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?
- 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.
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!
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:
- Net Price Calculator (on every college’s website)
- College Navigator by National Center for Education Statistics
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.
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!
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?
- 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.
- 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:
- Which values are coming through really clearly in the essay?
- Which values are kind of coming through but could be coming through more clearly?
- 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.
Have a 1-minute tip or resource you’d like to share?
Post it in the comments below!