Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any more F words thrown at it, here are three more: Flip, Flop, Forward. I’ll explain in a bit, so keep reading.
Lately, my feed (and probably yours, too) is full of posts about what a challenging year 2020 was, so I don’t need to spend any time recapping that fact. As college planners and test prep gurus, we’re especially aware of how difficult the year was for students and families trying to navigate their way through the college planning process.
Three F Words for 2020
2020 was the year of the perpetual FLIP.
The pandemic flipped our worlds upside down. It flipped our plans over and over again. Students, parents, teachers, business owners, EVERYONE turned themselves inside out trying to maintain some semblance of the routines and traditions we were used to, like school, sports, work, weddings, even simple nights out with friends. Rites of passage like college visits, prom and graduations were Zoomified, drive-byed or just plain cancelled. Things we’d taken for granted as “normal” suddenly weren’t. In our best moments, we pivoted tirelessly and creatively to maintain the life we knew. In more weary moments, we simply flipped out. I know I did.
On an individual level, our students were tossed and turned in the endless flipping back and forth between on-again-off-again ACT exam dates, closed campuses, never-ending changes in school routines, sports, how they could (and could not) enjoy time with friends, teammates and even their own grandparents.
Dear students, God-willing, there will never be another year like 2020. However, if you’re like most people, this won’t be the last big flip of your life. You will come again upon circumstances in your life where things don’t go according to plan, and your world is flipped upside down. You have survived 2020, worse for the wear in some ways, stronger in others. The next time you get flipped, remember that you have the inner muscle to withstand it. Knowing how to flip is a skill the teens of 2020 couldn’t help but learn.
Much of 2020 was a big, fat FLOP.
At some point, during the perpetual flip, as we let go of our plans in a thousand tiny pieces, some things just flopped. No matter how many adjustments we made, the thing we planned and hoped for just wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t the same flop for everyone. In our family, it was a high-school graduation celebration that was revised and revised again, being flipped multiple times until it just didn’t happen. For others, it was the pursuit of a state championship that you jumped through hoops and made many sacrifices to earn, and in the end you had to forfeit your place in the championship game, cuz’ Covid.
If you flipped until you couldn’t flip anymore and then just flopped, it’s okay. You’re not alone.
Sometimes you need to take a pause, cry, grieve, take a nap, take the day (or week or month) off and regroup. Flop away. This is part of grief in the face of loss.
But put a timer on it. Perpetual flopping will ultimately cause atrophy, and there’s one more F word you need in order to survive the first two.
Ultimately, we kept moving FORWARD.
Flip. Flop. Forward. Flip. Flop. Forward. As long as you get all the way to the third F word, it’s going to be okay. One baby step at a time is okay. You don’t need to see all the way to the finish line, but you do need to take the next step FORWARD. If you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will reach your goal, eventually.
We loved hearing about how our students moved forward through 2020 by finding a new hobby, a new entrepreneurial business venture, new rhythms, new interests, new and deeper relationships. For students on their way to college, moving forward meant new ways of exploring college options, new skills to find the answers they needed (ie, picking up the phone and calling admissions reps), new options and ways of learning altogether. We are so proud of our students and the parents who love them for finding ways to keep moving FORWARD.
Ultimately, it’s about Controlling What You Can Control.
Our motto for the year that we’ve shared with the hundreds of high-school students and families we’ve worked with this year is: Control what you CAN control. This has always been our recommendation. This year in particular, we were all made keenly aware of the fact that there is a LOT that’s beyond our individual control. When we feel helpless, disappointed, anxious, confused or just downright pissed off, we can always return to focus on what’s within our small sphere of influence. There may be a lot I can’t do about circumstances beyond my control. However, in my experience, there’s never a shortage of things I CAN do. I can do the next right thing, take the next step, move forward with the action that’s right in front of me. I may have to pivot. Plans may be flipped. Things might flop. I keep moving forward.
There’s a riddle I came across recently. What has no arms, no hands and no legs, but moves the earth? The earthworm. He flips, flops and moves forward. In his persistent movement, controlling what he can control, he moves the earth. Flip. Flop. Forward. Flip. Flop. Forward.
Nothing magical is going to happen tomorrow, folks. January 1, 2021 and the coming months will probably look a lot like the past ten or so. So the motto for 2021 will likely remain the same as it has in 2020 (and all the years before that): Control what you CAN control. There’s plenty of work to be done. And we’re here to help.
Keep reading if you want to learn how high school students can use LinkedIn for career and college research. If you’re a video/visual learner, get our free training video. We created an entire 30-minute training video that hows you how to unlock the power of LinkedIn for your college and career research, and we’d LOVE to send it to you. Click here to download this FREE training video!
Hey high-school students! Did you know that the minimum age for having a LinkedIn account is just 16? Many high schools now teach students how to use of LinkedIn for networking. I think that’s brilliant. LinkedIn offers tips for high-school students wanting to set up a LinkedIn account for networking. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/linkedin-tips-high-school-students-judy-schramm/ It’s pretty helpful. Check it out.
However, what’s incredibly cool is how LinkedIn can be a high-school student’s powerful research tool to find colleges and careers. Teens can tap into the power of LinkedIn to find potential careers and colleges that may interest you.
Today, I’m talking to the high-school student (or parent of a student) who has no earthly clue what they want to major in at college. What’s worse is the fact that this cluelessness is holding up their entire college search. Many teens think that before they start looking at schools, they have to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. False! (Thank you, Dwight Schrute).
You do NOT need to choose a major before you go to college. Many students head to college believing that they’ll figure it out along the way, and most of them do. Even your friends who sound incredibly sure of themselves about what they want to do with the rest of their lives will likely change their mind.
Use LinkedIn as a research tool to find interesting careers and colleges.
First step for high school students is to set up a LinkedIn account.
Head on over to LinkedIn and follow the steps to create your account. You can choose to add information to your profile right away, or stick to the bare minimum for now. You can always update your profile later.
Next, teens can tap into LinkedIn for career research.
LinkedIn is a gigantic search engine you can use to research companies, jobs they offer, the people who work for those companies and even the career paths of those employees! Imagine how powerful this insight could be when considering your own career and educational path.
As one example, I used the Search tool at the top of the LinkedIn homepage to search a company I’ve always admired: Adidas. Once I landed on Adidas’ company profile page, I scrolled down and took note of what I could learn there:
Holy cow! Is that gorgeous, super cool building their office?
Wow, they just launched a new Brand Center in Beijing!
Hey, cool article about the legendary Stan Smith
Under their About section, I learned that they have 60K employees worldwide and could view their company locations on a global map.
High school students can learn what types of jobs exist by using the Jobs section of LinkedIn.
Sticking with my Adidas search, I clicked on the Jobs tab of their company profile. I found some really interesting titles, like this. At this point, I have no idea what some of these words even mean, but if there’s one that piqued my interest, I clicked on the job and could read the job description, which gave me a really good sense of whether or not that’s a job I’d enjoy.
For example, I clicked on a job posting for a “Copywriter Digital Creative” because I like writing, and I like being creative. I had to wade through a bunch of words I barely understood, but I did learn some things that this job would entail, the types of titles a copywriter would work with, AND I learned under “Requirements” that they’d be looking for someone who’d majored in something related to Writing, Creative Writing, Communications or “Other Media”. Hmmmmm….super helpful.
Narrow your job search by using keywords to zero in on topics of interest.
Maybe it sounds too time-consuming to navigate to job postings by starting with a company search. No problem! You can access the Jobs section of LinkedIn from the homepage and narrow your search by entering keywords into the search tool. Maybe you have a family friend who has a career in Marketing, and you think that sounds interesting. Type “marketing” into the search tool and choose any location that sounds intriguing. You’ll be amazed how much you’ll learn about the types of jobs, titles and careers that exist within your broad field of interest.
Dig deeper by looking at People profiles.
Once you find a job title that really interests you, go back to the homepage. Use the search tool to type in the title you’d like to know more about. I typed in VP Marketing to see what people have that job title. I then clicked on a profile for someone who is a VP of Marketing at a company I think is super cool: Google.
Once I was on his profile page, I could scroll down and see not only information about the job he currently has, but also what he’d done before that. This is called his “career path”. This is important because while my goal may be to one day be a Vice President of Marketing, I need to understand the jobs and steps that come before that. I was even able to see where this person attended college and what he majored in!
High-school students keep digging, keep exploring to find potential careers and colleges using LinkedIn.
One profile won’t tell you everything you need to know. You’ll need to keep exploring to confirm your findings, expand your understanding and identify options for both colleges and careers that you should check out.
I guarantee that reallocating some of your scroll time to LinkedIn from Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube will help you identify some outstanding options for career categories and colleges that should be on your list for consideration.
In 2020, more than ever before, your college essay matters. The college essay is 4th on the list of the things colleges look for in applicants, in order of importance. True, it comes after the rigor of your curriculum, your GPA and standardized test scores (if you’re submitting them). It ranks higher on the list than your extracurricular activities! It’s a great way for college admissions officers to get to know you. In the event that students are not submitting ACT or SAT scores, the essay is even more important. It conveys the type of person you are and what you’ll contribute to that school, if admitted.
We have an entire course devoted to college applications and essays. It’s called the College Applications & Essays Bootcamp, and it could help seniors still wrestling with the overwhelming task of writing killer essays and completing the Common App.
The college admissions office uses your college essay(s) to better understand who you truly are, what makes you tick, what your passions are and what you’d bring to their campus. They’re reviewing your essay in context with the rest of your college application, so tell them something they CAN’T learn from the other materials you’re submitting. Yes, you can write about an activity that’s already included on your list of activities, but make sure you say something new and deeper than what you’ve already told them throughout the rest of your college application.
Here are some college essay tips, if you want to do this thing right. There are 7 of them, plus a .5 bonus tip to make your essay truly one-of-a-kind.
7 College Essay Tips to Tell Your Story Well
Tip 1: Consider “optional” college essays to be required for you.
Assume “optional” = required. You’ll write essays for the Common App, for particular institutions and also for scholarships, both institutional and private. The Common App essays are more general, while the supplemental essays required by some colleges tend to be more specific, e.g. “Why Duke?” Any essay listed as optional should be considered required. You want to show you’re the type of person who’ll go above and beyond, not that you are simply willing to meet minimum requirements. Get used to it. That’s how most things go in life.
Tip 2: Don’t try to cram your entire life story into a 650-word college essay.
Pick your moment, and go deep rather than broad. 650 words is not a lot of space, essentially one full page, single-spaced. One of the biggest mistakes we see students make is trying to cover too much ground. Pick a moment, experience or situation that enables you to reveal who you are at your core. The moment doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or monumental. It can actually be something very simple. Some of the best essays we’ve seen take a moment that’s actually pretty ordinary and MAKE it something unique, something that says something about the author. One student wrote about building a bird house with her grandfather. Another wrote about noticing that the corn field near her house had been turned into suburbs, and it made her think differently about time passing.
Tip 3: Focus on the story you want to tell, not what you think they want to hear.
It’s going to be difficult to be anyone but you, and why would you want to be? The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response.
Tip 4: Pay attention to college essay word counts before you start.
Nothing’s more heartbreaking than drafting a 500-word college essay and then learning you’re only allowed 300 words. In most cases you are asked to respond to a “prompt” within a specific word limit (650 or less for Common App and usually 300-500 for others). Do not go beyond the stated limits, and avoid unusually brief essays. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.)
Tip 5: In your college essay, convey not just events, but also your outlook on them.
Getting to know you is as much about learning how you view the world and why, as it is what you’ve done. Give some thought to who you are, how you think, why you think the way you do. Start by making a list of your best qualities: persistent, funny, empathetic, creative, observant, others-focused, adventurous. Think about WHO YOU ARE. THEN consider a moment, experience or scene that enables you to SHOW ME, versus TELL ME, that this is who you are. Learning that you ran your first 10K last year is less important than learning how accomplishing this goal changed you, shaped you, what it taught you about yourself.
Tip 6: Remember that your college essay is an essay, not an expose.
Honesty is good. Brutal and unabashed honesty in the form of a true confession makes admissions officers squeamish, and with good reason. This is not the time to confess to anything illegal or immoral. Sharing serious challenges you’ve faced is great, but remember that you’re talking to people who’ve never met you, not your best friend. Above all, admissions officers are looking for a personal expression of who you are, what you believe and what makes you tick – in the form of a well-crafted and thoughtful essay. Be yourself and write from your own point of view, but don’t be different just to be different or to shock.
Tip 7: Give your college essay the time and attention it deserves.
Writing your college essay doesn’t have to consume you for a month straight, but don’t wing it, either. Assume that this will take time, thought and work, as well as rework. Think of any great high school paper you ever wrote. Was that done hastily and in one draft? Probably not, if it was done well. This college essay is of greater importance, so give it its due. Your college essays, if done well, enable you to get to know yourself better, as well as learning how to succinctly present yourself to a brand new audience. This is something you’ll have to do throughout your life, for internships, job interviews, even dating and friendships. Embrace the challenge, enjoy it and create space for yourself to do your best. And for the bonus point (or 1/2 point…)
BONUS COLLEGE ESSAY TIP
Challenge yourself to write an essay that couldn’t possibly have anyone else’s name at the top. Once you get a rough draft down, ask yourself, could this essay have been written by anyone else? Is it uniquely me? Does it convey my own unique outlook and perspective? If not, take another pass through it and inject more YOU. Make your college essay a unique expression of who you really are. That is the goal of the college essay(s), to get to know YOU. So be YOU.
“With so many schools being test optional for the classes of 2021 and 2022, can I just ignore the ACT?” This is a really common question we’ve received lately from high-school students and parents. Too many people are taking an all or nothing approach, thinking that either 1) nothing’s changed, or 2) everything’s changed, and the ACT is just going away. The real answer is an involved conversation that’s specific to your student, their scores and the schools they’re considering. To talk through your student’s unique situation, schedule a free consult anytime.
If you’re a junior or the parent of a junior, this flowchart makes a complex decision process a bit more simple. We walk through it in the video and in the blog post below. Download the PDF here.
Could a strong ACT score help the Class of 2022 for college admissions?
YES, even at test-optional schools, provided that your score falls within the school’s “middle 50% ACT range” and ideally toward the higher end of that range.
Dig deeper than just whether you HAVE to have an ACT score or not in order to apply. The more important question is, could a strong ACT score HELP YOU?
Think about a baseball player who spends extra time working on their swing or a basketball player who invests time stroking those threes. They’re controlling what they can control. They want a competitive edge to get up to varsity or increase their chances to play at the next level. The same is true with the ACT. It’s not what you HAVE to do. It’s what you CAN do to play at your best possible level. The goal when you’re a junior is to enhance and expand college options.
Putting in extra effort could benefit you, even if ACT scores are not REQUIRED for admission.
This is because test-optional doesn’t mean test BLIND. Test-optional schools don’t REQUIRE you to submit an ACT or SAT score as part of your college application, but they WILL consider it if you submit it. Wouldn’t it be great to have an ACT score in hand that you WANT to submit because it strengthens your application?
If you’re able to earn an ACT score that is within (and ideally at the higher end of) a school’s “mid-range ACT”, then that ACT score COULD help you gain acceptance to that school.
A rigorous high-school curriculum including challenging courses
Your ACT or SAT score
Your college essay
Your extra-curricular activities
For test-optional schools, if you skip #3, they don’t penalize you. They evaluate you as an applicant based on the other four things. If those four things are exceptionally strong, then you don’t need the ACT score to get in. If those other four elements combined are NOT better-than-average compared to that school’s admitted students, then a strong ACT score could STILL be an important card to play for college applications.
For juniors still shopping for schools, a stronger ACT score can expand options.
Most juniors don’t yet have their “college shopping cart” finalized. They’re still looking around. That’s never been more true than in 2020, when a global pandemic has made college campus visits challenging. At OnCampus College Planning, we like to shop around when it comes to colleges.
When I’m looking at colleges, I’m comparing my practice ACT exam score to the “mid-range ACT scores” for the schools I’m looking at to see how I stack up. To do this, go to collegedata.com and set up a free account. Look up the mid-range ACT scores for schools you’re considering. How does your score compare? Juniors, if you haven’t yet taken a full-length ACT practice exam to gauge how you’ll do on the real thing, sign up here to do so FREE at our office.
Let’s look at one example. The University of Wisconsin’s middle 50% ACT range is 27-32. That means half of the kids who applied and were accepted last year (whether or not they chose to be Badgers) came in between a 27 and a 32 on the ACT. One quarter of UW’s accepted students were below a 27, and one quarter were above a 32. That’s really high.
To discover the middle-50% ACT ranges at schools you’re considering, set up an account on collegedata.com, and look it up. Or email me, and we’ll help you figure it out.
If early on in your junior year, you take a practice ACT exam and don’t like what you see, you then have time to consider your options.
What are my options to gain a stronger ACT score for college applications?
The best option depends on each student and the schools they’re considering. Looking at an example of a student who wants to attend UW and is sitting with a 24 on the ACT, consider these options.
With a super strong GPA, you may be able to withhold your ACT scores and still be accepted. The UW’s average GPA for admitted students is 3.86. If you have a 4.0, a rigorous curriculum for your high-school courses, a great essay and outstanding extracurricular activities, then you have four strong cards in your hand to play, and you don’t need that 5th card: a strong ACT score.
If your GPA isn’t at or above the average GPA for admitted students, then can you move your ACT score up? We’re working with a ton of students who want to invest time preparing for the ACT in order to have another strong card in their hand to play for college admissions, even for schools where ACT scores are optional.
Depending on which schools you’re considering, it’s not just a matter of getting in. You’ll also want to consider whether stronger ACT scores could help you earn merit aid that saves you thousands on college tuition. If you’re a Wisconsin resident and looking at UW, this isn’t a big consideration. But if you’re looking at out-of-state schools or private schools, and they include ACT scores for merit aid consideration, that strong ACT score could help you save money on college tuition.
How can a strong ACT score help you save money on college?
There are not one, but actually two considerations for whether or not a stronger ACT score is worth the effort and investment for you. One is college admissions. The other is merit aid.
Merit aid scholarships have nothing to do with financial need. For out-of-state public universities as well as for private colleges and universities, you should be looking at not just admission requirements, but also merit aid criteria.
Depending on the schools you’re considering, even if you can earn admittance with (or without) an ACT or SAT score, you may want to strengthen your scores to save money on tuition. This is a school-by-school, student-by-student conversation, and we can talk that through with you during a free consult.
What’s next for juniors wondering about the ACT and college options?
Juniors, now’s the time to figure out what the middle 50% ACT ranges and average GPAs are at schools you’re considering. That way, you’ll know what you’re shooting for.
If you’ve not yet taken a practice ACT exam and want to do so for free, you can schedule that here.
If you’re not sure whether or not ACT Test Prep is a worthwhile investment for you, or you wonder what your ACT Test Prep options are, email me and let’s talk it through. I’m always happy to answer questions to help students and parents get clear and get confident about your college choices.
Summer is just around the corner, and after a difficult year of cancelled plans and quarantine, we’re finally starting to feel like things are returning to ‘normalcy’ as businesses reopen their doors and summertime activities resume. Most of the students and families we know were handed more than a few ‘lemons’ last summer, and we’ve been blown away by the dedication and perseverance our students have shown in the face of adversity. This summer, those lemons become lemonade! Sports, camps, summer jobs and travel are back on the menu and summertime college planning is in full swing. Now’s the time to squeeze in college planning and ACT Test Prep before summer slips away! Get ahead of the game with ACT Test Prep, College Search, College Applications & Essays, and Guidance for Prospective Student Athletes.
Keep reading for ideas for every grade and stage to squeeze all you can out of this summer! During summer, you don’t have classes or homework to worry about so check out ACT Test Prep and college planning, even college applications and essays off your list! You’ll thank yourself when fall comes and your schedule’s back in full swing.
Seniors Slam Dunk College Applications & Essays this Summer
If you’re graduating in 2022, you’re a legit high-school senior now! While you can’t hit submit until fall for most schools, you can do everything else right now! Set up your Common App account, get organized, collect all your college applications materials, even write that killer essay this summer. Save yourself stress this fall. We can help with our College Applications Guidance services!
If you need help finalizing your college shopping cart for fall applications, summer’s the time to do it! While COVID put the brakes on in-person college campus visits, college campuses are now re-opening and it’s time to get out there and see some schools! If you need College Search guidance, now’s the time to get help before college applications peak season this fall.
Class of 2023, knock out ACT Test Prep this summer! Many rising juniors and their parents don’t realize that you don’t HAVE to wait until the state-mandated ACT exam the spring of your junior year. For many soon-to-be juniors, summer’s a much easier time to devote energy to ACT Test Prep than fall or winter. We work with a ton of rising juniors, as well as rising seniors each summer who want to make productive use of summer free time to check a killer ACT score off their list of things to do.
Rising juniors should also focus on defining and finding the University of You™, that dream school that sets the standard for what you want, need, don’t want and don’t need in your ideal college experience. Once you’ve defined the University of You™, you’ll know exactly what you’re shopping for. Summer’s the ideal time for College Search, so you can get clear about what you’re shopping for and line up amazing options, including hidden gems and high-value colleges that will reward you for your academic and other achievements with merit aid that makes college more affordable. All year, but especially during the summer, our college GPS, Tom Kleese, is on the hunt for great options for our students. Nothing pleases Tom more than unearthing a school that you’ve never heard of that fits the bill just right.
Prospective student athletes entering junior year this fall are getting serious about finding the right team and right school for you. It can help to have some guidance about how and when to reach out to coaches, how to tackle plans for camps and clinics, especially in light of COVID-related restrictions and impacts. You can contact our Coach for Prospective Student Athletes, Stephanie Barth, to learn exactly what you should be doing, when and how to get noticed by your schools and teams of interest. Schedule a free consult to fast-forward your college recruiting path, and stay posted for the release of our 2021 Student Athlete Summer Playbook!
Sophomores Start Strong Now
Rising sophomores (those who’ll be sophomores this year) are smart to schedule a FREE ACT Practice Exam to satisfy your curiosity about what this big old test is all about. An ACT Practice Exam helps you understand what it’s like to sit for a three and a half-hour exam, and shows you exactly how you’ll do, and where you might need help once you’re ready to prepare next year. Our practice exams include a free consult where we’ll review your exam results with you and your parents.
Sophomores and their parents are also super smart to come in for a free consult to get the answers you need to make the path smooth and stress-free between now and when you’re ready to get serious about college planning. Our clients tell us that the free consult was super helpful in addressing everything from AP classes to how to do college campus visits well, and that starting the conversation early really helped reduce stress and lend focus and direction to their college planning efforts.
For prospective student athletes, sophomore year is key for outreach to college coaches, as well as taking it to the next level in competitions, practice and in thinking about what comes after high school. Athletes often benefit from guidance on next steps for College Athletic Recruiting before or once they hit sophomore year. You can schedule a free consult with Stephanie Barth if you’d like to learn more.
Freshmen Fast-Track Your Progress With Focus on Academics
Parents of students who’ll be freshmen this fall LOVE free consults with us, where you can count on us to echo some of the key messages you’ve been sharing at home, like “turn in your homework because it all counts day one!” Come in for a free consult to get the answers you need.
For student athletes, the summer before your freshman year of high school is also a great time to consider whether you might want to pursue college athletics. While you certainly don’t need to make any decisions or commitments any time soon, starting early means you can set yourself up for great options later. Our Coaching for College-Bound Athletes helps outline the steps you can take at every grade and stage now throughout your high school career.
For every grade and stage, you can squeeze this summer for all it’s worth and make it your best summer yet!