Search Results for: potential

Sizing a student up

Without seeing a transcript, test scores, or a resume, we can learn a lot about a student in 10-15 minutes.  I can't necessarily tell where he'll get into college without more information, but I can tell whether he's going to be successful in the college application process, and even in life after college. 

Here are a few signs (for us) that a student is going places.

1)  He smiles, looks us in the eye, and shakes our hand when we meet him.

2)  He's respectful of his parents, but doesn't let them talk for him.

3)  He's engaged in the conversation.  He doesn't look bored by a discussion of his education.

4)  He asks thoughtful questions.

5) He's self-assured, comfortable talking about himself, while at the same time not seeming too self-impressed.

6)  He admits what he's not good at, where he's made mistakes, or areas of his life where he needs to improve.  He doesn't blame those shortcomings on other people.

7)  He's genuinely interested in the things he's doing.  He can't hide his enthusiasm for water polo, drama or collecting stamps.

8)  He has a favorite class and teacher.

9)  He seems genuinely happy and excited about life after high school.

10)  He thanks us at the end of the meeting.  

I don't care of a kid is a C student with the worst scores in the history of standardized tests.  If he can show us some or all of these qualities, he's got potential, and the right college will help him fulfill it.

Any kid can develop and benefit from these traits.  Almost all of them are about attitude more than they are ability.  So even if your SAT scores are low, or you just can't seem to grasp chemistry, or you didn't make the varsity soccer team, remember that success in the college application process and in life are about more than just your numbers and your accomplishments.

 

Ask Collegewise: Controversial college essays?

Sarah asks:

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I have a student who wants to write an essay about his experience when he was caught dealing pot in high school. Should negative experiences like this be avoided in college admissions essays, even if the student has learned from his mistakes? I'd really appreciate any insight you could share. Thanks.

It's difficult to give good essay advice when we've never met the student and don't necessarily know the whole story. But I'll give it a try.

First, was the student suspended or expelled from school because of this?  Does he now have a criminal record?  If so, chances are he'll be asked about those things on his college applications.  And as soon as he checks the "Yes" box, he's going to need to explain it. That will pretty much end any debate about whether or not to share it because he won't have a choice. 

Assuming he won't be required to disclose it, should he?  There are no firm rules here, but I can tell you that college admissions officers are reluctant to admit anyone who has the potential to put himself or other students at risk.  That's why violence and serious criminal offenses are usually big red flags for admissions officers (so is academic dishonesty, for different reasons).  There are too many other applicants in the pool who don't come with evidence of those risks. 

In the case of the above student, I really can't imagine an essay that's thoughtful enough to make an admissions officer feel good about admitting a student who's dealt drugs.  Maybe if the kid was formally reprimanded (so a punishment has already been handed down), and has since turned that experience into something that positively impacts other students, like teaching drug awareness classes to teens, or working at a drug rehab center.  Maybe.  But the problem is that this kid didn't just do something that was harmful to him–he did something that was harmful to other students.  That's going to be a tough sell. 

Sometimes a student wants to write about a potentially risky topic in which she hasn't necessarily done nothing wrong, like a struggle with mental or emotional problems, or a suicide attempt.  Those topics can be risky because the admissions officer has to be concerned about the applicant's well-being in college.  College can be a difficult transition under the best of circumstances, and no school wants to put a student in an environment that could be detrimental to your mental or physical health.  If you feel compelled to share a story like this, make sure you show them how you've come out on the other side.  Talk about how well you're doing today, what steps you're taking to maintain your health, and if you're doing anything to help others who may be experiencing the same troubles.  And if you're still not sure, it's probably best to get some admissions advice from your high school counselor with whom you can share the entire story.

Every situation is different, obviously.  But I hope these guidelines help a little bit.

On colleges accepting YouTube videos with applications

Some colleges have begun inviting students to create optional videos they can post to YouTube so admissions officers can view them as part of the application.  Two of the most viral video creations from fall 2010 applicants were a flying elephant from a Tufts hopeful and a ukulele-playing student applying to George Mason.  

I got an email from a reporter doing a story about this who wanted to know:

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What do you make of this trend?  Fun? Not a good idea? Good way to showcase personality? Is this the college application of the future?  And does this concern you at all, either from a serious privacy level, or just the idea that these kids have their dorkiest moments that go viral, moments that they'll never really be able to escape later?

Here's the response I sent:

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I like the video option because it coaxes kids to relax and maybe even have a little fun.  Kids feel so much pressure when applying to college today that a lot of them are scared to death to just be themselves in their applications and essays.  Colleges are in the business of evaluating seventeen year-olds, so it’s OK to just be a real kid behind all the grades and test scores.  If a student sees the video option and gets excited to make and share something about himself, that’s probably a good sign.  Even the directions on the Tufts application section for the videos say, “Think outside the box when you answer the following questions. Take a risk and go somewhere unexpected. Be serious if the moment calls for it but feel comfortable being playful if that suits you, too.”  They’re inviting kids to stop worrying about being impressive and to just share what they want to share.

We’re not necessarily looking at the future of college applications here because I don’t think videos are ever going to be something that’s required or even encouraged by a majority of colleges.  It’s time consuming for admissions officers to view these, and the applicant pools are just too large at many colleges to make this an option.  There’s also a question of inequity–too many kids don’t have access to video equipment.  Does a get a student who’s got thousands of dollars worth of equipment to shoot, edit and produce a masterpiece deserve an admissions advantage over a kid without those resources?  That’s why colleges will never be able to place too much weight on videos.  They’ll be a fun option that some kids use, but never a significant factor in the admissions process.     

And something you brought up in your original email is what concerns me about the videos–their longevity.  How many people do you know who would feel comfortable with the college application essay they wrote back in high school being posted online for the world to see today?  Most people wouldn’t want that.  YouTube videos live on forever.  When you’re a seventeen year-old college applicant and you make a video showing how much you like to air guitar in your room, that might make for an endearing college application video.  But how is that kid going to feel after college when potential employers do a Google search and see a video of him rocking out to Journey’s Greatest Hits?  Not good.

That last point doesn’t concern me enough to say that colleges shouldn’t invite kids to do this.  Kids are putting stuff up online with or without the colleges’ invitation to make videos  But it is something that I think people will be talking about five years from now when those applicants come out of college. 

For private counselors: how to build a (better) website

If you're a private counselor hoping to grow your business, you've probably thought about building (or have already built) a website.  The good news is that the rules for making good websites for small businesses have changed.  You don't need to
spend thousands of dollars to build a one  You don't need flash
animation.  You don't even need to be fancy (Google is the most popular
website in the universe and it has a ridiculously simple
homepage). 

But the bad news is that it if you don't give people exactly what information they came to find, and make it easy for them to find it, you're going to lose them.  Today's web surfers have short attention spans, and most people aren't going to spend ten minutes on your site trying to find what they need to know.  They'll spend maybe a minute and then move on.  So if you're looking to build, or improve, your website, make sure you make it easy
for people to find the answers to these five questions:

1.  Who are
you?

It's surprising how many private counselors have websites
that continuously use words like "we" or "us" but never come right out and say who's actually helping the kids.  Instead, they say things like, "Our expert advisers have a wealth of experience and have
guided countless students to admission to the nation's finest
universities."  What does that even mean?  Who are you?  If I enroll my kid, who is he going to be working with? 

If you
don't feel comfortable putting your name and a real bio on your website, you might consider not having a website at all.  Instead tell people who you really are.  Be proud of your background, even if you're still relatively new to this profession.  And don't say "We" if you
really mean "Me."  There's no shame in working by yourself especially if you're
good.  Families don't care if you're a big company or a one-person shop. 
They just want the right counselor for their kid.   

2.  What
do you do?

Be clear about what services you offer and what kind of student tends to match well with you.  Are you good with kids who have learning disabilities?  Do you know a lot about athletic recruiting?  Are you particularly knowledgeable about a few specific colleges?  Don't try to sound like you can help everybody (none of us can).  Instead, come right out and tell people what they can hire you to help with, what you do well, and maybe even what you don't do. 

3.  Where are
you located?

We got this one wrong on our own website for years.  We made people navigate all the way to the "contact us" portion of our website to find out where our offices were.  Big mistake.  Put your office location(s) on your homepage. Tell people right away where they'll need to go to work with you.  Don't worry about losing customers because of geography.  If that's going to be an issue for a family, you might as well tell them upfront; don't make them call you to find out what "Greater Los Angeles area" means.          

4.  How do I contact you?

Do you have an office phone
number?  An email address?  Do you care which one people use?  Don't
make people sift through your website to figure out how to get in touch
with you.  Make your contact information blatant and easy to find.  Put
it (or a link to it) on every page. 

5.  What do I do next if
I'm interested?

Don't put your prospective customer in the awkward position of having to contact you to ask what the next step is.  Come right out and tell them what you want them to do.  Do you offer an introductory consultation?  How do they schedule one?  And don't make the visitor fill out a long online form to request an appointment.  That's like forcing potential suitors to complete a long questionnaire before they can even ask you what your name is.  If the information really is important to you, have them fill it out after they've scheduled the appointment.        

Everything else on a website is secondary and probably more important to you than it is to your potential customer.  You can always add more pages and information later if you get repeated questions about testimonials, a newsletter or whether or not you have a blog.  Give your visitors what they’re looking for when they first find your section of cyberspace, and more of them will become your customers later.  

PS:  I've
learned a lot about websites and marketing from Seth Godin.  If you
want to have an effective website up as soon as possible for very little
money, check out his blog post here.  If you've built a website and want to make
it better, check out his book "The Big Red Fez."

PPS:  Our own website could do an even better job of making it easy for our visitors to find the information they want.  So we're making those changes now.  I'll share them here later next month when we're finished.   

College admissions advice for parents of 6th, 7th and 8th graders

We occasionally get calls from parents of 6th, 7th or 8th graders hoping to enroll their students in a college counseling program.  They’ve heard how difficult college admissions has become and they don’t want to make any mistakes.

But we don’t offer programs for students still in junior high school.  I think junior high is too early to start tying decisions to college admissions.  It’s too early to mold a 12 year-old’s love of computers into an activity that will help him get into college.  Parents shouldn’t panic that 13 year-old’s consistent B’s in math won’t be good enough for the Ivy League schools.  And it is much, much too early to begin any kind of preparation for the SAT because, well, that’s just crazy.

But it’s not too early for junior high students to develop habits that will help them be successful once they get to high school (which will help them get into college).  Here are five ways parents can help.

1.  Help your kids to be independent. 

You don’t want to raise a high school kid who depends on you to wake him up in the morning.  Kids need their parents, but when Mom or Dad makes all the decisions,  you raise a student that is too dependent on his parents and ultimately not well-prepared for college.  I’m not suggesting you need your 13-year-old to open and maintain a checking account, but you can have them get themselves up in the morning, organize their own school assignments, and maybe even assume some responsibilities for helping around the house.

2.  Encourage kids to approach their teachers with questions or concerns. 

If your junior high school student has questions or is struggling in a class, don’t contact the teacher for him to seek help.  Encourage your student to approach his teacher himself.  This is a good time for kids to start taking some responsibility for their own educations.  They need to learn how to advocate for themselves, and how to seek help when they need it.

3.  Encourage kids to follow their passions.

Colleges love students who are passionate about what they do, whether that’s doing scientific research or riding dirt bikes.  Teach your kids that interest is a good thing.  Don’t assign value to the interest based on how you think it will translate into an admission to college someday.  Kids who have the capacity to enjoy something tend to seek out that enjoyment even when their interests change.  That’s a good trait.  I don’t care if your student likes making jewelry, walking dogs in the neighborhood or just playing basketball with his friends.  As long as it isn’t covered by the criminal code, it’s probably an interest you want to encourage.

4.    Help kids find a love of learning.

When you ask a successful college applicant what her favorite class, subject or teacher is, she’s got an answer.  Grades are important, but they are not the only measure of a student’s academic potential.  A sincere interest in learning goes a long way with teachers and with colleges.  So if your student thrives in her math class and even joined the math club, tell her how wonderful it is that she loves math.  Encourage the enjoyment.  If your daughter is fascinated with birds, ask her how she might be able to learn more and decide together whether to buy some books, take a class, or maybe just do some birdwatching.  If your son raves about his history teacher, let him know how lucky he is and ask him to tell you more.  Don’t tie academic enjoyment to grades alone.  Curious learners are always appealing to colleges, and that intellectual love of learning is something you can foster in your kids.

5. Relax.

A lot of the information you hear about seemingly perfect kids being rejected from college is exaggerated.  There are over 2,000 colleges in the country and all but about 100 of them have plenty of room.  Nice kids who work hard (even if they aren’t “A” students) still get into plenty of colleges.  So let your kids be kids.  They don’t need to spend all their time maximizing strengths, fixing weaknesses and molding themselves into future college students.  Let them play and hang out with their friends and maybe even goof off a little.  When your kid is 12, 13 or 14, you’re not going to make a mistake that will keep your child out of college someday.  So relax, and encourage your kids to do the same.

One thing that great leaders do

Jim Collins, a professor at Stanford Business School, wrote a great book that studies history's most effective CEOs.  And one of the traits he found that they all had in common was a desire to see the company become even more successful after they left.  They did everything they could do to ensure the future success of their companies, including selecting and training their successors.  They didn't let their egos get in the way.  They never wanted people to talk about how great the company used to be.  They wanted things to be even better for the company's next generation.     

I think there's a lot of potential here for high school students here.  So much of what you do in high school is temporary.  You're the captain of the basketball team for one year.  You're the president of the French club, or the lead in the school play, or the school board rep, or a section editor of the paper for just one year.  Yes, you need to do a great job, and you want people to appreciate the impact that you make.  But you can make an even great impact if you set up your successor to take over and have even great success when you're gone.

The school year is ending (or has already ended) for many of you.  Are your successors ready to take over what you left behind?  What could you do to help them be even more successful?  You have two options–you assume that it's not your problem any more, or you can play an important part in helping your team, club, organization or other group be successful even after you're gone. 

How good writing can get you dates…and get you into college

Writing a great college essay is a lot like writing a Match.com headline. 

From a great article in Fast Company:

As a dater on Match.com, you have two key ways to
communicate something quickly about yourself: a picture and a headline… Given the stakes, these headlines should really zing. They
don’t. We examined more than 1,000 Match.com ads—from men and women,
old and young. Our search yielded headlines like this one: “Hey.”
Folks, if your opening line is “Hey,” you better be hot.

Another
said “Looking for love.” Well, duh, you’re on Match.com. At least
two-thirds of the headlines said nothing—and did it poorly.

Why
do these headlines suck so much? Fear. Fear of saying too much. Fear of
saying something clever that someone might think is stupid. Fear of
saying something revealing that might turn someone off. The headlines
try desperately not to exclude anyone. In doing so, they succeed at
boring everyone.

…Some singles have figured this out. Here's a brilliant example: "Athletic math nerd seeks someone to hum the Seinfeld intro music with." While excluding, he's simultaneously becoming more interesting to potential soul mates."

If your college essay starts out with, "I have been on the basketball team for three years and it has taught me many important lessons about hard work and commitment," you might as well have just said, "Hey." 

Successful people don’t just “think” about doing things

Successful people don't just think about doing things; they actually do them.  That's why colleges are always looking for students who make things happen. 

According to his IMDB biography, Stanley Kubrick once said, "Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but the best thing that young filmmakers
should do is to get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of
any kind at all."  Note to potential film majors:  You don't become a filmmaker by talking about your favorite films.  You've got to actually make some.

Most people didn't know who Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were back in 1996.  Then they wrote "Good Will Hunting" and won an Academy Award.  They could have just talked about writing a movie; but they actually did it.

Bill Bowerman was a track coach at the University of Oregon in the late 60's.  He thought the standard racing shoes with metal spikes were too heavy.  So he started making his teams' shoes himself complete with rubber soles he forged on his wife's waffle iron.  A few years later, he co-founded a little shoe company called Nike.

Steve Jobs didn't know much about computers when he started Apple in 1976.  But his friend Steve "Woz" Wozniak did.  Woz had been building circuit boards that computer hobbyists could buy and turn into computers.  But he was just doing it for fun.  It was Jobs who saw the potential for the personal computer.  It took awhile, but he eventually convinced Woz to start a company with him–Jobs even sold his VW bus for $500 to help fund the start up (according to iCon).  Jobs wasn't just a thinker–he was the person who actually got Woz on board and started the company.

Ben and Jerry were sitting on the steps at Jerry's parents' house in 1977 talking about what kind of business they could start together.  They both loved to eat and decided to open an ice cream parlor because it was cheaper than opening a restaurant.  First, they took a $5 correspondence course through Penn State (they split the tuition and shared the material) to learn how to make ice cream. Then they found an abandoned gas station they could rent cheap and did all the renovations themselves.  They put the last coat of orange paint on the ceiling the night before they opened.  They combined thinking with doing (and eating) to start their business.   

What are you thinking about doing that you actually could be doing?

  • Does your softball team need to raise money new uniforms?
  • Is your senior class looking for a place to hold your prom?
  • Do you wish you knew more about the Civil War?
  • Do you need to learn more about which colleges are right for you?
  • Would you be a better basketball player if you could sink more free throws?
  • Does the homeless shelter where you volunteer need someone to supervise people on Saturdays?
  • Does the store where you work part time need a website?
  • Could you be the first chair violinist if you practiced a little more?
  • Does your soccer team need to organize practices for the summer?
  • Would it be great if your art class could display their work in the hallway?
  • Is there a kid at school who's being treated badly and would like someone to reach out and be nice to him?

Thinking about doing something is the easy part. It's the doing that's important.

How to write a high school graduation speech

Every year around this time, a few of our Collegewise kids ask us to look over the graduation speeches they’ve written so we can give them feedback. And every year, our most important feedback is that they not write the standard high school graduation speech.

Every kid in America who writes a high school graduation speech seems to say the same three things.

1. “We’ve come so far in just four years.”

2. “We’ve endured good times and bad, but we’ve gotten through it all together.”

3. “Now we’re going off into our futures, but we’re well-prepared thanks to our high school.”

It's not that those are inappropriate thoughts to share. But the rules we teach for great college essays all apply here.  Don’t say what everybody else says, exactly how they say it.  Be honest.  Be specific.  Be forceful.  Say something meaningful.  Don’t resort to quotes or clichés.

We’re not in the speechwriting business, but in the interest of high school graduation guests everywhere, here are my five unsolicited tips for potential graduation speakers.

1. Be specific.

Details make writing interesting.  The same can be said of details in speeches. There’s nothing original or interesting when you say,

“Our freshman year, we were somewhat unsure of ourselves, lost in a large school, and apprehensive about what our future held for us."

But details make it personal and relatable.

“It’s amazing how much we’ve all changed in the last four years. On my first day here at school, I could barely reach my locker. I estimated that most of the senior football players had to have been at least 28 years old. And sadly, I got lost trying to find Freshman English and had to ask for directions. Twice. Today, I’m proud to report that I can reach my locker, the football players don’t look older than I do, and I can find any class on this campus, from drama to physics without having to ask for directions. How different will we all be two years, or four years, or ten years from now?”

2. Put the quote book away.

Forget the famous quotes. You are the graduation speaker. People want to know what you have to say.  The crowd doesn't want to hear what Nietzsche or President Kennedy or King Ferdinand has to say. 

3. Thank someone.  And ask others to do the same.

It’s always good to recognize parents, teachers and your friends. But I think a very nice thing to do is to publicly thank a specific person, one person who helped you, who made a difference, or believed in you. It could be a coach, a counselor, a teacher, your dad, whoever. Thank them in front of everybody. And then encourage everyone else to find and thank the person who helped them, and to do so before they leave graduation.

Who you thank will not be that important to the audience so keep that part short. What will be important (and very cool) is that you’ll ask the crowd to think about who they have to thank. The speech shouldn’t just be about you.  If your speech inspires other people, you’ll be a speaker to remember.

4. Don’t say anything you’ll regret in thirty years.

Most kids who are selected to be graduation speakers are the type of kids who have always set a good example. But every year, they’ll be a few kids who want to take controversial stand, or call out a teacher or administrator, or make an inappropriate joke. Don’t be that kid. You want inspiration? Write the speech you can show to your own son or daughter thirty years from now and say, “That’s how it’s done.” 

5. Save your most important message for the end.

You are the student who will have the collective attention of your entire senior class. So put down the speech and ask yourself, what is the one thought, the one thing you would most like to say to every single member of the graduating class? If they remembered nothing else, what’s the most important thing you want to say to them?  Stay safe during graduation night so they can start their futures tomorrow?  You hope they all find success and happiness?  Whatever the answer is, make sure you include it in the speech, and make sure you close with it.

If you’ve got a friend who’s hoping to be a grad night speaker, feel free to forward this along. I hope it helps.

The benefits of two-year community colleges

I'm doing a seminar for foster youth today to discuss the potential advantages of attending a two-year community college and then transferring to a four-year school.  Here are a few reasons that path can be a good option for the right student:

1.  Cost

Community colleges are significantly cheaper than four-year colleges.  For example, in California, a full-time student pays about $625 for a year at a community college.  A student at one of the University of California campuses, however, pays about $9,000 per year not including room and board. 

2.    A fresh start

When you apply to a four-year college as a community college transfer student, your high school records are usually not taken into consideration.  So if you're not happy with your performance in high school, or if you just don't have the grades to attend the colleges you're interested in, community college lets you start over and show four-year schools what you're really capable of doing.

3.  Transfer agreements

Most community colleges make transfer agreements with a variety of four-year colleges (especially with public schools in the same state).  Most of those agreements stipulate that students who take the required classes and maintain the minimum required GPA will be given the highest admissions priority when they apply.  It takes the guesswork out of college admissions.  Take the classes and get the grades the agreement outlines, and your chances of admission are at the very least dramatically improved, and at the very most, guaranteed.   

I like the community college option for some students.  If you don't have the grades or the money to attend a four-year school, community colleges can help you get there in two years.  And some students just aren't ready for a four-year college yet, which I think is fine.

Remember, nobody will ever ask you where you started college.  They'll only ask you where you finished.