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The Lies We Tell Ourselves, Part 3. Parents.

I slept on the couch last night…. but I relegated myself to it. Here’s how it went down:

My son had a Taekwondo test to get to the next belt level. When they do these evaluations, you are expected to be able to perform specific Poomsaes, which are alternating offensive and defensive forms– essentially choreographed movements. The further along you go in the study of Taekwondo the more complex they become.

Currently he’s trying to go to the green belt with blue stripe, which is halfway to becoming a black belt. My wife is incredibly diligent about working with him at home, especially as the test gets closer. At last night’s test there were about 20 other students testing for various belts. That meant there were easily 30 parents watching, taking video, and being generally supportive. At some points all students of a specific belt may be on the floor, but inevitably, each student has his or her own evaluation.

Fifty people looking on as you attempt to perform a complex set of motions is tough at any age. But at seven? Definitely not easy. He was doing well overall until a particular point in the Poomsae. Surprisingly, it was not the most complex section– he actually nailed that. The Master called out the command and my son just froze. You could literally see his brain working and his body trying to carry out the movement. He just could not make it happen. Fifty people. All of them wanted him to move, to just remember. It was simultaneously encouraging and maddening.

After we put the kids to bed and I was brushing my teeth, my wife came in and said, “I should have worked with him harder on that piece of it. I just thought he had it, so we practiced the tougher parts more.” Now what I should have said was nothing. But what I actually said was, “Are you going to make this about you?” I know, I know. Even as it came out of my mouth I knew I’d screwed up. She turned around, got into bed, put in some ear plugs and rolled over. Cold, right? But also totally appropriate.

(Not actually me)So I just grabbed my pillow and a blanket and headed downstairs. Self-imposed discomfort seemed like reasonable punishment.

Don’t get me wrong, I stand by my question 100%, but I’m the first to admit that the delivery was TERRIBLE. So fresh off of that lovely experience, today we look at “The Lies Parents Tell Themselves.”

Lie 1- I’m just helping. Does the Taekwondo story sound familiar? How about some of these: “I’m just helping my sophomore daughter when I go down to the high school to see if there is extra-credit work she could do, or if the Chair of the department could take another look at her last paper. She can’t make a C in this class, so WE need to rectify this immediately.”  Or “I’m just helping here. You see my son was deferred from your college. I know that you’ve received his transcript and supplement (because I made him give me his login info) and I see from your website that you don’t use an interview or additional letters of recommendation in the process, but I’m going to have two of my business associates email on his behalf anyway.” When does the “helping” stop? Colleges are now utilizing parent bouncers at registration; we’ve had parents ask if they can come to a job fair for their student who is in class at that time. “I just want to ask some questions and deliver her resume,” they say. Some of the nation’s accounting and investment firms now offer parent orientation as their 24 year olds enter the workplace. Is this really helping? Or  is it just controlling? At what point will “helping” prohibit your son or daughter from growing and maturing through life’s inevitable decisions, successes, failures, and freeze ups in front of 50 people?

Lie 2- Where my son or daughter goes to college is a reflection on my parenting achievement.

This is a tough one to admit, but is a very common, incredibly insidious lie. We have already established (hopefully) a few key things that refute this:

  1. Admission decisions are not character judgments
  2. Holistic admission by nature means that incredible students don’t always get in to certain elite schools
  3. Where you go to college does not dictate your future success or happiness

Who wouldn’t love to put a UCLA or Northwestern bumper sticker on the back of their car? But to look back over 18 years of raising a child: the lost sleep, the countless hours in carpool line, the nail biting at dance recitals or attending marathon swim meets (the worst by the way, the absolute worst), and then say a university brand represents your love, sacrifice, and influence? That’s ridiculous. It just is.Now go sleep on the couch! In your restlessness and discomfort get up around 4 a.m. and go to your daughter’s bedroom. Kiss her on the head. Whisper that wherever she gets in and chooses to go is going to be awesome, and that you’ll proudly wear the shirt and show up excited for Parents Weekend next fall.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves. Part 2: Admission Counselors

CODE RED

If you’ve seen A Few Good Men (sidenote: ranks in my wife’s Top 3 of all time) then you remember this exchange in the Navy courtroom as Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise) examines Col. Jessep (Jack Nicholson—never married to Cruise) about whether or not he ordered a Code Red that led to the death of an enlisted Marine.

Kaffee: *Colonel Jessep, did you order the Code Red?*

Col. Jessep: You want answers?

Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to.

Col. Jessep: *You want answers?* a-few-good-men-quotes_288x288

Kaffee: *I want the truth!*

Col. Jessep: *You can’t handle the truth!*

Anyone else’s blood pumping?! Man, what a great scene. Anyhoo… yesterday we looked at some of the lies students tell. Today we spin the mirror around and take a look at college admission counselors.

I frequently have the opportunity to speak on panels and hear colleagues describe their college or university at high school programs. Some of the trite responses and canned information gets incredibly frustrating at times, and this is one reason we urge our staff to rely on “stories not statistics” in relaying the Why Georgia Tech message. You can only listen to so many admission folks talk about “great study abroad programs” or “find a professor and a few friends and you too can start a club” before you start having flashbacks to Charlie Brown cartoons. Yet while those lazy, vague descriptions may become mundane, they’re far more tolerable than the lies we tell.

Lie 1- “We are looking for reasons to admit you, rather than deny you.” I’ve heard this from numerous admission representatives at highly selective schools and I’m only two utterings short of standing up next time and coughing, “BS!”

I always suspected this was false, even when Tech was admitting more than 50% of applicants. Now that we’re closer to 30%, I see that it’s a confirmed lie. (Note: schools admitting more than 50% likely would not say this because they don’t have to, but if they do, it is true in their case, so please don’t reference me if you call them out in public).

Here’s how you know this lie can’t be true: You are shopping online for a new backpack for an upcoming trip, and you have some parameters of what you need. You land on REI’s website and they have 638 different backpacks available. Here’s your criteria:

  • Less than 5 lbs… hold more than 65 liters…. include a hydration component… allows for a sleeping bag compartment… water resistant… and less than $300.

All of a sudden that 638 becomes only 10 options. Your search ruled out things that did not fit your criteria, and left you with fewer options to find the best choice. I realize that all metaphors ultimately break down, but stick with me. Let’s say that the backpacks are applicants and you are an admission counselor. Isn’t the same concept true? You start by filtering out what’s not “in range” based on the number of students you can admit given class size and traditional yield projections. That’s why when you hear colleges say, “most of the students who apply could be successful here” they are being honest. If you did not have all of those specific parameters, then easily half of the backpacks would do—they hold stuff, go on your back, and are in price range. It’s a backpack. But schools admitting only one in every four or five students have lots of various filters, parameters, needs, and wants. When it comes down to that last 10 and they can only “buy one pack,” they may be looking for reasons to admit you rather than deny. But like Lt. Kaffee, you are entitled to the truth—and now you have it.

Lie 2- “Be Yourself.” You will most often hear this line referring to essay writing or interview preparation. It’s unhelpful, insincere advice… and it’s a lie. Be myself? Ok, well I enjoy violent war movies, I sneak out with my friends and drive around town most Saturdays at 3 a.m., and I am excited about all of the good looking girls at your college. How do you like me now?! I think we debunked this one a lot faster than number one.

Here’s the translation: use your essay or interview to communicate something insightful or revealing that does not come through in your grades, classes, extra-curricular participation, etc. Readers and interviewers are wanting to take something away that provides additional insight into your life, background, quirks, passions, etc. They’re looking for something that will help them advocate for you in committee that tells your story beyond the numbers. You don’t have to hide the fact that you sneak out, but if you go there give perspective into why that is indicative of who you are more broadly, i.e. it is representative of your curiosity or your sense of adventure. We owe you explanations of why and how we make admission decisions, and you owe us a more reflective and insightful illustration in your writing.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the Lies Parents Tell.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves, Part 1. Students.

I run, but I’m not a REAL runner. But I am a competitor. So when someone passes me or is faster than me, I always tell myself that they’re just in the first quarter mile. Conversely, when I pass someone, I convince myself that they’re fresh and barely getting started, while I’m nearing the end of my jog. It’s ridiculous. But we all do this on some level, don’t we? “I’m not gaining weight, this scale is always five pounds too high.” “Going out with friends instead of studying for tomorrow’s final will be fine. I’m really at my best after 2 a.m. anyway.” “This shirt is expensive, but I need to look good and land this  job.” On some level, we know these thoughts aren’t true but they help us justify our actions, they make us feel better, and they provide us a little bit of hope that we love to cling to.

These little lies also happen in college admission, and we’re all guilty- students, college admissions counselors, and parents. Let’s start with students.

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Students:

Lie 1- Applying to multiple schools with extremely low admit rates increases my chances of getting into one of them. Statistically incorrect. If every school you apply to takes one out of every five students (or less), you are entering a complete crap shoot, as we examined in Holistic Admission, The Struggle is Real. Each year I hear from a student or about a student who applied only to Ivy League Schools, and was not admitted to any of them. Or worse, from the student who applied only to one ultra-selective school, only to learn in March they’ve been denied and are left scrambling for options. Maybe you’re too young to have seen the cinematographic masterpiece Dumb and Dumber in which Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carey) asks Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly—also briefly, and I mean briefly, Carey’s wife) the chances of them ending up together. He suggests one in a hundred to which she replies, “I’d say more like one in a million.” Christmas pauses, considers, and then replies exuberantly, “So…you’re telling me there’s a chance… YEAH!” Like I said before… it’s the hope we love to cling to.

If you’ve been tuning out counselors, teachers, or parents who advise you to apply to a “foundation” or “safety” school, it’s time to snap out of it and get one or two more applications in NOW. If you’ve been looking at data in Naviance or from prior years matriculation lists from your high school and see no one with your profile has been admitted to a particular college over the last few years, then I implore you to submit at least one application to a place you could see attending (not only one that will admit you, but likely offer you a scholarship too).

Lie 2- I have to go to X institution if I’m going to have a really successful career. Look at the Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 list of companies and their CEOs. Most come from schools not categorized as highly selective. While this is a purely monetary measure, it demonstrates that you do not have to attend an elite college in order to be highly successful. Similarly, ask any parent or teacher that attended a prestigious school about their experience and their experience now 20-30 years after graduating from college. They’ll inevitably rattle of plenty of examples of classmates who have not “succeeded,”, and an equal or greater number who are not happy, content, or thriving. The college you attend does not dictate your life trajectory. Getting into a school earns you nothing but the right to pay tuition. It’s the work you do once there, the contacts you make, the worldview you gain, and the opportunities you grasp and capitalize on that will have the primary bearing on your future success—however you define that.

Lie 3- The school I get into and attend represents my success and standing. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and this is a very noble trait. In its best form, it leads to people serving in the armed forces or sacrificing their own stat sheet for a team win. But when it comes to college admission, unfortunately, this often goes the other way. Take Eric. Yesterday he was admitted to Stanford. Congratulations, Eric! Only 5% of applicants will be this year. Today Eric proudly threw open the schoolhouse doors with his chest out, his hair flipping, and his chin unnaturally high. The other mere denizens of the school (including his teachers and administrators) were simply thankful to be in his esteemed presence. Eric perused the cafeteria at lunch as he considered whom he should grace with his presence….. Eric had been admitted to Stanford. But he’d also become a complete jerk. Don’t be like Eric.

Tomorrow we’ll hear the lies college admission officers tell.

Time to Level Up

This week we welcome Communications Officer (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

When you think about stressful experiences, taking a test in front of a crowd probably ranks pretty high on the list. Last year Rick shared a story about his son’s Taekwondo belt test. My 6-year old daughter has been in Taekwondo for a few months now and is getting ready for her third belt test. Now that we’ve been through a couple of tests we know what to expect… but that wasn’t initially the case.

Her first test to move from a white belt (beginner) to a yellow belt (slightly more advanced) was a nerve-racking experience for her—as well as for me as a parent. She had no idea what to expect, and candidly neither did I.

The white belts and yellow belts tested together in the same room. Clearly the instructors know what they’re doing, because the yellow belts were tested first, giving the white belts a chance to watch and get an idea of what’s going on. When their time came, all the white belts stood in a group, and 12-15 kids were tested on their basic form, kicking motion, and board breaking simultaneously. Meanwhile a crowd of parents (and newly minted orange belts) watched.

Focus… Concentration…

Everything went according to plan until the board breaking portion. Older students (or junior instructors) each paired up with younger students to hold their boards for breaking. The kids got ready as the Master led the chant: “Focus…. Concentration… kyah!” A series of boards around the room shattered… except for one.

One boy did not break his board. The rest of the students celebrated with smiles on their faces and sat down in their spots. The Master continued the chant for the boy: “Focus… concentration….” The boy tried again. And again. And again. At least six tries went by before he quietly whispered to the junior instructor “can you crack the board for me a little?” She whispered back, “no, but I know you can do it.” Every eye in the room was on this kid, and I started to feel uncomfortable to the point I felt bad for watching, so I intentionally averted my eyes to look out the window. When I glanced back, the board suddenly cracked and the room erupted in cheers. He sat down with a smile, belt testing continued, and each student received their yellow belt.

On the drive home we talked about the experience. My daughter asked, “Why did you cheer for him? You don’t know who he is…” An understandable question for a 6-year old involved in a sport for the first time. I replied, “We cheered because that was tough. Everyone was watching as he failed over and over again. It would’ve been easy for him to quit—but he didn’t. He kept going, even with people watching, and that takes courage. And when you see someone have courage like that it’s worth cheering for.”

Belt Tests and Graduations

Belt tests and graduations have some things in common. As you work up to the big event, you go to class, you practice, you study, and you prepare. You work for the goal, and lots of people—some you know, many of whom you don’t—show up to watch and cheer.

As a high school senior on the cusp of graduation, here are three takeaways to keep in mind as you finish out your year.

You don’t know someone else’s story. In our case we saw the boy struggle to break his board and, after many tries, ultimately achieve success. But most of the time in life that’s not the case. Now that May 1 has passed, you’ll see peers recognized for acceptances, scholarships, and other achievements. It’s easy to look at another person’s end result and think about how lucky they are. But behind that “luck” is a lot of hard work, time invested, and sacrifice. You may not see the number of times they failed. You may not know the physical or emotional challenges they overcame to achieve their goal. Cheer them on, and remember…

Someone else’s win isn’t your loss. This is the time to celebrate! You did it! You’ve worked hard for years to graduate from high school. You may have a friend who got into their (or your) dream school and you didn’t. You may still be sitting on someone’s waitlist. Of course that stings. But remember, you’ve gotten accepted (and hopefully have deposited!) to a great place too. And guess what? There are people at that school making plans right now to welcome you to campus next fall, and they want to make your first year an amazing experience. So enjoy these last few weeks of high school and summer with your friends. Then…

Get Ready to Level Up. After my daughter got her yellow belt, we celebrated and told her how proud we were to see her work for a goal and achieve it. Then we reminded her: it will get harder from here. Each level you go up in life, things become more challenging. More is expected of you—if you want to succeed you have to continue to work hard. It’s the same for you as you head to college. You’re moving up a level. More will be expected of you—not only in the classroom, but also in life. No longer will your family be there to make sure you get places on time, to feed you healthy meals, to do your laundry, or give you a curfew to make sure you’re in bed at a decent hour to sleep. These life choices are now up to you.  You can take your new-found freedom and run wild—or you can make the best choices for you as you take the next step into adulthood. Life won’t be as easy as it has been—but as you already know, nothing rewarding comes easily.

Make time for work, but also make time for fun. Your moment of truth is here, Class of 2018. Celebrate each other and get ready for your next adventure. After all, life moves pretty fast—if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

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Diving into 2017

It’s a busy week here at Georgia Tech as we prepare to release more than 15,000 Early Action admission decisions this coming Saturday. Since Rick is tied up with the business of admission, I hope you’ll bear with me as his fill-in this week!

We don’t get a lot of snow here in Atlanta… if I’m being honest, we don’t get any. Maybe the occasional ice storm will roll through, but snow? Not so much. So you have to understand why the GT swim team (and one diver!) had a pretty epic experience when last week’s swim meet at UVA was canceled due to snow.

So what does swimming in the snow have to do with a new year, college admission, and the blog? More than you may think…

New year, new goals

It’s a new year, and our tendency as humans is to dive in (see what I did there?) as we turn the page from 2016 to 2017. Something about the freshness of a new year (maybe it’s the calendars?) makes us excited to set goals and create new plans for ourselves both personally and professionally. We’re eager to shake off the shackles of whatever held us back before and move boldly into the future.

But… Before we forge ahead into our new to-do list and start checking those boxes, we can’t forget one little word that has a whole lot of impact: assessment.

If we really want 2017 to be different, and to be better, it must begin with a true look back. Assessment helps us see where we stumbled, where we excelled, and how we can improve.

Help us help you

The GT Admission blog has been up and running for over a year now, and we’re thrilled to have more than 400 subscribers (thank you!). Our team eagerly reads and shares any and all feedback we receive on our posts, and we use those conversations to shape our strategy for future posts.

One of our goals for the blog is to lift the veil on college admission. We try to give you an inside look into the who, what, how and why of admission. We want to help students (and families and counselors) understand what they can, and cannot, control when it comes to “getting in” at their top schools.

Each week our team brainstorms ideas for the blog, hoping to hit on what you want to hear. Sometimes we knock it out of the park… other times, not so much. What is it that makes one post successful, and another not?

We’re asking you to lift the veil on your side of the curtain, and help us understand what YOU want to hear from us. How can we provide the content you’re looking for? It starts with assessment. We’ve created a quick survey (and I do mean quick–only 7 questions!) that we hope you’ll take a moment to complete. We know you’re busy folks, so trust me when I tell you that not only are we anxious to hear your thoughts, but we will use what we learn to steer the blog forward in the year ahead.

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