Hi! It’s February! I took two weeks off after I finished with students on Dec 30, and it was really bad!
A joke I like is that there is nothing inherently dangerous about traveling 300 miles per hour. It is only when you stop traveling 300 miles per hour that you are at risk.
I decelerated sharply into the New Year, and it was not pretty.
But now I’m doing OK! My cat is here! She’s cleaning her face with her paw!
…I’m still kinda fried. I have a big piece coming called “I don’t have senioritis, and neither do you.” The problem is, I have all the symptoms of what we call senioritis, only I’m a workaholic man-child instead of a teenager. I don’t feel like writing anything that matters right now.
So! Instead! I have a fun one!
One of the 70,000 weird/awesome things about my current job is I work with students all over the world…kind of. I actually worked this fall with exclusively students from the San Francisco Bay Area and East Coast. Also, two God Slayers: one from Texas and one from what was formerly the USSR. But they both get their own pieces someday because they are two of the most inspirational human beings I have ever met.
Also, one absolute bro-legend from LA. But that kid is also Bay AF (you know I’m right), so he gets in as an honorary Bay member.
So him plus the other 17? Well, it’s seven from the Bay and eleven from the East Coast.
That seems a bit lopsided. But I also worked with 100% Bay kids at my old Cupertino tutoring-center job. I’ve also lived here 25 of my 29 years on planet Earth, so excuse me if I fill in some blanks about how we go dumb here.
Consider this my Spiderman: Far From Home — A fun, unpretentious interlude after the end of an epic saga that both reflects on what’s happened as well as prepares everyone for an exciting future that is in limbo because of COVID-19. Let’s hit it!
East Coast kids are from all over. Bay Area kids are…from the Bay Area
We got Canada (Hi!!), DC, Delaware, Florida, Jersey, also Jersey, New York, also New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
In my mind, the entire East Coast is roughly 2/3rds the size of California. That led to a lot of fun conversations like this one:
“Ya. I think I’d like Cornell because it wouldn’t be so hard to travel back home and see my sister.”
“I agree. Do you think you could bring a car up?”
“I mean, I think I’d fly. It would take like 20 hours to drive there from Florida.”
*Student goes quiet as she realizes I’ve already cashed the check.*
For the Bay, we have…like, Fremont. Um, I know one is close to where I grew up. Another is in Bellevue, I think?
A couple were real close to me here in Palo Alto. A few knew students I’d worked with in years before! Gotta admit, it was surreal being on a Zoom call working with someone whom I could bike to, only we ever knew each other because they liked what I wrote on Reddit. The present and future of client acquisition is creative social marketing. I told this to the 25 other people in my Berkeley college consulting class last February, and not one even tried to listen. Maybe a 17YO reading this will.
I plan to be Zoom man going forward. But the plan next fall is to rent out a shared workspace once a month somewhere centralized—probably Hayward—on Saturday and invite all my local Zoomers to come enjoy complimentary sodas with me while we work. I’ll even bring my shitty $130 Amazon laptop I used last year with last year’s crumbs still inside it! If an East Coast kid wants to make the fourteen-hour drive across the country, I’ll throw in a free session.
I also plan to make a Bay student work all day with me at a specific fast-casual chain restaurant, so we may then get his or her ass into U Chicago.
Bay Area kids have more “traditional” ECs while East Coast kids get weird
It’s not just non-profits. Bay kids love them some USACO, DECA, MUN, COVID charity involving Zooming with old people, lab internships with places I’ve lost money on trying to pump and dump through Robinhood, and all the other classics.
Not trying to hate. These kids are good at what they do. There’s simply a lot of overlap in what they do. Bay kids also seemed to have a larger, deeper range of activities. Like a well-stocked buffet instead of a home-cooked meal.
East Coast kids? Significantly weirder. Stuff like raising bugs, and building model planes, and working at zoos, and learning fake musical instruments, and creating puzzles. Stuff that I, Mattie, College With, really like. I’m still kind of fingers crossed that colleges will, too, because otherwise the Matrix I’ve cocooned myself within comes crashing down. I’m already scanning for duplicate black cats.
This is one of the top battles I will be scanning for in a few months when decisions come back. As I see it, there are two thought processes an AO could have, each benefitting a different wing of the country:
AOs at top schools are trying to build an elite class of specialists. Meaning they prioritize excellence over all else. Being excellent at something weird isn’t as good as being excellent at something common, but it is still better than being very good at lots of stuff.
AOs at top schools scan EC lists to check off certain “must-haves” like they’re filling out a DMV form. Because that’s what they were told matters during their two weeks of training before getting to decide the fate of the world’s most sensational young people.
By my tone, you can probably guess which one I want to be true. By my tone, you can probably guess which one I’m terrified is true.
East Coast kids apply to the UCs with the same mindset you might have while opting to order an ice-cream cone with your meal at McDonald’s.
Oh…Ya! I would like that! Hmm…can I afford to do it? Oh, look! Here’s $1.21 in my cupholder/four hours on a Friday I found! That’s plenty!
It’s difficult for me to accept. I go so hard with my Bay kids on the UCs. Of course we do; they’re the UCs! In my career, I have literally had one Bay student not apply to the UC system because she was stubborn. Guess who!
I won’t say that the UC work was the most critical content for most Bay kids, but it was certainly a priority. All four essays discussed, outlined, edited, looked over, then usually we’d re-write the bad one before sending it all in, just ahead of schedule. Maybe not a war in itself but certainly a major battle.
East Coast kids? They just kind of did it. By my count, five of the eleven chose to apply. Of those, only one seemed to care that much about how good the work was. Then he got in ED so WELP.
The other four were some flavor of, “Ya, I did them. I think they’re fine. I only checked the box for Berkeley, UCLA, and *insert third UC with a program they’re interested in that there is a 0% chance they will attend*.
I wasn’t, like, angry at them. But it was such a culture shock chatting with them vs. Bay kids, whom I had already spent 10+ working hours with, crafting that perfect third essay about their job at the mall to make sure UC Davis found them well-rounded enough.
I guess I should chill out consider how I talk when a student applies to Michigan, UNC, UVA, U-Dub, Purdue, or any other destination state school:
Ya, man. This school’s pretty solid, but also it’s a state school a billion miles away and also you’ll be paying twice as much as everyone else to go there. The good news is that these schools are desperate for cash and will shamelessly accept OOS kids to cover their asses. You have stats at or above their averages, which my personal data suggests means you have a 99.3% chance to get in.
…How dare I. I have zero idea how my Eastern Warriors will fare against the impenetrable fortress that is UC admissions! They don’t even take test scores anymore! That makes them way more likely to choose students who have earned the right to be there instead of those who will make them more money and/or support ongoing applicant quotas!
…Apply to UCLA and Berkeley more, East Coast kids. Ain’t nobody been laughed out of nowhere for a UCLA/Berkeley degree. And also, pay me to help you so that I may claim credit for it when you do get in. I’m buying the shirt, either way.
Bay kids have much less of a problem with the concept of paying a consultant like me in the first place
NGL, point Bay kids.
This was my mindset, as well. I had a consultant in high school back in 2009. She alerted me to Tulane and referred to it as “a school on the rise.” She was technically correct. In the same way America is currently “increasing resources towards supporting public health”. There were still watermarks on buildings when I got there.
But that’s the vibe here. Grabbing a consultant is “what you do.” It’s not good or bad. It’s like applying morals to hiring a private batting instructor to help you with your swing. Sure, many students can’t afford it, but if you can, you do.
East Coast kids I had to justify my existence to a bit more. It wasn’t like I was forcing anyone to take my help; they found me. But many Atlanticans seemed relieved that my system wasn’t about making shit up or sneaking them in as a farming major but instead about taking what they’d done, learned, and felt in high school and packaging it as effectively as possible.
This is also where I can answer a question you might have:
Why did I only work with Bay Area and East Coast kids?
Cause I’m expensive. Soz. What it comes down to is cost of living. Everything costs more in the Bay Area: clothes, food, the right to sleep inside. College consulting merely follows that trend. A similar level of inarguable affluence is required in East Coast hot spots like Tri-State and Maryland. I am expensive in the same way the place I used to work at was expensive. The difference is now you get me whereas last year you got maybe but probably not me.
I have no doubt that there are tons of midwest students out there who would like to work with me. And some of them likely could afford me. But that’s a tougher ask when they could instead go to their local guy who costs a fourth as much. Now, what’s stopping that local midwest guy from hopping on Zoom and taking clients from the coasts at a much higher rate while still enjoying the lower cost of living from his home state?
US college consultants currently range in price from $12 to have a Stanford student use Grammarly to $1.5 million for 30 hours with an intimidating lady in a super nice office. It seems impossible for me to believe there’s a satisfying r between escalating price and resulting value.
I’ll be thinking of ways to merge this divide in the future. I wanna get some bro from Montana into Duke.
While talking to East Coast kids, I would occasionally hear large birds making noises from outside their house
This is the only actual difference.
East Coast kids get out of school around 11:30AM PST
OMG IT’S THE BEST
IT’S THE BEST!!!
In previous years, I worked with all Bay kids. For reasons I still don’t understand, Mon-Fri they couldn’t meet until around 4 PM. Apparently, they had to go to some facility near their house that made them do things besides write fun essays for their new best friend.
The result was my schedule looked something like this:
Sat: 8AM- 6PM
BURN IT WITH FIRE.
But that was just the deal. Kids have school, so I work when they’re not in school. I also had to sit and wait an hour in between meetings sometimes because no student could fit that spot. Did my tutoring center pay me for those hours? Do I still work there? Throw in an hour of Bay Area commute, and I’m so mad.
But this year??!?! This year I got to work with the sun out like a real-life human! Peep this shit:
THAT’S SO MUCH BETTER!!!!
All it took was starting a company with no business experience, creatively marketing it on a high-demand/low-supply social network, creating and releasing a book’s worth of written content in five months for free, and capitalizing on new-found consumer trust in digital consulting to entice a formerly skeptical client pool to pay me!!!
And then I didn’t have to work at night anymore!!!
So that’s how it went. I’d meet with EST students first and then PST after. Saturdays didn’t matter so much. One annoyance is that sometimes I would try to meet with a student before school if something was on fire. With 100% certainty, that student would be East Coast, meaning my ass would need to be up at like 5AM to make it work. Also, sometimes I’d casually book an East Coast student at 7PM PST, only for them to appear in a halo of darkness, illuminated only by their Macbook screen, eyes both exhausted and defeated.
Oh! And also, I have Zoom at my house. So I’d wake up every day seven minutes before my first session. Then, in between meetings, I’d play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for fifteen minutes to relax. Sometimes I would eat roast beef from my fridge so I wouldn’t be hangry. I’d then resume steering the lives of the future most powerful people on Earth. What a country!
Everyone applies to USC. Everyone.
I have 17 unfinished blog files in my Google Drive. About 10 I started and failed to finish this fall. One of them was about the USC supplements. I didn’t get that far, but I would like to include my central thesis for how I see them:
The USC Supplements are what I would have come up with if my ADHD were unmedicated at the time.
They’re frustrating. Frustrating because there was obvious time and energy put into them. Frustrating because there are cool, different ideas up and down the form. Frustrating because they represent the USC brand well and give off a positive vibe of the school to prospective students.
Frustrating because they are a Goddamn mess.
And I would know. USC is in that weird Michigan/Georgetown/Tulane/Santa Barbara range where it’s either a reach or safety for everyone. I don’t think a single student this year super wanted to go to USC and also thought they would get in. The result is I have filled out those stupid QuIrKy short-answer questions like 15 times. All I have is meta-analysis:
The following short questions are good and fun:
– Describe yourself in three words.
– What is your favorite snack?
– Dream job.
– Dream trip.
– Favorite book.
– If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?
The following short-answer questions suck because they say nothing about the student and also elite teens don’t have time to consume media:
– Best movie of all time.
– If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
– What TV show will you binge watch next?
– Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?
That theme song question is so bad. No one has a theme song.
I still don’t know what the hell they wanted for the Dornsife essay. I also misread it one time as “Dornslife,” and now 100% of the time read it in my head as “DORNS-LIFE!” in the same way you would scream “thug-life.”
Lol I ranted about USC for a bit because I ran out of material. There really wasn’t that much difference besides the bird noises
What I want to write now is what all my students this year had in common. Namely that all of you worked your ass off this fall, and I am so proud and grateful to have had the opportunity to spend time with you. I never want to be that old guy who comes to school to talk about his time serving in Vietnam, only to go on a rant about how “college applications were so much simpler back then. I didn’t do any of this stuff!” Ya, dude. We know. We don’t have to worry about being drafted.
But I did feel it with you students. I didn’t work as hard in high school as you have. I mostly goofed around and let my natural talents make up for my lack of everything else. It worked out for me, alright, but I don’t think I’ll ever shake the wonder of what I could have accomplished if I went for it. You all went for it, and I think nearly all of you will be pleasantly surprised by what your academic future has in store. I merely plan to be pleasantly.
And what made you different? Everything. That’s why this article was clickbait trash. Screw coastlines. My absolute, #1, bestest, most favorist thing about this job is how wildly different every student I meet is. You all have different personalities, and backgrounds, and stories, and interests, and talents, and flaws, and dreams, and insecurities, and greatness inside you that I pray you one day see as clearly as I do.
None of you are perfect, which makes me realize that perfect doesn’t exist; if it did, some of you would have willed yourself there by now. Instead, you’re a collection of some of the smartest, kindest, most likable human beings I have ever met—each with a dazzling coating not found anywhere else on Earth. I crave novelty, so such variety is the spice that makes my current life so fulfilling. It is how you were different from any other student I’ve met that will make it impossible for me ever to forget you.
You’re neat. Teens are neat. Holy shit teens are so neat! I love my job so much.
Thank you so much for being my Zoomers. I hope you thought I was neat, too.
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(This piece won the 2020 r/applyingtocollege acorn award for most helpful post! It’s probably the most important thing I’ve ever written. Half-ideas is such fire omg.)