It’s April and in the U.S. for college-bound high school seniors it’s decision time. I wrote about this a little bit in my book, but I think it might be helpful to cover it here.
First of all, if you got into your one true love school at a price your family can afford, congratulations! For students with a clear vision, I did a post last year on planning out your college career. However, in my experience, many seniors and their families are in a mad scramble this month. There might be too many good choices; a preferred choice at an unfortunate, if not impossible, price point; or several choices that looked great on the web, but that you’ve now got to race around visiting for the first time so you can make a choice.
(BTW, Hate all your choices? Hang in there, in early May there’s a college openings list published by NACAC with all the schools that missed their numbers, too—really great schools that still have 10-15 openings. Here’s a story about the 2016 list.)
If you love one school, and can afford it, great. Read no further.
It’s the time of year when summer internship and job applications are top of mind, which means potential employers are calling your references, either before or after your interviews. My older son, Nick, mentioned this week that he was calling undergraduate references right now as he sorts through the applicants for a summer field tech to help with his lab’s work. After talking to him, I realized this is an area where college students could use some practical advice.
Side hustles have never been easier. You’ve got platforms for selling like Etsy and eBay for the creators amongst you. There are virtualized connector app platforms that rely on flexible independent contractors like Uber, DoorDash, and Task Rabbit. These are great options for students working their way through who need to make money now, which results in less time for the extracurricular activities I’m championing. The flexibility of working for DoorDash or Task Rabbit works nicely with a changing school schedule. Even if you have a campus work study job, many of those don’t offer hours during the school breaks when you might still want to be earning. Same for athletes, who may be maxed out during the school sessions, but could swing being a Task Rabbit Ikea assembly expert at least a few weeks of the year. Some students may be nascent entrepreneurs, making and selling t-shirts, where this is a logical (and long-standing) effort for college students. Lots of colleges, like Juniata College have entrepreneurship centers to support undergraduate student efforts. Or maybe your passions don’t fit into the school’s extracurricular process at all.
If you believe the early research showing the most empathetic, thoughtful people are also readers, at least of fiction, then reading for recreation must therefore be germaine to being a successful person. With that mental stretch to this blog, here’s my book list of personal favorites for 2016. Of course, I have my biases in what I choose to read and I can’t get through everything I buy, much less everything I think looks good. And this year I had more of a tendency than usual to backtrack and read things written years earlier, so these are not exclusively 2016 releases. (Insatiable readers know that books are the ultimate internet-like rathole—one book leads you to another by that author, or in that period, or loved by that character—and no one knows where you’ll end up hours, days, months later.)
For those who want an objective, broad-ranging 2016 list, here’s the New York Times list of Notable Books. NPR has an excellent app they release in January (2015 is here) and The Guardian also does a terrific end of year list (part one 2016 is here).
Books that Stayed with Me
Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance
The Nix, Nathan Hill
Commonwealth, Ann Patchett
City on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg
Some Luck, Early Warning, and Golden Age (Last Hundred Years trilogy), Jane Smiley
Books that are Obviously Going to be Movies Someday
Before the Fall, Noah Hawley
Underground Airlines, Ben Winters
Books that Compel You to Consider How You Live
My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
Being Mortal, Atul Gawande
The Last Policeman, Ben Winters
Books that Made Me Laugh
You’ll Grow Out of It, Jessi Klein
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson
The Portable Veblen, Elizabeth McKenzie
The Sellout, Paul Beatty
Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld
If you’re going to get things done around there, you’ll need a good set of tools. And while notebooks and documents on your accounts may be working, keep in mind one of the tests of managing an event is whether someone else can pull off next month’s or next year’s version without reinventing from scratch. Even if that person is you and it’s just a semester-long study group or this year’s spring break trip, this is a great chance to practice using some more collaborative tools. Many of these tools will even help you offload some of the work, making any time spent mastering them easily recovered in productivity gains. (If you read my book, you can get a lot more in-depth about why this matters.)
Here’s my short list of free tools that have value in the post-college world. Most have more elaborate paid versions, but as with Gmail, the basic, free versions should be more than enough for most people.
Yep, I wrote a book! (You can see inside and everything, on Amazon.) I figured if I was going to hector college students about getting involved, taking on more, being adventurous, and making things happen, then I should hold myself to the same standard. If students’ academic load wasn’t a good excuse for their being too busy, I didn’t think my work life should be either. I told lots of people I was writing a book, so I’d be irrevocably committed. And with many thanks to the dozen or so who swore they’d read it, or make their high school or college student read it, I knew I had to actually get it done in a reasonable amount of time. I sat down every Sunday afternoon from Memorial Day to Labor Day, taking over Nick’s abandoned desk for the writing, and eventually moving up to Jake’s for the layout and rounds of editing.
For the first time in my life since college, I put on headphones and wrote for two to four hours at a time, week after week. I hired an art director friend, Jessica Gheen, to come up with some cover ideas (she’d already gifted me the Launch logo), my husband, Mark, built me an InDesign template for the inside, had my mom, my father-in-law, and another friend, Amy Cahill, do a read of the draft, and I hired another friend, Eileen Haley, to do the final proofing. I implemented all their feedback and changes as I saw fit (any typos or errors are entirely my fault).
And, as expected, it was a little uncomfortable. I wasn’t totally sure I could do it and I was a little in over my head at times. But when I give advice to students now I can really say from personal experience that moving outside your comfort zone to accomplish new and different things is incredibly worthwhile, if only in the change in creates within yourself.
Here’s the bad news right now: On top of everything else on your plate as another year of college kicks off, I’m suggesting you’ve got a little more to do. The good news is that I’ve made a four-year roadmap to save you a little time. While I was doing my summer homework and writing the book, Launch Like a Rocket: Build the soft skills you’ll need for your career by leveraging your entire college experience, I created a spreadsheet for you to save as a copy in your Google Drive or download to use in Excel. Since I’m still proofreading the final layout of the book, I’ll just do a quick post to cover the basics of the planning process to be sure you’re one of the few college graduates with the soft skills needed to succeed. For a quick briefing on soft skills, I like the Bloomberg Job Skills Report for 2016, even though they are talking about MBA recruiters’ wish lists for top candidates. (Master of the obvious: If MBA grads don’t have these skills, imagine how rare college grads with them are.)
Our oldest son, Nick, graduated last weekend from University of Puget Sound. I had the chance to hear many students speak on stage at the various award ceremonies and the interfaith service, as well as talk informally at department receptions and parties. I thought it might be worth writing a post before I disappear for much of the summer. The press is full of transcripts and videos every May/June of all kinds of famous, high-achieving people giving inspirational commencement talks. And while I agree with the calls to greatness, the reminders of the problems our society faces that await new eyes and minds, and the warnings that life will be full of challenges, I think some more basic advice on the job hunt and settling into a new place might be useful for new graduates and their families.
You’ve finished college. Not everyone does.
You may have some lifelong friends. Not everyone does.
You may have a job lined up or a graduate school program to start. Not everyone does.
Everyone does move forward from this point and make a life. You will, too. (Be brave.)
Someone recently asked me is I could teach a small group of college-bound high school seniors how to set up their LinkedIn profiles. Funny, because we’d just come out of our monthly Lean In Circle meeting where we went through our profiles one by one and updated them. There are a ton of people blogging in detail about tips and it’s definitely a project to think about that first little intro blurb, but I’m just going to give you a quick checklist of things to do for that new empty little profile and link them to other posts that give you some tips on how to do those things.
This is the time of year when all the college acceptances start pouring in. You may spend April doing some final visits to figure out which school is right for you now. You may not know what you want to major in, but you likely have a couple of alternatives in mind. It’s not too soon to take a look at the classes your possible schools have and start roughing out a plan. (If you know which one you’re going to go to, you can get more detailed from the start.) This will make college a more valuable, productive experience, and any opportunity to practice this kind of planning will be critical to success in your career. Planning your classes yourself and continuing to rough out the plan as new information becomes available will help you graduate on time and save you a ton of money in the process. (The money aspect may make it tempting for parents to take over this spreadsheet, but if you are a parent who really must, at least use it in stealth mode, to prompt your student to double-check their facts. Land the helicopter and walk away.) It may also save you some false starts. For example, some science majors at some schools are not easily compatible with a semester abroad—taking a look now will help you pick the right school and go in to a chosen school aware from the start about any potential trade-offs between your interests.
By way of example, I thought I’d use one my sons’ college experience. To help you drill down into as much of the detail as you like, without my writing too much into the weeds, I’m linking extensively to the University of Puget Sound website throughout. His journey may be very different from what you imagine for yourself, but the twists and turns of his college career are probably far less than the average experience. The point of adolescence, college, and those first few jobs out of college is to help you figure out who you want to be and what you want to do, so you should expect you’ll need to adjust the grand plan constantly. (BTW, the same thing will be true of your career—see the animation in my last post.)
Luckily, my son, Nick, was willing to send me the College Schedule spreadsheet he showed me over the holidays and said I could share it. By way of background, Nick’s a senior at the University of Puget Sound, graduating this May (2016). He was admitted as a freshman with a Humanities minor and as part of the Honors program. Right off, getting accepted to both programs meant he had to take both program-specific freshman writing seminars (on his sheet these are the HUM classes in freshman semester, although they now have different SSI-1 designations in the link above). Our family thought that was a good thing, because while he was a strong writer and coming out of a large, well-regarded public high school, his classes typically had 30–40 students.