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In the summer of 2018, my company hired a former student who had been very successful in admissions and is a talented organizer to conduct market research on what graduating high school seniors felt they lacked and needed in the college admissions process. Our high-school marketing intern surveyed students from two high schools in her hometown, Gilroy, CA, 30 miles south of San Jose. These students had not worked with a college counselor. Student admits from this pool range from UC Berkeley to CSU Monterey Bay to University of Utah. Here’s a sampling of responses to the question: “What do you wish you’d known about the college admissions process before you started?”

  • I wish they told us about how to find meaningful volunteer opportunities, how to be a leader in your community, how to be passionate about something and pursue it. Not just for college, but for life!
  • The amount of self-reflection that had to go into those was tough.
  • I wish I knew how tough the whole process was going to be. It was really, really hard. I thought you just fill out some information and write essays, but it was a lot more stressful than that.
  • I wish people knew you could write a good essay without dropping in all your fabulous accomplishments.
  • I wish I knew that colleges actually cared about everything I did in high school. That junior year really does matter.
  • I was surprised by how much leadership and community service mattered. It’s a lot harder to prove passion for a hard science subject than it is to list extracurriculars.
  • I wish I knew that it was more leadership-based. I might’ve tried to do more leadership stuff.
  • I wish I had more support from the school. It was hard to get in touch with my counselor and my teachers didn’t know/weren’t trained for this.
  • Early in high school, I wish I knew the importance of doing things that you enjoy. If people don’t do what they enjoy, they tend to do it formulaically.
  • I wish I knew how demanding it really is.
  • I wish I narrowed down my schools more so I could have wasted less money. I applied to too many schools that were outside of my range- I wish I just applied to five or so.
  • I wish I knew more about how scholarships worked.
  • I wish I had a mentor that would help me find more activities to do outside of school and guide me through the financial aid process.

Teens are clearly hungry for help. They also know exactly what kind of help they need. Why aren’t they getting it?

The good news: college coaching calms students down and optimizes their success

There is good news! According to Nicholas Allen, a child development specialist at the University of Oregon, “Young people, empirical studies of all stripes show, struggle with decisions made in the heat of the moment… but when it comes to decisions that allow them time for reflection, the evidence suggests an adolescent’s skills can be on-par with a fully-grown adult.”⁴ This means that if given the proper life coaching well in advance — starting in ninth grade, not eleventh — teens can build healthy habits and master the soft skills they need for their high school years and beyond. They just need a formal system and a teacher who will not only introduce these skills but provide guidance in the practice of honing them.

There is even more good news! According to our student-led study, teens want this kind of guidance and would pursue the opportunity of small-group college coaching if presented with it in the form of a low or no-cost offering.

As part of the survey, students were shown a description of this workshop. Here’s a sampling of responses to our question: “Would you have benefitted from this kind of program?”

  • I think I would have. The internship and summer programs thing would have been useful. Having someone help me make a plan for every single year would have been so cool, it’s kind of hard to find opportunities for yourself while you’re busy in school and studying.
  • If this program was affordable and accessible here, I would have probably done it. And it would have improved my application as a whole.
  • Definitely. It would be helpful to connect with internship opportunities, because that sets you up for being a good college applicant. Just being able to go through the motions with a guide/mentor is gonna be helpful for any student who is trying to apply.
  • I think the average student would benefit; it really depends on if they can afford it.
  • I would have benefited a lot because I wouldn’t have felt so lost figuring out the college process myself.
  • I would’ve liked the guidance from more experienced professionals who could help me.
  • I definitely would! I don’t think it would be hard to motivate the kids. If you just go up to them and tell them about the opportunities, they’d want to do it.
  • If I knew about this program, I would have gone, because I needed all the help I could get! I was really scared at the beginning of this process. So having any help would have been good.
  • Yes, definitely! I didn’t realize what I wanted to major in until late junior year. With this type of program, I would’ve figured out what I wanted to do earlier and maybe have done more internships, making me a better candidate.
  • Easily. It would have been nice to be more informed and in the loop as an underclassman, as opposed to being shocked with everything in junior year.

Teens are clearly eager for this help, and we at Blue Stars want to help as many of them as possible. How can we get this done? Click here for a synopsis of Blue Stars initiatives so far.

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