When Followers are Leaders

Susan Cain: “If college admissions offices show us whom and what we value, then we seem to think that the ideal society is composed of Type A’s. This is perhaps unsurprising, even if these examples come from highly competitive institutions. It’s part of the American DNA to celebrate those who rise above the crowd … So now we have high school students vying to be president of as many clubs as they can. It’s no longer enough to be a member of the student council; now you have to run the school.”

“But many students I’ve spoken with read ‘leadership skills’ as a code for authority and dominance and define leaders as those who ‘can order other people around.’ And according to one prominent Ivy League professor, those students aren’t wrong; leadership, as defined by the admissions process, too often ‘seems to be restricted to political or business power.’ She says admissions officers fail to define leadership as ‘making advances in solving mathematical problems’ or ‘being the best poet of the century’.”

“Perhaps the biggest disservice done by the outsize glorification of ‘leadership skills’ is to the practice of leadership itself — it hollows it out, it empties it of meaning. It attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve. It teaches students to be a leader for the sake of being in charge, rather than in the name of a cause or idea they care about deeply.”

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LinkedIn: An Emerging Tool for College Applicants

The New York Times: “Public schools from San Francisco to New York City are teaching online conduct skills as part of a nationwide digital citizenship push to prepare students for colleges and careers. Teenagers who set up LinkedIn profiles in the hope of enhancing their college prospects represent the vanguard of this trend. But the phenomenon of ambitious high school students on LinkedIn also demonstrates how social networks are playing a role in the escalation of the college admissions arms race.”

“For high school students, LinkedIn is partly a defense mechanism against college admissions officers who snoop on applicants’ public Facebook and Twitter activities — without disclosing how that may affect an applicant’s chance of acceptance. A recent study from Kaplan Test Prep of about 400 college admissions officers reported that 40 percent said they had visited applicants’ social media pages, a fourfold increase since 2008.”

“Some high school students are establishing LinkedIn profiles to give the colleges that do look something they would like them to find … To attract high school students, LinkedIn in 2013 dropped its minimum age requirement for members in the United States to 14 from 18. Since then, the site has had a significant increase in high school users.”

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The Journey: How To Go To College

The Washington Post: “The truth is that most new undergraduates are woefully unprepared for the realities of college. The college search that has consumed many of them for the past year — and in some cases, for more than a year — focused largely on where to go to college, not how they should go to college … Even the best freshmen orientation programs often fail to provide students with an adequate road map for navigating the sometimes-treacherous path to graduation.”

“For undergraduates to get off to a good start, there are four critical things they need to do to be sure they eventually make it across the stage at commencement: 1. Engage with faculty … One easy way for students to build a one-on-one relationship with a professor who teaches sometimes hundreds of students in a semester is during office hours. 2. Start early with hands-on experiences … Students can no longer wait for the summer before their senior year to line up their first internship. That now needs to happen during the summer after their freshman year.”

“3. Explore the course catalog … Students should take courses that challenge them to work hard … present them with opportunities to learn from the best professors, and give them a broad foundation across multiple subjects, not just the one within their major. 4. Network with peers. Some of the most important learning that happens in college comes from peers, so students want to be surrounded by people who give them different perspectives on life and careers.”

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Top 10 Tips for Your Time at College

Vox: Christopher Blattman, an associate professor at Columbia University, offers 10 “suggestions to help make the most of college.” Here are a few of his ideas:

“Don’t wait until you finish law or medical school to discover you hate working in your specialty. Try early and often. Test out different careers in the summer — researcher, journalist, medical assistant, nonprofit worker, congressional aide, and so on … For anyone interested in law, public policy, business, economics, medicine — or really any profession — I suggest at least two semesters of statistics, if not more. Data is a bigger and bigger part of the work in these fields, and statistics is the language you need to learn to understand it.”

“In my experience, you learn more from great teachers than from great syllabuses … pick eight or nine classes based on the syllabus, go to them all, and then keep the four or five classes with the most engaging professors … Languages are hugely important. And you should learn another (or many others) besides English. But I think they’re better learned in immersion, during your summers or before and after college … Take writing seriously. You will use it no matter your career.”

“Use a summer or a school year to live abroad, ideally a place completely different from home, where you’ll come to know local people (and not just the expatriate community) … An independent research project can be the perfect capstone to your college years. Sadly, I often see theses that weren’t worth the students’ investment of time and energy. Some people’s time would be better spent acquiring technical skills.”

“At the end of each year of college, you should look back at your thoughts and opinions 12 months before and find them quaint. If not, you probably didn’t read or explore or work hard enough.”

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Finding Yourself: What Would Confucius Say?

The Wall Street Journal: “Imagine a student who has decided he wants to become a diplomat … He knows that majoring in international relations and taking his junior year abroad in Spain will give him the experiences that will propel him toward that career in diplomacy. So he goes off to Spain, but after a month falls ill with a severe respiratory virus that lands him in the hospital. It is his first experience of hospitalization, and it plants a seed: He becomes curious about how and why doctors and hospitals do what they do.”

“Things can now go one of two ways. He can remain wedded to his long-term plan and let that interest in health care die out. The hospital experience will make for a few good stories for his friends, but it won’t interfere with his plan to take the diplomatic world by storm. Or he can keep diving into his new obsession, reading everything he can, maybe making friends with some of the young residents on his medical team, and eventually return to the U.S. and devote himself to a health-care field instead.”

“Concrete, defined plans for life are abstract because they are made for a self who is abstract: a future self that you imagine based on a snapshot of yourself now. You are confined to what is in the best interests of the person you happen to be right now—not of the person you will become … think of life not in terms of decisions but as a series of ruptures that lead us from one thing to another … Live with a constant awareness of the ever-changing world and your ever-shifting self. Train your mind to stay open and constantly take into account all the complex stuff that is you.”

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