With its top-ranked undergraduate business program, serene surroundings, and Fighting Irish football tradition, the University of Notre Dame is increasingly attracting top students from around the world. With the crisp air of autumn upon us, we decided it was time to visit Notre Dame’s campus in order to get a sense of what current students have to say about undergraduate life as leprechauns. Notre Dame did not disappoint.
NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) had its annual conference in Boston this September, and it was chock full of educational sessions, networking opportunities, speeches by respected thought leaders, and four full days of morning, afternoon, and evening receptions. While it’s always nice to get together in one place a group of people who work in one industry, there are also drawbacks to attempting such a feat (NACAC has over 15,000 individual, institutional, and organizational members from around the world). Below is a summary of the top eight things I, one of the thousands of attendees, took away from NACAC 2017.
8. It’s great to get to know colleagues from around the U.S. and around the world: I think the greatest strength of having a NACAC conference once a year is that it brings together people from all corners of the world who work in the same field. Getting to know individuals who do what I do but do so in a different time zone or different language certainly helps put things in perspective and contextualizes the work that we all do. We all enjoy unique benefits from performing this line of work and we all face unique challenges in our individual positions, organizations, or locations. I think coming together each year is an invaluable way in which to reflect on what unites us and learn from what differentiates us.
7. Boston is beautiful: Boston, especially in September, is a great place to be. Taking in the sights, the local colleges, and scenery was certainly rejuvenating as we head into another admissions cycle. Kudos to NACAC Conference organizers for picking Boston and thank you to Boston for rolling out the red carpet to so many of us. South Boston is unrecognizable from just a few years ago, and conference goers certainly must have left town realizing that far from being just an amazing college town, Boston is a city on the move.
6. I need to do more cardio training and leg workouts: The convention center was so big and the conference and its satellite receptions covered so much physical territory in Boston that I am suffering from shin splints. Being a college counselor is clearly dangerous for one’s health, as sitting in front of a computer and meeting with families all day does not provide enough time for flexing ones muscles. I feel like I did more walking in Boston than I did during a recent trip to Disney World, and that’s saying a lot. In all seriousness, I can’t imagine how hard this was on many counselors who are severely out of shape and who tried to squeeze in as many sessions and events as possible during this conference. I’m no gym rat, but I’m also not in bad shape; yet, even I had a hard time traversing this conference on foot. I hope the organizers think long and hard about how they can create a more compact conference in the future. Maybe it’s time for more virtual elements? Or fewer and higher quality breakout sessions so there is more of a common experience for all participants at the end of the conference. At the very least, I need to take more breaks during every work day in order to stretch, walk, go up and down the stairs, and generally work out so that I won’t be limping during the waning hours of NACAC 2018 in Salt Lake City.
5. Resources seem misaligned: For all the backslapping and glad-handing taking place in Boston this week, what is abundantly clear is that students are not at the center of the college admissions industry. Rather, the people who run it are: the enrollment deans, the admissions officers, the college counselors, and the vendors there to grease the skids. If students were at the center of the process, so many dollars would not be spent once each year on various groups of adults wining and dining other groups of adults. While I love my new University of Texas Austin socks, I can’t help but think that the money spent to produce them would have been better served back in Austin reducing student-professor ratios or increasing student financial aid offers. Clemson can spend thousands of dollars on a glitzy reception for conference goers each September, but couldn’t Clemson get higher quality and more diverse applicants by instead spending less on desserts and spending more on plane tickets for its admissions officers to travel out to the furthest reaches of the the U.S. and world like so many other peer institutions do? Colleges and vendors in particular need to lead on returning students to the center of this process and that means less $tyle and more substance.
4. Many speakers weren’t very impressive: Considering this is the one big shot each year to get so many admissions and college counseling leaders together, I was struck by just how little new information I learned. Much of what I sat through in a session or was told by an admissions officer during the college counselors’ fair was information I’ve known for quite a while. The issue is compounded when speakers don’t speak very well or don’t even seem to realize that the information they are sharing is pretty stale stuff. As usual, I was most impressed by many of the senior admissions deans and officers and least impressed by those in their twenties who, with all due respect, give many of these institutions a bad name. Maybe send the rookies to the regional conferences to get their sea legs before inviting them to majors? With that said, there were some exceptional newbies, but they were indeed the exceptions. Also, just because one is a keynote speaker does not make one a good speaker. I also prefer keynote speakers who challenge the audience to think differently than they usually do. The keynote speaker at NACAC 2017 was preaching to the choir. The vendors as usual were particularly a mixed bag. Many seemed to be right out of a boiler room. Others seemed simply bored.
3. The Common App keeps finding new ways to disappoint: What happens when a group of poor planners decide to invite all conference attendees to their company’s reception? Food runs out only an hour in, leaving a lot of folks crammed into a damp tent together drinking and yelling at the person next to them just to be heard. It’s disturbing to know that the ‘brains’ behind the application used by over 700 colleges and universities can’t even successfully throw an average party. Experiencing the Common App’s 2017 NACAC reception explains why and how an application that was once a true revolutionary product (when designed by the innovative and down-to-Earth team now running the Universal College App) now seems past its sell-by date. No organization or company can expect continued success when it’s running on fumes and depends most of all on its past successes/reputation. Bring in new and unimaginative people and you get relatively uninspired output on all that they touch.
2. Counselors need to stop complaining about Hobsons/Naviance/RepVisits: It seems like every day on counselor forums and in conversations by phone and email high school counselors constantly complain about Hobsons, the company that owns Naviance and RepVisits. The fact is that counselors’ jobs would be so much harder without Naviance and RepVisits. Hobsons’ booth at this year’s conference was manned by earnest and kind professionals who really helped a lot of us. I had a major problem that was time-sensitive that I never expected to get resolved, and it was resolved by a wonderful Hobsons rep in thirty minutes! That is impressive. Hobsons is not perfect, but it’s far closer to perfect than the inept image lots and lots of complaining counselors would paint for you in order to make you believe that Hobsons is a complete mess. With RepVisits integration, Naviance now efficiently and effectively accomplishes what I used to spend a good half of my job doing. This allows me to spend more time providing personalized guidance to students and parents. College counselors should be kissing the feet of each and every Hobsons rep they encounter. Show some gratitude. Thank you Hobsons!
1. The Big 10 reception was great: As much as I feel sort of skeazy for attending (and enjoying some of) these networking (supposedly informational) receptions at which colleges or organizations throw products, drinks, and/or food at attendees, I can’t help but admit, in a year of pretty weak and tasteless party planners, the brains behind the Big 10 reception did a bang up job. The food was awesome, the music and lighting were spot on (I have to believe Rutgers had a large hand in the Jersey Shore-vibe that came across as more fun than kitschy), and the give-aways were non-generic school-specific items that reflected the true personalities of these very fine medium and large institutions. Loved the dumplings and guacamole. Props.
Next year in Salt Lake!
Craig Meister is the founder of Admissions Intel and an independent school director of college counseling. He’s previously served in the roles of undergraduate admissions officer for a public university, director of college guidance and standardized testing for an independent high school, and director of college and career counseling at an international school.
You have read my story, now it is time to create your own. Let’s figure out what you might be interested in – beyond video games, Facebook, ESPN, WhatsApp, Instagram, and/or Snapchat!
HOW TO GET STARTED?
1. Go with your gut. STOP listening to the chatter. STOP worrying about what “they” (your parents, friends, spin instructor) might think about what you want to do. If it interests YOU then it is okay.
2. Think about your current interests. Do you want to sustain them? Perhaps you are involved with scouting, or art, or music. Do you want to continue with those activities? It is fine if you do, but you need to really WANT to. Don’t stick with it just because it is easy or familiar. If you’ve been on swim team but hate every minute of it, then quit. If you have played the violin for five years and still aren’t very good – and you’ve given it a good effort – then quit. NOW is the time to quit and move on. Cut your losses. DO WHAT YOU LIKE.
3. Warning For Musicians Only: If your passion is music, and you dream of being a music major or attending a conservatory, you need to start researching that now. Many conservatories require competency in more than one instrument as well as proficiency in reading and composing. Do you homework and PRACTICE. I will write more about music in a later post.
4. Make your choice and jump in. You don’t have to become an expert, just give something a try. By “give it a try” I mean stick with it for at least three months. After that, if you aren’t having fun, try something else. No one is keeping track. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. If you choose to take up some super technical sport or difficult instrument, it may well take more than three months to start enjoying it, but you get my point.
WHEN TO GET STARTED?
1. SUMMER is a great time to explore your interests. There are all sorts of camps and workshops and programs geared towards getting teens excited about everything from medical research to writing the next great novel. Summer is also the time when employment opportunities abound, and don’t overlook those chances to volunteer. Colleges aren’t looking for students who take the summer off. Make good use of that time to learn more about yourself.
2. The next best time to try new things is at the beginning of the school year. Create a new you. Join a new club. START a new club. Get involved in a community project at a deep level. Let’s say that your school’s Key Club does one of thosse Rise Against Hunger programs where everyone gathers to package up thousands of meals. If that sort of helping activity is interesting to you, make a point of seeking out the organizers. Ask them how you can get more involved. Find out how to help organize this type of event or sign on with the organization itself. There are countless opportunities to help out on a deeper level in your community.
Maybe theatre is your thing, or dance, or music. Instead of just joining the band or trying out for the play, take a stab at stage managing, or lighting, or sound. Maybe you want to write or direct or choreograph? You will be shocked at how welcoming and encouraging teachers and community members will be when you propose your ideas. Most will jump at the chance to help you. Besides, what’s the worst thing that can happen? That they say no. You will be no worse off than you were when you started! If someone turns you down (and they will), simply thank them for their time and move on. Don’t hold grudges or burn bridges though, because in all likelihood the reason for them turning you down had nothing to do with YOU, and they may be able to help you in the future.
Maybe sports are more your thing, and you are involved at the varsity or club level. First of all, read my blog post on athletics. Then if you are STILL involved at the varsity or club level, find a way to double dip. In other words, since you are already at the pool or gym or wherever, find a way to further your interest or passion in the sport beyond your training. Maybe you could help coach younger kids? If you are interested in pre-med perhaps you could shadow the athletic trainer or help him or her organize his or her space or maintain the weight room? Maybe you could learn more about exercise science or nutrition? If you are interested in training and/or nutrition, try to expand your interests so that they are not totally self centered. Explaining how you got yourself to 14% body fat will not make you jump off the page, but showing how you developed an eating plan that helped the team lose fat and gain muscle mass will get people talking.
These are just two suggestions. Choose one or two things that you’d like to explore (or keep exploring) and go and and DO IT. If you don’t get to sign up at the start of the year, that doesn’t mean you need to sit it out. Most clubs and community organizations welcome new members at any time. That first step is the hardest. Once you try one activity it makes it easier to join the next one. Just take that first step. You’ll be glad you did and it will help you get noticed.
I often write about developing your interests or igniting the spark. For some of you this may be all you need to start down that rosy path to passion, but for others, all that talk of interest and discovery might just be feeding your frustration.
“I have no interests,” you might be saying.
“My child just wants to lie on the couch and play video games 24/7,” you could be thinking.
I feel your pain. I too, have a more than one child who would love nothing more than to rot his brain in the supine position for the rest of his days. We won’t go there right now, but let me tell you how I discovered my own interests and passions back in the days of yore.
When I was eleven, I loved horses. This is a typical girl thing, right? Every Christmas I placed the word PONY first and foremost on my Christmas list. I begged for riding lessons, I had a collection of Breyer horses complete with barn and tack room. The summer after fifth grade my mother signed me up for summer camp at the Pony Palace Riding Club, which would involve a week of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. riding and horsey-ness.
Two weeks before pony amp, I developed appendicitis. Post-surgery I was forbidden from any rigorous exercise for six weeks. SIX WEEKS. Luckily the Pony Palace Riding Club owner was a shrewd as I was desperate and she agreed that I could perform “light barn chores” instead of the more vigorous riding elements of the camp. I spent five days mucking stalls, bathing and grooming horses, cleaning tack, and measuring out feed. I saddled everyone up at the beginning of the day and put everything away at the end. I learned more about what goes into caring for horses – and what comes out of them – than I ever could have by simply galloping around the ring, and I loved every second of it. I spent most of my middle school years mucking around (literally) at that barn; I earned my riding lessons and hauled more manure than I care to remember, but just being around those animals was enough for me.
Fast forward to my high school years. Was I an equestrienne? No. Did I own a horse? No. Was this going to be my life’s work? No again. So what was the point? Working at that barn taught me all kinds of things. I was responsible for the well being of more than one relatively expensive living creature. The horses, and their owners, depended on me; and though I knew that I was never going to be a champion rider, I did know that I would always want to be around animals. The connections I forged at Pony Palace helped form my interest and passion for animals and the outdoors.
During my summer vacations in high school I worked as both a lifeguard and camp counselor. I started as a junior counselor after ninth grade and by graduation I worked my way up to being the Director of Aquatics. I needed to keep more than 500 campers from drowning each day, and I did not take that responsibility lightly.
That passion for the outdoors led me to try rowing as a sport. I went to a boarding school in New Hampshire that happened to have a large rowing program. When I tried it in the spring of my freshman year, I happened to be pretty good at it and was the only freshman (thanks to an upperclassmen getting suspended) to make the varsity second boat. For the next four years, rowing, even though it only took up a dozen weeks of my year, was my favorite thing about school. We did well as a team, we got some decent recognition, and I ended up at a Nationals after my junior year. That DID help me get noticed by colleges, but my passion for rowing also helped me make lifelong friendships. It taught me how to connect with my adult coaches who also helped me along the way.
Rowing is the ultimate sport in terms of teaching stick-to-itiveness. So it wasn’t so much about my talent as a rower, in fact I am very small for an oarsman, and at 5’5″ I wound up coxing in college. What rowing instilled in me was the knowledge that I could be passionate about something. Just like that summer at Pony Club, I could use my time rowing to remind myself that there are some pretty awesome moments in life, and you just have to keep trying for them.
As a senior at my school, you had the option of completing an Independent Study Project (ISP). I still loved animals so I came up with the crazy notion of doing my ISP at the Los Angeles Zoo as an intern zookeeper. I wrote my proposal and sent it off, never imagining that it would work out. Lo and behold, the folks at the zoo cooked up an amazing program in which I could work on all of the various animal “strings” and also take the volunteer docent course at the same time. It was my dream come true.
Long story longer, there isn’t any set formula for finding or pursuing what interests you. My path certainly was unpredictable and a little non conventional. Did I end up as a veterinarian or Olympic rower? Obviously not, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that I followed the things things that interested ME. Not my parents, not my friends, ME. The key to getting noticed is to discover and follow YOUR passions and interests.
If you are a parent: I am sure that you can think back on your journey to adulthood and come up with your own version of the road that led you to where you are now. We all take a series of steps – and missteps – as we shape our lives. What is important for your child (or you, if you are the student) is to discover what INTERESTS them. Let their interests lead the way. While you’re at it, let their talents lead the way as well. While there is much to be said to sticking with a project (or lessons, or whatever) there is NO point in forcing a child to continue in an activity for which they have no real talent or passion. There is no use in continuing with the swim team or flute lessons if every practice session is a battle. Let them move on. I realize that you may have invested a lot of money into that particular activity, but I urge you to cut your losses. If your child doesn’t love it by the end of middle school, let them find what they do love.
My own two daughters started off in elementary school with the violin and the cello. They did the whole Suzuki thing. They learned to read music (sort of). I forced them to practice. We went to recitals. I kept them at it through middle school, by which time one had discovered chorus and the other soccer and track. They loved their new activities. They were GOOD at their new activities. They both hated their respective stringed instruments. Despite protestations from both my husband and my mother in law (who had only recently purchased two rather expensive instruments), I allowed them to move on.
As it turned out, one went on earn a place in the All State Chorus on three different occasions, and today she sings with a local opera company and is a paid section leader in a local church choir. The other competed at the state level in her track event and was recruited by several DIII schools. Let students follow their own path. Allow students to ignite that spark that they all have inside of them.
I promise you it will all work out.
This is Part 1 of a two-part series. For Part 2, which includes specific actionable tips about how to start igniting your spark, please click here.
Starting this month, August 2017, Admissions Intel will feature a conversation with a college professor each month. August 2017’s professor is Gad Saad, an Evolutionary Behavioural Scientist, who joins Dave Rubin to discuss Canadian Bill C-16 and the complexities of discussing the politics of transgender issues, the psychological reasons someone might support Donald Trump, Gad’s new book about Ostrich Parasitic Syndrome, the psychological differences between men and women, robotics, evolution, and more.
In my nearly 25 years in the college admissions field, I have worked with many students and parents who were in a mild state of panic about the college process. They come to my office with lists of questions about standardized tests, college visits, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, the Common Application, high school classes to take, and more. Students feel like they need to start a new club or small business so they can convince colleges that they’re leaders. Parents worry that their children won’t get jobs after graduation if they don’t go to name-brand schools.
Unfortunately, this overwhelming anxiety can spoil a process that can be informative and fun. It can also create a hostile home among children and their parents. One of my roles as a college counselor is to provide students and their families with practical strategies for navigating the college admissions process. Equally important is my role in reducing the stress in the household surrounding the topic of college.
Here are some of my favorite tips for keeping the stress level down:
- I remind the student and parents that there are about 4,000 colleges in the country. A student who wants to go to college and is willing to put in the necessary work can absolutely find schools that would love to have him or her. My daughter Amanda, co-author of Love the Journey to College: Guidance from an Admissions Consultant and Her Daughter, who recently went through the college application process herself, wrote “getting into college does not have to worry you because if you apply to several schools—including schools below your academic range—you will get into college.”
- Designating one hour per week that the family can devote to college admissions talk can help. Sunday afternoons from 3:00PM to 4:00PM tend to work well. The rest of the week should be kept off-limits, meaning that parents are not to mention “college” at any other time, unless the conversation is initiated by the child. That way, the child doesn’t need to worry about being bombarded with questions, especially in moments when she or he is trying not to think about college.
- For rising high school seniors, I highlight the need for them to set aside time to get some rest over the summer. Junior year can be extremely challenging, with standardized tests, AP classes/ exams, and college visits, and students need time to recharge.
- While taking a break is important, too much rest and relaxation over the summer could set students up for an unnecessarily heavy workload during the school year, with regular school work, finalizing college lists, and completing college applications and essays. On the other hand, rising high school seniors who make a significant dent in his or her college applications and essays over the summer definitely lightens the load for senior year. There needs to be a balance between taking time to have fun and relax, and getting some college admissions work done to make senior year a bit easier.
- With respect to extracurricular activities, I always encourage students to remain authentic and not get caught up in what “looks good” for college. Some students think that particular activities are regarded more favorably by colleges than others, so they participate just to make their resumes look good. Or, they avoid participating if they think they won’t be a leader in the group. It is certainly nice if you can land a titled leadership position such as president or secretary when you are more senior in high school, but it is far more important to make a significant contribution to the club. Titles do not actually mean that much; it’s more than fine if you are a “quiet leader.” My suggestion is that you find a niche in a few clubs that you enjoy and make a real, visible difference.
- Students should be open to looking beyond rankings and the list of 30 colleges to which everyone they know applies. You can have an amazing college experience at a school you’ve never heard of, or at a school that doesn’t usually receive applications from your high school. Colleges try to create diversity by accepting students from all over the country and the world, so you only help yourself when you distinguish and differentiate yourself from students within your own high school.
I strongly encourage students to embrace the journey to college as a period of maturation and self-exploration, with an honest assessment of skills and interests, and to remain authentic throughout the process. Rather than being stressful, the journey to college can be manageable and even exciting.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a college that doesn’t get nearly the attention that it should from out-of-state students, but with amazing programs across disciplines and a happy campus culture in the middle of rural Illinois, we have a feeling that is about to change. At least we hope so, as living and learning at UIUC exemplifies what many would deem to be the classic American college experience portrayed in popular culture. In fact, being on campus a this Midwestern public university has a retro feel about it that makes it pretty darn charming.
Boilermakers have a lot of love for their school, and after visiting West Lafayette, Indiana, we can see why. It’s consistently ranked as one of America’s best research universities and the campus is great too. Purdue may not be as popular with “opinion elites” on the East and West coasts as its cousin two hours to the south (IU Bloomington), but after this visit we can’t explain why.
University of Wisconsin has really come into its own. Once a perpetual bridesmaid to perennial bride University of Michigan, these days students in the the know have a hard time choosing between Michigan’s higher academic rankings in many – though not all disciplines – and Wisconsin’s increasingly alluring location right on a lake in an endearing small city. While Madison is magnificent in the late summer don’t let this video fool you; winters in Wisconsin are often wild and windy whiteouts.
Michigan State University may be sports-obsessed, but it is also much more: a big school that is easy to make small, a diverse school both academically and socially, and a school that is pretty down to Earth and chill, especially compared to its rival one hour or so to the southeast.