Be a person

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's important about the Harvard trial

What's important about the Harvard trial

Arguments in the Harvard trial wrapped up last week, and the judge is expected to make a ruling some time in the next few months. If you haven’t been following the case, here’s a pretty good summary of what you’d need to know.

Before I talk about the Harvard trial, I want to explain why I wasn’t going to talk about the Harvard trial.

Yes, you can write about that

Yes, you can write about that

One of the most common questions I got from students working on their college application essays when I was a high school teacher was "Is it okay to write about...?"

Is it okay to write about my depression? Is it okay to write about coming out as homosexual? Is it okay to write about how I used to be a really bad student? Is it okay to write about being an abuse survivor? Is it okay to talk about being bullied? Is it okay to talk about the time I was a bully?

Yes, it is okay.

Where you're going has what you want

Where you're going has what you want

The odds are high that you're going to a "safety" school, and the odds are very high you're not going to your "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. Just ask yourself how many times you've heard some sad person say "my problems all began when I graduated from a university that wasn't my dream school." You're going to be fine.

But there's a way to make sure you're going to be better than fine, but great. And that's to remind yourself that whatever it is you were looking for is available where you're going.

When you strip away the names and specifics but instead focus on the qualities that you were looking for, you can almost certainly find those qualities at the school you're going to attend.

The Glossary: demonstrated interest

The Glossary: demonstrated interest

Demonstrated interest is a term you'll hear often when people talk about college admissions. It means, well, exactly what it says: you've demonstrated that you're interested in a college you've applied to.

It seems like it should be obvious that you're interested if you've applied, but that's not necessarily the case. University admissions staff know that you may have applied because you really want to be there. They know that you may have applied because it's your safety school and not actually someplace you want to be if you can help it. They know that you may have applied because your boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend applied, and you're actually kind of secretly hoping that you don't get in. They know that your family may have pressured you to apply. They know that you may actually have no idea why you applied--that happens all the time.

My talk with seniors

My talk with seniors

Last week I had a chance to go over to my neighborhood high school and talk with juniors and seniors in their International Baccalaureate program. The students sent three questions ahead of the visit, and I had a chance to respond. I'm repeating the questions and answers here, because I think these are pretty common questions for college-bound students.

If you have other questions, leave them in the comments or email me. I'd love to talk about them!

Some advice about social media

Some advice about social media

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.

Whatever you were looking for, it's probably where you are

Whatever you were looking for, it's probably where you are

The odds are pretty good you're going to your "safety" school, and the odds are very high you're not going to your "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. Just ask yourself how many times you've heard "my problems all began when I graduated from a university that wasn't my dream school." You're going to be fine.

Writing your college mission statement

Writing your college mission statement

I normally hate mission statements. Ideally, a mission statement is honest, written well, to the point, helpful, and something that directs the group on a daily basis. As far as I can tell, no mission statement actually meets all those criteria. Personal, as opposed to organization, mission statements are even worse. They're usually so grandiose and vague that there's no way they can actually direct a person's energy and actions toward a better future. To my thinking, a feasible and actionable to-do list for tomorrow is almost always going to be better than a big fuzzy mission statement that covers the next three years.

But the thing is, college admissions season is actually a pretty good time to write a mission statement.

Talk with the Dean

Talk with the Dean

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.

Is it okay to write about....

Is it okay to write about....

One of the most common questions I got from students working on their college application essays was "Is it okay to write about...?"

Is it okay to write about my depression? Is it okay to write about coming out as homosexual? Is it okay to write about how I used to be a really bad student? Is it okay to write about being an abuse survivor? Is it okay to talk about being bullied? Is it okay to talk about the time I was a bully?

Why you don't deserve a scholarship

Why you don't deserve a scholarship

You don’t deserve a scholarship.

I’d like you to stop thinking that you might deserve a scholarship. I’d like you to stop wondering if you deserve a scholarship. You don’t deserve a scholarship. I don’t mean that others do deserve a scholarship but you don't, I just mean that we should be very cautious about this concept of Deserve. It’s not the best way to think about scholarships.