Thought #15: The Ivy League and a Marathon

My mom’s youngest brother is only 6 years older than me, so we naturally developed more of a brother-like relationship growing up so close in age. Since I see my uncle, whom I shall refer to from this point forward as CQ, as an older brother figure, I’ve always paid close attention to his academic and professional journeys. As you can imagine, I enjoyed every moment of being in New York last spring to celebrate his graduation from Columbia University, a world-renowned university located in upper Manhattan and member of the Ivy League.

CQ completed a Masters in Social-Organizational Psychology at Columbia’s Teachers College, and started working for one of the top management consultant firms in New York City this fall. As part of his transition from college back to work, he embarked on 4 country tour last summer, which included running the Tusk Safaricom Marathon 2016 in Kenya.

For Thought #15, I’m going to share insights from an Ivy League graduate and all together impressive individual about what it takes to get into an Ivy League university, why he chose Columbia, and why it was important for him to travel and participate in a marathon after graduation.

@founderctc: What does it take to get into an Ivy League university?

CQ cautions against applying to a school for its name alone. He explains that when making a decision about a school, “it’s more than the name, it’s the impact.” It’s important to carefully consider the impact a perspective school will have on your personal development, professional development and career trajectory because that will enable you to make a compelling argument for “Fit”, which is a top priority for many competitive colleges and academic programs (see Thought #13: Finding a College that Fits). In addition to conveying your personal brand and mission, you want to demonstrate to a prospective school that you understand their brand and mission. You can then explain how both missions complement each other.

Moreover, CQ explains that Ivy League students are good at “experiencing the experience.” According to CQ, a hallmark of the Ivy League student is their capacity for critical reflection. Take advantage of the opportunity to analyze an experience that has significantly impacted your personal and professional development via the application essay.

CQ wraps up the first question by stating, “passion is always exciting,” emphasizing the importance of convincing a school that you are passionate about what they have to offer, and that it is equally important to be passionate about where you’re going and what you’re studying.

@founderctc: Why Columbia University?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, CQ reveals that his primary draw to Columbia wasn’t the school’s name recognition or Ivy status. Academics were his primary draw to Columbia. The Social-Organizational Psychology program is, “the only one of its kind,” making CQ’s decision to attend Columbia one heck-of-a-lot easier. Additionally, it’s important for applicants to competitive colleges and universities to understand all a school has to offer, both socially and academically, in order to make a compelling case for how that particular school or program aligns with your interests and aspirations.

CQ also notes location as a major selling point for Columbia. Located in New York City, the job market and the urban lifestyle were major appeals. While all great schools may not be located in a major city, it’s important that you to feel both comfortable, and hopefully even a little excited about the school and periphery communities you will be spending the next couple years of your life in.

@founderctc: Why travel and run a marathon as your transition from Columbia back to work?

“Grad school was part of a larger step,” CQ explains. This step included garnering formal recognition for his accomplishments, solidifying his brand, and earning a new title. However, he warns, “you cannot neglect your mind, body, and spirit.” It’s often the case that the body and spirit are the most vulnerable to neglect when pit against school and work, so it makes total sense that CQ would use the summer to escape on an adventure and reconnect with himself.

“[Re]-calibration” was paramount the summer between college and reentering the work force according to CQ. Emphasizing the spiritual aspects of running, he explains “It’s kind of like meditation.” Travelling and training for a marathon were his ways to reflect, re-imagine goals, and push his body to its physical limits. Conceding the more practical-side of running, CQ admits, “You can run anywhere,” arguing that running is a great way, “to learn new places and meet new people.”

If you enjoyed Thought #15, be sure to like and leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you! Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website to get notified of new posts.

Thought #14: The UC Application GPA & How to Calculate it

Did you know the GPA you submit on the CSU (California State University) and/or UC (University of California) freshman application is most likely different than the one you see on an academic transcript? It’s true.

Generally, the GPA that you find on the transcript is a cumulative GPA, which means it reflects all grades earned freshman year through the summer after junior year. CSU and UC, on the other hand, ask for  a more targeted GPA, which is based on grades earned for a-g courses, or UC approved college preparatory courses, completed between sophomore and junior years. This may sound like a minor detail; however, it’s important to note that not all courses are considered equal in the eyes of CSU and UC, and this special GPA can vary from your cumulative GPA, sometimes by a whole lot. If you’re a California resident, and you’re planning on submitting a CSU or UC freshman application this fall, It’s important to get your CSU/UC GPA calculated ASAP, so you can use it to identify suitable colleges and develop an admission strategy.

For Thought #14, I’ll break down the process of calculating your CSU/UC GPA into three simple steps and share some useful links along the way that’ll assist you with each step of the process and equip you with accurate and up-to-date admission information directly from the source.

Step #1: Identify a-g Courses

Getting your hands on a copy of your transcript can be tricky, so you want to plan ahead and contact your school counselor beforehand. Once you have your transcript, the first step in calculating your CSU/UC GPA is to figure out which courses are approved a-g courses and which are not.

Believe it or not, many of the courses required for high school graduation aren’t considered college preparatory courses. For example, physical and health education courses generally aren’t considered college preparatory; however, students must complete these courses to graduate. Many ESL (English as a Second Language) and ELD (English Language Development) aren’t a-g approved or have restrictions. The point is a-g course offerings vary from school to school, so it’s best to speak with a school counselor about a-g approved courses for your specific high school. If meeting with a counselor isn’t possible, you can find this information easily online for yourself.

The UC Office of President maintains a database of approved a-g courses for virtually all California high schools – use the Course List Search to identify approved a-g courses at your particular high school.

Step #2: Tally Grades

Once you’ve identified the a-g approved courses on your transcript, you have to tallying those grades up!

You want to count the number of As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Fs earned your sophomore and junior years; any grades received for a-g courses completed during summer breaks should be tallied as well. Since you’re applying to CSU and/or UC, I’m assuming you were at least a little bit of an overachiever and probably have a couple of AP (Advanced Placement) courses on your transcript as well. You’ll want to create a special tally to keep track of the number of grades, only Cs or better, that are honor-level because these grades will be given an extra grade point in GPA calculations and, trust me, every grade point matters.

Step #3: Calculate GPA

At this point in the process, you’ve identified the a-g  approved coursework on your transcript and tallied the grades earned sophomore and junior years, so now it’s time calculate your GPA.

Now, calculating your GPA is where things get complicated; you’re going to need two lead pencils, some scratch paper, a scientific calculator, and 45 minutes to complete this exercise – just joking! Calculating your GPA is actually quite simple with the right tool. My favorite and, arguablly, the most easy way to calculate your CSU/UC GPA is by transfering all the data you compiled, i.e. those tallies you created in step #2, directly into the GPA calculator on CSU Mentor then press “Calculate” – voua la! You just calculated yourself a CSU/UC GPA.

Some final comments: 3.0 is the magic number. To be eligible for UC admission, you must have a minimum 3.0 CSU/UC GPA in addition to strong SAT and/or ACT scores. If you have a minimum 3.0 CSU/UC GPA, and you’ve taken the SAT and/or ACT but scored  lower, CSU is a great option since they are not going to scrutinize test scores as much. There are other tips and tricks, too many to list in this Thought, so I’d love for you post a comment with specific questions. Moreover, for expert coaching through the UC Application and live Q&A, consider enrolling in my UC Application Boot Camp, which starts later this month.

If you enjoyed Thought #14, be sure to like and leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you! Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website to get notified of new posts.

Thought #13: Finding a College that Fits


After transferring colleges multiple times throughout my undergraduate career then feeling coerced into enrolling in a graduate program the semester following graduation – not to mention amassing a precarious amount of student loan debt along the way (See Thought #5: 3 Ways to Manage Student Loan Debt) – I’m not done with school yet.

Perhaps it’s from binge watching episodes of House of Lies and enjoying the process of building a small business, but my heart is set on attending a prestigious business school and earning an MBA (Master of Business Administration), and I’ve started to shop.

As many of us prepare for college application season, I wanted to share my journey finding a college that aligns with my goals and aspirations in the hopes that something said will inspire and assist you through choosing a college that is going to work best for you.

My first step towards being more bold yet shrewd moving forward with my academic pursuits was attending a Harvard Business School (HBS) recruitment event at the LinkedIn offices in downtown San Francisco.  I’ll go over my impressions as well as some of my key takeaways from this event for Thought #13.

HBS is LinkedIn

It’s no accident HBS chose Linkedin, arguably the most popular social media platforms that is dedicated to professional network building, as the location for their recruitment event. The message comes across loud and clear: HBS, and Harvard more specifically, is one of best known and well connected institutions of higher education in the world – you’d be lucky to get in.

It also happened to be the case that a majority of the alumni that constituted the panel held executive-level positions at LinkedIn, and other prominent tech companies.Panelists shared memory after memory of how HBS introduced them to celebrities of industry.

One panelist, a recent graduate, shared how Elon Musk, as a token of his appreciation, brought a fleet of Tesla vehicles to HBS so students could test drive them after working through a case study on the company.

Other panelist spoke at length about how easy it is to get linked in with faculty outside of the classroom and develop Independent projects and customize the second year of the  program to align with your interests. Collaboration and relationship building were recurring themes at the event.

When you are shopping around for programs or colleges, it’s helpful to know what your experience as member of your chosen community might look like. I learned that HBS offers high-level connections and incredible access to diverse industries, which might be what I’m looking for. Still, it’s hard to know exactly what the right school is until you’ve seen a few. Once you have an idea of the type of community you’re excited to join, finding the right fit becomes easier.

The Jargon is Real

While waiting for the presentation to begin, one of the participant leans in confidently and asks, “So what do you do?” I explain that I’m an educator, to which he responds, “I work at EY.” Noticing the puzzled look on my face, he continues, “you know, Ernst & Young,” as though it were common knowledge.  Overhearing us, another participant joins our conversation with, “My girlfriend works at EY! I’m at Mercer in the Innovation Department…”

They continued to converse for a couple of minutes until the presentation began, then the panelists started mentioning companies and industries I’m not familiar with, and throwing around acronyms like “PE” (Private Equity) and “VC” (Venture Capital), which aren’t terms I encounter on a daily basis.

As a long-time student and educator, I’ve experienced firsthand how challenging and alienating the process of acquiring a new Discourse can be; however, I believe the best way to start is to read.

If you’re applying for college for the first time, I recommend reading the news as often as makes sense for you. With apps like Twitter, Instagram, and more recently Snapchat, it’s easier than ever to access the news. If you’re applying for graduate school, I recommend kicking it up a notch and reading popular journals or magazines related to your field. Journals are a great way to survey trends in an industry and stay updated on current jargon.

HBS is Looking for…

The characteristics that HBS seeks in candidates for admission vibed with me because I’m actively trying to cultivate similar habits both in myself and with my students. According to HBS, top candidates share the following characteristics:

  • analytical appetite
  • engaged community citizenship
  • a habit of leadership

Similarly, every college and university has an unique mission and set values, which should be compatible with your own mission and values, which is why I recommend going online and doing your homework and arranging meetings with colleges – nothing beats interacting with real members of a desired campus community.

Something I (probably) wouldn’t have been able to do online is interact with other prospects and discuss my concerns with alumni. In that regard,  the HBS admission event was a great opportunity to learn about and see examples of the types of individuals that are admitted to the MBA program, and an invaluable way to begin acclimating to the foreign world of Business.

If you enjoyed Thought #13, be sure to like and leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you! Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website to get notified of new posts.

Thought #12: 7 Characteristics of Great Advisors

It’s been a while since I’ve worked inside a high school or an after-school setting in an advising capacity, so I was excited when I was asked to train the advising and direct support staff at 100% College Prep on advising best practices and college admission requirements.

There is one activity that I’m proud of in particular. In this activity, I facilitated a free-write and group discussion in which I asked the group to consider the characteristics of great advisors using their own experiences as young people navigating the transition from high school to adulthood as a frame of reference and Gold Mine for illustrations of both successful and challenging advising experiences.

For Thought #12, I wanted to share some insights from the conversation that I started at 100% College Prep. The following are the 7 characteristics of great advisors, inspired by the staff of 100% College Prep.

1. They are Open, Honest, and Caring

The first characteristic we discussed is that great advisors are open, honest, and caring. Talking with the staff, most seemed to agree that the most memorable advisors have an ability to be simultaneously critical and nurturing. The group talked a lot about how great advisors made them feel like they could be extraordinary. It’s important to remember that when young people seek out advising they are looking for someone who is going to be patient enough to hear them out and respond to them in way that respects their agency and constructive moves them forward.

2. They Are Knowledgeable

Another characteristic we discussed is that great advisors are knowledgeable. We discussed how great advising generally requires for the advisor to possess a certain level of expertise on the topic they are giving advice about. For those in advising positions, it’s imperative to constantly participate in the process of acquiring new knowledge and striving to become a master of your craft.

3. They Expresses Genuine Interest

A third characteristic we discussed is that great advisors are distinguished by their genuine interest in their advisees’ aspirations and outcomes. We discussed how managing large caseloads and managing the other demands from work can distract an advisor from the main objective – build relationships. As challenging as it can be, great advisers have the ability to genuinely engage with their advisees.

4. They Are Willing to Go Above and Beyond

A fourth characteristic we discussed is that great advisors virtually always go above and beyond to ensure that their advisee succeeds. We discussed how there are times in life when all you feel like doing is the bare minimum; however, this attitude won’t make you great. Great advisors are committed to ensuring that their advisees achieve their goals.

5. They Suggest Strategies for Success

A fifth characteristic we discussed is that great advisors suggest strategies to promote their advisee’s success. Great advisors assess where youth are in their immediate reality then work with youth to develop a road-map to accomplish their goals and aspirations. A goal setting framework that I like to use with is SMART (See Thought #7: A Few Keys to Success for more about SMART Goal Setting).

6. They Are Great Listeners

A sixth characteristic we discussed is that great advisors tend to be the best listeners. We talk a lot about how a great advisor understands the importance of listening. Advising relationships tend to fall apart when advisors aren’t able to listen and get on the same page with their advisees.

7. They Are Present & Persistent

The final characteristic that I want to share is that great advisors are present and persistent. Any great salesperson understands that closing the Deal means focusing on building relationships, which can be protracted. When advising, being visible and consistent is a crucial aspect of being able to sell services.

If you enjoyed Thought #12, be sure to like and leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website and get notified of new posts.

Thought #11: I’m Not Perfect, but I Got Grit!

For Thought #11, I was planning on posting a few tips on how to tackle big and challenging projects – clearly, this isn’t that post.

After hours crafting the perfect introduction and writing most of the content, I touched the wrong options in my phone last night and lost all the awesome content I spent so much time developing – basically what I’m trying to say is: The dog ate my homework!

Despite technological difficulties, I still wanted to post on schedule for Thought #11. Instead of trying to recreate my lost Thought, I want to thank all my subscribers and others who read Thoughts regularly and keep up with the development of Critical Thinkers Consulting.

It’s been 7 months since publishing my first Thought (see Thought #1: Conquer The Fear of Completion), and I’m still surprised and humbled that folks actually care to read what I have to say…plus are patient with my learning curve as I’m figuring out how to build and maintain a blog and website on WordPress.

Thinking of the road from zero to Thought #11, I realize that I’ve only made it this far by accepting that I’m not perfect and mistakes – you’ve probably noticed frequent tweaks and changes take place on my website if you’ve been paying attention the past year  – are opportunities for growth and development.

While I’d love to be the portrait of perfection, I’m not; however, what I do have is grit (see “5 Characteristics of Grit“). Carving out a niche for myself in business and finding my voice as a blogger has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding undertakings of my career so far, and I’m excited to continue growing and developing with each new Thought published, client secured, or opportunity presented to me.

Continue to join me on this journey as I critically think through the experience of transitioning from youth to adulthood and offer solutions to some of its most pressing problems – all you have to do is subscribe on my website. Also, I live off feedback so share your thoughts and let me know what you find interesting or challenging aboutThoughts and how I can make Critical Thinkers Consulting great.

Thought #10: The Benefits of Volunteering

Riding home on the bus after volunteering for Seven Tepees Youth Program‘s (7Tepees) Annual Camping Trip, I felt a strong sense of contentment.

Even though volunteering for the annual camping trip meant 24/(7 minus 2) of supervising and managing young people, which was challenging for sure, what I gained in return was five days outdoors in the beautiful Mammoth Lakes with high school students that I’ve mentored and watched grow since middle school, as well as an opportunity to reunite with program staff whom I consider friends after years of adventures in the wilderness of California.

Each day of the camping trip was occupied by a cool experience. Some days we were shuttling to trails that led to mountain lakes, other days we were carpooling to the local pool to cool off with the breathtaking views of mountains and plains as our backdrop, and most days we were enjoying free time around our campsite tossing around a football, and playing card games, Connect Four, and Jenga – no matter what the group was doing, I always had a lot of fun.

After having such a great experience volunteering with the staff and youth of 7Tepees, I wanted to breakdown a few of the things you could gain by volunteering for an organization that has a mission you get excited about – keep reading in Thought #10.

Experience Leading and Facilitating

This year, I noticed that I got a chance to step up and practice my leadership and facilitation skills by leading activities with the youth and staff of 7Tepees.

Whether I was stepping up to serve dinner, facilitating Guess Who, a community building activity facilitated over the course of the entire trip, or coordinating the 5th annual Project Nature Runway Show, a tradition where the youth design ensembles out of items found in the natural environment plus a little duct tape, there where always opportunities for me to rise to occasion and be helpful.

Most times, when you volunteer with an organization, you are serving an essential function, so volunteering provides a great opportunity to cultivate skill sets, such as leadership and facilitation skills, which could potentially catapult your career to the next level.

A Network and Appreciation

It’s often the case that when you volunteer with an organization, you become the beneficiary of much appreciation and goodwill, which  has definitely been the situation with 7Tepees and me.

The picture above depicts an activity I participated in with the group at the conclusion of our trip. Everyone was instructed to write an appreciation for each member of the group, and I found the personal messages that the staff and youth  wrote for me to be especially touching – go figure.

By volunteering on this trip, I was also able to reconnect with former coworkers and forge some new relationships with current staff and volunteers, plus I was in beautiful and restorative Mammoth Lakes!

Rich Material for Applications and Interviews

Let’s be honest, volunteering can provide a rich source of material for college applications and job interviews, especially in response to questions that ask: “what do you do outside work?” and “Who are you?”

These questions want to prove that you are interesting outside of being a student or an employee – volunteering is a great way to do that.

Though I’ve only included 3 benefits of volunteering, I’m sure that there are more – If you can think of additional benefits, take a moment and leave a comment for me and those who enjoy Thoughts to read and benefit from.

If you enjoyed Thought #10, be sure to like and leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website and get notified of new posts.

Thought #6: Cultivating a Winning Mindset

Aside from supporting some of the most amazing students, the best part about auditing college reading and writing courses is that I’m constantly exposed to books and other types of texts that transform my views about failure and success.

As the largest community college in California, City College of San Francisco also happens to serve one of the most diverse student populations of any college campus – there is economic diversity, linguistic diversity, diversity in age, and diversity in ability – and along with all this diversity comes various intrinsic and extrinsic challenges to college retention.

In response to diversity, major themes in the English Department are “Mindset” and “Metacognition”, so many of the readings challenge students to reconsider their beliefs about failure, and the writing assignments prompt students to reflect on their unique struggles and develop strategies to breakthrough barriers to success.

My favorite book this semester has been Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Through extensive interview and survey data, Dweck discovered that there are two mindsets: Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset.

Dweck characterizes Fixed Mindset by a belief that individuals are endowed with specific intelligences, talents, and abilities at birth, which are stubborn. Moreover, Fixed Mindset is skeptical that new skills and abilities can be cultivated over the course of an individual’s lifetime. Fixed Mindset is reflected in the statement, “I’m not a math person – I’ll never be good a math!”

In contrast, Growth Mindset acknowledges that individuals are endowed with certain traits at birth; however, Growth Mindset is distinguished by the belief that new intelligences, talents, and abilities can be cultivated through effort and perseverance.  Instead of saying, “I’m not a math person – I’ll never be good a math!” Growth Mindset might say something more like, “I know that I struggle in math, but I can improve if I practice consistently and seek answers to my questions.”

Cultivating an appropriate mindset is super important. Those with Growth Mindset are more likely to succeed than those with a Fixed Mindset because they are more likely to take risks and less likely to be deterred by the prospect of failure.

For “Thought” #6, I wanted reflect on how to cultivate a #winning Mindset. The following are 2 easy ways to develop a mindset that is most likely to beget lifelong growth and development.

1. Accept that #winning Requires Failing

The first step in cultivating a #winning mindset is to accept that “all great achievements require time,” which coincidentally happens to be one my favorite quote from Maya Angelou.

Fixed Mindset would have you believe that anything you fail to excel at naturally or with minimal effort is something that you probably aren’t meant to do; however, the danger of this attitude is that it causes you to develop Atychiphobia (i.e. a debilitating fear of failure) – for more about overcoming the fear of failure, be sure to read Thought #1: Conquer the Fear of Failure.

There are so many examples of great people in history who were only able to accomplish something great because they weren’t afraid to fail over and over again. Michael Jordan, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time, is reported to have said:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot…and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.”

If you spend life in your comfort zone, you’ll end up missing out on a lot of important life lessons.

2. Be a Person of Action

Today is the perfect opportunity to try out something that you’ve convinced yourself you wouldn’t be any good at.

Take a computer science class, learn how to cook, do ballet, or pick up a new language. If inspires you, just do it…especially if the only reason you don’t is because you believe you wouldn’t be any good at it.

While failure can be extremely uncomfortable, failure creates invaluable opportunities for you to gain new insights into your skills and capabilities, so you can overcome the obstacles that stand between you and success.

Whether you’re ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’, the more risks you take on yourself, the greater the return on investment.

You’ll never know what you are truly capable of unless you take a risk and just do it. Moreover, every time you step out of your comfort zone and try something new, you’re building your confidence and laying the  How does this relate to my brand and mission? Why am I talking about this?

I should start with an anecdote about a time I failed at something and how I dealt with that failure. Maybe I could share how my mindset about majoring in biology shifted and why I eventually chose to major in political science. I could talk about my mindset towards learning Spanish and why I have had such a hard time becoming fluent. I could talk about writing and my mindset pursuing and completing my certificate in the teaching of composition. I could talk about my mindset toward blogging. Maybe as I write more, I can emphasize that mindset is not an either or proposition but, rather, case specific and operating on spectrum because there is a constant tug of war that takes place for me. Maybe that’s a little bit of a critique that I have about Dweck is that she depicts mindset as a black and white.