With that story in mind, I want to encourage you to stop doing the things that aren’t making you a better student or happier person, even if those things are generally considered good. You already know you should stop giving in to your “bad” habits; we all know that. But if a “good” habit, like my student’s thorough re-reading of dictionary definitions, isn’t helping you, then please let it go.
While it’s common knowledge that most college applications involve writing an essay or two, it’s not as well known that many—but not all—also require you to answer some shorter questions. These are often referred to as “supplemental questions” or “supplemental essays,” because even schools that participate in the Common Application may ask you to supplement the common essay with some short questions specific to their admissions program. These questions usually ask for very short and concise answers, ranging from 50 to around 200 words. They’re not essays, but they’re more than just filling in a blank with objective information.
I was a little surprised to read last week that the people who have the most influence on high school students' college decisions is their parents. (You can read the full Department of Education report here.) For an example of why I found that surprising, consider that a friend told me that the number one question his high schooler son asks him about college is "why do you keep talking to me about college?" But it also makes sense, because your parents have been talking to you about college, directly or indirectly, like it or not, a lot longer than anyone else has. Unless you're going to completely ignore your family and go straight to the second-largest influence, "myself," you can get the most wisdom from what your family says to you.
You're not a software company, but you still want to improve your productivity, which means getting more useful things done in less time. As a student, one of the best things you can do for both the quality of your study time and how much study time you need is follow the company's lead and find quiet places for concentration. This may sound obvious, but I know from years of teaching that lots of students try to do their studying in loud and distracting places. (Extreme example: I once saw a student doing AP Calculus homework at her senior prom.)
I'm sure you've heard a thousand times that college admissions officers sometimes check on the social media posts of applicants. You've heard that you should be careful what you say--writers tell you not to post anything you wouldn't want your grandmother to see--but also that you should be sure to make your accomplishments clear. You've been told that colleges don't want to see photos of you with booze in your hand, but that they do want to see you're a well-rounded person with a social life. They want to see that you're engaged with your community, but that you don't get into hateful arguments or use poor judgement. You've been told all this already, and you don't need me to tell you again.
The College Board announced that they're reducing the number of times a year they'll administer SAT exams, mostly as a way to reduce cheating. They know that cheating is a problem they have to deal with.
Let me tell you about some of my favorite cheating stories. There's a point, I promise.
I follow College Vine, but rarely actually read the posts. There are too many of them (usually several a day), and they're too specific ("How to organize a high school study session," for example, or "Community service projects for music majors").
Each post in itself is to the point and well-meaning, but when added up they even make me nervous that nobody's doing enough in high school. In several ways College Vine is the opposite of Apply with Sanity.
But you know what? Yesterday's "Eight Tips to Use Your Time Efficiently and Stay Organized in High School" is really good. I sincerely encourage you to read it.
But "Leading your school's chapter of UNICEF club"? There's a very tiny chance you need to read that one.
Back in December I had a phone conversation with Christine Bowman, the Dean of Admission and Enrollment Services at Southwestern University. [See full disclosure below.] I originally reached out to her to ask about admissions essays and how they're analyzed, but over an hour we talked about a number of things. Here are the three main ideas that came up.
Cal Newport is a Computer Science professor and productivity writer. You may have seen his recent piece in the New York Times about social media. While his intended audience has shifted toward professionals, specifically "knowledge workers," earlier in his career he wrote a lot about and for students.
Two of Newport's earlier books are especially good for ambitious high school students.
One of the Five Foundations to Applying with Sanity is to talk to your family about money. Soon.
But that can be really hard to do. And how do you even start that conversation?