Magical Mystery Tour

“It was twenty years ago today
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play
They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile”

The Beatles ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’

Those famed lyrics would never have been penned had John Lennon and Paul McCartney not met in Liverpool, England 60 years ago last week on July 6. And from the moment they joined forces until now, The Beatles have never gone out of style.

If you caught any news last Thursday, you likely heard this story. 60 years! Yes, that is a long time, but it’s also a fairly random number. We don’t celebrate many things at 60. 25, 50, 100, sure. But only the things that really, really matter are celebrated at 60. And the fateful meeting of these two teenagers is something worth celebrating, because together they helped change the course of modern music.

In brief, the story is that John Lennon’s band, the Quarry Men, were playing a gig at a local church garden party (in other words small venue, small crowd, small reach). Paul McCartney accompanied a friend and was struck by John’s style and improvisation of the song ‘Come Go With Me.’

Paul hung around that day to listen. And later, when he had a chance to show off his chops on the guitar, he played several brand new rock n’ roll songs from the US, including Eddie Cochran’s ‘Twenty-Flight Rock.’ Unlike John, he not only knew all the lyrics, but also nailed all of the chords to this difficult tune. Later that night he also demonstrated great skill on the piano.

Here is where it gets interesting: John, who was the lead vocalist and leader of the group, initially debated whether or not to invite Paul to join the band, because McCartney was such a strong musician. But ultimately he took the risk of sharing the stage with someone so talented, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And your point?

Well, thanks for asking. It’s actually two-fold for seniors heading off to college this fall:

1. Like John, you need to open up. There is ALWAYS going to be someone better than you. Someone faster, smarter, more talented, better looking, more innovative or more capable. If you have not already experienced that, you are either an extremely big fish in a small pond, fatally flawed in your self-perception, or hanging around the wrong people.

When you get to college the number in that next-level category grows infinitely. I sincerely hope that instead of being unsettled or intimidated, you will proactively seek them out. Surround yourself with them, study with them, hang out with them, or invite them to grab a meal or go on a road trip. John Lennon had panache. He was talented and confident. He was a leader. But his Quarry Men band mates all played second fiddle (actually second guitar, but you get my point).

Had he stuck with that crew, he may never have left the Liverpool circuit. Ultimately, what made him great was putting an infinitely more gifted musician on stage with him so his gifts of improvisation, creativity, and flare could be fully realized.

He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Doesn’t have a point of view
Knows not where he’s going to
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

The Beatles, ‘Nowhere Man’

2. Like Paul you need to show up. Without Paul’s curiosity, desire to hear great music, and proactive ask to be included, the meeting– and the Beatles—would have never happened. He stuck around. By all accounts, John was somewhat intimidating. And he was a year older than McCartney, which at 15 and 16 can be a big deal. But he believed in himself enough to try to work his way in.  He could have just listened and left, but he recognized an opportunity. So he picked a really tough, brand new song that had not been fully released in the UK and then demonstrated his skill on two totally different instruments. He essentially asked to be included then showed why he should be.

At its core, this is a paradoxical lesson in humility and greatness. In order to truly become great, in order to really become world-class, in order to truly become unique, both of them demonstrated humility, and that launched them toward greatness. (Yes, yes. I know what ultimately happened to The Beatles and this relationship, but for now let’s focus on the early years. Maybe a later blog about transfer on their break-up.)

Humility and Greatness

One of the biggest mistakes smart students make in their freshman year is not asking for help. Most come to Tech, and schools like us, having never needed to. They were the ones tutoring others in high school. They were the ones friends, neighbors, classmates came to for help. They were, if you will, the lead guitarist.

I am not a big fan of the college rankings, because I think too many people use them to initially create their college lists or lean too heavily on them when ultimately choosing a school. Many will insist there is a consequential difference between number 11 and number 19. Based on experience and rankings methodology, I would vehemently contest that opinion. However, one thing you can be assured is identical between them– they are going to challenge you academically. You will be stretched and pushed due to the rigor of the course load, your inherent desire to do well, and the quality of professors you meet.

When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
 But now these days are gone and I’m not so self-assured
Now I find I’ve changed my mind, I’ve opened up the doors

The Beatles, ‘Help

HELP!

Ask for it early. Ask for it often. Even if you see or visit the tutoring centers on your orientation tour this summer, go back in the first week and introduce yourself to the people who work there. Once you get your schedule, hold time each week to study and put the location down as their office. Bookmark their website, make their homepage your mouse pad. You get my point. No matter where you are going to school, there are going to be other students in your residence hall, classes, labs, sororities, clubs, and teams who can help your creativity and other talents come to life. They can help lift your proverbial voice. But like John, you need to open yourself up to those relationships. Like Paul, you need to show up and embrace their complementary talents, so they can sharpen you– and vice versa.

The real tragedy, whether it be in sports, academics, music, business, clubs, community or any other venture, is when you shut down or close off due to a lack the humility or willingness to risk not looking like THE absolute best, because the truth is that only assures you of never becoming YOUR absolute best.

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Don’t Procrastinate… Get Started!

“Man. It really smells like pee in here!” I said scrunching my nose, cocking my head downward and to the left, and painfully closing my eyes. My son, who at the time was five, looked up from playing with his Transformers with a look of absolute bemusement.

“AJ, any idea why?” He shrugged his shoulders and quickly went back to insuring that Megatron (not Calvin Johnson… he loves him!) and his cronies were defeated by the Autobots. I proceeded to look through every sheet, drawer, and cubby in his room. Nothing. No soiled item or area. No article of clothing stuffed into a pillow case or sheet crammed in a corner. So I did the only logical thing… I opened a window, hastily sprayed Febreze and left shaking my head.

Image result for TRANSFORMERS AND TOYS AND OPTIMUS PRIME

Three days later, while I was out of town, my wife had a similar experience. This time our son watched with the rapt interest one has while viewing an African watering hole at midnight. “Who else is coming? What might happen next?” After rifling thoroughly through his room and strewn belongings, she asked him lovingly but repeatedly why it smelled distinctly of urine.

After the third time, it apparently dawned on him. “Hmmm…wait. I know why, mommy. I think it’s because I have been peeing in my floor vent.” Silence. Stunned silence.

And then, and only because of her incredible patience and God-given restraint, she laughed and asked calmly, “You what?!”

Yep. Come to find out that for an unknown (but likely multi-week/month) period of time, my man had been using the floor vent as a urinal. I actually Googled it. It’s more common than you’d think.

Why? You might ask– and with good reason. Quite simply, “You know how when you’re playing, and you don’t want to stop, and the bathroom seems so far away…that’s when.”

Several hundred dollars and a new duct system later. Let’s put it this way– it’s a good thing she discovered it and I was out of town or we might also have had a broken window or door to put back on its hinges.

Get Started!

Why do I share this with you?  Well, if the increasing temperatures, slower schedule, and nightly baseball games were not a hint, it’s summer! A few weeks ago, we posted another blog on this: “Make it a Summer!”

In that blog, we talked about using your time to write college essays, visit schools, talk to graduated seniors or friends returning home from their first year of college, etc. But we looked at the analytics on that blog and realized that perhaps the clicks on the piece on writing  was not as high as we’d hoped.  And so I wanted to come singularly back to that part.

If you are a rising senior, I’m imploring you to use July to write your college essays and supplemental questions. You have an entire month.

Here’s how you can get started:

Week One (July 1-8): Read the prompts from Common Application and Coalition Application. Consider what you might write about. Think about them when you’re at the pool or the gym or driving (but mainly think about driving). Jot down some ideas. Who knows, you may be inspired by fireworks on July 4, so consider voice recording on your phone. That is how I start my drafts and get ideas out and recorded. Whatever works for you.

It does not have to be formal or sequential. During this week also write one supplemental essay for a school you know you are going to apply to. Georgia Tech’s are here.  Generally speaking these are shorter and most schools only require 1-3 additional short answer/supplemental writing samples. And many schools simply ask you to submit something you have already written, so consider your options if you find that to be the case for a school you’re interested in.

Week Two (July 9-16): Get your first draft done. Chip away. One paragraph at a time. One page at a time. A little bit of time each day. If you know you are applying to a school that does not accept the Common Application or Coalition Application, then you may need to write two essays this week. Not a problem. Allocate an hour a day for that entire week. You got this! Use this week to write another supplemental essay for the same college or a different one this week.

Week Three (July 17-23): Get this to an editor (not a co-author). Hint: You should ask them if they’re up for it during week two and tell them they’ll have it on July 16. Check in with them on July 20. “How’s it going?” Have you taken a look yet? Can I clear anything up for you?” Plan to meet with them or Skype/FaceTime with them by July 23. Write another supplemental essay this week.

Week Four (July 23-30): Second draft. Take the edits and make your improvements and enhancements. Consider how you can add description or make your essay more unique, personalized, authentic. Write your fourth supplemental essay this week.

July 31. Treat yourself. Ice cream, a new shirt, a movie or show. You do you, because at this point you have a long essay and four supplemental essays done. Your editor should be up for reading a few supplemental essays this week, especially if you brought them along for the double scoop or enticed them with an Amazon card.

Now use the same method in August for any additional supplementals or long essays. This way as your fall ramps up with sports, school activities, and normal homework and other papers, tests, etc., you’ll be good to go for making October or November EA/ED deadlines.

Why Do I Care?  

Last year, of our 31,500 applications, 1/3 were submitted on a deadline day or the two days prior. Now, I’m guessing that when these applications open on August 1, you are not stumped by some of the initial questions, ie. Name, Date of Birth, Address. (If you are, please call me, and we’ll discuss if college is right for you.)

So what takes so long to submit? Why is meeting an October 15 or November 1 deadline tough when you have 10-12 weeks post August 1? I’ll tell you why… “You know how when you’re playing, and you don’t want to stop, and the deadlines seem so far away…”

Trust me. Get started! You don’t want admission readers looking for Febreze after reading your essays.

We moved last year. I really like our new house. One of the features the real estate agent did not point out but I most appreciate is that the vents are in the ceiling.

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Four Letter Words & College Admission

“That is not a four letter word, Elizabeth,” I said to my six-year-old. “Only four letter words, remember?” Let me back up.

I’ve been on vacation in Vermont the last week. It’s been amazing. Cool weather, sunny skies, incredible views of the lakes and mountains.

One thing I’ve learned as a parent is that when you go on vacation and are eating out after a long day of travel,  you better be prepared while  waiting on food. A pack of cards, crayons, books, and worst case, games on the phone. I’d rather exceed the day’s allotment of screen time than verbally lambaste my kid in public. Life (and college admission) are all about decisions, right?

So we are playing hangman as we wait for our pizza and we’d agreed to use four letter words. The only issue is that a kindergartener can’t exactly spell them all correctly, and after a day of travel and a lack of food, I forgot to put on my phonics hat, which is how we arrived at: L-E-R-N.

“That is not a four letter word, Elizabeth. Only four letter words, remember?” which I followed with, “That doesn’t fit. It doesn’t make sense.”

My wife’s calm but firm response, “It makes sense to her.” And a simultaneous eyebrow raise and upward chin flick, which can mean only one thing… yep, the waitress was standing right there. I can’t be sure but I’m fairly confident she spit in my next drink order. And, you know what, deservedly so.

“It makes sense to her.”Image result for lern

I thought about that later in the evening, as I listened to the other three sleep contentedly in our hotel room. Don’t worry. I’m not going to preach on how everyone shouldn’t get a trophy or why “A’s” aren’t that important.

Instead, I’m just going to remind you of something very elementary but somehow easily forgotten about your college search process… it’s YOURS. YOU get to fill in the blanks. Ultimately, it’s YOUR word. YOUR solution. Sure, read the guide books; consider where older peers or club members or teammates have gone; go visit that obscure school your crazy uncle advice keeps mentioning. Listen to the advice and opinions and excitement and concern of parents, teachers, friends, counselors, coaches, etc. Remember– the landscape if vast.

But more than anything, as you visit schools this summer and fall, as you apply to schools, and ultimately when you decide where to attend, the most important thing is: What makes sense to YOU?

Spoiler alert: The categories below are very basic. Probably the things you have already heard or read or are already considering. I’m just hoping that you’ll think differently about the same buckets by constantly reminding yourself that they are YOUR blanks to fill in.

LOCATION- Over the last week, I had the chance to visit both University of Vermont and Middlebury College. Separated by only 35 miles, they’re worlds apart in ethos and environment. Burlington is the largest city in Vermont at about 43,000. Middlebury is a quaint town of 8400. I know people who proudly graduated from each and would not trade their experience for anything or anywhere else.

What is important to you? Do you want access to more restaurants and an airport? Do you want to share the town with tourists and business people and conventions and the other things that bigger cities typically bring? Or do you like the idea of a college town where the students are the lifeblood and the faculty live right in the community? Distinct experiences, distinct dynamics, distinct student bodies. What makes sense to YOU?

WEATHER/CLIMATE-  I showed my id to a cashier in a store in Stowe, VT this week. “Georgia, huh?”

Image result for middlebury college

Middlebury College

“Yep. Have you ever been there?”

“Sure. I’m from Tennessee.”

“Ok. Cool.” “What brought you up to Vermont?”

“Well, I’m a junior at Tufts in Boston and just spending the summer here.”

“Interesting. So what would you say to someone from the South who is looking to go to school in the Northeast (I know. I know. I can’t turn it off)?”

“Visit in January…and buy a good coat. It takes a year to adjust but I’m glad I’ve come to experience a different part of the country. It’s made me appreciate the South and I also love New England.” She’s thinking of pharmacy school when she graduates.

Are you ready for a complete change of scenery (and wardrobe)? Florida feels great in February, but you will not see much of a change of season. Cool (no pun intended)? One of the best things about our country is its diversity in higher education options. You are seeing that with all of the brochures that keep showing up in your mailbox (and writing from Vermont I am contractually bound to remind you to recycle). Consider places you’ve never heard of: check out their Instagram feed; take the exit off the highway on your road trip; Google famous alumni. You have to rule places in and out. That’s part of the process. But be open and be honest with yourself. Lots of voices and opinions will continue to swirl and sometimes amplify, but don’t stop listening to your voice, your gut, your dreams and hopes and goals. What makes sense to YOU?

Image result for university of vermont and burlington, vt

University of Vermont at top of hill in Burlington

SIZE OF SCHOOL- Do you want to know most of your classmates by the time you graduate? Or are you someone who relishes some anonymity? Do you appreciate close-knit culture and the loyalty and bonds it brings? Or are you excited by a big alumni base? Do you envision graduating on a lawn or in a stadium? Big schools will talk about how they can feel small. Sometimes small schools talk about how they can provide a big school network and experience. But at the end of the day: What makes sense to YOU?

Final Tip- use your network. This summer talk to seniors who are about to go off to college. Where did they start out looking? Which schools were at the top of their list last year? Where do they wish they’d visited? And why are they excited about where are they ultimately going. No one person’s opinion is gospel truth, which is why you need to ask and seek opinions from as many people and sources as  you can. Use. Your. Network (it’s a life lesson).

YOUR college EXPERIENCE. YOUR college CHOICE. YOUR college VISIT. Now– go “L-E-R-N” what makes sense to YOU!

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Kitchen Bars and Common Data Sets

The Kitchen Bar

I am sure that there is a moment in every kid’s life when they regret the fact that their parent has a particular profession. Lots of child-sized thought bubbles like, “Oh. Crap. Why is my mom a doctor? Or in sales? Or a personal trainer?” I can imagine them reading in their room after a conversation or walking to school after a lecture telling their buddies, “Man, I wish my dad was not in consulting. You should have heard what he said last night.”

Well, that moment came to the Clark house recently. My son (a second grader) wanted to apply to be part of “Principal’s Council.” This is a group of student representatives who meet periodically to consider ways to improve the school, communicate important messages more effectively, or provide student insight into current topics, issues, etc. Great concept and I fully support it.

So I asked him, “How many will they pick from each grade?”

“Two,” he replied.

“And how many people are going to apply?”

“I don’t know,” (I thought that answer was not supposed to start so frequently until age 14 or so).

So my head immediately goes to his odds. First, you have to believe that they’re going to select a boy and a girl (figuring that was a fair assumption).

“And how are they going to decide who gets picked?”

He showed me the application. A few short answer questions on ideas you have and why you would be a good representative for your class. Thankfully (for him), it noted that handwriting was not a factor for selection.

I knew that there were 60 students in his grade. Then I checked the roster to find, interestingly, that they’re basically dead split on boys and girls. We lined up 30 items on the kitchen bar to represent each boy in the class, which took a while. We used salt and pepper shakers, fruits and vegetables, spice jars, and a few pistachios. I had to keep him from assigning specific people to the lemons or broccoli (which he calls “the vegetable that shall not be named”).

Then I asked him how many of the boys he thought would apply. Same question from earlier but now with props. (Turns out it was effective, so consider that tactic for future reference.) “Well,” he said, “I know Michael is. And Ryan. And Matthew…” He went on to rattle off another four or five more.

“So, do you think it’s fair to say at least 15 boys will apply?” I asked. Ultimately, we agreed on 14. Not sure why he was unwilling to concede that last tomato but for the point of the exercise, I was good with it.

“Okay. So, why should they pick you?” I asked. Told you there was a point in every kid’s life when they wish their mom or dad did something else. And, while he did not say it, I figured we had to be flirting with it here. I came to this conclusion not based on incredible parental intuition but more so on the audible sigh and pseudo-violent backward thrust of his head.

After he recovered (by eating two of his classmates… I mean jelly beans), it was pretty interesting to hear his responses, as well as to hear him acknowledge how great the other kids in his grade are too. Every time he’d say something about being honest or a good listener, he’d often follow it with, “but so is Jonathan” (or another of this classmates).

In the end, I said, “Listen, I think it’s awesome that you want to do this- — and I think if you’re picked that you would do a great job. But you need to understand that the chances of not getting picked are pretty high.”

He took a long, hard look at the other 13 items still on the bar and got out his pencil sharpener to start his application. The next morning, as we were walking up to the school, I told him I was proud of him for applying. I told him even if he did not get picked there would be tons of other opportunities to contribute and make things around him better. Yes, I know, I was laying it on thick.

“Okay. Dad. Got it.” And he ran off with one of the “apples” from the kitchen bar.

Analyzing Common Data Sets (CDS)

When you are applying to schools you are not going to know absolutely everything about their process or priorities. And you’re not going to know exactly who else is in that year’s applicant pool. But you’re not completely in the dark either. You have the ranges a school provides on their profile; you have last year’s admit rate; you have their mission and purpose,; but you also have the ability to look at public historical information that will provide you additional insight, perspective, and trends if you look at multiple years.

Let’s stick with the 7% number or 1/14 applicants selected. At that rate, we’re talking Princeton or Yale. (See selective admit rates here.) Note: It’s possible both are really somewhere in the 6.x range, but no need to split hairs (or vegetables if you’re using your kitchen bar for this exercise). You can quickly find most school’s CDS online (here is Georgia Tech’s) and use it to provide additional context beyond what’s listed in their marketing materials. Here are the ones for Yale and Princeton. Since these are standardized, you can always go right to Section C for information on freshman admission.Common Data Set Initiative

Section C1: Provides applicant breakdown by gender. Is the distribution equal in applicants or admits at the school you’re applying to? Generally, there is some variance. I’d encourage you to look over several years of data to see if there is consistency or a trend. Does the school currently have gender equity in their class? Does it appear from the data or from their messaging or from looking at multiple years that they’re increasing the number of men or women in their class overall?

Section C7:  This section outlines what each school places priority on in their admission and decision making process. You’ll find highly selective schools will incorporate far more factors beyond academics here (extra-curricular involvement, geographic origin, first generation students, etc.) and they also convey the level of importance they place on each factor. So expect schools below 20% in admit rate to check off plenty of additional boxes and assign relative importance. This is a somewhat quantitative illustration of a very nuanced holistic review that schools should be discussing on their websites and presentations. Good news: Yale makes this incredibly easy to find, as they have a site entitled: “What Yale Looks For.” (For the record, I think all schools should standardize that naming convention.)

Section C9:  This section provides test score information by band. Note: admitted averages are typically higher than enrolling averages (which is what the CDS displays). So it’s safe to assume that the representation for admitted students in the higher bands is greater than these tables display. In other words, if 75+% of enrolling students scored above 700 on each section, it’s likely that the admitted pool was some number above that. And therefore a lower percentage in lower bands.

Section C10: Class Rank. So at Princeton 94% of students finished in the top 10% of their class. At Yale that number was 97%. At Tech it was 87%. While many high schools do not rank, this is still a good frame of reference for understanding the quality of a school’s class. And, let’s be honest, the school may not rank per se, and some may not even provide percentile bands, but you still know where you relatively stand in the class in terms of performance- and how you’ll “read” in an application versus a classmate or someone who may have applied from your high school last year.

Feel free to delve deeper into the CDS of any school you plan to apply to. Other sections will give insight on number of students from in and out of state, detailed information on financial aid, size of classes, and faculty degree attainment information. All of these are more data and information that provide context for the admission process, but they also give you a clearer understanding of who is at each institution. But, we’re going to stop with Section C in an effort to keep this blog under 2000 words.

So What?

Unlike my son, you are not going to know 1/3 of the applicants personally. You won’t be able to put their “trustworthiness” or “entrepreneurial acumen” on a Likert Scale. But you can dig a bit deeper than simple ranges or profiles universities often put on home pages. And doing that is critical to help you better understand the competition and review.

  • If 92% of the students enrolling at a school were in the top 10% (and a higher percentage still in their admitted pool) and you are not, what will help make you part of that other 8%?
  • If a school’s CDS, in addition to their site and materials, is saying they don’t put much value or importance on testing and that is your strongest point within your application, you should be factoring that into “your admit rate” vs. the school’s published number.
  • If they report in their CDS that “demonstrated interest” is not part of their process…it’s not. No need to call or email incessantly, or ask others to do so on your behalf.
  • And lastly, if you are a valedictorian with a perfect test score are you guaranteed admission to all schools? NO. These numbers are helpful, but they don’t tell the entire story. The CDS provides data that reinforces what these schools will be saying in information sessions and outlining on their publications and websites– far more than academics are taken into account at our nation’s most elite schools.

Soooooo….What?!

  1. Do your homework. Read and research past the first page of a brochure or website. Read about a school’s mission. Check out their CDS. Ask good questions when you are on campus that really help you get to the answers that you need to make a good decision on where to apply, and ultimately where to attend.
  2. Acknowledge that at highly selective schools the kitchen bar is filled with lots of talent. Lots of far more perfectly ripe vegetables than they can possibly admit. And further, that many factors will be used to make admission decisions, so 100% predictability is impossible.
  3. Diversify your school set. I’m telling you the same thing I told my son. Go for it. Apply where you really want to go. But understand that you need to have schools on your list with a range of admit rates (7%-16% is not “a range”); schools that put priority on your strengths; and schools where their data and your interests align.

Made the sub-2000 word mark, but barely. Thanks for reading about data over the summer. Now go enjoy the pool.

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Make It A Summer… again!

Memorial Day is one of my favorite holiday weekends because it’s low key. Memorial Day is like that quiet, smart, and deceptively good-looking person we all know who just goes about their business doing their thing without looking for praise or the spotlight. Every now and then you take a look and they’ve just aced a test or scored a goal or are dating some amazing person. This is the infectious and admirable quality of contentment and self-awareness. 

Memorial Day isn’t going to bring fireworks or presents or greeting cards (which is truly something in the world of holidays). It just goes about its business every year, gently and encouragingly shepherding us into summer. It confidently holds open the door where sunshine glints through and kindly warms the room. You can hear laughing and music and the smells of barbecues as you approach and enter the season.

Summer is here, my friends. It’s a time to breathe. It’s a time to rest. It’s a time to slow down and enjoy people and books and being outside. I guess The Fresh Prince said it best– it’s a “time to lay back and unwind.” Memorial Day is an usher (no capitals, no link… the role not the artist) to Summertime. So embrace it– summer is your friend.

Last year I wrote a blog for rising seniors on how to “Make it a summer.” In recent conversations with friends, colleagues, and family, I felt like it was worth sharing that post with you again this year. Drums please!  Bonus: Looking for some other song suggestions? You’re in luck.

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