Get Organized!

I’ve been wanting to write about organizational skills for some time, but I’ve been tutoring long enough to know that every child’s process is different. Some students look like a mess and yet they know where everything is when they need it and function well, somehow, in the chaos. I, too, am of that variety. However, I do benefit from notes, lists, and charts to keep me on track, using an endless wallpapering of Post-It® notes in my car, on my refrigerator, and on furniture throughout my house. So, I am writing at the beginning of a new school year to offer some assistance with the dreaded problem of disorganization in school and prepping for college.
Getting ready for and applying to colleges is a monumental task. Some students need to do it “on my own,” while others need constant prodding to move from one step to the next. But all of them can benefit from an organizational chart. I made one of these for my daughter and it quickly turned into a template for all my students to use. My chart is old fashioned: an 11 x 17 piece of paper with penciled lines drawn in with a ruler, very old school. However, most of my students take my dinosaur egg of a chart and use it to create a spreadsheet where they can easily house and change all the information they need. Technology or not, charting is a fantastic tool for organization.
Many different headings can be used for an organizational chart for college; choices will depend on what their major is, whether they will have to submit sports tapes or audio/video of their art or music. However, there are some basic headings that can be used to get started:
College Name/Federal School Code – this one seems simple, but sometimes becomes a big pain. Obviously, your chart should include a list of all the colleges you or your child is planning to apply to but including the Federal School Code for that college could save you time later. This code is also known as a Title IV code or a FAFSA code. Whatever they call it, be sure you are using the correct one because some schools have more than one code for different programs or campuses within their institution. If you’re using the Common Application, it does provide a search tool for the code, but your name must be precisely spelled and entered for the code to come up. That can be confusing because colleges and universities have different ways of listing their names. I’ve personally witnessed this scenario and it is frustrating for all involved. So, if that search doesn’t work or the school is not on the Common App, you can also call the college’s Financial Aid office to find out. I recommend having a good relationship with the good folks in that department; you may need their help later. (More on that in another blog!) If you are still having trouble or it’s 2 a.m. when you’re trying to do this, you can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-FIN AID. There is also a helpful list of contact information at It will come in handy to have the codes on the chart later.
Deadlines – Early Action, Early Decision, Regular Decision, rolling admissions… there are several variations of deadlines from colleges. Early Action is a good fit for many, as it means the student will apply early and be reviewed early with no binding contract. Early Decision usually carries the same or similar deadline as Early Action, but also requires a commitment from the student: if applying Early Decision and the school accepts and admits the student, then they are obligated to attend that school. So Early Decision is not a tool for all the schools students are interested in, nor is it a way to simply “get an edge.” Early Decision is solely for those few students who know precisely where they want to go and why. Those students should also have visited the school more than once, had contact with their admissions or other department, and have done extensive research on their program of choice, not just a best friend who is attending. That said, Early Decision can offer a better chance at admission if the student is positive about his or her choice. Regular Decision is the final deadline for students who want to apply for the next fall. It can run from November to March and some are even rolling deadlines, which means they offer many opportunities for many months. It gives students the most time but also puts them in the “pile” so to speak with everyone else in no particular order.
Writing Requirements – Once students have entered their college lists into the Common Application, there is a wealth of information that can be obtained. One of the most important sections to look at is what the writing requirements are for each individual school they are applying to. Most require the Common App general essay, but many have additional writing requests. It’s a good idea to check those early so there’s time to think and write and edit and obsess over answers, whilst parents nag and cajole. Who would want to miss that? Seriously, though, add to the chart which schools want which writing assignments to give the student time to consider and research each.
These are just a few of many titles for an organizational chart for applying to colleges. This type of chart can be used for a great many other school-related tasks as well. Being organized is one of the best tools not only for successful schooling and applying to college, but organizational skills are imperative at college too. Students needs to develop a system that works for them and, though it’s hard to watch them work through it, getting organized themselves could change their entire future.
Good luck to all those applying and to all other fumbling their way through the maze that is academia. Designated time to focus and willingness to try different methods is key. So help your students and let them help themselves, too. Mostly, keep your sense of humor; you’re going to need it. And remember, CCWC is here if you need help. Happy “Colleging”!

Getting In

I had planned to write about the end-of-the-school-year stressors in this 4th marking period blog but given the recent news regarding the college admissions scandal, I decided it was a subject worth exploring. The news isn’t exactly “news” for most of the general public. We have long known that those with the means sometimes use their influence to help get their kids into a better college. Frankly, I’m happy to finally see some repercussions for that type of infraction. It is most certainly unfair to those who do not possess any privilege or hold any ability to sway admissions counselors or coaches. However, there is a more important aspect to this scandal. The illumination of such an unfairness is an opportunity to rethink not only what is at stake but also what is most significant for high school students preparing for college. Is where they go to college really about the university and its reputation? I’ve heard many parents justify the push for prestigious universities for their children because they want them to have opportunities for lucrative employment after graduation, which certainly seems reasonable. But is it true?
In 2018, PayScale, a Top 100 software company, analyzed 2,645 degree-granting institutions in the United States to determine which students earned the most after graduation. According to CNBC’s report of those results, “Surprisingly, only two Ivy League schools made the list. In fact, the number one school for salary potential is a small liberal arts college with a total undergraduate enrollment of just 844.” I am not in this blog stating who ranked where on their list because that would defeat my purpose, but the point is that it isn’t what we tend to automatically think. I don’t want to undermine the Ivy League schools; they provide accomplished professors and a wealth of opportunities. But so do many other schools. The real question is does it matter: Is your child’s future dependent upon the college they get into?
My answer is an unequivocal no. I’ve worked for over a decade with high school students preparing for and applying to college. Every single child is unique in their college search and each has their own set of goals; that is if they know what their goals are at all in high school. Quite honestly, it’s okay if they don’t. The charge here for students, parents, and educators is to help students find themselves. It sounds cliché but the search for self is the underlying, often forgotten, core principle of the college search. It won’t matter much if they “get into” an Ivy or other highly ranked university if they feel overwhelmed or out of place when they get there. The idea is not to attend the highest-level school that accepts them, but rather to find the school that matches their personality as well as their ambitions. My son was granted acceptance into a school of a “higher level” than the one he ultimately attended. This was for several reasons. One reason being who is to decide what level a student is going to be comfortable with and which school will challenge yet not push them over the edge. Another good reason is cost. Ultimately, college is expensive no matter where you go or what you do. If one university is willing to give you more in scholarship money, they are certainly worth a look. In my son’s case, the top university he was accepted to offered him $8,000 per year in scholarship. He was fortunate enough to have two other universities offer him over $25,000 per year in scholarship. One must ask the question: is one university worth that much more? Sometimes the answer will be yes, but it should be because they are going to offer the student more of what they need and present them with enough knowledge and opportunity to build a career in something that they have a desire to do.
Hopefully, your children are attempting to chase their dreams. They may stumble and fall along the way. Allow them to explore without concern for some report or organization who ranked one school over another. There are many factors in deciding where to get an education and the cost-prohibitive nature of the endeavor can make it stressful. Don’t lose hope and, more importantly, don’t lose sight of the common goal: helping students find a university or secondary education where they can study what interests them in a place where they can live happily for two or four or more years. You want happy, productive young adults, not stressed out students who feel unworthy of their high school diploma because the very top college they applied to didn’t accept them. They need to feel welcomed and supported when they embark on this new and exciting journey. In your search, connect with them and see if together you can determine what aspects of a college appeal to them and why. If it’s the pasta station or the swimming pool, perhaps you can help them dig a little deeper. It isn’t easy but they don’t know what’s ahead or how to navigate what has become a pressure-ridden process. They do, however, somewhere in there, know who they are and who they would like to be. Let’s help them get there.

That’s the Goal!

It’s a new year and a wonderful time for revelations and resolutions! I’m not a fan of resolutions myself. It’s not that I don’t like them, per se, rather that I never seem to be able to keep them. They don’t seem to stick. However, being the process-oriented geek that I am, I do like to set goals and create nerdy charts about how to accomplish them. It’s why you’re reading this, because at some point I sat down and said, hmm, I need to write a regular blog for CCWC so people can be offered assistance as well as a fresh perspective and perhaps a laugh or two.

So, my objective is to write these each quarter. Since schools are broken up into marking periods, I thought it would make sense to do something similar. Each season holds an opportunity to begin. Maybe you or your child need to build a skill, or prepare for testing, or write an essay and they are simply stressed, which makes you stressed, and then everyone is stressed! Instead, why not sit down (glass of wine optional, but recommended for parents) and write down your thoughts. If after 10 minutes all you have are doodles and expletives, that’s okay, at least you didn’t stab anyone with your pen.

Let’s talk about goals and objectives. First, it’s always helpful to write these down. Sure, we all have wonderfully lofty goals in our minds and our daydreams take us to places of majesty and insurmountable success; however, the minute the guy behind you beeps his horn because you’ve been sitting at a green light for a millisecond since it turned, the dream and any hope of its reality is completely gone. Delusions of grandeur are fun, but not very pragmatic. How can we achieve our goals, then, if we can’t fantasize them into existence?

Process geek to the rescue! (That’s me, by the way, in case that wasn’t clear, or you haven’t met me and seen first-hand how weird I am. I can’t even clean out my closet without a process chart, which explains why I hardly ever do it, I suppose.) But process doesn’t have to mean knowing every step toward the goal. Process is simply knowing the first step and being willing to take the others that present themselves afterward. For instance, if you (or your child) wants to work in a difficult field to break into, such as music, what can be done? The competition is high; the rejections are plentiful. If you can navigate that aspect, then all you need is a plan. Not a firm plan, because we know those never work anyway, but a plan to move forward. Just one step perhaps, but no side-stepping or cha-cha’ing allowed, only steps forward. Don’t let yourself get distracted by the oodles of aberrations out there that call to you with their absurdity, though those are quite interesting; just now I’m distracted thinking about if gravity is a such a strong force, why aren’t our heads on the floor? Strange interruption to my blog, but valid point, don’t you think? See, now you’re wondering too.

The point is that the intrusions are ever present. I recommend headphones — yes, the big, clunky ones we had years ago. They not only block out noise from around you, but also cancel out any peripheral vision and it’s hard to think about anything other than the fact that you have this uncomfortable, space hat on your head. Then, picture the “space hat” as a brain altering device that assists in goal setting! You see where I’m going with this: Block out the noise, including the stuff inside your head, and write down what you’d like for yourself (or your child), like a major that allows them the freedom to become who they really are, or a school where safety is more than Larry, the security guard from the mall, sitting on a chair at the college entrance.

What are the most important elements for the future? Generally, you will find it is not the high-paying jobs (though those are a nice perk); usually the real goals are those of well-being and happiness. In the immortal and eloquent words of Abraham Lincoln: “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” Happiness is created, not through daydreams, but by purposeful intentions and actions. That’s what your list will have on it: action items, true intentions, and perhaps a small spot for those daydreams, too.

It’s time for college? Really?

As my first blog for College Coaching with Care I thought I’d begin – well, at the beginning. I decided to start a blog for high school students and their parents to help you guys navigate through the rough waters of the journey toward higher education. It can be a treacherous path at times! I thought perhaps maybe I could help with that. I have two kids in college so I’ve survived that particular trek myself a couple of times. Not to mention… oh, yeah, I do this for a living and have assisted hundreds of students on that same journey. Most importantly, though, I was hoping maybe I could just make you laugh amid the madness of this exciting, crazy experience.

This transition in life is truly a wondrous experience. Wait. Stop laughing. That’s not the funny part yet. It’s an expedition of epic proportion! It’s also an odyssey the likes of Odysseus trying to defeat that one-eyed wonder, the Cyclops. If you don’t know that story, look it up! You’re going to college for Pete’s sake. Besides, your generation has Google. You can learn about any topic in just a few, simple keystrokes.

Those keystrokes (and the basics of how to do research) will help you prepare for the arduous and long process of choosing a college. So think back to your first librarian teaching you the basics of where to go in your library and how to find what some teacher decided you absolutely needed to know. Then, get on your knees and be thankful you never had to learn how to use a card catalog! Those tiny drawers of lunacy sent us all in circles through the endless shelves of our libraries seeking H192.6378 only to find every other number except that one. It was a confusing time, for sure. Now, though, the Internet is here to make your life easier and faster – actually it’s mostly distracting and kills your self-esteem, but in this case it’s a handy little tool. Avoid Facebook and ads with skinny models or buff athletes with their ripped muscles bulging through their shirts and instead “visit” some colleges on your laptop. Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound nearly as appealing as the beautiful people in the ads, but stay with me here a minute. College searches on the web are a great way to narrow down the seemingly endless multitude of colleges and universities out there offering everything from fancy dorms to yoga classes in their state-of-the-art gyms. Some colleges do have wonderful amenities, but those are added bonuses, not the best reasons to attend a school for the next four years of your life.

So, how does a high school student figure it all out? It’s like searching for Justin Timberlake’s hair in a bowl of Ramen Noodles, which incidentally you might find yourself eating a lot of in a college dorm more often than you think. But that’s a blog for another day.

Today, I want to help you begin to get yourself familiar with the schools of secondary education that are out there for you. The first step, however, isn’t what you might think. Sure, you can search the list of top schools, best schools, prettiest schools, or schools with combination majors like Contemporary Art and Diplomatic Affairs with a concentration in Women’s Studies someplace where the weather is warm and there is option for a Study Abroad in Hawaii or where marijuana is legal, but that’s not going to help you – especially not that last one. No, the first step of your search is actually in your mirror. No, not on the photos stuck inside the framing of your bedroom furniture showing you and your weird friends making silly faces or on the crinkled ticket stub from only the best concert ever known to man! No, not there, but in your reflection. Somewhere in that person facing you in the spotty echo of yourself is everything you need. But you might want to consider wiping that mirror down too. Yuck.
I won’t go too existentialist on you, but who you are is at the base of this journey you are taking, so it might be worth your time to explore her or him. Check out the Internet browser in your brain. If you were to search you inside your head, what would come up? Usually labels are the first thing to appear to us when describing someone, like student, son/daughter, brother/sister, soccer player, debater, musician, artist, et cetera. That’s a great place to start! Which of those labels that you find makes you smile? Makes you feel content? Hopefully, many of them. Dig a little deeper in that spot. Does your music or art make you feel like you’re contributing to our world in a productive and purposeful way? Or does debating contemporary issues light a fire in your belly and send you straight to Facebook on a rant? This is great too! Well, maybe not for the folks on Facebook, but hey, they’re your friends. They’ll have to deal.
The idea is to explore what truly makes you happy, not necessarily what kind of “job” you think you want to do. That comes later. Most people change their jobs many times throughout their lives, but figuring out what you’re trying to be or accomplish in this world is the real key to finding places and jobs that are right for you. Most importantly, maybe you can even make a difference in the world when you tap into your real purpose, but this takes time and it’s okay if you have no idea yet what that might be. The intention is simply to find where you are unique and how using that quality can possibly help someone else. That’s what you’ll find in that mirror, when you look hard enough. If you keep searching you, it will lead you to the right college with the right friends and studying the right subjects for you.

Finding a fit, not just an acceptance letter, a new dorm building or a fancy gym, is what guides you to the place you need to be, not just the place you want to be. And finding yourself is a gift that keeps giving for the rest of your life.