Category Archives: Grad school admissions

Ten Ways to Prepare Your Social Media for Admissions Committees and Hiring Managers

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE (2014) has been hailed by critics as one of the most important films about college life.  Its characters are all obsessed with social media as an indicator of academic and professional success.  Should we give in to the obsession?

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE (2014) has been hailed by critics as one of the most important films about college life to date. Its characters are all obsessed with social media as an indicator of academic and professional success. Should applicants give in to the obsession, or is resistance worthwhile?

When I applied to college in 2001, admissions counselors suggested that applicants who had any experience, however rudimentary, with building their own websites or online profiles would be at a major advantage over those without a discernible web presence. In that pre-Facebook, pre-WordPress age, what a search engine’s results revealed about you was secondary in importance to it revealing anything at all. Admissions committees and job hiring managers were still deciding the extent to which individuals should be held responsible for what was discovered about them online. So, in those somewhat more innocent times, it was impressive just to have a Xanga, to have “experimented with some HTML,” and to have been cited as the winner of a nebulous award on your school’s website.

Now if an admitted college applicant or new job hire writes one ill-advised Tweet out of over 20,000, her offer can be rescinded. If she’s written over 200,000 entirely positive Tweets, she might even be denied an offer on the grounds that she seems to spend too much time on her mobile phone. Scrutiny of applicants’ online presences is only intensifying: This year, 31% of 381 surveyed college admissions officers reported that they visit applicants’ social media pages to learn more about them, while 30% of those surveyed said that they’d used social media to discover information about applicants deleterious to their admissions prospects. Hiring managers and HR departments are following suit by routinely unveiling details from applicants’ distant pasts to assess their present interests and capabilities. In short, those photographs of you passed out drunk on your dorm’s bathroom floor in 2005, which you don’t remember being posted, might influence your employers’ assessment of your leadership abilities in 2015. What to do with this universe where The Powers That Be are literally searching for your damnation?

A how-to guide to preparing your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media pages for admissions committees and hiring managers follows:

  1. Optimize your LinkedIn profile for Google. Make your Facebook profile less optimal for Google.
  1. Use multiple search phrases and terms to Google yourself. If you see anything that generates instant mortification for you, try to have it edited or removed completely.
  1. Develop a highly distinctive LinkedIn profile – one with a narrative so engaging that employers will probably lose themselves in it too long to bother digging further for your Facebook page.
  1. Highlight your professional interests and accomplishments on your Facebook page. (“Like” associations and causes in addition to films, musicians and television series.)
  1. Micromanage your privacy settings. They seem to change frequently without our consent, don’t they?
  1. Ask a member of the communities (i.e., school or workplace) where you’re trying to gain a seat to review your social media against the spoken and unspoken standards of their communities.
  1. Document your admissions efforts and job hunts in your mind and in voice conversations with friends and family. Keep it off social media.
  1. If you expect admissions committees and hiring managers or HR departments to search for your social media profiles, make it clear in your applications which profiles are yours. That way, The Powers That Be won’t confuse you with someone else who shares your name and some of your personal attributes.
  1. Don’t panic if it appears that you can’t keep your personal life under wraps as much as you’d like. Ultimately, you’ll do well not to work with people who value your façade much more than they do your reality, and appearances can only be kept up for so long anyway.
  1. Have fun with the new reality of social media by:

 a) Making hiring managers and admissions committees work hard to find the “best of all the wonderful YOUs” by creating multiple profiles all revealing your positive attributes, but featuring profile pics that leave them thinking, “That great guy seems to be him, but so does that great guy.”

OR, if you have the requisite skills,

b) Creating your own low-budget social media universe. How impressed would adcoms be if while they’re Googling for your dirt on social media, they find that you’ve planted your own garden there (like Voltaire told you to do)?

Lastly, if you need assistance preparing your social media for admissions efforts of any kind, please write me at robinson.ramon@gmail.com. My rates are reasonable and I offer service year around.

Cheers,

Ramon Robinson

Founder of The Precocious Urchin

Are you oversharing or going over the top? Find out with the TMIC Test.

Steve Urkel (left) - child prodigy and infamous over-sharer of the early 1990s.

Steve Urkel (left) – child prodigy and infamous over-sharer of the early 1990s.

If you’re not old enough to remember that one of the most internationally beloved figures of the early 1990s was an African-American teenager who invented groundbreaking technologies for the express purpose of pleasing his neighbor and unrequited love on the South Side of Chicago, then you’re probably young enough to have heard Jay-Z and Kanye West mocked in his name for the crime of wearing glasses while Black and male.

The unlikely cultural icon was a guy named Steve Urkel.  And although he was widely considered to be responsible for the success of Family Matters – the TV series on which his character was originally written for a one-episode arc – he was reviled in his (fictionalized yet realistically violent) Chicago South Side universe for inventions that breached social etiquette and a general lack of discretion in his interpersonal communication.  Some notable examples: He masterminded a duck call capable of attracting 500 ducks to a single location for the purpose of defecating on the neighbor’s car.   He invented a robot version of himself which, in addition to policing local crime, was also capable of falling in love with the girl who rebuffed his own advances.  He frequently called attention to people’s embarrassing mistakes by hovering over them and saying “LOOK what YOU did” or breaking into a fit of snorting laughter.  He affirmed himself as hailing from a “fine, old family with a proud name” by explaining that “you know in Kenya, ‘Urkel’ means ‘a benign cyst on the foreleg of a wildebeest.'”

The tragedy of Urkel was that he could have been a social butterfly and a trillionaire in his teens.  After all, he invented exploding vegetables, a cloning machine, an expansion machine, a time machine, a teleportation device, a high school dance craze, and a serum and transformation chamber for multiplying an individual’s cool genes.  His habit of oversharing and going over the top with his inventions was simply too obnoxious for people to focus on his desirable traits.  Instead, his income was derived from working the window of the fast food restaurant Mighty Weenie.  He did that at minimum wage, with only one bathroom break granted every six hours, for years.

Urkel’s story could be a cautionary tale for people who try to gain admission to their academic program of choice or beat stiff competition for a job by letting admissions and hiring committees in on their darkest secrets, creating application packages high in shock value, and otherwise being too creative or sharing too much information.  But how do you know when you’re oversharing or going over the top, especially when one committee’s idea of “too much” is another committee’s idea of “just right” or “not enough”?  It’s a matter of fit – right time, right place – and The Precocious Urchin’s TMIC Test (for “Too Much Information and/or Creativity) takes that into account.

Before you submit your college application essay or your innovative resume, take the TMIC Test to determine whether you may have gone too far with it.  The test shouldn’t inspire you to completely discard your materials.  However, if the results indicate that you may be oversharing or going over the top, then perhaps it’s time to work with me or another consultant in tailoring your materials to their intended audience.

 Take the TMIC test here.

Cheers,

Ramon Robinson

Writer/Consultant

Founder of The Precocious Urchin Co.

Your career, and your child’s career

In acknowledgment of who introduced me to education consulting – an HR consulting partner who wanted to ensure that his daughters received the best guidance possible through the college selection process – this post is addressed primarily to parents rather than young applicants.

In Mommie Dearest (1981), Faye Dunaway's Joan Crawford thought the road to perfection for her daughter, Christina, began with raising her exactly in her own image.

In Mommie Dearest (1981), Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford thought the road to perfection for her Black Market-adopted daughter, Christina (Mara Hobel), began with raising the girl exactly in her own image.

This didn't make either person happy, healthy or successful later in life.

That strategy didn’t make either person happy, healthy and successful later in life.

Bravo’s new series Extreme Guide to Parenting may have been conceived in the vein of ‘Real Housewives’ as a presumed hit of “hatewatch” – the phenomenon of masses tuning into a TV series exclusively to criticize and poke fun at its stars.  However, the series facilitates very healthy discussions about the ways that working adults can best enable their children to become successful professionals.

The (linked above) ABC News segment alone immediately left me pondering these questions: Are parents like the Eisenbergs steering their children into college and career success by pressuring them to commit to a year-round schedule of activities without any room for revision?  Can the Machenberg-Neys and other parents really hypnotize their children into making decisions that give them “a leg up” in their careers from high school to retirement?  Should we take people committed to so-called “extreme parenting” seriously as we explore ways to help youth fight the lethargy-inducing prognosis that their generation will be less affluent than their parents’ generation?

Although most of those questions probably won’t be answered for years, I know many of the parents featured on the series get this much right: Leaving children to find themselves unaided is a bad idea.  I say that because even as an adult who entered the workforce in the 1990s, well before the popularization of social media, I’m sometimes exhausted by the blogosphere’s surfeit of conflicting messages about career moves.  A LinkedIn article entitled “Ten Mistakes You Probably Made in Your Last Interview” trending with one entitled “Why What You Say in Your Interviews Probably Doesn’t Matter” doesn’t leave me reconsidering plans for my next interview or client meeting; it inspires me to beeline for a 90-minute Swedish massage.  Can you imagine, then, how youth growing up in the blogosphere must feel as they try navigating a labyrinth of messages about the ways in which progressive careers will be difficult to impossible for them, while also wondering when their voices will stop cracking or whether now’s a good time to invest in a training bra?  A massage and meditation conglomerate could probably be built entirely in their service.

The fact that children often need their guidance to be successful is why it’s so critical for parents – engaged, extreme, and otherwise – to at least do this much:

Beware burnout.  It’s possible for parents to obsess over their children’s development at the expense of the health they need to usher their children through high school and college.  I fear that some of the parents on ‘Extreme’ aren’t being mindful of how their parenting rituals are impacting their own mental and physical health.

Build bridges for their children.  Don’t burn them.  The parents detailed in this blog’s inaugural post tend to burn bridges even as they’re competing in cutthroat preschool admissions processes.  Twenty years ago, it might be easy for victims of that sort of behavior to forget it.  Social media now leaves it on record for everyone thrown under the bus to consider throughout your life course, your child’s life course and your grandchild’s life course.

In lieu of parenting methods that promote conformity, parents should consider teaching their children to rebel with them in success-enabling ways.  Parents who are innovators or business founders should have no problem doing this.  For the rest, traditional storytime might well be succeeded by stories-of-$100-startups time.  After all, one of the best ways for youth to discover their own brand and potential is to establish small, self-reflexive businesses before adulthood – when the stakes are low because (at least for the time being) employers expect teenagers to have wide resume gaps.

Talk through their children’s interests with them, or find someone who can.  Children may be resistant to this discourse at first.  But gradually, as the blogosphere’s messages about education and career become more overwhelming, they’ll be grateful that an experienced adult professional helped them to separate what they want to do for themselves from what millions of other people are telling them they should do.

If parents are going to maintain a year-round schedule of activities for their children, they should block “?” slots that the children can fill with activities of their own choosing.  One big problem with some of the “extreme parenting” tactics displayed on the Bravo series is that the parents are so committed to keeping their children engaged in a set list of activities that as our fluid world introduces promising opportunities, the parents don’t have time to take note of them.  They may be raising their children to be successful at activities that simply aren’t impressive by contemporary standards.

Be honest with their children about the highs and lows of their own careers.  No kidding – I know the glut of miserable and unemployed or underemployed attorneys is at least partially a consequence of many of my peers aspiring to become independently wealthy as early as age 5 by pursuing legal careers as their parents did.  When we were children, their parents would emphasize the income potential associated with the legal profession while circumventing any questions about the work itself.  Now armed with JD’s, enormous debt and unsteady work records, those thirtysomething-year-old children are finally asking themselves “What do I really want to be when I grow up?”

Instead of looking forward to “Take My Child to Work Day” alone, they should arrange for their teenagers to job shadow others in their (the parents’) professional and social networks.  And long before the grand office tour begins, they should prime their children on asking good questions about the companies.  I’ve seen way too many children finish “Take My Child to Work Day” with the impression that the majority of working adults specialize in poker-faced mouse manipulation.

Teach their children to advocate for themselves.  I read about parents dragging their children around career fairs, forcefully introducing them to prospective employers, and shoving their children’s resumes into said prospective employers’ hands.  All this does is turn a young adult who could have been a company’s star employee by his/her own efforts into its long-running office joke.

Engage with alumni and career offices on college and graduate school campus tours.  This could mean parents offering externships, internships or jobs at their own companies for their children’s current and future peers, which is a great way to build reciprocity for when their children need a leg or two up in a field where their connections are inadequate.  It can also mean building a network of recent and distant past alumni at various schools so that as their children decide which schools to attend, they have the benefit of knowing trends in the professional lives of graduates who shared their goals and socioeconomic attributes.

Consider financial planning for their children not just for the first eighteen years of their lives, but for the first twenty-five to thirty years.  Yes, it’s possible that in the 2020’s or the 2030’s, some currently unimaginable technology will become ubiquitous and change the landscape of the working world just as the Internet began to do twenty years ago.  It’s also possible that in those decades, a large number of adults will still try to move back into their parents’ homes due to employment issues just as they are now.  Let’s consider a return to farm values while there’s still time: Children should do their best to help their parents so that their parents have better chances of maintaining the health they’ll need to assist them with building financial and social capital into adulthood.  Parents should try preparing to help their children well into their twenties so that those children have a heightened chance of an upward career trajectory, rather than one characterized by the constant ebbs and flows that guarantee their unreliability to their ailing parents.  Those are just my two cents.

What do you think the relationship is between parenting and children’s professional success, or between your career and your child’s career?  Please share your thoughts in the Comments section, or if you think I might be able to help you answer this question for you and your child specifically, query me at precociousurchin@gmail.com.

Cheers,

Ramon Robinson

Founder of The Precocious Urchin Co.

 

Some truths about “snobbery” and Ivy League dreams

Like Veruca Salt in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971), you can gain access to an institution considered the finest by most of the world.  Of course, if it's a  mismatch for your personality, you may find your life in the wrong person's hands, or take a humbling fall, or end up residing in a dump.

Like Veruca Salt in WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971), you can be admitted to an institution considered the finest by most of the world.  Of course, if it’s a mismatch for your goals and personality, you too may find your life in the wrong person’s hands, or take a humbling fall, or end up residing in a dump.

Some years ago, I worked in an office where the majority of my colleagues were also twenty-something alumni of universities highly ranked by U.S. News.  One of my closest confidantes in that office was, however, a woman in her early forties who was taking evening courses at National Louis University for her first degree.  She sometimes accused me of feeling superior to her simply because I held a degree from Northwestern.  

“The fact that I’m graduating from National Louis and you graduated from Northwestern does not mean that you have a better education than me or are entitled to any more than I am,” she blurted out one afternoon.

Baffled, I replied: “I’ve never said that I feel superior to you because I went to Northwestern.”

“But you’re always talking about Northwestern!,” she retorted. “You bring up the fact that you went to Northwestern any chance you get.”

Later, one of our colleagues who had overheard the conversation muttered to me: “Of course you’re better because you went to Northwestern.  Northwestern and National Louis are leagues apart.”

Another colleague then volunteered this much more thoughtful insight: “You didn’t just graduate from Northwestern.  You lived there for the first few years of your adult life.  You also ate there, loved there, slept there AND worked there.  Of course you speak of it often; it’s where you really grew up.”  

The truth is that because I spent at least a year of my life at each of them, I consider all of the schools I’ve attended major attributes of my personal brand – from Metcalfe Magnet School in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood, where the other students and I lived in constant fear of gunfire, to the University of Chicago, where fear of gunfire is not absent either.  There are even times when I consider my Metcalfe experience a more positive influence on my life than the University of Chicago.  Similarly, one applicant I advise may come to find that culinary school is a better fit for him than the University of Pennsylvania was, while another may discover that intellectual diversity had been awaiting her for years at the University of Washington in Seattle while she was searching for it at Harvard. 

And that’s just one of the reasons why I’m cautious about promoting salivation over the Ivy League.

The bespectacled Lavender of MATILDA (1996) probably qualified for enrollment at a much more esteemed institution than Crunchem Hall, where the administration chucked one student over a fence by her pigtails and forced another to eat an enormous chocolate cake in front of the entire student body.  But I'm not sure that anywhere else, Lavender would've been as likely to come into her own politically and make best friends with someone who, by virtue of her telekinesis, could open any door for her.

The bespectacled Lavender of MATILDA (1996) probably qualified for enrollment at a much more esteemed institution than Crunchem Hall, where the administration chucked one student over a fence by her pigtails and forced another to eat an enormous chocolate cake in front of the entire student body. But I’m not sure that anywhere else, Lavender would’ve been as likely to come into her own politically and make best friends with someone who, by virtue of her telekinesis, could open any door for her.

Earlier this week, The Atlantic published an interview with William Deresiewicz – author of a New Republic essay blanket-warning parents against sending their children to Ivy League schools.  I disagree with the blanket warning on the grounds that many of the people I’ve advised are now creative, well-adjusted adults who hail from Ivies, and I’m likely to advise many of my future clients to pursue education at an Ivy especially if they’d prefer the degree most likely to be recognized as they interview for jobs around the world.  That said, Deresiewicz makes a few good points between the essay and the interview.  I’m incorporating them into my own shortlist of signs that Ivy League is worse than poison ivy for you:

1. An Ivy League school may be bad for you if your main motivation for going is to walk, sheep-like, in the footsteps of one of its famous graduates or dropouts.  I mean, come on.  You spent way too many years differentiating yourself from everyone else to begin adulthood by embracing the idea that the way to be successful is to do exactly what someone else did.

2. It will certainly be bad for you if you view it as the culmination of all your achievements but expect to live a long time after college.  Outside of academia, the world of work is unfathomably large and notions of prestige are much more diversified.  If your mental health is contingent upon the validation you receive from telling people you attended an Ivy, then you’ll really struggle for sanity when – five or ten years after college – your boast of that credential is only met with dismissal for snobbery. 

3. It may introduce more problems to your life than it resolves if you’ve been thriving in environments that have more in common with each other than they do with any Ivy League school, but imagine that because other people claim those environments aren’t “good enough” for you, you need to pursue education at an Ivy that’s the polar opposite of where you’ve already thrived.

4. It will at least disappoint you if you assume that simply by enrolling, you’ll be endowed by association with the ability to change the world.  Mission-driven people should pursue education at institutions that allow them the space and time to pursue their personal goals and host faculty and administration dedicated to aiding them in their pursuits.  Sometimes those institutions are Ivies.  Often they’re not Ivies.  I know a professor at DePaul University who’s highly dedicated to his students largely because the pressure on him to focus on elevating his department’s profile through accolades is less intense there than it would be at more prestigious universities.

5. Your Ivy League education won’t be optimal if you’ve always dreamed of being a chef, a fashion designer, a screenwriter or some other professional whose dreams Not. Ivy. programs are much more committed to realizing.  Sure, talent in those industries emerges from Ivies, but they might have found career success much earlier if their colleges (and in many cases, graduate programs) were able to facilitate it. 

6. It may ruin you if you haven’t afforded any thought to where else you could go or what else you could do.  I know someone who applied early decision to the University of Pennsylvania and enrolled.  Thirteen years later, she still doesn’t have a college degree, and she incessantly laments her relegation to clerical work.  By experimenting in her mother’s kitchen some years after dropping out of Penn, this woman discovered that she may be the mistress of all cupcake makers.  In other words, since she didn’t network with Wharton students (who could’ve become investors in her pastry enterprise) while she was still enrolled at Penn, she should probably seek Kickstarter crowdfunding for a food truck now. 

I hope this all addresses any lingering suspicions that I’m a “school snob.” 😉  Readers: Whether National Louis is a better fit for you than the University of Pennsylvania, or whether you made the overall mistake of enrolling at the University of Chicago and now need guidance in gaining admission to culinary school or developing a Plan B, I’m here to support you.  Just be honest about yourself with me so that we can confidently pursue your goals.  (And by “your goals,” I don’t mean the goals that any other person or entity has for you!)

Cheers,

Ramon Robinson

Founder of The Precocious Urchin Co. 

robinson.ramon@gmail.com

What makes an ideal education consultant?

An education consultant worth your money doesn't promise to work miracles or buck the odds for little rascals.  The most we can guarantee clients is that we'll honestly work with them to strengthen their applications  so that they're better candidates for admission than they would otherwise be.

An education consultant worth your money doesn’t promise to work miracles or buck the odds even for “little rascals” who’ve already “pledged allegiance to Our Gang.”  The best we can guarantee clients is that we’ll honestly work with them to strengthen their applications so that they’re better candidates for admission than they would otherwise be.

2012 CNN report about a Hong Kong couple who kept a consultant on a $2 million retainer (to steer their sons from elite U.S. boarding schools into Harvard, of course) left me thinking about the importance of declaring my ethics as an education consultant.  After all, a common assumption those of us in the field face is that we’re in the business of helping children of the rich gain an even greater advantage than they already possess over less affluent but more ambitious and industrious youth.  While my sliding fee scale and occasional pro bono missions allow me to work with applicants from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, my standards are consistent for them all:

  • I don’t guarantee anyone admission to any school or acquisition of any funding.
  • Although I offer networking assistance – generally with the goal of competitively positioning people for academic programs both before and after admission – I don’t accept money for placement or a referral, and I don’t promise to introduce clients to people who can “get them in.” 
  • For fairness’ sake, I keep abreast of field standards through conversations with other education consultants in my network – including one favorably profiled in The New York Times.
  • When I’m not already familiar with the schools a client expresses interest in attending, I engage in online correspondences with students, faculty and administration at those schools at the very least, and arrange to visit the schools in person when time and money permit.  Especially for international applicants, my sleuthing service can entail special campus visits; this, however, requires that the client cover my travel and lodging expenses prior to my departure, as specified in an SOW (Statement of Work).
  • Fees and services to be provided are clarified in the aforementioned SOW before we begin working together.  Service begins only after you sign or electronically initial that SOW.
  • I don’t pretend to be the leading expert in the field.  In addition to being an admissions consultant, I’m also a writer and content marketer, and I’ve held several other positions since I first entered the workforce in July 1999.  That said, admissions processes are a much more personal interest of mine than they are for the many people who walk into education consulting with dollar signs in their eyes after hearing it described as “booming.”  My hope is that through a combination of education, passion, and personal and professional experience, I can offer you a better admissions consulting experience than you might get from some of the big (and much costlier) firms. 

If this post still leaves you with questions about my process and services, please E-mail them to me at robinson.ramon@gmail.com!

Cheers,

Ramon Robinson