What Are You Strava-ing For?

I run. That is to say I’m not a pure or true runner. True runners glide. True runners wear shorter shorts, lighter weight shirts, and have a shoe rotation system. True runners portion out food, drink blended stuff with weird combinations of veggies and powder, and talk a lot about running. I simply run. I enjoy the simplicity of leaving my house early in the morning, being the first to see late night road kill, and experiencing the quiet darkness when most the world is still sleeping or blearily rousing to make coffee.

We all need our head clearing experiences, moments of freedom, and frankly, time to be alone. With two big kids and a loud staff….wait, reverse that… with two loud kids and a big staff, running is one of the only times I can tune out the world, reflect, consider, plan, or simply let my mind go blank. However, in June I was visiting a friend in Asheville, NC who introduced me to an app called Strava. The program allows you to see total distance, pace per mile, elevation gain, and maps your route. Since he’s not on any other social media platform, his pitch was it would be a good way to keep up with each other,  and it would offer some accountability on training. I suggested just texting, but he doesn’t do that much either.

I downloaded the app and started carrying my phone on runs, since I don’t have a fancy watch (because, again, I’m not a true runner. What he did not tell me is Strava also allows you to see who else has run your same route. So if you run a certain segment in your area and have the 10th fastest time or better, you receive “achievements” with medals for being 3rd or faster, and apparently a “crown” if you are the fastest on that hill or mile or loop.

Before I had this app, I rarely brought my phone with me on a run unless I needed the flashlight or wanted to listen to a podcast. Before I had the app, I’d come home with new ideas or perspective, or just feeling lighter (minus my legs) because I’d tuned out and refilled my proverbial cup. Lately, I’ve been coming back and checking to see my pace, achievements, and who else I know has run those segments. Even in the middle of runs, I’ve found myself thinking, “I need to PR (personal record—it  tracks those too) this mile or loop.”

Strava also allows other runners and your own contacts (like my friend in Asheville) to give you “kudos” or comment on your run, hike, or bike ride. So, admittedly, after a particularly long run or faster route, I’ll check back later in the day to see if anyone interacted with my post.

What are you Strava-ing for?

If you are a high school senior, you are probably starting to work on your college applications. Before you start contemplating which essay topic to choose or ruminating on whether to use “raconteur” as a way of describing yourself in your supplemental essay question, ask these basic questions first:

Why?

I’ve had to reconsider why I run. As a senior, everyone will ask you “Where you want to go to college?” I’m hoping you’ll tune out those voices for a bit and go all the way back to crawling before walking, much less running. Before you submit even one application, take some time to write down, voice record, or type out your answers to “Why??”

  • Why would you invest this much money in a college education?
  • Why are you willing to work hard academically beyond high school to earn a particular degree?
  • Why are you going to leave all of your friends, and the comfort of the known and move 500 miles away to sleep in a single bed and share an 8×8 room?
  • Why are you going to study until 3 a.m. and eat coffee grounds to stay awake in preparation for a Differential Equations or British Literature exam?

Why is tough. It leads to big questions like who are you? And who do you want to be in the future? You may get there eventually, but you can start more simply with:

  • Who do I hope to meet, connect with, and learn from in college?
  • What opportunities do I want this experience to provide in the future?
  • What type of people and learning environments bring out my best?

Ask anyone who has been to college and if they are honest, they can describe a dark, cold day in their first year when they sat on their all-too-firm mattress in their residence hall listening to a song that reminded them of high school friends or their hometown. They remember doing laundry at midnight alone, or leaving the library bleary-eyed and over-caffeinated. Social media will tell you that college is a never ending string of sunny days filled with groups of smiling friends going to class outside, but at some point every first-year student has the same questions rattle around in their head: “Why am I here?” “Did I make the right choice?” “Why does everyone else seem to be doing well, while I am struggling?” Everyone has that day. Everyone has those lonely walks, isolated thoughts and inevitable doubts. Everyone. Crawl first.

Where?  

Look closely again at the list of colleges you are applying to. Why is each one on your list? If it is because it aligns with your answers above; you feel confident you would thrive in that environment; they offer the major you are excited to pursue; or you know people who are there that have a lot of similar interests and goals, then you are good to go. If it is just because your parents went there, it is highly ranked, you like their colors or mascot, or “someone told me it was good,” then take a step back. You need to wait to hit submit on every application until you’ve really considered how that places matches up with your whys. Walk on.

Who?

Listen. I don’t have all the answers. I’m over twice your age and a stupid running app has me all twisted up in the game right now. But I can tell you this: being at peace and confidently answering “Who is this really for?” is a pretty essential question to ask before you make any big life decision. Actually, it’s a pretty good one to ask each morning when you get dressed too. Who is the for? Is your “run” purely for you or is it because you want “kudos” from someone else? Is your first choice college first because it aligns with your whys, or because you think there will be some medal or crown for getting in? I’m not trying to be too dramatic here, but I’ve seen folks wake up in their 40’s realizing they’ve lived way too long without being honest about their answers to, “Who’s this really for?”

Last week I was really struggling with a decision. I needed to clear my head and process. So Saturday morning, I woke up early, grabbed my shoes, put on my longer-than-a-real-runner shorts, and headed out on a trail. No phone. No app. I have no idea how long, fast, or relatively well I ran that day. But I worked through my problem. I came back with a new way to approach the situation. I asked, “Why? And who is this really for?” The run, the process, the decision was purely mine. I knew what I was Strava-ing for. I can only wish the same for you. Run well, my friends.

 

The Power of “We”

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome, Sammy!

My best friend loves soccer, so naturally we join the sea of Atlanta United fans at Mercedes Benz Stadium every time she comes to town. If you’re not familiar, allow me to introduce you: United is Atlanta’s Major League Soccer team. In their first few seasons they soared to the top of the league, broke almost every MLS attendance record on the books, and won the national championship. Today, they’re still one of the hottest tickets in town. The games are incredible, and the crowd of 70,000+ is electric. I’m proud of our team, and I feel like I’m a part of something when I’m chanting in the stadium. Sha-laaaaa-la-laaaaaaaaaaa!

We took to the field. It was game time. I went wild as Justin Meram made his first ever goal for Atlanta United. We let one slide in our goal shortly after that, but no big deal. Meram hit the back of the net AGAIN with just over seven minutes left. WE WON! Hugs with my best friend, high fives with strangers all around, Vamos A-T-L!

The next morning I dropped off my friend at the airport, refreshed the email on my phone and scanned new messages. Spam… 50% off takeout promo (save that) … Email from parent of prospective student. Click.

“I’m hoping to set up a meeting with you…. Georgia Tech is our first choice… we took the SAT in March…”

Woah. Ref shows a yellow.

I love when people refer to their sports teams as “we.” It comes from a feeling of belonging and years of dedication, commitment, and support. I understand that when parents use “we” with admission, it comes from the same well-intended sense of pride and love. There’s nothing more important than a strong network supporting students as they go through the admissions process, and parents, or those who act as parents, are the glue to that network. Parents are a critical piece of the support system. However, you’re supporting them through their journey, their game.

They’re the player, you’re the coach. As a team, you’ll have questions about applications, how to set up visits, and along the way you’ll want to learn about each college.

Now, forgive me if I side-step the sports metaphor for a little while (don’t you worry, we’ll come back to it), but what happens when your student doesn’t feel ready to ask those questions for themselves?

When They’re Anxious

I didn’t make my own dentist appointment until I was in college. And back when you had to actually, you know… call the restaurant and talk to someone to order pizza, I refused to do that too. I was terrified. The way I looked at it, there was one way those calls could go right, and a hundred ways they could go wrong. High stakes for pizza, I realize that now.

I completely understand when students feel that tension. In their eyes, admission staffers are the judge and jury, and a phone call might feel like part of the judgement (for the record, it’s not!). If your student is like me and feels nervous to dial or press ‘send,’ consider doing it with them instead of for them. Sit next to them as they send us an email. And do it sooner rather than later—you can’t sit next to them in the college library when they need to email their professor in a few years (at least you shouldn’t, though I do hear the occasional story…).

It’s also okay to prep for a phone call or conversation! To this day, I type out a script for my voicemail message in Word before recording it (I still never get it right on the first try, but I’d argue that anyone who does is superhuman). Same thing can apply for a live phone call, or an in person conversation. Calling an admission office may be a departure from a student’s comfort with text messaging. Communicating about themselves and their questions in the admission process may be an even bigger departure from anything they’ve ever done. So, when they’re about to call, or we’re about to meet at a college fair, it’s okay to write notes down. It’s okay to help them practice. Speak with them, not for them, and they’ll grow.

When They’re Unengaged

I distinctly remember wandering the gym floor during a college fair at my school and grabbing a few obligatory pamphlets in colors I liked, but not talking to a soul—an ironic twist of fate for someone who now stands on the other side of the table! I wasn’t nervous, and I wanted to go to college, I just had no idea what I was doing so I checked out.

If you’re speaking on behalf of your student because they seem unengaged, it might be worth a pause to find out why. It may not be because of lack of interest. Are they unnerved by the application or at the prospect of rejection? Maybe they’re overwhelmed or frustrated by it all.

Again, it might seem easier to take over, but the we’s enable a student to check out of the process. After all, we’ve got it handled, right? Sure, your email or phone message is intended for the college admission recipient, but the choice of pronoun also communicates a lot to your student.

Consider bringing them into the mix and encourage manageable conversations with current students and peers who may seem more approachable and can raise their confidence.  An appointment with their college counselor can demystify the process, or a quiet self-guided visit to a local college can help them see the big picture without becoming overwhelmed.

When They’re Busy

Students are busy. Period, end. Last year our supplemental essay asked students to share their typical day, and many leave home long before the sun rises and return long after the sun sets. In other words, their availability is the exact opposite of admission offices across the country. And understandably, sometimes an email or phone call just can’t wait until the next time you sit down together between 6am robotics and 7pm ravioli.

If this sounds familiar, consider CC’ing your student on the next email you send to a college. It’ll help keep them in the loop so they can jump back in when things slow down, and it enables me as an admission counselor to address both of you in my response.

When there’s a little more flexibility in their schedule, consider making a small reoccurring admission appointment on your weekly calendars. You can honor that appointment as distraction-free time to sit down, work on applications, answer questions, and communicate together. Scheduling a regular time to talk ensures the college “to-dos” won’t get lost or overpower the countless other “to-dos” going on that week.

We.

United has been privileged to have excellent coaches. They’re involved, and they’ve given their players the best shot at success without actually stepping out onto the field. As a parent, you’ll be involved too—the admission process is a family process, and there will be a lot of “’we’s.”  But plainly put, we can’t admit you, the parent.

To be clear: there is no problem with parents contacting admission offices. In fact, it’s very normal! My hope is simply that, overall, we all be mindful not to exclude a student from their journey and to engage them if they struggle to do so on their own. Recognize and celebrate your student’s achievements as such (she got X on the SAT vs we got X, he was admitted vs we were admitted… you get the point). Include them, trust them, and empower them as an adult with your language, and they’ll mature as an adult through their actions. And when you step back and let your child lead, you may be surprised to learn what they truly want, discover the complexities of who they’ve grown to be, and, fingers crossed, you just might grow a whole lot closer as a team. Admissions, United.

Sammy Rose-Sinclair has worked in college admission for four years. A newly-minted southerner, she moved to Atlanta and joined Georgia Tech two years ago as a senior admission counselor on the first-year admission team. She now uses her millennial-ness and love of working with students, families, and counselors to interact with the GT Admission community through our social media channels. If you’ve gotten this far, send her questions about admission or Netflix recommendations on twitter or Instagram- @gtadmission.

 

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A Board Gamer’s Guide to College Admission

This week we welcome Associate Director for Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen, to the blog. Welcome, Andrew!

My brother and sister-in-law are obsessed with board games.  From popular games like Settlers of Catan to more obscure ones like Sheriff of Nottingham (look it up, it is a fun one!), they have a large collection that is constantly growing. Whenever I spend time with them, we usually end up playing some type of game together… but only certain ones.  They have a pretty good idea whether or not I will like a game, and they know if it is worth trying to convince me to learn a new one.  I tend to gravitate towards games that require less strategy, are shorter in length and, most importantly, are not very complicated to learn.

When they finally convince me to play a new game, they teach me the rules, strategy, and logistics of the game.  We have a routine when learning a new game, which makes it a bit easier to pick up.  When I think about our love for playing games, I see lots of similarities to the college search and admission process.

No two games are alike

In their collection of games, my brother and sister-in-law have quite a variety.  Who knew there were so many different types of games? Their collection includes games like What do you Meme, which is an Apples to Apples type game but with pictures and captions to make up memes.  One of my favorites is Sushi Go!, a card game with various items from Japanese cuisine that have different point values (but don’t get too excited about your hand–each each turn you pass your hand to the person next to you!). They have several board games with tons of little pieces… games that take too much time to set up… and games that require a certain number of players. The options are truly endless when it comes to their board game collection.

When you begin your college search, you will discover that no two schools are the same.  There are many differences, from the majors offered to the layout of residence halls to the types of experiential learning available.  With all these differences, you have to come to terms that not every college (or board game) will be for you.

My family knows me well enough to only recommend games they think I will like. Once I play a game, I have a much clearer opinion of it.  Take your college counselor’s recommendations, learn more about the schools they recommend, and if possible, schedule a campus visit.  These experiences are going to help you determine if an institution is the right fit for you.

Read the Instructions!

When it comes to the college search process, you can expect certain things. But like a board game, there are many variations and differences. So you first have to rely on a board game’s instruction manual to get started.

One of the first sections in the manual will be a summary of the various pieces included in the box. When a game comes with many different pieces, the instruction book will explain all of them.

When you review an admission website or attend an information session, all admission offices are going to clearly outline the necessary requirements to apply to the institution.  Is the institution test optional? Can you submit teacher recommendations?  Are there supplemental essays? If so, what are the topics?  When doing research about various institutions, all of these should be clearly outlined for students.

That explains how you play, but how do you win? In all games there are winners and losers, and all instruction manuals will outline what it takes to win a game. When it comes to the college admission process, you will have to learn what it takes to be admitted.  At many schools, they provide a specific GPA and/or test score requirements needed for admittance. But for schools that utilize a holistic application review, the question of “how do I get in” or “will I be admitted” is not as clear cut.  Just like playing a board game, sometimes you try your hardest and do your best but still don’t win.  There are many factors out of your control. It is important to understand what that means for you as the player, or student.

We Can All Become Gamers

bingo card

Click the image above to download campus visit bingo!

Over time, the more we play games, the easier it is to pick up on new ones.  When learning a new game, we start by looking through the instructions to get an idea of how to play.  When it gets confusing, we turn to YouTube and watch a few “how to” videos.  This is usually what I find to be the most helpful.  The videos are planned out and ensure you learn all the necessary rules to start playing. They also walk through different examples that make it easy to understand the logistics of the game.

As you go through the college search, it gets easier and you become more knowledgeable.  As you visit more schools, you learn more about the differences and similarities between schools. What you like and what you don’t like.  You become more familiar with the lingo and the questions that you should ask.  Visiting colleges and universities, attending college fairs and meeting admission counselors when they visit your high school are all great ways for you to become more comfortable and familiar with today’s college admission landscape.

Your first college tour might be completely overwhelming, but by the time you visit your fifth college, you will be looking out for specific facts and know what specific questions to ask.

In a few weeks, I will be spending a long weekend with my family in the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York.  I guarantee my brother will bring a few games we have all played before.  It will be nice to be able to pick up a game and start playing right away.

For students who return to school in the coming weeks, I am sure you will start thinking about college applications and what schools you want to visit.  As the person at Georgia Tech who oversees the campus visit program, I understand that your college visits can be like learning a new game—a lot of information you need to take in and remember.

To help you remember important information shared during your campus visits, we encourage you to make a game out of it!  Don’t worry, this game requires little direction and is something you are already familiar with.  On your next college tour, play Campus Visit Bingo.  The directions are easy: during your information session and campus tour, listen for the answers and fill in all the boxes.  See how many boxes you can fill in, and feel free to ask question to help fill in your board.  Most importantly, have fun with it!

Andrew Cohen joined Georgia Tech in 2018 and currently oversees the guest experience for all Undergraduate Admission visitors. His love for providing visitors with informative, authentic and personal experiences started as a student tour guide at his alma mater, Ithaca College. Andrew’s passion for the visit experience has lead him to his involvement in the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association, where he currently services as the Treasurer on their executive board.

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You Wanna Bet?

Warning 1- This blog acknowledges (neither endorsing nor condemning) the existence of gambling/wagering money- often the loss of it.

Warning 2- This blog uses analogies that are imperfect.

Warning 3- Our editor is on vacation, which means decreased quality of format and increased use of ellipses and parenthetical statements.

Warning 4- Actually, that’s it. Here we go.

I’m not a big fan of large, indoor spaces, especially those without windows. This has never been formally diagnosed and in Google searches I can’t seem to find an exact match of symptoms or causation, so I refer to it as “Clagora”– an odd combination of Claustrophobia and Agoraphobia. In general this aversion has served me well, as it severely limits my time in malls, conference halls, and casinos.

But a few weeks before my wedding, I was in New Orleans with some good friends. I told them I wanted to do one thing- place $50 on black in roulette. No food or drinks. No sitting down. This was a get in and get out mission. One spin of the wheel. So we headed to Harrah’s Casino in the French Quarter.

As we approached the table, one of my friends (none of whom were married at the time themselves) grabbed my shoulder. “We were talking and have an option for you. We can all get you some crappy, forgettable wedding gift like a toaster or some candlesticks…or we can each give you $50 right now. One bet. All in.”

I paused and considered for… about three seconds (OK. Two.)… “Give me the money.”

“$400 cash on the table,” I heard the dealer say calmly. He deftly put the shiny, silver ball onto the roulette wheel and sent it spinning.

Students- Know Your Odds

The odds of hitting black on a single roll in roulette are 47.4%. Now, this may blow your mind but that means the odds of not hitting black are 52.6%. Put differently that’s less than ½ or more likely you’ll lose than win. Need more examples? Sometimes flipping statistics and changing your perspective in general can be helpful. Walk a route you normally drive. Take a helicopter tour of your town. Consider that while you “only have to put down 20%,” you still owe 80%.

Listen, I’m not saying that admission is roulette (see Warning 2). Applying to college is not a game. Admission decisions are not arbitrary. But it is helpful to “consider your odds” as you are building a list of schools to apply to.

A number of years ago, I suggested the Common App insert an acknowledgement button on the application of any university with an admit rate below 25%: “I understand this is not a fair process. Being of sound mind I agree not to assign self-worth to admission decisions. Further, I agree to apply to at least two additional schools with admit rates above 50%.” I never got a reply.

Well, I’m working on another petition now to US News and World Report and several other publications who commonly list schools by admit rates (typically starting with lowest as an implied metric of quality/value).  The ask—publish deny rates instead.

How would it change the make-up of your list of colleges if you thought about your odds or percentage chances in reverse? How would it alter the way you feel when you receive an admission decision, if you had looked at your odds differently from the start?

Applying to Stanford and Harvard is essentially like putting a chip between the 0/00 on the roulette table (95%~ chance of not hitting). I could see placing one bet like that, if you are a truly outstanding student. But more than that? High school counselors are always advising students to create a “balanced list” of colleges to consider. This is why.

So the next time you are listening to a college admission presentation or looking at admit rate information online, reverse their numbers. As an example, Georgia Tech’s deny rate for international students last year was nearly 90%, 82% for US non-residents, and 55% for Georgia applicants. Do the math and know your odds. It may help you spread your chips/apps in a more strategic and logical manner.

Parents- Consider All The Angles

$50 on black. In and out. Nobody gets hurt. That was the plan.

But the game changed. The stakes went up. The emotions of the moment were palpable and it was not “just me” involved anymore. All of a sudden the dollars multiplied eight fold. The “offer” of cash for wedding gifts now involved my wife and our future (Again, see Warning 2).

It is still July. Before your son or daughter starts filling in their name and asking you about employment history or your driver’s license number, you need to talk money. I wrote more extensively about this in March, but my strong recommendation is you establish and discuss three key elements of paying for college and finances: limitations, conditions, and expectations.

Limitations

How much are you willing to invest in your son or daughter’s college education? Particularly in states with strong public university systems, we often hear parents say, “I am willing to pay for any of our state schools or the equivalent price, if my daughter chooses to go to an out-of-state public or private school.”  Consider and honestly discuss what limitations you want to establish. These should not necessarily keep your student from applying to a particular school that looks like it will cost more than your determined threshold, but setting clear limitations early changes the dynamics, frames the emotions, and helps prevent feeling “gut punched” in the spring when financial aid packages arrive.

Conditions 

“We will not pay for a school south of Virginia,” or “No child of mine is looking at schools west of Colorado,” or “We will pay for $40,000 a year for College X, but we are simply not paying that for Y University.”

What are your financial conditions- and why? College is an investment. Your family’s goal is to be confident in the dollars you spend. If you talk about why you are putting conditions in place, they will not come across as irrational or arbitrary, but rather instructive and rooted in love.

Expectations

What role will/should your student have in paying for their own college education? Is there a flat amount or percentage you expect them to contribute? Setting clear expectations before applying to college allows them to consider if they need to work and save money during and high school, consider a gap year, or what questions they ask colleges about opportunities for on-campus jobs, the prospects for (and salaries associated with) internships or co-ops, etc. Instead of being divisive, setting expectations can unify your family because “the problem” of paying for college becomes a joint effort—one to solve together.

If there is one common thread that connects all parents in the college admission experience, it’s this—you love your kids. You want the best for them. You want them to be happy. You want to provide for them and say yes. As a parent of two, I totally get that.

However, here’s what I can tell you about the seductive roulette wheel of admission (for issues with that wording see Warnings 1-3)—it gets emotional. The offers start coming in, the dollar figures start going up, and it’s not just you at the table. You love your kids. Consider all the angles now because when that ball lands there will be some cheers, some disappointments, and often a crazy mix of both.

Back at the casino

The ball spun, slowed, and started bouncing. Red, black, red, black. Finally, it landed. Red 28.

Slowly, I let my head fall backward. I felt my friend’s hand on my shoulder again. “Well, at least we won’t be giving you some crappy hand towels or doilies from Target.”

Know your odds and consider all the angles. I’m betting that takes you a long way in your college admission experience.

Formal end of blog

——————————–

Feeling lucky?

A few years ago, there was a school in our state who had a relatively new head football coach, a lot of swagger, and fans that probably love roulette for the colors alone. Mid-season I told a friend that if they made the national championship, I’d donate $100 to his university’s need-based scholarship fund.

Well…I’m $100 dollars lighter now but at least I know my money went to helping some kid offset costs. When I unsubscribed from the Foundation solicitations, I chose “Other” as the reason and inserted this: “I LOST A BET. I’m the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech. Congratulations on coming within inches of winning the national championship. Now, please, never email me again!” I actually got a response saying it was the “best opt-out they’ve ever received.”

So before you bet a friend $20 or $50 or dinner on a game this fall, consider instead wagering a donation to the need based financial aid fund of the winner’s alma mater.  Can’t fathom “ever contributing one dime to that school?” No problem. Donate to the NACAC Imagine Fund and help high school counselors who send kids to many different amazing colleges.

 

Strange(r) Things About College Admission

This week we welcome Communications Manager of Strategy and Enrollment Planning (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley back to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

I am not a scary movie person. I like happy endings and clean resolutions. When it comes to entertainment, I mainly stick to light-hearted comedies, a few documentaries, and any and all movies in the Marvel Universe.

stranger things poster

Photo Credit: Netflix

That being said, I, along with millions of other viewers in the world, have been sucked into season three of Netflix’s Stranger Things (don’t worry—no spoilers lie ahead!). For those unfamiliar, the series focuses on a group of kids who experience…. unusual… events in their small town in the 1980s. As a Gen X-er, it’s fun to see that era, along with the products and fads that were prevalent in my childhood, come back to life. (Bonus: much of the show was filmed in and around Atlanta.)

While I enjoy the element of nostalgia, there’s also some pretty dark things that happen in the show. When a particularly intense scene comes up (as you can always tell from the ominous lighting and music), I cover my ears, close my eyes, and ask my husband to tell me 1) when it’s over, and 2) what happened.

Yep—I’m in my late 30s and acknowledge that I have the same reaction to scary things as my 8-year-old daughter.

If you’re a rising high school senior, you should be aware that when it comes to the college admission process, there are some strange(r ) things ahead of you. Don’t worry, there are no evil monsters or government conspiracies lurking around the corner! But there are a few things to consider as you start your journey.

The Upside Down

Okay, maybe one sneak peek (but it’s not a spoiler!). In the first season a character is pulled into the “upside down,” an alternate dimension that looks like the one we’re in but is very different. I won’t go into details on what happens down there, but just know that things in the upside down are nothing like they are here.

Things will happen on your college admission journey that will seem upside down. You may visit your number one college choice and, after taking a closer look, decide it’s not a great fit after all. Then again, a college you had little to no interest in (and to be honest, may be visiting only to pacify your parents) may be far more incredible than you thought, and it’s now in the top spot. Your list has essentially turned upside down.

When it comes to decision release day, things can turn upside down again. You may not get into a school you thought was a sure bet. You may hear of someone else who got in that you believe was a lesser candidate than you. It seems upside down, and it won’t make any sense. When you find yourself in that spot (and I say “when,” not “if,” because it has happened to most everyone I know, including me), remember there are things going on behind the scenes that you cannot control. College acceptances are often based around strategic priorities—it’s not a value judgement of you or your character. Colleges are working to find the right mix of students when making the soup each year… and sometimes it will seem upside down.

Be Open to All Possibilities

In season three, a character notices the magnets fell off her refrigerator, and she puts them back up… or at least she tries to. The magnets keep falling and refuse to stick. She talks to a scientist to learn how this is possible. After he runs through all the likely, and most logical, scenarios, she asks “yes, but what else? Is there anything else it could be?” He then shares a very remote, and what most would call illogical, possibility. She looks beyond the obvious answers and digs deeper for an answer that makes sense to her.

As you go through the college visit and application process, dig deep for what you’re seeking. While advice is always well-intended, there are times you should ask yourself a few questions first. Who is recommending this information? Do they have your best interests at heart, or are they advising through their own limited experiences?

When you’re on a campus tour, don’t just listen to the questions asked by those around you. Ask good questions (then ask them again).  Be willing to step outside your comfort zone and consider new possibilities.

Last but not least, when reading through publications and emails, remember that colleges are also marketers—we will always show you the our very best side. Grab a student newspaper or alumni magazine to learn more about what’s happening on campus now, and what graduates are doing with their degrees down the road.

Don’t let yourself be spoon-fed information. Investigate on your own and be open to the possibilities that may lead you to reset the destination on your “college GPS.”

It’s About the People

As previously mentioned, I’m not into scary things. So why do I spend valuable time watching something that, in truth, sometimes stresses me out? It’s not the plot that keeps me coming back, but the people in it. I’m invested in the characters and the relationships in the show. The kids at the center of all three seasons have an unshakable bond, despite the turmoil surrounding them. They don’t always agree and get along, but in the end, they have each other’s back.

As you go through your college search, don’t forget: it’s the people around you that matter. You’re surrounded by people who love and care about you: parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, counselors, coaches… the list goes on.

You will forge new relationships as you go through this process, and the ones you already have will shift in certain ways. It’s easy to get pulled into the plot of college admission—the essays, the activities, the grades, the applications, the deadlines. Yes, the plot certainly matters. But if, in the process of resolving the plot, you lose sight of the people within it, you’ve missed the point.

Schedule regular timeouts to simply enjoy being with your family (no college talk allowed)! Take a moment to thank a teacher for the impact they’ve had in your life. Treat your little brother or sister to a movie. Hang out with your friends and just have fun.

The plot of your life will continually shift, complete with twists and turns and unexpected story lines. But at the end of the day, the plot is situational—and means nothing without the connections between the characters within it.

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