Five Things You Can Do To Maximize Your College Visit

Think about when you purchased your first home. It was a new experience so I’m guessing you did some prep work first: researched online, talked to people who had “been there, done that” and came up with a list of a few “must-haves” and “definitely do not wants” before you ventured out to look at your first few homes.  

It’s no different when it comes to visiting colleges. Maximizing a college visit is as much about the preparation before and discussion after, as it is the actual on-campus experience. 

So how do you best prepare?  I’m SO glad you asked!  Here are five things you can do to maximize the college visit for you and your teen:

1.     Begin with the end in mind - have a purpose for going

I usually ask students “what are 5 things you want to accomplish from visiting this college?”.  It can be general like “I just want to see what a campus looks like” or specific, such as “I want to see how it feels to be this far away from home”.   Whatever the 5 things are, establishing that up front makes the experience more intentional and purposeful for them and for you.  I’ve visited NYU several times over the last few years and each time my purpose was different.  This last time, it was specifically to visit during winter and to really listen to how the college describes themselves, which is a window into what they’re looking for in their prospective students. 

2.     Establish your criteria - know what you’re looking and listening for

It doesn’t have to be a long list of criteria, but the more you know what you want (or even what you don’t want), the more meaningful the information will be. If it’s your first college visit, and you’re just not sure, start with 5 or 6 things that you really like about high school that you want to make sure you have in college.  Or, if you aren’t in love with high school, pick 1 or 2 things you definitely don’t want to repeat and translate that into specific criteria. Is your high school all about sports and you’re interested in the arts, then including on your list something like “must have opportunities to play or listen to music” will help you notice the posters throughout the campus for music and arts events and pay special attention when your tour guide talks about their dorm room jam sessions. 

3.     Create a list of questions - so you’re sure to get the info that is important to you

From your list of criteria, come up with a list of questions.  Most students aren’t keen on asking questions of the tour guide and that’s ok. But having a list helps make sure you get the information from your visit that you most want to know. It ties right back in with your purpose for going and your list of criteria.  For example, if your purpose for going is to see how welcoming the students are or if the academics are super challenging, you can ask a student how many hours a week they study or if they feel they have a balance between their academic and social life.  I was on a tour of Harvey Mudd a few years ago and all the tour guide talked about was how many hours everyone studied.  I then asked several students what they felt the balance was between hours spent studying and opportunities for social activities and they said that their late nights spent studying and working on projects were social for them. That helped me get a much stronger feel of the culture on campus then just hearing how many hours the tour guide spent studying. 

4.     Experience the tour and the information session - the look and the feel

What?  Isn’t that what we are here for?  Well, yes, but you’d be surprised how many students get there and decide just to sit in on the information session without taking the tour and to that I say - just say NO!  The info session is important for sure, because it emphasizes what the college wants you to know about them, but the tour is so much more than just the tour itself. It’s not just about what the tour guide says, it’s also their overall attitude and enthusiasm and warmth (or lack thereof).  It’s noticing the other students walking around and how they appear (friendly, hurried, stressed), and if they interact with the tour. One of my students described taking the tour at Syracuse with students yelling at her “you have to come here, it’s great!”.   It’s noticing the campus and what’s being promoted in posters and flyers, it’s eating the food, spending time in the surrounding city and on and on!  And the “on and on” brings me to….

5.    Debrief after the tour - give yourself time to take in the area and the experience

There are several reasons for this. First, it gives you an opportunity to spend time in the area, observe the students, ask more questions if you want and get a better feel for the college. Second, the information is fresh in your mind and it’s important to process it all while it is swirling around in your head, especially if you are planning to visit additional colleges on your trip. Asking each family member what their takeaways or highlights of the tour were or having the student think about for themselves and then ask “can you see me here” is a great way to evaluate how well the campus measured up to the initial goals and criteria and what you want to add to your list for next time.  

These five steps will provide the platform to really maximize the overall experience and “build on that foundation” (house pun intended) to help your teen begin to define and ultimately find the college that is the best match for them. 



Creating your "Book of Opportunity" for the New Year

Everything I love about the New Year is expressed in my favorite quote:

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.” - Edith Lovejoy Pierce

While every single minute of every day provides us with the chance to do this, there is something about the first day of a New Year that makes it super special and this quote embodies that. It also fully embraces my practice of setting intentions as opposed to resolutions. It’s interesting how the timing of my finding this quote and my giving up resolutions coincide.  Intentions seem to more fully embrace my interpretation of the quote and how to maximize its impact throughout the year.

For starters, the very definition of the two words are so different in terms of creating possibilities. A resolution is defined as “a firm decision to do or not do something”.  There is little or no margin for error, no room for the possibility of something different. I know that in order for resolutions to be successful, they need a plan that allows for gradual progress, but if that doesn’t happen, the resolution dissolves quickly and there is usually no room for an alternative.

Conversely, the definition of intention actually has the word “plan” built right into it - “an aim or a plan” - while also allowing room for adaptability and growth. It allows us to be in the moment, which provides opportunity to evaluate and revise based on initial results and incorporate that into how we choose to move forward, as this article suggests. 

The idea of setting intentions has gained major popularity in recent years.  All you need do is check out social media to see the creative ways that people are setting intentions whether they’re doing it “intentionally” by choosing a word or words for the year, or doing it randomly by choosing the first words they view in a word puzzle.   

I’ve done it both ways and the results have been amazing and surprising.  The first year I did this I intentionally chose the wordsfriends”, “family” and “fun” and it over-delivered on all 3, from a 75th birthday party for my mom, my nephew’s wedding and lots of fun personally and professionally. This last year, I randomly chose the word “adventure” and it was only two weeks later that we received a call from dear friends about joining them on their Tanzanian trip, which I wrote about this year. Additional opportunities for adventure both personally and professionally happened throughout the year and are continuing into this year as well.  

It's a fun thing to do individually or even as a family with children of all ages.  Imagine the possibilities of a child going into the New Year with the intention of kindness and friendliness. Or your teen finishing their second semester of high school with the intention of uniqueness, courage and confidence.  What would it be like if your graduating senior decided to choose memories and accomplishment as their opening chapters for 2019 and added curiosity and adventure as they began their first semester of college in the Fall.

The power of intentions is that each person gets to create their “words on the page” and the opportunities for the “chapters of their life”.  They can be things you aim for, events you specifically plan, or a spontaneous occurrence. They can build on the previous year or be new possibilities to create. They can even include a resolution.  It can be anything and everything you choose. 

I’d love to hear your intentions and words for the New Year.  Whatever you choose, I hope that the pages of your “Book of 2019” are filled with all that you wish for and more!


"Where you go is not who you'll be"

If November is the month of hope, December can be the month of despair in the college admissions world. That’s when students start to get word on their early action and early decision acceptances.   

As applications are submitted, there’s the hope and promise of a positive outcome.  Once the actual news is received, the guessing is over. There are the deferred situations where action can and should be taken and outcomes can still be affected, but if the answer is a “no” or even a “waitlist”, that can be a disappointing time, especially if the college was a top or first choice. 

I’m not going to focus this blog on that, except to say, that disappointment is natural and expected and it’s important for your teen to take the time they need. Processing through disappointment helps develop a key life skill of resilience.

What I will focus on is that ANY one of the colleges on their list that they applied to can provide them with the type of experience they want to have.  THEY get to choose their college experience, it is not dictated by the college.  

I’m a huge fan of the late great Dr. Seuss, so it is only fitting that I deliver this message in a “Seussical” rhyme I created:

Where you go is not who you’ll be

Feel free to repeat after me

Who you’ll be is created while you’re there

And you can do that anywhere!

I realize that just my saying this, even in a creative, poetic way, doesn’t make it so.  But my words are based on a Gallup-Purdue Index Study published in 2015 that identified the “Big Six” College Experiences linked to life preparedness, which are:

  • Having at least one college professor who made me excited about learning

  • Having college professor(s) who cared about me as a person

  • Having a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams

  • Working on a project that took a semester or more to complete

  • Having an internship or job that allowed me to apply what I was learning in the classroom

  • Being extremely active in extracurriculars and activities

In other words, each of these experiences provide the opportunity to form relationships that will not only create a successful college experience but will result in building connections that can and will impact job and career success. 

And ALL SIX of these factors can be accomplished at most ANY college.  

There is a camaraderie amongst alumni from most colleges, not just the elite ones.  People get excited and want to help those that came before them and that translates into everything from networking opportunities to getting students considered for jobs and internships. 

Being part of a sorority or fraternity at any college is something that provides a regional or national impact.  You’re not only connected to the members in your college chapter, but those chapters are within colleges across the country – thus exponentially expanding your network.

Professors have likely worked at multiple colleges in their careers, and know many people in their field. 

I’ve heard so many students say “But I deserve to get into this college after how hard I’ve worked in high school”.   And I agree. You do deserve it, you have worked hard.  But getting into a specific college is not the “prize” for all you’ve accomplished. Be proud of the work you’ve done to get into college. Your grades, your test scores, your activities, your job and your experiences are all things to be proud of. That’s the barometer of your success and is not reflected by the colleges you didn’t get into, but by the colleges you DID!!  

All of the factors listed in the study illustrate how more than ever, college is as much if not more about taking advantage of opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.  It’s about the talents, skills and strengths of the student and how they maximize their journey at the college they choose that will help them create a successful experience.   


Lessons along the Pathway To College

I recently met with a student who said that he had wished that his high school had encouraged their students to explore a wider variety of college choices and pathways to get there. 

When I asked him why, he said that it would have provided the opportunity to not only learn about different options, but also to learn more about himself.   I thought that was amazingly awesome and mature.  It also demonstrated that the college application process is much more than just applying to colleges – it’s a huge part of a teen/young adult’s journey to discover who they are, what’s important to them and WHY they feel that way. 

I am a big believer in taking time to create a college list and then continuing to evaluate the colleges that you want to apply to right up to and during the application process.  I love when I get a text that says “I’ve been thinking and I really don’t know that I want to apply to ‘X’ college anymore” or “I went to an info session at my high school and I really want to add this college to my list”. 

There are many opportunities throughout the process to engage in that type of self-reflection. The key, is to pause long enough so that you can take the information you receive and evaluate it based on your values and interests.  While that can be accomplished at any time during the journey, I’ve broken it down into 5 phases:

  1. The gathering phase 

  2. The pre-application phase

  3. The application phase

  4. The results phase

  5. The decision-making phase

The Gathering Phase:

The gathering phase doesn’t just have to begin junior or senior year.  Often times, students reflect back on how a college came on their radar when they were young.  One of my students first heard about Santa Clara University by watching the movie Bend It Like Beckhamwhen she was a young girl and identifying with the soccer players in the movie getting a scholarship there. The gathering phase is like the “scavenger hunt” portion of the process – where you’re gathering all types of information and options from all different sources and memories, but aren’t quite sure yet which you’ll keep or how you’ll use them.  

The Pre-Application Phase:

This is the tentative list of colleges you’re most interested in.  It is by no means your definitive list, but it is the result of all of the information you’ve gathered about yourself and how that matches up with what you’re looking for. Having a tentative list provides context to answer questions like:  Do I need to take another year of language” or “Is 1300 a good SAT score”?  The pre-application phase is also a great time to explore different pathways and timelines to college.  The student I spoke with shared that at the prestigious private high school he attended, there was little if any discussion about not going straight to a 4-year prestigious university.  Being able to feel like he could explore other options may have changed the way he felt about going, changing it from a “have to” to a “want to” for him.  

The Application Phase:

This is your “list of colleges I’m applying to” as you begin the application process.  It has a nice range of schools that represent reach, target AND safety college that you want to go to!  They don’t ALL have to be your first choice, but they also shouldn’t be places you know you wouldn’t want to attend. This list helps you set your due dates and deadlines and a timeline for completing your applications, BUT it can be altered as you go along. This is where some of the best discussions and growth can be experienced as the student evaluates adding or changing their list as they complete their applications:

  1. Tell me “WHY” you want to add Syracuse?

  2. Tell me “WHAT” has changed that you want to drop TCU?

  3. Tell me “HOW” you are going to meet all of your EA deadlines with this huge list of colleges you’re applying to?

  4. Tell me “WHY” you haven’t started working on your Northwestern application

The Results Phase:

The waiting is over and now you know.  Sometimes, the results phase and the application and decision-making phases can overlap.  For students who applied early decision or early action, there is often enough time to apply regular decision or even to take colleges off your list that you planned to apply to.  It is also a great time to reflect on how you feel when you receive the results, which can help in the decision-making process.  I’ve seen students hear back and feel even more excited than they thought they would be about a college, or not as excited as they thought.  This awareness helps them process the results they receive and make their ultimate decision of where they want to go. 

The Decision-Making Phase:

Even after this entire process, don’t be surprised if it feels like your teen is going “backwards” before they move forward. This is more than choosing where you want to spend the next 4 years,  it is also one of the first HUGE life decisions that they are making which can bring up many fears:  fear of making a mistake, fear of missing out, fear of leaving home, to name a few. Remind them of how they have successfully navigated through each of the previous phases and how they can use what they’ve learned about themselves, the colleges and the process to aid them in their choice.  If you haven’t yet visited the colleges, this is a great time to attend an Accepted Students day and evaluate it based on the initial criteria they used to choose to apply to the college and what they’ve learned about themselves and the college throughout the process. 

The self-awareness that is built through decision-making throughout the pathway to college is one of many that teens can utilize in college and throughout their lives.






Filing the FAFSA: How to go from "trick" to "treat"

October is definitely one of the scariest months of the year.  No, not because of all of the spookiness of Halloween, but because October is when the FAFSA becomes available to file.  

As if writing essays, completing applications, and taking last minute SAT’s isn’t enough pressure this time of year, now you have the FAFSA filing to add fear and confusion to the process.

It’s not so much how to do it. While it is cumbersome, it isn’t difficult and there are many resources out there to help, including videos like this one and even a new app, which is supposed to shorten the completion time considerably.  

What can be confusing are the circumstances around “why” or “why not” to file and the concern that it could somehow have an effect on the ability to receive merit aid. 

In general, here are several reasons experts who work with families on financial fit list advise why to file the FAFSA:

  • To protect against an unforeseen event/unexpected income loss that might cause the family to need to take out loans or require financial aid (kind of like an insurance policy)

  • If the family has more than one child in college at the same time, or will within a year of each other

  • If the student is interested in work study or campus jobs 

  • If the college DOES require the FAFSA for merit aid or will withhold award letters until the FAFSA is filed – although the number of colleges that do this is small

  • To be able to take out federal student loans (and if that’s the reason, you can file the FAFSA even after you receive admissions decisions) 

Okay, so what if none of these reasons feel particularly compelling. Here are reasons why NOT to file the FAFSA: 

  • MOST colleges don’t need the FAFSA for merit aid. 

  • If the family is absolutely sure they can pay the full COA 

  • If the family does not want to provide details of their financial situation for any reason

As mentioned above, most colleges do not need the FAFSA to award merit aid and I have heard many stories of families who didn’t file, got merit aid, and if the college needed it, they then asked the family to file the FAFSA at that time.

The absolute best way to make the decision whether or not to file is to use the information above as general guidelines and evaluate based on your personal circumstances as follows:

  • Assess your family’s financial situation

  • Call the financial aid office for the colleges you’re applying to and ask them questions based on your specific situation

  • Discuss the pros and cons based on what you find out and decide what is best for you and your family

Each family’s scenario is different and unique.  Figuring out what you need to know, “why” it’s important for your family and “how” to best apply it to your situation is the best way to go from “trick” to “treat” when it comes to the FAFSA, or any aspect of college planning. 

Note: A huge debt of gratitude to my colleagues at HECA who provided their information and experience, especially Jeff Levy of Personal College Admissions and Bill Smith from ScholarFITS.


How to STOP the worry loop: Control the Controllables

I recently read an article in Cooking Light magazine (Sept '18), of all places, on ways to clear your mind of mental clutter. Specifically, the things that trigger our brain to go into worry mode.  You know, those thoughts that run on an endless loop that maximize stress, and minimize our ability to get things done.  

The article talked about how when we are overwhelming busy, have a lot we need to get accomplished, or don’t know how something will work out, we worry in order to get certainty. Sounds strange, right? Not really. Our brains are like computers that search for ways to categorize things.  Putting tasks we haven’t accomplished into a certain “group” makes it a known list and creates something specific and certain. The problem with that list is it focuses on what we didn’t do rather than what we did and that makes us feel more stressed and more worried!  Hence the endless loop. 

It went on to explain how we have the power to break that loop. Simply by telling our brain when we plan to complete even one of the tasks we haven’t done creates certainty and stops the worry loop in its tracks.  This automatically lessens stress and overwhelm and helps us to think more clearly and creatively, which increases our productivity. 

I first experienced this concept during my days as a radio sales manager.  My boss would always tell us to “control the controllables” and that seemingly simple phrase worked like a charm in so many ways.  It was particularly effective to remind me to shift our month end focus from how far away we were from budget to what we could accomplish over the remaining days of the month to bring in revenue. 

These days, I repeat this phrase quite often as I apply the concept throughout all aspects of college planning.  It comes in especially handy for seniors as they transition from summer to the fall application season. 

Trust me, you are not alone if your teen went into the summer with the best of intentions to get ahead on their essay, application or studying for the SAT or ACT, only to find themselves at the beginning of September having completed less than they’d hoped.   If that’s the case, let’s break that “worry loop” now, and “control the controllables":

1.  Focus on WHAT you can accomplish

2.  Focus on WHEN you can do it

3.  Limit the amount of options

Students - take heed:

Are you signed up for the ACT this Saturday?   Ask yourself “What's ONE thing I can get done today?"  Do the same each day.  ANYTHING you start to do now will be more than you did yesterday.  And it will start to help your brain focus on what you can accomplish. 

Are you stressed because you wanted to start your essays already?  Sit down now and schedule in a half hour per day over the next two days to begin. Just by telling your brain when you will do something kills the worry loop. You’ve created the certainty of setting a specific time.  (Then use that time to pick a prompt to write about, jot down some notes or just start free writing). 

Do you have more than 15 colleges you want to apply to?   Does it feel like you’re continually adding new ones to your list, which keeps you from starting even one application?  Pick the top 3 colleges you like most and start there. When we have too many choices our brain goes into what’s called the “overwhelm of overchoice”.  Setting limits helps to break that loop.  

Just one of the three ideas above helps to go from apprehension to activity. 

I wonder if Nike had all of this in mind when they came up with their tagline "Just Do It".  



And Away We Go, Or Do We?

There’s no getting around it, we’re about to head into the official start of the application season. While some college applications have been online since July 1st, the launch of the Common App on August 1st signifies the beginning of the season, much the same way Memorial Day and Labor Day mark the beginning and end of summer. 

If your teen is still not quite ready to begin and wants to enjoy a few more weeks of summer – I get it. Besides the thought of “all that work”, there’s the “this is about to get real” part that can keep them from jumping in and beginning the process.  

It's helpful to keep in mind that this IS a process, in the true definition of the word. This “series of steps taken to achieve a particular end” will include times when there is a flurry of activity and times when it may feel like things have come to a standstill.  It is in those moments between the series of steps where there is tremendous opportunity for growth. 

Like the student who was excitedly applying to colleges across the country and found his motivation had come to an unexpected screeching halt.  Pausing to consider “why” that happened helped him realize that he was pretty nervous about leaving home. He decided to add in a few more colleges that were closer to home and the excitement returned. Recognizing his fear combined with having options both near and far gave him the freedom and the confidence to make the choice that felt right to him when the time came. 

Or the student who was meeting due dates for all of his applications but left one of them to the very last minute. It can be frustrating to watch this happen. The initial impulse is to focus on “what” needs to be done instead of “why” it isn't getting done, but it’s the “why” that unlocks the magic.  That student had huge doubts about the ultra competitive environment of that particular college and how that contrasted with her values of collaboration and connectedness.  Taking that time to reflect ended in her choosing not to apply.  Most important, it strengthened her ability to trust herself when it came to making decisions about her future. 

What often gets forgotten in the midst of the admissions frenzy is how much bigger this is than sending in applications and receiving results.  It’s one of the first decisions that your teen is making about their future – which is both exciting and terrifying at the same time.   Each series of steps along the way is an opportunity for them to not only execute the process but also learn to trust in their ability to execute the process, which helps them learn to trust themselves. 


Creating the experience of a lifetime

We just got back from what can only be described as the experience of a lifetime – a trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar with dear friends that are like family, literally.  My husband and his friend Rich met the first week of college over 40 years ago and his children have called us “Auntie and Uncle” for as long as we can remember.  So when his oldest daughter Amy married a wonderful guy from Tanzania a few years ago and they announced that at one point they wanted to take the "entire" family to Tanzania to meet Tony’s family, they took it for granted that we would be included.  How could we pass up such an amazing adventure? The answer was, we couldn't!

I’m not gonna lie, I had many sleepless nights of anxiety mixed with anticipation at the thought of traveling halfway around the world.  I’ve traveled before, but never to such a far away place with so much that I had never before experienced.  

Rather than “what if” myself into a frenzy, I decided to concentrate on researching and learning all I could up front, planning for what I learned and preparing accordingly.  More, I could not do.

As with any and all new experiences, we are not the exact same person we were when we began the journey.  One of the many benefits is the opportunity to expand our knowledge and take what we learn and apply it to future events.  That definitely was a huge part of this trip and I can’t help but notice the parallels to what I experienced and learned in preparing for my travels and how it can be applied to graduating seniors as they prepare to embark on their journey to a new land:  COLLEGE!  So, of course, I am sharing what I learned with you!

1.    Use all resources available to plan and prepare

We were extremely fortunate to have someone like Tony who had grown up in Tanzania.  His firsthand knowledge helped us to prepare for what we knew and brainstorm scenarios to anticipate. As such, our group was pretty proud of ourselves when between the ten of us we were able to navigate most situations and come up with whatever we needed.

There are a tremendous amount of resources and information out there to help students and parents prepare for college.  Articles or websites such as these are just a few of the many available that talk about preparation and transition.  And the colleges themselves host orientation events that provide students the opportunity to do everything from register for classes and meet fellow classmates to know how far the dorm is to the dining hall.  You’re able to know your roommate in advance and plan your room together.  There are many resources to plan and prepare.

But, even with all of that, it’s still a new experience, as we found, and that’s why an important part of the process is to:

2.    Expect the unexpected

As perfectly planned as the trip was, there were tons of little things that happened that we could not have anticipated.  Rather than let this derail us, we embraced it as part of the experience.  Each of those instances provided the opportunity to learn something new and use what we learned to help us throughout the trip. 

You can definitely expect that there will be much that is unexpected as your teen enters college.   Let them know that there will definitely be transition time as they begin this new journey while also reminding them of how they successfully navigated all of the other "firsts" in their lives: first day of high school, first job, first time completing their college application.  All of these things that feel second nature to them now,  were new to them at one point. Remind them to be patient with themselves and to "expect the unexpected" and know that the experience of doing so will not only add to the adventure, it will equip them with skills and tools they can use throughout the journey. 

3.    Ask for help!

Geographically, as well as culturally, we were navigating new territory so whether it was asking how to say something in Swahili or checking to see if we needed to cover our shoulders in a restaurant we made it a rule to ask for help, rather than assume we knew or go it on our own.  At one point, a few of us asked for a “rest day” instead of driving an hour and a half to tour a spice market.  We didn’t want to spoil plans for anyone else, but we knew that we needed that downtime to process all we had experienced and gather energy for the following day. It turned out our speaking up was a great thing as the rest of the group felt the exact same way!  

The ability to ask for help and find the support for what you need is a key skill that will make a huge difference in how your teen transitions to college life, and to life in general.  It is amazing, as we found, how often others feel the way you do and the key is speaking up and asking for what you need. It also helps colleges properly know and prepare for the needs of their current and future students. There are a tremendous amount of resources available and as great a job as colleges do to share that information; it is impossible to communicate all that is available to everyone.  A successful transition is not measured by your student having NO problems or challenges,  but in recognizing when they do and asking for support to find the answers and resources for what they need, when they need it.  

College, like our travels, is a mixture of navigating new experiences, exploring new ideas and learning about one's true self.  It is certainly amazing and wonderful but not without some stress and anxiety.  

The awareness that the bumps in the road are part of the journey, combined with the ability to utilize these tools will help in making college the “experience of a lifetime”. 






"Show me that you love me"

There is so much attention given to the agonizing process of waiting and wondering “will I be offered admission to my top college" once students submit their application that we forget once the acceptances are sent out, the shoe is now on the other foot. It then becomes the colleges' turn to wait and wonder: “will the student accept our admissions offer?”.

I find it ironic that this is going on during prom invite season, when the same sort of scenario is being played out and teens all over are wondering:  “how do I know if I ask this person, that they will want to go with me?".

While some people know for sure the person they’re asking wants to go with them, there are others who look for clues and any indications of interest that will help them feel more secure that the answer will be a resounding YES! 

Well, guess what? Colleges do the same thing!  

In the world of college admissions, this is called demonstrated interest. 

It’s like employing the strategy of having your best friend ask your intended date “If John asks you to prom, will you go?” And there are many ways for colleges to ask you this question, as discussed in this video.

There are colleges that are very up front about how important this is to them and that they welcome and encourage demonstrated interest.

But other colleges are much more stealth in their approach. They’re like the person who looks for clues that you’ll say yes to the prom – checking your social media for mentions of them or asking friends of friends if they’ve talked about you.  

It’s important to know that large universities like the University of California system, or large state universities like University of Michigan that seem to big to notice actually employ companies that track whether you’ve opened an email they’ve sent you or stopped by to visit their booth at a college fair.  In fact, that’s one more reason why checking every college on the UC or Cal State application can work against you.  

Colleges also notice if you live nearby and haven’t toured their college or visited with the admissions office by the time you apply.

The great news is that some of the best ways to demonstrate interest are also the best ways to learn more about the college to see if it is somewhere you’d be “interested” in applying to:

1.     Email the college for more information. If it’s a college you’re interested in learning more about, it definitely makes sense you’d want to find out more about them, right?  So if you aren’t able to visit and they aren’t planning to visit your high school, contact them. 

2.    Tour your local colleges.  Especially if it’s early in the process.  You may not want to stay close to home, but visiting your local colleges are a cost-effective way to learn more about what you like and don’t like in a college and if it ends up being on your list to apply to, you’re set!

3.    Opt-in for receiving information from colleges on the PSAT – and then click on the emails of the colleges that sound interesting!  If the email load gets too overwhelming, use one email address for the PSAT and create another one for the colleges you’re more interesting in following up with.

The more you learn, the more you’ll be able to articulate on your application what you like about the college and why you want to go there. You’re telling them that you love them.  And showing your demonstrated interest lets the colleges know that you really mean it!



The “three little words” that are most important in college planning

“Is taking another year of language/math/science a good idea?” “Should we focus on the SAT or ACT”? “Which activities are best to do this summer”?

Whether it’s a simple “yes or no” question, or one that is more involved, to get the best answer, the 3 most important words to add on the end of each of the above sentences is…”for MY teen”. 

It’s no different than if they had an upset stomach and you googled “what are the top 3 best foods to ease nausea”.   Let’s say the answers are bananas, ginger and papaya (which they are, I googled it!) and they were allergic to all three. Those may be the best, but not the best for YOUR teen. 

It’s no different when it comes to college planning and preparation.  Those 3 little words help you take the facts and data and utilize them to help your teen maximize their strengths and continue to discover who they are. 

Let’s take the SAT vs. the ACT.  You can do all the research, look up concordance tables, compare test formats and find out that statistically, your teen is better suited for the ACT.  Does that mean that’s what they should focus on? Maybe. Until we add in those 3 little words and we learn that:

  • They are applying to colleges that superscore the SAT, not the ACT
  • They actually feel more motivated to study for the SAT and feel they can improve their score by doing so
  • All of their friends are taking the SAT on the same day and they want to take it with them

The combination of knowing the specific requirements for their colleges, their feeling of confidence in their ability to prep for the SAT and the feeling of relaxation they get from knowing they will be with their friends sets them up for maximum success. 

The same goes for choosing activities.  If your student is interested in a specific major such as pre-med, nursing, performing arts or engineering there should be strong indication of their interest in their choice of activities.  But adding in “for my teen” helps to customize what those choices are based on what they’re interested in learning more about or what they already know they enjoy doing.  (And increases the likelihood they’ll want to participate without prodding). And that’s even more important if they haven’t yet chosen an area of focus. 

There’s something magical that happens when their choice of activity sparks a new interest that blossoms into something that they thoroughly enjoy and want to learn more about. Not only does that come across loud and clear on their application, it also could be the beginning of a new pathway for their future. 


It Doesn't Have To Be Like This

WHEW!   Students and families all over are exhibiting a collective sigh of relief as the last of the colleges send out their admission decisions.  Whether the overall feeling is joy or sadness, at least there is closure to this very long and surprising season. 

This year was a particularly rough one for a variety of reasons.  A record number of applications were received with more students than ever applying early action and early decision.  This article is from the Daily Northwestern but many colleges were also able to fill anywhere from one-third to one-half of their incoming freshman class from the early pool, leaving more students deferred or wait-listed than in years past.  

In California, the Cal State colleges turned away 32,000 students because campuses were too full to accommodate them and trustees are under pressure to fix this.  And feedback I’ve received on my Facebook page say that states like Florida are experiencing similar challenges. 

The results this year from the UC’s are so unexpected that many counselors moving forward are reluctant to categorize any of them outside of a “reach” school for their students. 

There are no easy answers or quick fixes to these or any of the other numerous factors that make the admission process increasingly more challenging.  Many of these factors are due to the sheer increase in the number of students who are applying to college, but there are a few things we can do to take back some of the control.

Here are a few ideas:

#1 – Just say NO to random applying to the UC’s.  

I’m all for making the process easier.  There is no need to do a separate application for every single college when much of the data is redundant. But not SO easy that students can easily double the number of colleges they apply to. The Common App streamlines that process while also including a separate section for each individual college, which often requires unique questions or supplements. Not so with the UC application or the Cal State application. Almost all of the information, including the essays, are all the same which makes it far to easy to randomly apply to all of the colleges without researching much about the college or the fit, hoping to get into one or two and then deciding where they want to go. Multiply that by hundreds of students and it easily increases the number of applications received by, well, a LOT!

Even so, I can almost forgive that practice over the students who apply with absolutely no intention or desire to even attend a UC.   The stories I’ve heard from students about friends who didn’t even want to go to a UC or stay in California but applied “at the last minute, just because…” or “because my friend/relative/neighbor thought I should" makes me cringe.  Especially when I hear about students who were waitlisted at UC Santa Cruz or denied at UC Santa Barbara who had that as their dream schools. It’s hard not to think about how those decisions might have been an “admit” with less “random” applications submitted.

#2 – Embrace the area between the east and west coast.  

The plethora of applications this year was a good thing in that it helped families get creative and think outside the box.  For students who said they wanted to be in the Northeast (meaning NY or Boston) they ventured north and south to explore Delaware, Maine, Rhode Island, and New Jersey.  My California students expanded their definition of “near family” to include relatives and friends which opened up many options in different states.  Those that wanted to be "near skiing” found that it’s a lot less crowded to do so in Idaho, Utah or Montana than Colorado.  Want four seasons but don’t want to travel far?  Flagstaff has that plus it’s a cute college town. 

#3 – Explore different lists.  

Notice how the lists of “reach” colleges tend to correlate with the ones on U.S. News & World Report lists? Families tend to think that if they haven’t heard of the college it isn’t that good.  But the question is, good in what?  There are tons of colleges out there that excel in many areas and, based on your criteria, can provide an amazing college experience.  For example, if school spirit, traditions and athletics are your “thing”, you can find some great schools off of this list.  Or check out the recent NCAA Basketball tournament bracket. Plus, the ones in less "demand" are also the ones that may be able to offer more "financial incentives" (merit aid) for attending.  

#4 – Get paid for good grades

The “prestigious” and “name” colleges are not only difficult to get into, they also offer little if no merit money or scholarships.  If you’re into prestige, how about graduating in 4 years with little or no debt.  That's an achievement that's noteworthy! Taking your hard work and good grades and test scores to colleges that are in less demand can do that for you!  

#5  - Put together a purposeful, well-rounded list, based on what's important to you and why

Combine all of the above and put together a list of criteria based on what is important to you and why so that you can create a targeted and purposeful college list.  One that includes a wide range of acceptance profiles that are well researched AND that you are interested in attending.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t add to it as you go along, based on input from friends and family, but when you do receive input, you’ll have a foundation against which to evaluate the information.   









"The Road To Success Is Paved With Good Intentions (and avoiding physics)"

Sometimes the pathway to college feels like the menu at In-N-Out Burger.  There are only 3 choices of combos and if you don’t pick one of those, you can’t eat there. 

For those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to live in a state with In-N-Out, let me explain.  As you drive through or walk inside, you are greeted with 3 choices:  Hamburger, Cheeseburger and Double-Double.  You can get fries with that, and ONLY fries, and a choice of soft drink or one of their delicious shakes.  That’s it! 

When you look at the college admissions requirements, it can seem just as limited and restrictive:

You MUST take 4 years of language.  You MUST take as many AP’s as possible.  You MUST take the SAT or ACT.  Oh, and you can vary your activities (beverage) but a leadership role (fries) are really your only choice. 

One might wonder why anyone would eat at a place with such a limited menu.  WHY is it so popular?  Well, guess what?  It's NOT! There’s a “secret” menu with WAY more choices.  You just have to know about it and ask for it. 

Happily, for colleges, you don’t have to dig too deep to find alternatives to the “regular menu” and there are WAY more choices.  Beyond the U.S News & World Report lists are thousands of colleges with options that appeal to a wide variety of students! 

It is easier than one might imagine to actually order “off the menu”.  To find colleges with requirements that allow students to focus on the subjects and activities in high school that a student likes and excels at vs. taking classes over and over in subjects that focus on areas they are weak in or strongly dislike.  Want to take less language classes, check out the requirements at Colorado State.  Standardized testing not your thing?  Visit to find colleges that are test-optional

Plus, BOTH focusing on strengths AND avoiding areas of weakness can help the student discover a new pathway and opportunity they might not have otherwise found!

There’s the student who switched from calculus to business math in high school only to discover his love of accounting. 

Or the student who opted to apply to colleges that were test-optional, and focused that time to strengthen her art portfolio.  She not only deepened her love of art, she sold some of her work!

Focusing on areas of interest and strength can continue in college as well.

Take the student who entered college with an interest in psychology and a desire to want to help others.  This continued to strengthen until she hit a "weakness roadblock" 3rd quarter of her sophomore year, where she realized she had to take physics.  The thought of a quarter of physics was too much to bear, and the only major available with all the classes accumulated thus far was communications studies.  She course-corrected based on the goal of avoiding physics and graduating in 4 years which introduced an entirely new major and led to a 25 year career in broadcasting. 

One might call that decision immature and short-sighted.  That it was a short term choice (NO Physics)  vs. a long term sacrifice (suck it up and take the class and complete the psychology major). 

And I would tend to agree.  But if I had to do it all over again, I’d do the same. (insert wink and a smile!)

Each choice we make helps us evaluate our values, honor our skills and strengths and use that information to course correct along the way.  Communication studies helped me rekindle my love of radio and music from my childhood and integrate what I loved about psychology into my career.  Not a day went by that I didn’t “counsel” and “coach” my sales teams and I am using my love of coaching and counseling every day in my current career as a college coach! 

And physics?  Not so much. 


"The Waiting is the Hardest Part"

There’s a meme going around that says, “January is the Monday of months”.  That cracks me up because I’m not sure what that means, exactly.  Does it mean the month feels longer than other months?  Does it mean it’s the month that takes a while to get back into after the holidays?  And, do most people feel that way?

Like with everything in life, what it means depends on how we interpret it, based our own perspective.  For example, I LOVE January, since it’s the month of my birth!

Poor January also gets a bad rap in the world of college admissions as the “Black Hole” of months.

It’s the place where the application seems to disappear without a trace, while families sit in limbo and await the news.  Yes, to paraphrase the late, great Tom Petty, the waiting can certainly be the hardest part of the process, but do most students feel that way?

Generally, no. In talking with current seniors, they actually feel pretty “chill” about the whole thing.  Sure, there are schools they are waiting to hear from, but they say that "there isn’t anything they can do",  it “is what it is” in terms of when they will find out and there’s a ton of other stuff going on, so they don’t have time to think about it too much.    

This was quite a relief to hear! 

I also asked the seniors I worked with last year and they expressed similar thoughts.  Sure, having the philosophical perspective of time and distance helps, but they all said it "really wasn't that bad".  It helped to have applied to a range of colleges where they were able to "find out about some acceptances early and know they were going somewhere".  That helped ease the initial stress.  And, with each passing day, "it was more in the back of my head and not a pressing matter".  As they focused on the events of their senior year, they even "kinda forgot about it" and it was more "out of sight, out of mind". 

It turns out, our kids have it right.  In reading articles on the psychology of waiting, ruminating over something we have little or no control over just increases anxiety.  

And that makes sense. 

The less control we feel we have over an outcome, the more we may feel anxious or uncertain.  Like when we’re sick.  It is definitely NOT fun, but we know what we need to do to get well and we do it.  It’s often WAY worse to watch our loved ones feel awful.   And that seems to be consistent with waiting on application results. 

So, as parents and family members, what can we do to get through this?

One of the best ways to lessen anxiety and stress is to focus on the present and make the most of the time you have together, as this article suggests.   Or, in the wise words of one of my former students:

“...for anyone in the waiting period, I would say to have fun and celebrate”!   Cherish the time you have together and focus on the "what is"  The “what will be” will be here soon enough! 




Trust The Process

"Trust the process" is a phrase that is often heard in the coaching and counseling profession and one I resonated with immediately.   It is defined in a variety of ways but for me, it means that once I’ve put together a plan or strategy and done my best to execute it, that even in the event of unexpected results I know that there is learning in that moment that will help me to reach my desired outcome.

You might think that this concept would be most widely associated with the “woo woo” world of spiritual growth.  I thought that as well – until I “googled” it.  To my surprise, the majority of articles that came up were related to sports!  And I was most excited to see my beloved “Cubbies” and their fearless leader Joe Maddon reference it in their 2016 World Series victory.   Plus, there are tons of quotes from successful athletes that talk about how success is the intersection of “preparation and opportunity”.  That’s a tenet of “trust the process”. 

It totally makes sense that focusing on the overall process and not just winning and losing as the ultimate outcome for success is a great way to achieve a long term or even a short-term goal.  This is what helps athletes come back after a slump or teams adopt a multi-year approach to successful championships. 

Most victories in life are rarely a straightforward path – nor do things happen overnight.  It is a journey that involves twists and turns and unplanned obstacles and how we respond to them and what we learn is a key factor in reaching our goals. 

And there are no better examples than in the pathway to college, especially when it comes to college acceptances.

Once you’ve developed your plan, prepared for every aspect, and know and trust you’ve done your absolute best, and pressed “submit” on the application,  “trusting the process” helps you to know that what happens next is out of your control.  This can minimize the anxiety, stress and disappointment from being deferred, wait-listed or even denied and know that this is but a small part in the overall journey.   That this unforeseen “twist” could lead to choosing a college that turns out to be the perfect one you wouldn’t have researched more closely or even ultimately chosen if this hadn’t happened.

One only need read Frank Bruni's 2015 bestseller to hear many stories from students who thrived at their 2nd or 3rd choices.  I wish I had a dollar for every student I’ve met that has told me that the college they are currently attending wasn’t their first choice and they “can’t imagine going anywhere else”. 

As we begin a new year, I wonder what it would be like if we applied this foundation as part of how we approached all of our goals?  Identifying the outcomes we want to achieve and also trusting that the victories and defeats we experience are part of the overall process and provide us with the awareness and freedom to use what we learn from these experiences in any way we choose?

Like not getting the lead in the school play and turning that into a love of improv.  Or dropping an AP class that frees up time for an internship.  Or using that low SAT score to find a test-optional college that may not have otherwise been on your radar.

Or winning the World Series after 108 years!



Random Acts of College Selection

“Friends don’t let friends apply to random colleges that they have no intention of attending or have not done any research as to why they are applying there”


I wish I could figure out a way to shorten this because I totally want to have this printed on bumper stickers, t-shirts, made into a meme – whatever will spread this sentiment most quickly!


Because this has become my pet peeve in the college application process.

We all have pet peeves – things that just bug us.  From runners to waiters, every person, profession or activity has them. 

So I decided to make an initial list of my reasons why "random acts of college selection" really bugs me:

1. The “selective colleges don’t need any additional help to make them harder to get into and more expensive” – reason:

Applying to a bunch of random colleges only helps the COLLEGE, not the student.   Especially in the case of the most competitive, low acceptance rate colleges.  Colleges are all about their “yield rate”.  This is a huge factor in marketing the selectivity of the college. The higher the yield rate, the more the college can charge and the less merit aid they have to give to entice students to apply and enroll. Check out the yield rate for the colleges on this list of "Best Colleges for Merit Aid" and compare that to the list of "US News & World Report 2017 Best Colleges Ranking"

2. The “you’re taking the place of someone who REALLY knows they want to go there” - reason:

This comes from conversations with my students who are frustrated when they hear peers at school say: "I'm applying to all of the Ivies just to see if I get in" or "I'm applying to all of the UC's and I'll research and decide which I like after I see where I get in". 

We know it doesn’t exactly work that way, but it's difficult as a student, to hear that and not think to yourself “what if they get my spot?”  A spot that they would be thrilled to get as opposed to their peer who knows nothing about the school or, worse, has no intention of going if they are accepted.  (Yes, this happens, happily not often, but it does happen).

3. The “coach-approach” - reason:

As a college coach, the essence of how I work with my students is supporting them to explore and discover what is important to them and why and to be able to use that foundation to compare and contrast colleges throughout the months leading up to and during the selection and application period.  Using the “random” approach to apply and then deciding where you want to go doesn’t give the student or the family enough time or opportunity to do this, nor are they able to learn about themselves throughout the process. 

And the colleges KNOW this! 

The most competitive and selective colleges include a creatively written question as part of their supplemental essays.  While it is written a variety of different ways, it is asking the same question:  "Why this college?".  And I LOVE that! 

These colleges know that knowing your “why” is the beginning to create a roadmap for success in college.  This helps the student be more proactive in their first year as they have a foundation for how they want to maximize their experience.

The  more you can answer “why”, the easier it is to list “what” the opportunities are you want to build and “how” you plan to achieve them. 

There are always those instances where a student gets to college and the experience isn’t exactly what they thought or hoped it would be and sometimes, that can’t be determined until you experience it.

But isn’t that even MORE of a reason to apply to colleges, especially the more selective colleges, based on exploring and discovering what is important to you and how well that college will help you to support you to achieve that?




Bringing Your Story to Life

Imagine you’re 17 years old.  You’re cruising along, navigating all that is involved in being a teenager these days (which is a LOT), and all of a sudden, you are asked to tell your story.  And not just in any way you choose – within specific parameters.  You have to list all of your activities and only have 150 characters (not words, CHARACTERS) to describe how you are unique and you have to write about yourself so that it fits into a specific prompt with stories that involve the kind of introspective analysis few of us do in our adult years, let alone as a teenager.

That’s hard enough, but now imagine having to do while you are also being told that your story needs to make you STAND OUT.  You have to "share what makes you unique, and do so in your authentic voice,  all that while you are comparing yourself to the rest of the world – watching as friends and friends of friends post their life on Instagram and Snapchat and wondering how you will ever measure up, that there is nothing special or unique about you.

Oh my gosh, I just read these two paragraphs and I want to go curl up with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. 

This isn’t part of a Halloween theme and I promise, my goal is not to scare you.  It is actually a “treat” for me to share an app that was created for teenagers to make this process easier, more fun and most important remind them that "YOU DO HAVE A STORY, YOU ARE AWESOME AND WE”RE GONNA HELP YOU EXPRESS THAT!"

Welcome to Zeemee.

Zeemee was created in 2015 as a way to help students have a positive, proactive way to showcase their social identity on a digital platform.  It was created to level the playing field and provide “all-access” for students to showcase their unique personality and they are constantly developing ways to do that.  For example, it was originally created as a web-based program and, as a result, only 8% of the students were using the video feature.  They figured out that socio-economically, WAY more students have smartphones than laptops so they switched to an app-based program this year and the video feature usage went up to 80%!  They are continually adding new features that make it easier for students to “tell their story”.

And colleges are responding!!  They launched with 6 colleges and now over 200 colleges ask for a Zeemee profile – as either optional or required! 

Additionally, colleges are utilizing Zeemee to tell their story, which allows students to follow them and get to know them.  This helps the student explore ways that the college is a good fit by seeing the different aspects of the college and all the ways they can maximize their experience there to continue to craft their story.

But what I love most about Zeemee, is that it truly helps a student begin to discover their story -  wonderful stories like a passion for creating balloon animals for kids birthday parties or being the oldest of 10 kids. As they build their platform, it helps them realize that they ARE special, they DO have a story, it DOES matter and how to share that. This builds the confidence to continue to develop their “brand” and use that in SO many ways above and beyond college applications.  It helps them realize that their “story” is an ongoing process that THEY get to create and helps them learn to “tell” that story in the many ways they are asked to do throughout their lives – whether it be in a college essay or an interview for a college, internship or job.

What's behind procrastination? I'll get back to you tomorrow

There are 2 quotes that I live by when it comes to application season:

“WARNING – deadlines in mirror are much closer than they appear” - Anonymous

“Deadlines aren’t real to me until I’m staring them in the face” – Rick Riordan


Each one describes the benefits of having deadlines:

a.   It makes the intangible, tangible

b.   It creates urgency

c.   It helps us recognize when we’re stuck

While this is vital in most any opportunity for planning and execution, it is extremely important during the college application process, for many reasons.  Having my students create their own timelines and organizational systems makes it more real and helps them to take responsibility for the process, a skill that will help them now and in their college career.

It is so fun to see the activity escalate once they have the clarity and accountability of what they need to do and by when. 

But what happens when the activity stops?  Is that procrastination?  Or are they stuck? And how to tell the difference?

On the outside, being stuck can look a lot like procrastination.  But while the actions may look the same, the reasons behind them can be very different. 

Believe me, there is much more to procrastination than meets the eye – especially during application season.  To paraphrase a line from my favorite movie, Princess Bride: 

Procrastination?  You keep using that word.  I do not think it represents what you think it represents.

Like we don’t know this already, there is a ton of stress and pressure associated with applying to college, even BEFORE you start the process. The uncertainty of what to expect, the choice of major (and implication of thinking about your future), and the biggest one – what if I don’t get in?

That’s where the quotes above take on a whole new meaning.

It’s understandable that having those thoughts get “closer in the mirror” and “stare you in the face” would cause feelings of uncertainty, overwhelm, confusion, doubt or worry, which can easily lead to actions of hesitancy at best and locking yourself in your room and playing video games at worst.

So, what to do?

The first step is to acknowledge the behavior.  I love this word, acknowledge, because there are no “assumptions” built in, just curiosity and noticing.  Open-ended questions are great for this because they invite more conversation.  Once you ask,  “did you study for the ACT”,  you get either a yes or no answer and there’s nowhere to go.  Asking “how’s the ACT test prep going” invites more input and could uncover where or how your child may be stuck.

The second step, is to ask a few follow up questions that can help them think about what will help them to get “unstuck” like:  “What do you need to take the next step?” or even “Where are you stuck?”.

Each time I’ve used these two questions with my students it’s resulted in a myriad of responses that have covered the entire spectrum, from helping them to learn the value of not taking on too many shifts at work to having an in-depth conversation about how the uncertainty of not knowing what’s next can also be an opportunity for a huge adventure.  

I'm also apt to point out to them that they couldn't have gotten stuck without beginning the process. It means they took the first steps, identified where they want to go and set a time and date to get there. 

That’s when my other favorite quote comes into play:

A goal is a dream with a deadline.  -Napoleon Hill




"Tell Me About Yourself"

Whether it’s a formal job interview or a casual networking event, this is a question that can strike fear into the hearts of even the most prepared respondent.  The answer provides a wealth of information for the interviewer, both from what is actually said to how the question is handled, which is probably one of the major reasons this simple question causes so much anxiety and stress. 

Most career websites and blogs suggest that the best way to prepare for this interview question is to focus on your key strengths and characteristics, give examples that showcase your experience in utilizing them and do so in a way that is specific and memorable. 

Which, coincidentally, is a wonderful way to prepare for the essay portion of the college application.

If you think about it, this is the question that most colleges are asking each applicant and the goal is exactly the same - to share your key strengths and qualities, gives examples that are both specific and memorable and do so in a way that differentiates yourself from the other applicants.

Despite what it feels like in reading the essay prompts, the colleges really do want to make it as easy as possible.  They work extremely hard to come up with specific wording to help the student figure out what they want to “tell about themselves” but sometimes focusing on the specifics can be just as difficult as answering an open-ended question.  Hey, if it were easy, there wouldn’t be the plethora of essay writing workshops, articles and blogs out there.

So where and how to begin? 

If the process for preparing for an interview and an essay are both stressful and anxiety producing, I say, let’s figure out a way to do both at one time and minimize having to experience the stress twice!

Below are three things that you can do to help you prepare for a job interview or internship AND provide you with essay ideas you can use for the wide variety of prompts:

1.    What are minimum of five values and strengths you are most proud of?

2.    What is one specific example or moment in your life that illustrates each one?

3.    What is the ONE thing that you want the interviewer (or college) to know and remember about you from each example?

Once you have done that, you will have a minimum of five different qualities that are special and unique about you and have an example that showcases each of them in a way that is specific and memorable! 

Yes, you will need to expand from there, depending on the particular question, but you’ve got a foundation that helps you to do that.  Each one of these can be utilized in a variety of different ways- from showcasing how you are positioned for a specific role in an organization to developing an answer to the various essay prompts and anything in between. 

Equipped with this super-power, not only will you no longer fear the question, you will eagerly embrace opportunities to hone your newly developed talent to tell people about YOU!



The "Business" of College Admissions

I recently attended a presentation on the changes in the college admission landscape over the last 50 years.  As you can imagine, much has changed from the 1970’s to 2017 but what really stood out for me is how college has truly become more like a "business". 

I have to admit, when I started as an educational consultant four years ago, I thought that it was my corporate cynicism that noticed many of the same yield management and data driven tactics we used in my former career being implemented by colleges but in fact, that is exactly what has happened.  Within the last few years, the “business of college” has grown to include the development of a variety of new companies all geared at helping colleges to figure out the best way to market to potential students in a more targeted, personal and engaging way.  Policy decisions are data and digital driven and provide information on everything from which application to use to how to maximize their yield management and revenue goals while providing an opportunity to admit a wide range of students that represent a diverse population.   


So what can we do about it?  Frankly, a LOT!  And colleges want to help you!! 

They want to remind you that if colleges are businesses then you are the potential customers, which means YOU have the advantage.  You don’t have to fall prey to the marketing myths that “if it's hard to get in, it must be good” or “if I don’t get in to ‘X’ college my life is over”.  They want to remind you that they know and have seen time and time again that what students get out of an education is based on their creating and taking advantage of all opportunities and that happens at colleges that aren’t on the Top 20 list of U.S. News and World Report.  They want you to visit or meet with a local representative so they can tell you what distinguishes them above and beyond being near the beach or having good food.  They encourage you to inquire about internships that work toward helping your child choose a career focus and providing more experiential learning opportunities.  

And most of all, they want you to know that they "get it".  They know that tuition has increased 139% in 30 years while family incomes only rose 16% during that same period and they know you’re looking at them like a business as well. That's why they are continuing to research and implement policy and programs that help them deliver a high impact student experience that justifies the ROI.  And, that’s why they want you to also know that while much has changed, there are many aspects of college that continue to remain the same:

  • That college provides the opportunity to interact with people from different backgrounds, customs and ideologies
  • That college teaches skills that are critical to our success in work and in life like critical thinking, creative problem solving and adaptability
  • That college provides us with experiences, friendships and connections that are lifelong

And, to remember that we have the freedom to choose where we go and the path we choose to get there. 


The Art of Achieving Balance

One of the elements that is almost universal in the conversations that I have with my students is their desire to achieve balance – between activities and school, between homework and fun AND between enjoying summer vacation AND maximizing extracurricular activities for college.

So how do we achieve “balance”? And what does that even mean? And is that even possible these days with the current “admissions frenzy” that sees no sign of decreasing? (short answer:  YES!  And even MORE important because of that!)

To begin, I looked at the literal dictionary definition of balance: "An even distribution, a condition in which different elements are equal". 

The first image that came to mind was a scale - two sides perfectly balanced. But is that even realistic? How long can it stay that way?  Once we add something to one side, it automatically becomes “unbalanced”, right?.  The only way to try to maintain equal balance is to keep adding things to each side.  Sound familiar?

In fact, chasing the idea of balance as “equal or even distribution” is what leads to over-scheduling and stress - the very thing we are trying to alleviate.

What if, instead of the image of a scale, balance was more like a lava lamp – gradually ebbing and flowing in a less definite and structured way.

Hmmmm, interesting.. go on!  Okay, I will and I did, and that led me to find a different definition of balance called “psychological balance” – where balance is defined based on one’s values and beliefs over time.

OMG!!! YES!!!  NOW we’re talking!!  Adding in values makes it less absolute and “equal” and more fluid and flowing, like a lava lamp.  The concept of “balance” as it relates to values and beliefs helps us much more easily understand not just what we do but WHY we prioritize the way we do and even provides a way to make the "should do's" into "want to do's". 

For example, one of my students was having trouble getting motivated studying for the SAT.  He knew it was something he “had to do”, but it wasn’t enough to get him to actually DO it.  He set aside time, scheduled it in, balanced it with other activities, and still it wasn’t getting done.  Enter “psychological balance” – and the introduction of values. I asked him which of his values he could apply to make it more fun, more of a game.  He told me that he had been thinking about studying with one of his friends and said he would be much more excited to study with a buddy, which brought in his value of collaboration. He also decided to set up weekly goals and mini-contests which fulfilled his value of competition AND made it a lot more FUN!

Using the lava lamp idea (once I explained to them what a lava lamp was!) and incorporating the use of values helped many of my students realize that they had a choice in how they could achieve a balance between work and fun that wasn't as rigid and allowed for varying circumstances throughout the year.  Their original plan had been to set aside a set amount of time for homework and then do something fun. But there would be times during the semester that were extremely challenging and the homework time increasingly ran over, limiting the “fun” time.  That’s when we looked at how they could incorporate their values INTO the homework, making the entire process more fun.  Rather than “equal distribution”, it was more of an “ebb and flow” idea.   

The art of achieving balance is no different than most things related to college planning.  The more we release the pressure, and incorporate our values and beliefs, the greater the opportunity to achieve balance.