January 30, 2015
January 29, 2015
"Colleges also boost applications by deluging students with brochures and book-length "viewbooks" featuring attractive students and famous alumni. Further tactics have included waiving application fees, making essays optional, and counting incomplete entries in application statistics. Colleges track down kids after buying names of students after they take SAT or ACT college entrance exams."
The fact is that universities are in a race to get not only the best students but the highest number of the best students. This helps them innumerably. If a student cannot get their application completed by the deadline, they need not apply. It is truly not going to benefit them and I'm almost certain these numbers will not be released (the number which tell us how many kids who applied during the extension actually were admitted).
January 26, 2015
High schools, in general, are a disruptor because they continue to change, continue to look for greater efficiencies, more exceptional results both in the immediate and long terms. High schools are an industry and an agent of change (not for the better, in most cases) and this is a big problem because it's challenging (read: near impossible) to change from the inside, particularly as young people will always NEED the human response and interaction to grow socially, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically, but these are not quantifiable outcomes. Whether we like it or not, these ought to be imperative areas of focus for all schools, elementary and up. But it's the high schools which are "performing" the worst, in this regard. For most parents born before 1985, schools were much more likely to have been a supportive, growth-focused, humanistic community, than they will be/are for our kids. Teachers are still great, for the most part, I would argue. But working in a broken system takes its toll on even the most patient, thoughtful, well-meaning educator.
This all gets back to a larger problem about our approach to the outcomes of education: teenagers aren't a customer-base and high schools are not high-level service providers, no matter how much they charge. So it baffles me when I hear that high school counselors are warning parents away from hiring private counselors. For whatever reason, college counseling offices, particularly those at private schools, demean, discourage, and deny any added value of a private counselor if/when the subject is broached. Oftentimes, they volunteer this information without being prompted at all. Do English teachers get riled up when a student seeks out extra help by way of an English tutor? On the contrary.
I am not saying high school college counseling offices are bad at what they do. Actually, most school counseling offices are probably just fine at what they do, they just don't do enough of the good things, the growth-focused, positive-reinforcement-things. Let's explore five reasons why school counselors ought to stop wasting energy on this concept of parents hiring extra help.
1) Can teenagers ever have TOO MUCH support? No. The entire premise of a school counselor is to help students do what's best for them, not be the answer, themselves.
2) They have no trouble directing students to therapists, tutors, test prep centers, or elsewhere, so they need to grasp that a private counselor is another area which is not overlapping their school counseling responsibilities. It's an extra. An add-on. It isn't about the school or the school counselor. It's about the kid.
3) School counselors imply that it's about not needing the support, but it's really urging the parents not to spend money on something which impedes upon the area for which the school counselor is responsible. Yet, in situations in which these same services are provided at no charge, school counselors cannot talk them up enough. In other words, it's a school counselor telling a parent how and where to spend his/her money. They're school counselors, not financial adviser. Sadly, this is most often the case at the most expensive private schools.
4) Stop telling families to "gather information" and "do their research" and then act incensed when the family takes a step toward hiring someone privately. Most people refer to this as "support" (see: #1).
5) Instead of focusing on parents and private counselors, let's work hard to reform the systems which we serve, both high schools and university admissions. If enough counselors speak out about how unfriendly the system is, perhaps universities will listen. As of now, all counselors can agree on one thing, at least: this process no longer serves the best interests of the students.
January 20, 2015
January 15, 2015
Getting a "Minor" in College:
What it Means when Someone says "I minored in that"
Brady Norvall, M.A. (with four minors, of course)
Founder and C.E.O. at FindaBetterU®
This is going to be short and sweet, people:
Most universities (note: not all) have three requirements for graduation:
1) That the student has completed the required number of credits. Credits correspond to courses taken. But just because a student has the required number of credits does not mean they can graduate. Indeed, they must also have …
2) General curriculum/general education/core curriculum requirements completed. This is most often going to resemble more or less the following, 1 lab science, 1 social science, 1 math, 1 foreign language, 1 writing seminar, 1 humanities course. It varies a bit from one school to the next. There are some schools which don't follow this same structure but they do offer a core, nonetheless, that which comes to mind is Columbia University, which is entirely humanities-driven (read about it here, http://www.college.columbia.edu/core/core). This leaves us with the third component of a student's classroom efforts …
3) The major. When a student gets a degree, that piece of paper does not say anything about the credits achieved or the core curriculum requirements met. What it says is that the student has completed the requirements for a Bachelor degree of either Science (B.S./S.B.) or Arts (B.A./A.B.) with some other options possible, as well (Bachelor of Fine Arts, BFA; Bachelor of Science, Engineering, B.S.E.; Bachelor of Business Administration, B.B.A.). Let's just take English as the example (because literature is so popular these days, obviously). If a student wants to pursue English, she must fulfill the major requirements from her university's English department. Thus, an English degree varies from institution to institution. Even within the institution, if 10 people graduate one year with degrees in English (B.A./A.B.) it's quite possible that none of them took all the same courses. It's more than possible, in fact, it's probable. Because to get the degree, one must take somewhere around 12-14 courses, on average, in that field. But in English, for example, those 12 courses could be broken up into 4 areas, wherein a student must take 3 classes from each. It could look like this
Under each of the 4 areas, there can be easily twenty-five different courses from which one could select (depending on the size of the institution). So each student selects the 3 courses under Area 1 that most appeal to her. Then, she does the same for Areas 2-4. After the 12 courses are completed from the 4 areas, the student has completed the necessary requirements for the English department to confer her Bachelor degree.
Seeing that the other two requirements are met, as well, the student can then graduate.
But this article is not about graduation requirements, (and please now forgive my statement about this being "short and sweet"). Rather, it's about what "a college minor" actually means. But we can't understand the minor without understanding the rest … or perhaps I just like to watch myself type.
What is a minor then, you ask?
A minor can be anything from someone taking 5 philosophy classes of his choosing (not following any area-type requirements, as in the chart above), that could qualify in certain departments, at certain institutions, as a minor. Some universities will have students follow a certain regimen, such as 1 class from each of the 4 areas and then 2 other classes of your choice. That means 6 classes, in total. For minors, there is no standard rule. A minor is something one should pursue simply because they're fascinated with a subject and want to use a few elective courses to delve more deeply into that area. Twenty years ago, the same thing could have been said for majors. But now that everyone has become so outcome-oriented and majors are expected to lead to a professional skill-set (this is not my hope, but it is the expectation of many these days), majors no longer are the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge-sake. Minors are. Minors do not show up on a diploma. Let me repeat this, MINORS DO NOT SHOW UP ON A DIPLOMA! They typically aren't even listed on a transcript. Anyone could show you her diploma (let's say a B.A. in Biology) and include that she also had three minors: Chemistry, French, and Political Science, and you would be none the wiser (until you speak to her in French about global policy around the chemical consequences of … okay, I've been outed. I do NOT have a minor in any of those three areas). You get the point.
I'm not "revealing" a trick. Rather, it's a clarification I want people to understand. Minors are great. They show more depth of interest in an area than most university students without that minor would likely have. At the same time, they're not indicating any general knowledge in a specific sense. In other words, one could get a minor in philosophy without ever studying William James or Immanuel Kant. That's not possible if one pursues a philosophy major. In this regard, minors are exactly what they sound like "a minor amount of critical knowledge". A minor in anything is best for these reasons (in no particular order):
1) Dinner party banter
2) First date braggadocio (assuming one does not want a second date)
3) Strictly because the material is exciting and/or the professors teaching it, great.
If you have another reason why a minor would be beneficial, feel free to leave it in the comments.
January 12, 2015
Top 5 Television Shows of All-Time:
Building Empathy through TV
Brady Norvall, M.A.
Founder and C.E.O. at FindaBetterU®
In honor of the Golden Globes, I want to make a list of a few great television shows which anyone can watch and while doing so, could increase their cultural intelligence and/or empathy. Empathy is key in the world and it's something that I find gets lost in the push for professionalization of our young people at an early age. I don't want to make this "another article about the value of a liberal arts degree", but let's be honest, once you've taken one film studies class (liberal arts) no one ever watches a movie the same again. Same thing with literature, history, anthropology, these are what build the context which so richly enables our understanding of ourselves and others. So, without further ado, let's talk about the television shows which do the same.
1) Mad Men – This is the show which helped to reveal the cultural shifts the world has undergone in the past 50+ years. Not only is the workplace defined in an entirely different way now, as Google is a 180 degree contrast to Don Draper's space, but the relationships (between the sexes, and from parent to child, in particular), the patriarchy, sexism (and entitlement), and all-around schedule of how a day in the lives of our parents or our grandparents might have been, reveals much to anyone born after 1970. What was the sexual revolution and how did it alter the landscape of everything we do/have today? Watch Mad Men and you'll begin to understand.
2) Orange is the New Black – It's what most people (hopefully) never see or experience, but it's a tremendously broken system of oppression and expense in the United States. At the same time, the characters in this show enlighten us to the humanity of inmates. One cannot help but feel that perhaps the prison system IS NOT the best place to rehabilitate a person. And let's face it, the responsibility to reform the world's most troubled systems, be it finance, education, politics, or prison, will be up to the generation of those born in the last 40 years: (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2015/01/08/the_most_entitled_generation_isnt_millennials_its_baby_boomers_125184.html).
3) Glee – It's really a show about people on the fringe of social acceptance. This is critical for people to come to understand and is the only way to build compassion and empathy. The fact is that with growing economic inequality- and inequality with regard to race and gender issues being exposed much more regularly as a consequence of this- many more people are becoming "on the fringe" of society. Plus, any show about teenagers is a great opportunity for parents to tune-in and come to realize how much times have changed and, perhaps, how saying things like "when I was your age …" is sometimes just impossible to conceptualize for a young person.
4) The Sopranos – I'm putting it on this list for one reason: Tony Soprano was a depressive (and possible sociopath). His mental illness was not critical to the show it WAS the show. It was not a coming and going choice he made, like too many misunderstand mental health issues to be, rather a part of Tony Soprano he had to learn to understand and accept. Nowhere was this better illustrated than Soprano's relationship with his therapist. In their time together, we can see the struggles and volatility of a man afflicted with himself. It is a topic that we all should work to better understand and this show does much, in my opinion, to bring such a topic into popular culture.
5) Transparent – It's not just about the issue which the title blatantly refers to: the transsexual parent, the patriarch of the family. This show is about secrets, shame, and how families can exist but not really be present for each other. Many of the actors who are in the show have some intimate connection with the main theme, so it feels very personal at almost every turn. It is, by far, the best television I have EVER seen, period.
Remember, the most important thing we have to do as responsible citizens of a global world is to continue to educate ourselves to the differences and challenges others face. Is television the best way to come to understand others? No. As a stand-alone tool, nothing is. But it is able to create a dialogue and heighten awareness in such a way that we slowly learn (or for some people, unlearn) about ourselves. Happy watching.
January 8, 2015
Let's Not Shame the Kids
Brady Norvall, M.A.
Founder and C.E.O. at FindaBetterU®
A discussion I find myself often in with parents revolves around what is too revealing when it comes to how much colleges should "really know". The issue at stake is always the same and it's expressed like this: parents tell me (and their teenager who is inevitably sitting with us) that vulnerability equals weakness and weakness is something of which we should be ashamed. I was reminded of this today when I had to go to a hospital pharmacy to pick up a prescription for an infection which has nothing to do with the story.
I was sitting in the waiting room of the hospital's pharmacy, with at least seventy-five other people, when an old man in a wheelchair, in a far corner, fell forward- and out of- his wheelchair. When I looked up from my book, everyone was staring but none were moving. He was completely helpless and his caretaker was the only one acting. I put my book down and went over to help, working with the caretaker to try to get the man in a seated position. His legs were tangled, he could not speak or move his head or hands. He was completely incapacitated. Everyone else seemed paralyzed, also. I left him sitting down; pharmacy techs and a security guard were now moving and talking in vigorously hushed whispers, circulating the air around the man as he sat, alone, on the floor. I sat back down with my book, waiting again for my name to be called. I could not focus on the pages, though. I could only think about my students. Because this room was full of adults, many of whom looked quite healthy and alert, I began to wonder about all the teenagers and young adults I know. Who of my students would have jumped up to help in this situation? And you know what, I could only think of a handful … who MAY NOT have been at this man's side. Hundreds from my decade working with adolescents would have been right there with this man. I know this because I've seen them act. I know their most intimate hopes, all of which are good. I know their inhibitions, their vulnerable egos. These kids are people of action, yes. But they're just good people who have not (yet?) been numbed or, perhaps, "enlightened" to the shamefulness of whatever was so bad here: old age? loss of capacities? a person in a hospital who needed help?
Say what you may about the "Me Generation" and their growing "disconnect" with the world outside of their technology, but most young people want good and hope to be good. Perhaps they get confused sometimes at what "doing good" means, but I would bet most 16 year olds have a stronger "good navigator" than the rest of us. Perhaps it's just over time that we become exposed to so many strange ideas of what a "good life" means, so many different definitions of success that we suddenly lose track of the people who fall outside our periphery. Yet, the students I come into contact with on a daily basis are value-driven and aspirational. As I write this, I think about how my students remind me of a story Louis C.K. tells about different perspectives and their contrasting views toward a homeless man: (best clip I could find) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NH6N_qqFywY
The metaphor: most adults are Louis and his friend, and young people are the cousin from out-of-town. Young people are inherently good and at some point it's us, parents, coaches, pop culture who confuse their sense of "good", who convince them that vulnerability is shameful. This is something I really believe universities in the U.S. can help reconcile- and have for decades. But it seems we're getting precariously close to a tipping point; it's too little, too late. Universities build community and create an environment which fosters empathy and mentorship, yes. But they can't create miracles, and re-create an understanding of what is and isn't "shameful" or "good", if we have distorted these concepts for young people since birth.
I have a lot of faith in young people. We all have a great deal invested in them, to be sure. I am certain had that pharmacy today been full of teenagers instead of adults I would have witnessed a very different response. No shame, just truth. No stigma, just acceptance.
January 4, 2015
To Be a Teen Does Not Mean You're Interesting
Brady Norvall, M.A.
Founder and C.E.O. at FindaBetterU®
If you won't heed me, heed Mark Zuckerberg. I don't know him but I can suppose that he has at least some of the traits we use to define "success". He seems happy in his personal relationship. He is charitable. He is educated. He travels and experiences new ideas and cultures. He consorts with some of the brightest minds on the planet. He is a leader in his field. These are all areas which can be used to define success. Why am I stating the obvious? I want to point out one area in which he believes he could improve upon to make himself a better person. I wish to share Mark Zuckerberg's resolution for 2015: to start a book club and read one book every two weeks (http://mashable.com/2015/01/04/mark-zuckerbergs-new-years-resolution/). I often explain to my students, all of whom seem willing to try anything to "get ahead" that if they read ten pages per day of a non-assigned book (i.e. pleasure reading) they're going to read roughly 12 books per year more than most of their peers. Right? That's about 300 pages per month, which is probably a bit longer than an "average" book. While many talk about getting ahead and go as far as getting tutors for every class and driving an hour+ to attend extracurricular programs and volunteer opportunities, rarely do they read just 10 PAGES PER DAY! Perhaps this illustrates the idea that most teens don't know how to be self-driven. Rather, they are looking for direction and instruction and only then can they attack with vigor.
Successful people are always looking for/making ways to continue to get smarter and understand bigger ideas outside of their individual world, even when that world is already so much more intimate for them than it will ever be for most of us.
I also recently read a profile of Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, and one of the most creative and bold entrepreneurs in the world. The article (found here: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-12-30/zappos-ceo-tony-hsiehs-las-vegas-startup-paradise) mentions how he will only hire people he wants to hang out with (even though he doesn't have much time to hang out, it seems) and this means a pre-requisite of a hire is someone who is interesting. The actual quote, "Would Tony want to have a beer with you and find out what you think about outer space and aliens? Absolutely." What must it take to be found interesting by a man of Hsieh's worldliness and intellect? Likely a lot more than a few anecdotes and a self-proclaimed aptitude for business. In fact, that's not what Hsieh is looking for, at all. He's looking for people who have energy and an aptitude for creative solutions.
This made me think back to a quote from Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, the President of Harvard University, when she spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival. She was directing her comment to not only those in attendance but to all parents who push their kids into competition for an eventual opportunity to be considered for admission at a highly competitive university. Her comment, "make your children interesting", resonated throughout the world as people dissected and tried to understand how to quantify "interesting". How does Harvard gauge it? With a simple comment about wanting teens who are both thoughtful and thought-provoking, Harvard's President created confusion and chaos among parents who had been focusing all their resources and energy on grades and scores. To have an interesting kid is not an admission guarantee, obviously, but it sure helps when universities, such as Harvard, are sorting through their tens of thousands of applicants who all have high grades, high scores, and strong curriculums. To see more of what President Faust had to say and to better understand the context from which she is speaking: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/06/how-to-get-into-harvard/373726/
The fact is that I have worked with some amazing and really bright teenagers. But there is a stark difference between one who is intelligent and one who is interesting. I believe a significant factor in that difference has to do with reading. Can someone be smart and not be a reader? Yes. Can someone be interesting and not be a reader? I'm guessing people like the three mentioned above would say "no". And in most cases, I agree. I am not saying that a seventeen year old who does not read can never go on to become interesting, or a reader, for that matter. What I am saying is that how we perceive ourselves and how others (Harvard admissions, for example) might more objectively see us is usually pretty different.
I know a lot of kids who would bet their bank account that Tony Hsieh would find them interesting, shoot, think of all the kids (and their parents) who expect Harvard to find them interesting. For teenagers, a realistic perception of self is typically impossible. Self-awareness is hard enough for adults.
I remember thinking literature was "just not for me" when Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby, along with some Dante's Inferno, were thrust upon me in my high school World Literature course. But what we are told to read and assigned in school is just the smallest snapshot of what is available. Thanks to Tolkien and Steinbeck, I realized this quickly, though not as soon as I wish I had. A difficult element is that most teens resent that which they are told is mandatory. Ultimately, for every one book I haven't enjoyed, there are another 50 of which I have. And if there is one thing to which I can point which explains why I am a more interesting person now than I was at 17, I am certain it has been my love of learning and passion for books. In a world in which competition becomes the cornerstone of everything we push our children toward, it seems funny to say that reading is perhaps the biggest distinguisher of those who are interesting and those who are not. But in this case, we don't have to reinvent the wheel, we just need to drive the damn car to the library.
January 2, 2015
Five New Year Resolutions for (Driven) Teenagers
Brady Norvall, M.A.
Founder and C.E.O. at FindaBetterU®
Keep this in-mind: the BEST USE OF TIME for any teenager is to read, do homework, exercise, and sleep. Granted, there are other elements I am not mentioning here because they are implied, such as eating, being social, and actually showing up for school. The 4 elements mentioned, above, however, are where high-achieving kids often fall short. As study-after-study continues to show, and increasing adolescent anxiety across America offers seemingly infinite examples, adolescents are not healthy people. Teens are not learning good self-care and, for whatever reason, many parents of high-achievers seem to be okay with this, so long as their kids bring home report cards with A's and AP classes. So while this list is for the kids, themselves, perhaps it's for the parents, as well. Let's use it as a good reminder for both, actually, because adolescence, just like success in any form of life, is a team sport. No one gets through tough times alone, and being a teenager is certainly a very difficult time.
1) Read more. And by this I mean books. Read books other than just those which have been assigned by your school. Please don't read only (auto)biographies about successful people. Read classics, adventure, sci-fi, contemporary literature. You're not going to become successful by osmosis at 16 by reading Steve Jobs' biography. But reading sci-fi, adventure, or contemporary fiction can get your creative juices flowing and make you a better writer and thinker. If you don't know where to begin, poll some of your favorite teachers and see if they have recommendations. Then pick a few up and start to read them. (Vocabulary booster; writing aide; concentration and focus enhancer)
2) Vow to make a connection with an older mentor. Is there a relative or a friend of your parents who always seems to ask you the right questions? Who tells great stories? Who has had an interesting life and you'd like to learn more about it? Ask! One of my students, who was just admitted to Stanford in the early action round, has made a point to stay in touch with mentors and older friends over the past four years. Unlike many who promote the false-notion of "networking" this student has a true network of mentors. These are allies who would do almost anything for this young man, likely because he has been consistent and humble, vulnerable and kind. Every successful person throughout history has had a mentor. It's time to find that person to whom you can talk just for fun and learn how to have really organic, interesting conversations. (vocabulary booster; articulation skills; story-telling and interpersonal communication skill enhancer).
3) Learn how to say "no". Don't overburden yourself with tens of extracurricular activities. Focus on a couple or a few and really direct your time efficiently by setting up a master calendar that will show your availability and won't let you get caught in a bunch of unplanned moments when others just want to look busy. If you love something, dive in. If you're doing something for the way it looks on a resume, just say "no" and move on. Everyone in life has to learn to cut losses. For successful people, this starts early. (empowerment opportunity; time management; assertiveness; interpersonal communication skill enhancer).
4) Give yourself a timeframe for college preparation because it all doesn't have to happen in 11th grade! I have one student who is in the middle of 10th grade and has already finished her SAT testing. We figured she had already seen all levels of math that are on the exam (and she's a great reader), so why not sit for the test now? She decided to do this rather than wait until next year when the material won't be as fresh and her time will be much more limited because, well, that's what happens in 11th grade. (time management; self-confidence boost; perspective-building; concentration and focus enhancer).
5) Don't be foolish about your opportunities or try to take short cuts. If you did not study for a test once and did poorly, learn from that and don't let it happen again. If you need help, ask your teacher (or someone you trust). Don't cheat on easy stuff just because it is easy. No matter what anybody says, school is not about getting somewhere so that you can tell people you've arrived. On the contrary, getting IN to university might seem like the hard part but staying in and becoming a successful, self-aware person is really a greater challenge, and reward! In high school, learning is what matters. Even if you seemingly won't ever use chemistry again in your life, you learn it because it's good for your brain, it will help you with other classes, it will be relevant to future discussions and because all knowledge is connected. If you try to cut corners you will get caught … or it will catch up with you. I assure you that the consequence will never be worth the corner cut. (time management skills; resilience and follow-through strength; cognitive function; self-awareness).
Remember, school and growing up are about time management, becoming your own advocate, having a strong network of positive influences, and being honest with yourself. If you can begin to work on any (or all) of these elements as a teenager, you're going to find yourself far ahead of most adults in this world. Happy 2015 and best of luck to all. No matter what this year may bring you, please remember that there is always someone who would be happy and ready to listen and help.