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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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Hey Ya!

Prefer to listen? Check out the audio version of this post!

I’ve coached my son in soccer since he was 4. Between falls, springs, and a few Futsal winter sessions we’re sitting at 15 seasons total. He has gone from running aimlessly around the field with a uniform shirt touching his kneecaps to carrying a ball in his backpack at all times and watching professional YouTube highlights.

At the beginning of the spring season he told me he was interested in a more competitive league and wanted to try out for our local “academy” team. We talked about this in the past, and now with several of his friends from school and a few neighbors already on the club, I was not surprised. When the season ended, he had not wavered. We told him it would be competitive and there was no guarantee he would make it. But he remained interested and kept playing and practicing after school every day.

Season 2. I call this one “See no evil, hear no evil.”

So last week, despite the dismal forecast, we headed out to the fields for the first of a three night tryout. He was excited but anxious. “What kinds of drills do you think we will do? How many guys are trying out? Do you know any of the coaches?” Once we arrived they divided the players into various colored pennies and sent them to one of three fields with a few coaches to start their warm up and drills.

After 45 minutes, the club director gathered all of the parents for a quick meeting. “Thank you all for coming out tonight. We really appreciate your son showing interest in our club.” With rain coming down and whistles blowing on the fields all around us, it was tough to lean in and hear all of his words as he addressed about 40 parents huddled under tents along the sideline.

“We are about player development. There will be three teams: elite, premier, and united. If your son wants to play professional soccer, we will try to help him reach that goal. This is an academy–and we treat it like that–a school. We are here to teach the game and help your son get better. This is a community club and we are committed to having players from all backgrounds on our teams. Your fees will go to helping about 75 players a year who otherwise could not afford to play and travel, so thank you for your commitment.”

At this point, he paused and took a look over at the three fields filled with 9 and 10-year-old boys wearing blue pennies, getting absolutely soaked, and clearly enjoying every minute. “At this age, we are not too concerned with wins and losses.  Our commitment is to help each player improve and achieve his goals. Any questions?”

I’m just being honest.

DAD #1 from under a Price Waterhouse Coopers umbrella. Q: How many spots do you have on the elite team this year?

A: All returning players also have to try out again, so that number is yet to be determined.

MOM #1 standing just outside the tent with rain now tumbling off her loose-fitting jacket hood.  Q: “If my son has a bad tryout and gets placed on the lower level team, can he move up?”

A: Yes, we will move players. Sometimes during the season and sometimes they’ll need to try out at the end of the year in order to be assessed for a different squad.

I loitered around after the public meeting and heard: “You said that our fees subsidize players who cannot afford to play. Is there a preference for families that will pay a higher amount to subsidize additional players?”  I’m guessing the director was thinking was, “and this is why US Soccer won’t be competing in the World Cup this summer.” But instead he responded, “We always welcome donations but your son will be placed on the team that suits his ability, regardless of monetary contributions.” Well played, coach.

These questions sounded eerily familiar as parallels to college admission. The only one I did not hear was, “If I also played Academy growing up, does my son get any type of advantage?” Maybe that was emailed in later. But good to know that if the soccer talent in the area dries up, the league director has transferable skills.

I came home and gave my wife the report. “He did pretty well in the drills. Definitely did not get the ball a ton in the scrimmage but there are two more nights of tryouts, so we’ll see.”

Which team do you think he’ll make?

“Tough to say. There are a lot of really good players out there and even though the coach said there are no guaranteed spots for returning players, that may or may not be totally true.”

Even as I was talking I could see the same nervous, concerned look on her face our son had a few hours earlier.

I’m writing this post on night three of tryouts from an airplane that has been sitting on the tarmac in Washington D.C. for well over an hour due to terrible storms on the east coast. With no internet and lightning erupting around us, I inexplicably can only get one song on my Spotify playlist, “Hey Ya!” by Outkast. Hence the themes and subheadings.

Phone rings.

“Hey. How did it go?” I ask quietly so not to interrupt my neighbor who is already most of the way through her now lukewarm Panini and A Phantom Thread (not a recommendation).

He did ok. Not as well as last night, although he had a good shot on goal. He was upset coming home and said he’s worried he may get placed on the lowest level team. I tried to tell him even that quality would be higher than your team… I mean… you know what I’m saying, right?

I love this woman. Definitely keeps me humble. “Yeah, I hear you. Can I talk to him?”

Footsteps on stairs. Running water. Something crashes. Daughter complaining about brushing teeth in background.

Hey, dad.

“Hey, bud. How was your day?”

He launches into an assessment of the drills and his play overall.

“Gotcha. Well, I’m sorry I could not be there. Always love watching you play.”

No answer initially. And then…Yeah. We did play a pretty cool game I can show you when you get home.

I hung up and was about to put my headphones back on to see if I’d escaped the Hey Ya! loop when my neighbor asked, “Your son?” She was in her early 60’s, wearing glasses and a scarf. Her headphones were off now and she’d turned toward me.

A recent plane neighbor. What? You thought I was kidding?

Yeah, he had a soccer tryout tonight.

I’m sure he did great.

We’ll see.

Well, it sounds like you handled it pretty well. He knows you love him and that’s what is important.

To be honest I’ve recently had a string of airplane neighbors who immediately covered themselves with blankets when I said hello, so it took me a second to make the transition not only to an interaction, but someone with actual sage wisdom. (Side note: I wrote this part after we deboarded in case she was watching my screen like she was eavesdropping on my conversation.)

After she went on to explain she was not going to make a connecting flight to Des Moines for a speech her husband was supposed to make in the morning, I offered her some local hotel options in Atlanta, and she went back to her movie.

Me? I closed my eyes and hit play.

Alright, alright, alright, alright, alright.

I had a couple of thoughts.

1- He will probably make one of those teams (which, as we have established, are all better than what he has experienced before) and the coaches will help him continue to improve.

2- If he does not end up on a team with his friends, he will make new ones. He always does.

3- Not knowing is the hardest part. Once he is placed and starts playing, he’ll have a blast.

But what kept going through my head was Outkast. No, wait… it was, “He knows you love him, and that’s what is important.”

Thank God for mom and dad for sticking together.

If you are a parent of a junior or sophomore who is planning to apply to selective colleges, I’m imploring you to have these conversations with your son/daughter, your spouse/partner, and with yourself, BEFORE applications are submitted (aka tryouts) and definitely before admission decisions are released.

When a school has an admit rate of 20% or 12%, the talent, preparation and skills to contribute on that field are incredible. And the truth is those percentages don’t exactly translate to 1 of 5 or 12 of 100 because that year they may only be looking for a few “defenders”, i.e. students in a particular major or from your state, etc.   You will not be able to control who else or how many others are trying out. When you apply, there is no way to know if there are in fact some “reserved” spots (although I’d assume there are). What you do control is your mentality. You do control your perspective. You weren’t thinking this was all totally fair were you?

When you tour schools this summer, when those brochures arrive in the mail, when you talk to friends or colleagues about the variety of colleges they attended, when you look through the alma maters of Fortune 500 CEOs, I urge you to really read. REALLY listen. Notice what they have in common. No, I’m not talking about how you can grab three friends and a professor and start a juggling club. No, not the part about how apparently each place sends kids abroad to stand on high points and ruminate over life’s deeper meaning. I’m talking about the bigger connection and takeaway message—they are ALL about student development.

They ALL have faculty, programs, opportunities that say precisely what the coach said in the rain last week: if you come here, commit, work hard and plug-in we will help you reach your goals. (See Frank Bruni’s book for more on this.)

There is nothing wrong with wanting to make the Elite team. There is nothing wrong with visiting and applying to Ivy League or Ivy-like schools. But the big misconception, the big myth, and frankly the big misplaced mentality is that “getting in” to those places is a parent’s report card or that this perceived Elite, Premier, United structure of schools is somehow an indicator of a student’s future success and opportunities.

I want to challenge you to dig deeper into the methodology that dictates the tiers the US News Rankings prescribe. Question whether you really see a discernible difference in student quality or alumni outcomes at a school that is 15 percentage points higher/lower in selectivity. Read the statistics behind 100 points variation on an SAT before you mentally classify them into Elite vs. Premier. Look around you. Every day I meet people who went to schools that admit well over half of their applicants. What are they doing now? Running their own businesses, leading teams, and influencing their communities. Fundamentally, whether it is Northwestern or Northeastern, whether it is Washington State or Wash U, this is what colleges do for students who want to learn, grow, thrive, and work hard to achieve their goals. Get behind them!

What makes love the exception?

Get excited about every school your son or daughter puts on their list. Take the tour, buy the t-shirt, go to a game, and ultimately put that sticker on your car with pride. I get it can be tough when classmates or friends or neighbors end up on a different team. You stick with constant encouragement and they will embrace the opportunity— trust there are great new teammates to meet and coaches waiting to help them reach their goals. But, above all else, stick with the message of unconditional love. What makes love the exception? It’s not Andre3000, it’s the rule.

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Sweet Summertime

This week we welcome Senior Associate Director of Admission Mary Tipton Woolley to the blog. Welcome, Mary Tipton!

Ah, summer. The time of year to sit back, relax and enjoy life. Maybe for some, but not for those of us in college admission! In the admission office, “summer” is the time to wrap up the enrolling class, reflect on the year behind and plan for the year ahead. Summer is in quotes because it goes by so quickly!

As a parent, I’m glad to only have 10 weeks to find camps/babysitters for my child, but as a higher education professional, it’s challenging. We are busy checking final transcripts for enrolling students (yes, we really do check your final transcripts!) and other required documents. In just a couple of weeks 300 first-year students will arrive on campus for the summer term, so the timing of these final checks is critical. If you swing by our office this summer, you’ll find us wrapping up the past year and planning for the year ahead.

Students, you are likely doing the exact same thing. Whether you’re already enjoying your summer or slogging through the last few days of school, follow our lead and make it a summer!

Assess the year behind

Take time to reflect on the year that has passed, determine what you can learn from it, and decide what you need to work on in the year ahead. What worked well? Where do you need to make improvements? Our staff is taking a deep dive into important areas like our visit program (which now accommodates over 40,000 visitors per year!), training, and professional development. Meanwhile, our transfer team is still finalizing decisions for fall transfer students—their summer hasn’t even started yet!

Ask Yourself:  what classes did you enjoy most? Where do you have gaps in learning that you can work on over the summer? My six-year-old is reading (mostly) every night to make sure she continues to improve before starting first grade in the fall. Maybe you need to go back over work from the past year to ensure you’re ready to move forward in the year ahead. Maybe there is an activity that you want to improve in the year ahead – can you run more over the summer to earn a faster time, or study robotics to improve your team standings?

Prioritize tasks for the year ahead

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know we changed the way we review first-year applications. The team-based reading approach was a huge success, but I’m already thinking about how we can move our process forward and provide staff what they need to manage application volume in an efficient and effective way. Our transfer team is looking for opportunities to revise the way they review applications to manage the volume and priorities they have been asked to meet. We also have staff planning fall travel. I’m still old school, but have learned the hard way over the last few years that waiting to schedule high school visits until August does not end well! On top of planning for next year’s application cycle, our campus visit team is planning events for next year. They are constantly looking for ways to accommodate everyone who wants to visit campus, which is no small feat!

Ask yourself: what are your goals for the year ahead? Maybe it’s to improve your grades, find a job, get involved in something new, or take on a leadership role. Whatever it may be, now is the time to think about how you’re going to get there. If you’re going to be a senior in the fall, getting a jump on your college applications will be critical to ensuring your sanity in the year ahead (trust me!). Many applications, like the Common Application and Coalition Application (both of which we accept) never close. That means essays and activity pages are available now, while you have time to reflect, write and refine.

Make it a summer!

No matter what is on your agenda for the summer – working, summer camp, vacation – I hope you’ll take time to reflect, plan for the upcoming year and have fun! Summer is a time to recharge. We do that by attending conferences, going on office retreats and taking some time off to be with family and friends. We all need that kind of recharge to be successful in the year ahead. If part of your summer plans include visiting Atlanta, I hope you’ll swing by campus. It’s called “Hotlanta” for a reason, but we still offer tours all summer – no matter the temperature and humidity!

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Spring Cleaning

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

It’s a time to close the door on winter and set your sights on the sunny days to come. Spring cleaning allows me to catch my breath, get re-organized, and look forward to the excitement of warm weather and summer travel. It’s not without its burden – I don’t particularly enjoy scrubbing baseboards and emptying closets – but I do love the relief of having the work done and updated systems set to keep my home a place of rest and relaxation.

When I think about spring cleaning, I often think of my house. In reality, there are many aspects of my life that could use this kind of attention. My finances, work, and personal inbox – amongst many other areas – can use the renewed TLC this time of year brings.

As rising seniors looking ahead to the college application process next year, make time to conduct some spring cleaning of your own. Here are some good places to start:

New You

If you haven’t already noticed, colleges send a lot of emails. A LOT. One way to keep your personal or school email inbox manageable over the course of the upcoming year is to create a separate email address for your college communications. Something simple (and appropriate) like myname@gmail.com allows you to segment this portion of your life for the next few months and isolate the emails you’ll receive daily (okay, probably hourly) from the rest of the messages you’re balancing for school, work, clubs, etc.

Unsubscribe

There are tons of ways you can start receiving communication from colleges. Outside of actually signing up on a college’s website to receive more information, if you’ve taken the SAT or ACT, visited a college campus, attended a college rep presentation at your high school, are related to a passionate alumnus who knows your email address and birthdate, or breathed in the vicinity of a college fair table, you could find yourself on a college’s contact list.

As you begin to explore your college options, you’ll likely discover some of the 4,000+ colleges in the US are not a great fit for you (that’s a good thing!). As you discover what you’re most passionate about in a college experience, you’ll begin to identify schools that don’t quite match what you’re looking for. Your best friend should become the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of each email you receive. As you begin to narrow the list of schools in which you are most interested, it’s time to triage your inbox. You don’t want the one really important email from a university you’d love to attend to be accidentally missed in an inbox full of messages from colleges you are no longer considering.

Compile Your Thoughts and Research

As you start to look at different colleges and programs, there are an infinite number of data points to consider. Take time this summer to turn messy notes and thoughts into a useful resource. A Google Doc, Excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint can be key in helping you capture all of the information from your college search and turn it into a handy tool. Helpful items to represent on your document include important deadlines (both for admission and financial aid), programs aligning with your personal and professional interests, qualities about the school that excite you, any red flags for you, and the contact information of your admission representative. Remember, this is a resource for you, so make sure it’s set up in a way that best captures what matters most to you! You’ll have enough on your plate as a senior in the fall – use this time to set up a system that keeps you organized and all of the information you’ve gathered in an accessible format.

As the school year winds down and you head into summer, make sure you’re taking on a few tasks to set you up for success this fall. Not all spring cleaning takes place in cobb-webbed corners or under beds, so take some time to de-clutter and get organized.

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Feel The Burn

Last week I visited Jekyll Island, Georgia as part of a leadership program. If you have never been to the Golden Isles of our state, I hope you will make an effort to visit sometime. Not far from Jekyll you also have some incredibly preserved treasures like Cumberland Island and Sapelo Island. The entire region provides a rare and amazing combination of beaches, wildlife, restaurants, and recreation. Truly something for everyone in this beautiful part of Georgia.

One afternoon we went on tour with Joseph Colbert, Yank Moore and other members of the Jekyll Island Authority Conservation team—a group charged with everything from protecting nesting loggerhead turtles and dune systems to preserving the integrity of tidal marshes. They showed us how they tag and track alligators, rattlesnakes, armadillos, turtles, bobcats and more in order to understand patterns, threats, and ecosystems. The diversity of wildlife was fascinating, but I have to say the most intriguing part to me was the discussion around prescribed/controlled burning.

Feel the Burn

Fire and burning is part of the natural cycle and ecosystem. Our modern human tendency to suppress fire actually increases the presence of invasive, homogeneous plants and weeds, effectively killing native grasses and flowers, and in turn reducing plant and animal diversity. Prescribed burns not only limit the damage of future fires caused by lightning or other sources that could severely damage the habitat and animals, but they also eliminate intrusive and dominant plants and brush that actually hinder the emergence of the far more diverse, vibrant, beautiful growth underneath. Ironically, the dominant, invasive, homogeneous plants and brush that grow in fire-suppressed areas are more flammable, so when fires do occur the damage is far worse. (These are the Clark Notes. Apologies to all students of ecology, agriculture, or members of the fire service world who may be cringing at my very rough summary.)

Listening to Joseph describe the process and rationale of controlled burns was convicting. It made me realize we often allow the known and visible to limit our vibrant, full, beautiful life and the possibilities that exist deeper in all of us. Pain (burning/fire) is inevitable, but short-term discomfort or perceived danger is a necessary part of a rich, diverse, flourishing future. Too frequently we inaccurately associate homogeneity with safety.

If you are a graduating senior

You are almost done. Congratulations! Seriously, congratulations. You may have always expected to graduate high school and move on to college, but in reality tens of thousands of American students do not. You’ve worked hard and accomplished a great milestone in your life. Well done! But… (you knew that was coming, right?) now the hard work lies ahead. You can see it as hard, or see it as an opportunity.

Sure, it would be easy to go off to college and keep doing what you have done. On some level, you have a recipe for success. Good grades, achievement, leadership, contribution. All good things. But what lies beneath? What do you know is within you that is going to require some burning to bring forth? What scares you but excites you? What do you want to be, to accomplish, to achieve, to explore? College is an opportunity for finding those things.

I am not saying you have to completely reinvent yourself, but I implore you to spend time this summer, before you leave home, to reflect on why you are going to college and how you are going to intentionally grow, thrive and develop there. Be bold enough to burn. Be courageous enough to peel back the top layer (as impressive or pretty as it may appear on the outside) to expose those parts of you perhaps only you know or believe have been suppressed, so they can rise and flourish. The process is not easy or painless. But Joseph would tell you, and I’m telling you, most people twice or three times your age know suppressing the fire is far more damaging in the long run.

If you are a junior/sophomore

In terms of college, it is easy to only see the top layer. You know where mom and dad went to school. You’re surrounded by the big schools or popular schools in your state and region. You read the list of highly ranked schools that are commonly cited in articles. You’ve been told about the “acceptable” or “expected” schools for a student from your school, community, or neighborhood. Burn them down (the ideas—not the schools!). The landscape of higher education, like the biodiversity under the visible, dominant intrusive top-layer is rich, vibrant and beautiful. But it will take some work to lift it up and see it.

So when schools email you or send you invitations to visit; when you receive brochures in the mail or someone from a school you’ve never heard of calls you; when colleges visit your city or school next fall, I urge you to pause and consider. If you do not at least dig down, burn through, and explore the variety of options you have, you will continue to see your choices as limited and suppressed. And that is not what the admission process is supposed to be. Instead it should be dynamic and life-giving. In the end, you should only go to a highly visible school after you have recognized and considered all your options and then chose it.

Regardless of where you are in this process, I challenge you to not accept what is in front of you because it appears safe, comfortable, or acceptable. And that does not only apply to colleges, my friends—that applies to life in general.  Safe, comfortable, acceptable, homogenous… if too many of those adjectives are your rationale for anything, you have some burning to do. You will be glad you did.

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