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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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Do All You Can

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

I came home yesterday to find two very sad, wilted tomato plants. If you haven’t been to Atlanta in July, let me assure you—the southern humidity is no joke. I grew up in the mountains, so every year when we hit July and August I lament the stickiness of the heat. When I was growing up my family always raised a big garden. Still today I love the entire process of gardening, from planting to caring and of course the ultimate harvest of the plant. This year I hoped to build raised beds for my garden, but instead we prioritized building a new deck (after all, life all comes down to priorities in the end). The raised beds are now on the to-do list for next year. All that to say, that’s how I ended up with tomato plants living in five-gallon buckets.

The great thing about a tomato plant in a bucket is it’s pretty easy to care for—no weeding, no plowing the ground, no building of beds. You put it in there, stick a cage around it, and boom! You’re done.

The not-so-great thing about a tomato plant in a bucket (aside from the not-so-pretty appearance) is it dries out in the summer sun quickly. Because it’s contained, it has no way to pull moisture from anything beyond the bit of dirt it’s confined to. So if you miss a watering, things can go downhill pretty fast.

When I arrived home yesterday and looked out the backdoor, my stomach sank—one plant was wilted to the point that every single leaf and limb drooped down at least a couple of inches. I raced outside, grabbed the watering can, and filled each bucket with plenty of water. I shook my head in frustration at myself, then shrugged, hoping for the best. Aside from giving the plants water, there wasn’t much more I could do besides wait and see how they fared.

Life Unattended

Life, tasks, and relationships, gone unattended, can wither quickly before you realize it. No matter your season of life, there are lots of important things to think about…. Family, friends, school, activities, and, for you rising seniors, those pesky college applications looming right around the corner.

I can hear the collective sigh from here, “its summer! I have plenty of time to work on those. I’ll think about it later.” You’re right. But for students in Georgia (and other southern states), “summer” will end in the next 2-3 weeks as school gets back in session (for those of you in other parts of the country who don’t start school until after Labor Day—enjoy the summer! But know the start of school is coming for you soon).

We’ve written before about getting your college application ready—the most important thing to dotips to keep make your life easierhow to write an essay… and insight into how a holistic application review works at selective schools.

Application deadlines will be here before long. So after you’ve done a little research on the links above (hint, hint), worked on your application, and hit submit, you can sit back and wait, right?

Kind of… but no. Like the tomato plants, if you just put it out there and pay no more attention to it, things can go downhill fast. I know much of the college admission process is out of your control. But there are a few action items you can put on your list to care for your application as it moves through the review process.

Read your emails from any colleges to which you applied. Notice I didn’t say check your emails, or skim your emails—READ your emails! We’re all guilty of checking emails on a mobile device. While it’s great to quickly access your inbox, it can come back to bite you if you glance at a message, it moves to “read” in your inbox, and then totally falls off your radar. Take the time to read all emails you receive from colleges where you have an active application. Once you become an applicant, colleges reach out to you more regularly with all kinds of updates and next steps.  If you don’t have time to read an email at the moment, mark it as unread and come back to it later. But by all means, don’t let it just sit there! Otherwise you could be making a panicked phone call near another impending deadline, pleading for more time.

Check your admission portal. Many schools have a way for you to check on your application status. This is a tool at your disposal to access whenever you like, but on average a weekly check is adequate. When you’re checking your portal, I again implore you to READ any notes that are in there—don’t panic at the first red “x” you see on a checklist, but instead read to learn what’s missing and what kind of timeline you have to get the task completed.

Be patient, and don’t panic! Every year we receive the vast majority of our applications within 48 hours of the actual application deadline. When this happens, it takes longer than usual for processing staff to import your application and find any matching documents that may already be in hand (insider tip: don’t submit any documents until AFTER you submit your actual application—everything comes together much more quickly that way). Also, keep in mind that at some schools the application deadline for you is different from the document deadline for your counselor and recommenders. If that’s the case and your counselor assures you they’ll send it in, please give them time to do it!  Once something is sent in, if the college website says “allow 3-5 days for processing,” then allow 3-5 days—we’re not kidding!

Take care of yourself. As you complete all the steps above, don’t forget to take those small moments to take care of yourself. Hang out with your friends, find some form of exercise, get some sleep, go outside, and give your parents plenty of hugs (trust me, it will make you all feel better!). Self-care is important, so don’t shrug it off.

Once application season ends, you will harvest the fruits of your labor. I’m not saying you will magically get in to every school you’ve applied to… but if you have a strong, diverse list of schools (both competitive and not as competitive) you will be getting in somewhere (most likely several somewhere’s). In the end, you can look back and know that you put forth your best effort.

Back to the Tomatoes…

Sometimes my plants don’t yield what I hope they will (case in point, my blackberry vines, which merely survived the winter in buckets and are now planted in the ground but are still overcoming the shock of change… a blog topic for another day). Sometimes the tomatoes become unhealthy for no reason other than something was floating in the air on a particular day. But my goal, always, is to look back and know that I did all I could. I pruned, I watered, I cared, and I waited.

The good news: this morning my tomatoes looked good as new. And this time, before I came to work, I didn’t forget to give them a good drink before another 90+ degree day.

So do all you can, in college applications and in life in general, so you can look back and know you did all you could, and everything will work out just as its meant to be.

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The Power in the Process

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

One of the first places I visited after my move to Atlanta was the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It’s now become part of my standard rotation of weekend activities. The grounds are expansive and you instantly forget you’re in the middle of metro Atlanta. Some weekends I sit and reflect while I enjoy the calm, other times I enjoy two-hour “forgot to hit the gym this week” walks around the area. Variety is the spice of life, right?

The gardens recently debuted their exhibit for this year: Imaginary Worlds. A Pegasus, a phoenix, a peacock, and about a dozen more giant creatures made of plants are dotted around the park. And all of them are incredible. The sculptures are examples of the art of Mosaiculture (think half mosaic, half horticulture). I may be biased, but I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area before the exhibit ends in late October.

I visited the new exhibit as soon as it opened, and surprisingly one of the most impactful parts of my experience was a stop in an unassuming little hall in the middle of the gardens. The room was nearly bare, with the exception of four posters that storyboarded the logistical and creative processes behind the mosaiculture exhibit. I learned that many months of work go into the creation of these sculptures, starting in Montreal with the design, then the framework, then the plantings. Only then are the sculptures finally revealed for display to guests in the gardens.

This process—the length, the planning, and the final reveal—are strikingly similar to what college applicants go through year after year. In August we will open up our first-year application to a whole new class of students. However, the application is really one of the last steps in the process. By the time you start your application, most of the hard work is already behind you. Your long-term efforts ultimately make you successful. You’ve done the exploration, the preparation, and the polish-all that’s left is to showcase your work. Here are a few tips for how to make the most of each year of high school.

Draft your design

Sketches for the mosaiculture pieces started taking shape about six months before the installation of the exhibit. The design process is challenging, exciting, and lays the groundwork for everything to come. My favorite note from the posters was the mermaid sculpture was originally going to be sitting off to the side of a fountain, hanging out on a wall. That idea was scrapped, and the mermaid was redesigned for where she sits today–in the middle of the water, proudly atop the fountain. You can’t always get it right the first time, and that’s okay. Turns out, mermaids love being in the water!

Your freshman year: what do you want to create? Challenge yourself, explore your interests, and start over if you need to! Let yourself be vulnerable and sign up for a class or activity that falls outside that trusty comfort zone. You might discover something that reshapes your long-term pursuits. Maybe you try out for theatre after your English teacher comments that you have a flair for the dramatic. (No? Just me?) Take this time to be authentic and consider what you want to explore—then create a blueprint for your next few years. Don’t worry if you need to start over or change directions. Growth in design is a lifelong process, and there is value in the lessons along the way.

Build your foundation

Underneath the flowery façade of the sculptures is a carefully crafted foundation. Each structure is made of a variety of materials such as internal irrigation systems, steel, soil and mesh. All of these work together to eventually house the plantings.  I dare say this is the most substantial part of the process–after all, what good is a strong design without strong bones to support it?

Your sophomore and junior year: You’ve laid the groundwork, now it’s time to build. Lean into a passion you’ve identified. Explore a leadership role that allows you to have impact, take a deep dive, and contribute to your community. Like the sculptures, the strongest foundations are constructed with a variety of materials. Maybe you develop your skill set with independent projects, build teamwork and solid personal relationships in an organization of your peers, or structure your time with a job, internship, or research. Applying yourself in several settings will present plenty of opportunity to discover your own strengths.

Plant your flowers

The design is laid out, the structure is built, but it does not look like much until the plants are actually in place. The frames were shipped to Atlanta from Montréal in January, and at that point, more than 200,000 flowers were tucked into soil-filled mesh. In the days leading up to the exhibit the sculptures were transported to the gardens (often they’re transported in pieces, which is wise, as I can’t imagine a 21-foot dragon would do so well in Atlanta traffic) and prepared for display.

Senior Year: You’re nearing the finish line, but you have a serious task ahead of you: it’s time to let years of work take the shape of an application. Add color here, dimension there, and always include your personality. Does your application show off who you are and what you value? Maybe you’re the Pegasus, the peacock, or the giant Rip Van Winkle caught taking a snooze under the tree (I can relate). You have a voice with a story to tell, one of growth and exploration and personal investment. How will you paint that picture—better yet, how will you plant those flowers?

Bonus: Just add water

There is a caravan of three camel statues off to the side of the garden lawn, and as I walked by, a staff member was hosing them down. No, the irony wasn’t lost on me—Atlanta is hot in the summer and even camels need a little H2O. Staff will continue to monitor and tinker away throughout the summer to keep the topiary art in tip-top shape. The exhibit may have already started, but there’s plenty of work to be done to keep the camels and their creature friends looking good for months to come.

After you hit send: You’ve spent years crafting a high school experience that brought you personal growth, and that journey doesn’t end when you close the internet browser on your college applications. It doesn’t end when you get those college decisions back, either. There’s no senior slump, no post-application apathy, (that could make a great band name, dibs!) you’re just getting started! This story you’ve built isn’t just a tool to land that college acceptance–it’s a foundation to build on throughout your academic career, your personal life, and the great big beyond. So take care of your hard work, and keep building away.

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Weekend Warriors

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

For the past seven weekends my family and I have worked on a major home improvement project: tearing down and rebuilding our back deck. I say “my family” because my parents drove four hours each weekend to help us.  My dad has a lot of experience building (even building his own house 20+ years ago), and my mom has a lot of experience with small kids, so while he helped us outside, my mom watched our two girls. My dad served as the planner, contractor, and architect of the entire project, studying the state building codes to ensure we were in compliance. We’ve talked about and planned this project for months, so in late April we got started.

The new joists and posts before the decking boards went down.

We tore down the existing (and unsafe) 14’ x 16′ deck, and replaced it with 364 square feet of glory (14’ x 26’). When we bought our house last fall, the big backyard was the first thing that drew me in. A new, and safe, deck was the key to truly enjoying that space.

From tearing down the old deck, to repairing damage, to the building itself, this project taught me a lot of lessons. But one of the most important? You can’t truly appreciate manual labor until you get out there and try it yourself. As a communications professional in higher education, I have a very sedentary job (my Fitbit has to remind me to get up and move every hour!). To be out in the heat, cutting and lifting heavy boards, mixing concrete, and using power tools was quite a change.

Interestingly enough, of all the aspects of the job, the part that frustrated me the most were the nails.

Tough as Nails…?

A few things you may not know about nails: 1) there are LOTS of different kinds—different lengths, different shanks, different finishes, all for different purposes. There’s a big difference between a 1” nail that comes in a kit to hang art and a 3-1/2” decking nail. 2) Because of the physical differences of nails you sometimes need a different type of hammer for each (not to mention a different approach when hammering it in).

Actual nails that bent in the process of hammering.

The old adage “tough as nails” can be true, but in reality they bend quite easily. If your aim is off, even a little, when hitting a nail, it will quickly bend, leaving you with a few options: 1) try to redeem the bend and get the rest in straight, 2) take it out and start over, or 3) just get mad and try to force it to work. A few times I got mad and tried the last option, only to find I sacrificed aim for power, making the bend even worse (side note: if you try to hammer into a knot in the wood, just forget it—knots are strong and the nail won’t win).

There are times when the nail just won’t go where you want it to, so you either reposition it altogether or use a different approach (i.e. a different size nail, or even trading up for a drill and screws). As I reflect back on my moments of frustration, I realize nailing boards together has a lot in common with the college search process.

Finding the Fit

In past posts we’ve talked about college fit. As you sit through presentations during college visits you’ll hear a lot about fit, and when you talk to high school counselors, parents, and friends, the elusive fit will be discussed again

There are more than 5,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. alone, and each one is different. All of these colleges will not fit you—nor should they! Your job, as you enter the college search process, is to find the place(s) that does fit you. Here are a few factors that are crucial to discovering what “fit” is all about.

Mission and Purpose

Each school has its own mission. At Georgia Tech our mission is “to define the technological university of the 21st century.” At my previous institution the mission is “to provide a comprehensive education in a Judeo-Christian environment, grounded in a civic, liberal, and medical arts curriculum.” Very different schools with differing approaches to learning, research, and student life. Both schools will provide an enriching experience to its students—but both schools will not fit every student. Take a look at missions and mottos of the schools you’re considering. You can quickly learn a lot, and may be able to weed a few places out based upon this factor.

Academics and Majors

It may sound obvious, but review the programs and majors offered at different schools. If you feel confident about the major you want to pursue, you should of course be sure the school offers that program. Even if you’re certain, check to see if there are a few other programs of interest on the list, because it’s certainly possible you could change your mind.  If you’re undecided (like I was at 18!), look for a place that offers several programs that interest you so you can test drive a few courses before you declare a major.

Location and Geography

Love the city? Wish you were closer to the mountains or the coast? Want to hunker down on a small, quiet campus in a rural area? You may want something familiar, or you may want to try something entirely new. Location has an impact on a campus and its environment, so be sure to consider these factors in your search.

Culture and Climate

Every campus has its own unique culture. Some focus on technology, some are politically active, some focus on philosophy, while others focus on the arts, the military, or a religious view. Keep in mind college is a place for growth, so a diversity of thought is an important consideration. Whatever interests you, there will be a campus that fits your ideology.

Back to the Nails

The same nail may fit in several different places. But there are some places a nail just isn’t meant to go.  When it comes to your college search, weeding out the places that don’t fit is just as important as finding the places that do.  Be honest with yourself in your search—don’t try to fit where someone says you should–instead visit, research, and see what fits you and your goals.

Literally stayed up past dark finishing out the new railing..

After weeks of work, we’ve almost finished our deck (last step is to add three steps and handrails). Thanks to my dad, my husband and I have learned a lot of skills to help us in our future as homeowners.

As you go through the college search, admission, and enrollment processes, learn your lessons and come away with skills that make you better than you are today. If you can do that, when you’re done you’ll have an experience you can be proud of, one in which you fully engaged and ultimately found the best fit for your next four years.

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