Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Welcome to High School, What is Your Vision?

Let’s talk about high school.  I love teaching high school because that is where I feel the action is.  So much hinges on the decisions made during high school.  In a way I think it is unfair, because most kids have no clue what they want to do, but they are expected to make this decision.  Most college students are also unsure, so if you aren’t sure you are not a freak.  In a perfect world you would know your career and your desired major.  Then you would take the best high school courses to make the transition to that field of study more easily.  You would then choose a college and a major in line with that exact career.

The problem is a concept of vision.  Look at the picture below taken from inside a forest:

Now look at the same forest from a different vantage point:

You can see that the higher vantage point allows you to see how large the forest actually is.  If I were lost I’d rather have a view that allows me to see more.  Career identification is a lot like this.  As you begin to interface with the working world, you will begin to see the immense career choices available to you.  There are thousands of jobs you can do.  If you take apart any organization you will see this.  Did you know that McDonald’s employs statisticians?  In the same way, IBM employs day care workers.  How do you get a clearer vision of what you want to be?

One thing is to just start paying attention to what you see around you.  You have access to quite a few adults who do many different things.  Ask them about their jobs, what they do, what they like and dislike about it, the conditions, the outlook, and the best way to get qualified to do such a job.  As you meet adults soak up as much as possible and you will get a clearer vision of what may be your dream job.  You are forcing yourself into a better vantage point that doesn’t appear fast enough if left to itself.  It takes effort to get a handle on what is a good career fit for you.

Volunteering at multiple organizations can help.  One student of mine volunteered with a local hospital twice a week.  He got a real look behind the scenes and found out that he didn’t want to be a doctor but rather a nurse.  In addition, by working in many different wards of the hospital he discovered the exact sub-field that he wanted to pursue.  When he went on to college, he sought a college with that exact major.  He is going to end up where he wants.

Your high school classes are a good indicator of career possibilities.  As you take your classes ask yourself if you enjoy the material and if you are good at it.   Competence and enjoyment are two powerful indicators of where we should be going.  They are mutually reinforcing.  When you are not competent in your job, people complain at you all day long, there is less pride in your work, and you will not be promoted.  This will lead you to be unhappy with your job no matter how much you initially enjoyed the job.  We need to have the basic skills required in order to pursue a college major.  A person weak in math should not pursue a math degree, nor should they pursue a career that demands a lot of math.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Young Men, Guard Your Rep!

How do people see you? 

Think about the different circles of people that you interact with such as classmates, teachers, teammates, coaches, principals, counselors, close friends, girlfriend, internet acquaintances, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, sisters, brothers.  This list would include all people who remember something about you even though you may not be aware of them.   

What if all of these people were to gather in a large room and in this room is a large whiteboard. The first person comes up and writes words that describe you. The next person places a check-mark next to any words they agree to and adds to the list.  The group lines up in a huge circle going round and round until everyone has a chance to check any words they forgot to list. 

Some of the words would probably have many checks, some might not.  Your girlfriend might write great kisser but obviously others wouldn’t check that term.  What would that list look like for you?  What we are talking about is something called integrity.  Integrity is maintaining a consistent character in all aspects of your life.   It is normal to adjust your behavior to the situation, but your basic character should be reliably similar regardless of the situation.  The problem is that many people have serious inconsistencies in their character.  They lack integrity.

The things you do will be the evidence for the judgments people make about you.  If you are caught lying, then you might be deemed a liar.  If you tell the truth 99 times and get caught lying one time, you are a liar.  Luckily people will cut you some slack.  When you screw up with people, apologize and don’t screw up and people tend to forgive with time. 

The secret to a healthy reputation is to consistently treat strangers kindly.

Our school has a no-hood policy.  Unless it is raining, sweater hoods must stay off the head.  Most of our students think the rule is really dumb, but a simple hood renders all of our security cameras as useless.  A hood also allows students to effectively avert and cover their eyes so that class discussions become less manageable.  I believe that the hood is also symbol of disrespect towards our school, so I enforce the rule wherever I walk on campus.  

What I have noticed is that when I am correcting one of my students in the hallways, there is compliance without complaint and the hood goes down. If; however, it is a stranger the reaction is very intense for some kids.  “Who are you?  You can’t tell me what to do (insert explicative here)!”  All schools have knuckleheads, so I try not to take it personal.  Since I teach freshmen and seniors I might have multiple run-ins with a kid before they walk in as a senior.  This is always an interesting thing in that their world is crashing around them, they are nice to those they know and jerky to strangers.  This is a lack of integrity. If you are a respectful person, you are respectful at all times and not only when people are respectful towards you.

This type of behavior is extreme, but you need to know that highly respectful people are more likely to benefit.  You never know who somebody is and whether they will hold the key to something you want.  Every adult you see on campus could be a potential recommendation letter or a single voice against you in a scholarship committee.  You never know who somebody may be, so make it your policy to be respectful and follow directions from any adult on campus.  That teacher or counselor may be next year’s vice principal.  That campus supervisor could become the principal’s secretary (the most powerful person on a campus).

He looked me dead in the eyes and with a look of pure hatred retorted, “You have to give respect, before you get respect!”  At that point it was clear the discussion was going nowhere.  I had just tried to explain how his lack of a respectful attitude towards me and his classmates was hurting his reputation.  He wasn’t getting that it.  As we sat together I could feel the anger dripping from this young man, and his attitude was going to be a death sentence for whatever aspirations he harbored.  I can’t remember anything else from the conversation, only that I think I have tried to tackle this conversation a million times.   Sometimes I get through to them, most times I don’t.  I think truth has a way of working itself into a person’s heart over time, so it’s possible that many of these hurting souls later got it.

That phrase: “You have to give respect to get respect” is interesting in that there is some truth to this.  It’s a half-truth.  We can earn respect when we are respectful to others, but not always.  Some people take a respectful attitude as a green light to be abusive towards us, but we can still be respectful in the face of disrespect.  The point is not to focus on how others treat you; it is to focus on how you treat others.  

Don’t wait to decide whether a person is worthy of your respect before you extend it to him or her. Make it automatic and you will have a healthy reputation as a person of integrity.

If you are disrespectful to those you feel are mean, then others will see you being disrespectful when they disagree with your assessment of that other person.  When I hear that one of my star students was disrespectful to another staff member, then that student has lost some of my respect for them and I will be less willing to back them in a scholarship committee or write a letter of recommendation.  I can only write a recommendation letter for people who are respectful in all situations to all people.  This is because the purpose of a recommendation letter is to vouch for a person that is not known by the college.  If I see someone who can be respectful to all people regardless of how they are treated, then I know for sure they will behave well  towards students or professors at that college.

Image: By The U.S. Army ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons at

Saturday, August 11, 2012

College Application Anxiety

The decisions that cost us the most anxiety are those that involve a lot of risk and where there are many variables to consider.  The stakes are high when choosing a college because it is a major jumping off point for the next phase of life.  

If you are not anxious at all then I’m seriously concerned that you are not taking this whole thing seriously.  People who have zero anxiety tend to be lazy on the application essays thereby insuring a denial.   I’m going to assume you are taking this seriously, or you wouldn’t be reading this.  To you I say, stop freaking out! Anxiety is normal, but you cannot let it get the best of you.   

Make your list of things to do and begin working on them.  After that no amount of worrying will really change anything.

I have great news for you!  You don’t have to make a final college choice just yet.  You should be looking to apply to seven colleges.  This means we just need to narrow it down by the beginning of the senior year.  That said we should put a lot of effort into this process because we are starting with over 3000 fully accredited colleges.

I need to repeat something I say a lot:  Most public universities have a wide range of majors that will give you most of what you want in a college.  I believe the perfect college does not exist and all colleges (as well as all organizations) have flaws.  There are quite a few colleges that are very good and will meet all your college needs.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How many colleges should you apply to?

You are looking for seven colleges to apply to.  You can do more, but it takes time to fill out the applications, do the essays, round up recommendation letters, and in addition to the time, each application requires an application fee ranging up to $70.  This means you are going to be limited to the number of colleges that you will be able to apply to.   

The object is to choose 2 colleges that are considered reach colleges, 3 colleges that are matches and 2 colleges that are safety colleges.  A safety college is a college where you will get in easily.  Your grades and test scores are far above the averages posted for that college.  Note:  these averages have been rising recently as more students have been chasing fewer freshman slots, so give yourself some wiggle room by going far above the averages posted for that school.  A match college is exactly as it sounds.  Your grades are about where the average scores are for that college.  A reach college is a college where you are slightly below the average scores for that college. Reach colleges are where we run into trouble.

Some people use the word dream college in place of reach college.  The reason I like the term reach college is that we are talking about a stretch, but not an unreachable chasm.  If you have a 3.1 GPA, then a reach college is one that has an average no greater than 3.5.  Do you see where I am going?  Some websites will delineate the percentages of students who have each level of grades. does a great job of this and in my opinion is the best place to get college data for score ranges. 

While  I was watching the swimming qualifiers for the 2012 Olympics.  One female swimmer who qualified was in the process of applying to colleges.  Listen, anyone who is good enough to qualify for the Olympics should have no problem getting a full-ride scholarship from a college.  After the race a commentator asked her if the colleges were leaving her alone.   She responded that they were being good.  I don’t know how good her grades are, and grades are important to colleges, but she will not need to score on the higher range of the academic scale.   

The low end of the range is often reserved for special status students.  This is important when thinking about applying to a reach college.  You must have something to offer them because your grades are not in the highest range of what they accept.  You should investigate which things each college values and apply to reach schools who value the type of experiences that you have.  In this way a reach college can become closer to a match college, and your chances for getting into that college increase.