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Getting into a great college: Dispelling the myths

The rumor mill: It’s the ever-spinning wheel of deception that gains momentum as fast as it’s fueled.  And in the field of college admissions, despite expert interjection, it is the one to which students and families still tend to cling, no matter how much more difficult and stressful it makes their lives. Yet when they are armed with the facts, stress around the college admission process starts to crumble, and sighs of relief become audible.

So, what are some of the myths, and what are the facts that dispel them?

I need to participate in lots of different activities to get into college. 

While participation (and more important responsibility and leadership) in activities is indeed essential in the college admissions process, participation in lots of different activities isn’t necessarily what students want to be shooting for.  Colleges want to see the development of a passion and long-term dedication to that passion or a couple of passions. Your time is very valuable and you need to use it wisely. Devote it to things that you love to do and don’t waste time on those activities that don’t reflect your interests.  Indeed, overcommitting results in spreading yourself too thin with no deep commitment to any one activity, and that leads to stress and lack of meaning.  Find the one or two things that you enjoy, and dive in wholeheartedly!

Playing sports will help me get into college. 

While this can be true for a select, small (very small) number of students who are stellar, standout athletes, for most it simply is not.  Families should know that athletic scholarships are extremely difficult to obtain.  Even if students are not planning on receiving a scholarship, they should consider the incredible time commitment involved with playing a college sport.  For many students who are playing a high school sport just because they think it will “look good” on their resume, time might be better spent participating in another activity or focusing on academics.  Sports are not the only extracurricular activity, and practices and games take up a huge chunk of precious high school time, and an even larger chunk of college time.

I won’t be accepted to college if I admit my failures in my applications.

Not true!  While it is understandable that students shy away from highlighting their errors when competing for a coveted spot in the incoming class, it is a fact that colleges want to see that students are risk-takers, demonstrate curiosity, and learn from their mistakes.  They truly want to see how students have grown, what their self-reflection has revealed about that growth, and how they will apply that to the future.  In fact, one entire personal statement prompt on the Common Application is devoted entirely to identifying failure and illustrating the lesson, yet inevitably my students look at me blank-faced when they come across that particular prompt.

Be bold; take chances and learn from experience.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what Duke University has to say: “We like students who make intelligent and interesting mistakes, students who understand that only in risking failure do we become stronger, better and smarter.”


Jenn-Curtis-headshot-color-150x150Jenn Curtis, MSW is the owner and co-founder of FutureWise Consulting, a college counseling, test prep, and academic tutoring business in Orange County, California. As an educational consultant, she works alongside high school students and their families to prepare them for the college admissions process. Jenn also developed and teaches a college and career readiness program for first-generation students. She is the editorial assistant for an academic journal, has edited several books, and works with graduate and doctoral students in developing effective writing skills. With a background in mental health, Jenn’s passion lies in empowering students to become self-advocates, to uncover their strengths, and to find the motivation to reach their potential.


The Weight of Your Words

Today is National Compliment Day, an unofficial (but wonderful) holiday- celebrated by expressing simple praise, sharing congratulations, and encouraging others! Created in 1998 by two women from New Hampshire, today is intended for commending others’ success, brightening someone else’s day with kindness and maybe even lifting others up in spite of their setbacks. Both giving and receiving compliments come with a variety of health benefits like decreased stress and formation of stronger long-term relationships—so why not celebrate those around you! At Thrively, we believe that kindness is something that all students and children should strive for in their day-to-day lives as they develop into young adults and soon-to-be professionals.

adjusted girls

Thrively understands that kindness is crucial to our goal of developing the whole child, where emotional maturity meets intellectual proficiency. In honoring this goal, we have created courses to teach children and students of all ages about the weight of their words.

Our lesson “It’s Cool to be Kind” is geared specifically towards students ages 8-10, and it teaches the importance of kindness and empathy. This lesson builds on the values that every parent and educator aims to instill in a fun and engaging way. Using videos, images, and personal reflection, students are guided through what it means to be kind and how this decision can be consciously made every day. “It’s Cool to be Kind” shows the positive effects that kindness can have on someone’s day, and, most importantly, emphasizes kindness as a choice.


We also know that kindness can be contagious, and we want to illustrate that idea to Thrively children and students. For students ages 9-14, our lesson “Chain Reaction” explicitly demonstrates how one small act can cause another; reaching out to another person with an act of kindness, such as a compliment, can result in their complimenting someone else and creating a chain reaction of spreading kindness. The impact of a chain reaction is an especially important lesson today, as we remember to be kind and uplifting to those around us!

Kindness has profound effects on someone’s mood, their well-being, and the course of their day. Whether it be by giving a compliment or simply being kind to those around you, use today as a reminder to stay positive and treat others how you want to be treated.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou

It’s Right to Write – by Hand!

Most adults today can recall countless hours spent growing up with a pencil in hand perfecting every letter in the cursive alphabet or pulling out a sheet of notebook paper to get started on a class essay. Now, in the 21st-century classroom, typing is the preferred method of communication for practically any task or assignment. Of course, we can all agree that typing is more time-efficient and less physically taxing, but learning how to handwrite is still essential for today’s students.


As paper submissions slowly disappear in lieu of digital submissions, and cursive slowly gets replaced by Microsoft Word or Google Docs, there exists a fear that eventually learning how to write will go completely extinct in our education system. While technology is a great supplementary tool in education, handwriting is still applicable to so many life skills like:

Motor Skills Development

Handwriting develops motor skills by teaching children how to locate each stroke relative to other strokes, learn and remember the appropriate size and details of strokes, and develop muscle memory.

Memory Recall

Writing—for example, in note-taking has been proven to provide improved memory recall, an essential skill throughout all levels of education.

Reading Comprehension

Writing and reading are strongly connected, as strong writing skills have been shown to increase reading comprehension. This union will help students in the long run by giving them a competitive advantage in both standardized testing and reading for higher education.

Legal Documents

Documents like a driver’s license application, a court-mandated form or even a simple rent check still and likely always will need to be completed by hand for legal purposes.


Writing words in different styles, such as calligraphy, stimulates the creative part of the brain—something that cannot be mimicked by selecting a new font from the ‘toolbar.’

While technology is a vital resource in education by providing new opportunities in personalized learning and enhancing critical thinking skills, handwriting is still a modern necessity. So, as technology continues to advance education, the practice of handwriting shouldn’t be forgotten.

We understand the importance of handwriting at Thrively, so we created a course specifically for note-taking! “Cornell Note Taking” teaches students how to most effectively take handwritten notes. This form of note-taking leads to improved memory retention and emphasizes topic comprehension – results we can’t write off! 

Honoring an Educational Hero – Martin Luther King!

Today we remember and celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr., an advocate of social justice, education, and humanity. Throughout his short but impactful life, Dr. King peacefully led the progression of African American equality in the United States. Using his nonviolent protests and powerful words against racial discrimination, Dr. King propelled the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into existence, thus becoming widely regarded as a hero of US history. Beyond his success in progressing the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King’s views on education are particularly inspiring and deserve to be highlighted today and every day. Thrively looks up to Dr. King and his universal words of wisdom that inspire students, teachers, and parents alike!

Martin Luther King Jr.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking. (Photo by Julian Wasser//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

In his most famous paper, “The Purpose of Education”, written while attending Boston University, Dr. King discusses the moral function of higher education. He believes that education should be well rounded, and that standard intelligence can only get someone so far in life. He wrote;

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

A big initiative in education today is to build students’ 4Cs (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity). Similar to Dr. King’s emphasis on critical thinking, Thrively has programs specific to building and developing this skill.

Dr. King also believes that the key to a good education is the combination of intelligence and character – which Thrively aims to achieve through personalized learning. Not only education is to learn but also learning how to learn. Dr. King argues that by learning how to be a critical thinker, students can create meaningful impact outside of the classroom. Dr. King further highlights this by connecting education and social justice, particularly how education can translate into community change. Sixty-five years later, Dr. King’s words continue to resonate with people of all ages.

As students move along the Thrively Journey, they become more self-aware through the discovery of their strengths and strengths-based learning. We hope to provide students with the roadmap and tools to be effective leaders and change-makers to shape a better tomorrow! 

What your kids need to know about pursuing their passion?

A friend posted this on my Facebook page and I burst out laughing. Maybe you’ve seen it, the hilarious satire on titled “Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life”.

It’s one of those “sad because it’s true” pieces, somewhat of a depressing take on how adults tend to prioritize the mind-numbing trudge through “the daily grind” over pursuing dreams and passions that may seem too lofty or daunting.

I can’t stress this enough: Do what you love…in between work commitments, and family commitments, and commitments that tend to pop up and take immediate precedence over doing the thing you love. Because the bottom line is that life is short, and you owe it to yourself to spend the majority of it giving yourself wholly and completely to something you absolutely hate, and 20 minutes here and there doing what you feel you were put on this earth to do.

After chuckling a little bit, it’s just… Sad, right? It doesn’t exactly make me want to drop everything and move to New York to get on Broadway, but I do begin to think about that book I’ve been meaning to write or that mountain I’ve always wanted to climb.

But then I thought about it for a minute, and this is where I disagree with Todd. There’s a fundamental difference between the person he’s making fun of and the person that I am: I already know what my passions are, and I figured them out soon enough to be able to enjoy them throughout my childhood and early adulthood and still enjoy them today. I may not get paid to do them, and it is definitely too late to be the next Picabo Street, but the skills and characteristics I developed by pursuing my passions at a young age have helped me to become a confident adult living a healthy, balanced life. And here’s where he proves my point:

Before you get started, though, you need to find the one interest or activity that truly fulfills you in ways nothing else can.

And the first three sentences of the “article” in general:

I have always been a big proponent of following your heart and doing exactly what you want to do. It sounds so simple, right? But there are people who spend years and decades, trying to find a true sense of purpose for themselves.

So are passions supposed to be our careers, or are passions supposed to help nurture us, guide us toward being better human beings, and enhance our lives through challenge and creative expression?  As I grow older, I’m convinced that at least for me, it’s the latter. For the talented and committed, sure, passions can most certainly be careers. But for people like me (dare I say “regular folk”), the intent of pursuing my passions isn’t to create a career opportunity or to avoid a job I may hate, it’s about growing as a person and enjoying my life.

We shouldn’t send the message to kids that pursuing the things they love is only worth it if they do it forever or be the best at it. Today, I love and enjoy my career that much more because at an early age I learned how to embrace a challenge, explore new things, succeed and fail, train hard, think creatively, and most importantly enjoy the experience.


AdrienneThis post was written by Activity Adrienne.  She’s responsible for Thrively’s activity content and our social media channels.  At one point in her life, she really did want to be the next Picabo Street.  And the next Martina Hingis. And the next Kerri Strug. And the next Brandi Chastain. And the next… Ok, you get it.