Beyond Admission

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Recently, our family took holiday pictures. The photo shoot was scheduled for a Saturday morning and neither of our kids wanted to go. To be honest, I was not looking forward to it either. Thankfully, the session was only scheduled to last 45 minutes and it was at a local park. How bad could it be?

Actually, it was terrible. It was exhausting, frustrating, and maddening all at the same time. Our son was super-hyper (thanks in no small part to my rookie mistake of making pancakes that morning) and he kept running or falling down during the staged walking pictures or trying to climb on top of me from behind during the posed seated shots. Meanwhile, our daughter could not muster anything close to a natural smile, which was driving my wife crazy. I guess on some level this sounds reminiscent or uncomfortably familiar. Happy Holidays, right?

In the end, of the hundreds of pictures the photographer took that day, we were able to find 3-4 usable images for the requisite collage holiday card (granted, one of them is my daughter literally grabbing and pulling my cheek, but we are selling it as playful not annoying).

Ultimately, what message goes out to our friends and family? The Clarks are doing great! They look really happy and unified.

This is also the story you see every time you go to social media. People post their best pictures (or edit and filter them until they are close to perfect). And we all post comments, quotes, articles, and stories that make us look smart, cute, funny, popular, (insert adjective you are trying to be known for here).

Almost comically, colleges do the same thing in our brochures and websites. When was the last time you saw a student crying in a viewbook? You won’t find a shot of a grungy dumpster or a dead squirrel or roommates arguing. The message is always, “come here and your life will be amazing!”

What is so unfortunate, especially this time of year, is when you feel lonely, unconfident, insecure, or depressed, it is easy to look around and believe you are the only one struggling. It is easy to think everyone else has it all figured out and their life is perfect. Here’s the truth: they don’t, and they’re not. At any age, we need to be reminded of that fact.

So before the holidays get even more rushed, consumed, and complicated by travel plans, shopping, and obligations, I want to close 2018 with two very simple messages—not  about college or admission–we’ll get back to that in January.

You are loved. Look around you today and this week. Take note of the people who text you, want to spend time with you, give you cards or gifts, go out of their way to help you, or simply offer a kind word in this season. Too often we brush these gestures off and become desensitized to what a gift it is to be part of a community. At times we mentally or physically isolate ourselves as we question if we are truly accepted, known, understood, or loved. YOU ARE!

Check out this article featuring a graduating senior who initially left Tech due to substance abuse, depression, and apathy. You’ll read about his detachment and isolation, as well as an unwillingness to seek help. This is not a unique story. It occurs every year, at every high school and college, all over the world.

If you are going through a tough time right now, I hope you will be reminded people are all around you who want to help—and they can relate, even if they’ve never acknowledged it before. Your friends are not too busy. Your parents love you more than you could possibly know. If you are struggling right now, don’t do so alone. Reach out because you are loved.

You are called to love. I have been a part of interventions for friends who were deeply depressed. I have been through QPR training. Even with those experiences, training, and knowledge, I still feel ill-equipped to initiate conversations with friends and family I know are hurting, isolated, or depressed. It is never easy. It is never comfortable. The good news is we are not supposed to feel “ready.” We are just supposed to feel love.

I’ve talked to several Georgia Tech seniors in the last week who, on the surface, have it all together. They lead clubs, held prestigious internships, and excel in school. Yet each of them has talked about rough and lonely times. Importantly, each has also talked about one or two people who have been their rocks and their solace in those moments.

If you know someone who is hurting, reach out to them. You don’t have to have all the answers. All you need is the time and desire to be available. This is not complicated. We are called to love.

Happy Imperfect Holidays, friends. See you in 2019!

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Still Waiting…

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

My “quarter life commitment” came in the form of my first home purchase this summer, and I quickly learned buying a home doesn’t happen in half an hour as House Hunters will have you believe.

I know. I was just as shocked as you are.

After setting my parameters and keying into the type of home and neighborhood I was looking for, it was time to physically set foot in a few places.  The first one looked nice, but had a lot of candles burning to cover up a suspicious smell; the second one was sold before I even left my showing, but the third one? Now that I could work with (yes, I really only looked at three. Again, I’ve watched too much House Hunters)! Top floor unit, hardwood floors… sure, the bathrooms are painted school bus yellow, but otherwise, it was perfect.

I went home, had a few conversations with my real estate agent, and sent in my offer paperwork that very night. Then came the waiting. It was between me and a few other buyers. I spent several days waiting for the phone call telling me which offer the seller had chosen.  You know that forgot-to-breathe, heart-in-stomach sensation every time the phone lights up while you’re waiting for an important call or email? Let me tell you: I had it bad.

Finally, the phone rang! False alarm. It was my aunt. Thoughts swirled through my mind…

How would the seller judge me? Sure they had every piece of info about me besides my blood type and horoscope, but they didn’t even know me. 

The phone rang! My home security company. I pondered some more…

I thought my agent said they were going to get back to me yesterday. Should I send the seller cookies? A recommendation letter from my mom? (By the way, if you’re reading deep into this metaphor, the answer is no, don’t send colleges cookies).

Then…the phone rang.

How do you wait?

I only had to wait a few days, but college applicants wait a whole season. It gets especially hard this time of year when the answers are less than a few weeks and email clicks away. Many months go into actively searching out colleges and preparing your application, and then once you hit submit… radio silence. So, how do you wait?

Think about it

I will confess, this is how I wait: as soon as I confirm my orders on Amazon, I reread the product reviews and scrub through YouTube demonstration videos, imagining how great my life will be once my food scale arrives in two days. When I bake cookies, I sit in front of the oven, turn on the light and watch… and watch… and watch. And when I put an offer in on a house, I scroll through the property pictures, mentally planning the furniture layout, learning which grocery stores I will shop at, and Yelp all the restaurants nearby.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t cross the line into impatience, but I do use my nerves productively. Why? Because when I use my time wisely and channel my nervous energy towards a positive outcome, I’ll be more prepared for what comes next. And if it doesn’t go well?  I’ll be disappointed, but at least I’ll have an oddly impressive knowledge of all the grocery stores in a random Atlanta neighborhood.

I think, no, I know many college applicants feel the exact same way right about now. There are whirlwind trips for college tours, chats with friends at the schools where you’re applying, and perusals of excellent blogs (wink wink) to learn more. If you take this route, be sure to know & set your limits. Be careful not to let excited interest turn into unhealthy fixation. Ultimately, there’s going to be a lot of big decisions to make come spring, so if there’s something you’re curious about right now, this is the time to dig in and learn about it.

Don’t think about it 

Contradictory, aye? I can understand the continued focus on college causes people more stress, so not thinking about it might be more your style. The decision will come regardless of what you do at this point—the pendulum has to swing back. And while you’ve controlled your application, you can’t control what your admissions officers, or the rest of the applicant pool, will do. I could list a million different “live in the now!” clichés, but the reality is, you know this. You’ve probably played the “last” game all year now (my last year at home… my last first day…). There’s plenty going on right now that deserves your focus.

You might even be like my sister, who took a hands-off approach when she submitted her job applications last year mostly out of fear of “jinxing it.” (Fair enough, she does have her dream job now.) As long as you know that your colleges have everything they need from you, you’ve done your part. You’ve passed the ball, and you’ll get it back soon enough.

Get Busy

Are you holding your breath? Exhale. There’s no reason you can’t invite opportunities for growth right now because of decisions that will come later.

There’s a certain amount of freedom in these few months. You’re not in the college search process. You’re not writing applications, and you’re not making your college decision. You just… are. And if you can find peace with that, then you can see the opportunity. Is there something you want to do before you leave home? Remember this summer when you swore to yourself you were going to learn sign language, right after you learned how to cook? Now’s the time to do it. 

(Added bonus: if by chance any of your early action applications come back as a deferral, you’ll have something new to add to your application)

Wait Well

On behalf of college admission officers everywhere, thank you for waiting with us, and allowing us the opportunity and time to dive into your accomplishments. We’re in the home stretch.

Perhaps it’s the least discussed part of the college application process, but the wait is hard. The angst, the anxiety, the lack of control. We live in an era of instant gratification, a departure from which can be frustrating! There’s a maturity that comes with learning to wait for results, or even the simple passage of time, and it takes knowing yourself to know how to wait well. Find what works for you, and push forward in these last few weeks.

However you wait this season and whatever comes at the end of it, remember you will be okay. There will be triumphs, disappointments, and incredible opportunities.  And if things don’t work out as you’d hoped after the wait? Know there are so many great colleges where you can be a happy, healthy, and successful member of the community.

Turns out there are roughly 100 other condos in my complex with the exact same floor plan. Guess I didn’t have to go with the school bus yellow bathrooms after all. Lesson learned.

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Handling That Moment

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After the Preparation Day blog last week, I got some very positive and encouraging notes. I also got this one, “Sure. It’s easy to write about the kids who still have a chance, but what about those who are denied?” I took this to mean he either thought I was avoiding the subject or I did not have personal experience with it. Well, “Steve G.,” this one’s for you.

She was beautiful. Not Hollywood, head-turning, magazine cover, so-perfect-you-question-if-it-is-real beauty. Truly beautiful—in personality, intelligence, humor, and kindness. Beauty you saw when you met her, but that was made perfect—that  you fell in love with—when  you got to really know her. And I knew her. In fact, I’d known her since we were five. But we’d never had a moment like this.

You know the moment I’m talking about, right? You did take that pledge in last week’s post, didn’t you? You’ve prepared yourself for “no”? Well, I hadn’t.

“This isn’t working out.” We were juniors in high school and I was at her house working on math homework. “Don’t worry,” I said. “We will figure it out.” Then she paused and slowly put her pencil down. “No,” she said kindly, but definitively. “This. Us. It’s not working out.”

I could not quote you one thing my kids or my boss or any of my friends said to me in the past week, but I remember her words verbatim. It was like a movie, when all noises suddenly stop and things go black. Yeah… It was that moment.

It comes in relationships, jobs, and college admission. At some point, this moment comes for us all.

I really can’t remember what I said. Maybe nothing. All I remember is getting my bag and stumbling out of the door. Windows down. Music up. I screamed a messy blur of questions, anger, and tears.

Walking into the house, I was hoping to see nobody. Instead, my mom was doing dishes in the kitchen. I wanted to talk to nobody. Instead, we sat on the couch and she told me everything was going to be okay… there would be other girls… and maybe I was better off anyway.

Handling That Moment…

Last week we covered that you need to be prepared to hear “no.” I definitely don’t have all the answers but if you open a letter or portal or online account and find yourself in one of those moments, here are a couple things to remember.

You’re Not Okay. Go ahead and scream, cry, beat your pillow, cook or eat a lot of something (do all of those at once if you’re really upset). You do you. Whatever it takes to begin clearing your head. Mad? Sad? Frustrated? Disappointed? I get it. She was beautiful. She was amazing. It takes some time to get over that.

You Will Be Okay. If you are reading this before “that moment” you are thinking, “Yeah, I know.” If you are reading this afterwards, you are probably like, “Just let me keep on beating my pillow while I’m eating.”  You are probably thinking what I was with my mom that night, “How would you know? You never had your heart broken. You just woke up one day, married dad, and then had me, right?”

I’m telling you. She was beautiful. But I had convinced myself she was perfect.  If you find yourself in that moment, I hope you will have the clarity to know—or the willingness to hear your friends or parents or coaches remind you—of the truth: nobody is perfect. No college is either.

Here is the thing: every year—EVERY YEAR—we talk to current students (even tour guides!) who say Georgia Tech was not their first choice. They did not get in to their top school, or they could not afford another place, or a myriad of other reasons. But they ended up here and cannot imagine being anywhere else.

I also frequently hear from younger siblings or parents or counselors about a student we denied, and while devastated in the moment, is now loving (insert college name here) and doing great.

The truth(s) about being denied…

Note: We are going to move into some statistics and broader forces now, so if you are still in scream-mode, just come back when you are ready.

Truth #1: It’s not fair. All metaphors eventually break down, and we’ve come to that point. When my girlfriend broke up with me, it was personal. She couldn’t say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Nope. It was me. But for colleges it is about them. Let’s use Georgia Tech as an example. As a public school, we have an obligation to serve our state. Therefore, 60% of our undergraduate students are from Georgia. Ultimately, we anticipate Georgia applicants will only make up about 16% of our overall applicant pool, and their admit rate will be well over double that of students from out of state, and triple that of students from abroad. Translation: it is easier to “get in” from Georgia.

In other words, you may get denied by a school based on where you are from or what you want to study or because they are trying to grow this or that and you happen to be that and this.

Another comment I got after last week’s blog was from my friend Pam A., a college counselor here in Atlanta: “the way admission decisions FEEL is so different from how they are MADE.” Bam. That is spot on. It is fine to feel disappointed or mad or upset. Just be sure you understand a decision is not a prediction of your future success or potential. An admission decision is not an indictment of your character or a criticism of your ability.

Truth #2: Appealing is highly doubtful. Yes, you are entitled to appeal an admission decision. The truth is almost none of these are successful. If you appeal, be sure to read the conditions of a “reasonable appeal.” You can use Tech’s as an example. Typically valid reasons include not having your correct transcript or receiving inaccurate or incomplete grading information. Major medical situations or severe life circumstances you neglected to include in your application may also be reviewed as valid. “Really wanting to go” or because that was the only place you applied or because everyone in your family has gone there… not valid.

One of my colleagues puts it this way, “If you decide to appeal, you need to be prepared to be denied again.” That sounds cold. But the truth is like that sometimes. Actually, the truth is like that a lot.

Truth #3: You need to be realistic and move on. This may sound familiar but the bottom line is that, if you have not already, you need to submit a few more applications to schools with higher admit rates and lower academic profiles than the one that denied you. Get back to school. Finish this semester well because schools you apply to in Regular Decision will be looking extremely close at final fall semester grades.

Get back to your team, your job, your clubs, and your family. Take some time to look around at practice or over the holiday break at the relationships you have built. Be reminded of the community you created and the bond, closeness, and sense of belonging you feel. They want you with them. They love having you as part of it all. Being denied sucks. I feel your pain (still do, when I really look back on it).

“Preparing yourself for no” means looking at a deny not as a hard stop, but rather as a pivot. People think they are looking for the perfect college. You need to be looking for the perfect mentality.

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Preparation Day

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On Sunday my son and I went to the Atlanta United Eastern Conference Championship game against the New York Red Bulls. During the tailgate, I got a text from a friend that read:  “My daughter was deferred. We were SHOCKED! What does that really mean?” (FYI this was another school’s decision. If you are waiting on EA decisions from Tech, you have not missed anything.)

My first thought was, “Really? You were shocked? You know their profile and admit rate.” My second thought was, “I’ll deal with this on Monday,” and I put my phone on do not disturb (because that’s the kind of friend I am).

About 30 minutes later I was talking to another friend. He has one kid in college and two still in high school. He told me that after watching his older son go through the admission process he has been telling his current high school senior who is applying to colleges to be prepared to hear “no.” The dichotomy between these two approaches was both striking and instructive. More importantly, it made me realize we need to add another key date to the admission calendar.

August 1- Many colleges open their application.

October 1- FAFSA opens.

November 1- EA/ED Deadlines at lots of colleges and universities.

May 1- National Deposit Deadline.

So, by the power vested in me (which is none, by the way) I pronounce December 1 as National Preparation Day!

By or on this day, henceforth, any high school senior applying Early Action or Early Decision to a college with an admit rate of less than 50 percent must put their hand on a large, preferably leather-bound book of some kind and take this pledge:

“I, (state your name), being of sound (though overly caffeinated) mind and (sleep-deprived) body, do hereby swear that I will not presume anything in the admission process. Upon advice of my wizened counselor sages, I acknowledge that I will not look at middle 50 percent ranges and expect that my scores, though in the top quartile, guarantee my admittance.

I will not look at middle 50 percent ranges of hitherto admitted classes and expect my scores, though in the bottom quartile, will be overlooked based on my amazing essay, parents’ connections, pictures of me in a onesie from that college, or the 12 letters of recommendation that have been sent on my behalf.

I understand the heretofore explicated concept of holistic admission is neither fair nor perfect, wherein I will likely not agree with, nor be capable of predicting all results, despite the complex algorithms I employ or the kingdom fortune tellers I visit.

Furthermore, I agree that I will not view an admission decision as an indictment of my character, a judgment on my hitherto demonstrated preparation, nor a prediction of my future success.”

Note: Slightly misused Olde English conjunctions does not negate the spirit nor effectiveness of this pledge.

So What Does Defer Mean?

Back to my friend who’s daughter was deferred… what does defer actually mean, and what do you do with that decision?

It means you have some work to do.

You need to send in your fall grades. You may need to write an additional essay or tell the admission committee more about your senior year extracurricular activities. Defer is a “hold on.” It is a “maybe.” Don’t like those characterizations? Fine—call it “tell us more.” They will be looking at how you’ve done in a challenging senior schedule, or if your upward grade trend will continue, or if you can juggle more responsibility outside the classroom with your course load. Bottom line is you have work to do. Are you going to get admitted in the next round? No promises. But if getting deferred is what helps keep you focused and motivated, you should look at their decision as a good thing. Finish well.

It means you may need to submit another application or two. 

If you’ve already got this covered, that’s great. You were ahead of Preparation Day. If not, then good news—many great schools have deadlines in January. The bottom line is you need applications in at a few schools with higher admit rates and lower academic profiles than the one that deferred you.

It means holistic review is a real thing.

If your scores and grades are above their profile and they defer you, they only proved what they said in their publications and presentations—admission is about more than numbers. At Georgia Tech we are knee-deep in application review. We have not released decisions, but day in and day out we are slating students for defer who have ACT scores of 35 or 36 and great grades. Is that “shocking?” It shouldn’t be. Institutional priorities, shaping a class, and supply and demand drive admission decisions. Similarly, if your scores are in the middle or below their profile, a defer also proves decisions are made using more than just numbers.

It means you need to check your ego and wait.

Does that sound harsh? Sorry—but sometimes, life is harsh. This is why you should take the pledge. It’s why have formally added Preparation Day to the admission calendar. (Someone update the NACAC website!) If you are prepared for “no,” then a defer will not rock you as bad. Admission decisions feel personal. How could they not? Nobody loves spending a few more months in limbo. But this is not about you. This is about schools who are hedging their bets and wanting to evaluate you in context of their overall pool. Kind of sucks. I get it. But too many students do not send in fall grades, complete the deferred form, or send other information schools ask for because they’ve never heard of a “maybe” ( perhaps the first they’ve ever heard). Think of the admission experience as your first foray into your college years and start looking at maybes as good things. If you liked a school enough to apply, finish the drill. Give them reasons to admit you in the next round. It is called an admission process. There are rounds for a reason. Don’t go halfway and stop.

It means you need to look forward, not backward.

I was not going to text my friend back and say defer means to “put off or delay,” but technically that is the definition. For you it means to look forward to something in the future. DO NOT look back! DO NOT second guess whether you should have taken AP Geography in the ninth grade instead of band, or blame Mr. Thompson for giving you an 89 instead of a 93 that would have bumped your GPA by .00083. This is your MARTA bus moment.

It means control what you can control. 

People want so desperately to predict and analyze admission decisions that are influenced by macro institutional goals and made in rooms they will never enter. Defer means stay focused on the micro. This is your one and only senior year.  Do well—but more importantly do good. Don’t worry about those rooms hundreds of miles away, but rather the ones you walk into every day. Be a good friend. Be a good sibling. Be a good teammate. Go thank a teacher that wrote a recommendation for you. Hug your mama.

December 1 is coming. Preparation Day. Take the pledge.

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A Few Words…and a hug!

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I LOVE Thanksgiving because it’s simple. The entire purpose is to bring family and friends together and provide a time to pause from our busy lives and breathe. Thanksgiving does not have the buildup of other holidays that become consumed with parties, shopping, music, and obligations. It does not demand presents or greeting cards or fill the skies with fireworks. “Just show up.” “Bring a side.” “It’s all good. We’ll see you when you get here.” Thanksgiving language is calm, easy, encouraging, optimistic, and unifying— all qualities that are too rare in our culture right now.

Importantly, Thanksgiving also has a few admission lessons to teach:

Seniors: This THANKSgiving, give THANKS.

Just as with life, it is easy to be caught up in the frenzy of the college admission experience— especially in the fall of your senior year. By this point, you’ve likely taken a bunch of standardized tests (sorry about that, by the way). You have probably submitted a few applications and are now considering if or when you need to send in more. You may be waiting anxiously for December when many schools release EA or ED decisions. Forget about all of that this week. Enjoy the fire. Eat too much food. Take a long nap. Go see a movie. Read something for fun. Whatever it is, just make an effort to PAUSE and to breathe (seriously. Do that. Don’t keep reading until you’ve taken at least three long, full breaths).

Back with me? Okay. Sometime this week, I want you to go find your parents (ideally individually) and give them a huge hug. Tell them this: “Thank you. I love you.” Don’t worry about expounding–a hug and those five words will do. This is Thanksgiving after all. Simple is best. But if you are looking for some reasons, here are a few:

For driving me to all of those practices; for using a snot sucker to de-congest me when I was two; for paying for (insert instrument or sport of choice here) lessons– and making me stick with them; for always trying to make my life better; for the sacrifices of time and money I’ve never known about (and for not viewing them as sacrifices); that I’m the last thought on your mind before you go to sleep (or the reason you wake up in the middle of the night); for all of those nights you sang me to sleep; for the copious loads of laundry and endless carpool lines and countless teacher conferences. Thank you for caring enough to argue with me, remind me, and continually check in. I know all of that comes from a place of love. 

This is your last Thanksgiving living full-time at home. Your parents love you more than you could ever, ever possibly imagine. Five words and a hug. My friend and colleague, Brennan Barnard from the Derryfield School (NH) suggests that if you will be intentional to do this regularly everything else will take care of itself. “Thank you. I love you.”

Parents: This ThanksGIVING, GIVE.

No. I’m not suggesting a new sweater, a gift card, or another slice of pie (all welcomed, however). Instead, try this: “I trust you, and I’m proud of you.” The truth is that all “kids,” whether five, 15, or 50, long for their parents’ approval. We may find increasingly effective ways to hide or mask that desire, but invariably it is there. Sometimes in the college admission experience, your kids are seeing your love and concern as nagging. It causes friction when you ask repeated questions about deadlines, essays, and checklists, because they infer that as a lack of trust. I’m not telling you to completely step away, but step back this week. Hug your son or daughter and tell them, “I trust you.”

Don’t forget the only reason you are reading this is because your kid has worked incredibly hard to this point. They have taken lots of tough classes and done well. They have achieved outside the classroom. You are worried about admission decisions and financial aid packages because those things are imminent. What a great problem to have! (As someone who is just hoping my kids make it to middle school, I think you’ve already won). You are the only one who can say it, and they need it more than they’ll ever let on, so be sure you tell them this week, “I’m proud of you.”

THANKS. GIVE. GIVE THANKS.

Is any of this going to help you get into your first-choice school? Absolutely not. It’s not going to give you an edge on that merit scholarship or ensure an honors college admittance either. But a “great” or “successful” Thanksgiving is not about turkey or pie or football. Sure, those things are all nice, but they are not the heart and purpose of the holiday. The best Thanksgivings are about family, memories, and unity. At its core, so too is the college admission experience. “Getting in” is what people talk about but staying together is what they should be focused on.

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy those hugs.

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