Gaming The System

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly recall my college selection process.

I know we visited a bunch of schools, but since my brother Alan is just two years ahead of me, his tour counted as my tour in many instances, so it’s kind of a blur.

I do know that I visited my future alma mater – McGill, in Montreal – once, briefly, before deciding to go there. But I didn’t do a lot of research in making a decision.

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Instead, what convinced me to choose McGill was a letter written to me by my brother’s friend, a guy who had once been a grad student there.

One thing stood out in his four-page, handwritten letter to me: His assertion that the French Canadian women in Montreal were both sophisticated and beautiful.

He wasn’t lying – they were. Unfortunately, he failed to mention the fact that the sophisticated and beautiful French Canadian women in Montreal have little use for dorky guys from Long Island (I know, I couldn’t believe it either).

In any case, these days, finding the right college is a much bigger deal, with most students taking a decidedly more rigorous approach.

But you know what’s more or less the same 35 years later? The essay. You still need to write one (or several) in order to be considered.

I read my daughter Emily’s main essay this morning – she’s a high school senior and knee-deep in the process.

And while you know how much I hate to brag, I have to tell you, it was stunningly good. So much so that my first thought was not my usual, self-aggrandizing, “Just like her daddy.”

Rather, it was, “Wow, she has an unfair advantage.”

Here’s what I mean…

Emily is a great writer. And so when she writes an essay, not only is she attempting to present the best of who she is – as is every other kid – she’s doing it in a format that plays to her strengths.

It would be like if one of the key criteria used in college admissions was singing in an oddly high-pitched voice. Under those conditions, I’m pretty sure Tiny Tim is getting into Harvard. (I know he’s dead, I’m just saying.)

The point is, when it comes to college admission, kids who don’t write well – regardless of their qualities and accomplishments – are at a distinct disadvantage.

Guess what? The same applies to newsletters. If you’re a lousy writer – or just hate it so much that you never do it – you’re also at a distinct disadvantage.

Am I suggesting that newsletters aren’t effective? Please, that’s like Donald Trump’s hair suggesting that windy days are not problematic.

What I’m saying is that effective or not in general, it needs to work for you in particular.

And whether you write it, speak it, sing it, draw it, or whatever, when you expand the definition from “written newsletter” to “sharing useful information in a way that positions you as a likeable expert,” you open up other options.

One terrific example of an alternative to the written newsletter comes from Jonn Karsseboom, founder of The Garden Corner in Tualatin, Oregon and a student in my (did I mention, fabulous?) One Year Marketing class.

He doesn’t write them – he creates videos. Here’s a sample.

For Jonn – a guy who is unbelievably inviting and natural on camera and who happens to work in a visual business – his “how to” videos are hard to resist.

I’m a good 3,000 miles away and yet every time I watch one I find myself toying with the idea of grabbing some bone meal (or whatever) and blasting across the country to finally shake his dirt-covered hand in person.

Here’s the bottom line. If you like and are good at writing, great, keep doing it.

But, if you hate and/or stink at it, find another means for getting yourself out there. Like Emily and Jonn, when you leverage your natural skills, you’re really, really hard to compete with.


5 thoughts on “Gaming The System

  1. Katherine

    Congratulations to Emily on being a good writer. It is more precious than gold, which you have undoubtedly taught her. I hope she ends up exactly where she would like to and has a great experience.

    My own college application experience? Good God, it was far too long ago to remember!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Katherine, we appreciate it! And actually, I think the reason all my kids write well is because my wife insisted on a lot of reading to them when they were little.

  2. Tim Bamford

    My oldest is a sophomore in high school and is becoming a very good writer, in part because we encouraged plenty of reading when she was younger. I have a few years before she’ll be experiencing the “what colleges will I apply to” deal.


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