Last Choice then, First Choice now

Other than my safety school, Northwestern University was my last choice school – and the school I ended up attending. My mother basically blackmailed me into applying – she told me she wouldn’t pay for any of my other applications unless I applied to Northwestern. I didn’t know anything about the Midwest and had zero interest in the school. However, my mom knew Northwestern had a great writing program and that the Midwest is a fantastic part of the country. (She’s from Iowa). The reasons why I ultimately attended Northwestern are a story for another day, but the result is this: my mother knew best. I loved Northwestern and I love living in Chicago. I basically attended my last choice school, and it ended up being one of the best choices of my life.

So, from my own experience, while it’s good to know people pay attention to the way you list your schools on the FAFSA form, that may not necessarily translate into which school will ultimately serve you best! The college application process certainly has a lot of curveballs, and one of the biggest ones is finding out there are always going to be things you simply can’t know ahead of time. Therefore, being open to the unfolding adventure is a safe bet!

College Applications & Inside Info: FAFSA Order

I’ve helped my students apply to over 30 colleges this past school year. From drama supplements to writing supplements, transfer applications to the Universal Application, I’ve seen a lot. One thing I know is that the application process rarely goes smoothly – there are too many different elements to the applications, combined with multiple ways those elements can go wrong. Curveballs are the norm, not the exception.

One of the most amazing curveballs I read about this year is how the FAFSA form can impact acceptance rates. Put simply:

On the FAFSA form, you list the schools to which you are applying. The order in which you list them matters! Some schools believe that the order in which you list the schools is the order of their importance to you.

Not all schools use the FAFSA form this way, but it is sure a good thing to know about – because if your top school uses it this way, but you randomly listed your favorite school in the last position on the FAFSA form, whoa!

Bottom line: on the FAFSA form, place your top-ranked school in the number one spot, and list the rest of your schools in order of importance.

How to Follow-Through

Melissa and Jane Nelsen

Melissa and Jane Nelsen

I attended An Introduction to Positive Discipline at the Adler School with the co-founder of Positive Discipline herself, Jane Nelsen, last week! I was inspired by the power of her approach to parenting, which is based on respect and compassion.

During the workshop, I volunteered to be a teenager in a role-play in which Jane was modeling the Positive Discipline approach to follow-through. The set-up of the role play was that I had agreed to mow the lawn by 2 pm, and she was coming to check with me at 3 pm because I hadn’t mowed the lawn yet. As I pretended to play a video game on my iPhone, she asked, “Do you know what time it is?”
I said, “I don’t know,” while continuing to play the video game.
She said, “It’s 3 pm. What did you agree to do by now?”
I said, “I don’t know,” and continued to play the game.
She just stood there.
I said, “Oh, … mow the lawn. But, I had a lot of homework this week! I’m tired!” I was still not really looking at her, and continued to pay attention to the game.
She just stood there.
I said, “But I just want to relax a little more!”
She tapped her watch one time, and that made me look up. When I raised my head, what did I see? I saw her looking at me. She wasn’t mad, or annoyed, she was just standing there calmly. She was giving me THE LOOK. To me, THE LOOK said, “I have confidence you will do this because you said you would, and I am absolutely sure there is no problem here whatsoever, because you are a person who keeps her word.” THE LOOK conveyed all this, I don’t know how, but it did!

My powers of procrastination WITHERED immediately. I had no choice but to say, “Okay, I’ll go mow the lawn!”

The minute I gave in, the other people in the workshop spoke up and said they didn’t think my response was realistic, because a “real teenager” wouldn’t have agreed so quickly. I felt aggravated, because I’m a good role player, and I was trying my best to ignore Jane and play my video game, sincerely! I said, “If you were sitting here and experienced THE LOOK, you’d do it too!” But it seemed as if my fellow classmates were not convinced.

Happily, the very next day I described my role play with Jane to a REAL teenager, a high school student of mine. When I described how Jane didn’t lecture me, or nag me; when I explained how all she did was ask me questions and wait, silently and calmly, for my answers; when I imitated how she gave me THE LOOK that was not condescending or annoyed, but instead confident and clear, he said, “I feel like I want to go mow the lawn right now!”

I felt validated.

I believe in the power of respect. I believe that approaches like Positive Discipline and Internal Family Systems are powerful tools for increasing our capacity to relate to our kids, families and selves with kindness and clarity. I’m grateful to Jane Nelsen for bringing this work alive!


ps: Want to learn more about follow-through? Check out this article, which has an audio version of Jane Nelsen in the same role play I described above!

Think of the last thing you learned from scratch…

“Think of the last thing you learned from scratch or had to do or figure out for the first time. Imagine that it is something you are not intrinsically interested in or particularly excited about. Now imagine having to do this in a room of thirty people who also don’t know how to do this thing. Now imagine you won’t be allowed to express frustration outloud or even stand up. If you have to use the bathroom or get a drink of water you will have to ask permission and it probably will not be granted. Imagine being compared to everyone around you while you are struggling with this new thing. Imagine you are not permitted to speak to any of them or help one another or smile at them. Imagine that if there is something you don’t understand you will have to raise your hand to be called on and it may not be. Imagine that you will only be allowed to ask a short, succinct question even if you have multiple questions or even some ideas about the thing. Imagine being told that you will be tested on the thing you are trying to understand the very next day and if you do poorly on the test it could negatively impact your future or embarrass you. Imagine you only have 40 minutes to learn this thing. Imagine that after you get through this difficult time period a bell rings and you have to do it all over again only to learn something else in another room with different people. Imagine there is no tangible remuneration or even a promise of remuneration at a later date for any of this. Imagine complaining about all of it and being told that it is all good for you and you should feel grateful.”

–Barrie Cole, Chicago performance artist

Not all schools are like this, and hopefully things are getting better all the time, but when I read this it reminded me of the importance of having compassion for kids.

Even in the best circumstances, learning is a vulnerable, challenging endeavor.  Remembering how nerve-racking, emotionally demanding and intellectually tough it is to learn new things, day after day, week after week,  is—to me—the most important thing we, as parents and educators, can do to help students succeed at their day job, which is school.

The Science of Why Compassion Works: It’s in the ACE’s

The Center for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente ran the initial ACE study from 1995-1997, and the results were astounding. More than 17,000 middle and upper-middle class people from San Diego answered 10 questions about childhood stressors they had experienced, and their results showed an undeniable correlation between childhood toxic stress and adult chronic diseases.  The ACE study showed that the more Adverse Childhood Experiences a person had, the higher their rate for a shocking array of negative health consequences as an adult, such as:

  • heart disease
  • lung cancer
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • autoimmune diseases
  • depression
  • violence
  • being a victim of violence
  • suicide


What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?  Click here to take the ACE test

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are toxic stressors in childhood that include experiencing any of these things before age 18:

  • verbal abuse  •  physical abuse  •  sexual abuse  •  emotional neglect  
  • physical neglect  •  abandonment (including parental divorce)

Or being exposed to these things in the home:

  • domestic violence  •  substance abuse  •  mental illness  • violence

The ACE test tells you how much childhood toxic stress your body has been exposed to. For each 1 item on the test, your ACE score increases by 1.  If you were emotionally neglected by a mentally ill mother, your ACE score is 2.  If you were verbally and physically abused by an alcoholic father who also abused your mother, your ACE score is 4. The higher the score, the more toxic stress your developing body experienced.

Each number on the scale increases the probability of a variety of negative life and health outcomes such as:

  • marijuana use  •  smoking  •  drug use  
  • high risk sexual behavior  •  homelessness

The initial ACE study happened over 15 years ago.  It has been replicated across the country since then. States like Washington are taking a hard look at the data and drawing the undeniable conclusion: our health care crisis is directly related to a crisis in compassion. Toxic childhood experiences aren’t something we have to “let go of” and just “get on with our lives.”  The body remembers, and the worse it hurt, the worse it continues to hurt.  The ACE study is hard science that shows without a shadow of a doubt that childhood stress creates adult health distress.  The solution is compassion:  addressing the trauma underlying the symptoms, whether the ‘symptoms’ are anger, acting out and addictions, obesity or other health conditions.  We need to pay attention to adverse childhood experiences in our kids NOW—and address the stress as soon as we can.

Compassion works because it addresses the ROOT cause of mental and physical trauma:  a lack of love.  All the ACE’s are ultimately, at their core, experiences of being hated, hurt or neglected instead of loved, supported and cared for.  The solution is compassion, and that’s exactly what one school in Washington state is proving.

Jane Stevens is one of the world’s experts on ACE’s and does a fantastic job of reporting breaking news in the world of ACE research and how it’s being applied in schools, clinics and communities. Her article about Lincoln High School’s new, compassionate approach to discipline—based on the hard science of ACE realities—is one of the best I’ve ever read about transforming education in the 21st century.  I warmly encourage you to click here to read it! 

Lincoln High School

Lincoln High School