The end is near!

My children go back to school on August 27th. Depending on how your school calendar works, you probably have somewhere between one and three weeks of summer left. Or perhaps you've already begun. If your house is anything like mine, you're beginning to run out of planned activities and good ideas. So I thought I'd give some suggestions to smart and ambitious high school students for wrapping up the summer.

Do something active. Maybe you're not ready to think about high school yet, and you're certainly not ready to start thinking about college yet. You want to keep enjoying your break! That makes complete sense, and I don't blame you at all. But before you close this page and stop reading my advice, please consider this: do something that involves leaving your house and moving your body every day. If sleeping late is your thing, fine. If catching up on lots of screen time--wether it's social media, movies, games, or all of the above--is your thing, fine. But also do things that take you out of your home and keep your body moving. Go for a walk, work out, visit a museum, have lunch at a cheap cafe you've never visited before, take a day trip to a state park. Anything. Just leave your house and move your body at least once daily. You'll feel a lot less gross when it's time to go back to your academic routine.

What else can you do?

Reflect and set goals. We celebrate New Year's Day in January and renewed life and warmth in the spring. But, as Jordan Baker says in The Great Gatsby, "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall." Those of us who follow a school calendar know how true this is: the first day of school is at least as much New Year's Day as January 1st. What's more, research suggests that times of change and transition are when your mind is most open to new habits and routines. So do some reflecting. What's been great about the past year? What do you hope to do better? Which of your New Year's Resolutions do you want to have another go at? Spend two minutes watching this video about resolutions to get you thinking. 

After getting lost in your thoughts and reflections for a while, set some concrete, attainable goals. Maybe you want to raise your GPA, be a better friend, learn a new skill, or achieve an award or position. Whatever it is, make a straightforward goal and write it down.

The good thing is that there are plenty of tools out there to help you if setting and sticking to goals is not your strength. The bad thing is that you can literally waste days and weeks of your limited time on Earth going through all the tools out there. Here are a few that may be worth your time:

  * If you like super-concrete, hands-on, and daily (but expensive), consider the SELF Journal.

  * If you like small doses of advice categorized and tailored for exactly what's keeping you back, consider Unstuck.

  * If you like more traditional motivation that isn't Tony Robbins talking at you for hours on end, consider Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before.

  * If you're interested in the science and psychology behind habits and rituals, consider Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit.

Write your college mission statement. If you're about to be a senior, you should have done this already. If not, get started right now!

If you're about to be a junior, then now is the perfect time to write your first College Mission Statement. You've got plenty of time to change it as you keep growing and learning, but it's best to have a solid foundation for thinking about what you want to do, where you want to do it, and what's most important to you. Here is a simple guide for writing yours, and here is a detailed example of how to use it.

If you're only going into the 9th or 10th grade, it may be too early to write a mission statement and feel confident about it. That's fine. Really focus on the goal-setting for this school year instead.

If you're about to start the 12th grade, make it your goal to complete a college application before you start back to school. Find out how to apply (probably, but not necessarily, through the Common Application) and fill out all the basic information required. Write the essay and have at least three people look it over for comments. Send out an email asking for a recommendation letter, or at least signaling your intention to ask for one as soon as school begins. Find out how to get your test scores and transcript sent. Even if you're not able to submit your application before school starts, you can at least set it up so that you're only waiting on other people, not waiting on yourself. You may not have a complete list worked up of where you'll apply in the coming months, but there's at least one place you already know you'll be applying to. Get that going. You'll be ahead of the rush for rec letters and forms from your counselor. But most of all, you'll begin this hectic school year with momentum on your side.

Thanks for reading! Please share this with someone who would like to read it. This post originally ran last summer. Thanks for reading! For the summer, I'll only be posting once a week. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like me on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn

 Photo by Angela Elisabeth Portraits

Photo by Angela Elisabeth Portraits

Set goals for the new school year

As the new school year looms closer--or has already begun--it's time to think about your goals for the upcoming year. One mistake many students make is waiting until later in the year, often when something is going wrong, to think about their goals and aspirations. Of course you think about your goals and aspirations, but I mean thinking in a deliberate and analytical way. To do this, you're going to need to write your goals down. Let's take three typical goals for smart, ambitious high school students: make good grades, get a leadership position, and have less stress.

I love verbs, especially for things like this. If there are things you want to do or achieve over the next school year, then you should be able to list them as verbs. For setting goals, try these three: I want, I will, I need.

First, list a small number of things that you want (keep it to just a few, no more than four). For our examples, it's a matter of writing down the goals as "I want" statements and seeing if they're really our goals. "I want to get straight A's this year". "I want to be elected an officer of my club". "I want to feel less stress". If these are truly things you want, then great! Move on to the next step. 

Too often we initially list things as goals that aren't really our goals--they're someone else's goals, or just things we think we should do. There are reasons you may decide to get straight A's even if you don't care if you get straight A's. Maybe it's to keep your parents from nagging you, or maybe it's because you want to live up to the standards set by an older sibling. If you don't really care about getting good grades, don't write down that you do. If what you really want is to get more approval from your parents, write that down instead: "I want to have more approval from my family." You may decide that getting good grades is something you will do to achieve that goal, or you may decide there are other ways. But you're clear with yourself about what you really want and why you're doing what you're doing. Similarly, make sure you want a leadership position because you genuinely want it, not just because you think you need it for college applications. If you're not interested in leading the group--or even being in the group--but you do it because you believe colleges want you to, then change your goal to "I want to get accepted to my top-choice college." Again, you may end up staying in the club and even running to be an officer, but you may decide there's a more productive path to getting that acceptance than just being a resume.

Once you've listed a few things that you want, then it's time to commit and write down what you're going to do in order to achieve the goal. If I want to get straight A's, then I will commit to homework and studying for a set amount of time each day. If I want to feel less stress, then I will commit to some stress-relieving strategy each day, like meditating or exercising. If I want a leadership position, then I will commit to being at every club meeting and being an active member who people will trust as a leader. 

Again, it's really important to connect what you want with what you will do. If you have an "I will" statement that doesn't align with your "I want" statements, then you've either got unacknowledged wants or extra things to do. Figure out what's going on. Likewise, if there's something you need to do in order to get what you want, but you're not willing or able to actually do it, then you may need to re-set your wants. This is the moment to be honest with yourself. If you write down that you will you do something that you know you're not actually going to do, then you're setting yourself up for failure. However, connecting the "I will" to the "I want" is often a great motivator to do things you wouldn't have done before.

Few people, if any, achieve their goals on their own. Beyond what you will do in order to get what you want, there are also external things you will need. It could be that you need to let go of something else you've been doing in order to spend more time doing what you say you will do in order to get what you want. It could be that you need extra help in the form of tutoring. It could be that you need some special equipment or training. It could be that you just need someone to check up on you and give you some encouragement. Whatever you need in order to do what it takes to get what you want, write that down. Once again, make sure that your needs align with your wills and your wants.

So, following our examples, let's show what a strong statement of goals might look like.

I want to get straight A's; I want to be elected a leader in my school club; I want to feel less stress.
I will spend one hour every day from 6-7pm studying and completing homework without distraction; I will participate in every club meeting and volunteer to organize an event; I will spend ten minutes of every lunch period practicing quiet meditation.
I need regular tutoring from my math teacher; I need advice from the current club president; I need my friends to understand why I'm leaving lunch ten minutes early every day.

It's entirely possible you want, will, and need to set goals for the year, but don't like my suggestions. No problem. Here are some other places to begin:

How to Make (and Keep) a New Year's Resolution, from the New York Times's Smarter Living section.

A Complete Guide to Getting What You Want, from Raptitude.

Instead of Goals or Resolutions, Try Creating Rules, from Zen Habits.

The Ultimate Guide to Goal Setting, from Life Hack. 

If you prefer your productivity to be more 21st-century, there are also several apps to help you "gamify" your goals. You can try Bounty Tasker or Habitica. (Just to be clear, the phone apps are 21st-century. Gamifying is a bit older.)

Do you have a goal-setting method or source that needs sharing? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading! For the summer, I'll only be posting once a week. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like me on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn

 Photo by Angela Elisabeth Portraits

Photo by Angela Elisabeth Portraits

Read Apply with Sanity's latest newsletter

The latest monthly newsletter just went out for August. It has all of last month's Apply with Sanity blog posts, and it also has ten other links to interesting articles.

The newsletter is your single, readable resource for everything interesting that has to do with your college applications. It's for high school students and the adults who care about them.

It only takes a few seconds to sign up. Click here to subscribe to the newsletter, and click here for an archive of all the past ones.


Don't forget your summer reading!

I was an AP Lit teacher for nine years, so I have fond memories of summer reading. I always read everything I assigned to my students, every year. So I did the summer reading along with them (or at least a few of them. I'm not naive, most of them didn't do the summer reading). 

You've got, more or less, a month left of summer. If you haven't completed your assigned summer reading yet, now is the time. You must read your summer reading assignments. 

I understand: it's really easy to blow off your summer reading. You've got other things going on. There's probably only going to be a single test or assignment over the reading, and a quick conversation with a friend who read it or a quick perusal of a summary will usually be all you need for that test. You may have some philosophical argument against doing school work when school isn't in session, or you may find the reading boring. You may really intend to do the reading, some time, eventually, but procrastinate until you just don't get it done. You've probably blown off your summer reading before, and it probably wasn't too big a problem for you.

But here's the thing: no college-bound student should skip the summer reading.

The real reason to do your summer reading has little to do with the book, the class, or the test. It's simply that we only get good at things that we practice. Aristotle said "we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit" (Actually, Aristotle only sort-of said this). So when you blow off the summer reading and then have to cover your tracks, you're practicing the habits lying, cheating, and doing things half-way. Those are not useful habits in college, and certainly not after college. 

Instead, doing your summer reading gives you an opportunity to practice some really useful skills. Reading and thinking are useful, for sure. And so is time management. And following through on commitments. And exploring new interests. And keeping your cool when the studying gets tough. If it helps, just imagine you're in a training montage getting ready for something grand. But do your summer reading!

What if you're one of the students who didn't get any summer reading assigned? I asked a group of smart people from different walks of life (i.e. my Facebook friends) to recommend a book written in the past three years. Here's what they gave me. I haven't read all of them (or even heard of all of them), so I can't personally vouch for the books. But I can vouch for my friends.

Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow.

Morrison, God Help the Child

Stevenson, Just Mercy.

Ng, Little Fires Everywhere.

Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing

Darnielle, Universal Harvester

Sullivan, Beneath a Scarlet Sky.

And if I can add another, read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Richard II, and/or King Lear and then listen to the corresponding episode of the podcast Lend Me Your Ears

Thanks for reading! For the summer, I'll only be posting once a week. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like me on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn. Comments are welcomed. 

 Photo by Angela Elisabeth Portraits

Photo by Angela Elisabeth Portraits

The Glossary: undermatched

The Glossary: undermatched

Undermatched is the term for students who go to a college that is less selective and elite than what they could get accepted to. If you could get into one of the 20 most selective colleges but don't apply to any of them, then you are undermatched. If you probably would not get accepted to any of those (and most of us can't), but could still be accepted to one of the 200 most selective colleges but don't apply, then you're still undermatched. It has to do with the difference between where you could be accepted to versus where you actually apply.

Some fun financial exercises

Some fun financial exercises

Everyone knows that college is expensive. There are plenty of universities whose full published price is higher than the median family income in America. The numbers can be so big that they're hard to imagine and even harder to make realistic decisions about. So here's an exercise I do with most of my consulting clients. You can do this at home with your family.

SAT scores should look a lot more like AP scores

SAT scores should look a lot more like AP scores

SAT scores are weird. You get a number, ending in a zero, on a scale of 200 to 800, twice: one for reading & writing, one for math. You get a total score between 400 and 1600...except, of course, for those years when the writing was separate and you got somewhere between 600 and 2400. You're allowed to take the test multiple times and combine your highest reading & writing score with your highest math score, giving you a "superscore" that's higher than the total scores you got any of the individual times you took the test.

And then what? What does that number even mean?

Thinking about morning routines

Thinking about morning routines

SAT scores are weird. You get a number, ending in a zero, on a scale of 200 to 800, twice: one for reading & writing, one for math. You get a total score between 400 and 1600...except, of course, for those years when the writing was separate and you got somewhere between 600 and 2400. You're allowed to take the test multiple times and combine your highest reading & writing score with your highest math score, giving you a "superscore" that's higher than the total scores you got any of the individual times you took the test.

And then what? What does that number even mean?

The July newsletter is out!

The latest Apply with Sanity newsletter went out yesterday.

Things slow down a bit in the summer, so this month's newsletter is a slightly faster read than the past few. But there's still plenty to read about! Get all of June's Apply with Sanity blog posts in one place, plus other news about getting into college.

The newsletter is your single, readable resource for everything interesting that has to do with your college applications. It's for high school students and the adults who care about them.

It only takes a few seconds to sign up. Click here to subscribe to the newsletter, and click here for an archive of all the past ones.


Hey Google, where should I go to college?

About two weeks ago, Google announced they are severely enhancing their search tool to give you lots of information about colleges when you search for one. So if you do a Google search, for example, on SMU, then you’ll get several categories of data on SMU up at the top of the results page. They pull data from large government databses to get you all the relevant information—including average cost after finicial aid and where the school appears in a lot of different ranking systems. 

So what’s the big deal? Google gives you results search? Isn’t that what Google always does?

Partly, yes, it’s not a big deal that Google gives you information. But here’s what different: they give you a lot of easy-to-read information right at the top of your screen (it’s fully rolled out for your phone screen, and will eventually make it onto desktop as well). The information comes from reputable sources—it’s data, not advertising or opinion. And it’s all the same information for every four-year school in the U.S. 

So the first thing that comes to mind is that Google now competes with College Board’s Big Future and US News and World Reports. It’s a great, free resource for gathering information about schools. It’s professional and reliable. For this basic function, you might stop using Big Future. (If your school offers Naviance or College Greenlight, you may not use any of these. But my experience has taught me that those get ignored a lot by students.

There’s one major thing that Google’s enhanced search doesn’t seem to do that both Big Future and US News do, and that’s use a filter system where you can put in your test scores and preferences to get a list of possible matches. And if you sign up, both Big Future and US News will let you save your info and search results.

Also, at least so far, the “similar colleges” list doesn’t seem to be that great. I searched SMU, Southwestern University, and University of Texas at Dallas (because those are schools I’ve attended). For all, the listed similar colleges are just geographically close, not necessarily similar at all. I imagine as more people use Google it will track what they searach and imrpove the results on this. But it isn’t there yet. 

Another advantage that Google has over the other sites—which some people find creepy but others see as normal—is that Google is built on targeted advertising. So the more you search schools on Google and it figures out what you’re looking for, the more it can sell advertising to similar schools who will try to put their name up in front of you. It may take some time—even a few years—before it’s got enough data and establsihed advertisers to put all that together. But it could happen quick. If your internet is already good at seeimg to know what you want before you realize you want it, then soon this might be true of colleges, too. 

But please remember an important thing: if you’re interested in a colllege, you need to spend a lot of time on the school’s website. If they send you an email, click on the link! Google isn’t the only site that keeps track of their visitors. One of the primary ways that colleges guage demonstrated interest is to track how much time you spend on their site and which pages you visit. So do some searching on Google...or Big Future...or US News. But remember that you might have a lot to gain from also searching the colleges’ sites as well.

Thank you for reading! Please share this post with people you know. If you have questions, suggestions, or comments, I'd love to hear them. It's easy to follow Apply with Sanity on Facebook and Twitter. You can get Apply with Sanity sent to your inbox monthly by signing up here.

Full disclosre: I have several friends who work for Google. I haven’t discussed this with them, but I’m on vacation and will visit them this weekend. If they give me any additional info on the new college search, I’ll pass it along.

Help spread some sanity

Summer may be a break from school, but it's an incredibly busy time for working on college admissions--and not just for rising seniors.

If you know any college-bound high school students or their parents, let them know about Apply with Sanity!

They can follow along on the website, on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. They can also subscribe for a monthly newsletter with a recap of all the things. There's plenty of sanity for everyone, so share a little bit soon.

College admissions and jewel heists

Last weekend I went to see Ocean's 8 with my wife. We're fans of the story: I've seen the 1960 original with Frank Sinatra and the "Rat Pack," the 2001 re-make with George Clooney and Julia Roberts, the not-so-great sequels Ocean's 12 and Ocean's 13, and now this new one. Except Ocean's 8, I've seen them all multiple times. They're well-executed, elegant cinematography to look at, and they're clever. The movies are just smart enough that you don't feel like you're watching mind-numbing entertainment, but don't actually require a whole lot of thinking. 

And while I was watching Ocean's 8, I was thinking a lot about college admissions. Partly because thinking about college admissions is just what I do, even on the weekend, but also because I've used the "bank heist movie" analogy for college applications before.

The thing about the bank heist genre is that pretty much everyone has a specialized role. There's the mastermind, the investor, the safe-cracker, the getaway driver, the person on the inside, the pickpocket, the hacker, and so-on. The team works because it's made up of people with different skills, and they're all very good at their particular skill. Sure, they need some baseline qualities, like a willingness to engage in crime, but the team is built around a division of labor.

And if you want to join their team, you have to be really good at your specialty, not kinda good at someone else's specialty. Being a decent getaway driver isn't useful if they've already got a really good getaway driver. And none of the crew grew up hoping to be on Debbie (or Danny) Ocean's team, constantly asking "what can I do to get accepted to your team?" They just worked at being skilled at what they do, and then Ocean came to them.

Think of a college admissions dean like a Debbie or Danny Ocean. (Metaphorically. I searched for "most glamorous college admissions dean" and it looks like Google has never seen "admissions dean" and "glamorous" together.) Each year, they're putting together a team. Luckily, it's more than a team of eight or 11, it's hundreds or even thousands of people. But the basic principle is the same. They're never just ranking students in terms of how qualified they are and pulling from the top. They're always trying to make sure they have all the roles filled, each year. They need Humanities majors, Science majors, club leaders, fundraisers, athletes, artists, low-income students to help them achieve their goal of meritocracy, high-income students to help them achieve their goal of not going bankrupt, future professors, future business leaders, future board members. They need high school superstars to guarantee a certain level of success from the get-go, and they need "diamond in the rough" students to hope and cheer for. They need a team big enough to keep the school full, but not so many that the school is strained. There are a lot of bases to cover.

The admissions professionals at universities understand that this is what they're doing. The term they most often use for what they do is "building a class." They don't just accept individual students, they put together a group of students. Earlier this year I heard an admissions officer at a smaller liberal arts college refer to it as "crafting a community." I like that description. If you also understand this is what they're doing, you can increase the likelihood that you're part of the community.

Like the members of the bank heist team, there are some certain baseline qualifications everybody needs to have. You should take challenging classes in high school and do your best at them. You should write well. You should have someone--like a counselor or teacher--who can vouch for you in the form of a recommendation letter. 

The good thing is that there are plenty of colleges and universities who will accept you just for demonstrating those baseline qualities. But if you're hoping to go to a school that you would describe as a "dream school," if you're hoping to be invited to join a community that denies more people than it accepts, if you're hoping to go to a school known for its impressive students, then you have to do more than have the baseline qualities. You have to have qualities and skills that you've worked at and practiced. Simply copying what others have done because you know it worked in the past doesn't get you what you want, because it's missing the point. You'll end up being the decent getaway driver when they already have a great getaway driver.

So what do you do? Debbie Ocean has the answer. In the movie, when her (literal) partner in crime Lou asks her "Why do you need to do this?" Debbie answers "Because it's what I'm good at." This should be your motivation as well. Any time you wonder "what do colleges want?" you should instead ask "what am I good at?" There are some problems that you have a talent for solving. They may be mathematical or scientific problems. They may be analytical problems. They may be organizational, or emotional, or inter-personal, or physical. Figure out, if you haven't already, what kinds of problems you like to tackle. Then, find ways to practice tackling more of those problems.

When you do this, many of the extra-curricular programs at school will make a lot more sense. You don't join the robotics team because it looks good to colleges, you join it to practice solving complex physics and programming problems. You don't join the Model U.N. team because it looks good to colleges, you join it to practice solving negotiation problems. You don't join the volleyball team because colleges want you to be athletic, you join it to give you practice solving problems around teamwork and personal discipline. If you hone your skills, then it will be a lot easier to locate--and join--the best crew for you. 


Thanks for reading! My other favorite heist movies are Ronin, Bellman and True, Sexy Beast, and To Catch a Thief. What are yours? For the summer, I'll only be posting once a week. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like me on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn. Comments are welcomed.

 Photo from  Ocean's 8 official website . These are actors, in a fictional story. You should not steal diamond jewelry to pay for college.

Photo from Ocean's 8 official website. These are actors, in a fictional story. You should not steal diamond jewelry to pay for college.

Apply with Sanity is looking for the next round of Meet the Class seniors

Last year, from September to May, I checked in once a month with two high school seniors about their college admissions ups and downs. You can read all their interviews here.

Now I'm looking for this year's class! I'd like to find three to five college-bound seniors who will share their stories with us. Ideally, they'll be from different backgrounds and different types of schools.

All it requires is answering a round of questions over email once a month. I won't use any identifying information other than your first name, so it's relatively anonymous. 

If you're interested, just fill out the Contact form.


Making a useful college mission statement

I've written about how and why to craft a college mission statement, but I want to follow up with more detail and give a sense of how you might use the mission statement to help make your college search more efficient and effective.

Let's walk through Kim's mission statement and see how it works. And let me state something obvious that needs repeating: Kim's preferences are simply what she wants and likes. They're neither good nor bad, and they're different than yours. That's just fine.

What we put together is this: "I want to study social sciences and have opportunities for research and professional interactions with professors at a small- to medium-sized urban university, preferably on the East or West coast, with a traditional campus feel and a clear path to graduate programs."

  * "I want to study social sciences" Kim doesn't know what she wants to major in, which is okay because she still has a year of high school left (and she'll probably change her mind once she gets to college). But she's pretty confident it will be in the Social Sciences category. Maybe Political Science, maybe Sociology, maybe Criminology. She'd like to be an FBI agent or work in public policy. When she thinks about giving back to society, it takes the form of public policy more than volunteering spare time or spare change.

  * "and have opportunities for research and professional interactions with professors" Academics are only a part of college life. There are also lots of social, athletic, spiritual, and professional opportunities. For some people, classes aren't even the major focus of college, just something they need to do in order to have access to the other stuff. But for Kim, the academics are central. She'd like opportunities to help with research, and she's interested in interacting with professors outside the classroom.

  * "at a small- to medium-sized urban university" Kim wants to live in a city. She's much more flexible on the size of the campus than the size of its location. 

  * "preferably on the East or West Coast" While based more on past experience than anything objective, Kim feels a strong preference for East and West. She won't ignore good fits from the South or Midwest, but she isn't really seeking them out.

  * "with a traditional campus feel" This has come up a lot with Kim. She really likes a traditional college vibe. Stone buildings, a concentrated quad with a big lawn, things like that. She's reconciled this love of old traditional college campuses with her desire to live in a city she can explore by looking for schools that are like small self-contained spaces within a larger context. So, for example, Columbia in New York City is much more appealing to her than NYU. I suspect she's been heavily influenced by Rice University here in Houston, which feels very much like a small town in the middle of a giant city.

  * "and a clear path to graduate school." Virtually any university is a path to graduate school, but Kim wants to make sure she's at a place where it's normal to go on to a graduate program and she can have support for working toward a graduate program.

We didn't get to this mission statement quickly--this was the fourth of six sessions. I wouldn't ask anyone to put together a concise mission statement about what they want until they've spent a lot of time really exploring what they want first. There are other things that Kim and I talked about that I know she'd like in a college, but these are her priorities.

After putting the statement into a readable, if lengthy, sentence, we went back and gave weights to each element based on a 100-point scale. By giving weights and scores to the different elements of her mission statement, Kim can be clear to herself and others what's most important, what's kind of important, and what's only marginally important. It also gives her a way to compare and even rank schools based on her criteria, not the criteria of a magazine or website. The "top 100 schools in the nation" don't matter to Kim--the "top 100 schools for Kim" matter to her.

  * "I want to study social sciences" 40 points. As much as Kim likes to think about the aesthetics and general vibe of a school, she recognizes that studying for her degree is the most important to her, so she gives this a lot of weight. In our session, we looked up the most popular majors for schools on Big Future. If "Social Sciences" was on the list, she gave the school at least 30 points. If it was the top major, with over 30% of students majoring in social sciences? Then it gets all 40 points. 

  * "and have opportunities for research and professional interactions with professors" 40 points. This aspect is the other most important one to Kim. She needs to be at place, wherever it is, where she feels welcome to visit professors during office hours and she can have opportunities to participate in research and internships. She wants to be very hands-on with her academic classes. We had to use published faculty-student ratios as a proxy for access to professors and projects. This isn't a perfect measurement, but it's something she can get a better look at during campus visits and her own research.

  * "at a small- to medium-sized urban university" 5 points. Size makes a difference to Kim--she doesn't want to feel lost at a giant school. But she also recognizes that she can figure out schools of different sizes as long as the other stuff is taken care of. Again, we used the official College Board designations to determine what is small and medium. 

  * "preferably on the East or West Coast" 5 points. Kim prefers to look at D.C., New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Seattle. But she's open-minded if a good fit comes along from somewhere else.

  * "with a traditional campus feel" 10 points. Kim's less flexible about the general feeling and tone of her college. This was the most difficult part to gauge for us in our short session. We mostly just looked at photos of campuses online and had to make a determination. She can work on getting a clearer sense over the next year through further searching and possibly visits.

  * "and a clear path to graduate school." 0 points. For Kim's own motivation, and to be clear in her communication with schools about what she's interested in, she kept this in her mission statement. But we also recognized that it's really hard to measure, and that counting for this is probably the same as counting for opportunities for research and projects. So it stays in the statement but gets no points.

I also asked Kim to give bonus points for safety schools. I cannot overstate how important this is. Too many students have a completely separate search for safety schools. They apply to schools they want to attend, and then they apply to a few schools they don't have much interest in but are likely accept them. This can turn out disastrous! Safety schools should be schools that match your criteria...and also are likely to accept you. They may not be "dream schools," but you don't want to count them out. To help keep safety schools on the short list, we add bonus points to them. How exactly to define a safety school is different for each student and each situation, but this is what we did for Kim: we added 5 points for schools whose overall acceptance rate is over 80%. For schools where her SAT scores are above their mid range, we added another 5 points. 

(Kim is confident that the schools she's looking at are within her financial reach, so we didn't include cost in the mission statement. If cost is a major factor for you, add bonus points for schools that fit your financial need. You may even put cost into your mission statement.)

Then, to make sure everything seemed right, we tested the mission statement. We scored three schools that I already know she's really interested in to make sure they got high scores. We scored three schools I know she's not interested in to make sure they got low scores. This also made Kim rethink her weights and points. When Franklin Olin College of Engineering, which only offers degrees in engineering, got high marks for being in an urban center and having a really low student-to-faculty ratio, she had to decide if she wanted to put less emphasis on those elements and even more on a strong social science program. But Olin still got less than 50 points, so she kept things as they were.

So now Kim has a working mission statement, with weighted scores. Think about how useful this is to her.

It's useful in a passive sense, because when Kim gets a brochure or email from a college, she can get a quick sense of how interested she might be in the school with only about a three-minute online search. How big and where is the campus? What's the faculty-student ratio? Is Social Sciences a major department? Done. Kim doesn't overlook good fits just because she hasn't heard of them, and she doesn't waste time exploring not-so-good fits just because a school has a familiar name. It also helps her cut through the marketing and look at what's really important to her. She doesn't have to figure out which school she should pursue based on comparing one school's standard class-under-a-tree photo with another's.

There's also a more active way that this mission statement is useful. When Kim is doing more in-depth research, or visiting a campus, or talking to a school's representative, she has very specific questions to ask. She's trying to get accurate scores for the sections of her mission statement. So Kim is moving beyond just "is Social Sciences popular at this school?' and also asking "what percentage of Social Science majors go on to graduate programs?" And "Does the university have graduate programs in the social sciences, and if so how does that affect the undergrad program?" She's also getting a sense of just how much the school's community interacts--remember, she's looking for urban areas--with the greater community. Is there a subway stop nearby? What kind of local partnerships does the school have? Having this mission statement and weights gives Kim a clear way to actively seek what she's looking for rather than just going on a campus tour hoping to be wowed by the dining hall selections.

One last thing that I tried to make clear to Kim and I'll try to make clear here. While this process is literally formulaic, it doesn't have to be rigid. All it does is make you more self-aware. Kim can change and tweak her mission statement and the weights as much as she needs as she keeps developing over her next two years of high school. If there's a school that doesn't score high on her mission statement that she stills wants to apply to because it has some special feeling, that's great. If a school scores really high but just repels her for some reason, no problem. But she'll be aware that she's applying to a school that has a special something even though it doesn't fit what she says she wants. She'll be aware that she's passing up something that fits her needs, at least on paper. She can still be swayed, but she won't easily get played.

What's important to you is probably very different than what's important to Kim. She's not considering sports, Greek life, cost, quality of boarding, or several other things that many people do consider. But whatever is important to you, once you understand what that is, can be put into a mission statement like hers. It makes you a much more active problem-solver and less of a passive product hoping to get accepted somewhere.

[This is an editied version of a post I first ran last year.]

Thanks for reading! Please share this with someone who would like to read it. For the summer, I'll only be posting once a week. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like me on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn. Comments are welcomed.


The Glossary: summer melt

Summer melt refers to the students who graduate high school planning on going to college in the fall...but don't make it. It's hard to count exactly how many people this includes--it depends on who you ask, and how you define "planning on going to college"--but most estimates for high school graduates who change their plans over the first summer are between 10% and 40%. That's a lot of melting students! The majority of students affected by summer melt are low-income and/or first-generation, but it happens to some extent across the board. 

Most of the advice about solving summer melt, or at least making it smaller, is directed at adults like high school counselors and college enrollment offices. This makes sense, because one of the main factors of summer melt is not having enough support or encouragement. However, there are things any incoming college student--at any year, not just the first year--can do to stay cool (as in, not melt) over the summer.

If someone is nudging you, don't ignore them. The main tactic people use to prevent summer melt is simply to keep in contact. Some high school counselors send text reminders to their now-former students reminding them to keep up with preparations for college. Some colleges have teams of administrators, students, or alumni who try their best to stay in touch with incoming first-year students and make sure they're doing what needs to be done in order to enroll in the fall. Some family members are known to nag at their children. Whoever is reaching out to you, do not ignore them! If you're absolutely, 100% sure you have everything you need, have done everything you need to do, and will have zero questions or problems, then politely tell them so. But almost no one is ever absolutely, 100% sure of such things, so stay in touch with those people. They're doing what has been demonstrated as useful to getting you where you want to be--even if not every single message is exactly what you need to hear in exactly the right words or tone--so keep engaging with them.

If no one is nudging you, then you have to find somebody to be your go-to. It can be a parent, family member, someone at the college, a teacher or counselor from your high school...almost anyone you trust. It would be better if it's a person with college experience. It should not be somebody who has an interest in you not going to college, like a boss at your summer job or a friend who isn't going to college. As soon as possible, just tell them what you're looking for. Something like "I'm trying to go to college this fall, but I know that the process from now till then can be tricky. Can I count on you to give me reminders and help me answer questions?" Wherever you go in life, whatever you do, finding a mentor can be the difference between huge success and solitary failure. So go ahead and get practicing now.

Understand the specific problem and practice saying it aloud. This is by far the most difficult piece of advice here, so let me tell a story to help explain:

Many years ago, I had a student--a senior, just weeks away from graduation--get really angry at the school. He was visibly upset, and said things like "I hate this school! It's so overbearing and fascist!" Now, this was a small and quirky magnet school for gifted & talented students. It had its faults, but I'd never heard it called fascist before then. I asked him, a normally cheerful guy, what was so wrong with the school. He was angry that the school was requiring him to wear the graduation cap and gown to the graduation ceremony. He just wanted to wear nice clothes without the cap and gown, but the "fascist" school wouldn't let him participate without wearing them. I tried to explain that virtually every high school and university in the country, possibly the world, has special clothes for ceremonies. That the funny hats and robes of our tradition go back to medieval universities; that there was nothing particularly wrong with asking people participating in a ceremony to wear ceremonial clothes. "But they messed up my order and I don't have  gown that fits!" Ah, that was the problem. The wrong-sized-gown problem was easily fixed, but he didn't know that it was easily fixed. And, frustrated at the technical problem he didn't know how to solve, he decided he'd go without and be angry at the school instead. 

I suspect that a similar thing happens with a lot of summer melt students. A problem comes up that they don't know how to solve. Maybe it has to do with going to an orientation week in the middle of the summer, when you don't have the money and getting a week off work isn't easy. Maybe the financial aid isn't working the way it was supposed to. Maybe there are forms asking for information you don't have. And so students, not sure what to do, decide they're just not going to college.

To prevent this from happening, you need two things. First, you need that person you can trust to help you out. And next, you need to be able to say very specifically what the problem is. You have to be able to say "I'm supposed to go to an orientation, but I have no way of getting there and I don't have the week off. What can I do instead?" You have to be able to say "now that I'm getting a better understanding of the real cost, I don't think this financial aid package is really going to be enough. What can I do to make this work?" You have to be able to say "I don't understand this form, and I don't have all the information. Is there someone who can help?" There's going to be someone on the college campus who can help you, but you'll need to know what help it is you're asking for, and you need someone--probably and adult--to help you figure it all out. But understanding and being able to explain the problem is always the first step to getting it solved.

Make a back-up plan. "We'll see what happens" is not a back-up plan. If it looks like there may be difficulty in you getting to college this fall, make a "just in case" back-up plan. Use if/then statements, like "if I can't get more financial aid and make this affordable, I will enroll at the local community college instead." It's hard to predict exactly what the problem may be or what the back-up may be. But for whatever problem you do encounter, work up a back-up plan while you're also trying to find a solution to the problem. So don't give up on  the college you're think you're going to, but also look for other ideas that don't involve never making it to college.

(For more on Summer Melt, begin here, here, here, and here.)

Is there another term you'd like to see in The Glossary? Let me know, and I'll explain it!

Thanks for reading! Please share this with someone who would like to read it. For the summer, I'll only be posting once a week. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like me on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn. Comments are welcomed.

The Glossary: rolling admissions

The Glossary: rolling admissions

Rolling admissions means that universities assess your application on a first-come, first-served basis when they get it. There is usually no final deadline to apply. You just send in your application when it's ready, they have a look, and they get back to you fairly soon--usually around four weeks. Most--but not all--of the schools that have rolling admissions are large, state schools. They are large and robust enough to just look at each application as it comes in and decide if you're admissible or not without trying to "craft a community" or compare you to their other options. Some of the universities with rolling admissions are places you've probably heard of, like Penn State, Michigan State, and Arizona State. If you're looking at a college that has rolling admissions, especially if you're looking for a college because it has rolling admissions, there are a few things to understand.

Three things you can do right now

1. Sign up to get my monthly newsletter. The next one will be coming out June 1st. It has all the content you may have missed from Apply with Sanity, plus links to several handfuls of college admissions news. 

2. If you are a student who will be applying to college next year and are willing to let me interview you once a month about your process, let me know that you're interested by hitting the Contact button or emailing me at Benjamin at Applywithsanity dot com. You can get a look at what it entails by reading this year's batch.

3. If you're an adult who has some college advice you'd like me to share, pass it along! Hit the Contact button or email me at Benjamin at Applywithsanity dot com. But there's a catch: it needs to be 12 words or fewer!