Breathing Room

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission (West Coast) Ashley Brookshire to the blog. Welcome, Ashley!

Have you ever watched a presenter on a raised surface, or a singer on a stage? Think about the space they leave between themselves and the end of the stage. Now, imagine that person chooses to pace on the very edge of the stage, rather than a safe distance back. I don’t know about you, but I would be much more concerned about that person walking themselves right off the edge of the stage than focused on their presentation. Because the speaker has positioned themselves in a place without margin, stress has now entered the situation for both them and the audience.

Margin is an essential part of our lives. Without margin we run right up to the edge. Once on the edge, our focus turns to simply staying upright, rather than paying attention to the quality and intentionality with which we operate. Breathing room is absolutely necessary in the college admission process! But if you don’t plan for it, you likely won’t have any.

For those of you who are high school seniors, the college application process has already begun. Here are a couple of tips to help you  set limits and expectations for the ride ahead—tips that will allow you to preserve margin around your college search process and decision.

Dead Line

Did you know that the origin of the word deadline comes from the American Civil War? It referred to a line within prison walls beyond which inmates were shot. What a terrifying origin for a word that is now a part of our everyday language! As you can imagine, during the era when this term was making its debut prisoners probably left plenty of margin between themselves and the deadline.

Fast forward about 150 years… these days we’re not very good at leaving margin between ourselves and deadlines. As the west coast representative for an east coast school, I’m often asked if our application deadline refers to 11:59pm ET or PT. If the answer to that question makes a difference in your plan to complete your application, then you are cutting things too close!

Last year at Georgia Tech more than 60 percent of our early action first-year applications were received within three days of our application deadline (that’s over 11,000 applications!). As more applications come in, the number of phone calls, emails, and walk-in visitors who have important, time sensitive questions increases. Needless to say, despite additional staffing, our response time during these few days of the year is slower than nearly any other time in our office.

If you’re treating the deadline as THE DAY on which you plan to apply then you find yourself with a last-minute question, you’re welcoming unnecessary stress into your life as you anxiously await a response. The solution is simple: build in breathing room! When you see a deadline, give yourself a goal of applying one week in advance. Then if something unexpected happens, such as illness, inclement weather, or the internet breaks (true story—it’s happened in the past!), you still have margin between yourself and the actual deadline.

Quiet Hours

Back when my husband and I were engaged, we realized very early on we could not talk about wedding planning every waking moment. There was plenty to discuss, and each day we could spend hours talking about song lists, seating charts, and minute details. But the obsession of planning was exhausting. If we wanted to actually enjoy our engagement, and plan for a future far beyond our wedding day, we had to set limits on when we discussed wedding plans.

I strongly encourage you and your family to do the same for your college search process. If you set no limits to college talks, then you all will inevitably burn out. A time of discovery and maturity will be marred with talking about details that are subject to constant change. You’ll find yourselves rehashing the same conversation over and over and over again, but with different levels of emotion and stress.  There are important things for you and your family to discuss, and you certainly need to have dialogue around the college process. Just don’t make it part of every conversation you have during your senior year.

Find the best time for you all to sit down each week and talk (sound familiar? It should!). Maybe you agree not to talk about college on the weekends… or before school… or maybe you only talk about it on a designated day. Do whatever makes the most sense for you, but make sure you’re setting a framework around when these important, but exhausting, conversations take place. Leave margin in your day and your conversations so college talk doesn’t permeate all aspects of your life.

Just Breathe….

Breathing room is valuable in many aspects of life, but in the frenzy and significance of the college process, we often lose sight of it. Keeping margin in the picture can substantially reduce the amount of stress you carry during this season as you keep your head above the chaos. Take a deep breath, make a plan, and use this unique time to determine what things matter most to you.

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The Three T’s

A few weeks ago, my wife called me at work around 2 p.m. This is not typical.

“Hey, what’s up?” I answered.

“Walter (our neighbor) is walking around his house with a clipboard,” she said.

“Weird.”

Not catching my sarcasm, she replied, “I know, right? Do you think they’re moving?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he has taken up sketching. I’ll see you around six.”

But like so many times before, she was exactly right. The next day there were guys pressure washing and painting. Within a week, red mulch was spread around the yard, and a bunch of boxes went out to a mobile storage unit.  Next came the “Coming Soon” sign, which a week later turned to “Just Listed.”

Since that day there have been regular showings, real estate caravans, and cars slowly cruising past the house. If you have ever sold a house, you know how all-consuming it can be. First you have to prepare to sell, which includes all the things our neighbors have been doing recently: de-cluttering inside; touching-up outside; and buying decorative items for show like doilies (things you would never actually use in day-to-day living). Once on the market, you are at the mercy of potential buyers. I distinctly remember this from a few years ago when we moved. “Someone wants to come see it at 8 a.m. on Saturday,” our real estate agent would say. We’d clean up the kids’ toys, wipe down the counters, throw about three boxes of stuff we did not have a place for into the back of the van and go eat the All-Star Breakfast at Waffle House (that part was actually okay).  “Someone wants to come at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday,” “Let’s have an open house Sunday from 1-4 p.m.,” “Look out your window. Yeah, those folks want to see it now!”

Let’s not forget you also have to move somewhere. The buying side can be worse. You download every possible real estate app: one from your realtor, not to mention all the other real estate search engines on the web. Whatever you can find. You set your parameters on the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, location, price, and so on. Then the notifications start coming… or they don’t. Either way it is maddening. If you are moving locally, every trip to the grocery store becomes a detour “just to see if anything has popped up” (as if your realtor’s search would not have caught that). You become the one that is manic about getting in to see houses before other potential buyers. You are the one in the driveway asking to “see it now!”

Conversations over meals are about houses and prices and what else might come up next week. Everyone in the family (even ones who are not going to live there and don’t even visit regularly) have an opinion about how you’ve priced your house and what you need in the next home.

We’re Moving!

If you are a high school senior, all of this may sound familiar. Every time you get home there is another glossy, shiny brochure telling you with a $75 fee and a few essays you might be able to move in for four years. You have also been “caravanning” around to colleges and creating pro/con lists about size, price, location, and other factors. Like the real estate apps and websites, I’m guessing you also have found conflicting information and question the accuracy or relevance of data like test score ranges and admit rates. Everyone from coaches to aunts to random baristas are asking you questions and expressing their opinions about which place you should choose, what schools are overpriced, or which ones are unwarranted in their popularity. It’s uncertain and protracted. Let’s face it, as humans we just hate the waiting. For too many students and families the college admission experience, like the home buying and selling process, can be exhausting, maddening, and not a lot of fun.

I’m here to tell you there is a better way. You have a choice. Since I was recently trying to teach my kids the concept of alliteration, I present to you “The Three T’s.”

1 – Time. It is incredibly easy to let the college conversation permeate life, especially as a high school senior. Where are you applying? Did you write your essay yet? Aren’t we visiting Northwestern next month? When is that financial aid deadline? Did you see that brochure from U Conn? Left unchecked these queries and conversations are like incessant app notifications: after practice; on the way home from school; during breakfast, or when you are just sitting on the porch trying to relax.

I propose you and your family allocate just three hours a week to college applications and discussions. Sunday afternoons from 2-5 p.m., Thursday nights from 6-9 p.m. Find a time that works. You do you (Southern Translation: Y’all do y’all). Protect your time, and protect your sanity.

Here is how this works:

PARENTS: This is your time to bring the brochures you’ve noticed in the mail and say, “Hey, look honey, the leaves are turning in South Bend. Isn’t it pretty?” You get to ask, “Have you written your supplemental essays for SMU?” Or “Do you still want to take that trip to California to look at schools in November?” It’s all fair game.

Outside of that time, college talk is banned.  Drive past a car with a University of Colorado sticker? Not a peep. Sean next door gets accepted to Auburn or Washington State? Mute button is on.

STUDENTS: You don’t get to bring your cell phone, crunchy snacks, or a bad attitude. Three hours a week. You come ready to string multi-syllabic words together and use intonation. No shoe gazing. You are committed to being fully engaged in the conversation because it’s the ONLY ONE! One time a week… only three hours (1/8 of one day). You got this!

Three hours a week is also plenty of time to get college applications done (just not the last three hours before the deadline!). If you use three good hours for several weeks, you can absolutely do a great job and in truth, your essays will be better having re-visited them in multiple sittings. There is a lot to say for letting something sit for a week and then coming back to it with fresh eyes, some sleep, and a new perspective.

Note to students: I know sometimes your parents’ questions and opinions can sound like nagging or overreach. See that for what it really is—love and deep affection in disguise. The thought of you heading to college brings a crazy mixture of emotions, and frankly sometimes they are still trying to reconcile you are taking AP Biology or standing at over 6 feet tall. Somehow, carpool lines and tricycles do not seem like that long ago. Give them a break. Fear, excitement, love—these all warrant your being fully engaged. Three hours is less than 1.8% of your week. Phone down. Answer their questions—and every now and then, how about a hug?

2 – Talk. One of the main issues with home buying and selling is how public it becomes. Everyone can see pictures, prices, statistics about square footage, and the number of bathrooms on flyers and online. Neighbors are chatting in the streets about why someone is moving, when the house will sell, who might move in, and if it is over or under priced. After the sale is finalized, that too is public information—setting off another wave of gossip. That type of unnecessary, unhealthy, and unbridled noise can also occur in your admission experience if you share too much publicly. I strongly encourage you to consider how much you are going to volunteer with friends and online about where you are applying, because that opens you up to questions later about whether you are admitted, deferred, denied, or waitlisted.

Students, consider holding this process a little closer to your vest (or sweater or shirt for non-vest wearers) and only letting in a very small subset of trusted people. Parents, commit (before any admission decisions are released!) to not adding to the speculation and consternation surrounding college admission by sharing stories at parties or games or online about where your son or daughter is admitted, denied, or offered scholarships. Keeping decisions and deliberations private has incredible potential to build trust and bond your family in what should be a very personal process.  Taking this a step further, do not ask others about their college admission decisions. Not only is it really none of your business, but typically the information shared is exaggerated or inaccurate. Sorry, but sometimes… people, you know?

3 – Trust. Paranoia often surrounds buying and selling a house making it even more all–consuming. We are not going to be able to sell our house for the amount we want. I just know we are going to get outbid. There are almost no houses for sale and lots of people buying in that neighborhood. All of this, again, is extremely similar to college admission. There are thousands of applicants for a limited number of seats in classes. You apply (make an offer) and then have to wait anxiously to see if you are going to be admitted (offer accepted). With tens of thousands of dollars involved and a potential move out-of-state, it’s expensive and emotional.

I am asking—scratch that—I am telling you this is all going to work out. How do I know? Last Sunday, we hosted a program at Tech called Give 1 Get 1. Before Convocation, students brought shirts from other colleges where they visited, applied, or were admitted. That day we got lots of different shirts, saw lots of different faces, and heard lots of different backgrounds and stories about how they arrived at Tech. They were bonded by one commonality—they were all excited to be on campus and get started with their college career. This is the beautiful and inevitable other side  I described a few weeks ago.

Trifecta: Combining the 3 T’s

Anyone who has bought or sold a house has had some disappointments and made some adjustments during the process. With so many variables in timing, pricing, and other buyers and sellers, things never go exactly as you hope or plan. But they will also tell you that a house becomes a home because you move into it. You make it yours.

The truth is there are lots of great colleges in the nation where you could move in, succeed, and be thrilled with the community—where you could make friends, do well, be happy, and thrive. Right now these places are just names and addresses—don’t place any more emotional attachment on any one of them than that. Talk to friends this year when they come back from college for Thanksgiving or Winter Break. Ask them where they thought they would be a year prior—for many their current school was not their first choice or even on their radar. But then they moved in. They made it their home. And so will you.

Time, Talk, Trust. Apply these well and behold the power of alliteration, my friends!

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Ask Good Questions

In the world of college admission there is always debate about the “best school” in the nation. As quickly as someone holds up Stanford or Harvard, someone else will poke holes in the methodology, or challenge that they may not be tops for  every major, and so on and so forth.  There are so many varying “sources” online these days that almost every school can tout a high-ranking or review in one area or another. “We’re among the nation’s best in ROI, or in STEM fields,” “We are the nation’s Greenest college” or “We have the best ice cream.” There is almost never a consensus or agreement on who really is “the best.” Perhaps that’s the beauty of this field– lots of great options and a desire to be the best in one thing or another, but clearly there is not a unanimous #1.

But in the world of music  a definitive leader is apparent; a band that rises above the rest and leaves no room for debate:  U2. From their lyrics to their history to their longevity, they simply define greatness. Glad we’ve established that.

A lesser known but important U2 song is 11 O’Clock Tick Tock. And in typical fashion, they always bring a lyric that is profound and broadly applicable to life:

“We thought we had the answers. It was the questions we had wrong.”

Asking the right questions, and being persistent in the asking, is a fundamental life lesson. And it’s absolutely vital as you go through the college admission process. So as you head out to college campuses, whether you are a sophomore or junior who is just starting to understand how one school varies from another, or a senior who is trying to figure out the best fit for the next few years, commit to being a relentless questioner. If you leave the question asking to the colleges, you can bet you’re  going to hear the same answers over and over again. “Oh, yes. Our biology program is great.” “Sure. You can double major in English and Sound Design. That’s actually extremely common.”

The emails and the brochures paint the same Pollyanna pictures, mixing appropriate diversity with studious learners closely inspecting a beaker or electrical circuit.. Don’t accept the Charlie Brown speeches. As you talk to people at different colleges, turn off the switch that has them rambling about studying abroad or the number of applications they received and ask them something better.

1) You ask: “What is your faculty: student ratio?” This number may not include faculty who are doing research and teach only one class, or those who are on sabbatical, and so on. For example, Tech’s ratio is 20:1, but that doesn’t mean you and 20 buddies will be sitting around a table in Calculus I your first year. These stats are compiled for publications to be comparative. So while helpful in that regard, they don’t tell the whole story.

You SHOULD ask: “What is your most common class size?” This question gets you right into the classroom. Schools rarely publish average SATs or GPAs but rather bands or ranges. Likewise, you want to look at their ranges and variances within class size. 85 percent of classes at Tech have fewer than 50 students. That type of information will be far more helpful to you in framing expectations and determining what kind of experience you will likely have.

And THEN ask: “How does that vary from first year to fourth year? Is that true for all majors? What does that look like for my major?” I had an intro Econ class at UNC-Chapel Hill that had 500 students in it. But that was not my undergraduate experience. In fact, that was the only course I took all four years that was over 100. Similarly, one of my favorite student workers at Tech was a senior Physics major whose classes had seven, 12, and 16 students in them. But rest assured that during her freshman year she sat in a large lecture hall for Physics I.

Your job is to probe. Your job is to dig and to clarify.

2) You ask: “What’s your graduation rate?” Schools do not answer this the same. Some will give you  their four-year grad rate, some five, and some  six. The variance is not an effort to be misleading or nefarious; they have been trained to respond with an answer that is  most representative of their students’ experience. Most four-year, private, selective liberal arts schools would likely not even think to respond with a five or six-year rate because there is no significant differentiation and their goal is to have all students graduate in four years. That’s how they structure curriculum and it is their culture.

You SHOULD ask: “What is your four and six-year graduation rate? And at those two intervals what  percentage have either a job offer or grad school acceptance letter?” Who cares if you have a high graduation rate if your job placement rate is low?

And THEN ask: “How does grad rate vary by major? What percentage of students who double major or study abroad or have an internship finish in four years?” My opinion is too much emphasis is put on this clock. Unfortunately, much of this is antiquated and driven by US News and World Report rankings (we won’t delve into this too much, but you can read about here). If you are taking advantage of opportunities on a campus like picking up a minor, or participating in a co-op, or working to offset costs, or going abroad to enhance your language skills, and all of those things are translating into lower loan debt and more job or grad school opportunities when you are done, then who cares about the clock?

3) You ask: “What is your retention rate?” Great question.. and an important one. Most put the national average somewhere around the 60% range. But as you can see from that link, it varies by school type and student type. So when a school says their first-year retention rate is 85%, that’s great, right?

You SHOULD ask: “Why are those other 15% leaving? Is it financial? Is it because the football team lost too many games? Is it academic and they’re not prepared for the rigor of the school? Is it because the school is too remote or too urban or too big?” Follow up. Ask them to articulate who is leaving. Tech has a retention rate of 97.3%, which  is among the top 25 schools nationally and top five for publics (these are statistics here, friends, not rankings). But we are constantly looking at who is leaving. Surprisingly, for many alumni and others who know the rigor of Tech, it’s not exclusively academic. It’s a balanced mix that also includes distance from home, seeking a different major, financial reasons, and, increasingly, because students are starting companies or exploring entrepreneurial options.

Some schools have retention rates below the national average, but they’re losing  students who are successfully transferring to state public flagships or into specialized programs in the area. If that’s your goal, then you can be okay with a lower retention rate, right?

Don’t be too shy to ask questions. This is your job… Not your mom’s job…. Not your counselor’s job. Your job. DO YOUR JOB!

And THEN ask: What that’s it? Nope. I have more questions…and so should you.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in February 2017. Links have been updated.

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The Other Side

Listen to the audio version here!

Rewind

Sunday we were on our way home from the mountains and the song “The Other Side” from The Greatest Showman came on our playlist. Before I knew it, my wife and kids were singing every word. If you have not seen the movie, I highly, highly recommend it. Inspired by the story of P.T. Barnum’s creation of the Barnum and Bailey Circus in the late 1800s, it is a musical with several big stars (including Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron). We saw it in the theater, twice, and immediately bought it on Amazon when it became available.

What I love and appreciate about the movie is Barnum’s (Jackman) incredible imagination to dream up a circus; his creativity and perseverance in bringing his vision to life; and his ability to disregard his naysayers who told him it would not be successful. In addition to finding and recruiting interesting acts and attractions and securing extensive funding for the show, one of his biggest challenges was bringing credibility to the circus. Barnum was obsessed with convincing the upper class in New York, who normally spent their money on theatre or opera, that this too was worthy of their attention and investment.

“The Other Side” is a fast-paced negotiation between Barnum and Phillip Carlyle (Efron), a wealthy New York aristocrat and playwright. In the song, Barnum is attempting to convince the young, popular, conventionally established Carlyle to take a risk and become his business partner. The song, like the movie itself, is about having the vision to see something new and different, but also the faith and courage to act on it.

Pause

Many colleges open their applications on August 1. If you are a senior, I am guessing you already created at least one application account and may have also started writing your college essays. It is also likely you are scheduled to take or re-take the SAT or ACT in the fall. I would not doubt you took time this summer to visit a college… or 18, and questions from family, friends, coaches, and neighbors like “where are you applying to college?” have become ubiquitous. I have bad news for you: it gets worse. Thanks for reading and have a great day. Kidding!

Understandably, there are some elements of the college admission process many students do not find enjoyable: keeping track of the dates and deadlines for applications, scholarships and financial aid; looking deep into your soul to introspectively articulate your passion (in 300 words or less!); taking seemingly endless standardized tests in sterile environments (some beginning at a God-forsaken hour on Saturday); reading blogs that simply won’t come to the point… the list goes on.  Lest (no longer a word on the SAT) we forget, all of that is just getting to the point of submitting your applications. We have not even delved into some of the stress around waiting endless months for decisions, or the frustration of being deferred admission, or the dismay of being denied by your dream school. And don’t even get me started on the vortex that is the waitlist. Feeling better yet?

I get it. There is nothing I can say, write, or sing that is going to eradicate moments of uncertainty or consternation in the year ahead. What I can offer you is perspective. I can offer you a vision. I can help you see “The Other Side.”

Right here, right now 
I put the offer out
I don’t want to chase you down 

I know you see it
You run with me
And I can cut you free
Out of the treachery and walls you keep in
So trade that typical for something colorful
And if it’s crazy, live a little crazy
You can play it sensible, a king of conventional
Or you can risk it all and see

Track 1- The Other Side

Monday, in an effort to memorize the lyrics, I was listening to “The Other Side” as I walked from the train station. It was a perfectly clear day with low humidity and temperatures around 70. In late July in Atlanta, you cannot ask for better conditions. Just as I got onto campus, I saw a couple of first-year summer students walking into the dining hall together. They were laughing and smiling.  I recognized one of the guys in the group because I met with him at an admitted student program in the spring. At the time he told me Tech was not his first choice, but he would come here if he did not get admitted to…. names aren’t important, right? In late April, he emailed me to say he had not been offered admission to the other place and had decided to become a Yellow Jacket. Three months later (basically to the day) here he was on campus with a smile on his face, a few new friends around him, and enjoying a perfect summer morning.

Don’t you wanna get away from the same old part you gotta play
‘Cause I got what you need
So come with me and take the ride
It’ll take you to the other side

Track 2- The Other Side, Remix

A few years ago I was helping students move into residence halls. As I entered the building I saw a father out of the corner of my eye I had met before. I remembered him clearly because a few years earlier he had been in the office yelling at me for denying his son’s admission. I put the box down in the room of the student I was helping, wished her a good year, and then wiped the sweat from my brow. While the box was heavy and I had just basically sprinted up two flights of stairs, the perspiration was from that memory. Heading back out the front door (side door was locked) I scanned the lawn. Whew! He was gone. Then… a hand on my shoulder. “Oh… Hi. How are you?” I managed to say in feigned surprise. After talking for a few minutes, his wife came up with their two sons. Unbeknownst (also no longer on SAT) to me, the younger brother had been admitted to Tech and was starting his first year. The older son explained he had chosen a smaller school and was now a rising senior majoring in business. “Could not have been a better choice,” the father added, and then went on to proudly describe his son’s summer internship and added he already had a job offer waiting upon graduation.

‘Cause you can do like you do
Or you can do like me
Stay in the cage, or you’ll finally take the key
Oh, damn! Suddenly you’re free to fly
It’ll take you to the other side

Track 3- The Other Side, Re-remix

Each summer we have orientation for new students. This year we’ve already held six and still have two more to go. I love these days on campus because they are filled with balloons, loud music, skits, banners, cheering orientation leaders, smiling students, and proud parents. Go check out the social media accounts of a few college and university orientations or new student programs. You’ll love seeing the pictures, images, and videos that demonstrate a real sense of community, belonging, and excitement.

In all that happiness, remember that three, six, and nine months prior, none of that excitement was there. Those same smiling faces were grimaces as they attempted to “craft an essay” or remember which password they had selected for the Common Application. Was it “12^gold!!”or “emojisRpasswords2~@?”

You would finally live a little, finally laugh a little
Just let me give you the freedom to dream and it’ll
Wake you up and cure your aching
Take your walls and start ’em breaking
Now that’s a deal that seems worth taking
But I guess I’ll leave that up to you

Play

So here you sit. Senior year is about to start. After nearly 20 years of watching this cycle repeat itself, here is what I know: there are no guarantees in college admission and financial aid.  Where you will end up is absolutely uncertain. Unsettling? It shouldn’t be. The mystery of where is the adventure of the college admission experience (and some would say it’s the adventure of life in general).

Bottom line: there is no “dream” college. Instead, there is just a dream…a vision. It is one of smiles, balloons, friends, celebration, a new home, excitement, aka “The Other Side.” Don’t forget that as you are applying to colleges. When you get deferred admission, remember the students I described walking into the dining hall. When you don’t get a scholarship, envision the older son who went elsewhere and ended up exactly where he was meant to be. When you don’t get into your first choice school, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just the first step to The Other Side.  Balloons, smiles, exuberance. That is what awaits you. A year from now you’ll be there. Trust me.

Forget the cage, ’cause we know how to make the key
Oh, damn! Suddenly we’re free to fly
We’re going to the other side

Bonus Track

I still may not know all the lyrics but I do know the truth. There are many times in life that we need to be reminded to slow down, remain calm, and dream of The Other Side.  I hope you’ll strive to recognize those moments not only in your own life but in those of your friends and family members too. Take the time to encourage them; to come around them; to describe with optimism and confidence the better days that lie ahead.  Like Barnum and Carlyle, it will make the celebration when you arrive there together that much sweeter.

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The Long Game

This week we welcome Senior Assistant Director of Admission Katie Mattli to the blog. Welcome, Katie!

I like quirky historical novelties and the Livermore Light Bulb, or known to its friends as the Centennial Bulb, is one of my favorites.  Never heard of it?  Let me explain.  Yes, there is indeed a light bulb in Livermore, California so famous it has a name and actual caretakers.  Why? Because the Livermore Light Bulb has been softly glowing in the Pleasanton Fire Department for 117 years! In fact, it just had a birthday in June. The Centennial Bulb has a website, a festival, a children’s book, and –this is my favorite part – its own Bulb Cam. You can literally watch a light bulb glow in real-time, which I find humorously whimsical.

What does a light bulb have to do with college admission?  A few things actually.

Don’t second guess your interests. 

I mean it.  Live them loud and proud.  I’m writing about a light bulb I like and you are still here, so that proves authenticity is interesting.  The applicants who get my attention in the admission process are those who, for lack of a better phrase, really like stuff.  All kinds of stuff.  They hear about a cause, read about a historical event, or learn about a theory and they dive in for the pure pleasure of learning more about it.  You can sense joy in their application—joy in sharing something that really engages them. Students always ask, “How can I make my application stand out?” Follow your true-North passions and your application will naturally have a strong voice in the crowd.

Care Instructions

The Centennial has been glowing for so long because no one remembered to turn it off – for a long time. It turns out that switching lights on and off all the time actually reduces their shelf life.  It makes me wonder how often we, students and adults alike, take stock of what is healthy for us. We don’t have care instructions attached to our lives, but if asked we could probably name the basics.  We are the opposite of lightbulbs.  We can, and should, turn off to recharge. You should sleep.  You should eat.  You should spend time with friends.  Do you live by your calendar? Then put your self-care appointments on the docket with reminders such as “lunch,” “snack,” “aspirational bedtime,” and “breathing room/free time.”  A healthy student will thrive in high school and in college. I haven’t made any clichéd references to lightbulbs and burn out here, but you get the picture. Don’t get so caught up in the everyday noise that you forget to be healthy.

Who is on your maintenance team?

The Centennial Lightbulb has three different organizations devoted to keeping that little four-watt light bulb softly glowing.  Before you start the college admission process, take stock of who is in your corner.  Who are the folks in your inner circle?  Choose carefully.  Do they see your value? Do they give you honest feedback?  Do they encourage you? Do they keep you anchored? The vast majority of students headed to college had help along the way.  Family members are not the only people who hopefully have your back. Don’t forget you can create a supportive network staring with a favorite teacher, a retired neighbor, a high school guidance counselor, your coach, a friend who graduated last year.  Reach out, ask for some time, make an appointment, start a conversation. It takes a village.

Keep your eye on the long game.

Physicists have studied the Centennial and have discovered its filament is thicker than today’s commercial lightbulbs.  It is made of sterner stuff. The college admission process can rattle high school students. I think students believe they are focusing on their future (hence the anxiety), but I think they have lost sight of the long game.  After years of watching students and their families navigate applying to college, here are my thoughts on the admission long game and students who are made of “sterner stuff”:

  • Finding a good fit is the ultimate goal.  Your best-fit school may not be your best friend’s best-fit school.  Get comfortable with that. Put institutions on your list where you will thrive. That is the long game.
  • Ignore the myth of “the one.” A college will not be the making of you but your decisions in college will. That is the long game.
  • Be happy for others.  Time will prove to you that what feels like competition now dissipates with age.  If your buddy gets that coveted acceptance or the Val or Sal spot, cheer for them. It shows character and you will be happier for it. That is the long game.
  • Enjoy senior year.  This is your last homecoming, last high school debate competition, last playoff, senior night… Enjoy them!  That is the long game.

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