Biggest Lessons from 2018, and what you need to know if you’re applying to college in the next few years. (That’s you, high school sophomores and juniors!)

I love looking back at the year, and thinking about everything that has happened. Appreciating the good moments, learning from the tough lessons, and really just feeling grateful for all the opportunities I have in my life.

The college admissions landscape has changed. From parents, who applied to college in the 90’s, to even myself and the students I help. It is now a completely different process compared to what it was just a few years ago.

But you already know that. Of course it’s different - it’s now online, students are applying to 8, 10, 12 schools each, it’s insanely competitive and tremendously expensive (not just the tuition, but the applications themselves!)

Today, I want to share with you a list of 5 lessons you NEED to know if you are applying to college in the next few years.

1) College Fit is the MOST important, and any school you’re applying to needs to ‘fit’.

You already know what college ‘fit’ is, so I won’t dive too deep into it. It’s whether or not a school fits the students vision and goals for their college experience. Students need to start making their college list early, research a TON, visit the school and speak to an alumni or current student to know whether the school fits their personality and goals. (Yes, that’s a lot of work, but college is an investment worth 4 years and THOUSANDS of dollars!)

There is no use in applying to schools that don’t ‘fit’ the student. Don’t apply to schools just because they ‘fit’ your mother, your brother, your sister or your friend. You will waste time (on the application), money (on the application, and on credits that don’t transfer when you finish the first semester and realize you can’t stand to go back), and put yourself through a whole lot of hassle that you could have avoided by doing your research ahead of time.

2) Any school you apply to is going to be competitive.

These days, it’s not just the Ivy Leagues that are competitive. To secure a spot in any school is an incredible feat, whether you’re applying to Yale, MIT, UNC or Colgate. There are simply more students submitting applications than there are spaces at college (and it doesn’t help that with the Common App, students can apply to many schools at a time).

Students need to realize that all schools are competitive, and prepare themselves for that. They need to prepare the BEST possible application, that highlights their personality, strengths, perspectives and what LIGHTS them up inside (their passion!). They also need to prepare mentally by having a clear plan A, B, C, and D, and understand that getting deferred/rejected is not the end of the world - it simply means that that wasn’t the school for them, because things always work out the way they’re supposed to in the end.

3) Recommendation Letters are more important than ever before.

In a time when every student has exceptional GPA and standardized test scores, has volunteered 100+ hours, and has an incredible Stand Out Factor (I’ll talk about this next), schools are relying more and more on Letters of Recommendation to understand who a student is, and how they can contribute to the culture at their college.

Getting accurate and complete letters of recommendation from teachers and coaches is a skill. Students need to provide them with brag sheets of SPECIFIC examples and qualities, and ask the recommenders to speak to those aspects. Generic letters with no specificity will do you no good, and with Admissions Committees putting so much value into them, Students need to make sure they’re asking the right people, and giving them the information they need to paint a clear picture of their experiences and personality.

4) Having a Stand Out Factor is the ONLY way to Stand Out

Reading that title, you may have thought… well, duh.

Like I mentioned in lesson number 3, there are so many high-achieving students competing for the same schools. If every student has a high GPA and perfect standardized test scores, and all sorts of extra-curriculars (I’ll talk about that next), how can schools differentiate from one student to the next? With 500 applications all looking the same, what will make your child’s stand out from the rest?

The answer? Finding what LIGHTS your child up inside, and exploring it broadly and deeply. Learn everything you can learn about it, take on a huge goal, turn it into an incredible accomplishment, and make it something your own.

This could be anything. The key here is to find something that the student is truly PASSIONATE about (and I hate using that word, college applicants overuse it the most), and show that they love it so much that they’re willing to do anything and everything to become better at it, and know everything about it.

Examples? These include things like writing a book or a play, hosting a charity event or fundraiser, starting a volunteer organization, or building an app.

Focusing on one thing, the one thing that you love talking about and can’t stop thinking about, and focus on that one thing only. Don’t just say you’re passionate about something - prove it.

5) Narrow down your extra-curriculars - quality over quantity!

This one is kind of an extension of number 4…

It’s better to focus on one thing and become exceptional at it, than to try to do everything and spread yourself so thin that you’re doing things you can’t do well, or that you simply don’t have time to do well.

It doesn’t do any good for a student to volunteer at an animal shelter, and at a hospital, and also read to underprivileged kids and tutor elementary school students and join the swim team and the track and field team and scouts and dance and jazz band.

When are they going to find time for their homework, college applications and SAT prep, nevermind working on a stand out factor or… dare I say it, relaxing?!

If you do more than you can handle, you’ll end up with mediocre results in everything. Stick to one or a select few, and make sure they’re all things you LOVE - not just things that you THINK admissions committees want to see (they’ll know it’s not genuine, and you’ll end up wasting your time).

So that’s it for 2018! Thank you for joining me on this crazy ride, and I look forward to 2019 and all it has to offer!

In February, I will be opening up my 1-on-1 College Application coaching to current high school Juniors, so we can get a head start on narrowing down their college list, working on their stand out factor, evaluating their extracurriculars (make sure they’re the right ones for you!) and getting their college applications started early. This program is by application only, and is sure to fill up (I only take on 5 students at a time, so I can give them my undivided attention!).

If you’re interested in seeing if this program is right for you, click HERE, and we can hop on a free initial session.


Family Tension Surrounding College Applications

One of the main reasons families decide to work with a coach such as myself is due to the tension that college applications can cause. Parents want to be helpful, but students want to be independent and consider their parents inquiries into the process 'nagging'. I've worked with countless families who all have the same general story - "My kid won't let me help, but I'm worried they're missing their deadlines!" 


In terms of parent-child relationships, college application season can certainly apply a strain to the dynamic. I'm working with a student right now who is incredibly responsive, friendly and happy to work with me, but as soon as we get on a video-chat with her next to her father, it becomes a series of eye-rolls, sighs, boredom and "Dad, don't say that!" It doesn't help that this particular dad is overbearing - he wrote her college application essay for her and sent it to her so she could "make it her own"... I'm sure we can all tell how well that went. Her father trying to help with her college applications resulted in the house being filled with arguments, door slamming and crying, and no one was happy. 


Everything from choosing a major, to choosing a college, to choosing a state that the college is located in, to choosing a topic for an essay, to filling out the applications... the list of things that can cause tension in this process is neverending. 


It's unfortunate that college application season puts this much pressure on to students - they are by no means the only family I've worked with experiencing this, but they are the most pronounced. It is VERY clear that college applications have put a rift between their father-daughter relationship. 


Regarding the parent-parent relationship surrounding college applications, it is common across the country for parents of students applying to college to experience tension in their relationships. Parents always want what's best for their child, but they may not always agree on what that is. 


Parents may have differing views on what they expect for their child's college experience - some parents value the traditional "4-year college experience" over the logical appeal of a community or junior college that will save them money and allow their child to live at home. One parent may want their child close enough to come home on weekends, while the other wants them to fly wherever their heart desires. All of these decisions can increase tensions between parents. 


If you’re experiencing tension and your relationships regarding college applications, there are some actions you can take to reduce it. The first thing you can do is increase communication, both between parents and the student, about expectations, desires and requirements.


This can be hard with teens. They’re not known to be the best communicators. If they feel it’s safe to speak their opinions, they are more likely to be honest and forthcoming with where they are in this college application journey, how they’re feeling and how you, their parents, can help.


I would also talk to them about what they really want out of their college experience, and that if the direction they’re going in is one they truly want to pursue. If you’re finding that they’re not excited work on their applications and are dreading hitting submit, it may be because they are applying for that school or program because its what they think their parents want, and not what they really want.


If you’re feeling tension in your family surrounding college applications, feel free to reach out to me and I can suggest some solutions. College applications really don’t have to be this hard.



Breaking Down Common Application Prompts: #1 & #2

It’s August 1st! We all know what that means…

The Common App opens today!

Some students have already finished their essays, others are revising their drafts, and still others haven’t started yet (Uh oh!)

The essay is by far the most time consuming part of the college application process. When I work on an essay with students, they typically go through 12-14 revisions before we get something right.

The most common thing students are confused about, is what the prompt is ACTUALLY asking.

So for this week’s blog post, I thought I would break it down nice and simple, and go through each essay prompt and outline what they’re looking for.

 

Prompt 1: Some Students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

This prompt has been present every year in recent memory. It is broad enough to get creative, yet just specific enough that students can write about this topic without getting overwhelmed. Just like with any essay prompt, highlight the keywords – in this case, “background”, “talent” and “identity” – and keep these in mind when you’re brainstorming your topic. What is it about your background, your activities, personality and interests that might be interesting to an admissions officer? This can be any seemingly-mundane, everyday task, or something completely life-altering. It’s matters less about what you write about, and more about the angle you take to highlight your changing perspectives, your growth and opinions that are unique to you, and that they won’t find in any other student’s essay.

Some questions that may help you brainstorm:

  • What part of my history sets me apart from my peers?
  • Is there any particularly unique experience or view that I hold?
  • Has there been a defining moment in my life, which has helped me to become the person I am today?
  • What thoughts and values do I hold close, and why do I identify with them?

Some examples to think about:

  • How has connecting with your grandparents and their stories of ‘the olden days’ changed your perspective on the world and lead to you feeling gratitude for all the opportunities in your life?
  • Did learning the violin and relentlessly practicing to get to nationals teach you to overcome challenges and allowed you to develop a work ethic that will help you succeed in all your future endeavours?
  • What are the challenges (and positive lessons!) that have arisen from being raised by a single parent? Or being raised by parents that don’t speak English? How did their past and background affect your current opinions and perspectives?

This prompt is designed to give you the freedom to tell admissions teams what you think is important for them to know. It is a fantastic choice for students who don’t really identify with the other prompts, but can tell their story in an interesting way that captures the angles of their personality, growth, perspectives and individuality.

 

Prompt 2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?  

The key to writing an effective essay about overcoming obstacles is to focus on the solution to the problem you had, rather than on the problem itself. Rather than a detailed account of the hurdle the student had to overcome, angle this essay in a way that it highlights the students response to the problem, and how it affected their growth and perspectives. In an essay about overcoming challenges, students should choose adjective that they want to come across in their writing. These can be words like determination, resilience, bravery, courage, dedication and persistence.

The obstacles you choose to write about can vary – they don’t necessarily have to be as serious as being bullied or your family losing their house, for example. The obstacle can be anything that caused you to hardship, where you had to find a solution. Just make sure you don’t write about challenges that seem clichéd, such as failing to achieve an A on your exam, or if they show any signs of poor judgement (this is not something you want admissions officers to know about!).

Some questions to help you brainstorm:

  •  In your point of view, what qualifies as a setback or challenge? In your opinion, is it important to learn from challenges? What should you take away from them?
  • Have you ever had a challenge that ended up being a blessing in disguise?
  • How can a bad experience be turned into a learning opportunity, and is how you deal with the setback more important than what you learned from it?

Some examples to think about:

  • Did not making the gymnastics team allow you time to try dance instead, and in the process discover a new passion and way to express you individuality?
  • Have you ever not followed directions at summer camp and have to sit out of an activity, only to watch someone else get hurt messing around the same way you were?
  • Did your parents desperate financial situation mean you had to get a job in 10th grade and spend all your weekends working, which allowed you to develop a strong work ethic and empathy towards others?

One thing to remember about this prompt is that the stories should be as positive as possible. Even if it’s about a negative situation, try to focus on the positives that came from it, or the character growth you experienced because of it.

 

Be on the lookout for my breakdown of the rest of the prompts, coming Friday and Monday! 

Things to do During the Summer to Get Ahead in your College Applications

It’s nearing August 1st, and I’m sure you all know what that means…

The Common Application is about to open.

Over the summer, students are busy with their extra-curriculars, travelling, working and hanging out with friends and family. For rising high school seniors, this summer is also about preparing to apply for college.

So what should you have done during the summer?

(If you haven’t completed these yet, don’t worry - you still have time! You’ll have to get started and work effectively and efficiently to get them done before school starts.)

 

1) Make your College List

If you’re going into Senior year in a few weeks, you should probably have a pretty solid college list at this point.

The key to a good college list? Making sure you would be HAPPY attending every single school on your list, and not applying to schools that don’t meet your criteria or your vision for your college experience. You should be applying to 5-8 schools. Of course, you will have your favorites and top choices, but NONE of the colleges on your list should feel like a ‘last resort’. With so many schools in North America (around 7000…), you should be able to find schools that meet all your expectations, that work for your family financially, and for which you have sufficient grades.

I recently went in depth in a blog post about how to narrow down your college list (you can find it here).

Getting this done before senior year will take the stress of researching and wondering and exploring all your options OFF your back. This is critical, because as Senior year starts to pick up, and you’re being bombarded with assignments, papers, exams and projects, you won’t have to think about what colleges you’re going to apply to - all that work will already be done.

 

2) Finish your main personal essay.

Getting your personal essay out of the way is probably the number one thing I recommend rising seniors get done before August 31st.

(and because of that, I am in the height of essay editing season!)

Having your essay completed early gives you lots of time to make revisions yourself, and have it reviewed by a professional if you wish.

Personal statements are a special kind of essay. They’re not written in the same way you’ve been taught to write in English Class, because they have to showcase your personality, perspectives, growth and individuality WHILE keeping the attention of the reader. If you focus too much on writing for someone else (that is, writing what you THINK admissions teams want to hear, or what your parents advise you to write), your essay will come across as disingenuous.

The best essays come from the student just telling their story, with a little help in the idea and editing department from an outside source. This will allow the essay to capture your true self, and showcase all you have to offer the school.

Getting the personal statement essay (and other essays!) out of the way before you dive into Senior year will give you time to FOCUS on it, without having to worry about all your other looming deadlines and will give you the best results.

 

3) If you’re taking the SAT/ACT again, STUDY.

Summer is the perfect time to study if you’re thinking of taking the SAT/ACT again before you apply to colleges. A lot of my students take the tests one final time at the beginning of Senior year (and I find this is usually when they get the highest grades, because their head is in the game!).

You won’t be worried about studying for all your other courses, and you will have more downtime to focus on studying for the test.

Look at your previous score, and see what section you could improve on the most. Reading? Math? Focus on this section, as an improvement in your poorest-scoring section will make the biggest impact on the overall score.

 

4) Organize your Letters of Recommendation

Create a ‘brag-sheet’ of everything you’ve done or accomplished that would be useful to someone writing you a Letter of Recommendation, and get this to them before the start of the school year, with a polite request for a recommendation.

This gets the ball rolling, and allows teachers and counselors to write the letters during their downtime in the summer before they get swamped with requests in the fall.

Even though they still have some time to get it done, they will have had ample time to complete it, and will appreciate your initiative to get them organized early. You will have all your Letters of Recommendation done far in advance of the deadline, and won’t have to worry about whether they will all be done in time.  

This being said, don’t be discouraged if your teachers and counselors respond asking you to ask them again at the beginning of the school year. This is their time off as well, and they are not obligated to complete any letters for students during the summer. If this happens, thank them, let them know you look forward to speaking with them soon, and wish them a great rest of their summer!

These are the best ways I recommend my students to get started on the college application process in the summer before Senior year. If you manage to complete all these tasks, you’re setting yourself up for success in senior year, and a stress-free and smooth college application season!


For RISING SENIORS ONLY:

I have a special package that runs from August 1st to 31st, where we will work on your College List and get you all set up in the Common Application, AND work on your essays and short answers so they're bullet-proof and error free. I'll also include unlimited assistance until August 31st (including essay revisions!)

With the deadlines of Senior Year looming, the most common feedback I hear from students is: "I'm so glad I got it all done early!"

Book a call HERE to get in on this Back to School Special!

Don’t forget to like my Facebook Page to keep up to date with all my free trainings, scholarship notifications, and time management strategies!

 

The ONLY Way to Make this Process Easier: Time Management

I was in a Student Success Session with a student and parent yesterday, trying to get clear on their problems and how to best support this student in her transition to college.

We talked about all sorts of things on this call: how to narrow down her college list, how to stand out in her college application, and the main thing holding her back - procrastination.

We got SO deep into this call, that our 45 minute session ended up lasting about an hour to get through it all.

After speaking to this young lady, I realized something very important:

Nothing is going to work without time management.

We could work on her stand out factor, she could hire an SAT tutor, we could narrow down her college list until it's a list of schools that PERFECTLY fit her personality and ambitions…

But without time management skills, there is no way this college prep and application process can be easy.

She will still be stressed about finding time to WORK on her stand-out factor. She will still procrastinate studying for the SAT and dilly-dally until it’s too late and she’s cramming at the last minute.

All the stress that comes from the college prep and application process stems from simply not managing your time well enough.

I realize that she’s not the only rising junior or senior to procrastinate their studies, and high schools simply don’t teach this skill.

It’s unfortunate because it will only get harder - managing time in college is way more difficult than in high school, and without breaking the habit early, these detrimental routines will continue to follow students.

You have to find something that works for YOU, and you have to start working on it now.  

Time management and organization does not have a one-size-fits-all solution - it requires trial and error to see what works for you, and what doesn’t.

Some people prefer to use old-school notebooks and planners, others prefer the calendars on their phones and computers.

Regardless of how you keep track of your schedule, here are 3 important tricks that you can use to manage your time so you can complete everything that you need (and want) to get done:

1) Keep track of how much time you’re spending doing what.

The first step to managing your time to is see where your time is actually going. By keeping a record of how much time you spend doing different activities, you can see where you are spending too much time, and where you are not spending enough time.

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This is especially important for students who put off doing important work by hanging out with friends, watching TV or scrolling through social media.

When you make a record of how much time you’re spending during the day doing things that aren’t priorities, you can get real with yourself.

If in a week, you’ve spent 6 hours watching Netflix but only 2 hours studying for the SAT, you will realize quickly what shifts you need to make in your schedule to give yourself more time for what’s important.

An app that works really well for this is Toggl, which lets you easily record how much time you’re spending doing different activities and gives a great visual representation for how much of your day is spent doing what.

 

2) Use a monthly visual calendar

I recommend all my students to get a full-sized calendar where they can write down every important date and deadline.

Having a real, physical calendar as opposed to a digital one will give you a better sense of how long you actually have until the deadline. You can flip through pages and have everything that needs to get done in one place, and see EXACTLY how many days you have until something is due.

Color coding works wonders. Put exams in red, and assignments in blue. Write all your work and volunteer hours, and the hours for any extracurriculars on the same calendar. This will give you a visual sense of urgency to get it all done.

 

3) Batch your time to get things done without distractions.

Time batching is a method used by my most successful students to get their work done efficiently.

We live in an age of constant distractions. Your phone and computer are constantly giving you notifications of things you feel like you need to see right now. As soon as an email comes in, you want to check it. As soon as you get a notification from instagram, you want to see what it is.

These things are usually unimportant, and distract you from the task at hand which usually is important.

Batching your time means that you schedule time for each activity, including checking your social media. During the batched time, you don’t do ANYTHING other than the activity that is scheduled, because there is also time scheduled to take part in your distractions.

It looks like this:

1pm-1:10pm: Call BFF to talk about plans for the beach tomorrow.

1:10pm-2pm: work on essay.

2pm- 2:10pm: check facebook and instagram, reply to texts.

2:10-3pm: work on essay some more.

3pm-3:10pm: respond to texts and scroll through instagram some more.

3:10-4pm: continue working on essay.

By batching your time and SCHEDULING time for the activities that would usually distract you, you can work on your essay (or any other important task: studying for the SAT, researching colleges, studying for you classes, etc.) for 50 FULL minutes, without taking short, frequent breaks to respond every time you get a text. These messages usually aren’t that important, and can wait until your next break for a response.

 

The best way to reduce the stress, overwhelm and anxiety of the college prep and application process is to start early and work efficiently to get everything done. Managing your time effectively will have a big effect on how smoothly this process happens.

If you feel like you need more individualized support to find a time-management system that works for you, and some outside accountability to keep your student at it (like an Academic Success Coach), click HERE to apply for a free Student Success Session.

I only do a handful of these for free each month, and they’re valued at $247, so don’t procrastinate or you will miss out (and if you’re not careful, the same thing could happen to your scholarship and college applications…).

3 Things ALL Students should know before going off to College

So, you did well in high school. You got great grades, graduated near the top of your class, and you’re going to the college of your dreams on a fantastic scholarship.

Thinking back to the last few years of high school, a few memories probably stand out in your mind.

You had football practise everyday with some of your best friends who became more like a family.

That time you worked up the courage to ask that cute girl in English class out to the movies, and she said yes.

You had close relationships with your teachers, and managed to do well in their classes without trying too hard - it all seemed to come naturally to you.

If think sounds like you, you might be wondering…

“High school was awesome - will college be the same?”

In some ways, yes and in others, no.

As you prepare to go off to college, there are some things you should know.

Here are the top 3 ways college will be different from high school:

  1. You won’t be on your own, but you do make your own choices now.

In high school, you lived with your parents. They had some basic rules for you to follow - be home by 11, homework has to be done before going out with friends, do your laundry (including your towels) twice a week and no friends of the opposite sex in your bedroom.

These were all pretty standard, and by the end of high school you knew them in and out, no problem.  

As soon as you go off to college, these rules no longer apply, and it’s up to you to make smart choices for yourself.

You have the freedom to go out with your friends whenever you want. There is no one to enforce your curfew, or remind you to do your laundry. You are responsible for your own decisions at college, but if you are smart, you’ll continue to make good choices.

It’s probably still a good idea to finish your homework before going out with friends, and it's definitely still a good idea to wash your towels twice a week.

As for having friends of the opposite sex in your bedroom, use your judgement. One of the most interesting things about going off to college is that you'll have to use your judgement to determine what is best a lot more when no one is looking over your shoulder to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do.

You should also remember, that it’s okay to make some wrong choices. It won’t be the end of the world (even though it may feel like it), and that’s how you learn.

2) Your friend groups, and the things you do for fun, will probably change.

In high school, you see your friends every day - you sit next to them in class, eat lunch with them in the cafeteria, and walk home together after school. You hang out on weekends and everyone knows each others schedules.

In college, that changes.

You classes aren’t on a set schedule, you don’t get a lunch break at the same time as your friends, and you probably won’t finish class at the same time as them either. Unless your high school friends are in the same major as you, you probably won’t see them very often during the day.

And this is okay. You’ll make new friends in your classes, and you can still see your old friends on the weekends or after you’re both done for the day. It will take a little more work to organize your schedules, but if it’s important to you to maintain contact, you'll make it happen.

The things you do with your friends for fun will probably also change when you get to college.

Maybe you’ll join the Hiking Club, or the Softball team.

College is the perfect time to try everything you’ve ever thought you might like, and in the process you’ll find some new hobbies and some new friends to do those hobbies with.

The most important thing when it coming to making friends and having fun in college is to just get out there and talk to people, and don’t be afraid to try different things.

3) The learning experience is very different, and you only get out of it what you put in.

Depending on your college, the class sizes might be A LOT larger than what you were used to in high school. That means that your professors have less time to get to know the students, and there is a lot less hand-holding to get everything done.

Professors don’t care if you didn’t do the homework. They don’t care if you didn’t read the textbook, and they don’t care if you didn’t study for your test. If you didn’t take notes, or missed a class and don’t know what material was covered, it’s up to you to figure that out - your prof won’t come hand you the work you misses in a nicely put together package.

It is your responsibility to ensure you’re not missing anything and that you’re keeping up with your deadlines. Your professors will be there to help you if you’re not understanding the material or having a hard time grasping the concepts, but it’s up to you to attend their office hours or email them and let them know that you have questions.

The amount of knowledge you gain is proportional to how much studying you do. The amount of help you receive is proportional to how much help you ask for. No one is going to assume you need (or want) help just because you bombed a test - you need to seek it out, and take responsibility for your learning.

There is a bit of a learning curve to get used to the college experience, but once you do, you will have the time of your life. Your college is filled with new friends to meet, new things to learn and new experiences to try.

In short, College is not the same as high school... not even close…

It’s better.

How to REALLY Stand Out to College Admissions Teams

It’s time to say it: Student resumés are starting to all look exactly the same.

In an attempt to stand out to colleges, students take on every extra activity that they can, in addition to their regular schoolwork and other college prep.

They’re volunteering for everything, and joining every sports team, and on the Yearbook committee and they’re the Student Body Treasurer.

They’re working at summer camps and fast food restaurants. They’re involved with the church youth group and they’re in Scouts.

Maybe they’re even Valedictorian!

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And while these are all good activities to be involved in, none of them are going to make students stand out.

(No, not even being Valedictorian… there are 24000 high schools in America, and each one has a valedictorian. While an impressive feat, it’s not a unique accomplishment.)

So if being Valedictorian won’t even make a student stand out, you can imagine that volunteering at an animal shelter or lifeguarding at the pool won’t either.

Now I want to be clear: There's NOTHING WRONG with doing any of these extra-curriculars. If the student loves doing them, or is learning something from them, then this is all that matters.

But the bottom line is, just doing these things will not make you stand out to colleges.

When every student is doing these things in an attempt to stand out to college admissions teams, the opposite starts to happen - they start to blend in.

In addition to blending in, these students also start burning out. When their schedules are jam packed with every organization and activity possible, they end up being pushed too hard, trying to get everything done that they exhaust themselves.

In turn, their grades and test scores can suffer.

All because they’re worried about what they THINK Admissions Officers want to see, instead of working on MEANINGFUL projects and activities that they are passionate about, and that highlight their growth, perspectives and individuality.

Think about it: colleges don’t want every student to be clones of one another.

In fact, one of the most surefire ways to get into the college of your dreams (even without the highest test scores and GPA), is to bring some unique ideas, experiences and interests to the school.

I call this a ‘Stand-Out Factor’.

A Stand-Out Factor separates you from all the other students who will be applying for the same schools and scholarships as you.

It's a hook, which highlights you as a person who has unique and interesting thoughts, and leaves admissions committees thinking:

“We need to have this student at our school”.

Stand-Out Factors are different for every student, depending on their interests, past experiences, passions, and future goals.

There's no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to finding a students Stand Out Factor. It takes lots of brainstorming, throwing around ideas and collaboration with parents, counselors and other professionals to make it happen.

Some examples of Stand Out Factors that I’ve helped students come up with and execute include:

  • Starting a business

  • Starting a volunteer organization

  • Lobbying to the local government for a change in policy

  • Starting a social endeavour, such as organizing a community meal for the homeless people in the area

  • Organizing and running a fundraiser to raise money for a charity important to the student.

  • Being featured in major media

  • Speak at a conference about a personal past experience

There's a lot of work involved with having a TRUE Stand Out Factor, but the AMAZING, AUTHENTIC admissions essays and scholarship applications that come from the experience will make it all worth it.

(and get you into the school of your dreams and win you lots of scholarship money $$$).

 

I recently held a FREE LIVE training, where we covered: 

  •  The 4 things college admissions officers look at when reviewing college applications

    • The importance of QUALITY over QUANTITY when it comes to extra-curricular activities.

  • How to highlight your students GROWTH, PASSION and INDIVIDUALITY to stand out when applying for college (which is what the admissions teams REALLY care about!)

You missed it live, but you can catch the replay HERE. 

How to Narrow Down your College List

There are over 7000 universities and colleges in North America - It’s pretty clear that you can’t apply to them all (and I don’t think you’d want to!)

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The first step high school students take towards preparing for university is narrowing down a list of colleges they might one day like to attend.

Start this step in Junior year.

You can always make changes to your list and add/remove schools as your interests develop, but having an idea of what kind of schools interest you far in advance will give you an idea how many applications you’ll have to fill out in Senior year.  

How do you narrow down your college list? Get clear on what you really, REALLY want.

It’s critical that you figure out what you want out of college. Not what your parents want, not what your counselor wants, not what your coaches want.

Your dad might want you to attend his alma mater, because he had such a great college experience ‘back in the day’ and wants the same for you. Unfortunately, times have changed and we don’t always want what our parents had.

Some things to consider, when determining what kind of school experience you want:

  1. Location. Do you want to stay close to home, or spread your wings? Could you do both: attend a school too far to visit on weekends, but close enough to drive home for every holiday? Would you consider a move across the country, where going home more than once or twice a year isn’t really an option?

  2. Major. You probably don’t know exactly what you want to major in, but you probably have a general idea. Do some research and brainstorming about any programs you’re interested in, because you will have to make sure the colleges on your list offer these programs (or, better yet - they are known for excellence in that subject area).

  3. Setting. Do you want to be in the middle of a big city, in the suburbs, or in the country? Remember to think about what this means for your housing situation. If you’re in the country, your only option may be to live in dorms, while in the city or suburbs, getting your own apartment (by yourself or with friends) might be possible.

  4. Extracurriculars or Athletics. Are there any particular activities that you’d like to participate in in college? Will you join a varsity sports team? Knowing what you want to do during your time in college is critical - you have to apply to schools that offer those things, after all!

  5. Size of the school. The size of schools (and number of students) varies across institutions - there are many schools that will have roughly the same number of students as your high school, and other schools that are the size of cities! (UCF has more students than the population of the capital of Wyoming!)

  6. Other things you want/need. Interested in a religiously affiliated school? Want a massive gym and track field and olympic-sized swimming pool? Is having a strong career or volunteer centre important to you? These are all things to consider.

Once you’ve gotten clear on what you really desire in a school, it’s time to get clear on something else: your profile.

It might be hard to look critically at your stats if your test scores aren’t as high as you would have liked them, or if your grades dropped a bit. This is one reason why it’s important to start looking at schools in your Junior year (or earlier!).

If you know your dream school requires a 3.9 GPA and a 1400 SAT score, you’ll be more motivated to keep your grades up.

Write down estimates of what your grades will be. Be honest and ambitious, but don’t over exaggerate. Estimate what your class rank will be.

These are estimates, and will likely be a little off, but they will help you to find schools that fall into the ‘safety’, ‘match’, and ‘reach’ schools - which is the next step in making your college list.

A reach school is one that would be difficult for you to get into, but not impossible. Match schools are schools you are likely to be admitted to, based on your stats, and safety schools are those that you would almost certainly be admitted to.

I recommend applying to 1-3 reach, 4 match, and 2 safety schools. Keep in mind, all of these schools should be ones you would be happy to attend and would fit with what you want - the safety schools shouldn’t be a ‘back up plan, in case all else fails’, just the like reach schools shouldn’t be a prestigious top 20 school you’d be miserable at, but would attend just because of the name.

Quick note: Any highly selective schools (<15% acceptance rates) should be considered reach, regardless of if your stats make you qualified. These schools look at more than just grades and scores when offering admission, and even perfect students often don’t get in.

The next step in narrowing down your college list is to find schools that are financially suitable.

Use the calculators on schools sites and the Federal Student Aid site to determine how much you can expect your expenses to be, how much financial aid you can expect from the school, and how much you’ll have to make up in scholarships and loans.

Don’t discount the schools that seem more expensive right off the bat - often those that carry the largest price tag also offer the most in financial aid. If the school your heart is set on is one of these, it doesn’t hurt to call them and see what they can offer.

Using these criteria, you should be able to narrow down the list from the 7000+ schools in North America to about 20 you would be comfortable attending.

Of these, you can select the reach, match and safety schools that you’ll apply to, as you get closer to senior year. Remember - this doesn’t have to be a final draft.

As you move towards the end of your high school career, you’ll probably want to add or remove a few schools, and that’s okay.

Starting early will get you ahead of the crowd, and leave you with lots of time to ponder and ask questions, so congrats!

Why an Entry-level Summer Job May Be Better Than an Internship

With summer quickly approaching, students’ news feeds are filled with posts of their friends plans – extravagant vacations, studying abroad. and fancy internships at huge companies are the norm.

While these are all fun ways to spend the summer, if you find yourself working in an entry level position over the summer, it might feel like you’re falling behind.

Will you get less out of working at Starbucks than your friend at their neighbours investment bank? Not necessarily.

There are a few reasons why working at a summer job might be better for you than an internship:

1)     Summer jobs develop your emotional intelligence + empathy

Less-glamorous jobs, like scooping ice-cream or flipping burgers, can help you boost your emotional intelligence and teach you empathy for others. Working in these customer-facing jobs will teach you how hard others work for their money, how rude customers can sometimes be, and it will allow you to master a very important skill - small talk.

It’s a real lesson on how to treat people.

Learning to see the world through an empathetic lens is a skill and challenge that many young people struggle to master – this makes it a fantastic topic to write about in your college admissions essays.

Admissions officers are always interested in the perspective you take on the world, and if you can capture it in your writing,even better.

It’s a lot harder to learn empathy when your summer job consists of shredding documents and going on coffee runs.

2)     More control over your schedule

Working an entry-level summer job will probably allow you more control over the amount of time you work.

Often, you’ll be able to work the hours that work best for you (evening shifts so you can sleep in? Yes! Work on weekends so you can hit the beach when it’s less busy on weekdays? Count me in!).

It’s often easier to request time off as well, so you won’t have to miss your yearly family road trip (or… you can use work as an excuse to miss your yearly family road trip – up to you!)

In an internship, students are normally required to work regular office hours, 9-5 Monday – Friday, just as every other employee at the organization does. And let’s face it, because they’re only there for a few months, bosses often take advantage of this and ask their interns to pull 10-12 hour days.

3)     Make money

This is a big one – while a lot of summer internships are unpaid, all summer jobs will make you money $$$.

The money you make in high school will go a long way when you start college. It can offset living costs, contribute towards tuition, or give you some spending money to hang out with friends and eat something other than ramen noodles once in a while.

Contributing money from summer jobs to college tuition will also mean less student loans you’ll have to pay back when you’re done.

4)     Keep the job over the school year (weekends)

One of the beautiful things about working a regular, entry level job over the summer, is that you may have the opportunity to keep the job (with reduced hours) during the school year.

It’s easy to keep working at a restaurant on the weekends during the school year, as long as you’re able to stay on top of your time management to get everything else you need to do done as well.

Bonus: Having a job for a longer period of time than a 3-month summer contract will look great on your resume. It will show that you’re employable, able to keep a job (aka, not mess it up), and that you’re stable and dependable.

These are all great qualities that your future college admissions team (or future employer!) will look for in applicants.

So if you find yourself working a summer job instead of the internship you were hoping for, don’t fret.

If you’re still in high school, you’ll have plenty of time to intern in your field of study.

For now, there is plenty for you to learn in an entry-level job, and with the extra money, flexibility and prospects of keeping the job during the school year, it may even be preferable to an internship.

10 Ways Successful Students Think

OUR SCHOOL SYSTEM HAS AN EPIDEMIC.

Students just don’t know how to study.

Studying in the age of information overload and constant digital distractions isn’t a skill that’s taught in school, because teachers haven’t learned to respond yet to everyone trying to study while they’re Snapchatting about studying..

In order to be a successful student, you have to have the mindset of a successful student.

Here  are some helpful mindset shifts. . Use them to develop the mindset of a successful learner, and you’ll notice you’re able to learn more without studying harder.

 

1) If you believe that learning comes naturally to some people and not to others, and you’re one of those people who are just ‘not cut out’ for getting good grades, you are less likely to set high goals for yourself and therefore will study less and understand less.

 

2) Time and effort are required ingredients for learning a subject, but putting in time and effort doesn’t guarantee learning.

If you’re using ineffective study techniques, then you won’t learn no matter how much time and effort you put into studying. Learn effective learning strategies to prevent wasting time and effort on methods that don’t work.

 

3) Master the basics before moving on to more complex skills. All learning builds on prior knowledge.

You wouldn’t take a calculus class if you didn’t understand how to add, so don’t do that when you’re studying, either.

 

4) Don’t overestimate how prepared you are. Students think that because they spent 10 hours studying for a test, they know the material. In reality, if you’re using the incorrect study methods, you didn’t retain that much information, and wasted those study hours.

Test your knowledge at the beginning and end of study sessions. If you set out to learn all the material from a chapter during a study session, take the end of chapter quiz or complete review questions before you begin, and again at the end of the session to gauge your learning, and see what needs to be reviewed again.

 

5) Effective preparation requires your total focus. Don’t multitask; trying to do multiple tasks at once is more difficult than focusing on one task at a time. Eliminate all distractions.

Turn off your phone, television and music, remove your phone and anything you might fiddle with from your study area. Only have the items on your desk that you need in order to study.

 

6) Successful learning requires planning ahead. Set goals for yourself, such as the deadline by which you want to have all the material covered so you can begin reviewing. Ideally, you should understand all the important concepts before you start preparing for the exam.

Set short-term goals for each study session, and measure the results. This can be something like understanding all the material from a certain chapter by the end of the session, or scoring 90% or above on the practice exam, or any other measurable result.

 

7) Good students welcome feedback from their peers, coaches and teachers. If you get back a paper with red corrections all over, or a less-than ideal grade, you might feel disappointed.

Instead, try re-writing the paper, and ask your teacher to re-mark it (explain that you know it won’t impact your grade, but you’re trying to improve your skills., This will make your writing better, and make you look good - win/win!)

 

8) Take advantage of all learning opportunities.

Learning opportunities are any times or activities where you can learn and master the material. Ask questions in class or during remediation hours and get clarification on topics you’re struggling with.

Go to class, take notes, form or join a study group, and attend office hours if your teacher or professor has them.

 

9) Improvement involves dealing with challenges, difficulty and uncertainty.

Be open to new ideas and taking risks. Expose yourself to uncertainty. You must persevere through difficulties in order to be successful.

For example, this might include challenging yourself to not be shy to raise your hand in class in order to get your questions answered, and volunteering your answer to the teachers questions, even if there is a chance it’s wrong.

These are strong learning opportunities to take advantage of, even if it’s uncomfortable.

 

10) Find the value of learning what you’re studying.

Successful students find ways to take interest and find value in courses that may not be inherently interesting to them.

In every course, there are things to learn outside of the curriculum. If you’re taking an Ancient Art course but aren’t interested in art, perhaps view the course from the perspective of a sociologist, learning how the ancient people behaved, or maybe from the point of view of a historian, and play out a visual in your mind of how these people came to be and what events may have taken place.

Try to find out why some people, like your teacher, take such an interest in the topic, and you will probably find an aspect that interests you as well.

 

Developing the mindset of a successful learner is the first step you must take in order to study efficiently.

If you can master these 10 principles and use them in your studying, you are well on your way to becoming a successful learner.