Do you want to be a part of Apply with Sanity?

Every year from September to May, Apply with Sanity follows several seniors as they make it through their college application journey. It’s called Meet the Class, and you can read all the posts from the last two years here.

I’m looking for a few seniors who would like to participate this year.

You would commit to a few things:

Respond to my email, once a month, about where you are in the process. I ask questions about facts and feelings. You don’t need to spend hours writing pages, but readers really do appreciate full answers.

Respond to a follow-up question now and then.

Continue to respond all year, and respond in a timely manner—I usually send questions at the beginning of the month and publish responses in the middle of the month.

On my end, I’ll promise a few things:

I’ll be respectful of your time and feelings—I’ve got no intentions of being mean or asking hundreds of questions.

I’ll give you anonymity. I’ll use your first name and say what state you’re in, but that’s it. You can even use a fake first name. In the past, some Meet the Class students have provided me a photo, and some haven’t. Either is fine with me.

Does this sound interesting to you? Do have you have any questions or concerns? Are you someone who is not about to start 12th grade, but have questions about the process you’re hoping I’ll ask? Hit the Contact button and send me a message! Let’s show the world what you go through to achieve your college success!

Revisiting morning routines

Last summer, after reading a book about the morning routines of successful people, I wrote about how high school students should consider their own morning routines and how they may change in college. I’d like to re-post it, but I want to add a few comments first based on feedback I got last year.

First, as anyone who has been in any kind of internet argument has heard, correlation does not equal causation. I don’t believe that meditating, exercising, or drinking water in the morning is what made the people successful. A whole lot goes into making a life where you’re even able to do those things with regularity. What’s more likely is that a lot of hard work, time, and luck made these people successful, and that in turn gave them the time/motivation to do those things. But, as the saying goes, dress for the job you want, not the job you have. And if these are some of the markers of a successful creative career, then it’s still not a bad idea to begin sooner rather than later.

Second, I didn’t make explicit why a high school student might care about the morning routines of successful adults or why a high school student may want to think about morning routines at all. And it boils down to this: once in you’re in college, you have much more control over your schedule and your routines. That comes with greater freedom, and it also comes with greater responsibility. So just as you’re preparing for other aspects of your college life—academic, social, and financial—it would be wise to consider things like time management and routines.

Ok, on to the re-run….

The middle of the summer is the absolute worst time to think about productive morning routines. It's a time meant for staying up late and sleeping even later. Which means, of course, that now is the absolute best time to begin thinking about morning routines! You need to start planning the routine before you need it.

What's got me thinking about morning routines is that I actually read an entire book about morning routines this week: Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander's My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired. I wanted something fairly light and easy to read while on a plane for vacation. I'm also interested in learning how to structure a day. When I was a high school teacher, I didn't need to know how to structure my time. I clocked in every morning, and bells rang every 45 minutes to tell us where to go. At one point we even got a screen at the back of the classroom with a timer ticking down how much time was left each period. But now that I work for myself at home, I'm learning how to make my own productive routines--and how not to make them. After so many years telling students that good time management is the key to success in college and beyond, it's been pretty humbling to have to re-learn time management. I thought the book might help. It didn't.

And honestly, I don't really recommend the book. It's cool to see the variety of ways that successful people spend their mornings to prepare for the day, but it gets kind of boring fast. And I wish I had known before buying the book that it's mostly a compilation of interviews from their website. There are obvious contradictions in the book, because not everyone's ideal morning routine is going to be the same. There is no easy formula. Except...

At the back of the book, and on the website, they have a Statistics section that covers commonalities among the almost 300 interviews they've done. When you look at the big picture, you see that successful people seem to do a lot of the same things in the morning, and they're things that we all can do to get us going in the right direction. For example:

64% meditate or practice yoga in the morning, and 78% exercise in the morning.

Over half eat fruit for breakfast, and over half list "water" as their first drink of the day.

40% of them--working adults, many of them parents--get eight hours of sleep a night.

This is kind of hard for me to write, because I rarely sleep eight hours during the week, never meditate or exercise in the morning, and have several cups of coffee before I even think about water. But that's the point; we can all improve. And it's also comforting to see that some "bad" habits are still quite normal for successful people with strong morning routines: 49% check their email immediately after waking, and 61% check their phone immediately.

One thing I'm learning, often the hard way, is that a habit you should have when you're older is probably a habit you should have had when you were younger. I'm 43, and the past two years have been the first time in my life with a constant and premeditated exercise routine. What prompted it? Taking care of my injured back--a back that probably wouldn't be injured if I had exercised when I was younger. When I think of things I wish I'd had or known when I was in college, basic motivation and routines are high on the list. A car would have been nice, but an understanding of where and when I concentrate best would have been so much nicer. And this is why you need to think about your morning routines now, if you haven't already. There is no better way to begin your day refreshed, focused, and ready for success than planning out how the morning will begin and giving yourself what you need to make the plan work. 

Thanks for reading! Please send this to someone who would like to read it, or share it on your social networks. I’m on my summer schedule, which means I’ll only have posts on Thursday for a while. I’ll be back next week.

Apply with Sanity doesn’t have ads or annoying pop-ups. It doesn’t share user data, sell user data, or even track personal data. It doesn’t do anything to “monetize” you. You’re nothing but a reader to me, and that means everything to me.

Photo by Zoe Herring.

Apply with Sanity is a registered trademark of Apply with Sanity, LLC. All rights reserved.

Why I do what I do

Last weekend I was fortunate to be one of the presenters at a college access workshop presented by Wonderworks, an enrichment program sponsored by Rice and the University of Houston. The pre-written text of my talk, called “Temporary Insanity: College Admission, American Style” is below. I welcome your comments and questions!

If I have time, I’ll explain what I do. The short version is that I write about college admissions, and you can read it all for free on applywithsanity.com whenever you like. I also take on individual consulting clients, but not a lot—I’m currently working with eight rising seniors.

But today I think it’s more important to talk about how I got here, why I do what I do. I’m still relatively new to this space—I’ve only been doing this for three years. Before that I was a high school teacher for 17 years.

My last nine years as a classroom teacher, I pretty much had my dream job. I taught AP Literature and AP Art History at a small magnet high school for gifted and talented students.  All my students were smart (not always perfect students, but always smart). All my students were college bound. My students, from all over the city, had a variety of backgrounds. It was, honestly, beautiful.

Because most of my students were seniors, I tried to be helpful with college admissions. I assigned a Common Application essay the first week of school to make sure everyone had a chance for professional feedback (and because it made me popular with parents). I had lots of one-on-one conversations with students about college, and I had lots of classroom discussions about the process. I started devoting more and more time and attention to college admissions because I saw how incredibly stressful and chaotic—overwhelming, sometimes—the whole process was to so many of my students. And these were some of the most prepared and best trained in Houston! Apply with Sanity gets its name from the insanity that I saw every year, especially in the spring.

When I was applying to college, slightly before the World Wide Web and long before College Confidential, I followed the pattern of a lot of my friends: I applied to four schools. I applied to my top two choices. I applied to the University of Texas, because it was cheaper and the application—which were all filled out by hand—only took about ten minutes. (It was also less impossible to get accepted to UT Austin in those days.) Then I took all the other schools that I’d heard of and thought were interesting that were far away and I’d never visited…and I picked one of them, almost randomly. There wasn’t the time or money or energy to apply to 20 colleges.

Things are different today. The internet makes information about any of the thousands of colleges readily available. The Common Application, Coalition Application, and Apply Texas can make it almost as easy to apply to 20 colleges as 2. Fee waivers sometimes make it as free to apply to 20 as 2. But I’m not here today to blame the internet or “kids these days.” When it comes to the insanity I saw, there was more than that.

Working with seniors going to college, I noticed several troubling patterns:

1. They didn’t have a plan. They had deadlines, and the vague and unhelpful goal of “getting into the best school they could.” But no real plan for how to get there. Sometimes they applied to schools they had little interest in, because they liked the representative who came to talk about the college or because a friend said it was a good school. The Common Application—especially with fee waivers—can make this way too easy. Sometimes they didn’t apply to schools they were really interested in that would have been good matches, just because they hadn’t managed their time well and missed a deadline. The most common way to alleviate these problems was just to apply to lots of schools. Cast a wide net and see what comes up. This approach often made the spring semester much more stressful than the fall. It turns out that getting 6 not-so-great acceptances isn’t better than getting one from a school that’s actually the right fit.

2. They wrote horrible essays. Ok, maybe not horrible. But mediocre, boring essays, which is not what college-bound gifted and talented students ought to be writing. And for admission at a selective university, a horrible essay and a mediocre essay are pretty much the same thing. The weird thing is that the college application essays, where you get to talk about yourself and your own experiences, were generally worse than their other writing the rest of the year. I really believe the problems with essays exemplify much larger issues.

Students were too focused on the prompt itself. They weren’t comfortable with an open-ended, “so tell me about yourself” prompt. They were more used to essay prompts with a clear objective. The personal writing prompts on college applications are open-ended, and people stuck in the “am I worthy” mindset don’t do well with open-ended prompts. So instead they wrote bland essays that answered the prompts in literal ways rather than taking the time—and the risk involved—to really divulge much of themselves.

Related to that is that too many college-bound high school students haven’t always given a lot of thought into who they are and what their aspirations are. Who they are is a top student. What they aspire to is to go to a good college. Outside of that, though, can be a problem. I read a book by a zen meditation teacher who said that one of the most difficult and liberating experiences you can have is to ask yourself earnestly and honestly “who am I?” and to answer earnestly and honestly “I don’t know.” That’s a great experience to have before college admissions season…or after. But to have that kind of crisis in the middle of admissions season makes for mediocre essays and a rough senior year.

3. They hadn’t discussed money with their parents. At all. I’m no longer at that high school, but I go back every year and do a workshop with them. Every year I ask the seniors “how many of you have an idea of what is affordable to your family, in dollar terms. How many of you have had that talk?” At most, a third raise their hands. Imagine making any other purchase this way. Imagine shopping for a car, or a home, or even a family vacation without having a firm idea of what your budget is. Imagine being asked to choose your top six choices for a car first, then finding out how much they cost, and lastly being told how much money you have to spend.

Part of this is built into the system. Everybody can see what the published price of a school is, and everyone knows that financial aid is available. But nobody knows what their financial aid offer will be until they’ve already applied and are accepted. There’s not a lot we can do about this.

Part of this is the student’s fault. Students are often scared to ask. Students have to be prepared to ask hard questions like “what’s our final number? What’s the most you’ll be able to pay to help? What’s the most that I should feel ok borrowing? Can you tell me how you arrived at those numbers? Can you walk me through your taxes?” These are incredibly difficult and scary questions to ask, but asking them can make a lot of the process much less difficult and scary. You have to start early, because it’s going to take several conversations before you get where you need to be.

Part of this—most of it, I think—is on parents. Parents can help by giving honest estimates of what’s affordable and providing evidence to make their child feel comfortable that it’s accurate. The two extremes are common from parents, and they’re the worst. If all a parent says is “we’ll take care of it, don’t worry,” that kid is going to worry. They either don’t believe that you actually have a few extra hundred thousand dollars sitting around, or they can’t believe you’ve been holding back all their life. If all a parent says is “we can’t afford it, you have to get scholarships,” students don’t always know what that means. “What happens if the FAFSA says that you should pay more than nothing? Will that mean I’m not going to college? Does ‘we can’t afford it’ mean that my family is much worse off financially than I thought, and I’m being selfish even thinking about college? Does it mean that my family isn’t as willing to sacrifice for me as I thought?” The repercussions can be much wider and deeper than we think. I’m a parent, too, so I understand how weird this can feel. But we have to do it. We’re going to have that discussion sooner or later, when it’s time to actually choose a school and pay, so it’s better to have it sooner.

Those are the main causes of the insanity of the process. Going into a major life decision with no plan, no idea if you can afford it, and a mindset that’s completely opposite of what it should be? And then punting on arguably the most important part of the application, the essay where you get to show your humanity? That will make you crazy, at least temporarily.

The good news is that most students make it out…fine. The spring, when you have your choices and their costs laid out for you, is difficult. Students often feel a mix of elation and defeat, even when they’re going off to college in the fall. A number of my students switched colleges after their first year, but few dropped out. It will be fine.

Apply with Sanity is based on the idea that, with some planning and fore-thought, we can do a lot better that fine. Thank you.

Thanks for reading! Please send this to someone who would like to read it, or share it on your social networks. I’m on my summer schedule, which means I’ll only have posts on Thursday for a while. I’ll be back next week.

Apply with Sanity doesn’t have ads or annoying pop-ups. It doesn’t share user data, sell user data, or even track personal data. It doesn’t do anything to “monetize” you. You’re nothing but a reader to me, and that means everything to me.

Photo by Angela Elisabeth.

Apply with Sanity is a registered trademark of Apply with Sanity, LLC. All rights reserved.

Summer homework

Summer homework

A few years ago The Atlantic published this article by Joe Pinsker titled "Rich Kids Study English." It's a really fascinating piece that I hope you'll take the time to read, but here's the main idea: "the amount of money a college student’s parents make does correlate with what that person studies. Kids from lower-income families tend toward 'useful' majors, such as computer science, math, and physics. Those whose parents make more money flock to history, English, and performing arts." Hence the title. Pinsker looks at several explanations and unanswered questions about this connection with having wealthier parents and choosing lower-paying career paths. "It’s speculative," he says, "but richer students might be going on to take lower-paying jobs because they have the knowledge that their parents’ money will arrive eventually."

While the premise makes sense--if your family has more money and support then you can afford not to worry about paychecks as much when choosing your college classes--it's not the full picture.

Things I say all the time

Things I say all the time

We’ve all got those words, phrases, and sentences that we use all the time. I over-use the word “apparently,” and some quick searches through this blog make me realize I apparently also over-use the phrase “all the time.” But behind the words and sentences that we repeat often are the ideas and worldviews that drive us. So this week I thought I’d explain the thoughts and motives behind some of the sentences I use most in my job as someone who writes about college admissions and advises students on their own admissions paths.

Putting together a résumé

Putting together a résumé

One of my Five Foundations of Applying with Sanity is to “be a person, not a résumé.” By that I mean to remember to think of yourself as an authentic person with complexity and contradictions, not just a list of achievements and statistics. That’s really important as a metaphor. But often you need a literal résumé. Scholarship applications may ask for a résumé. College applications sometimes (but not too often) ask for a résumé. Teachers and counselors may want a résumé to help them compose a recommendation letter. Potential employers very often ask for a résumé—that’s what résumés were created for. On top of that, it can be a useful exercise to go through and organize your thoughts about yourself and what you want to say about yourself. So with all that in mind, here are some things to consider when putting together, or revising, your résumé.

Visiting colleges over the summer

Visiting colleges over the summer

It’s summer time, and for a lot of people—especially rising seniors—that means college campus visits. Some people take time to visit colleges near them. Some incorporate campus tours into their summer family vacations. Some make campus tours the whole point of the vacation. Some…never tour a campus and do just fine. So let’s talk about visiting campuses in the summer.

You're not trying to impress anyone

You're not trying to impress anyone

If you’re hoping to get into college by impressing the admissions office, I want you to let go of that idea right now. You’re not going to impress them. Your SAT or ACT scores—even if perfect—are not going to impress them. Your GPA is not going to impress them. Your list of activities and awards is not going to impress them. Your letters of recommendation are not going to impress them. If your college admissions strategy is to impress, rethink your strategy.

I know this sounds gloomy, but it’s not. Stay with me.

It's ok to relax about the new "adversity score"

It's ok to relax about the new "adversity score"

There’s been a lot of talk this week about the College Board’s new Environmental Context Dashboard and “Adversity Score.” And a lot of people don’t like the new program. Some want it to do more, some want it to do less. Some don’t want it to exist at all. And here’s my take on the program:

We can all just relax about the “adversity score.” I don’t think this will be a big deal, nor do I think it should be. Let’s look at some key ideas.

A reminder about social media

A reminder about social media

I don't think you need me to repeat the standard advice: un-tag yourself from photos you don't want colleges to see, make sure you have your school-friendly photos and résumé-building awards on public settings for the world to see, avoid anything that hints at academic imperfection.

The problem with this sort of advice, practical and accurate as it is, is that the overall message and tone of the advice is to consider yourself always watched and always performing. Never say or do anything that colleges don't like, as if all colleges "like" the same things. I advise against doing anything, no matter how productive or good on the surface, simply because colleges want to see you do it.

What should current 10th and 9th graders do this summer?

What should current 10th and 9th graders do this summer?

What should sophomores do this summer to be better prepared for college?

Train. You're like a professional athlete during the off-season. You get a lot more flexibility with your schedule and a lot fewer people watching you as you work, but you've got to spend this time productively. Does this mean to fill up your day with summer school classes and be a constant student? No. Like pro athletes, find another way to enhance the skills you have.

Four things juniors should do before the end of the school year

Four things juniors should do before the end of the school year

It’s been a week since most college-bound seniors made their final decision and commitment about where they will be next year. That means the clock is really ticking for current juniors, who have another 51 weeks to complete their own admissions process. An entire year from now may seem like a long time to get it all done. It may seem like a really short time. Both are true: it’s still plenty of time, but it will go by really quick.

The college you're going to has what you want

The college you're going to has what you want

Everything may have gone exactly as you hoped, and you’re getting ready to go to your dream school. If so, congratulations! But there’s a really good chance it didn’t work that way, and you’re not going to a dream school. That's very normal; it has a lot more to do with the economics and logistics of admissions than you as a person. If you find an unhappy or unproductive adult and ask them what caused their problems, I guarantee they won’t say “I didn’t get into Stanford and my life has been miserable since that day. I only got a normal college degree, and my life is a waste.” It just doesn’t work that way. You’re going to be fine.

The two things you need for success in college and beyond

The two things you need for success in college and beyond

Today’s post is about two things you need for success in high school, college, and beyond: a meditation routine and a time management system. Maybe need is a strong word. You can get by without either of these things—many people do. But I promise that a meditation routine and time management system will never be a waste of your time or effort.

Still making a last-minute decision?

Still making a last-minute decision?

You may have already made that decision a while ago. If so, congratulations! But if you're still struggling to choose between two schools, or three schools, or seven schools or however many, then you may be looking for some help. 

At this point, I'm assuming that money probably isn't the issue. If you're stuck choosing between a school you can afford and a school you can’t afford, then you're not really struggling to decide...you're just procrastinating.  I'm also guessing that if you're still struggling to decide, then a simple "make a list of pros and cons for each school" is something you've already thought of and found unhelpful. Still, if you haven't checked a school's vital stats lately--graduation rate, rate of sophomore return, student-faculty ratio--then go back and look those over.