PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 184 | Too Much Attention vs Too Little Attention

Are you prioritizing these 8 issues appropriately? Listen to this podcast and make sure you are putting your time, effort, and money in the right direction.

Show Notes:

In this episode, I go through a bunch of issues that parents, students, and families are getting wrong (IMO).

They are paying too much attention to issue X, and not enough attention to issue Y.

Please make sure you are on the right side of the game here:

  1. GPA vs SAT
  2. 11/12th grade vs 9/10th grade
  3. relying on others vs yourself
  4. traditional colleges vs alternative paths
  5. class selection vs SAT/ACT
  6. sports camps vs emails to coaches
  7. anything else vs reading
  8. GPA/SAT vs institutional priorities

Listen to these cases and make sure you are putting your time, energy, and money in the right spots.

Show Transcript:

[00:00:24] Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. In today's episode, I'm going to go through an exercise that I call too much attention versus too little attention. And here's what I mean by that. When I talk to students and parents and families, I'm often surprised by how stuck students and parents can get on certain pet issues when there are far bigger fish to fry. And there are a number of reasons why I think this happens. Sometimes it's an excuse to focus on something that you're good at while ignoring the thing that you're not as good at. Sometimes it's a holdover from the way you used to think the process worked. Even though things have changed quite a bit, sometimes it's a function of the stories you hear from other parents or read in the Facebook comments where you're not really getting the full context. Regardless of the reason I want to help you focus your time, your effort and your energies on the things that matter the most, even if they are inconvenient or they don't lean in your favor. You have a right to know what moves the needle and what does not. And then it will be up to you to pull the correct levers at the appropriate times. And of course, this is the whole premise behind Prep Academy to make sure that you know what matters when it matters and what to do about it.

[00:01:51] Let me start off with a classic example of too much attention versus too little attention, and that is with GPA versus SAT score. GPA. Too much attention. SAT score. Too little attention. Yes. It is true that colleges look closely at GPA, but it is not the be all and end all. Many parents and students continue to be under what I would call a false impression that a four point something GPA will be the driving force for admissions to X, Y, Z College. Now, depending on the college, it could be helpful. Don't get me wrong, it's a plus to have good grades. But when we're talking about selective and highly selective colleges and the Ivy League, of course, high GPAs are a prerequisite. There are given everyone has them. And with rampant grade inflation and cheating and other COVID related issues, grades are becoming less and less significant. Colleges have a hard time differentiating the relative difference between a 4.5 GPA from school A with a 4.5 GPA from school B. It takes a lot of time and effort and research and digging in to try to parse out these differences. The SAT, on the other hand, since it's a national test, meaning you can compare students across the country using an objective measure. Gives colleges a critical piece of data which helps them make these important distinctions. For example, let's say a college is looking at three applicants who all have 4.3 GPAs. The first one didn't take the SAT at all. They just skipped it. The second student took the SAT and got an 1130. And the third student took the set and got a 1560. Obviously, colleges are going to view these students differently. So by all means, shoot for a strong GPA, but don't expect that it alone will take you to the Promised Land.

[00:04:04] Let's move on to the next one, 11th and 12th grade versus ninth and 10th grade. 11th and 12th grade. Too much attention. Ninth and 10th grade. Too little attention. Far too many parents these days still think that 11th and 12th grades are the grades that matter the most. If you're a long time listener to this podcast, you know that I don't subscribe to this notion. I believe ninth and 10th grade are the most important grades. They are the years when students develop an identity. I am one of the smart kids. I am a jock. I'm a theater kid. I'm a loner. It's when they establish study habits, good or bad. It's when they decide what extracurricular activities to engage in. Are they picking up new activities? Are they dropping other activities? It's when they develop a reputation among their peers and their teachers, and maybe most importantly, when it comes to a college application. Ninth and 10th grade grades make up 67% of their academic record when they apply to college. Because remember, colleges only look at grades from ninth, 10th and 11th grade. Not 12th grade. That means that two thirds of their GPA that they enter on their college application is established in ninth and 10th grade. 67% is a lot. And don't get me wrong, 11th grade is also important. Students need to perform well on 11th grade. The S.A.T. and A.C.T. is given in 11th grade. But much of that performance is predicated on how well or poorly they did in ninth and 10th grade. Most kids aren't run of the mill in ninth and 10th grade, only to wake up super motivated and committed in 11th grade. The die has usually been cast by then. And 12th grade is a complete non-issue unless your child goes from a straight-A student to failing classes, 12th grade grades aren't a thing that matter.

[00:06:18] Most applications are submitted early in senior year, and decisions are made based on ninth, 10th and 11th grade. So please, if you're going to put your chips somewhere, put them on ninth and 10th grade and not 11th and 12th grade. And obviously this is why Prep Academy puts such a big emphasis on early preparation and training. And in my opinion, so should you. All right. Next, we have. Relying on others versus relying on yourself. Relying on others. Too much attention. Relying on yourself. Too little attention. I know a lot of students who will apply to a handful of internships that they found online and then sit back and wait for a reply. They feel really proud and proactive for sending in a resume or filling out an online form. And then they wait. And they wait. And wait. And they wait. And lo and behold, the summer arrives and they either one never heard back from the internship, goes into a black hole or two. They didn't get the internship. And their response often is, Oh, well, I tried to get an internship and I didn't get one. I guess I'll just take the summer off. And the same goes for jobs. Apply for a few jobs. If you don't get one that you want or one that's going to allow you to take three weeks off in the middle of the summer. You throw your arms up and say, I tried to get a job and I got screwed. There aren't any good jobs out there. And back to tick tock. It is. Obviously, this is not a winning strategy. Students cannot get into the habit of relying on other people or other organizations to make things happen for them. I know it would be convenient to get a formal internship at a local reputable company down the street in a career field that's interesting to you with like minded peers that's organized and has the whole summer planned out for you? Unfortunately, those gigs are pretty rare if they exist at all.

[00:08:28] Instead, students need to understand that they need to rely on themselves to get the experience they need. They can't wait around for this business or that city department or that nonprofit to hand them something on a silver platter. They can explore and apply for those types of gigs, but they need to assume that they will not get them. And when that disappointment comes, they need to be prepared to take their future into their own hands. Thankfully, these days there are unlimited opportunities to get experience on your own if it happens to come to that. With the Internet, you can take online classes. You can start your own podcast. Publish a weekly blog. Create YouTube and Instagram videos. Get online certifications. Find a forum of other like minded peers and start exchanging ideas. Start a small business. Do freelance writing. Work for somebody for free. And by the way, these self-initiated projects typically look better on a college application. They're normally more aligned with what you care about because you're the one who picked the project. And normally you'll learn a lot more than you would from some generic internship, irrespective of how successful or unsuccessful your personal pet project was. And I can guarantee that your self-initiated project will be much more interesting to discuss in a college interview than your consumer products internship at Procter and Gamble, where you sat in a conference room with four other interns scrolling on your phone for four weeks. The bottom line is this Do not rely on other outside organizations completely out of your control to build your resume and your activities list. Do it yourself. Okay. Next we have. A singular focus on traditional colleges versus alternatives. Traditional colleges. Too much attention. Alternatives. Too little attention.

[00:10:38] These days with the skyrocketing cost of college, we're talking 90 to $100000 a year for the more popular private liberal arts colleges. And the challenge of admissions where meritocracy has been supplanted by other institutional demands. As well as the larger question of whether or not these schools are delivering the type of education that actually matters today. I strongly suggest that families open their minds to alternatives. I don't think it's healthy anymore to focus exclusively on the traditional, well-known, tried and true colleges of the past. I know it's comforting to think that your child is taking the path that you probably took. And you're not super keen on gambling with what most people think is the obvious conventional, low risk and safe thing to do, which is to go to a four year college that your neighbors have heard of. But there's a lot more at stake than there used to be. As I said, the costs are higher. The atmosphere on campus is different. To put it mildly, the learning environment is different. And the supposed need for a traditional college diploma is becoming less and less obvious. So why not at least consider alternatives? I'm not suggesting that you completely give up on the conventional path. But why not think about community colleges, trade schools, joining the workforce straight away, military options, service academies, ROTC scholarships, maybe even enlisting gap years. There are a lot of students out there who would be better served on one of these paths compared to force feeding them into the existing system at potentially high cost. The next one is Class selection versus SAT Act and AP scores. Class selection. Too much attention. SATs Act and AP scores. Too little attention. I have many in-depth conversations with parents and students who obsess about class selection.

[00:12:53] They want to petition the school. They're scheduling emergency private meetings with guidance counselors, their scheduling consulting calls with me. They want answers to questions like, What happens if I can't take A.P. bio in ninth grade because of a conflict with Class X or Y? What will the colleges think? If I don't get into this advanced math class by sophomore year, I won't be on track to take the college level course in my senior year. What should I do? Or they're not offering honors chemistry next year. Should I transfer schools? And the list goes on and on and on. Now, don't get me wrong, class selection is important. It speaks to the rigor of the classes you're taking and how much you're challenging yourself. But. Oftentimes these decisions will have marginal impact at best on your overall body of work when compared to, for example, your SAT score or your ACT score or your AP exam scores. The scores on these standardized tests are, I would say, an order of magnitude more important than whether you took A.P. bio in ninth grade or 11th grade. It's not even close. But for whatever reason, students and parents really dig in to these class selection questions. And I get it. It's tangible. It's something that you can you can address on the spot potentially. Maybe you're being pressured by other parents to do something about it. I'm right there with you. I scheduled a meeting with our son's guidance counselor in ninth grade and insisted that my son be moved from one math class to another based on teacher incompetence. So I feel the pain, and that was important to do. But I didn't spend a lot of time on this class election issue to then turn around and ignore the importance of the 82 years later.

[00:14:44] Because in the big scheme of things and SAT score is way more important than one particular class or one teacher over the course of a high school career. And that's my point. If you're going to bring the guns out, make sure you bring them out for the right fight. Don't expend all of your ammo on class selection only to go weapons down when it's time for SAT prep. Understand the relative importance of the different aspects of the admissions process so that you're not exhausting your time, your money, your parental capital on the wrong things. Next one, attending sports camps versus communicating with college coaches. This is for athletes attending random sports camps. Too much attention communicating with actual college coaches. Too little attention. There are many high school athletes who fancy themselves as potential college level recruits at whatever sport they play, but they're afraid to reach out to the college coaches. They sign up for this elite camp and that invitational and this tournament. And they get on the best club team around, but they never email the college coaches at the schools they're interested in. They just go through the motions as if they were being recruited. Athlete. They work on their skills. They lift with their buddies. They drink their protein shakes. They roll out their hamstrings. They attempt to look busy over the summer by going to camps, playing in tournaments or going to meets. But they hesitate to initiate the recruiting process. Some of them are scared to do so. Many of them doubt their own abilities. Some think they're better than they are. Some assume that colleges will seek them out on their own, and they just have to sit back and wait for the texts to come in.

[00:16:44] Others don't know where to start, what to do or what to say. And what happens in most of these cases? Nothing. Nothing happens. No one texts them. No one knocks on their door with scholarship offers. Nobody cares. Their fatal mistake. Is that they sat back. And did what they thought was a lot, but turned out to be ineffective. What a serious athlete needs to do, among many things, is to reach out to coaches and see if anyone is interested in them. I know it sounds basic. But not many teenage athletes do it. They're intimidated. They don't want to be ignored or rejected or told that they're not good enough. They don't want to be embarrassed. So they don't ask. They just keep pounding those protein shakes, scrolling and swiping on their phones and hoping for the best. That is a losing strategy. You need to get out there, get feedback from coaches, good or bad. Send them an email, send them a highlight video. And by the way, coaches not getting back to you is feedback. It's not good feedback, but it's feedback. You have to see what comes of it, and you're never going to know until you try. Maybe you get a ton of feedback, maybe you get no feedback, maybe you get Division one feedback. Maybe it's only Division three coaches that are responding. The point is, you need to find out how good you are. So reach out to coaches. Make your pitch. Put yourself out there and find out where you stand. This is the premise behind the prep well athlete plan, which tells you exactly how and when to do these types of things so that you're not spinning your wheels or getting to the party too late. Our next one is almost anything versus reading.

[00:18:37] Are you at risk for paying too much attention to nearly anything else compared to the attention spent on reading? What do I mean by that? I mean that putting energy toward becoming an avid reader, especially as a middle schooler and earlier, will pay off far more than almost any other thing you can do academically, at least to include private schools, private tutors, class selection, volunteer work, summer internships, getting the perfect bio teacher. Being a good reader trumps all of these things. Name a thing that you spend time doing. And I would bet you'd be better off putting that attention, energy and money towards reading. Not only is it the only way that your child will score well in their verbal part of the SAT or the act. But developing a love for reading will pay dividends for life in a host of areas. So if you find yourself out there obsessing about Girl Scouts or Taekwondo or piano lessons or learning a second language, please ask yourself, Hold up a second time out. All these things look cool. They sound important. They look cool on Facebook. I've seen and heard about other kids doing these things. But. Does my son or daughter know how to read? Maybe a better question is, does my child enjoy reading or is it like pulling teeth? The goal is to get them to enjoy and actively seek out reading opportunities on their own. I know this is a tall task. I know you feel my pain. Especially for boys, especially when they hit high school and especially if they have a phone. Good luck. But it is a task worthy of your attention, almost at the expense of anything else. Let's move on to GPA and safety versus institutional priorities.

[00:20:40] GPA and sat too much attention. Institutional priorities of colleges. Too little attention. It's still the case that people have the mistaken impression that their GPA and SAT scores are the primary drivers of whether or not they get into a particular college, especially at the more selective schools. That is, if your child has a four point something GPA and scored very well on the S.A.T.. Let's say a 1560. That they will be a shoo in for even the most selective colleges. That is not the case in any way, shape or form. Maybe it used to be that way when admissions was actually based on merit and performance and colleges required SAT and ACT scores and colleges didn't receive 150,000 applications a year. But that's not the way it is anymore. So if this is your mindset, you need to really listen to what's going on. When thinking about a realistic target list of colleges, parents and students ought to pay less attention to their stellar grades and standardized test scores, and more attention to the institutional needs of the colleges they're applying to. Because these schools will have a lot of applicants with great GPAs and SAT scores at the Ivy League schools. And nearly everyone has these eye popping scores. But that's not where their bread is buttered. Their job is not to admit the most qualified applicants. Their job is to admit the most qualified applicants that fit within the needs and priorities of their institution and those needs and priorities. Are shaped and dictated by a whole slew of behind the scenes stakeholders. Theoretically, admissions officers are charged with crafting a class that has not necessarily the best, but at least a baseline level of competency. Presumably that also satisfies D-I initiatives, diversity, equity and inclusion, the LGBTQ eye, a plus community.

[00:23:03] Sexual and gender orientations firsthand. Students, underrepresented minorities recruited athletes, children of faculty, children of VIP mega-donors, heads of states and celebrities. All of these groups need to be satisfied. All of them need to have their people in place before anyone else gets considered. So if you don't fall into one of these categories or you don't have one of these hooks. And you're falling to the bottom of the admissions totem pole. You simply can't expect to get admitted anymore. You might sneak in if you have a particularly compelling and coherent and unique application. But it certainly should not be expected. I spend a lot of my time with my private prep students doing exactly this, trying to find a way to move them up the totem pole with headwinds directly in their faces. And I must say, this journey is not for the faint of heart. Well, I have a bunch more of these. Too much attention, too little attention examples to cover. But in the interest of time, I'm going to hold off on those for now. Maybe I'll do a part two down the road. Let me know if you like this format. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope that I have helped you to shift some of your fire from things that don't matter as much to things that do really move the needle. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. Case you didn't know this podcast supports prep academies online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC fighting scholarships.

[00:24:55] Many parents who listen, listen to this podcast already have their high school students children enrolled in Prep Academy, which is great. If you don't yet, please consider enrolling them. Registration is only open during freshman or sophomore year. After that, we no longer accept new students. So if you have a freshman or sophomore in high school and you like what you're hearing in these podcasts and you'd like to get more content like this tailored specifically for your child for their specific grade, with their specific goals in mind, go to prep academy dot com and enroll today. If you know a parent with a middle school or high school that might find this helpful, please share the episode with them and give us a rating if you have a chance. Word of mouth and positive ratings help our podcast reach a much wider audience. If you have questions, comments, or an idea for an upcoming episode, please reach out to me by email. Demi on Instagram. Check out our blog or our Facebook page. Connect with me on LinkedIn. I would love to hear from you. Until next week, Goodbye. Good luck and never stop preparing. This podcast is brought to you by. PrepWell Academy. PrepWell Academy is my one of a kind online mentoring program that delivers to your ninth or 10th grader a short, highly relevant video from me every week. Every Sunday, in fact, where I give them a heads up about what they should be thinking about, to stay ahead of the game to get these valuable lessons into your child's hands. Please head over to and enroll your child today.

Follow us:

If you want to support the show, here are three immediate steps to take. Subscribe to the podcast where ever you listen to podcasts

  1. Follow me on Instagram or Facebook
  2. Give us a review
  3. Share this episode with a friend
  4. Join our mailing list (by opting in on the homepage or in this article)
  5. Enroll your 9th or 10th grader in the program

Podcast Host:

PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.

Learn More About PrepWell:

Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.

More From PrepWell

Get Started

Get Started With PrepWell Academy

This website uses cookies to create the best user experience. Learn more here. 
Copyright© 2020 PrepWell Academy, Inc. All Rights Reserved.