Life Lesson #2: Don’t be an idiot!

Ok. Where were we? Right…Don’t be an idiot.

Did you ever see the movie “Hitch” with Will Smith? It’s hilarious from beginning to end and has some pretty solid love advice themes in there too. In one scene, Hitch (Smith) is jet skiing in the New York City harbor with Sara Melas (Eva Mendes) on a first date.  His jet ski sucks up a plastic trash bag and completely dies, so he attempts to get on with her. In doing so, he swings his leg around and kicks her smack in the face (that’s not the solid love advice part). As she’s nursing her bruised eye and bloody nose, he says, “I saw that going differently in my head.”

In their acceptance letters, most colleges, in addition to mentioning grades and continued academic excellence, will also discuss character/behavior, and an expectation that you will maintain the record they reviewed when you applied. Unfortunately, every year at this time, we receive emails and calls from students, principals, counselors, “friends,” or others in the community informing us of matters we should evaluate regarding discipline infractions of varying severity.

Senior year is supposed to be fun. Especially your last semester. Lots to celebrate. Teams win, there are awards ceremonies to attend, spring break, prom, tradition upon tradition, and last upon last. I get it. I lived it. And along the way I made some pretty bad decisions, so trust, I don’t claim to be saying this from a place of perfection.

dont be an idiotWhat I have now is perspective on the risk you run when you decide to drink underage, jump off a bridge naked in the dark into water at an untested depth, cram 12 people into a hearse and blow up the principal’s mailbox, or deride and harass people on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Imagine sitting in a Principal’s, Dean of Students’, or attorney’s office saying, “I saw it going differently in my head when: my friend showed up to prom with a handle of bourbon… when we stole a farm animal for our ‘promposal’… when I posted those pictures and comments of my teammates on social media.”

I’m not trying to give you ideas here. These examples are all based tightly on reality, and all of them ended up having significant consequences. All relational, some ending in a revocation of admission, and some with long lasting legal implications. The big umbrella here continues to be “don’t be an idiot.” But I also have a few tangible tips as well.

Tip 1: Lock Down Social Media. At Tech, and most schools of similar scope, we do not have time to troll your social media accounts. But increasingly we’re sent links to those or images from them. We have had several incidents reported to us over the last few years that have led to revocation of admission, and another handful that we’ve referred to our Dean of Students for a summer conference and first semester probation. My advice is to make all of this private. Even if you are not trying to hide anything, this is just a wise move to make now. More and more employers and scholarship foundations are looking on social media, so start the practice now to insure only those you invite in have access to your life, thoughts, and comments.

Tip 2: Keep Studying. Sound familiar? As we speculated, you’ve likely already forgotten that catchy title from last week but don’t forget the concept. Not only do you need to keep working, keep your grades up, etc., but make sure YOU ARE THE ONE taking the tests and writing the papers. If you start sliding on your studying, the temptation to cheat grows. Several times recently we have been informed about egregious academic infractions in the senior spring. We have had one lead to the removal of a merit scholarship, and more than a few that have ended in revocation of admission. I know you have the integrity and drive to finish well, and I’m imploring you do engage both right now.

Tip 3: Zoom Out. Ever seen that kids book “Zoom?” It starts with a picture of a bunch of red triangles. On the next page you realize that those are really a rooster who is being watched through a window by two kids. Then you find out the children are actually toys in a set being played with by a girl but that all ends up being a cover of a magazine being read on a cruise that’s actually an ad on a side of a bus etc.  It’s an amazing book (and a great graduation gift too). I’m urging you to zoom back from these next few weeks as you close out high school. Think about your dreams and excitement for college. Consider what you might want life to look like in your early 20s once you’re out of college. It’s tough to think five years down the line as a high school student (Frankly, I did not find it all that easy in my 30s). But if you can see down into the framework you’re setting up now; if you can see how one decision (good or bad) leads to the next year, then you will think twice about going too far on the senior prank, or getting behind the wheel when you should not, and the list goes on… Basically, I’m encouraging you to turn the page from high school to college without ripping it.

 

 

 

Keep Studying. And other life lessons.

Recently, I was sitting at dinner with my family. Now you need to understand that a meal with young kids is actually more like circuit training. It’s a series of deep squats where you rarely remain in place for more than a minute or two, followed by the inevitable bend or stretch to pick up a rolling grape or a bouncing fork. There are periodically laps to the kitchen to retrieve additional napkins, and shuttle run sprints to the bathroom at unexpected moments to insure a kid “made it on time” or didn’t come up bloody after crashing down from the stool while washing hands.

They say you burn more calories than you consume when you eat celery. Due to the CrossFit workout that is dinner at my house, I’m pretty sure I’m doing that even over a meal of steak, potatoes, and a substantial side of avocados. Anyway, we’re eating and my daughter keeps saying she’s cold. Mind you—she’s wearing only underwear at the time… that’s how we roll. Finally, after the third time, I looked up and said, “If you’re cold, put on some more clothes. That’s a life lesson.” You know. The way you talk to little kids.

So consider today’s blog life advice/ admission advice (and a side of thoughtful family planning thrown in for good measure). You’ve been admitted to your dream school. Or you’ve been admitted to your second or third choice school, and you’re getting excited now to go there soon. Congratulations! That is great. Like your parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, and community, I’m very proud of you and excited for you. Now… Don’t Screw It Up! There are a few basic ways that students go off the rails in the spring of the senior year, and either have their admission decision revoked, or end up meeting with the Dean of Students prior to matriculating.

For today we’ll focus on Academics. Life Lesson: Keep working.

Schedule Changes. If you were admitted in EA/ED or you applied before your senior spring schedule was firm, and you drop classes in the spring, it is incumbent upon you to reach out to the college to inform them. Ideally, you would actually consult the admission office ahead of time to see how this may impact your admission decision or their consideration of your file. Generally speaking, if you are dropping a course that does not have graduation implications, is of similar rigor, and is not directly related to your intended major, it should not be an issue. For instance, if you plan to major in English and are proposing switching out of AP Psychology and into AP Environmental Science, we should be good. However, if you are dropping Multivariable Calculus and picking up Advanced Weight Training B, we should talk. Schedule alternations that indicate a decline in commitment to your preparation may have an impact on your admission decision, especially at schools with very low admit rates.

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Grade Decline. Check your offer of admission. After the congratulations and before the offer to visit campus or connect with a staff member, there is likely a paragraph that discusses your established pattern of excellence in grades. They may directly say they “reserve the right to revoke admission” if your final grades are not on par, or they’ll at least instruct you to contact them for consultation. The best thing you can do here is keep your grades up! Don’t take your foot off the gas. I’m sure Nike makes a lightweight, water-wicking shirt that has a pithy phrase that applies here: “Finish Strong” or “Lock In.” Put that on and wear it every day. “Keep Studying” would likely not be a big seller but that’s what I’m telling you.

Every year we have a handful of deposited students who submit final spring grades with straight Cs, or all As and two Ds. We’ve certainly had some Fs thrown in for good measure. Typically, this does not impede a student’s graduation, or it would be a non-issue (no graduation= no college). If this is the case for you, or if you “have a friend” in this situation, the best thing to do is get out in front of this. Call the admission office once those grades are official, or if you see this as inevitable, let them know the situation. If there are extenuating circumstances surrounding the precipitous drop, those are important to discuss. It will then be in their hands to evaluate the courses, speak with your counselors and teachers, and determine if that trend may continue into college, or if they believe you turn it around on their campus.

Our office has gone in multiple directions here. Sometimes we’ve rescinded admission because of the egregious grades and lack of reasonable rationale for the drop. Sometimes we’ve assigned academic counselors and RAs to monitor students in the first semester or first year to insure necessary support is in place immediately. But don’t let us find this out by reviewing your final transcript. And definitely DON’T intentionally hold sending your transcript until late summer because you know this is going to be an issue. I’ll never forget talking to a student several years ago from New Jersey who had failed two courses in the spring of his senior year. These courses were not required for graduation, but they were important to his foundation for success at Tech. I literally called him while he was packing his car to drive down to Atlanta and had to tell him to “unpack.” Not fun for anyone, especially because he had not shared any of this with his parents to that point.

Later this week we’ll delve into social media, discipline issues, character questions, etc. Life Lesson: Don’t be an idiot.

The Waitlist…yea, you know. Part 3.

Good news, bad news. Good news is my editor just had a baby. That means the filter is off and you’re going to get an even more concentrated dose of transparency. Bad news is my editor just had a baby. That means the clean sections, readability, and schedule of these blog entries is going to take a hit. Bonus good news: this beautiful new baby just became part of a loving, amazing family.

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I coach little kids soccer. My goal (no pun intended) when the kids were three and four years old was to keep them all on the field, heading the right direction, and not crying uncontrollably. If you could achieve the trifecta in one game, it wasn’t just a win– it was like a championship run! Now most of those kids are seven or eight. We have progressed to periodic passing, trapping, and calling for passes, etc. But beyond the fundamentals we also focus a lot on sportsmanship/exhibiting class. You knock a kid down, you help him up; you lose a game, you still line up with your head up and earnestly say “good game.” The other day after a game I saw two kids pushing each other a little bit. These were not my players. Still, I couldn’t help myself. I walked over, and just as I got in earshot, I heard one of them say, “Oh, yea. What are you going to do about it?!” Now the kid really had me pissed because not only was he being a jerk, but he used one of the lamest lines of all time. Come on, man!

For the last two weeks we’ve bemoaned the waitlist. We’re on a three step process to healing.

  • Step 1: Acknowledge.
  • Step 2: Yell it a little louder.
  • Step 3: What are you going to do (and not do) about it?!

1- Do your part. At most schools the waitlist offer is just that– an option. Check what they sent you or what they put on their website. Typically, you need to take action of some kind to accept or claim your spot. So do that (Or don’t. That’s also your choice. You can absolutely cancel your application, and you should, if you’ve decided to go elsewhere.)  If you do claim your spot, be sure you do anything additional that they instruct. Is there a supplementary short answer question to respond to? Do they want you to send another recommendation letter or schedule an interview? Each school will handle this differently, so read your letter, email, or online collateral carefully.

2- Don’t get crazy. We’ve had students send a painted shoe with a message on the bottom reading: “just trying to get my foot in the door.” Cute? Well, I remember it. But it was ultimately ineffective. We’ve had lots of chocolates, cookies, and other goods sent along with poems or notes. I can’t speak for all admission offices, but there is no way I’m eating any of that, even if it’s been shrink wrapped, vacuum packed and appears to be delivered straight from the vendor. Call that paranoid or callous if you will. I’ll find my own dessert.

3- Do reach out to your admission counselor. (Unless they specifically tell you not to.) Check out our waitlist website here. We’ve been told that it’s terse. Perhaps. But it’s pretty darn clear, right? We’d rather be accused of being brief and directive than vague and verbose (put that in your SAT pipe and smoke it.) If you have met or corresponded with someone from the admission office, perhaps when they visited your high school, or while you were on their campus, send them an email. Let them know you claimed your spot on the waitlist, completed the school’s stipulated form, essay, etc. You are indicating continued interest in attending. Remember in Waitlist, Part 1 when we talked about the university’s perspective? If they miss their class and need to go to the wait list, they want to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is your wink and nod that you would accept an offer if made. Now let me be clear– I’m not tell you to reach out every day. This is a one and done proposition. One year I received a letter, email or call every day in April from a student wanting to “demonstrate interest.” There is a distinct line between demonstrating interest and stalking… and it she leapt over it with both feet.

4- Do deposit elsewhere. The university that has offered you a spot on their waitlist should be instructing  you to take this step, but I cannot reinforce that enough. Because most schools won’t have a firm sense of deposits until late April, the majority of waitlist activity occurs in May and June. Since May 1 is the National Deposit Deadline, you need to go ahead and put money down before that point to secure your spot in a class. I understand and sympathize with this position. I know you don’t want to forfeit money, as these deposits are typically non-refundable. And I know that from an emotional and mental standpoint this is a challenge. So I’ll just conclude where I began– with a sincere apology that waitlists exist at all. They suck!

5- Do wait well. Last time I said I did not have a tip for you on this. Well, that’s because I knew I’d need a fifth bullet point in this blog. Here’s my advice. After you’ve claimed your spot and deposited elsewhere, take some time to write down a few things you are looking forward to in college. In doing so, you’re focusing on “why” you are going to college, and de-emphasizing the “where.” (Keep that list and re-visit it next year at holiday break and after freshman year.) This April I want you relish your senior year. Enjoy spring break, go to prom, take the opportunity to thank a few teachers or read something outside of school that you’re genuinely interested in. When talk about college comes up, whether that be with family or friends, steer the conversation away from where and towards what you want to study, experience, learn, and accomplish.

I distinctly remember being in your spot in April of my senior year. People seemed so sure of themselves. It appeared they knew exactly who they were going to live with, which fraternity they were going to pledge, and what football games they would be going to in the fall. Let me tell you something: Life does not change in that regard. Other people always seem like they have it all together. Life looks easy for them (especially if you believe their social media account). But we all have our challenges, our doubts, and our insecurities. If you have the confidence to embrace uncertainty, and can be open to and excited about the adventure of not knowing, you will not only navigate the next few weeks well, you’re going to live a rich and content life.

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The Waitlist Sucks (part 2 of 3)

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The Student Experience

Again, I officially apologize that we on the college side are not smart enough to hit our targets dead on right out of the gate. As we established earlier, if we could do that, there would be no waitlists, anywhere!

Waitlists suck for students for several reasons, but here are a couple of specific examples:

 

If the school that waitlists you is your top choice, it just means more waiting. 

You’ve already done this for a few months since applying, and you may have already been deferred from an earlier round (putting you in a special level of admission purgatory). That’s rough–I get it. You’re a senior. You want to simply enjoy the final weeks or months of high school, and knowing definitively where you are going would really help. Worse still: none of us can bend space and time, so there is literally nothing you can do here.

Honestly, I don’t have a good tip for you. Waiting is hard. Uncertainty is frustrating and unsettling. I don’t have a solution. The only thing I can tell you is that life is full of situations like this. Will I get a new job and when? Will a house come on the market that we can afford in the area we want to live in? Will the results of this test come back from the doctor with life-changing implications? For some students, this is the first of many big processes or situations that mean waiting, hoping, praying, and learning to be content and joyful in the present, regardless of your circumstances. No matter how old you are, I think that’s always a challenge and something we all have to work on to thrive in life.

It’s an ego hit.

We talked about this along with the Deferral process, specifically in “The Other D Word.”

“What’s wrong with me? Why did that other kid get in and not me? How is my 3.8 and 1520 not good enough?” Please, hear me screaming: This is not a value judgment! Yesterday, we talked about “institutional priorities” and “shaping a class,” neither of which has anything to do with YOU. YOU are amazing! YOU are talented. Yes. I am talking to you. YOU- with the iPad out or scanning phone, or reading this while you’re pretending to listen in class or to someone else who’s talking (stop that and actually listen– it’s a life lesson). The tough spot you’re in is tied up in supply and demand, institutional priorities, and demographic shaping of the class.

Ironically, at the end of the day, the waitlist exposes the fatigue of students as well as admission officers. We are both ready to be done. To have things settled. To know what “next year is going to look like.” And similarly with pride, it has us questioning our skills, potential, and future. So we are effectively in this together.

But it still sucks.

Next week we’ll wrap up our series with Part 3… No easy solutions or quick fixes, but some tips and insight for the weeks ahead.

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The Waitlist Sucks (part 1 of 3)

There’s just no easy way to say it. There’s no funny intro or creative analogy. And frankly, it sucks for everyone. To understand the student experience (which we’ll delve into next week), you first have to understand the college’s perspective.

The Admission Experience

The waitlist is a reminder that I’m not very smart. If I were better at my job, I could predict exactly how many students each year would accept our offer of admission (a term known as “yield,” which is the percentage of students who say YES to your offer and choose to enroll). In fact, if I were really good, we’d have 100% yield (the national average is 33.6%). In this perfect world, all of our new students would come to campus smiling, earn 4.0 GPAs, retain at 100%, graduate in 4 years, get high paying and highly fulfilling jobs after graduation, name their babies after the admission director… you get the picture.

Georgia Tech’s freshman class size is 2,800. As a public school, our mission is to serve our state and expose all students to a world class education in a global context. Part of that education means enrolling students from states across our nation and countries around the world. Our ideal undergraduate population is approximately 60% from Georgia, 30% from other states, and 10% international students.

Due to finances, proximity, name recognition, rankings, girlfriends, and perceptions that people in the south do not wear shoes or have running water, our yield projections are based on demographics. In recent years, our yield from Georgia has been approximately 63%, 35% from abroad, and 24% from states around the country. We constantly analyze yield by state, gender, major, etc., but at the end of the day, although data, history, and trends are helpful, each student is different, each family is different, and each year is different.

Method Behind the Madness

Maybe I’m going into too much detail here, or belaboring a point you basically got after the first sentence: I’m not that smart. Essentially, the waitlist exists to accommodate for demographics that were not met in the initial round of admission offers. If you have the right number of deposits from the West coast, you go to your waitlist for more East coast students. If you have enough Chemistry majors, you may be going the waitlist for Business students. Ultimately, the job of admission deans and directors is to make and shape the class, as defined by institutional priorities. Meeting target enrollment is critical to bottom line revenue, creating a desired ethos on campus, proliferating the school’s brand, and other factors.

If we come in with too few students, we lose revenue and are unable to fund initiatives and provide opportunities for the students who are here. If we overenroll the class, we run into issues with housing, inflated student-faculty ratios, quality of classroom discussion, space for labs, and long lines at Chick-Fil-A. I hate being blamed for all of these things, but walking into the student center just to get a coke and having someone tell me to stop enrolling so many students because the lines are long is just annoying.

Making the Phone Call

How waitlist offers are made vary by college but it’s not atypical for a school to offer four to six students a spot from the waitlist just to convert one after the May 1 national deposit deadline. It’s logical, as students have mentally committed elsewhere by that point. They’ve deposited, bought the t-shirt, attended an admitted student day, and met future classmates on the Facebook group.

I hate calling a student and hearing simultaneous excitement and pain. Pleased to have the option, but also realizing the option creates a quandary. Conversely, other students quickly dismiss the call quite brashly. “Nope. I’m going to X.” It’s the proverbial finger, and I get it. In fact, I remember Bucknell offering me a spot from their waitlist after I’d already committed elsewhere, and it kind of felt good to turn them down. On our side of it, it doesn’t matter who X is, we lost– And nobody enjoys losing, right?

In part 2 of this series, we delve into the student experience of the waitlist.

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