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.   

UGH! 

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. 

 

"Gigging" in the New Economy

I’ve always loved the job title of:  writer/producer/director. Looking back, I know it was more about the idea of the multi-hyphenate description as opposed to the actual careers.  Being able to do three different things in one was exciting to me and something that stuck with me throughout my career in radio sales and management.  In reviewing the positions I held within each organization, they all provided the opportunity to do a variety of jobs under one title. 

That’s probably why I so relate to the gig economy. The term itself is rather new but the concept of “gigging” was coined in the 1920’s by jazz musicians as slang for a music “engagement” and was most commonly used in the music industry, until now. The term “gig economy” became prevalent after the economic crisis of 2009 as companies downsized and replaced full-time employees with part-time workers without benefits.  In the last eight years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has come to define a “gig” as "a project or task for which a worker is hired to work on demand in a project setting." It is prevalent in a variety of industries and represents a far greater section of the American workforce than just being an Uber drive.  In fact, a study by Intuit predicts that 40% of the American workforce will be independent contractors by 2020. 

Pardon the pun, but the “gig” economy is “music to the ears” of many students I work with and statistics bear this out. According to the book “Generation Z at Work:  How the Next Generation is Transforming the Workplace” over 75% are interested in having multiple roles within one place of employment.  The “multi-hyphenate” mindset is already part of how they think!

I recently attended a webinar on the subject and with each slide of information presented, I got more and more excited about all of the opportunities this represents for high school students as they plan for college and their future:

1.  It opens up how they choose their major. 

Next to “what college are you interested in”,  the most stress-producing question is “what are you going to major in?”.  For those that know and can confidently answer “Mechanical Engineering” or“International Studies” that’s great!!  For those that don’t know or are interested in a lot of different things (like I was) , it’s an opportunity to “multi-hyphenate" as a way to explore their choice of major.  One of my favorite questions to ask students is: “If you could design the ideal major that had everything in it you can imagine, what would it be called?” I love the answers that I receive and it opens up all kinds of discussions about finding majors areas of interest AND provides them with the confidence and excitement to enter college with an idea of what they’re interested in and open to the possibilities they have yet to discover.  This is supported by a 2016 statistic from World Bank, as quoted in The Economist that “of the more than one billion young people entering the global labor market over the next decade, only 40% will be working in jobs that currently exist”.

 

2.  It is in alignment with their goals of finding work that is project-based and that they are passionate about.

In the values exercise I do with my students, almost every single one of them share that they want to be involved in a job or work that they enjoy, that makes them happy, as this article suggests. Additionally, a recent article in the New York Times talked about the importance of "followers" in the workplace and in society.  Working in a gig economy requires many of these "follower", or "self-leadership" skills, like teamwork, time management and adaptability are the same ones that companies are looking for in their employees, as this article suggests.

 

3. It provides the skills, mindset and confidence to know that they can find work after college.

Whether or not your son or daughter chooses to directly become part of an industry that has already embraced the gig economy or prefers to look for a specific job, one of the advantages of cultivating this mindset is the opportunity for them to find work right after college.   A recent article in the Harvard Business Review talks about how cultivating the “gig economy” mindset is a way to get work upon graduation.  This gets graduates into the workforce and can lead to a job within a specific company and build their career.

The exciting part about "gigging" in the new economy are the multi-hyphenate opportunities for our children to prepare for and create a successful and meaningful future that is in alignment with what is important to them. 

The Road Not Even Attempted

One of my favorite things to do on college tours is to ask students if the college they’re attending was their first choice. When that happens, I pause for a second and wait for the statement I hear almost 100% of the time:  “and I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else”.   Such was the case this week as I interviewed a lovely young woman whose first choice was UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television and is happily thriving in her first year at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

If I was hiring for a company, and this was the only question I was allowed to ask, I would hire this young woman based solely on this one response, because I would know that she has the resilience to not only attempt challenging situations but to be able to recover from a difficult outcome and adapt her perspective to embrace the new opportunity.   

Over the last few years, resilience has become a corporate buzzword and is often described as one of the top qualities that companies should look for in hiring, as well as the quality responsible for creating a successful and happy work experience.  But resilience is much more than a corporate buzzword. Resilience is an important factor in how we handle any life situation, as well as the ones that we choose to tackle in the first place. It helps us to aim high and trust that what we learn from the process is just as valuable as the experience itself and provides information that will help us in future situations!

The first step in establishing resilience is the willingness to experience your emotions and being aware of how you’re feeling. Before we can “bounce back” from disappointment, sadness, or anger, we have to feel it first, a skill that is key in developing “Emotional Agility”, as described by Susan David in her book of the same name. 

David describes in this article, how experiencing emotions – not pushing them down, negating them or berating ourselves for having them - helps us to recognize that they are essential in providing feedback that strength the muscles of courage and adventure – which helps us to not only reach higher but dream BIGGER! 

The other part of resilience is adapting your perspective to embrace the new situation.  It is only when we are able to release the feelings around what was, that we are able to start to ask the questions that help change our perspective to be open to creating “what could be”

Which is exactly what this lovely young woman did.  You could hear her excitement as she talked about her experience at Syracuse– the sense of community, the beautiful snowy days, the neighborhood basement concerts and the bus on campus that took you into the city where there were amazing restaurants and open mike nights.

To borrow from Robert Frost’s famous quote, building that muscle of resilience is what helps us BEFORE we get to choosing “the road less traveled” so that we don’t miss or look back with regret on “the road we didn’t attempt at all”. 

 

Creating the college experience BEYOND the checklist!

There is nothing better than when I speak with my students after their first year of college and they tell me that they couldn’t imagine themselves anywhere else.  

There are very few “absolutes” in the way I work with them, but one of the things I insist on is that there are no “safety” schools on their list.  Now, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a varying range of colleges with different admission requirements and acceptance rates. What it means, is that each college listed is one that they could picture themselves going to and offers the criteria and experience that is important to them.

Most of the information that is presented on the tour, or in a college fair presentation, helps a student and their family learn more about how that the college matches up with the profile of what they are looking for:

Small class sizes – check!

Nice dorms, great places to eat – check!

Internships – check!

Statistics on graduating in 4 years– check!

Clubs, Greek Life – check!

Proximity to beach/mountains/hiking/skiing – check!

So why do some students come home from their first semester, or even their first year, feeling like they made a mistake or they’re not where they are supposed to be.

Part of it, is the sheer adjustment to college life and we’ll chat about that in a future post.

The other part, is that there is more to choosing a college than knowing it’s a good fit on paper, and that’s where the “coach-approach” comes in.  It helps go beyond the checklist in order to:

         Develop the experience that the student is looking for

         Provide a way for the student to be able to articulate that

         Continue to enhance and refine the criteria, based on new information

And a big part of this is setting up the expectation that this is an ongoing process.  Letting your child know that developing his college criteria will be executed over time also takes a lot of the pressure off of not having to “get it right the first time”.

Going beyond the initial checklist is similar to crafting an impactful essay.  It's not a “one and done” activity, but one that includes multiple drafts, where each effort is geared towards going deeper to provide more information that will result in an essay that truly represents the students’ unique voice. 

In working with my students, creating their college criteria is something that they start to do after their first meeting.  Each subsequent experience, whether it be a college tour or input from friends and family provides new information that is evaluated against the first "draft" and continues to be enhanced and refined until it is time to apply. 

So how can you go beyond the checklist with your child?  Here are 3 steps to help you get started:

1.  Establish the initial criteria - there are numerous websites, like this one, that will help to create a basic list of college criteria.  Don't worry if the list doesn't cover "everything".  Starting with a shorter list and building on that is actually much less overwhelming and invites more discussion and input.  

2.  Provide opportunities to evaluate the criteria - the key is to provide different ideas and ways to do this and let your child decide which they want to do.  Visiting college websites, taking a college tour, going to a college fair, talking to friends and relatives about their college experience are all great ways to get a stronger idea about what is important to them.

3.  Continue to enhance and refine, based on the input - ask them about their thoughts about what they heard.  Questions such as: "What about that sounded interesting"? or "How does that match with your initial criteria" encourages them to edit and enhance based on their initial list. 

Going beyond the checklist will help to make the college experience AND the journey getting there much more enjoyable - for your child AND for you!

 

 

 

 

 

Be a Pepper, Be YOU!

Did you know that Dr. Pepper was created in the 1880’s by Charles Alderton in Waco, Texas and to commemorate that fact, Baylor University has a long-standing tradition called "Dr. Pepper Hour" where each week, students, faculty and staff come together for a free Dr. Pepper float!!

I discovered this delightful tradition at a recent Regional Admissions Counselors Conference where fifty (50) colleges in attendance had the pressure-filled task of communicating in two minutes or less what made their university special and why students should consider them. 

Besides being an extremely interesting and informative event, it was a fantastic reminder about how the pressure of getting into the “best college” and the angst around getting “accepted” has skewed the focus away from the concept that the student actually gets to choose.   The brochures, the websites, the college fairs, the college tours are all designed with the purpose of communicating the college's unique “brand” so that the student is able to distinguish how well it matches up with the criteria that is important to them, and they can more easily imagine the type of experience they could create there.   

In Jeffrey Seligo's recent article in the Washington Post, he reminds us that "there are thousands of colleges in the U.S., and the vast majority of them accept far more applicants than they reject." Not to mention, these are the colleges that generally are more generous with financial aid. 

As I listened to Baylor’s presentation, I realized that THEY were the ones that felt the pressure of showcasing their personality and “brand” amongst the almost 200 colleges and universities in the state of Texas, many of them located in much bigger (and more desirable) cities than Waco. 

So how do we continue to shift the focus and pressure OFF of the students and back ONTO the colleges?

Two of the best ways to minimize stress in any situation is to feel that we have more opportunities and more time.  Whenever we feel that our options or our time is limited, it creates much more pressure. The more time we have and the earlier we start, the more options we can create, which leads to more choices, less pressure and ultimately less overwhelm and stress.   

But how do we create more time?  How early is "too early" to start. And doesn’t “college talk” in 8th grade create even MORE stress?

We create more time and less stress by starting early AND shifting the focus from the college to the student, by having them think about their personal brand – what makes them unique, why that is important to them and how they want to continue to develop that throughout high school. 

By definition, personal branding is the ongoing process of establishing an image or impression in the minds of others, with the key word being ONGOING! 

Starting to think about this in 8th grade versus 11th or 12th grade provides the time and the opportunity to lay the groundwork and make choices that will help them continue to build on that foundation. 

Asking questions like:

1.     What are five words you would use to describe yourself?

2.     Why did you choose those words? What about them matters to you?

3.     What are activities, friendships or classes that demonstrate that?

Helps your child to gain insight into their “brand” – their unique strengths and talents – and understand that they have the opportunity to choose how they want to change or enhance that through the choices they make in high school.  Most important, it takes the pressure off of feeling like the college is choosing them; that it is they who have the opportunity to choose the college and the pathway to get there, that maximizes their unique “brand”.   

In the words of Dr. Pepper: "Be You", continue to "build your brand" and you'll find there are many choices of colleges that provide a great fit!

Baylor probably knows that there are many people whose tastes don’t include Dr. Pepper, and that’s okay!  Because they DO know that the ones that ARE thrilled by the free Dr. Pepper floats are going to be a great fit for their university – and vice-versa!!

 

 

 

 


 

"Mastering" Our Opportunity To Perform

The Webster definition of mastery is“possession or display of a great skill or technique” and, as such, it can be applied to anything from playing a musical instrument to running a marathon, while the definition of performance is the “act or action of carrying out or accomplishing a task”.

What’s interesting is that the Webster definition of performance does not include judgment, yet we often evaluate our performance based on how well we did or didn’t do.   The difference between saying, “I completed the golf game” versus “I shot a 120 today – I performed poorly” is that when feedback is evaluated from a perspective of “good or bad” versus just information, it limits our opportunity to learn and grow from the experience.

The shift in focus from performance to mastery is not new and has been utilized in a variety of industries. It is the equivalent of a golfer concentrating on his swing or a swimmer working on his stroke.  It is the difference between making a small change in our eating habits and “mastering” that behavior versus judging our performance based solely on the numbers on the scale.  The concentration on mastery of a skill or technique and building on that provides the motivation and momentum to create performance that is long-term and sustainable.

This concept can be utilized in all aspects of college planning, from standardized test prep to time management. Focusing on a goal of “mastery” helps to lessen stress and overwhelm which increases our ability to learn, enhances our propensity to stay motivated, and ultimately impacts our overall performance long-term.

I had the opportunity to implement this with one of my students who was having difficulty with time management.  He was staying up anywhere from 11pm to 1:00am each evening and having a hard time staying awake in class, let alone getting up in the morning.  Each week, he set out a performance goal of “getting seven hours of sleep a night” and each night that he didn’t do that, he felt frustrated and discouraged.   I asked him whether he performed better at night or in the morning and he said that he actually was fresher in the morning.  I also asked him if he had any time during school to study and he said that he did have a break in 2nd period, but he was always so exhausted, he couldn’t maximize that opportunity. 

So we tried an experiment.  I asked him to focus on stopping whatever he was working on by 11:00pm He could go to sleep and wake up whenever he wanted, but he had to stop working at 11:00pm.  The focus was on mastering this technique of a “stop-time”, versus the pressure of achieving the performance goal of getting 7 hours of sleep.   He agreed to do that for a week and observe what happened. 

Within a week, he had absolutely “mastered” that goal.  Knowing that he had to stop at 11:00pm, he managed his time each evening so that he got done what he needed to and if he didn’t, the awesome part was that he had a good six and a half hours sleep each night, which gave him more energy during the day.  He experimented on the “mastery” of that skill and altered his “stop-time” from 11:00pm to 10:30pm to see what happened.  By the end of the month, he had achieved his performance goal and was sleeping seven hours a night.  The best part, is when he realized how this “mastery process”, as he called it, could be utilized in other areas of his life!

When a student is able to complete the “action of carrying out the task” whether it be time management, developing their college list, visiting colleges or writing their essay AND utilize the awareness and knowledge they gain from the “mastery” of the skills, techniques and tools they used in the process, this creates the confidence and resilience that will impact performance throughout their life!

Which is truly the definition of “mastering the opportunity”!

 

"What we see, depends on what we are looking for"

I was on a group call the other day and the facilitator asked us to turn away from our computers and for the next minute, notice all the items in the room that were black.

The fireplace screen, the picture frames, my shoes on the floor, I made a mental note of everything I could find in the family room in one minute.  When we turned back around she said to us, “okay, now tell me everything you saw in the room that was……BLUE".  The reactions from the participants were everything from laughter to dismay.  “What!  I only looked for items that were black, I didn’t look for the blue items – you didn’t tell me to do that”.

And, with that one-minute exercise, she beautifully demonstrated how our perspective influences what we notice, what we DON’T notice, and ultimately, has an effect on the choices we make.

Our perspective, our “lens”,  is influenced by our beliefs, our interpretations and our assumptions from our collective experiences.  For example, if we touch a hot stove and get burned, we know not to do that again.  But most experiences we have aren’t so clearly right or wrong or good or bad.  And these are the opportunities to learn and grow and open up our perspective to include a broader view.

I was recently talking with a student about including community college as one of his pathways and he wouldn’t even consider it.   His belief was that students who go to community college have no other option.  They were the students who don’t work hard or care about their future.   I shared with him how I’ve been privileged to work with so many bright and hard-working students who began their college career at a community college and who are now attending or have graduated from colleges like UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and USC, to name a few recent examples.  Their wide-angle lens saw community college as the ideal pathway to achieve their goals.

Upon hearing this new “interpretation” and combining that with viewing it through the perspective of his values, he was able to open his lens a little wider to include this new “pathway”, which lessened his overall stress and helped him perform better throughout high school and in completing his applications.

There are so many examples of how our beliefs, assumptions and interpretations can limit our choices when it comes to college planning – from relying solely on rankings by U.S. News and World Report to not choosing a certain class or activity based on past experience.

The opportunity is to not let one experience become the “lens” with which we view all other events.  Failing a class, not making a team, missing out on the lead in the school play – all of these are opportunities to use the experience as feedback for how you want to approach the situation differently next time.  One event, or a few people need not form our beliefs, interpretations and assumptions.  By expanding what we are looking for, and using a wide-angle lens, we are able to  see ALL of the items in the family room – not just the ones someone tells us to look for. 


 

 

"Go to college, go directly to college.....or not"

Thanks to google, you can find information on anything you need, immediately condensed into a “top 10 list” or a "5 question survey" to help you figure it out.  It’s great when you know what you’re looking for and why you need it. 

But, what about when you have no idea?   A handy quiz or survey may help narrow things down, but it may also provide frustration and disappointment if the answers don’t exactly fit. 

Which is especially true if you're a teen on the precipice of graduating high school, trying to  decide “the rest of your life” or “who you are” or “what you want to be, or do”.

The pathways that most students follow are that of going straight from high school to a 4 year college. Some may go to community college for two years and then transfer, or take a year off before doing so, but the eventual path is attending a 4 year college, whether it is directly or indirectly.  Even the Gap Year, which is gaining more popularity, is seen as an “alternative” path,  outside of the norm.

In tackling the big questions of "the rest of your life",  it may seem easier to have someone just tell us what to do: "go to college, go directly to college, do not pass go!".   Sometimes it feels easier to have only a few options, so that we don’t have to think about it or deal with it and we can move on to the next thing.  But what if we are trying to figure out WHAT the next thing is? And what if the available options just don’t seem to fit?  That can bring up even more questions and doubts, like "why doesn't this option fit" or worse "what's wrong with me that it doesn't?" (Answer:  NOTHING is wrong with you!)

In Jeffrey Selingo’s book,  “There is Life After College”,  he talks about how this traditional pathway from high school to college to job to house to family has been ingrained in our culture since post-World War II, over 70 years ago! That would be the technological equivalent of still using a rotary phone instead of your smart phone – which isn’t even possible anymore! 

I remember when I was first coming up with the name of my business. My ideal name would have been “pathways to life after high school” because my mission was to help teens understand that there is no “one size fits all” and that there are multiple pathways to explore and create your destination.  Because when you remove the limits, and “go big”, it takes away the stress and the pressure which helps to more easily explore and create all sorts of opportunities and possibilities!  THEN you have the foundation to build the individual pathway that works best!

What does that look like?  My favorite example is a student who finished high school and definitely was not excited about spending the next four years attending classes that he didn’t enjoy in high school.  He had no idea what he wanted to do for “the rest of his life” and didn’t want to spend the money or the time “browsing” through classes in the hopes of finding his “a ha” moment of discovery.  Even the idea of breaking it down into attending community college first did not appeal to him. He was a “doer” and learned best from having actual experiences, rather than studying about them.  Yet the idea of a Gap Year program was not only too expensive, he felt like he needed to figure out who he was and what was important to him to engage in one of the programs. "If I’m going to spend a ton of money working with the ecossystem in South America, I want to know for sure that this is close to what I want to do with my life."  Agreed!

So, in order to figure out where he wanted to go, we began with the premise that it would be more inspiring and more fun to figure out how he wanted to get there. 

We started with these questions:  

“What would the ideal program be for someone who graduated high school, had no idea what they wanted to do, but absolutely knew they didn’t want to sit in a classroom”?

“If you were designing the  program – what elements would it contain?  How would you structure it?

I’m not saying we came up with the answers overnight. It took a while, because after 12 years of classroom training, where students are mostly encouraged to follow a specific pathway and rewarded by staying within a structured curriculum, the opportunity to go beyond reality doesn’t come up very often.  But once that barrier was lifted and the limits were off, we got pretty creative.

Just as college is divided into semesters or quarters, he is dividing the year into 4 quarters.  Each quarter, he is going to pick four different job/career areas that he is interested in learning more about and he is going to devote that quarter to taking “classes” in that area.  Classes can be accomplished through conducting informational interviews with people in the profession, getting a paid job or internship working in that area, or getting an unpaid internship in that area and getting a job in a related field to finance his “quarter”.  We’re in the process of creating the structure and execution, but the most exciting part, is that this is HIS pathway, and supports HIS strengths of “learning by doing”.  It helps him to continue to explore and discover his interests, and provides forward momentum!  It’s a total win/win for his parents too – because not only is he contributing to supporting himself, he is also going to be learning valuable workplace skills and tools that will serve him now and in the future!

He may very well choose to go to college,  but the difference is that he will be choosing to do so with more clarity and focus as to what he wants to accomplish and why it is important to him, and he will have created his own unique pathway to get there!

 

 

 

"You can't win if you don't play"

One of the simplest and most straight-forward advertising messages out there is the one for the lottery:  "You can't win if you don't play".   It is a great slogan and SO true.  Are the odds of winning ridiculous?  Yes.  But one thing is for certain – without buying a ticket, your odds of winning are very easy to calculate – zero!

With the upcoming FAFSA date of October 1st fast approaching, this is a great time to apply the same logic.  While depending on your financial situation, the amount of need-based aid may be little, one thing is for certain.  If you don’t fill out the form, your chance of receiving any federal need-based aid is easy to calculate – zero!

That’s why I am dedicating this month’s blog to making it as easy as possible for you to get the answers and information you need so you can complete the FAFSA on October 1st.  Here are the top 5 places to start:

1. The FAFSA website:  This is where you begin the process.  The new 2017-2018 FAFSA will be available beginning October 1st, 2016.

2. The FAFSA FAQ guide:  This downloadable pdf is a one-sheet that provides answers to the most FAQ for the new FAFSA cycle.  Download and keep handy.

3. YouTube videos like these: We know that YouTube is awesome for cute cat videos, but did you know that you can find all sorts of resources that will help you complete the FAFSA.  These are just two of many videos that are available.  Make sure that you put "2017-2018 FAFSA" in the search, so you get the most current information.

4. The financial aid offices of the colleges that you are applying to are also great resources.  Start by looking up the office of student financial aid on the college website, where you will most likely find a FAQ sheet that relates to the college specifically AND the FAFSA in general.  This one and this one were two of many I found, so check out the colleges you are applying to and see what information they have on their website. 

5. The website finaid.org provides a plethora of information and this specific link answers questions about eligibility, as well as other financial aid questions. There is a reason that most of the financial aid information websites contain the name Mark Kantrowitz. He is one of the leading experts on financial aid and the creator of FinAid, as well as the publisher of Fastweb and Cappex

Okay!  You're now ready to get started!

And, don’t forget!  Once you’ve completed the FAFSA, go out and purchase a lottery ticket!!  You never know!!

 

Dazed and Confused

You know the quote “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger”?  If that is indeed true, then the college admissions and application process will make all of us invincible!

This year, in particular,  there are changes in almost all parts of the process, from the different applications that are available to the early deadline for the FAFSA. 

So here is my list of the Top 3 Changes in the Fall 2017 Admissions Process:

1.     New personal insight questions for the UC applications

This year, the personal statement has been replaced with the personal insight questions.  Students have the opportunity to choose four (4) out of the eight (8) to questions to answer. 

What this means, is that the student has more of an opportunity to showcase who they are in areas of leadership, academic passion, creativity or any other area they choose.  It also means that they need to be able to express that in a succinct and focused way, as each short answer question requires only 350 words.  For more information, click here

2.     A new application – the Coalition Application

A new group called the Coalition for Access and Affordability chose to create an entirely new application.  

I’ll leave it to you, for now, to read more about them, but suffice it to say that as with anything new, there are going to be “kinks” to work out, and it will be more confusing before they accomplish one of their primary goals, which is to make it easier for students to apply.

As an example, Wake Forest, a new Coalition member college, now has FOUR different ways to apply:  Coalition Application, Common Application, their own application and through CFNC – or College Foundation of North Carolina. 

There are currently 94 member colleges of the Coalition, and as of last count only 56 are taking the application this year and 38 are waiting it out until next year. 

What this means, is that it is more important than ever to double and triple check the admission requirements of each college you are applying to so you can decide what application will be best to use for your individual needs.

3.     New FAFSA deadline and PPY (Prior, prior year)

You will now be able to submit the FAFSA starting on October 1st, 2016, instead of January 1st, 2017.  The earlier submission date also means that the tax information required will be from 2015, as in prior prior year.   One of the overall goals for this new deadline is for families to receive feedback from colleges on financial aid closer to the same time that college acceptances are sent out, so that they are able to include this information into their overall decision-making process much earlier. 

What this means, is that state deadlines as well as those of each individual college will also be impacted so it is important to be super vigilant as to how this all ties together and make sure that you check the deadlines on the college website and ask the college how the earlier FAFSA deadline will effect when financial aid will be awarded.  Many colleges have already moved up their priority admissions deadlines so that they can make decisions earlier to coincide with this new federal FAFSA date.  

While there is much more that is part of the overall admissions process, these are the three overall changes that affect the most number of applicants.

I often hear from my clients that one of the things they appreciate Is that with all they have on their plates, it is great to have someone who can weed through the huge amount of information out there and find what they need that is relevant for their specific situation to guide them through the process.

My hope is that this post helps you feel more informed and knowledgeable and a little less dazed and confused. 

All right, all right, all right….!

 

 

 

 

 

College Experience or College Regret

I’ve been a subscriber to Consumer Reports for longer than I can remember.  They have always been my “go to” source for confirming the reliability of a product or service and the final say in validating my purchases from washing machines to waffle makers, as they do not accept advertising and remain independent of corporate influence. 

So I was thrilled when I saw that Consumer Reports had dedicated their August 2016 issue to student debt and surveyed over 1,500 Americans to get information that they could use to educate the public and bring about reform.   

Student debt has certainly been something that has been talked about for several years but the “crisis proportions” it has reached and its impact on multi-generations has exponentially increased its presence in the media.

Of the many facts and figures contained in the various articles in the issue, one of the more disturbing quotes that I read was that “45% of people with student loan debt said that college wasn’t worth it”.

I'll admit, my initial reaction to this quote was to curl up in a ball in the fetal position or down an entire pint of my favorite Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream.  Regret feels like such a sad emotion, full of lost opportunity and unfulfilled experiences,  but it doesn’t have to be.  Instead, regret can be the opportunity to look at what was done before and use the information to choose a different path.  

The results of the survey and the information shared in this article provide the chance to ask questions that help to create a different plan - one that yields more optimistic results for your children’s college experience and your family’s financial future.  

Below are five key questions that you can ask your child that encourage them (and you) to consider the financial aspect up front in their overall college planning:

1.  How can I create a plan so that I can graduate and know that college was worth it for me?

2.  What will create a worthwhile experience for me academically, socially, financially (in terms of overall college cost)?

3.  What are all of the financial options that are available to me? 

4.  What amount of debt am I comfortable with post-college?

5.  What college(s) will best help me to maximize my overall goals and minimize my debt?

Notice that these questions do not assume that there is one best way.  There are many examples of students who graduate with large student loan debt and manage that extremely well.  The key, is that they PLAN for this up front and understand what is involved, as opposed to students who made financial aid decisions without obtaining any help or had no knowledge of what they got themselves into.

Taking the time to explore and discover the answers to these questions help students and their families to think about the overall outcomes and intention they want to achieve academically, socially,  emotionally and financially – which turns college regret into a successful college experience!

 

The 5 Key Skills for Success Your High Schooler Needs Now

I recently attended a symposium that was conducted by the IECA entitled “Future Trends in College Admissions”.  The first hour of the panel consisted of questions posed to Deans of Enrollment and Admissions at some of the top private west coast colleges on all subjects from rising tuition to the new coalition application.  What was interesting, was that no matter what the topic or question, each and every panelist continued to emphasize their concern about two main topics: 

1.  The increasing amount of anxiety and stress surrounding college preparation and the application process

2.  The importance of college readiness in achieving success in college and post-college

And, when they described college readiness, not one of them talked about technical skills (with the exception of strong writing), but instead focused on the student being able to possess the following key skills:  the ability to make decisions, navigate challenges on their own, resolve conflict, and ability to grow and gain self-awareness! 

Hearing this made me fired up and even MORE resolved to do what I do and HOW I do it!   And I’m not alone!

Julie Lythcott-Haims talks about this in her book “How To Raise An Adult” and on her website,  when she makes observations about self-awareness like:  “Teens and young adults can speak of what they've accomplished, but not about who they are".    

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about the technical aspects of college planning like preparing ahead,  making a plan and starting early to figure out what colleges may be a good fit.  It is just SO much more productive and effective – both in the short term AND long term – when it is done from the well-rounded perspective of integrating the technical skills that need to be done with the "soft skills" that are needed to prepare young adults for college AND workplace readiness.

So what can we do about it?  How can we help our children learn and grow from their experiences and develop the skills and tools that will help them in college, in the workplace and in life? How can we do this while also minimizing the overwhelm and stress associated with college preparation?

From a coach-centric perspective, the first step is the awareness.  The second step is continuing to promote that awareness. These are huge issues, ones that myself and others have written about and will continue to do so.

My focus today is on the importance of “soft skills.  Now that we are aware that there is a need to learn and practice these “soft skills” earlier and often, and the importance of mastering these for college and especially in the workplace, this can lead to the outcome we wish to achieve, which is providing our children with the opportunity to build and strengthen that foundation in high school and in planning for college.

I took a representative sampling from career websites, employer websites,  publications like Fast Company and Forbes, as well as Jeffrey Selingo’s latest book “There Is Life After College”.  In almost every case, these were the top 5 skills that came up:

1.     Communication Skills – including the ability to speak up, to ask questions, to be curious and to be open to learning 

2.     Adaptability – including having a flexible mindset, being able to handle “curve balls” and to think on your feet

3.     Creative problem solving – including the ability to analyze a situation and make decisions quickly and without supervision

4.     Conflict management – including the ability to work in teams, to relate to people, to accept and give feedback that is constructive AND to realize failure is part of the learning process

5.     Being detail-oriented - including organization and time management

What does that look like as a parent?  How do we support without rescuing? In contrast to the “helicopter parent” described in “How To Raise An Adult”, one of the Deans of Enrollment suggested the model of the “submarine parent”: The submarine parent is one who cruises along, under water, below the surface, at a safe distance away from the student and pops up occasionally to look around, and let the student know that they are there if they need them, BUT lets the student do the work.  This empowers them to take ownership of the process and gain confidence and self-esteem, knowing they can handle things on their own. It’s about taking a step back so they are able to step up and know that they have the skills and tools to do so!

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Feel free to write your comments below, or on my Facebook page 

Or better yet, please share this if you agree!!!

 

Happy Independence Day to all! 

 

 

Warning: May Contain Overuse of Disclaimers

Did you know that there is a website where this guy put together one of the largest and longest list of disclaimers  - 687 of them!!

Don’t ask me how I even found that site. 

Or, what compelled me to sit and read each and every one.  I was mesmerized!

Of ALL of the disclaimers listed, probably the one that stood out for me is: “Individual results may vary”.

“Why that one”, you might ask.  And I think the reason it appeals to me is because, as a coach, I look at this disclaimer as recognizing that every single person has the opportunity to experience a difference outcome JUST by the very nature of who they are as an individual. 

They also have the possibility of creating and influencing their individual results just by HOW they choose to approach the outcome and WHY they made that choice!

Plus, if there EVER was a place to include the disclaimer “Individual results may vary”, it is with the use of college search websites.

There are a plethora of websites out there, so just figuring out which one(s) you want to use needs to include the disclaimer “May cause dizziness”, so let’s start with this link.  

I also recently featured this list on my facebook page (which is another resource I provide to minimize dizziness and help you sort through the massive amount of information out there!) 

One of the websites included in this list that I use with many of my students is niche.com, which has lots of statistics, as well as student reviews and grades for most aspects of college student life.

However, the reason this website is particularly applicable to our "Individual results may vary" disclaimer, is that the information is written by students, which means that it is based on each person’s “individual results” and their perspective. 

Plus, the difference in maximizing this website can vary widely based on a student’s understanding of what they are looking for in a college experience and why it is important to them.

A recent scenario comes to mind.  I was working with a student who listed amongst their criteria that "a school that did not have a big party scene" was a priority. 

At first glance, as they were reviewing the college, the overall grade that the school received was a B, but upon further evaluation, using this student’s criteria, we found that the college's overall grade was based on part on their lack of partying and Greek life, while scoring well in academics – EXACTLY what this student was looking for!  They were able to maximize their use of this website AND the “negative" disclaimer in this case was a HUGE positive for the student! 

Even choosing which of the ten websites to use may need the disclaimer:  "Caution: May cause drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, or blurred vision",  so I recommend breaking it down into more manageable steps and starting with these two: Cappex  and Chegg.  Once you get an idea of which colleges you are interested in and why, you can move to the websites that provide the more individualized discussion and feedback,  as a way to confirm your own already developed opinions and ideas.

I hope that this information provides a place for you to start!  Let me know your thoughts!

And, above all,  in working with your children on any and all aspects of college planning, it is great to apply the disclaimer of:

“Some humor included”

 

 

Where you go is DEFINITELY not who you are or who you WILL be!

Each year, there are admission results that seem mind-boggling but THIS year seems to have been one of the most random and unpredictable – so much so, that it is making national headlines.

Not surprisingly, one of the results of such randomness is trying hard to figure out what can be done to “outthink” the colleges and how to start college planning even earlier so that one can craft an admissions profile that will guarantee acceptance into that “dream” college.

At the risk of sounding like a Grinch at Christmas, let me save you a ton of time:

There are no guarantees or magic extracurricular resume formulas that guarantee acceptance

There is no PERFECT essay formula that automatically gets you into an Ivy League college

Transferring to a lower-performing high school so that you rank higher will not insure that you get into your college of choice

Here’s why.  Colleges are businesses and it is to THEIR advantage to get as many applications as possible, as early as possible.  Think about filling the slots at a college in much the same way you think about filling airlines seats or hotel rooms.  It is based on an inventory system called “yield management”.   We even used this when I was in the radio business to maximize our commercial sales.

The yield in college admissions is the percentage of students who choose to enroll in a particular college after having been offered admission. It is calculated by dividing the number of students who choose to enroll at a school, by the number of offers of acceptance and multiplying by one hundred. (Source: Wikipedia.org). A higher yield indicates greater interest in enrolling at a particular college or university.

Colleges use this for marketing and recruitment purposes and it has led to the frenzy that has been escalating over the last 5-10 years. 

It could very well be one of the reasons that early action and early decision was created.  Just like in hotels and airlines and radio commercials,  the earlier that they know how many seats are filled or spots are taken, the easier it is for them to plan, right?

And the effect, is that more applications are submitted to way more colleges (some of which are just submitted to “cover all the bases”), which actually decreases the opportunities for other students AND creates higher stress and anxiety for students and their families, as this article describes.

Happily, what often happens when a situation like this reaches a fever pitch is that people start to take notice and look at ways to impact the system, as Frank Bruni, Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times and best-selling author,  describes in his article in January - interestingly, written even BEFORE this season's random and unpredictable acceptance period over the last several months.

BUT, as this Dean of Admissions points out in her Op-Ed piece in the New York Times – it takes a change in the system AND a change in how we REACT to it. 

Imagine if an airline or hotel USED selectivity in marketing and advertising?  And U.S. News and World Report and Forbes then wrote articles like “Top 5 hotels in the country that are the most selective to get into”.

A few people would be more motivated to try to stay there, for sure, but the rest of us would probably say “that’s okay, I’ll just stay somewhere else”.

And that is exactly what you can do with the college process.  You can not give in to the pressure and the hype.  You can guide your children to prepare in a way that helps them say: “Based on what I know I want from a college experience and why - I know that any of these 6 schools are ones that I would be happy at”.  Basically, to paraphrase the title of Frank Bruni's book, -  knowing that where you go to college is NOT who you are or who you will become!

Which means, the emphasis during the college planning process, can be more fun, less stressful and much more about continuing to figure out who you are, what you want and WHY!

Instead of trying to put together a resume that you think a certain college wants to see, you can continue to build your extracurricular resume based on your strengths, interests and passions - and trying NEW things, so that you can EXPAND on who you are and what you love.

Instead of trying to follow the "perfect formula for the Ivy-League essay", you can put your energy into writing an essay that rounds out your overall application profile by sharing who you are, what is unique and special about you and lets the colleges get to know you and why you'd make an impact there. 

And instead of jumping from high school to high school so that you can be at the head of the class, you can spend time cultivating friendships and relationships with peers and teachers that will create a lifetime of memories and support you to stretch yourself. 

The more you spend time developing who you are and what you want to be, the easier it will be to find multiple colleges that will help you to grow and build on that and offer many opportunities for you to design your future!!

I'd love to hear from you!  What do you think about the current situation in college admissions?  What is your family's "go to" strategy for staying out of the admissions frenzy?

 

 

 

Navigating the College Fair - the journey AND the destination

There are so many quotes about planning ahead and the importance of doing so.  I am a big believer in having a plan, and I am also a believer in having a designated OUTCOME you want to achieve.  These are very different, in my mind, because a plan is the steps or coordinates to get you there and the outcome is the destination – where you want to end up.

For example, let’s say you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon.  The plan you put together and the route you take and how it all unfolds may vary a bit, but knowing that this is where you want to end up helps you to course-correct and even create room in your plan if “things go astray”.

And, like planning a trip, I am a firm believer that this strategy works extremely well in college planning and especially when it comes to attending a college fair. 

WHY?  Because if you have no idea where you want to end up, you could find yourself wandering around aimlessly, with a bored, surly, frustrated teenager, who ends up more overwhelmed than when they walked in. 

Plus, creating a plan helps the student develop skills and tools for the future AND get more excited and take ownership of the college planning process.

Here's a 3-step process to follow for navigating the college fair:

A.  “Begin with the end in mind”:  have an idea of what you want to accomplish by attending – what you want for your outcome.  Is your child a sophomore and this is their first college fair?  If so, it can be overwhelming. Thinking about what, specifically, they want to get out of it can help create the game plan.  For example,  maybe they want to develop an initial list of colleges they are interested in.  In fact, breaking that down into a more specific goal helps them know they achieved a successful outcome and “reached their destination”, like “I want to have an initial list of 15 colleges that I’m interested in by the time we leave tonight”. 

Side note:  the more specific the outcome, the easier it will be to celebrate the accomplishment AND plan for distractions.  This way, when your child asks if they can “go off with their friends”, the answer isn’t yes or no, it is based on if the outcome was achieved.  You can ask a question like “have you found 15 colleges that are interested in”?  And at that point, your child can make a choice about how they want to proceed – by continuing to look for colleges with their friends or by completing the outcome and then meeting them later.

B.  Create a game plan based on the desired outcome: have your child decide how they want to accomplish said outcome and what is most important for them to complete.  This allows them to take into account the way the event is being executed and how to maximize their time.  For example, with over 200 booths and hundreds of students they may want to concentrate on colleges that are furthest away and least likely to be able to visit.   This may also help them to begin to create their criteria – like “I will focus on colleges on the East Coast” or “I know I don’t want to travel further than 3 hours by plane”.

C.  Do a debrief and set up one next step: have a quick discussion when you get home about their thoughts and come up with one action item they can accomplish over the next week to continue the great work they did!   For example, they may decide to research the colleges and find 10 things they love about them, based on their discussion with the college rep or find 5 colleges that are similar to those schools to increase their list. 

To find a college fair near you, you can click on this link.  The NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) is on the road throughout the country, in Spring and again the Fall. 

And, I encourage you to check your local high school(s) or districts, as they may be putting on their own version, as the San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) is doing:

It’s been said that “life is about the journey, not the destination”.  And it has also been said that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.   As a coach, I believe it can be both, especially when it comes to the overall college process.  When it comes to college readiness, the planning and preparation is as important as the application process.

Creating a vision of the outcome helps the student begin to take ownership of their future and creating a plan helps them develop skills and tools to get them there that they can use now, in college and for their future!

What are your “go to” strategies for navigating college fairs?  I’d love to hear your ideas! Or, let me know how this "roadmap" works for your college fair journey!

 

 

 

The overwhelm of "Overchoice"

Overchoice, according to Wikipedia, is a term describing a cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options. The term was first introduced by Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book, Future Shock.

This term was coined over 45 years ago, far ahead of its time,  and has exponentially increased, in part due to the tremendous amount of  technological advancements we’ve experienced since then.

 “Overchoice”  or “choice overload” can be part of any big decision but in the world of a high school student it doesn’t get much bigger than entering into the college planning process.

Many of my students have shared with me that while they were extremely excited about college and being able to make their own decisions about what classes they were able to take, it was also terrifying.  They realized that their entire school career up til now was basically ALL planned out for them.  Each decision was based on “getting into college”.  Each class led to the next class.  Standardized tests were taken to get good scores for college.  There was a structured, mostly inflexible path that they had been following with respect to their academic career.  “What if I make the wrong choice” was the predominant question they asked me.

In fact, it is this fear of making the wrong choice that often contributes to shutting down and feeling stuck.  Seemingly simple questions like “What college do you want to go to” and “What are you majoring in” can open up a Pandora’s box of choice overload because what you are really asking teens is “Who are you” and “What do you want”.   These questions are difficult enough for an adult, let alone teenagers grappling with  major life choices for their future that, for the most part, have been answered for them by following the structured pathway of “pre-college preparation”.   

The great news, and YES, there is great news,  is that the college planning process is a fantastic opportunity to learn skills and tools that build a foundation that will help your children throughout college as well as throughout their entire lives! “Who am I” and “What do I want” are foundational questions that come up during numerous times of transition in our lives from choosing your first career to becoming an empty nester to planning retirement.

And, as with any big decisions, the best way to start is to diffuse the stress, so you can start to think in a more creative, solution-oriented way.

Here is a 3-step process you can use – both for your teen AND for you:

1.       Think about a decision you made that you are proud of – or you feel worked out well.  

2.       Describe the situation.  How did you handle it?  What did you do well?

3.       List all of the things you just described that you did well and that you liked about what you did.  How can you use these things to help you with the decision or choice you are making?

When we get into overwhelm, we tend to think about all that can go wrong, so thinking about what we’ve already done well is a great way to quickly restore confidence.  It also shows your teen that they ALREADY have the ability to make a good decision.   

And, once the stress is lifted and they realize that they already HAVE the superpower of making good decisions, they are able to think much more creatively and come up with ideas and solutions for the choice at hand!  Try it the next time you have a difficult decision to make!

As a coach, I have the tremendous joy and honor of helping my students to build these skills and tools as part of their college planning and application process! 

I love to watch the spark of excitement in my student’s eyes as they begin to take ownership of the process and build their “choice-muscle”. 

A favorite story is one of my students who was frustrated at being asked “What are you majoring in” at family gatherings.  The holidays were coming up and she realized that the enormity of the question was what was causing her to completely shut down.  After going through the exercise above, she realized that she had many opportunities where she had made decisions that she was proud of and knew that she would continue to do so.  And that college would be a wonderful way to continue to discover information that would help her to know the answer to that question, as well as many others!

Diffusing the stress also helped her to creatively come up with her answer to:  “What are you majoring in”  that she used at family gatherings and upcoming holiday parties:  “I’m in the process of discovering that” she would happily tell friends and relatives and the best thing is that she totally was!!