Search Results for: potential

Suggested 2017 activity adjustments

One of the most prevalent symptoms of college admissions mania is overscheduling. Too many kids just have too much to do. And while you can’t decide to stop going to school, and you probably shouldn’t decide to stop studying, it’s possible that some of your activities just aren’t adding much to your life. And if they aren’t adding value for you, they won’t bring value to your college applications.

As you begin 2017, I’d encourage every student, especially those freshmen, sophomores, and juniors who may still be exploring and identifying which activities mean the most to them, to evaluate how you are choosing to spend your time and to consider doing less.

I’ve written extensively about the dangers of overscheduling, and the potential value of quitting. So for those who are new or who weren’t readers when these posts went up on the blog, here are a few suggested reads to get you up to speed.

First, a past post on how to evaluate your activities.

Here’s one that illustrates the college admissions risk of overscheduling, and another to help you identify if you’re too busy being busy.

Here are two posts, here and here, on the potential value of quitting, and a third that encourages you to make sure that the benefits of quitting for you don’t become punishments for other people.

Chosen and done right, your extracurricular activities should be among the most enjoyable parts of high school. But getting there can sometimes mean making adjustments. You don’t always know whether or not an activity will make you happy when you start it. So use this fresh start of 2017 to take a look at what you’re doing and decide if you might benefit from making different—or fewer—choices about what to do.

Five traits that will help you win outside scholarships

Outside scholarships are awards from private companies and foundations rather than from the colleges themselves. They typically require separate applications that can also include essays, letters of recommendation, and even interviews. While the majority of money that helps students pay for college comes from filing a FAFSA and applying for need-based financial aid, every extra monetary boost can help. If you’re applying for outside scholarships, here are five traits to demonstrate if you want to increase your odds of winning.

1. Matchmaking
Like choosing colleges where you’re a good fit, the best way to win scholarships is to apply for those you’re most likely to win. Use a free matching site like Scholarships.com (never pay for a scholarship matching service—all that information is available for free). Answer their profile questions as thoroughly as possible to get more accurate matching results. And pay very close attention not just to the eligibility requirements, but also the descriptions of what types of students the organization is looking to honor. For example, a scholarship from the local fire department that’s intended for “a student who’s shown outstanding commitment to their community” is not going to go to someone who participated in just one blood drive. Match your accomplishments, strengths, goals, etc. to the scholarships intended to reward what you have to offer.

2. Passion
I write here often that passion is contagious. An admissions officer—or a scholarship reader—won’t care about what you’re sharing if you don’t care about it yourself. Don’t hide how much you love math, debate, or your church. Don’t restrain yourself from expressing just how much you care about helping the homeless, coaching youth baseball, or restoring old cars. The descriptions of these activities are the “what,” but the feelings behind them are the “why.” And the why—when it’s strong—is where the passion is.

3. Potential
Potential is promise that has not yet been fully realized. And coupled with the appropriate qualifications and passion, it’s an enticing trait for scholarship readers. I’ve written a past post about how to demonstrate potential as you progress through high school. Now that you’re applying for scholarships, use the same post to help you identify examples of potential worth sharing.

4. Ambition
Ambition is the “strong desire to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.” The best way to express that ambition in a scholarship application is to focus not just on what you want to achieve, but also what you’re willing to do, and what you’ve already done to get there. Just saying that you want to be the CEO of a corporation someday is not ambition. But expressing that goal, then describing how you want to learn about business through both a major and internships while in college, then illustrating how many business books you’ve already read as a high school student while also working a part-time job and rising through the ranks to become an assistant manager at a local store–that’s ambition. See the difference?

5. Marketability
Outside scholarship providers want to highlight the students they reward (thereby not-so-subtly announcing that the provider has generously provided a scholarship). Presentation matters. Keep your online presence clean. Have a simple, intelligible outgoing message on your phone. If the application requires an interview, don’t show up in yoga pants and flip-flops. I’m not suggesting that outside scholarships go only to those students who look a certain way. But every little bit helps. So while you should always be yourself, and never apologize for that, there’s nothing wrong with bringing the best authentic version of yourself to the scholarship application process.

Decisions, decisions

If you ask someone on a date and they decline, does that necessarily mean that you couldn’t have been good together? Does it mean that you have nothing to offer or that you just aren’t datable at all? No. It just means that based on the limited information on hand and the imperfect art of dating decisions, they didn’t see the fit that you saw. A confident person has to move on and embrace that clichéd but ultimately true saying that there are plenty of fish in the sea. And being a good, interesting, compelling person just increases the chances of getting a bite later.

What about the working professional who interviews for a position at a different company but doesn’t get the gig? Does that mean they weren’t qualified? Does it mean that if given a chance, they never could have done the job, maybe even as well as or better than the person who got picked? Does it mean they can’t be successful somewhere else? Of course not. Cover letters and resumes and job interviews have their limitations. Unless the company had a trial period where job-seekers could actually try the role for 3-6 months, there’s no way for a person in charge to know with absolute certainty who the right—or wrong—person is. It’s not a perfect system. And the smart, hard-working, accomplished professional has reason to keep the faith that they’ll end up at a place that’s right for them.

College admissions works the same way.

Colleges that require nothing more than transcripts and test scores are close to a meritocracy where the highest numbers win. But all those other schools that look at some combination of other things like activities, awards and honors, essays, letters of rec, or interviews are making more complex decisions. And especially at those schools that have to turn away many more applicants than they accept, deciding who gets a yes and who gets a no is difficult.

Some families think it’s random—a crapshoot at best. It’s not. In fact, admissions officers work very hard to fairly and thoroughly evaluate every applicant. But it’s a complex and sometimes imperfect process. Like dating and job-hunting, decisions that sting can be hard to take. They can feel bitterly personal. But the confident student has to believe enough in herself to know that a denial from one school is not an indictment of her accomplishments, a statement about her potential, or an indicator that she won’t be successful someplace else.

Students who are applying to college, I know it can feel intimidating and even unfair to package up your high school life into applications that could never fully encapsulate you, then leave the decisions of where you get in and don’t to people who have never met you and could never possibly understand everything about what you have to offer.

But you should keep the faith in two things.

First, remember that most admissions officers are, by nature, good people who work very hard to treat applicants with respect. They would much rather admit than deny you. And even when their realities dictate that they have to turn away students who are qualified and could absolutely do the work, they’ll make every effort to give you a fair and thorough read before they reach a decision.

And more importantly, remember that like dating, job searching, and other scenarios where other people make choices about you, they only get to control this one decision. They don’t get to control what you do next, where you do it, or whom you do it with.

Those decisions are the important ones. And those decisions are all yours.

Courage, responsibility, and credit

Before he became a New York Times columnist and bestselling author of 20 successful cookbooks, Mark Bittman was just a guy who wanted to work as a writer. He approached the editor of his local paper in Massachusetts and confidently proposed that he could do a better job than the paper’s current restaurant reviewer. The editor told him to come back the next day with a review and prove it. It worked, and that first cooking piece was published in 1980.

Jason Fried is the founder and president of Basecamp, the company behind the popular project management software of the same name. But he started as a freelance web designer in the late 90s. To win his first clients, he studied various companies’ websites, sent the CEOs emails pointing out what was wrong with their current designs, and included a mock-up of how he could improve them. That strategy won him his first clients—large companies that paid him big bucks.

These, and so many other stories of how successful people got their starts, have a few things in common.

1. They weren’t afraid to try…or to fail.
It took some guts for Bittman and Fried to boldly claim they could do it better. But what were they really risking? The editor could have passed. The CEO could have said, “I like our current design better.” But other than hearing the (temporary) sting of “No,” neither Bittman nor Fried would have suffered any lasting damage. But the fact that they weren’t afraid to try or to fail, no matter how many times it took for them to get what they hoped for, is what improved their odds and ultimately helped them be successful. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to be willing to try, to fail, and then to keep trying if necessary.

2. They shouldered the responsibility.
Bittman didn’t ask the editor to hire him before he wrote the piece. Fried didn’t require a deposit for the work he’d already completed before he shared his ideas with the CEOs. That approach didn’t just mean that Bittman and Fried were shouldering all of the responsibility; it also meant that the people in charge had nothing to lose. The more responsibility you take for your own project, the more willing you are to take the blame if it doesn’t go well, the better the chances that you’ll get to do exactly what you want to do.

3. They deflected credit.
Bittman and Fried actually made those in charge look good. Sure, Bittman got his name on that first article, but the editor must have looked good to his bosses for finding an undiscovered—and better—restaurant critic. The CEOs who gave Fried a shot got to claim the foresight in retaining someone who could improve their company’s website.

If you’re looking for a chance, an opportunity, or just the approval to try an idea within an organization:

• Have the courage to try and potentially fail.
• Accept all responsibility, and the blame if it doesn’t work.
• If it works, deflect the credit to those who gave you a chance.

Do this often enough and the practice, along with the subsequent success, will probably become a good habit.

Private counselors: five holiday service extensions

Private counselors, there’s nothing wrong with sending a traditional holiday card to your customers. But there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about it, either. And most cards from businesses end up in the recycling bin anyway. So why not send something with more lift and a longer shelf life? Here are five holiday service extensions your customers will appreciate.

1. Pick up the phone.
Yes, much of communication is emailing and texting these days, and it’s a nice way to connect with families. But why not check in by phone before the holidays begin in full swing? You can remind them of final to-dos, offer to address any lingering questions or concerns, or even just wish them well and tell them what the next step will be in the new year. A phone call communicates that they’re not just a customer on a long list, and that you’re genuinely invested in them and in their student’s future. And heading off those questions or concerns at the pass makes it less likely you’ll get a panicked inquiry during your holiday time.

2. Express your sincere gratitude.
Have you enjoyed working with this student? What has impressed you or made you proud of them? What progress have they made, growth have you seen, or potential have they shown? Whatever the answer, write a short card and send it home to Mom and Dad. Sincere praise is the best praise, and I’ve never met a parent who doesn’t like hearing nice things about their kid.

3. Share a photo of a significant senior accomplishment.
Got a senior who’s submitting her final application? Adding their improved test scores to an application?  Clicking “Save” for the last time on an essay? Snap a photo of the moment and send it to the parents.

4. Help your student write a holiday card to their parents.
Imagine a parent receiving a holiday card from their own child detailing what they’ve been up to with their college counselor, and thanking their parents for supporting their college dreams. The card need not be more than a few sentences. But I promise you this will be one card that’s a keeper.

5. Offer a personal gift certificate.
Ask each of your students where their family goes out to eat together, or to name a family activity they all enjoy. Then send along a gift certificate to pitch in and help them enjoy it together. The amount doesn’t need to be big. It’s the (personal) thought that counts.

 

Determination: friend or foe?

I love the show Shark Tank. Budding entrepreneurs pitch their business—and offer a stake in their company—to the cast of multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons (the sharks) in exchange for an investment. It’s entertaining, it’s educational, and it’s helped to launch hundreds of successful businesses. But every now and then, an entrepreneur will present a business that’s just not working. And that’s when the show gets a little sad.

Lots of ideas don’t work when turned into a business, and there’s no shame in trying and failing. But some of those business owners have invested tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars into their idea. Some have taken out second mortgages on their homes. Some have borrowed money from friends or family. They’re out of options, time, and money. Not surprisingly, the sharks almost always pass on these pitches and advise that it’s time to give up on this particular idea.

And almost every time, the next clip shown is of the dejected entrepreneur vowing to never give up.

Dogged determination is a necessary trait to be successful in just about anything. But when that sheer relentlessness prevents someone from facing facts, when it drives them to give up more money, time, or energy than they can afford, when it prevents them from redirecting to something potentially more successful and personally fulfilling, determination becomes a foe rather than a friend.

I often see determination’s transition from friend to foe during the college admissions process. The student whose SAT score has stalled after three tries, and who wants to do yet another round of expensive test prep. The student who refuses to look at more realistic schools and instead keeps searching for a way to get into a highly selective college. The student who won’t accept a college’s denial, who wages an appeal campaign and won’t even consider any of the available college options on the table. Their determination is admirable. And it will help them achieve a lot of things in the future. But in these scenarios, that determination is holding them back from achieving many other more realistic—and likely just as rewarding—goals.

It’s far better to have determination than not to. And there’s no formula to identify when it’s time to move from determination to acquiescence. But you can start by simply facing facts. What do the facts tell you? What do people who know you and love you advise? What does your counselor think you should do?

And most importantly, if you kept pursuing this goal and never achieved it, would you be proud of yourself for trying so hard? Or would you regret what you gave up to stay so determined?

Determination is a great friend. But if it stops acting in your best interest, that friend might be turning into a foe.

Beware of application creep

“Feature creep” is continually adding new features to a product in the hopes of improving it and appealing to more customers, but ultimately resulting in something complicated and difficult to use, often impairing its ability to do what it was originally designed to do. That software program that forced you to upgrade, where the new version has bells and whistles that you didn’t want, didn’t need, and just don’t like? That’s feature creep, and it’s ruined a lot of previously good products.

Some applicants—and just as often, their parents—fall prey to application creep, especially in November as deadlines are inching closer. Why not add a few more colleges to this list, just to be safe? Why not send this extra letter of recommendation the college didn’t ask for, just in case it helps? Why not have just one more person give us feedback on the essay, if their suggestions could make a difference? A little more, a few more tweaks, one or two more suggestions implemented—eventually, you stop improving your application. And you start impairing its ability to do what it was designed to do.

Your application, with its accompanying parts like essays and letters of rec, is a product. It deserves enough time and attention to make it as strong as possible. But like feature creep, all those additions done in the hopes of making your product better eventually start to chip away at something that was previously good.

Those additional college applications mean more work for the student, the rec writers and the counselor (all of which chips away at the quality of your other applications). That extra letter of recommendation just chips away at the admissions officer’s patience and attention span. That one additional source of essay feedback just chips away at whatever is left of the student’s voice in the essay, leaving something that reads as if it was written by a committee (because now it has been!).

The best products do what they’re designed to do for the people they’re designed to do it for. They don’t try to please every potential customer, and they don’t implement every suggestion. Your college application is designed to help each particular college evaluate you as an applicant. The admissions office has spent months refining this particular product to do what it is designed to do, for exactly who it was designed to do it for. Help that product do its job.

Follow the directions. Use the space and the prompts to clearly and proudly tell the college who you are and what you’ve done. Take the time to do your best work on the applications for those colleges that really interest you. Don’t fire off last minute additional applications to schools you know nothing about. Don’t send unsolicited materials. Don’t get third and fourth and sixth opinions on your essays. Instead, focus your time and attention on helping each product do the job it was designed to do.

Are there exceptions to this rule? Yes, but your counselor is the best judge of those exceptions, not your friend, neighbor, or anyone else who doesn’t work in the college admissions field.

Don’t assume that more applications, more input, or more features will make your application better. These products work very well already, especially when you take the time to use them properly.

Leave bigger shoes to fill

Many high school students began this year in leadership positions—editor of the yearbook, president of the student body, captain of the football team, etc. You should be proud that you earned the trust and respect of those who put you in charge. But it’s also important to remember that getting the position is just half of your leadership story that colleges will want to know about. The other half will be what you do in that role.

If your version of leading is to hold meetings and do the same things in the same ways that the leader before you did them, that’s not a compelling story. Leaders see potential and help others see it, too. At the end of your tenure, you and your members should be able to look back proudly and fondly at what you accomplished together. And that should challenge the next leader to do the same.

If you’re committed to leaning into your leadership role, here are a few questions to consider. Think about them, and pose them to those you work with if you’d like.

1. Who are your customers?
Every organization serves someone. The student government exists to serve their fellow students. The Gay/Straight Alliance exists to serve LGBT students and their allies. And plenty of organizations exist to serve their own members in part or in full, like the baseball team, the Improv Club, or the Math Team. But your organization needs to know who it’s serving, and your leadership needs to be clear about it. Then you can chart your path and make decisions from the frame of “How will this be good for those we serve?”

2. What would a successful stint look like?
People like to work together towards a common vision of success. The leadership team needs to paint that picture. If your group did a fantastic job this year, what would that look like? How would you measure it? Number of wins? Total funds raised? Members recruited? Initiatives successfully completed? If you think this doesn’t apply to your group, then ask the reverse question—what would a terrible year look like? If you run the DJ Club and can’t picture what success looks like, it’s pretty easy to figure out what failure looks like—unhappy members, people quit, the club needs to disband, etc. Then get to work defining the opposite of that vision—happy members, more people attending meetings, a flourishing club that’s established and appreciated on campus, etc.

3. What will you do today?
Vivid portrayals of future success are inspiring, but they can also be fleeting. If you don’t make immediate progress, the inspiration fades. The vision becomes all talk. And the goals start to seem unreachable. So once your group agrees on what you want to accomplish tomorrow, decide what you’re going to do today to start marching toward that goal. Maybe you need to recruit more members, or start pre-season conditioning workouts, or focus your rehearsal efforts to prepare for the upcoming school talent show. Today’s actions lead to tomorrow’s goals. And the lift you’ll get from those mini accomplishments along the way will keep you and your organization striving.

Your goal as a leader? Help others see the potential for things to be better, happier, more fun, safer, etc. for those you serve. Channel that enthusiasm into actions you can take today. If you do it right, not everything you try will work (that’s an inherent risk of trying new things). But you’ll almost certainly leave bigger shoes to fill at the end of your leadership stint.

For more on leading, managing, and why the two are not the same, check out Marcus Buckingham’s book, The One Thing You Need to Know.

Paying for college: a primer

The idea of trying to pay for college can be intimidating. The potentially big bills and the seemingly complex system of applying for financial aid and scholarships can be enough to stop some families from taking the productive steps they need to take to help finance their children’s educations. So here’s my primer on the topic. Each of these five recommendations are important, and they’ll take time and some focus to execute properly. But I’ve distilled them into this short list to help readers see that it’s not a 100-item to-do list. A family who, along with their applicant, does just these five things will almost certainly be in a much better financial position to pay for college.

1. Start saving for college as soon as possible, preferably in a 529 savings plan.
The more you manage to save, the less you’ll need to rely on financial aid. And the more control you’ll have in your college destiny.

2. Become a competitive applicant.
A challenging curriculum combined with good grades and test scores can earn you more financial aid, which brings me to…

3. Apply to schools where you have a strong chance of admission, ideally those where you’d be in the top 10% of the class of incoming freshmen.
One of the best ways to get the money you need is to apply to those colleges most likely to pay. Financial aid offices earmark a certain percentage of money every year just to lure academically appealing students. Apply where you’ll appeal.

4. File the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
The FAFSA is the starting point to apply for financial aid at any college. Some colleges also require additional forms, and those will always be explained on the financial aid section of each college’s website. But failing to file the FAFSA will take you out of the running for most available aid.

5. Apply for outside scholarships.
These are awards from private companies, foundations, community organizations, churches and other benefactors. I intentionally listed this last because while many families believe that scholarships are the best way to pay for college, these awards actually account for about 5% of the aid that’s available. Landing comparatively small awards of a few hundred, or maybe a few thousand, dollars is worth it, especially if paying for college is a big concern. But don’t ignore the other items on the list and hope that scholarships will cover the cost.

On self-deprecation

Despite the fact that Five underutilized ways to give yourself an advantage with your college essay doesn’t seem like an accurate title for Jay Mathews’ recent post (only the first two tips have to do with essays), this first tidbit is worth considering.

1. At least once in any essay, make fun of yourself. It’s called self-deprecation. It should be (but is not) taught in every essay-writing and speechmaking class. When my daughter Katie’s first-choice college asked her to tell it something not on her application, she wrote about her friend’s label for her: the human jukebox. She could identify songs by just the first three or four notes. She told the college, “The happiest place in the world for me is inside my car singing (badly) to pop music.” That’s self-deprecation. You can slip some into whatever you have already written. If it’s about your volunteer hospital work, describe a clumsy moment. Did you mix up a patient’s urine sample with his apple juice? That tells the college you are not just smart but enjoyable to have around.

I’d offer just one potential revision to that advice.

Self-deprecation works when it’s true, and some stories don’t necessarily involve a mistake, an embarrassing moment, a less-than-perfect showing, etc. Tell the whole truth. Don’t polish out every bit of reality to the point that you’re presenting yourself as perfect (you’re not—none of us are, including the people reading your application). But don’t feel like you necessarily have to wedge it into every story.