A List of Activities You May Not Have Considered Including—But That Count!

These were inspired by my colleagues in my College Essay Forum for Counselors private Facebook group: 

Job shadowing, building your own projects, being the go-to tech person or social media expert for family/neighborhood/organization/school, starting and running own small businesses (lawn mowing, tutoring, power washing, baked goods, children's party planner), photography, writing, playing instruments, ventriloquism, self-taught language courses like Duolingo, taking MOOCs to learn coding, composing EDM, selling stuff on eBay, arts & crafts, fashion blogging, beekeeping, glass-blowing, scuba diving certification, EMT certification, taking a part-time job to help with family expenses, academic enrichment (summer program, online class certificate, etc.), training pet goats, dogs, parrots to become therapy animals and getting them certified to visit senior living facilities, cleaning out grandma's attic stuff collected over the years, selling it on EBay, then saving that money to buy a car, maintenance or set-up for high school sporting events (baseball field prep, setting up the timing equipment for swim meets or track meets), juggling or unicycling, yoga, mountain-biking, bird watching, sport refereeing (not in their primary sport), Book Club (outside of school), cosplay + designing costumes, Fantasy football statistician, manager, recruiter, webmaster, or listing all the books you've ever read…

Got an activity that's not here but should be? Add it in the comments below!

25+ Amazing 1-Minute Ideas to Take Your College Essay Consulting to the Next Level

I (Ethan Sawyer, College Essay Guy) love it when articles and conference presentations offer a few take-away gems. But why not just create a presentation with *only* the gems, I thought? So I reached out to some of my favorite counselors and asked for their best essay tips and—voila!—this document came into existence. I’m grateful to the following folks for making important contributions to this article: Evelyn Alexander, Casey Rowley, Piotr Dabrowski, Chris Reeves, Susan Dabbar, Noah Kagan, Devon Sawyer, Josh Stephens, Lisa Kateri Gilbode, Randolf Arguelles.

Problem 1: How can I build rapport with my students more quickly?

1-Minute Solution: On your intake form, ask students to name a band or musician they're listening to lately. Then, when they come in for their one-on-one session, have that artist playing on Pandora.

Pro-Tip: Get Pandora One for just $3.99/mo to avoid getting interrupted by annoying ads.

Another idea: Ask a more interesting question than “How are you?” when you’re first checking in with a student. For example, “What are you celebrating today?” or “What mixed emotions are you experiencing at this moment?”

For more ideas, check out this list of 100 Brave and Interesting Questions.

Problem 2: How can I keep students engaged during a three-day essay boot camp (and even get kids to talk about my sessions long after the fact)?

1-Minute Solution: Invest in great snacks. “Chocolate is a must,” says Chris Reeves, “and a Costco or Sam's Club membership can be key. Last year,” he adds, “I found Hot Fries to be pretty epic with the guys.”

Pro Tip: Ask attendees if they have allergies. If so, research the best snacks that won't kill anyone.

Another idea: Myers-Briggs (MBTI) mini-session

During multi-day essay workshops, I (Ethan) like to break things up after lunch on the second day with a mini Myers-Briggs assessment. How? First, I’ll introduce MBTI—what it is, how it was developed. Then I’ll give students a brief Myers-Briggs assessment by going through the preferences and having them self-select as they look at this chart. (I do this with lots of jokes and personal examples.) Next I’ll have them go to www.16personalities.com, take a brief assessment, and see what resonates. We spend 10 minutes or so on this, as it’s a great energizer, then we dive back into the essay work.

Problem 3: What are some ways to beat writer’s block?

1-Minute Solution: 4 ways to break free:

1. Move: Put on your headphones, blast your favorite tunes and talk a walk. Rake some leaves. Shake it loose with movement. Remember physics? Momentum will create new energy.

2. Play: Toss a ball with a friend. Color in one of those cool adult coloring books, grab a hunk of clay and mold something. Get dirty and tactile.

3. Motivate: As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her TED talk, you’ve got to sit down at the keyboard and invite the muse to show up. In short, don’t wait for your moment of inspiration; create it. Or give your perfectionism a rest and give yourself permission to “get a B+”.

4. Freewrite: Don’t necessarily start at the beginning and try not to overthink things. Do think randomly. Begin with a raw, non-linear, brain-dump. Or try writing morning pages. If writing or typing slows you down, use a dictation app like Dragon.

Problem 4: I just want to record a quick video (for example, to show a student where to click on a particular website) but I don’t want to go through the hassle of setting up a camera, etc.

1-Minute Solution: Use Jing to record a quick video of your screen, then share it via Screencast.com. Jing is here. Or record directly from your Mac using QuickTime (no download needed)! To record from Mac: Open your Applications folder to find QuickTime (or use Spotlight). Once it's open, go to File > New Screen Recording and then click the Record button. You can choose between recording a portion of your screen or the entire screen. QuickTime tutorial is here.

Problem 5: Sometimes I just want to explain something quickly but I'm afraid it will take me too long to type it out and I'd rather not schedule a whole session with a student to explain a small thing. What should I do?

1-Minute Solution: See above! Record notes via video and then share it via Google Drive.

Problem 6: I have a student who seems to forget everything we talk about in our sessions. What can I do?

1-Minute Solution: Refer that student to another counselor! (Kidding.) Try Skype Call Recorder. Record the session in dual screen and then drag the file into a Google Drive folder with that student’s name on it, so that student can go back and remember what you discussed. You can record sessions remotely or in person.

Heads-up: This will start to take up a lot of space, so you’ll want to be diligent about dragging those files onto a separate hard drive and deleting them from your computer.

Bonus tip: One back-up drive isn’t enough. You need a back-up drive for your back-up drive that doesn’t live in the same place as your first back-up (i.e. your home/office). Keep a second back-up of your files elsewhere—perhaps on the Cloud. I recommend getting two of these. They’re inexpensive and haven’t failed me. I also back everything up on Google Drive.

Problem 7: I’m worried about liability with my students. We get pretty personal and I’m not 100% certain what might happen, but I just want to cover myself.

1-Minute Solution: Record your sessions. How? As mentioned above, record remote sessions via Skype Call Recorder or in-person sessions with the Quicktime method.

Problem 8: Sending drafts back and forth via microsoft word seems to take too long. (OR) I’m tired of typing in all caps.

1-Minute Solution: Are you using Google docs (aka Google Drive) yet? Maybe. But are you really using it? Here are three things you may not be doing:

  1. Restoring an earlier version of a document.
  2. Changing your status from “Editing” to “Suggesting” in the upper right corner.
  3. Typing with your voice. (Really, Google docs does that? Yup.)

Click here for seven more Google docs hacks that teachers (and counselors!) should know, including How to Create and Organize a Table of Contents.

Problem 9: How can I help keep students from missing sessions or coming without homework finished?

1-Minute Solution: Set up text reminders with AppToto.

Problem 10: How can I help my students avoid cliché language?

Idea #1: When you re-reading an essay draft, highlight all the clichés. Take as long as you need to replace them with expressions of your own phrasing. Even if your phrasing doesn't seem as "clever" or "eloquent," the essay will instantly become stronger and more genuine.

Idea #2: Imagine that your nemesis—your worst enemy, your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, your grade-school bully—is reading your essay. Highlight the parts that they would pick up on as being unconvincing, confusing, not credible, melodramatic, or disingenuous. Then strengthen it accordingly by making it more honest, more clear, more realistic, and more grounded.

Problem 11: How do I let students know that they are driving this process and I am the navigator?

1-Minute Solution: Lisa Kateri Gilbode gives each student a set of pilot wings. “They become sort of like their superhero capes,” she says, “And when we meet they wear their wings and it reminds them that they are in the lead.” Get sets of 10 pilot wings on Amazon for $18.88.

Problem 12: How can I be sure I'm listening more than talking in my one-on-one sessions with students?

1-Minute Solution: Along with their pilot wings, Lisa’s Gilbode’s students get a cricket clicker and because they are in the lead they get to click it when I do more of the talking and less listening. Get 12 clickers on Amazon for $7.71.

Problem 13: How can I help parents feel they have contributed during the essay-writing process but still keep healthy boundaries?

1-Minute Solution: At the start of the process, have parents complete a set of parent homework questions, which offers them a chance to feel heard and, in some cases, dump all of their hopes and fears. Then ask: Anything else? Then say (to those parents who want to be CC'd on drafts): “Sorry, we don’t do that, as we worry about too many cooks in the kitchen” (OR) “we like to make sure the student is really in the driver’s seat.” Then say, “I’d love to give the student a chance to work on the essays for a while with me, and we’ll check back in for feedback once the essays are in a good place and the student is ready.” Note that this questionnaire can be just 10 good questions long.

Pro Tip: I (Ethan) give parents the Values Exercise and have them complete it, then say, “Once finished, please list the top three values that you’d like to impart to your son/daughter, with a brief explanation.” Why do this? It 1) can help parents feel more connected to the process, 2) offers parents a sense of what exercises their student will be doing, 3) sometimes sparks neat conversations within the family.

Problem 14: I’m an independent counselor and I want more people to know about me and the great work I do with my students!

1-Minute Solution: Check out Sujan Patel’s “100 Days of Growth” PDF. For the first 26 pages, click here. To purchase the rest for $27 (and it’s worth much, much more), click here.

Problem 15: I’m an independent counselor and I really have no idea if my marketing is working or not!

1-Minute Solution: Do you have as many clients as you want? Great, you’re done! If not, use Dorie Clark’s Recognized Expert Evaluation Toolkit, which has great ideas for creating content, establishing social proof, and building your network, plus it has a self-assessment to help you rate how you’re doing.

Problem 16: How do I get my students to show and not tell?

1-Minute Solution:  Have your students write down a list of adjectives that they want the colleges to know about themselves. Then tell the students they are not allowed to use those adjectives in their personal statements. Instead, make them tell stories that will force the reader to conclude that the students have those qualities. This takes practice, but great writing is rewriting.

Problem 17:  How do my students know if their personal statement is personal enough?

1-Minute Solution: (Speaking to a student) Get together with a group of friends after you've written your first drafts of personal statements. Don't put the authors' names on the drafts. Mix them up and pass them around. Your friends should be able to tell which draft you wrote. If they can’t, your personal statement may not be personal enough.

Problem 18:  I want to show my students good examples of personal statements, but I don't want to show them college application personal statements because I’m concerned they might just copy the structure and content of the examples. Where can I tell them to look for good examples of non-college app personal statements?

1-Minute Solution: Check out NPR’s This I Believe.

Pro-Tip: Some teens like the piece by pro skateboarder Tony Hawk.

Problem 19: How can I get my procrastinating student(s) to focus for just 25 minutes on an essay draft?

1-Minute Solution: Have them download the Tomato One app, which is a simple timer that counts down from 25 minutes. It dings, then gives a five-minute break, then counts down another 25 minutes. Note that this has been responsible for all of my most productive days.

Problem 20: How can I liven up a boring/CLICHÉ essay topic?

1-Minute Solution: Play the UC (Uncommon Connections) Game. All will be explained on that page.

Problem 21: How can I improve an essay in just one minute?

1-Minute Solution: Look at this Values Exercise and ask these three questions:

  1. Which values are coming through really clearly in the essay?
  2. Which values are kind of coming through but could be coming through more clearly?
  3. Which values aren’t there yet but could be?

For more: Watch the Great College Essay Test.

Problem 22: How do I get students to come up with interesting topics for the “intellectual vitality” supplemental essay (for Stanford, and other schools)?

1-Minute Solution: Check out this Google spreadsheet with every TED talk ever. Have students search for topics that interest them (e.g. neuroscience, climate change) and then binge watch some TED talks.

Problem 23: Tired of pestering a student who won’t respond to deadlines and is constantly making excuses?

1-Minute Solution: Outsource the pestering by hiring a personal coach via Coach.me. For as little as $65/mo, the student gets unlimited emails and in-app communication. This has positively changed the game for a couple of my students—and either you can suggest it to parents and let them pay the cost or work it into your fee, as I do (it’s worth it!). I recommend Kendra.

Problem 24: The majority of my students are overseas and work with me online. How do I create a welcoming environment when we are not working in person?

1-Minute Solution: On the intake form, ask where their happy place is. Where does the student feel most empowered, comfortable and/or creative? Then use green-screen technology to create that space in my location. How? Use Zoom Meeting Pro which has built-in chromakey technology ($14.95/mo for a single host). You can also use WeVideo, which is a bit more finicky, but some students overseas don't have the power to support Zoom.

Here are some how-to videos:

Problem 25: What do I do when a student is incredibly anxious about essays/college admissions/testing, etc?

1-Minute Solution:

A. Check-in at the beginning of the meeting. Often we have a small window to meet with students and when they come in we’re not really sure where they are mentally before diving into a conversation about their future, which often involves heavy self-reflection/decision making. It can be incredibly helpful to “check-in” with a student for literally 30 seconds to see where they are mentally.

B. Stop Breathe Think is an app and website with short meditation and mindfulness resources. On their homepage you can complete a few questions and add your mood/feelings and it will give you suggestions on everything from gratitude, to short meditations, breathing and journaling. I’ll ask a student to do one of these exercises between now and the next time we meet and then I’ll follow up with their experience.

C. Listen to the most relaxing song ever. Or click here for a guided meditation I created using that song as background.

Problem 26: How can I improve every essay workshop I give… in just one minute?

1-Minute Solution: Spend one minute answering these three questions:

  1. What do I want them to know?
  2. What do I want them to feel?
  3. What do I want them to do?

And that’s just what I did for this article… I wanted you to know a wide range of tools, tips and tricks. I wanted you to feel informed, energized and inspired. I wanted you to return to your work with more ease, purpose and joy.

So go do that now.

Here are a few more contributions shared at the IECA Conference in May, 2017:

  • Spread comfy pillows on the floor of your office!
  • Ask students to pick three (and only three!) people to receive feedback from.
  • Write three drafts and ALWAYS start fresh each time.
  • Turn on the voice memo feature on your phone and just let the student talk. Then give them the audio and say, “Go write that down.”
  • For students who feel they can’t write *anything*, have them write for one minute, then count the words they wrote and ask, “Could we do a few more in the next minute?” Build little wins.
  • Have the student list their superhero characteristics. (Student is the superhero.)
  • My favorite: Use the visual mind-mapping tool called coggle.it , which helps students create an outline in just a few minutes.

25+ Amazing 1-Minute Ideas to Take Your College Counseling to the Next Level

college counseling tips

My colleagues (Evelyn Alexander and Casey Rowley) and I spent several weeks in early 2017 asking some of the best counselors in the land for their best advice. We curated their top tips and presented the best ones at the WACAC and HECA conferences.

Then we thought: Why not share these more widely? So that’s what this is: 25+ tips to improve your counseling life.

Why the plus sign? That’s where you come in.

Please add your best 1-minute idea in the comments below! Links encouraged.

Contributors so far include: Evelyn Alexander, Casey Rowley, Ethan Sawyer, Piotr Dabrowski, Chris Reeves, Susan Dabbar, Noah Kagan, Devon Sawyer, Josh Stephens, Lisa Kateri Gilbode, Scottie Hill, Randolf Arguelles, Arun Ponnusamy, Pat Croner, Shannon Miller, Stacy Kadesh…

And, hopefully, you. 

Please add your ideas in the comment section--and feel free to use the format we’ve used below.

Here are some of our favorites so far: 

Problem 1: You meet with a student and they are incredibly anxious about college admissions/testing and the entire process. How do you dive into your meeting (especially when you have limited time with the student), but ensure that the student is ready for a bigger conversation?

1-minute solution:

  • Check-in at the beginning of the meeting. Oftentimes we have a small window to meet with students and when they come in we’re not really sure where they are mentally before diving into a conversation about their future that involves heavy self-reflection/decision making. It can be incredibly helpful to “check-in” with a student for literally 30 seconds to see where they are mentally. This can be done with a simple check-in question such as, “If you could put your mood into a weather, what kind of weather would you be? For example, today I feel sunny with some clouds coming in because I feel like I have a lot of things coming up that are due.” Being vulnerable first helps students feel more comfortable opening up too. In groups, something as simple as stretching for 1 minute can make a big difference.
  • Stop Breathe Think is an app and website with short meditation and mindfulness resources. On their homepage you can complete a few questions and add your mood/feelings and it will give you suggestions on everything from gratitude, to short meditations, breathing and journaling. I’ll ask a student to do one of these exercises between now and the next time we meet and then I’ll follow up with their experience.

Link to content: https://app.stopbreathethink.org/

Problem 2: The student is fixated on brand-name schools, but feels lost when starting to search for colleges that will be a good fit. We ask students to do research on colleges that fit their wants/needs and values, we preach college fit, but what is an easy clear way to get a student to see what they want?

1-minute solution: Draw your own college. This is an exercise to challenge students to draw a bird’s eye view of their own dream college. The guided exercise has the student draw everything from the student union to resources and clubs on campus, classroom size, curriculum and environment outside of the classroom. Students are able to visually imagine the things important to them in a college. Have the student take a picture or keep it in their file so when you are meeting with them later on you can remind them of their picture when they get fixated on a college that doesn’t really make sense.

Link: https://collegecounselorrowley.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/draw-your-own-college-activity.pdf

Problem 3: The college application process has so many steps! How do you help students keep track, not procrastinate and stay focused?

1-minute solution: Help them break it up into manageable pieces. Encourage them to write a list of short, attainable goals for the week, month and semester. They can write goals in their phone and set reminders that will pop up on their screen. Ex. “By the end of this month I will take my SAT and start to research my colleges list. By the end of summer, I will have first drafts of my UC essay written and a complete college list with deadlines.” Encourage students to write goals in a place that works best: notes on iPhone, in a notebook, calendar, etc.--whatever they’ll actually look at.

Problem 4: If a student can’t visit the college and is trying to get a sense of the campus environment. (urban, secluded, etc.) Or if they are having a hard time getting to know a college that they haven’t really heard of and are unable to visit.

1-minute solution: Use Google Maps and virtual tours! This one might seem out of place, but I promise it’s a powerful tool. It can be hard to have faith that a college is a good “fit” for you when you have never visited the campus. Google maps has the amazing ability to help create a vision of not just the campus, but its surroundings and context. Put the university in the search engine and zoom out a little. What do you see? Museums? Mountains? Access to a metro station that takes you into town? Where is the closest airport? What is the population of the town around campus? What does the closest town have? Also use virtual tours to get an interactive experience as if you were there!

Link to content: https://www.google.com/maps; www.youvisit.com

Problem 5: Families get the award letter and are shocked, angry, surprised. How do you get them to research earlier with tools that will work?

1-minute solution: Send these four powerful tools home with families:

  1. Net Price Calculator (on every college’s website)
  2. College Navigator by National Center for Education Statistics
  3. FAFSA4Caster
  4. www.collegedata.com.

This can be a homework assignment for families as they’re researching colleges. They key is to get them to utilize these resources earlier. Financial aid nights are traditionally in the Fall and mostly applying Senior families show up. Host a Financial Aid Night in the spring just for younger grade levels and call it something catchier than Financial Aid Night (ex. How Colleges Can Be More Affordable Than You Think). Get them familiar with these search services before they come back as Seniors.

Links:

Problem 6: Time management for homework. Students are inundated with hours of homework. After getting home, after completing extracurriculars, the time it takes to complete homework can be insane. How do you study smarter, not harder?

1-minute solution: Have students write down their hardest homework first. Not the longest project, but the subject they struggle with most. Tackle that one first, take a 5 minute snack/social media/zone out break, and then tackle the next toughest subject. Save your easiest subject for the end when it’s 9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. and your brain is fried from a full day. Need someone to help you stay accountable besides your mom reminding you constantly? Check out Coach.me below.

Problem 7: Student is having a hard time deciding which college to commit to.

1-minute solution: Magic wand exercise: Keep a magic wand in your office. It's useful at the end of the year, when a student is torn between 2 schools and can't decide. We make a pros and cons list, and if it's dead even (i.e. one is not way more expensive than the other) I take the list away and rip it up in front of them. I tell them that they already know the answer - their body knows. We are going to use magic to get to what the body knows. I take out my wand and wave it over them and say "It's decided, you are going to XYZ University!" and I tell them the spell lasts for 24 hours. They can come back and see me in 24 hours to have the spell reversed if they feel gross/don't sleep in the next day. But now they need to leave, tell people it's decided, and carry on like normal. (Extra bonus points for working out/hiking/singing/dancing or doing whatever else makes them get in the “zone”  and out of their head. ) More often than not, they come back and say “I felt great this past day! I'm so happy! I'm going to put down a deposit at XYZ University.” If they come back and say “I feel gross. I had nightmares. I hated saying XYZ University out loud to people.” I reverse the spell and we go with ABC University.

Source: Scottie Hill, Archer School of Girls

Link: Actually get a wand! http://www.musicwands.com/

Problem 8: Student has impressive qualifications, but still has a hard time wrapping their mind around the competitiveness of highly selective colleges. Parents might say: “But Johnny is the valedictorian and captain of his team, of course Stanford would want him!”

1-minute solution: Use data to help your students and parents gain perspective and a little humility about how competitive these schools are. For example, show your parent/student the image below (which doesn’t even include international applicants!) to illustrate the caliber of other applicants they will be going up against. You don’t have to say much to help them see that there are roughly 40,000 number one students throughout the United States alone.

Source: Arun Ponnusamy, CollegeWise

Another 1-minute solution: Tell them this: Colleges are looking for students who will contribute to their campus--who will GIVE as well as take. Think hard about WHY you are a good match for each school. Articulate what you will bring to the community and what you will gain from it. Your chances of being admitted will be higher.

Problem 9: Getting students to research more colleges.

1-minute solution: College Research Project. Ideal in a Junior classroom. Each student must choose a college they have never heard of and give a small presentation similar to what a college representative would do(facts, key programs, financial aid, etc.). By the time the presentations are over each student has learned about 20-30 new colleges depending on the class size.

Link to tool: Also, check out the video from Evelyn Alexander, founder of Magellan College Counseling: “How to Research a College” for some extra help: https://youtu.be/VkCDDqmCEJs

Further info: Georgia Tech Admissions Director Rick Clark wrote a great blog post about how college admission isn’t “fair”--it’s mission-driven.  This brings home the point even further that students MUST know the stated philosophy/mission of each college to which they apply:  IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE.  https://pwp.gatech.edu/admission-blog/2017/05/16/admission-its-not-fair/  

Problem 10: Getting students (and parents) to consider great options beyond the UCs and CSUs (and/or they think that the UCs and CSUs are going to be less expensive).

1-minute solution: Use RACC! This is a great group of folks who are experts on helping California students attend out-of-state schools. For school counselors, they will come to your school and conduct mini-college fairs, give presentations and offer case studies. For IECs--heck just give them a call and ask them out for coffee!

Resource:  http://www.regionaladmissions.com/

Problem 11: Student doesn’t know which teachers to ask for letters of recommendation.

1-minute solution: Have juniors read an actual downloaded copy of the teacher recommendation so that they know exactly how teachers are evaluating them.

If the school is not a Naviance school or if you’re an IEC, you’ll need to go into your Common App account, if you have one, and enter the FERPA/recommendations section.  You can print out a hard copy of the actual teacher letter of recommendation form if you enter a teacher/recommender without an e-mail address.

Problem 12: How do I get students to think about their priorities for their college experience (instead of just focusing on the names)?

1-minute solution: Corsava Cards and Cafe. Have students sort cards and choose their Top 10 priorities. Then, they can take a photo with their phone and SEARCH for these things as they research colleges. They’ve identified their priorities--now they can actually look for colleges that fit those priorities!

Problem 13: Parents want to drive the whole process.

1-minute solution: Ensure the student knows they have ownership. How? Speak to (and make direct eye-contact with) the student at the end of each session and say “You’re in charge here.” And let the parents see and hear you do this. Keep doing this until they get it.

Problem 14: Parents who want to talk about college. All. The. Time.

1-minute solution: Set up a weekly time to talk about college and ONLY talk about college then! This is a big problem. From the student’s perspective, their parents (and sometimes relatives--hello, can we talk about something else at Thanksgiving?!) are ambushing them daily. It really accomplishes nothing except to shut teenagers down. Make a game out of it--whoever talks about college first during a non-college time has to buy ice cream for the whole family.

Resource: Check out College Essay Guy’s podcast episode with Maria Furtado for more great tips.

Problem 15: How do I get 100% of my students to turn in their essays ahead of time without fail?

1-minute solution:

  • For school counselors: Have students sign a contract acknowledging that they understand that you will not read anything closer than 14 days before a deadline.
  • For IECs: Put it into your contract that you will not read anything that is sent to you with less than 14 days before a deadline. If this is not in your contract, create a document around Labor Day laying out your goals for submission timelines.

Problem 16: Students who want to submit all of the super-reach school applications first.

1-minute solution: Don’t! Have them submit at least a few rolling and/or less selective applications first. Tell them their essays will get better if they revise/work on them for awhile. Why? So you can get a couple acceptances early! Save some of the harder ones (NOT ALL!) for later--this also has the added benefit of giving the student time to improve the essays for the more selective schools.

Problem 17: Students who want to submit all of their super-reach schools a minute before the deadline.

1-minute solution:  

  • Tell them squeezing 27 essays into a week’s time is not going to yield super-awesome essays that really tell their story.  
  • Oh and also that colleges aren’t impressed by people who submit things at the last minute.  
  • Resource: College Essay Guy’s “Why Us” series.

Problem 18:  Getting students to love their safe schools

1-minute solution: Have them research famous alumni at each school.  Did you know Rainn Wilson (from The Office) graduated from UW? Ann Curry (NBC News) and Ty Burrell (Modern Family) from University of Oregon? Greg Kinnear, Jerry Bruckheimer and Kristin Wiig from University of Arizona?  Does anyone know where Matt Lauer went to college? (Hint: it’s probably a safety school for most students!)

Note: these final tips will repeat from the essays-only version of this session/blog post. You can check out the rest of the tips at this link.

Problem 19: How can I build rapport with my students more quickly?

1-Minute Solution: On your intake form, ask students to name a band or musician they're listening to lately. Then, when they come in for their one-on-one session, have that artist playing on Pandora.

Pro-Tip: Get Pandora One for just $3.99/mo to avoid getting interrupted by annoying ads.

Another idea: Ask a more interesting question than “How are you?” when you’re first checking in with a student. For example, “What are you celebrating today?” or “What mixed emotions are you experiencing at this moment?”

For more ideas, check out this list of 100 Brave and Interesting Questions.

Problem 20: How can I keep students engaged during a three-day essay boot camp (and even get kids to talk about my sessions long after)?

1-Minute Solution: Invest in great snacks. “Chocolate is a must,” says Chris Reeves, “and a Costco or Sam's Club membership can be key. Last year,” he adds, “I found Hot Fries to be pretty epic with the guys.”

Pro Tip: Ask attendees if they have allergies. If so, research the best snacks that won't kill anyone.

Another idea: Myers-Briggs (MBTI) mini-session

During multi-day essay workshops, I (Ethan) like to break things up after lunch on the second day with a mini Myers-Briggs assessment. How? First, I’ll introduce MBTI—what it is, how it was developed. Then I’ll give students a brief Myers-Briggs assessment by going through the preferences and having them self-select as they look at this chart. (I do this with lots of jokes and personal examples.) Next I’ll have them go to www.16personalities.com, take a brief assessment, and see what resonates. We spend 10 minutes or so on this, as it’s a great energizer, then we dive back into the essay work.

Problem 21: I just want to record a quick video (for example, to show a student where to click on a particular website) but I don’t want to go through the hassle of setting up a camera, etc.

1-Minute Solution: Use Jing to record a quick video of your screen, then share it via Screencast.com. Jing is here. Or record directly from your Mac using Quicktime (no download needed)! To record from Mac: Open your Applications folder to find QuickTime (or use Spotlight). Once it's open, go to File > New Screen Recording and then click the Record button. You can choose between recording a portion of your screen or the entire screen. Quicktime tutorial is here.

Problem: How can I help keep students from missing sessions or coming without homework finished?

1-Minute Solution: Set up text reminders with AppToto.

Problem 22: How can I help my students avoid cliché language?

Idea #1: When you’re re-reading an essay draft, highlight all the clichés. Take as long as you need to replace them with expressions of your own phrasing. Even if your phrasing doesn't seem as "clever" or "eloquent," the essay will instantly become stronger and more genuine.

Idea #2: Imagine that your nemesis—your worst enemy, your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, your grade-school bully—is reading your essay. Highlight the parts that they would pick up on as being unconvincing, confusing, not credible, melodramatic, or disingenuous. Then strengthen it accordingly by making it more honest, clearer, more realistic, and more grounded.

Problem 23: How can I get my procrastinating student(s) to focus for just 25 minutes on an essay draft?

1-Minute Solution: Have them download the Tomato One app, which is a simple timer that counts down from 25 minutes. It dings, then gives a five-minute break, then counts down another 25 minutes. Note that this has been responsible for all of my most productive days.

Problem 24: How can I liven up a boring/cliché essay topic?

1-Minute Solution: Play the UC (Uncommon Connections) Game. All will be explained on that page.

Problem 25: How can I improve an essay in just one minute?

1-Minute Solution: Look at this Values Exercise and ask these three questions:

  1. Which values are coming through really clearly in the essay?
  2. Which values are kind of coming through but could be coming through more clearly?
  3. Which values aren’t there yet but could be?

For more: Watch the Great College Essay Test.

Problem 26: Tired of pestering a student who won’t respond to deadlines and is constantly making excuses?

1-Minute Solution: Outsource the pestering by hiring a personal coach via Coach.me. For as little as $65/mo, the student gets unlimited emails and in-app communication. This has positively changed the game for a couple of my students—and either you can suggest it to parents and let them pay the cost or work it into your fee, as I do (it’s worth it!). I recommend Kendra.

Here are a few more contributions shared at the IECA Conference in May, 2017:

  • Spread comfy pillows on the floor of your office!
  • Ask students to pick three (and only three!) people to receive feedback from.
  • Write three drafts and ALWAYS start fresh each time.
  • Turn on the voice memo feature on your phone and just let the student talk. Then give them the audio and say, “Go write that down.”
  • For students who feel they can’t write *anything*, have them write for one minute, then count the words they wrote and ask, “Could we do a few more in the next minute?” Creating little victories can build confidence.
  • Have the student list their superhero characteristics. (Hint: the student is the superhero.)
  • Use the visual mind-mapping tool called coggle.it, which helps students create an outline in just a few minutes.

Problem 27: Writer’s Block

1-Minute Solutions (four of them!):

  1. Freewrite: Don’t start at the beginning. Don’t overthink things. Do think randomly. Begin with a raw, non-linear, braindump. Try writing morning pages. And if writing or typing slows you down, use a dictation app like Dragon.

  2. Give yourself permission to “get a B.”

  3. Play: Toss a ball with a friend. Color in one of those cool adult coloring books, grab a hunk of clay and mold something. Get dirty and tactile.

  4. Move: Rake some leaves. Shoot free throws. Or just put on your headphones and talk a walk. Remember physics? Momentum will create new energy.

Problem 28: I'm probably not making the most of Google Docs

You're probably right! So here are: Fourteen Amazing Google Docs Hacks and 20 more Google docs hacks that you may not know about.

 

My favorites (all explained in links above):

1. Typing with your voice
2. Clearing formatting
3. URL shortener
4. Offline editing mode
5. Open MSWord as a Google Doc

* * * 

Have a 1-minute tip or resource you’d like to share?

Post it in the comments below!

How to Make the Most of a College Fair Experience

This post was inspired by a resource I first created for the NACAC Pasadena College Fair and then rewrote after an inspiring conversation with Maria Furtado, Executive Director of Colleges That Change Lives. To hear that podcast “Colleges That Change Lives: Great Schools You May Not (Yet!) Know About,” click here.

Let’s face it: college fairs can be really overwhelming. To give you a sense, here’s a photo I took of one two weeks ago:

Ack! People!

Ack! People!

You walk into this giant room lined with rows and rows of tables filled with college reps and nervous students lined up ready to ask their questions and your first reaction is like, “Whuuuuuut” and then (if you’re kind of an introvert, like me) you want to either run the other way or just go sit in the corner somewhere and text your friend, “Where u at?”

Here’s a secret: you’re not alone.

There are tons of students and adults and (let’s face it) even college reps who are overwhelmed by college fairs too.

But guess what? There’s a way to make your college fair efficient, productive and (get this) even fun.

How? Below are five ways.

And bee tea dubs, if you’re a counselor, teacher or parent who wants to print this out and give it out to your students, you can totally do that by clicking the orange box below.

1. Decide on a goal for your college fair experience. Why are you going in the first place? Here are some reasons that students at the above college fair shared with me when I asked them why they were there:

  • “To like, find out about some schools.”
  • “To learn about, like, college…?”
  • “Because my counselor/parents are making me.” (Props for being honest, at least.)

Here are some better reasons to go to a college fair (that will actually help you get into college):

  • To make a meaningful connection with a rep from a college that a) you’re interested in and b) that tracks demonstrated interest.
  • To generate content for your “Why us” essay.

Lemme break those down for you right quick:

Demonstrated interest is a system some colleges use to track which students are super duper interested in their school (and therefore more likely to attend). Think of it as “scoring points” with a college. Some ways you can score demonstrated interest points include a) requesting information from the college, b) liking the school’s Facebook page, c) interviewing.

For more on “demonstrated interest,” check out this blog post called Demonstrated Interest: A Brief and Practical How-To Guide, or this podcast episode with Monica James.
The “Why us” essay is a supplemental essay required by many schools that asks some version of, “Why would you like to attend our school?” Why am I telling you this? Because (write this down): You can ask the school rep some specific questions and, in effect, have that rep help you write your “Why us” essay. (I’ll explain how in a sec.) Plus, you can write in that essay, “When I spoke to [insert rep name] at [insert college fair] she shared that…” which could demonstrate even more interest. #DoubleBonus

How do you check the demonstrated interest box and generate great material for your “Why us?”

2. Prepare 3-5 interesting, specific questions for the college reps.
Why do this? Because specific, interesting, questions will lead to more specific, interesting conversations, and the rep is more likely to remember you. Why is that potentially a good thing? In some cases, the rep you meet at the college fair may be the one who ends up reading your application. (Really? Yes.) Not all the time, but sometimes--and this is especially true for smaller schools.

What should you ask? Here are some quick DOs and DON’Ts:

DON’T

Don’t ask anything you can easily Google:

“What’s your student-to-faculty ratio?”
“Is it cold there?”
“Do you have Biology?”

Don’t ask general questions:

“What’s your school like?”
“Is your [fill in the blank] program good?” (They’ll all say it’s great.)

DO

Do ask specific questions that invite a personal response.

“What are the three coolest things about your school?”
"Where do you like to eat on campus?"

Do ask specific questions relevant to your major:

“Do students have access to film equipment during their freshman year?”
“How easy is it to take classes in the School of Journalism if I major in Physics?”

Stressed about the questions? Not sure what to ask?
Then do this: Go up to the rep, smile, extend your hand, give a firm handshake and introduce yourself. Then ask that exhausted rep how they’re doing. (Really? Yeah.) Just connect on a human level. Be present, then just see where the conversation takes you. Monica James (of the podcast I mentioned above) advises students to treat these interactions like a mini interview, saying “more than anything, it’s about your Presence.” So just do all the things your mama taught you, and see what happens.

Want to know another way to avoid being overwhelmed?

3. Spend an hour putting together a preliminary college list before you go.
How? Use this resource: How to Create a Great College List.

Then:

4. Pick 3-5 schools from your preliminary list that you really want to talk to.
Why 3-5 reps? Because depth is better than breadth. I’d say it’s better to have 10-minute conversations with 3-5 reps than 1-2 minute conversations with 25 reps.

Also: you’re more likely to hit that goal. Once you do, if you feel like it, talk to a few more--BY THAT POINT YOU’RE IN BONUS TERRITORY.

5. Talk to a rep from a school you’ve never heard of, especially one who has no one in front of them. Why? Those reps are more likely to be the actual person reading your application.

In fact, at a recent college fair I went up to five reps who had no one standing in front of them and I asked all five, “Do you track demonstrated interest?” All five said yes. Then I asked, “What are the odds that you’ll be the application reader for a student that you meet here today. Four out of five said yes and the fifth one happened to be a Dean of Admissions for her school, filling in for a rep on maternity leave--BUT HEY, SHE WAS THE DEAN.

Why are these small schools at these fairs? Chances are they are recruiting in your area. In other words, many smaller schools are often “under-represented” from certain parts of the country (yours?), so they’re at the college fair trying to get more students to apply. What does it mean if they don’t have many students from your area? Because schools value diversity (and because there is such a thing as “geographical diversity”) you may be just the kind of diversity they’re looking for… this sometimes means your application may be seen more favorably AND you might even get a little scholarship money. So go talk to these folks!

So let’s re-cap:
  1. Have a two-pronged goal:
    1. To “demonstrated interest” in a college (more on that here)
    2. Generate one gem for your “Why us” essay
  2. Prep 3-5 great questions (or just smile and make a personal connection).
  3. Work on your college list before you go, if you can.
  4. Pick 3-5 schools (not 8-10) to talk to.
  5. Talk to at least one rep from a school you’ve never heard of.

Sound do-able?

Totally do-able.

Now go do it?

Still not convinced this is worth your time? Wondering how to develop a meaningful/authentic relationship with a rep? Click here to find out how.

Demonstrated Interest: A Brief and Practical How-To Guide

This blog post was inspired by podcast Episode 108 with Monica James, in which we discuss everything from how to find out which colleges track demonstrated interest to whether you should or shouldn’t like a college’s Facebook page. You can find that episode here.

Spoiler alert: In this blog post I’ll share with you a list of potential Action Items that involve (among other things) attending college fairs, speaking with admission reps, and maybe even opening a few of those emails that colleges send you--things that might stress you out. And why, you might wonder, would the “ease, purpose and joy” guy ask you to do things that mostly bring you anxiety?

Why are we talking about demonstrated interest in the first place?
Demonstrated interest (which I’ll explain in a moment) has become an important factor that some (keyword: some!) colleges consider when deciding whether to admit students or not. In fact, take a look at this NACAC survey from 2015 asking colleges which factors most influenced admission decisions:

That’s right, it’s #7. TWO SPOTS BELOW ESSAYS.

That’s right, it’s #7. TWO SPOTS BELOW ESSAYS.

For the entire 2015 NACAC state of college admission report, click here.

In short, demonstrated interest can play a big part in increasing your chance of admission. Want more proof? Here’s a 50-page report that concludes that, for the colleges mentioned in the study (those that track demonstrated interest), “off-site contacts [such as sending an email to a rep or requesting info from the school] increase the probability of admission by 10-13 percentage points,” while making both an on-site contact (like taking a campus tour) and ALSO making on off-site contact “increases the probability of admission by 21-24 percentage points.” Source. (Heads-up: There’s a lot of math in that report.)

And get this: according to a 2012 NACAC report, between 2004 and 2011, the percentage of colleges that rated demonstrated interest as being “considerably important” rose from 7% to 23% (see page 23 of the report), although since then it has stayed right around the 20% mark.

Demonstrated Interest: What is it?
Simply put, demonstrated interest is something that many colleges and universities use to track a) how much you (prospective student) like their school and, more importantly b) how likely you are to enroll if the school admits you.

Why do schools want to know which students are likely to enroll?
A few reasons:

1. Schools have a target enrollment number, which means that each year they want a certain number of students to enroll. Why? Think about it: if they enroll 200 (or even 20) too many students, they’ve got a problem: where do they put everyone? Similarly, if they enroll 200 (or even 20) too few students, then they’ve got a different problem: 20 or 200 empty dorm beds. And when you multiply that number times that many tuitions, it can add up to a really big reason (or, if you like, millions of reasons) why schools want to try and hit their target enrollment number.

2. Schools want to protect their “yield.” What’s yield, you ask? It’s the percentage of students who decide to enroll at a particular college or university after being accepted. So, for example, if Northwestern offers ten spots to ten students and all of them accept, that’s great for them! That means Northwestern is a great place to be and everyone loves Northwestern yay! But if the school offers ten spots to ten students and only one student accepts, then that’s bad. Why? Because then they seem like that one giraffe at the zoo that none of the other giraffes want to play with. #sadgiraffeemoji Why else is it bad? Because yield is tied to a school’s ranking in US News and World Report, which is a place that some parents and students look when deciding which schools they should apply to. (Here’s a better way to build a college list, bee tea dubs.) Put simply, if their yield gets worse, this can have a negative impact on their rankings.

In short, colleges want to know:

Who really loves us?  

And can you blame them? If you were running a college, wouldn’t you want to know who was not only likely to enroll, but also likely to stay all four years and graduate?

Quick personal anecdote: In college I applied for a job at a Mongolian BBQ restaurant in Evanston, IL and they required me to come to not one, but four interviews. Four interviews! The first interview went great, but I was ten minutes late to the second interview and, when I showed up late, the hiring manager said, “Sorry, we won’t be hiring you.” I asked why and they said, “We just really value punctuality and this shows us you don’t really share that commitment.” And at first I was like, “Daaang,” but then I was like, “Yeah, you’re right.” By showing up late I was basically demonstrating a lack of interest in the job.

That hiring manager was saying what schools are saying: Show us you care. Like, actually care.

Okay, so you may be wondering: How do I do that? I’ll tell you in a sec. First, I want to share…

A Few Ways That Colleges Track Demonstrated Interest (DI)
Note: this info is from a presentation given at a conference in 2015 by a few college admission counselors who track demonstrated interest. If you’re really into this stuff, click here for the presentation, as it shows screenshots from the computers of actual reps showing the details. But here’s what they track:

  • Interaction and inquiry card submission (or scan) at college fairs
  • Campus visit during junior year or summer after junior year
  • Early application
  • Supplemental essay: showing your particular interest in that college and how you have researched that school specifically
  • Speaking with alumni or students who may share information with admission office
  • Campus info session/tour in fall of senior year
  • Interview with admission rep/alum
  • Second visit to campus in senior year
  • Overnight program
  • Contacting admission rep
  • Meeting with faculty on campus or by phone
  • FAFSA form--how student ranks the school on the form (Ethan note: NOT true anymore. This was stopped in early 2015, so ignore this one. Source.)
  • Oh, and you know those 42 questions that you answer when you sign up for the SAT? Some colleges pay for that info too. So those are, y’know, 42 other things they track.

Side note--and you can skip this if you wanna’ get to the practical stuff: At a party last night (yes, actually) I met a business analyst for the development office of a highly selective school (and “development office” folks are those who call alumni asking for donations) and she let me know that student engagement is tracked even while students are on campus and--get this--even after you graduate. Why? Because a student who attends alumni events may be more likely to donate. Fun fact: they even use something called “wealth screening” to find out how much money you might have. Yay for data!



Okay, given this information, what should you do?
A couple options:

1. Nothing. That’s right. You can just keep getting good grades and participating in the activities and projects you love and keep living your awesome life. So there is literally nothing that you have to do differently now that you know this. For real. You can still get into a great school without demonstrating interest.

But if you’ve read this and you’re thinking, “Okay, I could probably go to a college fair, and maybe reach out to an admission rep, and I could maybe even like the college’s Facebook page,” then here’s what you should do first:

2. Spend some time developing your college list. Why do this first? So that you don’t stress yourself out trying to “demonstrate interest” for like 20 schools, some of which you may not apply to anyway. Here’s a resource for creating a great college list, for free.

Once you’ve done that, and by the way developing your list may take some time, then…

3. Pick a small number of schools to which you’d like to demonstrate some interest. How many? I don’t know, pick three or four. But…

4. (Heads-up: this is important!) Make sure that each of these schools actually tracks demonstrated interest. Otherwise it’s like you’re buying gifts for someone whose love language isn’t even gifts! (Okay, pretty obscure reference for this crowd, maybe.)

How do you find out which schools track demonstrated interest? Here, lemme Google that for you: “Does [school’s name] track demonstrated interest?”

I love this site.

I love this site.

Once you do, you might learn that, for example, Brown does not track demonstrated interest. In fact, none of the Ivies do. (Don't get me wrong: even though Ivies don't track DI, it's still a good idea to interview, visit campus, and learn about each school you're applying to, just make sure you’re spending your time wisely.) And, btw, if that Google search doesn’t turn up an answer, Google the school name and the words “Common Data Set” and you can scroll down to find a list of factors that a particular school takes into account. It’ll look something like this screenshot from the 2016 Common Data Set for Loyola Marymount University:

See: LMU doesn’t track demonstrated interest! So stop demonstrating!

See: LMU doesn’t track demonstrated interest! So stop demonstrating!

And here’s a look at the Common Data Set for Bates College:

See: they do track it! (So they do care that you care.)

See: they do track it! (So they do care that you care.)

Wow, schools publish this info? Yup.

For more schools, check out the huge Wiki list of Common Data Sets at this link.

Should You Demonstrate Interest?
I’ll make this really simple. You might consider demonstrating interest if a) there’s a school that you’re super excited about attending and b) that school actually tracks demonstrated interest.

If You Decide You Want to Demonstrate Some Interest (and It’s an Important “If” Because We’re About to Go Down the Rabbit Hole!), When and How Should You Do it?
Okay, with all those qualifiers in place, here are 13 ways you can demonstrate interest, adapted from a great article by Lisa Rubin-Johnson. Note that I’ve added how much time each one should take because a) the word “practical” is in the title of this post, and b) it’s a great way to help you make sure you’re doing this with ease, joy and purpose.

13 Ways You Can Demonstrate Interest (in order of the college process)

  1. Get on the school’s email list. (2 min.) You can do this by Googling the name of the school and filling out an “information request” form like this one.

  2. Open the emails you receive from a school and click on something in the email. (3-5 min.) That’s right: actually read the emails they send you, then consider clicking on something in the email (if it’s interesting to you), and maybe even spend a few minutes reading what’s on the web page that it sends you to. (Some schools track these things.) But mostly do it because, hey, you may learn something! And while you’re there...

  3. “Click deep” on the school’s website. (15-30 min.) This is my friend Michelle’s phrase; it basically means spending some time researching to learn, for example, if the school has a rad program that may be right for you. This will not only help you eventually write your “Why us” statement (assuming the school has one), but will prep you for a potential conversation with your regional rep if and when you…

  4. Attend a college fair. (2-3 hrs.) For tips on making the most of a college fair experience, check out podcast episode 107 with Maria Furtado and read the accompanying blog post.

  5. Contact your regional rep. (10-30 min.) More tips on developing an authentic relationship with your rep below.

  6. Follow the school on social media. (5-10 min.) Google to find out what social media platforms the school is on, and follow or like their pages, then maybe even share or re-Tweet something from the school.

  7. Visit campus. (Time spent depends how far away you live.) This isn’t possible for everyone, but if you’re within a couple hours from the school, it’s a good idea (if you do live close to the school and never visit, a school might wonder why). Make sure they’ve got some record you were there by signing up for a tour or meeting with a rep.

  8. Interview. (1 hr prep + 2-3 hrs driving to and doing actual interview) Some schools have interviews, some don’t--you can find out by Googling--if yes, do the interview. An alumni interview is fine; an interview with your regional rep (i.e. the person who is likely to read your application) is better. More tips on interviews at this link and note that at that link I address, “Does the interview matter?” For schools that track demonstrated interest, the interview matters.

  9. Supplemental essays. (You’ll have to write these anyway if you’re applying; time will vary.) The big one is the “Why us” essay, where essentially you get a chance to show the school why you feel you’d be a great fit for one another. If the school is (actually) your #1 choice, say that in your “Why us.” Lots more tips on how to write that essay at this link.

  10. Apply Early Action or Early Decision. (Takes pre-planning, but no extra work to do beyond actual application.) Early Decision (ED) is something you can do for only one school and means that, if you get in, you have to go. Early Action (EA) is something you can do for several schools and, if you get in, you don’t have to go, but doing so shows you’re interested enough to apply earlier than most students. A few schools have something called Restricted Early Action, but make sure to check the school’s website to see which school offers what. Why might you apply ED or EA? Because the ED and EA acceptance rates are often higher. How much higher? Wouldn’t it be great if a resource existed that compared the difference between regular decision and early decision numbers?

    Behold: a PDF that compares Regular Decision and Early Decision percentages for 2016. You can thank Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy for the time it took them to contact all the schools on this list and put together all this info. (Thanks, Jennie and Jeff!) Keep in mind that students applying early often have stronger applications and more access to resources, so the applicant pool for EA and ED is sometimes stronger. But still: look at the difference in acceptance percentage for regular decision and early decision applicants to American University. (Spoiler: 32% for RD and 82% for ED.) Think it matters? Uh huh.

  11. Submit your application before the deadline. (No extra time required.) This is especially true for schools that read applications on a rolling basis (in other words: in the order applications are submitted). As Monica James says on the podcast, better to be the first oboe player that a reader reads than the sixth!

  12. Thank you notes and emails. (10-15 min.) Hello, life skill. Spend a few minutes following up after an interview or college fair meeting with a little, “Thanks for talking with me!” You can even ask a follow-up question, if you’d like to keep the conversation going, but don’t go crazy (see tips below for more on this).

  13. Follow the waitlist instructions. (10 min-2 hrs, depending) If you’ve been waitlisted by a school, make sure you do whatever they tell you to do--including the optional stuff. They may for example just ask you to fill out a simple form declaring your interest (10 min.), or they may say that you can submit one additional recommendation letter or a short letter detailing any additional information not included in the original application (if they do, send the one--not six--rec letter, and in the follow-up letter you write, only include new information, as they've asked). The school website will tell you what to do; if you can’t find the info, give the school a quick call to ask what to do and take careful notes.

All right, at this point, you might be saying…

Hey Ethan, this all sounds exhausting and I don’t feel like doing it.
Great, then don’t! You do not have to do any of the 13 things mentioned above. Colleges will still read your application and you will be considered for admission. Assuming you have good grades and test scores, you have followed all the directions on the application and (this is important) assuming you have developed a balanced college list, you will still end up at a great school where you can get a great education and find happiness.

But before you decide not to do anything, remember: You don’t have to do all 13 things for all 9 or 10 schools you’re applying to and you certainly don’t have to do them all in one day or even one week. You could just pick a couple schools that you’re 100% certain actually track demonstrated interest, then pick a few things from the list of 13 things and do those.

Here’s the key:

Focus on building on authentic relationship with your regional rep from 2-3 schools on your list.
How? Here are...

Four Practical Tips for Building an Authentic Relationship with Your Rep

  1. Search the school’s website to find out who your regional rep is. This is as easy as Googling, for example, “Davidson College regional rep.”

  2. Email your rep and ask a question you are genuinely interested in. If, for example, you’ve looked on the school’s website (important if!) and have been unable to find out if your rep will be in your area sometime soon, you might write briefly to say, “Hi! I’m wondering if you might be in the Bay Area (or wherever you live) sometime soon, as I’m really excited to apply to your school and I’d love to meet you.” Or you might ask something really specific like, “Hi! I’m writing to find out if it’s easy for freshmen enrolled in the School of Speech to easily take advanced courses in Journalism, as I know that they’re separate schools. But I’m really passionate about both, and I’m especially excited to apply to your school, since I know it has great programs for both of my interests: Communication Studies and Journalism.” Then sign off with a simple, “Thank you!” and give your name and perhaps the name of your high school. (Pro Tip: I’ve even seen some students create a simple signature for their emails where they pop in a headshot so reps can attach their name to a face.)

  3. Keep the email conversation going (for a little bit). Not forever, just a couple emails. How? Ask a question at the end of each email. Careful: this can get annoying after awhile, so don’t go crazy with this. And make sure you don’t email until you have a good and real question. You might, for example, ask if they’re going to be in your area visiting other schools and see if they might have time in your schedule to visit your school (make sure to check with your counselor first!). But treat this like you’re having an actual, in-person conversation at a college fair. Speaking of which:

  4. If the rep is coming to a college fair near you, go and meet them! Especially if you won’t or may not be able to visit the campus. And if you’ve already met the rep because they visited your school, still go and just say hello.

Why do this?

Quick personal story: A few years ago I was chatting with a rep at a selective school and a student came up to him and said hello and introduced himself. The rep said, “Oh, yeah, I remember you!” and they chatted for like 90 seconds, then the student said good-bye. I was impressed by how the student carried himself and, once the student left, I asked the rep half-jokingly, “What do you think? Is he in?”
“Oh, he’s in,” the rep said. But he was serious.
“Really?” I said? “If he’s got As?”
“Oh, even Bs. He was the student ambassador when I visited his school and he showed me around--he’s a great kid and we’d love to have him.” I don’t know if that student ultimately ended up at that school, but his demonstrated interest game was on point.

Okay, that’s enough for you to do and think about so I’m gonna’ cut this off here and let you either get to work or get back to your life.

If I had to re-cap the most important things from this post, I’d say:

  1. Check out that PDF that compares Regular Decision and Early Decision percentages for 2016, as it can help you decide if you want to apply ED or not.
  2. Get to work on your college list, so you can decide which schools you may like to apply some of the 13 tips to.

That’s all. Now go back to having an awesome life.

Links referenced in or researched for this post:



The Engaged Life: Six Ways to Get the Most Out of College

the engaged life six ways to get the most out of college

This guest post was written by Daniel Lerner.  He is co-author of the upcoming book U-Thrive, a faculty member at the NYU Langone Medical Center, and member of the instructional staff at UPenn’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology program. Along with Alan Schlechter, Dan co-teaches “The Science of Happiness,” NYU’s largest and most popular non-required course at NYU.

John was no stranger to success. Exuberant, intense, and bright, he had captained his high school baseball team to the regional championship, had been admitted to a number of top-tier schools, and was electrified by all that college had to offer. But by the time he arrived for his sophomore year at NYU, he found himself, for the first time in his life, directionless. John had stepped away from playing baseball; he realized that days at school that were once so engaging had become a grind; and it seemed that the harder he tried to seek out fulfilling activities, the more they eluded him.

“I thought college would be the answer to everything I’d been through to get here, but I frequently checked out of classes. Plus the pressure to choose a major, pressure about a career path (basically pressure to succeed), was deflating,” he explained. “Without a sense of meaning in it, the day-to-day didn’t carry much significance. I felt smaller. I struggled hard.”

Two years later, John is killing it. He has created his own major, is a head RA, and is having a blast coaching baseball for city kids. What turned the tide? John realized that he had been relying on “outward definitions of success” rather than looking inside to engage his personal strengths. Once he stopped “going through the motions” and adhering to some invisible set of one-size-fits-all guidelines, the narrow door of success he had been trying to squeeze through was flung wide open. College is no longer about “what major” or “what job” he should be chasing. Instead, he uses this question to guide his decisions:

“What pursuits do I find most engaging?”

Once he had his picture of success in a frame that fit, the next steps became more tangible. Not only is success easier and more natural to achieve for John now, it’s more gratifying as well.


As parents, there may be nothing more important to us than seeing our kids succeed. Not just “succeed” in the traditional financial security sense, or even succeed at being happy, but succeed in finding activities that they adore—activities in which they become deeply engaged, enthralled (and possibly even point the way to a wonderful career). And when it comes to this brand of success, nothing -- and I do mean nothing -- will get them there more directly than employing their strengths of character. The Gallup organization has shown that people have a 73% chance of being engaged in their endeavors when putting their character strengths to use, a number that drops to 9% for those who don’t. Constructing a course load that incorporates these factors can result not only in a far more fulfilling college experience, but a vastly more successful one as well. Studies show that college students who leverage their strengths enjoy deeper levels of concentration, greater levels of personal initiative, greater motivation to learn, higher levels of performance, AND live happier lives. In fact when we were writing our book U Thrive: How to succeed in college and life, we reached out to the more than four thousand students who have graced our classroom over the past five years, asking them what topic in our course had the most positive impact on their college experience. The results weren’t even close. Engagement and character strengths topped the list.

So moms and dads – what are strengths anyway, and how can you help your kiddos make the most of theirs?

Identifying Strengths

Marlowe, who took our course in the fall of her junior year, had always had a creeping suspicion that she was living with undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “I was intensely interested in the music business,” she said, yet “I found myself registering for courses in art history, but all the while was totally immersed in the study of French language, and was constantly thinking about how to make travel a part of my life.” Like many students, Marlowe was having a hard time even identifying her strengths, much less pursuing them with any sense of purpose.

To resolve this conundrum, Dr. Ryan Niemiec, education director at the VIA Institute on Character, recommends a three-step process: awareness, exploration, and application. So, first thing’s first: Do not pass go, do not collect $200…dare we say, don’t even keep reading until you become aware of your strengths and familiarize yourself with how they suit you. Head over to www.uthrive.info and take the free VIA Strengths Survey (did we mention free?  Because it is.). It should take ten to fifteen minutes, but the benefits will begin the moment you get your results.

When Marlowe took the survey, she found that her top strength was “love of learning.” Then it hit her: “I didn’t have a disorder and I wasn’t lost—I was simply at my best when I was learning new things. Just being able to name it gave me real freedom to be comfortable in my own process, and school has been SO much more satisfying ever since.”

Signature Strengths: Which Strengths Help You the Most?

Those strengths that will help your kids be at their best (and you be at yours) —those that were most helpful in the studies and student stories alike—are called signature strengths. Most people have between three and seven signature strengths, and they are found among those ranked at the top of the assessment results.

If you have any doubt about which are yours, walk through your top strengths with these questions in mind for each:

  • Do you feel particularly excited when putting it to use?
  • When you use this strength, do you feel like “the real me”?
  • Do you have a strong desire to use it frequently?
  • Does your energy get renewed when you use it?
  • Do you feel particularly happy, enthusiastic, or even ecstatic when this strength is part of your process?

It’s not just how these strengths make you feel when you use them. In a study by Alex Linley, people who talked about their signature strengths spoke more clearly and their tone of voice became more focused, their responses were more immediate, and they used phrases like “I love” and “it just fits.” When describing lesser strengths, however, they struggled to express themselves and were critical and impatient with themselves and their situations.

From Exploration to Engagement

Getting a handle on strengths is step one, but the real adventure begins when people begin to explore them in greater depth. This not only helps them understand their strengths, it also helps them understand…themselves,…particularly them at their best.

When Damon, a student in our class, received his VIA results, he couldn’t see how any of them applied to him at all. In fact, he told the class that he thought them so ridiculous, he’d showed them to his girlfriend to get a good laugh. She’d taken one look at the results, pronounced them dead-on, and proceeded to tick off a list of examples demonstrating each one of Damon’s top five strengths. As he saw them through someone else’s eyes, he said “I realized that I had just taken my best moments for granted – these really were the characteristics that I displayed when I was in the zone with friends, on the field, and in my classes.”

Families – Stronger Together

Whitney convinced her parents to take the assessment, too. “The conversation about how we have seen our strengths play out was one of the best that we had in years,” she reported. “My dad reminded me that since I was little, I wanted to take care of everyone around me. I figured that was just what people did, but his insights showed me how I always thrived when using my love and kindness. Since then, I’ve been volunteering at shelters more often and have made a point to send a note to someone that I love each morning. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Strong, Healthy Relationships

Sarah, an army veteran who took our course one summer , expressed her number one strength (“love”) by designing a “strengths date” for her artist boyfriend. Having taken the VIA assessment, they discovered that his number one strength was “appreciation of beauty  and excellence,” so Sarah took him to breakfast at a particularly lovely restaurant before surprising him with a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art followed a walk in neighboring Central Park. They finished their day by watching the sunset from the highest building at NYU. Sarah’s report: “Best. Date. Ever.” They can use your signature strengths to make the most of their relationships, be their best in the classroom, or enhance their life in every other way. At the end of the day, your strengths can lead to both happiness and engagement—literally: we had a student who credited his bravery for asking his girlfriend to marry him!

College Application (the fun kind!)

Not using your strengths is like carrying a tube of sunblock with you but never putting it on. Having first assessed each participant for their strengths, Alex Linley and his colleagues asked 240 second-year college students to write down their “top three goals” for the semester. Primed with examples such as “Attend most of my lectures,” “Have fun and enjoy myself,” and “Stop drinking alcohol during the week,” participants were clearly instructed that the goals must be personally meaningful. It turned out that signature strengths accounted for more than 50 percent of the reason that they reached their goals.

Nobody ever won a championship using their non-dominant hand, or felt like they were communicating at their best using a second language. If you want to help your kiddos be their very best – both in and out of the classroom – help them understand, explore, and apply their strengths of character. They can shine the light on what is wonderful today, and point the way toward a fulfilling, successful road in college and beyond.


“U-Thrive” is available online and at booksellers. As a speaker, teacher, and strengths-based performance coach, Daniel Lerner is an expert in positive and performance psychologies. His key theme is that developing a healthy psychological state has a profound impact on the pursuit of excellence—a message that he brings to students, high-potential performing artists and athletes, and executives at Fortune 500 companies and startups worldwide. Following a decade representing and developing young performing artists with ICM artists and 21C Media (which he co-founded), Lerner studied closely with renowned sports psychologist Dr. Nathaniel Zinsser, focusing on coaching and performance enhancement techniques employed by professional and Olympic athletes, before earning a graduate degree in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Lerner is a faculty member at NYU Langone Medical Center and is on the instructional staff in the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program his alma mater. “The Science of Happiness”, co-taught with Alan Schlechter, is currently the largest and most popular non-required course at New York University. In the classroom and in his talks, Lerner integrates storytelling, humor, and science, helping students and professionals apply his teachings into their lives with immediate benefit.

How to Plan a Fun (or Productive) Pre-College Summer: A Five-Step Guide

how to plan a fun or productive precollege summer a five step guide

For more summer planning tips, check out my podcast episode with summer planning expert Jill Tipograph, in which we discuss everything from to whether or not expensive academic programs are worth it to some weird and interesting summer adventures.

Step 1: Decide if you want your summer to be fun, productive, or both.

Here are five ways to have fun this summer:

  1. Travel somewhere you’ve never been before. And it doesn’t have to be super far away. Click here to find places to camp near you. Or use this roadtrip planner and go see some weird stuff. (Pro Tip: Actually check the box that says “weird stuff.”) Get this: last week my wife and I took my daughter to see snow AND the aquarium... in the same day. #CaliforniaFTW

  2. Take a look at your summer to-do list and cross one thing off of it. Just take it off the list; decide you’re just not gonna’ do it. There, doesn’t that feel better already? Or, on the flip-side, do what Kevin McMullin from CollegeWise suggests:

  3. “Set a goal that you are 99% certain you won't be able to achieve this summer. Then go all out and try to achieve it as though your life depended on it. You'll either get there or get much, much closer than you were at the beginning of the summer.” #FailBetter

  4. Just keep doing the thing that you love to do, but do it more. Don't have anyone to do it with? Check out meetup.com. There are probably people within miles of you already doing that thing.

  5. Do one good deed a day for 30 days, then blog about it.

Here are five ways to make it a productive summer:

1. Take a class at a local community college. So that a) you don’t have to take it during the school year, and b) you’ve got something that looks super fancy on your transcript.

Yeah, like cat-on-a-unicorn fancy.

a cat on a unicorn

2. Prep for the SAT or ACT. I know, I know, but stay with me. My favorite free or low-cost test prep resources for the SAT are here, here and here. For ACT prep, check out here, here, here, and here. Or, for a list of colleges that are test-optional (i.e. don’t require SAT/ACT scores), check out Fairtest.org. Then cross that off your list.

3. Get rid of some stuff. That’s right, do that Marie Kondo thing where you get rid of anything that doesn’t bring you joy. My wife and I did, donating over 1,000 books and ⅔ of our clothes. Now we have no winter gloves and I can’t find my copy of The Illustrated Guide to Becoming One With the Universe. But our bookshelf is color-coded!

4. Read the Four Hour Work Week. Trust me, just read it. If you’re into nutrition and health, read the Four Hour Body. And if you like those, you’ll love Tools of Titans. Or if you don’t want to commit to a whole book:

5. Read some longform articles. But there are so many out there, which should you pick? What if someone spent two years culling the internet for the best ones and put them all on a Google spreadsheet? I did and the result is this: Ethan’s Top Secret Stash of Really Great Reads.

Here are five ways to have fun and be productive:

  1. Binge-watch some TED talks. Get your mind blown every 12 minutes. Too lazy to search the website? Here’s a Google spreadsheet with every single TED Talk. Yeah, that’s 1756 videos from the greatest minds of our time. Should keep you busy for 440 hrs or so.

  2. Take an online course in something that fascinates you. Here are 1200 FREE Online Courses from Top Universities. Looking for something more practical? Lynda.com has over 5,000 courses in everything from How to Draw Good and Evil Comic Book Characters to How to Market and Monetize on YouTube. And don’t even get me started on Coursera. In fact, in an upcoming post I’ll show you how a student’s obsession with Coursera led to the greatest “Why Harvard” essay I’ve ever read.

  3. Do something for someone else for once in your life. Just kidding, I'm not your mom when she's super mad at you. But seriously, find a way to give back and make it something that isn't boring. Work in a garden. Read to kids. And if all of those are boring, click here for a list of like a billion other things.

In fact, take things to the next level and...

  1. Create your own online course. What’s something you can do so well that you could teach people? My brother’s friend, for example, teaches design sketching. My brother’s brother teaches students how to write their personal statements for college. (Just kidding, that’s me.)

  2. Build something that solves a problem. A student I worked with this year created an app to remind him which books to bring to school on block-schedule days. Another created an app to prepare for the AP Bio test. It’s got 10K+ downloads and counting. Do you think he included this in his college application? Eh, oui.

Ready for more inspiration? Time to search within.

Step 2: Do my 2-minute exercise that’s guaranteed to make your summer more fun and productive.

Check it out: I’m a big fan of guided meditations and (did you know?) I’m a certified hypnotherapist. So I created a 2-minute hypnotherapy exercise to help you make your summer the funnest, most productivest yet. (I know those aren’t words.)

Not a fan of guided meditations or being hypnotized?

Then definitely do not click this button right here.

Okay, if you listened to the exercise, you should have one fun thing and one productive thing in mind. (And, if you didn’t listen to it, go ahead and just pick one fun thing you’d like to do this summer and one productive thing.)

And while ideas are great, execution is even better. To that end...

Step 3: For the fun thing, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I could commit to doing in the next 24 hrs that would get me one step closer to making that thing happen?”

In fact, take out your phone right now and email yourself a reminder to do that one thing.

Do it now.

Yes, actually.

Done it?

Good. Next I’m gonna’ teach you the secret to How to Get Anything Done in 30 Days.

It’s dangerously simple, but it’s the secret to how I was able to launch a six-figure voiceover career. (Didn’t know about that, did you? #FullofSurprises #OrSomething)

Step 4 (Minute 5): For the productive thing, create your “30 Days” doc.

Do this:

  1. Open up a brand new Google doc and at the top of it type the words “30 Days to [Name the Thing You Want to Get Done].” Example: 30 Days to Creating My Own Website” or “30 Days to Playing Stairway to Heaven on the Guitar.”

  2. Underneath your goal, write today’s date. Do one thing today to work towards that goal. And if you can’t do one thing today, just write, “I created this doc.”

  3. Tomorrow, write the date above the old date, do only one action, and write it down under the date.

  4. Repeat for 30 days, or until you’ve completed your task. Here’s an example of an actual 30 days doc that I kept on my way to building a six-figure voiceover career.

Pro-Tip: Ask someone to be your accountability partner by sharing your Google doc with them and challenging them to create their own 30 days doc by putting their goals on the same doc!

Go through those steps and you’ll be five billion percent (okay, let’s say 50 percent) more likely to get done the productive thing you’re hoping to get done. Then...

Step 5: Congratulate yourself on having set yourself up for the funnest, most productivest summer ever.

Now go and do the thing you said you’d do in Step 3.

Yes, now.

And if you’re looking to procrastinate a little more, there are worse ways than listening to the Jill Tipograph/Everything Summer podcast in which we talk about:

  • What summer opportunities matter most to colleges on an application and helping prepare students for college (because Jill and her colleague actually surveyed them)
  • Whether or not expensive summer programs are “worth it”
  • What students and parents should do but often don’t do when it comes to planning their summer

15 Ways to Advocate for Undocumented Youth

15 ways to advocate for undocumented youth

1. Provide hope & encouragement. Reassure undocumented students that college is possible, despite the obstacles.

2. Drop the “I” word. Instead of the word “illegal,” use the words “undocumented” and “dreamers.” Help change the immigration discourse.

3. Make information and resources available for ALL students. Don’t require students to self-identify in order to access information. Many students will be scared to reveal their immigration status or they may not know their status.

4. Be open-minded. Don’t make assumptions about who may or may not be undocumented. Undocumented youths aren’t all Latino, Spanish-speaking, or enrolled in ENL classes.

5. Be knowledgeable about specific government and college admission policies that affect undocumented students:

6. Support pro-immigrant federal, state and city legislation such as the federal DREAM Act, the IL Dream Act, in-state tuition IL Public Act 93-007.

7. Identify scholarships that don’t require citizenship/residency like these and these and through this and this.

8. Advocate for scholarships and private colleges to allow undocumented students to apply and enroll.

9. Involve parents. Educate the parents of undocumented students as to the benefits of a college education.

10. Help create lasting support networks that can offer ongoing mentoring and advice for undocumented youth.

11. Refer students to qualified legal counsel to inquire on possible immigration remedies. i.e. BIA Accredited Agencies

12. Identify role models: undocumented youth and/or college graduates from the community to give a presentation to inform, empower and share resources.

13. Reach out to organizations, community groups that can support undocumented and immigrant youth, or create a club that supports undocumented students.

14. Make your school/ classroom a safe haven for undocumented youth. Post a sign in your classroom that states that you support undocumented students and their dreams!

15. Stay informed and updated on immigration or education legislation changes that will affect youth, their families and communities. www.whitehouse.gov/issues/immigration

RESOURCES FOR UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS
List compiled by Dr. Aliza Gilbert

MOBILE APPS

FACEBOOK GROUPS

YOUTUBE SERIES

DOCUMENTARIES

IMAGES

WEBSITES

FINANCIAL AID AND UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS

REPORTS AND GENERAL INFORMATION

Created by Penina Noonan, LPC
School Counselor Round Lake High SchoOL

How to Write a Great Financial Aid Appeal Letter

How to Write a great financial aid appeal letter

To hear my complete interview with financial aid expert Jodi Okun, who has helped thousands of families navigate the college financial planning process, click here.

So you’ve been accepted to a great college (yay!) only to find out the school isn’t giving you enough money (womp womp). What do you do? Accept your fate? Resign yourself to attending your back-up school? Start a GoFundMe campaign?

Maybe. But first...

You gotta’ wonder: Is this ALL the money the school can offer me? Could it be that, if you ask nicely, the school just might give you a little more?

Maybe.

True story: When I asked Northwestern for more money the school gave me more money AND THAT LED TO THE BEST FOUR YEARS OF MY LIFE. In fact, I only spent about $4,000 per year. Caveat: I had a zero EFC (Estimated Family Contribution), so much of it was need-based aid, but still! If I hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have gotten more money and probably wouldn’t have gone there.

Real-talk: Asking people for money is hard. I get weird sometimes just asking friends to chip in for pizza. And it can be especially difficult when your college future is on the line.

But consider doing it. Because, well, your college future might be on the line.

Why should you consider writing an appeal letter?
Because...

  • you can write an appeal letter in like an hour, and
  • it may be the fastest $2,000 (or $8,000) you ever make
  • if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

When should I write an appeal letter?
As soon as you can. Because when the money’s gone, it’s gone. So, like, now.

How do I write one?
I’m about to tell you. But before I do I thought I’d bring in some help.

In Episode 103 of the College Essay Guy podcast I spoke with Jodi Okun, financial aid guru and author of the Amazon bestseller Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro.

We talked about everything from whether or not to include house and retirement when reporting assets on the FAFSA to how decisions are sometimes made in a financial aid office. But the main topic of our conversation was appeal letters--what they are, who should write one, and what to literally say to a financial aid officer when calling to make an appeal. Here’s one of my favorite bits of advice from Jodi on the importance of allowing for a pause in conversation when appealing to a financial aid officer:

“Parents have an agenda about what they want to say, but financial aid offices have a process they have to follow with every folder on their desk,” Jodi says. “You may think the next step is one thing but they may give you another step which might get you further in your appeal.”

Below you’ll find a few great samples--one from my former student and a couple from families Jodi worked with--with analysis and suggestions on how to write your own appeal letter. Underneath that you’ll find some links to some financial aid resources you don’t want to miss.


To the Financial Aid Office at UCLA:

My name is Sara Martinez and I am a 12th grader currently enrolled at Los Angeles Academy. First, I would like to say that I am much honored to have been admitted into this fine school, as University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is my number one choice.

Notice how she reiterates a) who she is and where she’s from, b) how much she’s grateful to have been accepted and c) (most important) that UCLA is her number one choice… a school likes to know this if it’s true.

There is a problem, however, and it is a financial one.

Notice how she uses her transition sentence to set up what this letter is going to be about. It’s really straightforward and explicit. Your letter doesn’t have to be fancy; it has to be clear.

I’d love to attend UCLA--it’s near home, which would allow me to be closer to my family, and the Bio department is phenomenal. But, as a low-income Hispanic student, I simply don’t feel I can afford it. I’m writing to respectfully request an adjustment of my financial aid award.

Great. First, she offers two specific reasons that UCLA is the right fit for her, so the financial aid officer understands why UCLA is her top choice. Next, she makes her request really clear: give me more money! And she does so in a straightforward and respectful way. She doesn’t beg; she asks.

Here are some more details of my financial situation. Currently, my father works as an assistant supervisor for American Apparel Co. and he is the only source of income for my family of five, while my mother is a housewife. The income my father receives weekly barely meets paying the bills.

It helps to give details of your specific family situation even if you gave these details in your original application, since the financial aid officer may not have your entire application right in front of them at the moment--save them the work!

My family’s overall income:
Father’s average weekly gross pay: $493.30
Father’s adjusted gross income: $27,022

Our household expenses:
Rent: $850
Legal Services: $200
Car payment: $230.32

Again, specifics. Don’t be shy. Give them these numbers so that, when they do the math, that they can see what you see: there just isn’t enough money. And keep in mind that you may be asked to send in copies of your parents’ pay stubs, so don’t lie! And you don’t have to give every single little detail. Having said that, it is important to explain certain things--like why in the world she doesn’t include her parents’ medical insurance. Oh, wait, she explains that...

My parents cannot afford to have medical insurance, so they do not have a medical bill. My father’s average monthly income is an estimate of $1,973.20 (see attached pay stub). When household expenses such as rent, car payment, legal services, gas bill, and electricity bill are added together the cost is of $1,402.70. Other payments such as the phone bill, internet bill, and groceries also add to the list. But in order to make ends meet my father usually works overtime and tailors clothes for people in our neighborhood.

Notice how she has already included her dad’s pay stub which, again, saves time. Also, she briefly explains the other costs (keyword: briefly) and how her family is already doing everything it can.

My family is on an extremely tight budget and unfortunately cannot afford to pay for my schooling. I have worked my way up and was recently awarded Valedictorian for the class of 2014. My goals and my aspiration of becoming a nutritionist have helped me push forward. I appreciate your time in reconsidering my financial aid award. I’m looking forward to becoming a Bruin.

Bonus info: She is VALEDICTORIAN! This is also a mini-update, as she wouldn’t have known this at the time she applied (November) but did know by the time she wrote the appeal. If you have 1-2 more updates to include, go ahead and include them here--but don’t go too crazy. You don’t want to seem desperate; you want to close strong with your most important updates. (Think how it would have sounded if she’d added, “...and I also placed 8th in a local tennis tournament and started learning French.” The school would be like, “Um… great?” But the valedictorian detail is a solid reminder that she’s committed to her academics.)

Regards,

Sara Martinez

No fancy ending, just your basic sign-off.


 

Here’s another another (much shorter) appeal written by one of Jodi’s former clients:

Dear Financial Aid Director

After submitting the FAFSA for the 2017-2018 school year, I realized that you are using the same tax year (2015) that was used for my son’s freshman year. I am writing to you because my income for this year (2016) has declined and this fact will not be represented when you examine the FAFSA for 2017-2018 – let me explain why. I am a freelance graphic artist and only work when I receive a call for a project and am offered the job. In other words, I only receive a pay check when I work. This could be for one day or several days, but I do not have steady or guaranteed income. In addition, it is not a job in the traditional sense, where I go to work at the same place every day, I may work for several different companies. I have been very fortunate in that I have been working my craft for a long time and get a fair number of calls but some years are better than others. Unfortunately, this year (2016) I am on track to make approximately $15,000 to $18,000 less that I did in the 2015 calendar year.

Thank you for your consideration,
John Ogilve

Pretty straightforward, eh? Notice that these letters don’t have to be fancy, they just have to include the essential and relevant information. In fact, if the process of writing an appeal feels overwhelming, putting it in bullet points first. Here’s how the appeal above would look in bullet points:
  • You’re using our 2015 tax info to award financial aid
  • The 2016 info is different
  • Why? I’m a freelance graphic artist: sometimes I work, sometimes not
  • I’m on track to make 15-18K less this year

Simple. You can do this.

Here’s one more example:

Dear Financial Aid Office,

We appreciate you offering our son Paul a scholarship, but even with your help we can not afford the tuition. We have asked his grandparents and uncles to help, but they to unfortunately are not able to help pay the tuition. I would use our retirement money for him to attend your school,  if we had any retirement fund. We honestly don't know how to make this happen without your help. Next month I will be having a necessary hysterectomy and I will be out of commission for a couple of months and can not work. I am a first grade teacher at a small church school with a very small income and we can barely make ends meet.

I appreciate that they demonstrate how they have already exhausted other options: other family members can’t support, no retirement fund, and upcoming medical bills. This sends the school a clear message: we’re coming to you as a last resort. If there are options that other families may have that you do not, it can help to let the school know.

I like to share with you a little bit about our son. I know you know how talented he is or he wouldn't have gotten into your school. I know you only accept 22 % and he was one of the lucky few you let in. He has been working on his craft his whole life. He is one of the kindest and friendliest young men. He is genuine, not at all phony. He will walk down the halls of his school smile or say hi to anyone, teachers and students. He was voted Homecoming Court two years in a row.

This is a very sweet paragraph--a mother advocating on behalf of her son. While, in terms of an appeal it is not 100% necessary and could have been cut, it demonstrates how much she cares for him.

Your school is the only school Paul wants to attend. He said to us he will not go to college if he can not go to The New School. None of the other schools offer what The New School can offer him. He has always wanted to be an actor, writer and director ever since he was five years old. Not only will Paul benefit from attending your school but you will also benefit. If you can offer us more financial help, Paul will be able to attend and graduate as one of your success stories.

This is similar to what the student in the first letter does: reaffirm interest. Here it comes at the end of the letter, which is fine.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to reconsider the amount you have offered Paul.

Sincerely,
Gina and Tom Atamian

Again, pretty straightforward. You may have thought that writing one of these appeals was going to involve some kind of added magic, but you know what the two more important qualities re when it comes to writing them?
  1. Information. Give the school the information it needs to make a new decision. Bullet point this so that you don’t find yourself worrying about “how” to say it.
  2. Actually writing and submitting the letter. I’ve seen many students that could have appealed not appeal due to one fear or another and ultimately they didn’t submit a letter. Just write it. If you have reason to appeal, do so. I tell my students: you don’t want to look back years from now and wonder, “I wonder what would have happened if…” Dispel those future doubts. Start with bullet points. (Yes, now.)

Five More Financial Aid Resources You Don’t Want to Miss

We discuss all these resources on the podcast with Jodi, and much more, including:

  • What to literally say to a financial aid officer when calling to make an appeal [13:40]
  • How to be prepared for the financial aid appeal conversation [22:50]
  • How often parents are speaking with the person who could be the decision-maker [17:10]
  • An inside look inside how decisions are sometimes made in a financial aid office [18:00]

Listen to the whole podcast and check out the rest of the show notes (with times stamps, so you can fast forward to the part you want!) here.


Another great read: Five FAFSA Myths – Busted!


6 Cosas Estudiantes Indocumentados Necesitan Saber Acerca de la Universidad

6 cosas Estudiantes Indocumentados Necesitan Saber acerca de la universidad

Este post es una traducción al español de este post original de BigFuture.

Si usted es un estudiante indocumentado en la secundaria - es decir, usted nació fuera de los Estados Unidos y usted no es un ciudadano estadounidense o residente legal - usted probablemente tiene un montón de preguntas acerca de ir a la universidad. Aquí hay algunos hechos importantes.

1. Puedes ir a la universidad

Lo primero que debes saber es que no hay ninguna ley federal que impide que las universidades estadounidenses admiten estudiantes indocumentados. Y sólo unos pocos estados incluyendo--Georgia, Carolina del Sur, y Alabama--han impuesto cualquier tipo de restricciones a los estudiantes indocumentados que asisten a universidades públicas*. En la mayoría de los casos, las universidades establecen sus propias reglas sobre la admisión de estudiantes indocumentados, y por lo tanto debes investigar las políticas de los colegios que usted está interesado en asistir.

También debes saber que los estudiantes indocumentados no pueden recibir ayuda financiera federal para la universidad, el tipo de ayuda en la que muchos estudiantes universitarios confían. Sin embargo, los estudiantes indocumentados pueden obtener ayuda financiera o becas para la universidad de otras maneras. Para obtener más información, lea For Undocumented Students: Questions and Answers About Paying for College.

Su estado indocumentado podría limitar sus opciones - pero la universidad sigue siendo una opción si tiene un plan. Su mejor estrategia es comenzar a planear temprano, hacer muchas investigaciones y hacer muchas preguntas.

2. Usted no está solo

Tendrás que echarle muchas ganas ya que toma mucho trabajo para llegar a la universidad.  Es clave crear una red de apoyo.

Comienza con tu familia. Asegúrate que saben que quieres ir a la universidad. Hable con ellos sobre tus opciones para elegir una universidad y  cómo pagar por tu educación.

También puedes buscar consejos de maestros y consejeros de confianza en su escuela secundaria. Aparte de poder orientarte, pueden ser capaces de ponerte en contacto con otros estudiantes indocumentados que se han inscrito con éxito en la universidad o con consejeros de admisión a la universidad que te puedan ayudar.

Si le preocupa decirle a los maestros y consejeros que usted es indocumentado, tenga en cuenta que, por ley, los oficiales de la escuela no pueden revelar información personal sobre los estudiantes, incluyendo su estado de inmigración. Lee más información sobre el Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act at ab540.com.

3. Usted puede encontrar una universidad que le conviene

Cuando busque universidades que se encajan con tus deseos y necesidades, es posible que desee averiguar si las universidades en las que está interesado tienen programas, organizaciones estudiantiles o centros que apoyan a los estudiantes inmigrantes de primera generación. Un buen lugar para comenzar es hacer investigaciones en la red y a través de las publicaciones universitarias.

Aquí hay algunas cosas para recordar al investigar diferentes universidades:

  • Diferentes universidades tienen diferentes políticas de admisión de estudiantes indocumentados.
  • Diferentes universidades tienen diferentes políticas en la concesión de ayuda financiera no federal a los estudiantes indocumentados. Para más informacion lee lo siguiente: For Undocumented Students: Questions and Answers About Paying for College
  • Las universidades públicas deben seguir las leyes de su estado en cuestiones tales como si los estudiantes indocumentados que viven en el estado pueden pagar matrícula en el estado o deben pagar matrícula fuera del estado. Descargue Repository of Resources for Undocumented Students(.pdf/1MB) para ver más información y recursos para varios estados.

4. Aplicaras a la universidad como cualquier otro estudiante

El proceso de solicitud de la universidad suele ser el mismo para todos los estudiantes. Tendras que averiguar los requisitos de admisión de las universidades en cuanto a exámenes, calificaciones y las clases de preparatoria que necesitas tomar. Lo más probable,  pedirán que escribas un ensayo personal y obtener cartas de recomendación, entre otros requisitos de la aplicación.

Aprende más acerca del proceso al leer Quick Guide: The Anatomy of the College Application.

Echarle muchas ganas en la secundaria es la mejor manera para cualquier estudiante prepararse para la universidad. Las universidades revisan tus calificaciones y el tipo de clases que usted toma, por lo tanto es una gran idea tomar cursos universitarios como las clases Advanced Placement®. Muchas universidades otorgan crédito basado en puntajes en los exámenes de AP, lo cual puede ahorrarle dinero a los estudiantes.

5. Tus opciones pueden cambiar

Las leyes estadounidenses acerca estudiantes indocumentados pueden cambiar. Es importante mantenerse al día con las noticias sobre las leyes que podrían afectar sus planes de la universidad.

En junio del 2012, el presidente Barack Obama anunció que ciertos estudiantes indocumentados que llegaron a los Estados Unidos como niños son elegibles para "acción diferida", o permiso temporal para permanecer en el país. El aplazamiento de dos años se concede caso por caso y está pendiente de renovación al final de los dos años.

Otro proyecto de ley que puede afectar a la ley se llama DREAM (Desarrollo, Socorro y Educación para Menores Extranjeros), que fue presentado al Congreso en 2011. Si el proyecto de ley es aprobado, los estudiantes indocumentados serán elegibles para comenzar un proceso de seis años que conduce a estatus legal permanente.

Para obtener más información sobre la acción diferida, la Ley DREAM y otras políticas que afectan a los estudiantes indocumentados, visite National Immigration Law Center website.

6. Puedes encontrar recursos para ayudarte

Aquí hay algunos sitios web y descargas con información útil:

* Basado en la información disponible en marzo de 2013