The Secret to Success on Supplements

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The Secret to Success on Supplements

In the last blog post, we looked at the Home Stretch tool, and how a week-by-week game plan for college applications can make fall of senior year far more manageable.

Since so much of the application work during the fall is writing responses to colleges' supplemental prompts, I want to share some tips on organizing your approach. 

There are two central objectives: maximizing efficiency and creating a sense of momentum.

FIRST: Compile all of your prompts in one place

That way, you can be strategic in planning your responses. Look to see where the themes align. Many of the talking points you use to describe your goals and needs for college in the Why Us? questions should be the same, no matter what school you're writing for.

If you are, say, writing Babson's "How do you define yourself and what is it about Babson that excites you?" and also need to write Syracuse's "Who is the person you dream of becoming and how do you believe Syracuse University can help you achieve this?", recognize that both are about your identity. While you'll need to address the bits about each particular institution separately, there is plenty of overlap in the way that you examine yourself across the past, present, and future.

THEN: Break it all down.

Return to your week-by-week Home Stretch plan for the fall, and, working backward from your intended submission dates, plan out your writing process in several phases.

I suggest breaking each piece into these six steps:

  1. Research/Brainstorm: you are not yet writing! Take the pressure off by first jotting down ideas, notes, or URLs that contain information you'll reference when you write your piece.
  2. Crank out a first draft: apologies for being crude, but glance over your ideas and barf out a piece from start to finish. Then walk away. Seriously. It's SO much easier to sit down and fill a blank screen when you have zero expectations for the initial quality of the writing.
  3. Edit it: in a separate sitting, return to embarrassment that was your rough draft, and turn it into something presentable. Add the information you left out in your first pass, and make sure that the piece is something that you don't mind sharing (too much). (NOTE: if I haven't been clear enough, it is vital that you keep steps #2 and #3 separate! Editing is much easier if you have something to work with first.)
  4. Get feedback: give your piece to someone whose perspective you value, who'll give you honest and insightful feedback. Make sure that person has expressed the willingness to help (obviously), and include the prompt with your response. Never give the same version of one piece to more than one reader at one time! I'd recommend allowing at least one full week for your reader to get back to you, unless you have a different sort of arrangement in place.
  5. Revise it: using the feedback you've been given, go back through and make the changes that will improve the strength of your response. (Be prepared to repeat steps #4 and #5 multiple times for the longer or more complex supplements.)
  6. Polish, copy, paste & SUBMIT! Triple check to make sure your piece is error-free. Don't count on spell check to ensure that you have the names of colleges correct!

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The Home Stretch: How to Power Through Fall Applications

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The Home Stretch: How to Power Through Fall Applications

School is starting back up. If it's the start of your senior year, you still have a few months to take care of your applications, right? 

But have you thought about how many weeks you have to apply?

Let me throw a few numbers at you:

  • Most early applications (both Early Decision and Early Action) have submission deadlines of November 1st. That's only about eight weeks after Labor Day.
  • For those applying to California schools, the UCs and CSUs have a submission deadline of November 30th. That's about thirteen weeks after Labor Day.
  • Then, many students' regular decision deadlines fall on January 1st. That's about seventeen weeks after Labor Day.

Thinking in terms of weeks really helps to put things into perspective, right? You just never have quite as long as you might think you do. 

But here is how you can use this perspective to your advantage: map out a week-by-week schedule of all deadlines and application tasks on your to-do list through the rest of the fall.

It's a tool I refer to as the Home Stretch.

Here's a glimpse at one student's Home Stretch as he starts to flesh it out:

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Here are the steps to start your personal Home Stretch timeline:

  1. Open up a blank document and make a list of every week from now through next January (or later, if you have deadlines that fall past that window). Label each with the first or last day of the week, whatever you prefer.

  2. Add all major exams, travel, shows, other commitments that you know of this fall. (Keeping your personal calendar and any of your classes syllabi on hand makes this part much easier.)

  3. Add all of your colleges' application deadlines.

  4. Choose a date by which you intend to finish ALL of your application work.

  5. Choose your intended submission date for each college application — make sure it's at least 3 - 7 days before the actual deadline in case anything is missing.

  6. Make a to-do list at the very top of all the supplements and word counts. Make sure to include items from the Summer College Checklist if you have not already completed them.

From there, you'll want to work backward, breaking each task into the smallest, most manageable pieces possible, and spreading those sub-tasks across the weeks. 

Not sure how to break down the writing supplements? Be sure to check out the next CCP blog — we'll get into the five phases of writing so that you can stay on top of everything this fall!

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What and How to Prepare for College Interviews

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What and How to Prepare for College Interviews

Interviews. Just the mention of the word often unleashes student anxiety.

In July, I ran a number of mock interviews with students who really wanted to be on top of their game when going to visit campuses and meet admissions officials. 

At first, my student Sam was confused. "My friend did her college interviews with people who graduated from the colleges -- and they met at Starbucks."

"Yeah," I explained. "They do those, too."

"So we have to interview multiple times with the colleges?"

I explained that we were using the term "interview" fairly broadly. There are a lot of different opportunities to connect in person with representatives from colleges; some of those are informal conversations, and others are formal sit-downs. Taking a few minutes to introduce yourself to an admissions counselor is usually a fairly relaxed experience. 

But it doesn't mean that those exchanges matter any less. You want to have your thoughts together. You want to be articulate, engaging. You want to be ready to show your true colors, to present yourself in a polished way, and to highlight the experiences and attributes that will make you a welcomed member of any campus community.

All it takes is some forethought and a little practice. Here's how.

Prepare the key points that you want to share by brainstorming your answers to the questions below. Then give the list of questions to a friend. Have that person ask questions at random and then follow them up with their own clarifying questions. 

Use specific examples to support your answers, and remember that when you're headed to speak with an actual college representative, carefully review your research to demonstrate that you've done your homework on that particular school. (In other words, make sure you have a detailed answer for "Why us?")

  1. Where do you think your academic strengths lie?
  2. What did you do this past summer?
  3. What do you hope to do after graduation?
  4. What is your biggest weakness?
  5. What would you do if you had a free day?
  6. If you could change one thing about your high school, what would it be?
  7. What do you do for fun?
  8. What books have had a significant impact on you? What have you read recently?
  9. What individual (dead or alive, historical or fictional) has had the most influence on you and why?
  10. How do you define success? What needs to happen for you to feel successful?
  11. How do you respond to failure or rejection?
  12. What do you hope to get out of your college experience?
     

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Should I Do College Interviews?

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Should I Do College Interviews?

"The colleges I'm applying to say that interviewing is optional. 1.) How important is the interview in admissions decisions? 2.) Should I do it?"

As far as I'm concerned, the short answers are 1.) an interview can certainly tip the scales in competitive admissions, and 2.) YES -- if you're willing to put some work into preparing.

Let me back up.

The most compelling reason, to my mind, to take advantage of interview opportunities in undergraduate admissions is that you will be required to interview for nearly every other education- or career-related opportunity for the rest of your life. 

In other words, get used to it, get comfortable with it, and, most importantly, get good at it.

I believe that colleges would generally require interviews if it were (a) fair to students (which it's not, given families' varying backgrounds, resources, and geographic locations), and (b) easily manageable for admissions offices (which it's also not, given the amount of time and effort that already goes into evaluating each application).

Why would they require interviews?

Because there is no substitute for getting an in-person feel for an applicant. 

Demeanor, eye contact, tone of voice, sense of humor, thought process, spontaneity, even how interviewees choose to present themselves in terms of dress, handshake, and preparedness with questions -- these things just can't be conveyed fully on paper.

So what should I be doing right now? 

Two things: research your colleges' individual policies on interviewing so you don't miss your window, and then practice your responses with someone you trust.

The easiest way to find your colleges' interview policies is to google "[COLLEGE NAME] undergraduate admissions interview."

There are generally 4 types of interview policies:

  1. Interview on campus in the months leading up to application season. Those who can't travel to campus usually have the option to interview in their local area through the college's alumni association. If you're applying early, the cutoff for these interviews is often November 1st. DON'T wait until you submit your application before requesting an interview! Check out Barnard's or Yale's policy as an example.
  2. Interview once you've applied or during your application. Check out the University of Chicago's and Northwestern's policies as examples. 
  3. Interviews by the college's request only. These also take place after your application has been submitted, except the college selects whom it will interview and initiates the process. Check out Tulane's policy as an example.
  4. No interviews offered / informal interviews only. Amherst's and Pomona's policies are good examples. 

Stay tuned for the next blog's tips on what and how to prepare for interviews.

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Put a Face with Your Name Before You Apply to College

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Put a Face with Your Name Before You Apply to College

Imagine that you are part of a committee in charge of putting together a team for a science competition.

The participants are from all across the country, and you haven't had the chance to meet any team members in person, but they have submitted all of their credentials to you for consideration. You have a record of their past activities, their transcripts, their resumes, and a couple of recommendations from their teachers (whom you've also never met). 

Say that you have one last spot on the team and that you have two excellent candidates to discuss with your committee. On paper, the candidates have similar qualifications. They have taken many of the same classes, they have similar grades, and the cover letters that they've included with their applications make both seem intelligent and friendly.

But then one of them contacts you to see if you have a few minutes to chat.

Because you don't live in the same city, you set up a conversation over Skype. Over the course of fifteen minutes, you ask a couple of questions about the AP Physics course she took last year and the internship she's doing this summer. She asks questions about the competition and what you're looking for in the team members. You even wind up on a quick sidebar about the Netflix show you're both watching.

The next day, you meet with your committee. When it's your turn to present your candidates, which one will you make a more persuasive case for?

A little connection can go a long way.

College admissions counselors want to know their applicants so that they can make the most informed decisions possible about how well they will fit in.

Every little bit can help. If your admissions counselor knows you on a more personal level, they can use that connection to make a stronger case before the committee.

Here are five tips for making a more personal connection with your admissions officials:

  1. Reach out yourself. If you know you'll be applying to a certain college in the fall, jump on the school's website and look up the contact information for their admissions office. Many websites will explicitly tell you which official represents your city or region. If not, call the admissions office general line and ask to speak to that person. CAUTION: DON'T leave this step to Mom and/or Dad!
  2. Show up in person. Most admissions counselors either live in or travel to the regions they represent each fall. Find out if they'll be coming to your high school for an information session. If not, are they doing any other local events, like a college fair? After their presentation, make sure to walk up and introduce yourself. Which brings me to tip #3...
  3. Practice your introduction. Aside from your name and high school, what are one or two things you want your admissions counselor to remember about you? Are you interested in cognitive science? Are you a committed tuba player? Will you be applying to their college early decision? Make sure that your talking points roll off the tongue -- it usually takes some repetition, so practice at home with a friend or parent.
  4. Ask great questions. If you're reaching out to the admissions office for the first time, perhaps you'd like to know if your possible field of study is in high demand and therefore has tougher admissions standards. Maybe you'd like to know how many people are in the program or if you might have a conversation with a faculty member from that department. Maybe you'd just like to introduce yourself to your admissions rep, let them know you'll be applying in the fall, and ask if it would be okay to contact them directly if any questions about the application process come up. IMPORTANT: DON'T ask questions that can be easily answered with a Google search or glance at their website.
  5. Remember that they want to know and help you. Don't be shy. It is perfectly okay to express your interest in a college directly or even to say that you simply wanted to put a face with your name. It's not cheating or gaming the system; it's about showing professionalism and an understanding of how this system works. That said, be mindful of the fact that college reps have very busy schedules, be concise, and make sure to show your gratitude for their generosity with a thank-you note.

 

 

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How to Keep the Peace During Application Season

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How to Keep the Peace During Application Season

The stress and anxiety that accompany college application season can cause a lot of friction in the household. It often sets in full force by the end of the summer leading up to senior year.

I've seen it every year.

Students and especially parents, who start with nothing but the best of intentions, often wind up at each other's throats by the time submission deadlines arrive.

But there the thing: everyone wants the same results.

Both parents and students just want to make sure, when the dust settles, that they will have some viable options for the following fall -- ones that are the right academic, social, and financial fit.

So why can the relationship between parents and their kids go so sour so quickly?

Well...

  • First, there's a lot of history. Parents know their teens, teens know their parents. Old patterns and dynamics emerge. But...
  • The application process is new territory. Even for parents who have been through it before, it's a different beast with every kid who goes through it, because every individual has their own needs. And third...
  • Expectations are often not as well defined as they should be. Both parties assume things of the other party. Parents expect students to take this work more seriously than anything they've done to date. Students want space, for parents to get off their backs. 

When those expectations are not met, tensions flare on both sides. 

So I have a suggestion: why not spell out your expectations now, while things are still going smoothly?

Below is one version of a contract that can help you do exactly that.

Here are my suggestions for setting up a solid agreement:

Create two copies, and before you sit down to hash out the final details -- the ones that EVERYONE can agree on -- have both the parents and the teenager sit and complete it the way they see fit. Then, when you're sitting down to negotiate, trade copies...and be ready to find reasonable compromise.

I hope you find this helpful! I'll be on vacation for the next few weeks, but look for the next blog on Tuesday, July 25th, when we start the run-up to our first application deadlines of 2017!

STUDENT: I WILL...
1. Make my best effort to complete all college applications by _________.
2. Submit each application at least _____________ before the official deadline.
3. Set aside ____ hours each week until school starts on ___________ for college prep.
4. Set aside these dates & times this summer to work on college prep: ________________________.
5. Provide updates on my progress to _____________ every ________________________.
6. Ask ________________ for writing feedback at least ____________ before I have to submit.
7. Request help (when needed) in the form of _____________________________________________. 8.
Take responsibility for making informed decisions, thorough research & clear communication.
9. Complete each task on the following page by the agreed-to date.

PARENT: I/WE WILL...
1. When requested, provide these forms of support: ___________________________________.
2. Trust that our student is on top of everything unless _________________________________.
3. Only require progress updates at our agreed-upon times.
4. Provide encouragement & help foster our student's sense of confidence & independence.
5. Be willing to seek outside support if needed.

Student Signature: ____________________________________________________ Date: ___________ Parent Signature: _____________________________________________________ Date: ___________ We'll review these terms every ___________ (days, weeks, months) & make changes accordingly.

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How to Make College Essays Both Personal and Universal

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How to Make College Essays Both Personal and Universal

There's a big paradox in effective autobiographical writing:

It's that it must be both unique to you as the writer and central character, and yet it must also be relatable—meaning that you must communicate your personal experiences in a way that resonates with others, as if your reader had been there with you in the moment.

Balancing those two aspects can be difficult.

When a piece of writing is too universal or too well known to the reader, then it becomes a cliche and reveals little or nothing about the writer as an individual.

On the other hand, if a piece lacks that relatable quality, then there is no way for the reader to share in the experience of the writer; the piece feels dull and abstract as a result.

Each year I see both problems come up in students' college essay writing.

Just last week, I had a student (let's call her Jenna) come to me with two separate drafts of what might be personal statements.

Jenna's first piece centered on the death of a beloved aunt. The language and some of the details that Jenna used to paint the scene were poignant and poetic—I remember a great anecdote about gifting a set of salt-and-pepper shakers that hilariously turned into something like a scene from a Wes Anderson movie. The problem was that shortly after that, I found myself feeling like I was floating in space; there wasn't anything that tied those sensory details back to the writer's internal experience. I felt like I was on the outside looking trying to look at something I knew was supposed to be meaningful for the narrator...but I didn't really know why.

Jenna's second piece had the opposite problem. It was a whirlwind of the many ways in which Jenna takes in the world around her, from photography to journaling to breathing in the spices wafting on the breeze in an outdoor market. While I, as the reader, have had my own versions of those experiences in my life, when I finished reading, I didn't know what distinguished Jenna's experiences from mine. There wasn't enough detail to make the piece uniquely memorable.

I share Jenna's story because I think it highlights the need for three essential components in any effective (and affective) autobiographical writing: concrete details, an angle, and reflection.

Concrete Details:

You've heard the old advice "show -- don't tell," right? Using concrete sensory details in your writing -- including some dialogue here and there -- invites the reader into the scene. Their imagination activates and they can feel as if they're standing right there, taking in everything that you were experiencing in that moment. 

An Angle:

We're not using this word in the sense of a hidden agenda; you could just as easily think of it as your "perspective" or "filter." Your angle is where the external details meet your internal thoughts and feelings. It can be the unusual way that you define "leadership," your individual take on required community service hours, or your surprising reaction to your required summer readings. In short, this is where you begin to put your individual spin on the details you include, and set yourself up for looking back and putting your more immediate reactions into a broader context. Which leads us to...

Reflection:

This is the point in your writing at which you fully take a step back and consider how your past experiences have informed the person you are at this moment in time, and the direction you think you're headed in the coming years. The quality of reflection in your writing directly mirrors the quality of your personal growth, and gives meaning to the perspective and details that you've chosen to highlight about your past experiences.

 

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How (and When) to Ask for Outstanding Letters of Recommendation

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How (and When) to Ask for Outstanding Letters of Recommendation

In the last blog entry, we focused on how to plan for a great collection of recommendation letters. If you missed that entry and the questionnaire for identifying recommenders who'll add the most credibility to your applications, check it out here.

Now you might be asking a few additional questions:

When do recommenders typically write letters?

The vast majority of recommenders write their letters during the fall. However, there are some very industrious and forward-thinking recommenders who will actually write at least some of their letters over summer. Remember that (a) your teachers who write your rec letters do it as a personal favor (i.e., they're not paid for the time they spend writing); (b) it's always better to give someone doing you a favor plenty of time to do it so that they don't feel rushed; and (c) the earlier your recommender writes their letter about you, the more energy and enthusiasm they're likely to have while doing it. 

In other words, regardless of when your recommenders will write the letter, the sooner you can make the request, the better. 

What do they need from me?

Most high schools put into place a series of deadlines by which you need to have requested your recommendation letters and submitted some supplemental materials, such as a brag sheet, cover letter, and/or list of colleges you'll apply to. Some recommenders will actually supply you with their own questionnaire so that you can spell out exactly what you'd like for them to convey about you. 

Don't skimp on the work that you put into these materials! Remember that your recommenders, because of their adult perspective and area of expertise, add a lot of dimension to your overall application. If you have all the content teed up that helps put your best foot forward, using it will make their workload much more manageable.

When do I request them?

NOW, before the end of junior year -- before finals, if possible. Don't wait. Be among that first wave to ask.

How do I request recommendation letters without either coming off as pushy or like some sort of kiss-up?

That's the money question. I would suggest working off of a basic script like this:

"Do you feel like you could write me an outstanding letter of recommendation for my college applications this fall?"

The most important part of the whole thing is the superlative (look it up!) you use to describe the letter of rec. Think about it: you don't want anything less than the best that this potential recommender has to offer. Any ambivalence on the part of the person endorsing you will immediately let the wind out of your sails. A lukewarm letter, while not outrightly negative in itself, will create a strong contrast to the tone you're working to strike up through the rest of your application, and that can blemish (and effectively ruin) the picture you're trying so hard to paint.

If your prospective recommender hesitates or flatly uses the opportunity to beg out of the job, look somewhere else. Trust me. If, on the other hand, you get an unflinching yes, well, score one for you! Ask what you can do to make the job as easy as possible, and what sort of timeline they plan to work on so that you can follow up appropriately.

 

 

 

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How to Plan for Outstanding Letters of Recommendation

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How to Plan for Outstanding Letters of Recommendation

Many families underestimate the importance of letters of recommendation with in their college applications.

Last year, I had a student -- let's call him Ethan -- who initially came to me in the spring, when he had a class assignment to write the first draft of his personal statement. When we met, he had a couple names on his shortlist of colleges and a mess of ideas for his college essays. Because of his anxieties about the essay writing, we weren't able to cover much else during the session.

Ethan had a busy summer and didn't resurface again until the fall. The next time we met, he had the same three or four colleges on his list, a draft of the personal statement...and nothing else. He was planning on submitting applications for a couple early deadlines in November, but he hadn't taken any steps to secure the letters of recommendation he'd need.

There were a few unfortunate things about that situation.

The teachers that Ethan hoped would write his recommendation letters were among the most sought-after at his school, and because he made his request so late in the game, they couldn't make his early deadlines.

Additionally, once Ethan determined which counselor would be writing a letter, he realized with a shock that he had never once met that person. To make things worse, he had missed the deadline his school's college counseling office had established for submitting his brag sheet. This counselor, who had no familiarity with Ethan, didn't even have suggestions for the material she could include in his letter.

Now, Ethan's story pretty much worst-case scenario when it comes to these letters.

It doesn't take a lot to make sure that you have everything in place.

Here's how:

  1. Identify your recommenders ASAP. (Not sure who or how many letters you'll need? Check out this handy guide.
  2. Prepare your brag sheet (or junior questionnaire, as it's called at some high schools) with talking points about yourself. (Don't have a brag sheet at your school? Check out the questions that Santa Monica High School asks.
  3. Build your personal rapport (without overdoing it) with your intended recommenders, and, before the end of junior year, ask if they'd be willing to write an EXCELLENT letter of recommendation for you for the fall.

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How to Get Some Direction on College Essay Brainstorming

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How to Get Some Direction on College Essay Brainstorming

Last year, the University of California revamped the writing prompts on its application system.

The result was the Personal Insight Questions, where applicants choose four out of eight questions that tie directly into UC's 14 criteria for holistic application review. Previously, there had been two questions more global in their scope (much like the main essay prompts of the Common Application) leaving it up to students to determine the direction they would take their writing.

For students, most of whom have never had any guidance or training when it comes to personal, reflective writing, defining that direction can be intimidating. It's incredibly easy to fall into the "what's impressive" trap that my Teen LAUNCH colleague Kristine and I recently blogged about.

My advice has always been to start the writing and brainstorming process early, so that there's plenty of space to explore and turn up some surprise ideas along the way.

The best way to do that is to free write -- and do a lot of it. 

But some students struggle even to start filling blank pages or screens with their thoughts -- the classic case of writer's block. For those students, a little collaboration can go a long way before they're ready to hit the solitary writing zone. 

That's where the interview method comes in.

It's less formal than it sounds; basically, it's a matter of asking a lot of questions and taking a lot of notes, helping the student to tease the details out.

I've been using the interview method a long time, and so the questions that I ask come fairly intuitively. I just keep asking about whatever I'm finding most interesting in the student's responses at the time, digging for the details that are unique to them while furiously typing notes and attempting to capture their responses in their own words.

For students who want to try this out on their own with a parent or teacher or a friend, there is a great resource to jump start the process.

It's the UC Personal Insight Questions worksheet.

Here's how to begin:

  1. Have the student being interviewed pick a question, 1 - 8. Suppose she chooses #3, "What would you say is your greatest talent or skill?"
  2. The interviewer reads the question and proceeds directly to the brainstorming prompts, asking the interviewee to name several skills or talents. If the interviewee freezes up, then the interviewer can rephrase the question to ask about something the interviewee likes to do or spends a lot of free time doing.
  3. Once there are a few ideas on the table, have the interviewee choose one to focus on. Use the follow-up questions on the worksheet as guidelines -- as the interviewer, you're working on getting the interviewee to give some examples of using that talent or skill, or share an anecdote about a time when that skill came in handy. 
  4. Ask questions about that talent in terms of the past, present, and future. When did she first discover it? How does she make use of it most often these days? How might it be an asset over the next few years? The idea here is that the interviewer is helping the interviewee show some personal transformation.
  5. Repeat the process for a completely different type of skill. For example, if the first skill you discussed was something more academic like the ability to argue persuasively in a debate, see if if you can dig into something that's non-verbal and perhaps even non-intellectual, like tuning guitar strings or navigating the public transportation system in a foreign city.

With those ideas and memories unpacked, students often find that they have a jumping-off point for adding more detail on their own later. Give it a try!

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How to Build Your College List Quickly: One Simple Method

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How to Build Your College List Quickly: One Simple Method

If you're just coming to the college search process and you haven't had much exposure to the different types of schools out there, you might asking yourself a question:

How do I get started building a college list if I don't know what I want to do in college?

Many high school juniors just have no idea how factors like campus size, location, program types, extracurricular activities, etc. factor into their college preferences. As a result, they avoid thinking about it as long as they can—until deadlines are suddenly looming.

I'm reminded of a student named Maddy. On her first day, during spring of her junior year, she came in completely stressed out. She felt like she was already behind, given the fact that several of her friends already knew their top choices of colleges they'd be applying to in fall. But she also felt paralyzed because it seemed like there was so much pressure to decide what she would study and how that would ultimately support her career.

I suggested that we start things a little more simply. Instead of creating the near-impossible task of finding the perfect college that would satisfy all of her yet-unknown needs, why not start learning about a range of different schools that she might find appealing for a variety of reasons?

That's where the Free Association Exercise came in.

We sat down on our laptops. I asked her for the name of a college her friends had been tossing around. Within the hour, we had 20 names on our list. Not only that, but we had already identified two criteria that would eventually be the defining factors of Maddy's final list in the fall.

Sometimes, the key is just to get started—even when you're not sure where it's all headed.

The Free Association List Building Exercise is the easiest place to start.

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Spotlight on Students: Hadyn

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Spotlight on Students: Hadyn

Welcome back to the last in our new series of Q&A videos. This series features students who recently received their well earned early acceptances from their top colleges.

These guys worked incredibly hard and learned a lot about themselves through the application process; as a result, they have some great insights to share about how families just embarking on the journey to college can be prepare.

This fifth conversation was with Hadyn, a student who's headed to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in fall of 2017 -- check out what she has to say about her application process below!

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Spotlight on Students: Jamie

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Spotlight on Students: Jamie

Welcome back to the new series of Q&A videos. This series features students who recently received their well earned acceptances from their top colleges.

These guys worked incredibly hard and learned a lot about themselves through the application process; as a result, they have some great insights to share about how families just embarking on the journey to college can be prepare.

This fourth conversation was with Jamie, a student who's headed to Smith in fall of 2017 -- check out what she has to say about her application process below!

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Spotlight on Students: Jenny

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Spotlight on Students: Jenny

Welcome back to the new series of Q&A videos I filmed with students who recently received their well earned acceptances.

These guys worked incredibly hard and learned a lot about themselves through the application process; as a result, they have some great insights to share about how families just embarking on the journey to college can be prepare.

This third conversation was with Jenny, a student who's headed to Penn in fall of 2017 -- check out what she has to say about her application process below!

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Spotlight on Students: Finn

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Spotlight on Students: Finn

Welcome back to the new series of Q&A videos I filmed with students who recently received their well earned acceptances. These guys worked incredibly hard and learned a lot about themselves through the application process; as a result, they have some great insights to share about how families just embarking on the journey to college can be prepare.

This second conversation was with Finn, a student who's headed to NYU in fall of 2017 -- check out what he has to say about his application process below!

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Spotlight on Students: Anya

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Spotlight on Students: Anya

For the next few blog entries, I'll be sharing some new Q&A videos I filmed with students who recently received their well earned acceptances. These guys worked incredibly hard and learned a lot about themselves through the application process; as a result, they have some great insights to share about how families just embarking on the journey to college can be prepare.

This first conversation was with Anya, a student whom I've had the pleasure of working with for the past couple of years. She's headed to Yale in fall of 2017 -- check out what she has to say about her application process below!

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What’s Your Intention for the Year?

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What’s Your Intention for the Year?

New year’s resolutions, if you ask me, are overrated. How many times have you tried setting one in place only to give in with a months or even weeks? They’re just so easy to blow out of proportion, making them so demanding that there’s just no way you’ll be able to sustain that big of a change in the long run.

My recommendation: set a one-word intention for the year.

Think of it as a central theme to your story over the next twelve months. If you’re seeking growth in your life, identify one essential way in which you feel you have the potential to growth and find a single word for it. 

The beauty is in the simplicity. Your one word can act as your compass needle: it’s far easier to make decisions when you have one primary principle to consider. It acts as an umbrella, actually, that then encompasses many different areas of your life.

To give an example, my word of last year was “abundance.” My intention was to address this sense of scarcity I felt myself stuck with nearly all the time: there never seemed to be enough money or time or energy to go around. I worried about whether I’d have enough work, whether I was doing enough to strengthen my business, whether I was spending enough quality time with my wife and friends, whether there were enough hours in the day or days in the week to accomplish all I wanted to. 

Coming back to this intention of recognizing abundance and shifting my mindset to invite a greater sense of “enough” did wonders. I wound up with more students, more progress within my business and creative work, more income, and a great enough sense of space in our household for a new member of the family, who is due to join us this month. Keeping hold of my “abundance” intention helped me to recognize when and where my needs and our household’s needs were already being met, when it had been easy to overlook before. And it helped me to make way for more.

For students starting to look ahead at college, what do you want out of the end of your time in high school? What do you need to be ready to make the most out of it? Independence? A sense of direction? Stronger focus? Clarity of the vision you have for your future?
For parents, how do you want to make the transition? A greater sense of peace? Trust in your student to navigate the process of leaving the nest? A tighter sense of collaboration with your student? Patience?

I can’t for the life of me remember where or from whom I learned the one-word intention, but that person deserves credit. With whatever thoughts you have put forth for the new year, try this one and see what sticks.

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Campus Bubble on the Left

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Campus Bubble on the Left

I was reading Nicholas Kristof's article in the New York Times this past Sunday, which I found particularly fascinating for the effects of groupthink that he mentions on three-judge panels, and it made me remember a piece that a student of mine last year wrote about the community that he'd been brought up in.

Through his experience growing up in Santa Monica, he's been well equipped for taking on the fairly left-leaning culture of his small liberal arts college. Check out his piece below:

Thomas Jefferson saw America as a country of the people, drawing much of its wealth from agrarian production. Alexander Hamilton saw the polar opposite: an industrious powerhouse that would be controlled by its financial elite.

The U.S. today has embraced pieces of both ideals. I enjoy calling myself a moderate, a centrist, a libertarian because I don't stick to one line of thinking; I examine every opinion or belief to see what might work best for the nation. People of modern America are too bent on polarizing U.S. policy. It is only the greatness of the swing vote that keeps our innovation alive and well.
Liberalism is defined as being open to new behavior and willing to discard traditional values. The people within Santa Monica like to think that their liberalism is what's needed to cure the ills of society; at times, it is.

Yet, as I've grown up here, I've seen liberal agenda become misguided. Liberals here automatically attack dissenters (conservatives) for believing differently. Thus, the liberalism that embraces open-mindedness has become oppressive.

My experience has led me to appreciate the idealism of liberal thinking, but to reject the conformity that its partisanship indoctrinates. Approaching a problem requires different approaches. Diversity of opinions fosters these different approaches and thus allows ideas to blossom without obstacle.

Moderates. Swing voters. Undecideds. All embrace the ideal of thinking for oneself, manifested best in the action of the swing vote.

Therefore, the swing vote needs to be energized. By doing this, gauging public opinion becomes unpredictable and politicians are forced to say what they believe in. American democracy persists in its worst mistake by perpetuating partisanship simply for the sake of taking sides. Group mentalities are detrimental to the free-thinking that fuels democracy. I do not belong to a party, because I see it, rather than as isolation, as a freedom: freedom in its purest form.

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The Art of Discrimination

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The Art of Discrimination

This presidential election brought up the memory of a question in the study guide for the old SAT test. It was a sentence-completion question, the kind where you fill in the blank with, more often than not, some obscure word you wouldn’t find in the vocabulary of most adults, let alone the average teenager. 

This particular question was the last of the section, which indicates the highest level of difficulty. And indeed it was. I’d estimate that at least four out of every five students eliminated without hesitation the correct answer: discriminating.

It was a question about a chili contest and how the judges were able to note “subtle differences between dishes that most people would not detect.” But it was often the first answer choice that students eliminated—it obviously had nothing to do with acting out of prejudice toward others, those eighty-ish percent would point out. 

At one stage, while explaining the original definition of the word “discriminate,” I went to dictionary to look up the roots. Somewhere along the line, the word had popped out of our English word “discern,” which came from the Latin discernere, from dis- (“apart”) and cernere (“to separate”). Picking apart, observing subtle differences—there’s another, all-too-familiar name for that: critical thinking. 

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I remembered the SAT question not because of the rampant discrimination (in the negative sense) through the many long months of the campaign, but more so because of the alarming lack of positive discrimination when it came to the facts. I’m enough of a realist to know that all politicians sometimes spin the truth, bend the facts or outrightly lie (as we all do on occasion). But what is staggering to me is how the people of this country opened the White House doors to a president-elect with such utter disregard for truthfulness.

I understand that he and his team figured out how to use misinformation to ride a wave formed from powerful emotional undercurrents in the country. I can also sympathize with the urge to act irrationally out of anger, fear or frustration. But what common ground do we have in this free, democratic society if not an allegiance to discerning the truth from the information we have available—as muddy and complicated as that process can often be?

Without rationality, how can democratic debate exist? Without factual accuracy, how can we determine the needs of Americans who feel forgotten—let alone enact and enforce policies to address those needs? Where is there earth solid enough for us to stand upon together if objective truth is no longer one of the values we share?

We all have lessons to learn. They’re about restoring respect.

First, especially for all the smart people out there, it’s a sense of respect for the tremendous power of human emotions—starting with your own. Emotion trumps reason every time (and puns that gross aren’t easily forgotten). Only by taking your own emotional temperature can you tell when a fever is coming on. People with a fever don’t act; they react. Thought goes out the window, instincts take over, and trouble begins. There’s no control and certainly no appealing to reason at that point. 

When you’re in tune with your own feelings and the way they color your view of the world, you can start to tune into others’ and discern who’s too feverish to listen, who might be soothed back to reason, and who has the same receptivity you do.

Then, out of respect for knowledge and intellect, rebuild your world view from the ground up. Start with the good discrimination—the kind that sifts reliable data, facts and objective observations out of personal biases, competing interests and misinformation. Don’t feed preconceived notions or simply reinforce the beliefs passed on to you by family, friends or even your teachers. Question everything, and dig until you find solid ground within yourself, in light of the facts and your own experience. 

Learn how to determine which sources of information are reliable; call out the nonsense when you see it. Check your facts, strive for the truth, and inspire others to do the same. Your opinion does matter, and every person’s opinion deserves a place in the world—as long as it’s founded upon respect for human dignity. 

Understand that if your views are anchored in conviction, carefully reasoned and well communicated, they’ll resonate with more people—if they’re listening. While you cannot satisfy everyone, but know that if you engage both emotion and reason, you can learn to make more people listen.

Want to make a difference in the world? Practice the art of discrimination—for good—and make it a cornerstone of your education.

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Connecting the Dots: High School, College, and the "Real World"

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Connecting the Dots: High School, College, and the "Real World"

My Teen LAUNCH partner, Kristine, and I have been working hard on a new program as a follow up to last year's Carve Your Own Path workshop. 

It's called Ready for the Real World: How to Make the Most of College.

I actually put an announcement out about the event a couple of weeks ago, and a mother I've worked with before (who also has a current high school freshman) asked if we weren't just creating more anxiety by talking about the "real world." Her daughter has three and a half more years of high school! Aren't we getting ahead of ourselves?

I don't think so. Here's why:

This isn't a nuts-and-bolts sort of workshop; it's about asking questions and looking at the overall context of college, which I believe everyone should do. If you grew up like me, you just assumed you were going to college. But it's not necessarily the best option for every single high school graduate. (Check out this PBS News Hour testimonial as an example.) 

Understanding the underlying reasons for why and which college is the right fit for you helps you build a better case for going there. This is critical thinking, friends! Admissions officials appreciate students who are informed about the investment their family is about to make; those students are more likely to take full advantage of the opportunities that college provides.

By making the most of the college experience, then, those who graduate will be prepared to send the same, clear message to employers: if you give me the chance, I'll make the most out of my time with your company; my work will benefit all of us. 

College admissions can so easily be perceived during high school as a contest to win. But nothing ends with your acceptance; it's only just the beginning. And those who simply get into the habit of looking ahead today will be the ones who discover their path tomorrow.

Interested in learning more? Check out our Ready for the Real World Facebook group and join the discussion. We've been discussing a range of college-related questions:

  • What is the point of college?
  • What has been the most challenging part of preparing for college thus far? Even if you aren't there yet, talk about the stage you are in.
  • Any guesses what employers are looking for in recent college graduates? Don't worry about getting this one "wrong" just because there may be some "right" answers! We want to know what you think.
  • Does your student have a dream career that excites them? Yes, sort of, definitely not?
  • What is it about a college education that makes it an ideal choice for your student? Have any questions ever been raised as to whether or not college is the best option?

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