizarre combination of those things–just be authentic.  Base your decisions on the person you aspire to be, rather than on the perceived preferences of a college you aspire to attend.

You can't fake character traits like passion, curiosity, character, persistence, humility.  That's why those students are such good bets.  


The problem with pleasing everyone

I’ve met countless high school kids with impressive resumes who couldn’t answer a simple question about which activity meant the most to them. Those kids haven’t spent any time considering what would make them happy.  They just spread themselves through a variety of activities and achievements based on what they thought would please other people (and colleges). 

I think those kids are spending far too much time trying to please everyone (especially adults) and not enough time figuring out who they are. 

A lot of high school kids have been taught that if you follow some simple rules, you’ll be successful.  So you study hard.  You have perfect attendance.  You involve yourself in a variety of activities.  You have a good resume.  You don’t say anything that might embarrass you.  You don’t ask questions that might make you look foolish.  You learn what you’re supposed to learn, study for the test, and then move on to the next subjects.  If you do these things, you’ll please everyone, you’ll get into college and you’ll be successful.  Those are the rules.

But here’s the catch.  Trying to please everyone is no way to stand out.  If you don’t believe me, just look at some of the most successful people.

From social revolutionaries like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, to business tycoons like Mark Cuban and Richard Branson, to industrial and technological innovators like Henry Ford and the Google Guysthey had a vision of what they wanted to accomplish, and they relentlessly pursued that vision.  If they had spent all their time trying to please those in charge, they probably never would have gotten as far as they did.  I’m not suggesting they went out of their way to defy authority (though some had to).  But pleasing everyone  was never the end goal.  They were motivated by their own passions, by a sense of purpose that was bigger than themselves. 

How much time do you spend just trying to please people? Are you taking classes you hate just so you can get into what you think is a good college Are you playing the piano because your parents want you to?  Are you going to pitching clinics because your coach told you to, or taking vocal classes because your drama teacher said you need them?  Are you doing them because those things make you happy, or are you doing them because other people told you to do them?

Please understand, I’m not advocating that you should brazenly defy authority and just do whatever you want to do.  Your parents, teachers and
coaches deserve your respect, and you’d be burning bridges with people who could really help you achieve your goals.

But I am saying that great leaders, inventors, communicators, organizers, people who make things happen for themselves and those around them, they got that way by identifying and pursuing their own passions.

If you’re a good kid who takes AP classes, gets straight A’s, has high SAT scores, plays the piano, does community service, and is involved in clubs, that’s great.  You’re obviously smart and capable of working hard.  You should be proud of that.

But if you can’t answer a question about your favorite subject, or your favorite activity, or what you do for fun, or what part of college you’re most excited about (these are all things that colleges will ask you, by the way), then you’re a good kid who did all those things because the rules told you to do them.  That doesn’t make you a bad kid.  But lots of kids follow the rules.  If you’re trying to stand out and show your potential to colleges, there are better ways to do it.

The good news is that colleges are on kids’ sides here.  Every admissions officer I’ve ever met steadfastly maintains that a kid who loves what he’s doing, whatever the activity may be, is more appealing than a student with a long list of accomplishments he garnered in an attempt to impress colleges.  Colleges know it’s the passionate kid who’s going to keep doing great things once he gets to college.

So that’s the trade-off.  You can try to please everyone, inevitably sacrifice some of your own happiness and be like every other good kid.  Or you can decide for yourself who you are and what makes you happy, and you can spend your time fulfilling your own goals.

You won’t please everyone, but you’ll please the most important people (people who love you, people who understand you, and colleges that fit you).  And more importantly, you’ll be happy.

It’s your choice.

What Nike and highly-selective colleges have in common

Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player in the history of the game.  When he came into the league in 1984, nobody had ever seen spectacular, high flying dunks like Jordan could do.  He won six NBA championships.  He was the league MVP 5 times.  He led the league in scoring 10 times.  He was Defensive Player of the Year in 1988.  He could shoot three-pointers.  He could rebound.  He was a leader, a tenacious competitor, and just to top it all off, he was one of the worst trash talkers to ever play in the NBA (I would have been, too, if I could back it up like Jordan did).

It was no surprise that when Nike introduced their Air Jordan basketball shoe early in Jordan's career, it became the hottest selling athletic shoe of its day.  Nike's marketing execs were smart enough to attach their brand to Jordan and bet on him early.  They could see that he was great and was only going to become even greater. Over 25 years later (and nearly a decade since Michael left the game of
basketball for good), the Air Jordan is still one of the most popular basketball
shoes.  It was brilliant marketing foresight.

That's a lot like what highly selective colleges are doing when they select kids. 

The nation's most selective colleges get applications from the smartest, most exceptional applicants in the college admissions pool and then reject almost all of them.  For the 10% that are accepted, the colleges are betting on their success like Nike bet on Jordan.  Given what those kids have already accomplished by age 18, it's a smart bet. 

So, how much credit do the colleges deserve when those kids go on to do great things?

I think that to give too much credit to the most selective schools for the greatness of
their graduates is a bit like saying that Michael Jordan achieved his success
because of his trademark shoes. 

Successful people don't do great things just because they attend a famous college.  They do great things because they've worked hard enough to become great in the first place.  Kids who have the intellectual curiosity, work ethic and passion for their interests to be accepted to a highly-selective college are more likely to apply those same traits once they get there.  Put a bunch of those kids together and you have a lot of potentially great future college graduates.  They were, after all, great before they ever moved into the dorm.

I don't have anything against highly selective colleges.  I don't deny that they can offer a unique experience for an exceptional kid who's seeking the opportunity to surround herself with ridiculously smart, motivated, passionate students who are also published authors, concert pianists, patent holders, all-American athletes, artists, physicists, etc.

But that experience is a product of the population as much if not more so than it is of the college and the education it provides.  Nobody with an ounce of common sense has ever believed that a basketball shoe alone would actually get you into the NBA.  Please don't believe that a famous college will make you great. 

When he was a kid on the varsity team, Jordan wasn't dreaming of having a shoe named after him.  He just wanted to be a great basketball player.  So don't make your high school years about trying to get accepted to an Ivy League school.  If that's the only reason you're working hard, you're missing the point. 

Your goal should be to become great–at math, painting, the drums, hockey, poetry, drama, computer programming, video production, singing–whatever it is that you love to do.  Work hard enough at being great and the right colleges will appreciate you.  

Then you can bring your greatness (and your shoes of choice) with you to college.

How important are PSAT scores?

I think students and parents need to find reasons to stress less,
not more, about the college admissions process.  The PSAT is a good
example of this need. 

The stress students and parents feel
regarding PSAT scores (which are being returned to students about now),
is often totally out of proportion with the actual relevance of the
scores.  

The PSAT is just a practice test.  That's all.  It
was created to let students take a non-threatening trial version of the
SAT before they take the real thing.  It can't hurt you.  It can't
damage your future.  No student in the history of college admissions
has ever been rejected by a college because she scored poorly on the
PSAT. 

Even good PSAT scores don't actually get you into
college.  If you did well on the PSAT, it's good news because you will
likely do well on the SAT when you take it–and that exam absolutely can
help you get into college.  Doing well on the PSAT is like doing well
on a practice test a teacher gives you before the big final exam; it's
a good sign but you'll still need to score well when it counts. 

In
fact, the only way colleges use PSAT scores is to purchase names for
direct marketing mailings.  If you took the test, you and your mailbox
will see what I mean later this spring.

So if you didn't do
well on the PSAT, don't launch into a full scale panic attack.  As my
friend Paul Kanarek from The Princeton Review always says at the dozens
of PSAT scores back sessions he does at high schools every year, "You
are not allowed to panic over your PSAT scores." 

For anyone
who's not happy with your PSAT scores, use your results as your early
warning signal that you might want to do some work before you take the
real SAT.  That's what test preparation is for (a service whose cost
ranges from thousands of dollars in private tutoring to $15 for a good book).

Now, I can hear some people saying, "But it's NOT just a practice test!  What about National Merit scholarships?" 

Yes,
a small number of students (about 8,000 of the 1.5 million test takers)
are awarded scholarships every year, and the PSAT scores are the first
of many rounds of qualification you must endure.  If you're notified
that your PSAT scores qualify you for future consideration, that's good
news (being in a line for future potential scholarship money is always
good news).

But for everyone else, again, don't panic.  You're
in good company with the other 1.5 million test takers who will still
have plenty of the over 2,000 4-year colleges from which to choose.

My
point here isn't that students should blow off the PSAT.  My point is
that students and parents would be well served to remind themselves
that if you lose sleep over your PSAT scores, you're placing far, far
more emphasis on the exam than any college will.  That would be like
playing one bad game of pick-up basketball with your friends and
worrying that you won't make varsity because of it.  It just doesn't
make sense.

Less stress, not more.

Make your own value

The Today show ran this piece yesterday on the "Top 20 Best Value Colleges" which came from the results of a recent survey by The Princeton Review.  Now more than ever, families are asking questions–as they should–about the quality of colleges in relation to their sticker price.

Are private schools worth the money?

Will my education at a less selective public school be as good as the kind I might experience at a selective private school?

Which colleges will help me get a better paying job when I graduate?

But as you're comparing different colleges and what you'd be getting for your money, keep in mind that each student has enormous influence on the value of her college experience.

Here are two very different examples of students attending two very different schools.

Student #1 chooses to attend the cheapest public school in his state.  It's neither famous nor selective as it admits over 70% of the applicants.  He throws himself into the college experience.  He starts by visiting regularly with his academic advisor to talk about his courses and which ones he seems to like the most.  He visits professors during their office hours and gets to know them.  During his sophomore year, he chooses "regional development" as his major, a subject he first investigated at the urging of his advisor who thought he would love the courses (the advisor was right).  He's excited to go to class every day because he loves the subject matter.  He explores various activities and gets a part time job in the athletics office scheduling intramural sports games.  That job later turns into an internship where he works for the Director of Campus Activities.  When the school wants a student representative on the committee to plan for the new athletics complex, he interviews and is selected.  The summer before his senior year, the Director of Campus Activities hires him for a full time summer internship to coordinate student volunteers.  He does such a great job that they allow him to trim his hours and continue working during his senior year.  All the while, he's creating lifelong friendships and enjoying the fun that college has to offer.  He flourishes inside and outside of the classroom.  He graduates with honors, with a resume of experience, with professors and mentors who can advise him and serve as references, and with a lifetime worth of college memories.

Student #2 attends a highly selective, famous private college.  He majors in business because that's what he always said he wanted to major in.  He meets with his advisor only when he's required to and never fully avails himself of that resource.  He doesn't visit professors during their office hours.  He attends most, but not all of his classes, and is naturally smart enough to study the night before the test and pull off "B." He does fine academically, but certainly doesn't love his classes.  He plays intramural sports and makes some good friends, but doesn't ever seek out or locate an activity that he's passionate about.  During his college summers, he hangs out with his friends and has the occasional part time job to make extra spending money.  He doesn't cultivate any professional relationships with people who could serve as mentors or recommenders.  He makes some good friends and has his share of fun, but if you ask him, he really likes, but doesn't necessarily love college.  He graduates with a degree in business from a famous university, but no real experience other than his part-time summer jobs.  

So, who had the better college education?  Which student is likely to be more successful after college?  Which student got the best value for his college education?

The student is the variable in every college's education.  That's why it is almost impossible to measure with any degree of accuracy the potential quality and value of any one particular school.   

The best funded university in the world with small classes, plenty of support and loads of Nobel Prize winning professors won't be worth its tuition to the student who isn't willing to take advantage of those resources.  And the cheap public school that makes no appearance in the annual college rankings can become the launching pad to success for the right student who is naturally inclined to work hard and achieve his goals. 

Yes, you should be cost conscious when choosing colleges.  You should ask what you're going to get for your money.  And you should evaluate the spending decision just like you would with any purchase of a similar magnitude.  To do anything other than that would be irresponsible.

But it's important to remember that colleges don't make kids successful–kids have to do that for themselves.  A student's work ethic, curiosity, initiative, integrity and maturity–and what she does to apply those traits during her time in college–will have far greater influence over her happiness and post-college success than the name of her college will.  

If you want to get the most bang for your college buck, start your evaluation with the variable–the student.  Think about the kind of environment where a student would flourish, the kind of place where she can put her natural talents to the best use.  Then find the colleges that match that description.  Don't do it the other way around; don't pick famous colleges because you're sure they're "good" and then try to find a way to get accepted.

In college, you don't automatically get what you pay for.  You have to make your own value.

“Insert name of college here”

College applicants could learn a lot from successful (and unsuccessful) job applicants. 

A friend of mine is applying for a job she really wants. Today, she asked me to read over her cover letter and give her some feedback.  This woman is wonderful.  She's smart, talented, likable, totally committed to her work, and I think the company (or any company) would be crazy not to hire her. 

But I had to be honest and tell her that her letter had an "Insert name of company here" feeling that wouldn't help her stand out.

In today's economy, job applicants feel pressured to play the numbers, to apply to as many employers as possible in the hopes that one will invite them for an interview.  And they have to do so under the pressure of deadlines and the reality that if nobody says "Yes," they're unemployed.

So a lot of applicants resort to a general cover letter, one that describes past employment experiences and cites the applicants' strengths, like, "I am very dependable and deadline-oriented," or "I show great initiative and am comfortable taking a leadership role," or "I believe my skills and talents are a good match with this job."  Then they recycle the letter at as many companies as possible changing only the name of the employer (though I admit that I've received cover letters from people who even forgot to do that–and I didn't hire them).

That's the approach my friend took.

A cover letter like that isn't going to make you stand out from all the other qualified applicants.  Job seekers need to show employers that they have thoughtfully considered each potential position, that they've identified why they believe they're a good match, and most importantly, they need to do so in a way that doesn't sound like anyone else.  It's not enough to tell them that you're "Dependable, honest and trustworthy."  You've got to help them see those traits with relevant, specific, compelling examples.  It's not easy, but it's what you have to do.

Students often approach the college application process the same way, applying to as many colleges as possible, using and re-using your application essays, and (hopefully) substituting the right name of each college. 

It doesn't work in job applications.  And it doesn't work in college applications, either. 

The good news for students is that college admissions doesn't have to be a numbers game.  There are over 2,000 colleges in the country. Only about 100 of them actually reject more than a small percentage of their applicants.  And over two dozen except literally every student who applies.

So don't try to play the college admissions numbers.  Don't apply to 5 Ivy League schools, Stanford, Duke, Georgetown and Northwestern and then hope for the best.  Those schools all reject the vast majority of their applicants.  Applying to as many of them as possible with recycled applications doesn't improve your chances; in fact, since your applications will have an "insert name of college here" feeling, you've actually hurt your chances taking that approach.  You've turned college admissions into a numbers game that you can't win.

Instead, don't be so concerned with whether or not a college is famous.  Find the colleges that are right for you.  Spend your application space showing them how you arrived at your decision to apply and why you would be excited to be a freshman there.  Be thoughtful and deliberate.   

And whatever you do, don't be an "insert name of college here" applicant.

50 things…

Here are fifty things you can do in college, even if the school isn't a famous one. 

  1. Eat late night pizza in the dorms.
  2. Take road trips.
  3. Play intramural basketball games.  At midnight.
  4. Choose classes you want to take.
  5. See how many straight nights you can eat spaghetti.
  6. Be a resident advisor in the dorms.
  7. Do research in physics with a professor.
  8. Meet your future husband or wife.
  9. Meet the person who will one day be your maid of honor or best man.
  10. Paint your face in the school's colors for the big game.
  11. Have a professor who tells you that she sees great potential in your work.
  12. Enjoy late night conversations with your new friends in the dorm.
  13. Create memories with your friends that will make you smile when you're fifty.
  14. Write for the campus newspaper.
  15. Sit with a professor during her office hours and realize you're chatting with the person who wrote the textbook you're using in class.
  16. Play mud football games on Sundays.
  17. Study abroad in Italy.  Or Greece.  Or Australia. 
  18. Pull an all nighter studying with your friends.
  19. Go to parties.  Good ones.
  20. Participate in campus traditions.
  21. Sing (obscene) songs to your college's rival at the homecoming game.
  22. Work a part-time job at the campus coffee shop, or the library, or at the restaurant in town.
  23. Discover your academic passions.
  24. Play in the school's marching band.
  25. Participate in the engineering Olympics.
  26. Feel like you're getting a little smarter every day.
  27. Realize that you are actually excited to attend your classes.
  28. Leave everything you didn't like about high school behind.
  29. Go on a camping trip with your new friends.
  30. Find an internship in a career that looks interesting.
  31. Meet mentors who will help you reach your potential.
  32. Celebrate the end of finals week with your fellow students.
  33. Take a class that has absolutely nothing to do with your major just because it looks interesting.
  34. Go to the school's football games.  Or the basketball games.  Or the hockey games.
  35. Spend Thanksgiving with a friend's family because they live closer to campus.
  36. Camp out to get basketball tickets.
  37. Eat Top Ramen, or cereal, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner.
  38. Write a senior thesis on a subject you get to pick.
  39. Spend your summer getting career experience in an area you find interesting.
  40. Study in the park.  In between Frisbee tossing.
  41. Excel academically and enjoy what you're learning.
  42. Make the kind of friends you know will be in your life for a very long time.
  43. Do community service with your college friends.
  44. Find your natural talents and interests.
  45. Discover what you want to do with your life.
  46. Do things that, one day, your kids won't be able to imagine mom or dad doing.
  47. Join a fraternity or sorority.
  48. Participate in an outdoor education program.
  49. Graduate and marvel at how far you've come, how much you've grown, and how much you've learned over the last four years.
  50. See how proud your parents are at your graduation.

How many of those are actually factored into the US News College rankings?

Some advice on choosing activities…

What you choose to do outside the classroom, and the passion with which you pursue it, tells the colleges a lot about the potential impact you are likely to make on their campuses.  As you think about how you want to spend your time outside the classroom, here are some pointers to keep in mind:

1.  Start with what you already know and like.
Think about what you like, and ask yourself, "What else could I do in this area?"  For example, if your passion is sports, there are a lot of ways to get involved.  Join a team at your school.  Be the manager of the baseball team.  Write the sports column for the school newspaper.  Be the announcer at the basketball games.  Take pictures of sports for the yearbook.  No matter what you like to do, if you commit yourself to it, the colleges will be impressed.

2.  Don't be a "joiner."

Don't sign up for every club on campus to try and make the colleges
think you were involved.  A long list of activities alone isn't going
to impress the colleges as much as a substantial commitment will.  Pick
the things you really enjoy instead of padding your resume.

3.  Always try to make an impact.
When you graduate from high school, what
legacy will you leave behind in your involvements?  It might be
something big, like the fact that you founded an organization that
raised $12,000 for Juvenile Diabetes.  It might be something small,
like the fact that even though you rarely played, you still got the
Coach's Award on the soccer team because of your dedication.  Whatever
you do, find a way to make contributions in your own way.  Colleges
like the students who make an impact wherever they are.

4.  Never ask, "Would (insert activity here) look good?"

Every time one of our Collegewise students asks us this, we make that
student go run a lap around our offices.  OK, not really, but that
question is like fingernails on the blackboard for us, and for the
colleges.  Instead, ask yourself, "Am I really interested in this, and
does is seem like something to which I could commit to substantially?"
If the answer is "yes," you're probably on the right track.

5.  Never quit an activity you enjoy just because you aren't succeeding.
If you love being on the soccer team even though you spend most of your time on the bench, don't
quit!  Colleges understand that you're not going to be great at
everything you do.  Besides, it takes just as much fortitude to stick
with something that's challenging as it does to continue in an activity
where everybody is always telling you how great you are.

Conversely, if you don't like an activity, get out!  If you hate every
second of wrestling and you got beaten so badly at the last match that
your liver fell out, stop.  Don’t wrestle anymore.  Find something else
that you enjoy where you won’t be slammed into a mat quite so often.