Monthly Archives: October 2011

The 500 word college essay

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My blog posts rarely ever make the ideal 250 word count mark.

I read somewhere that the perfect blog contains just that amount for readability and the average attention span. 

I try, really I do, but my posts seem to hover around 320 words no matter how I shave and trim.  When editing, I habitually wince before checking out the word count total at the end of the page.  I slowly drag the scroller thing and catch a glimpse at just how off the mark I am.  Oops, failed again.

 So, I can relate to all those teens trying to squeeze meaning out of every word so their essay meets the new 500 word upper limit for the Common Application, as reported in the NY Times .  

What would you write about in under 500 words that would get you into college? Really, think about it.

What experience would you share that would set you apart from the crowd?  What would you say that would deliver just the right amount of punch and pizzazz? They have a daunting assignment.

We held a program for our students on how to navigate through the college application process.  The college consultant recommended that they not write about the obvious: trips to exotic locations, family drama, emotional trips to Israel, or Jewish camping stories.  That gives you a clue as to how competitive topic choices have gotten.

My undergraduate college essays were not that inspired. I think I wrote about why I wanted to attend that school. What I really did was to purposefully pore over enough promotional material so I could figure out how to tell them what they just told me, only more convincingly.

That seems quite lame when I compare it to the essays students have shared with me. Most have amazing and life changing stories to tell.

So, what would you write about?

Me? I’m glad I’m just posting and not putting my future on the line every time I hit ‘publish’.


A young and energetic Hebrew School teacher writes….

This is the e-mail I received today:

 Hi Ruth!  How are you? I hope all is well! As my mom told you, I am now teaching at a local synagogue near my college. I am enjoying it a lot so far, but I’m having trouble coming up with new and creative lesson plans apart from the teacher’s guide. Can you recommend any good books on Jewish lesson plans that I could use for my class? I would really appreciate it!  

Isn’t this a really great e-mail? I love to hear from our graduates. Here’s why I think this e-mail is so wonderful:

1. the writer graduated our program with honors, received a teaching certificate and is doing precisely what we hoped she’d do–teach in a synagogue school while in college.    

2. She obviously enjoys what she’s doing and has a commitment to her students.

3. She is aware of what specific tools and resources would help her be a more successful teacher.

4. She is asking for assistance. 

So, now the bad news:

1. She may not be receiving any supervision at the synagogue school.

2. Whether or not she is, she doesn’t feel a comfort level in asking for help.

3. It doesn’t seem like there are peers who could help each other work this through, or even mentors assigned to her in her first, very important year.

4. Many of our best and brightest work in synagogue Hebrew Schools. They get little help.

5. We may lose her and her energy in a year or two, and this experience may even impact her years later. 

This e-mail is not unique, and I’ve heard similar anecdotes before.

I know there are some programs and initiatives now to tackle some of these issues, however most focus on day schools.

I just don’t know if they will reach THIS young woman.

Several months ago, I  crafted a proposal for a web-based support system for college-age teachers in supplementary schools that was submitted to a foundation.

It didn’t get funded.


Jewish Teens: Off the Charts, Literally

There’s a little game I play every so often with web tools. It’s called: ‘Search for “Jewish teens” to see how far they’re ‘off the radar’. 

I’ve gotten used to seeing the rueful results (trust me on this one, it’s pretty pitiful when my blog shows up in e-mails from ‘Google Alerts‘.

I’ve typed “Jewish Teens” (search 101: quotes around terms insures specific results) in a variety of search engines. I’d test them out based on the quality of information gleaned.

When I started poking around  Twitter  my search turned up zero results. I almost didn’t join.

Wasn’t anyone tweeting about Jewish teens?

I’ve even created a hashtag #Jteens, which has been a little like tossing a feather into the ocean: it’ll hover around a bit, but really, can anyone possibly see a feather with all that water around? 

I enter “Jewish teens” into various Jewish news weeklies, and barely get a drip from the faucet of free-flowing information. 

But I haven’t given up on my game, no matter how few results turn up. 

Today, I typed it into an advanced search tool on Google .  The results speak for themselves and actually caused me to laugh:

Web Search Interest: “Jewish teens”
United States, Last 12 months
 

Not enough search volume to show graphs.

Suggestions:

  • Make sure all words are spelled correctly.
  • Try different search terms.
  • Try more general search terms.
  • Try fewer search terms.
  • Try searching data for all years and all regions

So, Jewish teens seem to be off the charts, literally.

One last thing. Last semester I took a technology course and we had to create a video on Google that animated search terms. What fun. I even enhanced the video with really scary music. You can see that video here .  Hey, if you look at it often enough, the video just might show up in my Google Alerts.


what I learned about marketing from working at a Jewish Community High School

You would think it would be easy to market a product that has intrinsic long-term value, is priced well, offers tremendous flexibility, is an intellectual challenge, offers social experiences and networking opportunities, and even looks good for college.

You’d be wrong.

Welcome to my world where marketing a great product  is a struggle.

Here are just a few reasons why, with more to come in future posts:

1. The ‘point of sale’ is often at a synagogue Hebrew school, where we present options for further Jewish education. Need I say more?

For these 7th grade students, they’re in a year bursting with Bar/t Mitzvah invitations and parties.  Peeking over the horizon they can see the glimmering opportunity to be ‘outta here’ (as some  parents have promised them)…well, you get the point.

2. If students decide to come on board in 8th grade, it might be because they feel compelled  (internally or externally) to continue their Jewish education.  The choice to attend a community school could mean there were either no appealing options for further education at the synagogue (which may or may not have Confirmation Programs ending in 10th grade) or this student is really, really motivated.  Synagogues who have their own Confirmation programs  work very hard to keep their students there.  More about Confirmation programs later.

3. The ‘product’ we’re offering is impossible to explain to these students.  It’s like describing what college is like to a high schooler. You just don’t get it until you go.  Which is precisely why so many colleges have figured this one out a long time ago and created pre-college programs for 11th graders. The ‘try it, you’ll like it’ programming through free visits and orientations works.

4. Aha! you say, what about Orientations and Open Houses?  These programs do help when conducted at our school sites and both programs capitalize on the fact that potential students need to experience how great it is to sit in on classes, feel the ‘vibe’ at break time, have Q & A opportunities (mostly questions related to their fear of  ‘fitting this in’ ), and meet tons of teens who have made the choice to continue and are obviously happy.

5.The difficulty is getting the word out about these options. Synagogues that have their own programs can’t promote it. There are no advertising dollars to spend. Federations, straddling both the synagogue and communal worlds, can’t really get in the middle of this either.

6. Back to Confirmation programs, instituted as a life cycle ritual by synagogues to retain students after the infamous Bar/t Mitzvah drop-off year…all with good intentions.  What’s happened though, is that the end point has just been moved up, but it’s rare at that point for students to continue to 11th and 12th grade (for exceptions, read here).  Yet, that is exactly the time when teens are ready to engage in Judaism with some maturity, insight, intellectual rigor and curiosity.

7. When these students think that they’ve gone beyond all expectations in continuing even to this point, up to Confirmation…..imagine how hard it is to ask them to sign on for two more years?  This is also precisely the time when they are also at their busiest, participating in gobs of outside activities and prepping for college.

More school anyone? How about on a Sunday morning?

Yet, we’re doing quite well despite the above. Go figure.

I believe in what we have to offer–strongly–and as a result, marketing and promotion have become part of my job.

Imagine what impact we could have if we didn’t have such an uphill struggle.

How would you deal with any of these challenges? I’d love to hear suggestions, ideas, or expert marketing advice.


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