Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Deciding Where to Attend

This article first appeared in on March 25, 2015.

Hopefully you did your homework before you decided which colleges to apply to. Whether you applied to three schools or nine schools, every school on your list was a good academic match. It had the programs that interest you and top-notch professors. My point is that you did the intellectual decision-making at the time of application. That means you have all good choices!
This is the week when I get a lot of calls from students and parents asking for help choosing between great options. My advice is pretty consistent. Eliminate all options that are not within your financial comfort zone. Now narrow the remaining options to three. Your criteria could be financial or geographic or any other reason that makes sense to you. Try to reduce the scope of your decision to three choices by April 1. Three seems to be a reasonable number that most psyches can juggle.
Now is the hard part for all my brilliant students to hear. It's no longer an intellectual decision. You are picking between three options that all make sense, and you need to trust your gut instinct. If you can visit each of the three, that is optimal (even if you saw them before), but I realize that is not possible for every student. Since you are making a decision that includes social, emotional, and cultural criteria, now is the time to use subjective tools. Join the Facebook group for admitted students. Chat with current students on College Confidential. Imagine your prospective peers as your future best friends. Spend a night in the dorms. Sit in on a class. Talk with a professor. (If you can't do that in person, ask one to Skype with you.) Do you feel valued? Picture yourself there and happy for the next four years. Your college experience will be as fabulous as you make it, so listen to your heart and pick the community that feels right!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Disappointing Admissions News

This article first appeared in on March 18, 2015.

If you applied to selective colleges it is likely that you will get disappointing news from at least one school. Those are the odds. You have every right to feel sad about a dream that doesn’t come true. While the adults around you know that the sting of rejection will fade over time, it feels really rotten right now.
Lots of college counselors have written about ways parents can be supportive during this tough time and how you can rebound and approach the school you do select with joy. To help you in that process, here is my favorite advice and explanation. It is written by Emily Moscol, Assistant Dean of Admission, Olin College of Engineering (originally published on the school admissions blog March 2011).
I know, I know. You were expecting that big UPS package. The one with the folder inside. The hand-glued ribbon. Instead, you got the regular #10 envelope. What the heck?
I am not going to write a blog post about how sorry we are that we couldn't take you, we had a lot of great applicants, etc. You have that letter. I know, I helped stuff the envelopes. I know what it says. I know that it stinks. I know what it's like to be on the receiving end of news that you don't want to get, and that you weren't expecting. There's no way around it. It feels huge. Like a too-big gulp of water that hurts going down. And you wonder for a minute if it IS going to go down, because it hurts and it feels impossible. And sometimes it feels like the world ought to stop for a second and recognize that you're hurting, but it just keeps going on, and you wonder how everyone else can possibly feel fine when you feel so terrible.
We brought you to campus, made you fall in love, and then just when you started picturing yourself here we sent you the regular envelope. Even after you told all your friends that this was your dream school and you started saying "When" and not "If". This is the part that is hard for us too. We fell in love with you all. We finally got to meet you and see what you looked like; we met your parents and learned your dog's name and all the things that make people friends. And we had to see that envelope, the #10 regular envelope with your name on it, and think of your smiling face and how much fun you were having and how disappointed you are going to be.
What makes me able to do this job is that I know for a fact that you are amazing. We didn't turn down anyone who wasn't. You are going to go somewhere else in September, you are going to do extremely well there, and you aren't even going to be thinking of Olin. You are going to make friends, and go to parties, and love your classes. You are going to find a club to join with likeminded people and it's going to be perfect. The next time you will think about us is when your little cousin applies and at Thanksgiving Aunt Carole says "Didn't you apply to Olin?" and no one hears what your answer is because there's 25 people there and someone's baby is crying and Nana might have burned the gravy and Uncle Dan is laughing at the story about the dog that ran away. You will realize that you don't care about Olin anymore, because you have everything you ever wanted somewhere else. You will be living a present that is wonderful. Perfect. Like you.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Job Shadows

This article first appeared in on March 11, 2015.

A job shadow is where you spend a full day with someone who does work that is potentially interesting to you. You see what a “day on the job” is like for that person. Most high school students don’t have any way to know what it is really like to be an engineer or graphic designer or nurse, yet many colleges ask students to indicate a potential major/career.
I am a huge believer in the value of job shadows. If you spend a day with someone and discover that the work is boring, that time was not a loss. Perhaps it allows you to cross a potential career off your list, and knowing what you don’t want to do is valuable information. If you do a job shadow and are super-excited by what you observe, you can ask your host about ways to connect with others in the field and perhaps find an internship.
Make a list of careers that sound interesting to you. You can research more about them using the career exploration resources on my website. If you still find the field appealing after your initial research, then set up a job shadow. How do you do that? 
First, use your family and friends. Ask your parents or friends’ parents if they know anyone in the field you want to explore whom they would feel comfortable introducing you to. All you need is an email introduction. Your parents or friends should not make job shadow arrangements for you—that’s your task! 
Next, reach out to the person and explain who you are and that you are interested in a job shadow. Prepare a list of days when you do not have school and would be available to do the job shadow. Spring break and summer vacation are ideal. Make sure you have available transportation so you can be on time. Ask what you should wear, and be sure to follow the guidance you get. Bring a packed lunch and some snacks, since you want to be energetic the whole day.
Your host is doing you a favor, so be sure to act respectful and appropriate. If you are unsure whether certain behavior is okay, just ask! Be prepared with a list of questions such as these:
  • How long have you been working in this career?
  • Why did you choose it? 
  • What kind of education did you need to get started?
  • What types of continuing education have you had as your career progressed?
  • What do you like best about your work?
  • What do you like least about your work?
  • What is a typical day like? Will I be experiencing a typical day with you, or is there something out of the ordinary today?
  • What percentage of your work is done alone, and what percentage of your work is done in collaboration with others?
  • With which other types of professionals are you in daily contact?
  • Are there any trends that are strongly affecting your work? If so, what are they?
  • What are the most critical skills to have in order to be successful in your work?
  • If your job has a normal career path, please describe how most people start, the various jobs along the way as they advance, and the usual amount of time in each position.
  • What would a starting salary be like for someone straight out of college, and what would be a usual salary range for someone competent with ten years of experience?
  • What advice would you give me if I am interested in pursuing this career?

Take good notes as your questions are answered. Be sure to take the business card of your host and send a handwritten thank-you note the next day. It is also polite to send a thank-you card to the person who connected you with the job shadow (if it wasn’t your parents).
Some professions do not allow job shadows because of privacy or security reasons, so a back-up option to learn more would be to meet the person for an hour and do an informational interview in which you ask questions about his/her job.I recommend that you complete eight job shadows before the start of senior year. I do not expect job shadows to result in a definite career decision, but they do help you narrow your options. The average college student changes majors three times, and you may too; however, the more you know about yourself and what careers might use your strengths, the more likely you are to find colleges classes and majors that excite you, and the more likely you are to actually graduate in four years.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Create an Academic Resume

This article first appeared in on March 4, 2015.

You probably think of a resume as something you need when you apply for a job. If you are a high school student, you may or may not need that sort of resume, but it is a good idea to start an academic resume as early as 9th grade. You will use your academic resume for all the following purposes:
  • to keep track of your academic achievements and awards
  • to keep track of all of your activities throughout high school
  • as an info source when you fill out the common application and other college admission applications
  • to send with scholarship applications
  • as a resource for all your recommenders
  • as a handout to admissions officers and alumni interviewers

An academic resume is different from a job-seeking resume in many ways. First, it starts with academic information such as where you go to school, your graduation year, your GPA, standardized test scores (once you have some), and extraordinary academic achievements.
Next, it shares your extracurricular activities, both those that are part of your school and those that happen outside of a school setting. This can reflect anything that you choose to spend time on—clubs, sports, religious activities, community service, work, internships, or hobbies. Some applications ask you to report hours spent per activity. Since that is hard to keep track of on your academic resume, I suggest you keep a separate spreadsheet where you record your hours, and use that as a reference to report your hours when requested.
Academic resume guidelines:
  • One page excluding pictures
  • Font size between 12-10 pt
  • broken into logical categories with some white space for readability
  • use of acronyms discouraged (for example, spell out National Honor Society instead of putty NHS)
  • use present tense and active verbs
  • create headers/categories that make sense for your individual list
  • if you have a portfolio or blog, link to it in the resume
  • a back-side photo page is optional

Here are a few samples resumes to get you started:

Please note, if you are especially accomplished at a sport, performing or visual art, speech and debate, or any other focus area for which you might be recruited, you will probably want a separate resume dedicated to your area of focus. Some resources for creating those are located here.