Another 1-minute solution: Tell them this: Colleges are looking for students who will contribute to their campus–who will GIVE as well as take. Think hard about WHY you are a good match for each school. Articulate what you will bring to the community and what you will gain from it. Your chances of being admitted will be higher.

Problem 9: Getting students to research more colleges.

1-minute solution: College Research Project. Ideal in a Junior classroom. Each student must choose a college they have never heard of and give a small presentation similar to what a college representative would do(facts, key programs, financial aid, etc.). By the time the presentations are over each student has learned about 20-30 new colleges depending on the class size.

Link to tool: Also, check out the video from Evelyn Alexander, founder of Magellan College Counseling: “How to Research a College” for some extra help:

Further info: Georgia Tech Admissions Director Rick Clark wrote a great blog post about how college admission isn’t “fair”–it’s mission-driven.  This brings home the point even further that students MUST know the stated philosophy/mission of each college to which they apply:  IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE.  

Problem 10: Getting students (and parents) to consider great options beyond the UCs and CSUs (and/or they think that the UCs and CSUs are going to be less expensive).

1-minute solution: Use RACC! This is a great group of folks who are experts on helping California students attend out-of-state schools. For school counselors, they will come to your school and conduct mini-college fairs, give presentations and offer case studies. For IECs–heck just give them a call and ask them out for coffee!


Problem 11: Student doesn’t know which teachers to ask for letters of recommendation.

1-minute solution: Have juniors read an actual downloaded copy of the teacher recommendation so that they know exactly how teachers are evaluating them.

If the school is not a Naviance school or if you’re an IEC, you’ll need to go into your Common App account, if you have one, and enter the FERPA/recommendations section.  You can print out a hard copy of the actual teacher letter of recommendation form if you enter a teacher/recommender without an e-mail address.

Problem 12: How do I get students to think about their priorities for their college experience (instead of just focusing on the names)?

1-minute solution: Corsava Cards and Cafe. Have students sort cards and choose their Top 10 priorities. Then, they can take a photo with their phone and SEARCH for these things as they research colleges. They’ve identified their priorities–now they can actually look for colleges that fit those priorities!

Problem 13: Parents want to drive the whole process.

1-minute solution: Ensure the student knows they have ownership. How? Speak to (and make direct eye-contact with) the student at the end of each session and say “You’re in charge here.” And let the parents see and hear you do this. Keep doing this until they get it.

Problem 14: Parents who want to talk about college. All. The. Time.

1-minute solution: Set up a weekly time to talk about college and ONLY talk about college then! This is a big problem. From the student’s perspective, their parents (and sometimes relatives–hello, can we talk about something else at Thanksgiving?!) are ambushing them daily. It really accomplishes nothing except to shut teenagers down. Make a game out of it–whoever talks about college first during a non-college time has to buy ice cream for the whole family.

Resource: Check out College Essay Guy’s podcast episode with Maria Furtado for more great tips.

Problem 15: How do I get 100% of my students to turn in their essays ahead of time without fail?

1-minute solution:

  • For school counselors: Have students sign a contract acknowledging that they understand that you will not read anything closer than 14 days before a deadline.

  • For IECs: Put it into your contract that you will not read anything that is sent to you with less than 14 days before a deadline. If this is not in your contract, create a document around Labor Day laying out your goals for submission timelines.

Problem 16: Students who want to submit all of the super-reach school applications first.

1-minute solution: Don’t! Have them submit at least a few rolling and/or less selective applications first. Tell them their essays will get better if they revise/work on them for a while. Why? So you can get a couple acceptances early! Save some of the harder ones (NOT ALL!) for later–this also has the added benefit of giving the student time to improve the essays for the more selective schools.

Problem 17: Students who want to submit all of their super-reach schools a minute before the deadline.

1-minute solution:  

  • Tell them squeezing 27 essays into a week’s time is not going to yield super-awesome essays that really tell their story.

  • Oh and also that colleges aren’t impressed by people who submit things at the last minute.

  • Resource: College Essay Guy’s “Why Us” series.

Problem 18:  Getting students to love their safe schools

1-minute solution: Have them research famous alumni at each school.  Did you know Rainn Wilson (from The Office) graduated from UW? Ann Curry (NBC News) and Ty Burrell (Modern Family) from University of Oregon? Greg Kinnear, Jerry Bruckheimer and Kristin Wiig from University of Arizona?  Does anyone know where Matt Lauer went to college? (Hint: it’s probably a safety school for most students!)

Note: these final tips will repeat from the essays-only version of this session/blog post. You can check out the rest of the tips at this link.

Problem 19: How can I build rapport with my students more quickly?

1-Minute Solution: On your intake form, ask students to name a band or musician they’re listening to lately. Then, when they come in for their one-on-one session, have that artist playing on Pandora.

Pro-Tip: Get Pandora One for just $3.99/mo to avoid getting interrupted by annoying ads.

Another idea: Ask a more interesting question than “How are you?” when you’re first checking in with a student. For example, “What are you celebrating today?” or “What mixed emotions are you experiencing at this moment?”

For more ideas, check out this list of 100 Brave and Interesting Questions.

Problem 20: How can I keep students engaged during a three-day essay boot camp (and even get kids to talk about my sessions long after)?

1-Minute Solution: Invest in great snacks. “Chocolate is a must,” says Chris Reeves, “and a Costco or Sam’s Club membership can be key. Last year,” he adds, “I found Hot Fries to be pretty epic with the guys.”

Pro Tip: Ask attendees if they have allergies. If so, research the best snacks that won’t kill anyone.

Another idea: Myers-Briggs (MBTI) mini-session

During multi-day essay workshops, I (Ethan) like to break things up after lunch on the second day with a mini Myers-Briggs assessment. How? First, I’ll introduce MBTI—what it is, how it was developed. Then I’ll give students a brief Myers-Briggs assessment by going through the preferences and having them self-select as they look at this chart. (I do this with lots of jokes and personal examples.) Next I’ll have them go to, take a brief assessment, and see what resonates. We spend 10 minutes or so on this, as it’s a great energizer, then we dive back into the essay work.

Problem 21: I just want to record a quick video (for example, to show a student where to click on a particular website) but I don’t want to go through the hassle of setting up a camera, etc.

1-Minute Solution: Use Jing to record a quick video of your screen, then share it via Jing is here. Or record directly from your Mac using Quicktime (no download needed)! To record from Mac: Open your Applications folder to find QuickTime (or use Spotlight). Once it’s open, go to File > New Screen Recording and then click the Record button. You can choose between recording a portion of your screen or the entire screen. Quicktime tutorial is here.

Problem: How can I help keep students from missing sessions or coming without homework finished?

1-Minute Solution: Set up text reminders with AppToto.

Problem 22: How can I help my students avoid cliché language?

Idea #1: When you’re re-reading an essay draft, highlight all the clichés. Take as long as you need to replace them with expressions of your own phrasing. Even if your phrasing doesn’t seem as “clever” or “eloquent,” the essay will instantly become stronger and more genuine.

Idea #2: Imagine that your nemesis—your worst enemy, your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, your grade-school bully—is reading your essay. Highlight the parts that they would pick up on as being unconvincing, confusing, not credible, melodramatic, or disingenuous. Then strengthen it accordingly by making it more honest, clearer, more realistic, and more grounded.

Problem 23: How can I get my procrastinating student(s) to focus for just 25 minutes on an essay draft?

1-Minute Solution: Have them download the Tomato One app, which is a simple timer that counts down from 25 minutes. It dings, then gives a five-minute break, then counts down another 25 minutes. Note that this has been responsible for all of my most productive days.

Problem 24: How can I liven up a boring/cliché essay topic?

1-Minute Solution: Play the UC (Uncommon Connections) Game. All will be explained on that page.

Problem 25: How can I improve an essay in just one minute?

1-Minute Solution: Look at this Values Exercise and ask these three questions:

  1. Which values are coming through really clearly in the essay?

  2. Which values are kind of coming through but could be coming through more clearly?

  3. Which values aren’t there yet but could be?

For more: Watch the Great College Essay Test.

Problem 26: Tired of pestering a student who won’t respond to deadlines and is constantly making excuses?

1-Minute Solution: Outsource the pestering by hiring a personal coach via For as little as $65/mo, the student gets unlimited emails and in-app communication. This has positively changed the game for a couple of my students—and either you can suggest it to parents and let them pay the cost or work it into your fee, as I do (it’s worth it!). I recommend Kendra.

Here are a few more contributions shared at the IECA Conference in May, 2017:

  • Spread comfy pillows on the floor of your office!

  • Ask students to pick three (and only three!) people to receive feedback from.

  • Write three drafts and ALWAYS start fresh each time.

  • Turn on the voice memo feature on your phone and just let the student talk. Then give them the audio and say, “Go write that down.”

  • For students who feel they can’t write *anything*, have them write for one minute, then count the words they wrote and ask, “Could we do a few more in the next minute?” Creating little victories can build confidence.

  • Have the student list their superhero characteristics. (Hint: the student is the superhero.)

  • Use the visual mind-mapping tool called, which helps students create an outline in just a few minutes.

Problem 27: Writer’s Block

1-Minute Solutions (four of them!):

  1. Freewrite: Don’t start at the beginning. Don’t overthink things. Do think randomly. Begin with a raw, non-linear, braindump. Try writing morning pages. And if writing or typing slows you down, use a dictation app like Dragon.

  2. Give yourself permission to “get a B.”

  3. Play: Toss a ball with a friend. Color in one of those cool adult coloring books, grab a hunk of clay and mold something. Get dirty and tactile.

  4. Move: Rake some leaves. Shoot free throws. Or just put on your headphones and talk a walk. Remember physics? Momentum will create new energy.

Problem 28: I’m probably not making the most of Google Docs

You’re probably right! So here are: Fourteen Amazing Google Docs Hacks and 20 more Google docs hacks that you may not know about.


My favorites (all explained in links above):

1. Typing with your voice
2. Clearing formatting
3. URL shortener
4. Offline editing mode
5. Open MSWord as a Google Doc

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Have a 1-minute tip or resource you’d like to share?

Post it in the comments below!