It’s just around the corner and many high school seniors still aren’t ready for college and the Jr’s are still picking their nose waiting for their moms and dads to make them fill out paperwork. If you don’t start pulling your act together (and I mean you high school freshman out there), you are going to miss prime deadlines for the best scholarships, grants, and other admissions requirements. All this means to you is that by dragging your feet YOU LOSE.
I once spoke with a parent who told me (over the phone) that he didn’t think it was a good idea that his daughter (who was a sophomore in high school at the time) needed to start thinking about college because he believed two things, 1) that the college admissions standards would be changing drastically, and 2) he didn’t think his daughter needed to be thinking about such things so soon, she was still so young! I know two things about this well-meaning father, 1) that he has a limited understanding of the college admissions process, and 2) that he still views his daughter as the little girl who once sat upon his knee and to whom he once read bed-time stories. This however lack of understanding doesn’t serve his “little girl”, it sets her back.
This is the first post that has gone up in over 6 months, primarily because I have been in Guatemala, working with my wife to establish a non-profit organization that serves the disabled there. Our primary focus was establishing Guatemalan leaders to run the organization. But secondarily we aided in the purchasing and distribution of food for the malnourished, therapy for the physically disabled, and education for local business leaders including English as a second language, as well as leadership and business principles.
The point is that hesitation in planning for the future will not enable success. There is a quote, it states, “If you aim for nothing, you are sure to hit it.” We must take aim at our futures and fire shots based on calculated reasons, any other way is simply foolish. College Life Planning exists to help students and parents plan for college and career, we exist to help find that lighted path that will lead to success and happiness in our future generations.
We released the first CAP workshop to a group of great teens this past month, they paid between $20 and $30 for this first release course and they helped us to work through some of the bugs and concerns and questions that we had about the course. College Admissions Prep is an online, 4-week college prep course that students direct themselves through to learn about how to prepare for college. It is cheap, and an easy way for parents and students to get ready for college admissions!
But was it a success?
Well, yes and no. Every student I talked to said they loved the content, what they read and how they read it was funny and easy to read. They even said they learned something they didn’t know before about planning for college. They liked the videos, they liked the discussion posts, and they felt that they learned something valuable as a result of taking this course.
On the other hand… Only about 35% of the enrolled students participated in the discussions, and only 1 in 14 completed the final assignment, a short essay, geared at helping students get ready for the college admissions essay. She wrote an excellent essay by the way and, with some minor tweaking, will be a great college admissions essay!
So what’s the problem?
It’s a question of motivation. Why would a group of kids complete an online course helping them get ready for college? That’s an excellent question, one that I haven’t effectually answered in full. However, I know it is a multifaceted issue. First, parents must be willing to help motivate their kids. One student actually suggested that if I raised the price, parents are much more inclined to care about it and thus provide that parental motivation teens often need. For example, “I paid [insert expensive amount here] for that college prep course and you’re going to do it whether you like it or not!” Adding an explicative or two might depend on the family you come from.
Truly, many students are genuinely busy, so another route I am researching is a way to get teachers on board by offering extra credit or some other external motivation that may help increase student involvement. Do you think that would help?
Lastly, we are and will continue to offer fun drawings for iTunes gift cards, and increasingly more expensive tech toys like iPads to help motivate students that may not have the intrinsic drive to succeed.
So, which is it?
It was a huge success in my book, one that I have learned from. One that I am growing from and have already made huge improvements and set some more realistic goals. If you were waiting to find out what would happen with this release, there you go. For what it’s worth, I’d like you to take a risk and have your kids sign up for the course, there is a 110% money back guarantee if you don’t like it, and really- you will probably learn as much as your kids will; so make the investment and start preparing for college NOW!
When you get ready to apply for colleges you have to fill out these pesky little things called applications. As one of my students recently put it, “they are the most annoying things you will ever do.” But inevitably, standing between you and your dream college is this application process. Part of that process is the college essay. I might venture to say the essay is the most important part…
When you apply to a college, you must meet two basic standards to even be considered for admission:
- Requirements: GPA, course load, core classes, SAT/SAT II/ACT tests, class rank; there are others at various colleges and some of these things bare more significance at some schools more than others.
- Procedures: Application, test, and recommendation deadlines, interviews ets.
If you can meet the requirements for a school, and you turn in everything on time, then you are you way to being admitted. This may be all that is required in many state schools or smaller liberal arts colleges, but for demanding and very demanding universities you are nothing but a dime a dozen. No offense.
As an example of what I am talking about, consider Stanford University which had 32, 022 people apply to the university as first year applicants. 54% of those first year freshman had a 4.0 and higher in weighted GPA and 30% had a GPA of 3.7-3.99. Now, a special note, of those 32,022 applicants, only 7.3% of them were admitted. So you do the math, if 54% of those 30k applications have over a 4.0 and they only admit 7% of the applications, which applications are they going to be admitting?
Stanford may be a bit extreme, but contextualize for your particular school. You may be a highly gifted student, but join the club, you’re in good company. So with this light shed on the sheer statistics working against you, you have got to stand out somehow. Your have got to shine for the admissions board, how are you going to do that?
College Essays can be a challenge for some, and are easy for others. I just want to give you 3 easy rules you can follow when you sit down to start your application process.
- The essay must be about you– Sounds silly I know, but you might be surprised how many essays are all about the family dog, the best friend, the 6th grade Sacramento trip etc. This essay needs to be about you, your character, your insights, your worldview. When the essay asks you to examine a situation that deeply affected you, they want to see the depth of your analysis, the breadth of your experiences and how you have been shaped into a young adult.
- The essay MUST be interesting– Not just interesting to your mom, interesting to a person who reads thousands of essays professionally. Your opening paragraph needs to be catchy, draw me in with something witty, and exciting. The body needs to have depth and the real you needs to get out in this essay.
- The essay must have information not available on the application– The admissions board has a 5 page application for admission with everything from your grades to test scores to work experience and 2000 volunteer hours saving the whales in Antarctica. This essay shouldn’t be just another of the same, in needs to be another of a different kind. When you write about something, you want to give insight into you that cannot be gleaned from the application.
So you read these rules and just say, well duh! But transforming these concepts into reality is not as easy as you might think. I would love to offer my services to you if you are thinking about going to a four year college right after high school. Unfortunately, so many of my students come to me in their senior year (i.e. right now), which is fine, we aren’t too late; but it would be better if we started working on this Junior year or earlier.
The Three Step College Booty Dance
Going to college is not a huge mystery, but if you plan to go to a semi-selective college, there are some things you need to make sure you know in advance. If it were as simple as 1-2-3, more students would do this. For the sake of time, I will over simplify the college admissions process and provide a very basic outline for you. This will be especially helpful if you are a parent trying to give your students just entering high school some direction, or if you are a sophomore in high school reading this.
Step 1: Don’t Slack off! We’ll get to college selection, and which major you want to do and what you want to do for the rest of your life in a minute. First, you must focus on your character. Who you are as a person reflects in your grades. Yes, I know this is over simplified… there is more to a person than their grades; but poor study habits, reflect sharply in poor grades and test scores. There are a few students who are just “not good test takers”, but by and large what that means is that they didn’t take the time to study the needed material. If you have any desire to go to a challenging school, you need to focus on challenging yourself academically and socially. The basic rule of thumb is that selective colleges are looking to create a learning environment with many diverse peoples in many areas, so where you’ve been and what you’ve done can be a huge strength; one thing that MOST students on these campuses have in common? High grades in challenging AP classes and decent to high test scores on SAT/ACT tests. Do not slack off thinking that a “b” is good enough. Study hard and take all the practice tests before the real thing.
Step 2: Know Thyself. Work based on your strength! It makes no sense to try and work from weakness in this physical world we live in. The way adults talk to young people thinking about college, you might think that they are asking a 16 year old to have their entire life mapped out. I have fallen into this trap. It is impossible to know where life will take you, and planning a college and/or potential career is a helpful guide, not a leash. In creating this future for our kids, we have forgotten to help them develop their own futures. Step one encourages working on your own character; this is part of knowing yourself. Who are you? Really? At College Life Planning we do “strengths-based counseling”, in other words, we attempt to uncover the individual strengths of our students and then provide counsel based on that information. So try new things! Volunteer at your church, or local hospital, or anywhere you might be interested. Start to form your desires and learn how you work best. Start to really understand yourself, and live life. This is an important part of the college admissions process, but you have to know yourself and what your passions are and invest time in those areas before you start applying to colleges, and certainly before you can engage in any kind of college, or life planning.
Step 3: Start talking! Too often I get students who just haven’t talked to their parents about college and then there are conflicts, huge misunderstandings about where to go to school, how it will be paid for, what to study and any number of other things. If you are starting to think about college, start talking with your parents (or your student) about it. Here’s a tip for you students: Parents like for you to be prepared, and since they don’t know how to use the internet, you have the upper hand. Do some research about where you might want to go and start talking to your parents about it. They know you better than you might think, and they may be able to share some helpful insight that you never thought about. Some things to consider are: in state or out of state? Large campus, or small one? Private or public? Research or teaching facility? Expensive, or ridiculously expensive?
There are many more things that really need to be discussed, and timing is very important. Missing deadline can mean the difference between admission and denial. One of my students listed her biggest fear as not being accepted. What are some of your fears? Maybe it’s time to start talking about them. My cell phone is always available, and it I’m not, please submit a question on the CLP website: www.collegelifeplanning.com/ask-the-experts
Bill Gates has a way with words. I am not going to lie, I feel like he is mocking Harvard grads, they worked so hard for that degree and he didn’t finish. Some would say, “see, I don’t need a degree.” Others might look at reasonable odds that a person that drops out of college is not likely to start a company, innovate an entire industry and make a billion dollars. Graduating from Harvard (or any college for that matter) may well be the start of a bright future working in a field that provides a great amount of happiness and security.
I do like his take on giving to a cause. I agree with that. My wife and I give a lot of time and money to organizations like he suggested because, like Bill Gates, I believe that the solutions to the world’s problems will come through normal people like you. And who knows, maybe you will start a company like Microsoft… In fact, I think you should.
Step 1 – Be a Pain! Let everyone know that you’re going to college and need their help.
- Never say no. Don’t ever take that “no” in your head for an answer!
- Find family support. So what if your parents didn’t go to college? Your folks may well have real experience and knowledge that can help you on your way.
- Call on coaches. Ask your teachers and coaches for advice on college – it’s their job to help you succeed.
- Gain experience. Track down places outside of school where you can get real-world experience from adults who can show you how it’s done.
- Seek advice. If you can’t talk with your school counselor, check your local community college or community center and meet with the counselors there.
- Make connections. Connect with family, friends or neighbors who have been to college and ask them how they got there.
Steps 2 – Push Yourself! Working a little harder today will make getting into college even easier.
- Take the right classes. To get into college, start by taking the right classes in high school. Find out what classes you need to meet entrance requirements and sign up for them now. Lock in requirements. You may not need them to finish high school, but most colleges require three to four years of math, English, science and social studies. Plus, most want at least two years of the same foreign language.
- Meet the challenge. Sure, grades are important, but the tougher the courses you take, the more likely it is that a college will decide to take you. In general, most colleges prefer students who challenge themselves with harder courses, even if they earn only average grades, than those who take easier courses just to get higher grades.
- Achieve honors. Honors and Advanced Placement courses are the gold standard for colleges and carry much more weight than other courses in working out your grade point average.
- Tap into computing. Courses in computer science (or even classes that require you to use computers in researching or completing projects) will give you the skills you need to make the grade at college.
(Exception: in some cases, tougher courses such as AP and Honors are not better than higher GPA College Prep- it is important to know and understand what the school you want to go to is looking for.)
Step 3 – Find the Right Fit! Find out what kind of school is the best match for you and your career goals.
- What’s the right match? The kind of college you choose to attend should reflect your goals and your personality. Whether you choose a public, private, community, technical, trade or even online college, make sure it’s the best match for you.
- Big or small? Do you want to attend a big university with more choices of studies and social activities, but also larger lecture classes? Or would you like fewer choices but more personal attention and a better chance to stand out? You decide.
- Home or away? Attending a local college versus boarding out of state – what’s better? It depends. For some, residence hall life is an important part of the college experience, but commuting from home is less expensive.
- Which major works? Figuring out what you like doing most, plus what you’re best at, can point to the careers you should consider – and what majors will help you reach your career goal.
- Why extras matter. Getting into extracurricular activities outside of class – band, science club, the school newspaper, drama or even volunteering – helps you discover what your real interests are and where you’re heading.
Step 4 – Put Your Hands on Some Cash! If you think you can’t afford college, think again. There’s lots of aid out there.
- Who gets it? Many more people than you might think. Financial aid is awarded based on need or merit – academic achievement, athletics and other talents. But you have to apply for aid to find out.
- What kind of money? Grants, scholarships, work-study, student loans – there are a lot of different types of financial aid out there. You need find out which kind or combination works best for your needs.
- Where do you look? Colleges expect you and your parents to pay what you can, but schools, state and federal governments, and private businesses and organizations are also great sources for financial aid.
- Is it free money? Not likely – most financial aid packages are a mixture of grants that don’t need to be paid back and loans that do, but not until after you graduate from college.
- How to apply. Your school guidance counselor can help you, including how to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which makes you a candidate for all federal student aid. For help online, go to http://www.collegegoalsundayusa.org/.
- Do deadlines matter? Absolutely. College financial aid goes fast. The earlier you can get in your FAFSA application and all of the other information that a college asks for, the sooner you’ll receive your financial aid package.
This is from the federal website: http://studentaid.ed.gov
There are exceptions and it is important to do your own research. Sometimes particular schools are looking for particular candidates. If you would like help, I would be more than happy to help walk you through the process!
College Life Planning
The first thing you will want to do is take a deep look inside… who are you? What are you passionate about? If you don’t know these answers, what about these- What subjects are you good at right now? Are there any subjects that you like? If you find a particular interest in biology, or history; you might find that that interest is more lasting than just a brief high school fling.
Start to seriously ask yourself what you may be interested in now. It may take years to develop those interests into actionable items, but if you start asking now you will have the answers sooner than if you wait.
Start with your interests and then move to your skills. You will want to like what you do (that’s your interests) but you’ve also got to be good at what you do (that’s your skills). Once you can see how your interests and skills work together in harmony, then you can start to develop a plan for your life that is lasting.
I spent a good part of my life very unsure of what I was doing. In fact I still have questions about my direction. But I know for sure that my passion is to ‘help’ people become who they were designed to be, and to live life to the fullest.
If you’re interested, I would be happy to meet with you through the MAPS profiling system we created in conjunction with Mike Adams. This profiling system is very affordable, and we can help to use your talents and strengths in conjunction with your interests and passions to develop a plan that you can use to guide you through the college planning process.
Call me! E-mail me! Text me! IM me! Whateve. I am available.