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Parent of a high school sophomore or junior? There are two things you should do today to help your child begin the college search
HS students: why you should study in 50 min chunks with 10 min breaks
Written by Jack Delehey on May 13th, 2022
Previously written on 4/30/2021
Below are the four most important characteristics in college admissions, listed in order of importance:
  • High school grades and the rigor of classes taken
  • Standardized test scores (in a global pandemic this became optional unanimously across the country, which certainly added a nuance to college admissions)
  • The college essay or, more specifically, the Common App Personal Statement & any supplemental essays required
  • Your story - you will hear this called “extracurriculars,” “leadership activities,” “background” or any combination...but I call it “your story.” It’s one thing to have a life outside of grades, yet it’s quite another to know how to explain this life succinctly and confidently in a college application. Extracurriculars and leadership activities don’t just tell themselves, you need to know how to present them! Thus, “your story.”
I find it interesting that so much of the college preparation community focuses on test scores, the college essay, and extracurriculars. Don’t get me wrong--these are all tremendously important. But it is rare to find college counselors or coaches discuss what truly is the single most important factor in college admissions--a student’s high school grades!

In the Delehey College Consulting Program, I have students work through a beginning stage, which I title “setting the foundation.” Without a strong foundation (high school grades and the study habits that lead to them), the other components of a college application won’t carry nearly as much weight. I can already see the admissions rep now, “This student has an incredible essay, but their transcript is full of Cs...reject pile.”
In this beginning stage of my Main Course College Planning Program, I walk students through several vital study habits I recommend adopting. And while I present several in my program, I want to provide you with one of the more important tips today. As is often the case, I’ve utilized this tip for the last 13+ years myself and is one of if not the reason for my academic transformation between my junior and senior years of high school. As is also often the case, I’d like to thank Cal Newport for introducing this tip to me:

Study in 50 minute chunks, with 10 minute breaks

The human mind is not designed for 8 hour bleary-eyed study marathons. It is also not designed to be effective when, every 30 seconds, you pick up your phone to check your newest Snapchat DM. This is, what Cal Newport, so eloquently calls “Pseudo Work”...have you ever felt like you spent a lot of time working but don’t have much to claim for it? You have experienced pseudo work. And now, more often than ever before, teenager’s brains (and all brains, for that matter) are subject to distraction, fueled by billion dollar companies, leading to pseudo work and, ultimately, average grades at best.

Like a lot of things in life, there is a balance. In my program, here is how I coach my students to study (more details can be found here):
  • 50 intense, focused, distraction-free minutes of studying followed by…
  • 10 minutes of complete removal from work. Check Instagram, Snapchat, Email; go on a walk, grab something to eat. Completely remove yourself from work.
  • Repeat above as needed. You should never as a high school student, have to repeat this more than 3-4 times in a day. You will be shocked at how much work you are able to accomplish if you actually stick to this schedule.
Want extra credit? For the 50 minutes of work, put your phone on airplane mode. Talk about distraction-free!

I am so convinced this method works, here’s what I want to offer:

If, after reading this, you convince your high schooler to try the 50/10 tactic, snap a photo of them completing the challenge. Email the photo to me and I’ll gift you the following, should you be interested:
  • I’ll mail one of Cal Newport’s books of your choosing to your house free of charge, they’re on me, just write to me and tell me which one you want
High school grades are the foundation on which all else in college admissions are built. It is my hope that even just this one tip can help your high schooler build this strong foundation now so when college applications do come around, he can focus on the other areas needed to round out the complete package.

As always, if you’d like to chat, feel free to schedule a complimentary college planning strategy session with me, you, and your high schooler by clicking here.

Cheers to a strong foundation,

Jack Delehey

Jack Delehey (Vanderbilt '14) is a college admissions expert originally from Concord, MA and now resides in Denver, CO. It is his goal to pass on his college admission knowledge, strategies, and unique perspective to high school students in a young, fun, relatable, older-brother type manner.

The college application process is often confusing and stressful. But it just doesn't have to be that way! If you are interested in gaining clarity, peace of mind, and a detailed step-by-step program to help your child through the college application process, reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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