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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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College Knowledge

I have written before about how colleges don’t make differentiation easy

Brochures show warm sunny days that are not too breezy

Students of various ethnicities study happily under trees 

Or gaze pensively into the distance wearing school hoodies overseas

They smile while throwing a Frisbee- not an easy task, my friends

Or sip a smoothie while making a point… but we all know how it ends

With the picture that must be included, especially if for a STEM school–

Two students in lab coats examining something, while still looking remarkably cool.

 

Normally we keep this blog broadly focused on admission and college

In an attempt to provide some insight, advice, levity and insider knowledge

But in honor of National Poetry Month, we are taking a different approach here

To hit on some specifics of Georgia Tech and make a few points clear

My hope is to tell you a bit about our size, location and ideal student

However, rattling off too many statistics in rhyme simply won’t be prudent.

 

To understand who we are today you need to know about our founding

It was 1885, Reconstruction South, Atlanta had recently been burned to the ground…ing

What did the future hold? How would the city remain viable? Commerce was in question

So a few former generals turned politicians had a suggestion

Let’s start a place to imagine and Create the Next— to look ahead

We’ll bring young men to Atlanta, teach engineering and give ‘em a bed

Our motto of Progress and Service was as true then as it is today

A deep conviction to improve the human condition has always led the way

We want students who like to be challenged and stretched. Of hard work, they’re not afraid

They want to create, explore, collaborate, and innovate–and not just for a grade

Some call this Type A or confuse their passion with being slightly crazy.

A rare combination of character, purpose and vision: We seek not the smart and lazy.

 

“We attract, develop, and graduate white collar talent with a blue collar work ethic.”

A quote from Tech alum and College of Computing colleague, Cedric.

Tech students are skeptical, critical, analytical–they quickly raise an eyebrow.

Why are you wearing that? Why did you just say that? Why do you believe that? And then they ask HOW…

ARE we going to make that happen?

The solution isn’t just going to fall into our lap…pen.

 

Atlanta continues to thrive and our students are very much in that mix

With a traditional campus of grass and trees and squirrels, they still get their urban fix

Restaurants, theaters, and professional sporting events can quickly be found

Opportunities for internships, co-ops, and start-ups abound

There is a furiously entrepreneurial and progressive vibe in Midtown

Incubators, accelerators, innovation hubs and Fortune 500 companies all around.

 

It is important to give you a few facts and stats– a quick overview

15,000 undergraduates. 29,000 students total. Some call it a lot, others a few.

We are a mid-sized public school in the landscape of Higher Ed

With 35 majors and 6 colleges, we are streamlined, focused— our curriculum is limited

Many know us for Engineering, which is even in our fight song.

But the colleges of Business, Computing, Design, Liberal Arts and Sciences are also strong

We are not all things to all people as you can clearly see

Our approach is to teach what we believe the world needs– it’s simple really

60% of our undergrads are from Georgia, 40% non-resident

So whether you are from Marietta or Massachusetts don’t be hesitant…

…To apply- I had to work that in of course

(Did it disrupt my flow? It felt a bit forced.)

 

Our retention rate is 97% from first to second year. Among the highest nationally

If someone tells you Tech’s too tough, or students don’t succeed, they’re not speaking rationally

By every measure, list or metric our reputation continues to grow

Upon graduation, our students have options and choices–it’s a name people know.

 

Hopefully I’ve given you a sense of our campus— and into our students some insight

If not please visit or contact our office. We also have a website.

If you are not a big fan of couplets or rhyme- good news- this blog is now through

You can go back to thumbing through the college brochures that say it is all about you.

 

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That’s Not How It Works (#TNHIW)

Eat all your broccoli. “I did. That entire piece.” Mmm… That’s not how it works. Every single piece on your plate.

You collected all the trash, right? “Yep. It’s all downstairs now.” But, son, it needs to actually go to the street. “Well, I…” That’s not how it works.

Did you wash your body and hair? “Well, the shampoo ran down my body, so…” Uh-uh. That’s not how it works.

Innocent misinterpretations, wishful thinking, or legitimate manipulation? It’s debatable. I’m sure you can think of illustrations in your own family, on your team, in your neighborhood, or at school reflecting similar disconnects and the distance between one person’s interpretation and another’s expectation or reality. I’m sure any professional can also describe common questions or myths in their niche.

To your accountant: “Well, no. I don’t have a receipt for that, but I bet we can call them and they’ll vouch for me.” Um… no. That’s not how it works.

To the city water clerk: “I’m not paying that bill. We had a leak in our pipe and the toilet runs incessantly, but it’s not like we really used the water.” Cocked head, one eye squinted. Lips pursed.

College admission has many of these situations. This time of year there are a few #TNHIW for you to be aware of:

The Waitlist

“I have decided not to come to Georgia Tech, and I have a friend on the waitlist. I’d like to give her my spot.” It’s a kind idea. Not only should you be proud of getting in, but also for thinking of your friend. But no, that’s not how it works. Throughout the month of April you’ll find there’s very little waitlist activity (with a few exceptions). Why? Because other schools are still making admission offers, financial aid packages are being released (and compared), and admitted students are coming to visit campus to compare options. Most admitted students wait until the last two weeks of April to commit to a college and pay a deposit (while colleges would love for you to commit earlier, take as much time as you need before May 1). So schools have to wait and see how their class forms.

In the end colleges use their waitlist to shape their class. For example, Georgia Tech is comprised of 60% Georgia residents and 40% from outside of Georgia. If we do not have enough students deposit from our state, we will make offers to round out that part of our class. The same could be said of any demographic, including major, gender, or another nuance a school is trying to grow. This is why colleges typically tell you that they don’t rank their waitlist. We’re not trying to be cagey—we’re being honest. If we hit our target for students from abroad on May 1, we might offer 500 spots from the waitlist but none to international students.  If you’re on a school’s waitlist, hopefully this gives some perspective. More here.

If “Someone” told you that you could just show up to a tour without a reservation, definitely bring an email confirmation or number in case they aren’t working that day.

Visiting Campus (particularly in March/April)

“Yes, I saw online you were full today but I thought if I showed up…” “We booked tickets two months ago and now we are here. You have to work us in…” “Do you really think I would come here without a reservation?” “No. I don’t have a confirmation number. But this is the only day that works for us and I talked to someone who said…” At this time of year, thousands (truly, thousands) of students and families visit campus each week. Between spring breaks, admitted student programs, and improving weather, it makes sense.

Look, I’d love to show up at an Atlanta United match without a ticket and have them “work it out” for me too, but you’ve already got people sitting on each other’s laps so that does not seem like a good plan. A big smile and desire isn’t going to change that I don’t have a ticket.  Does not mean they’re not nice. Does not mean they’re not flattered by the interest. That’s just not how it works.

Now, don’t mishear me. If you check online and a school is full for visits, you can still go in the hopes they have some no-shows or a extra tour guide shows up. But be ready to improvise. Ask the front desk for a self-guided tour map, go eat on campus, and listen to students as they talk. Check out the buildings where your major is and ask students walking by some questions. Shy? Bring a Frisbee and a dog and see if that helps break the ice. Just promise me that you won’t show up and give some poor student or junior staffer at the front desk a hard time because what you already saw online days ago is now reality.

Appealing an admission decision

“My son is amazing! Didn’t you see his test scores? And we know someone who got in who is not as good. How do we appeal?” Well… first, it’s very nice to talk to you ma’am. Not being admitted to a school that you really want to attend stings. There is just no easy way to say it. And at most selective schools, denied and waitlisted students can easily make a case for

Basic tip for visiting campus and life in general…

why they would be great students on campus. However, applications have been read multiple times in a holistic process and ultimately are made in line with achieving institutional priorities. I see how you could read that as the party line but it’s actually just confidence in our decisions.

A couple of things to know here: first, we want to talk to the applicant in these cases. Not someone who does a good voice imitation of the student, and not someone who really loves the student. Honestly, our first thought when we speak to a parent or connected alum about an appeals is, “does the student really want to come?” If so, it seems like they’d be the one to pick up the phone, send the email, or complete the appeal form.

Second, we explain on our website what makes a valid appeal. It varies from school to school, so check their information. Our reasons for a valid appeal normally include medical information, significant life circumstances, or academic details that were not correct on the transcript initially. We also list some of the invalid reasons for appeal. You’ll notice among others that pictures as an infant on campus, a really strong desire to come, or “it’s the only school I applied to” don’t fall into the valid category. #TNHIW

I could go on about how score ranges don’t guarantee admission or how we don’t have quotas of admits by school, or how the recruited athlete didn’t really take your spot, or the fact that deadline really means deadline, or how remnant shampoo doesn’t really wash your body, but I think we’re on the same page now, right? Got some other admission or life examples? We’d love to see them on Twitter @gtadmission using #TNHIW.

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Love… and Admission

I’m not usually too big on celebrating February 14, to be honest with you. I have nothing against chocolate or flowers or cards, but there’s something about this fabricated, highly marketed, contrived “holiday” that feels forced, disingenuous, and insincere. Ironically, Valentine’s Day is everything love is not supposed to be.

But you didn’t come here to listen to my love advice, right? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what you are going to get this week, because guess what–love and college admission have a lot in common. In hopes of setting the mood, our staff, some of their kids and spouses, as well as a few Georgia Tech students put this Valentine’s Playlist together for your listening pleasure. I’m guessing that, like me, you have not heard of some of these. I even question if a couple are actually love songs at all. But these are folks I love and trust–eclectic but thoughtful. If you think about it, your college considerations and visits should be this way too. Just because you have not heard of a song (university), don’t discount it. Just because it’s not your normal genre, region, type does not mean you won’t find a new favorite– with both songs and schools.

1- You Have Lots of Options.  If you are a junior or sophomore you are starting to get some appreciation for this right now thanks to all of those glossy, shiny brochures and letters showing up in the mail. Think about it. They are putting their best foot forward: sunny days; beautiful, sweeping shots of their grand, manicured grounds; picturesque moments under captivating trees as the sun fades warmly in the distance. What are they actually saying? “We think you are great. Come check us out. We’d love you to move in for four or five years.”  Love letters, my friends.

2- Love Yourself First. I never said it wouldn’t get cheesy, but there is enough room on the heart-shaped cracker for some truth too. If you are going to find the right romantic match–and the right college match–you have to look within first. Who are you? How do you best learn? How far away from home will you feel comfortable? What type of people bring out your best? How much can you, and should you, pay for this opportunity? (Parallel may break down a little on that last one). Anyone who has been married more than a few years–and certainly anyone who has been married more than once–will say you have to love yourself, know yourself, and understand yourself before you can possibly love another person. College is no different. You can’t answer “Where you are going to college?” until you first answer “Why are you going?” Same is true for dating. Maybe you should take yourself out for V-Day tonight or later this week. Don’t go to a movie. Don’t go somewhere you know a lot of people. How about a slow, quiet stroll? We all probably spend too little time alone anyway. Don’t get in so much of a hurry with dating or college that you forget to listen to your own dreams, needs, hopes, and goals.

3- Be Realistic. I’m sure you are thinking, “First the cheese and now the dream dies.” Bear with me. Here’s the thing: some people like to flirt—and colleges will too. Your heart may flutter when you get some very flattering letters from schools. You could see pictures of the suitor standing by her Gothic castle, or in some far away land wearing a shirt with an inspiring seal on it compelling you to write a love letter back (aka an application). I’m not trying to kill the romance, but I am urging you to keep one foot on the ground. You want to take a shot at the supermodel? For the low price of $75 and another essay, you can. Time, love, and money are always connected. ALWAYS. I’m just saying if your SAT and GPA are in the school’s bottom quartile (or if both are in their top quartile but the admit rate is less than 20% a year) you better send a few love letters to equally interesting places which do not show up on the cover of every publication in the nation.

4- Say What? Love, and by extension admission, can be confusing. Sometimes you need a friend to translate what a potential boyfriend/girlfriend/ suitor is saying. I’m here for you. “Maybe” (also known as defer or waitlist) does not mean “No.” Keep your head up, man. She just said “hold on.” Of course your feelings are hurt—you wanted an outright “Yes.” Does it sting? Sure. But shake it off and keep the big picture in mind. You professed your love on your application. You said four years together (followed by a lifetime of donation solicitations) sounded magical. Now they want your fall grades and a quick statement about why you are still interested, and you have your arms folded, nose scrunched and back turned. Love hurts. (Apparently, “Admission Hurts” ended up on the cutting room floor.)

If someone else said “Yes” and you are fired up about that relationship, great. You found your match! Awesome. But don’t let your ego get in the way of seeing this through because of a maybe. You won’t learn anything about yourself, or love for that matter, by quitting.

5- No Happens. Denied, rejected, and turned down. Harsh words, for sure. But you can’t view them as anything more than re-directions. The same is true of failed dates, break-ups, or declined promposals. Re-directions. New opportunities are coming. Better days are ahead. Need to cry? Fine. Need to scream out the window at high speeds? Buckle up and watch for mailboxes, but okay. Burn the hoodie, rip off the bumper sticker, shred the poster. You do you. But then get your head up so you can get excited about the other options you have. And don’t look back. A: You shouldn’t give them the satisfaction, B: You owe it to yourself and the one you end up with to be all in.

6- Right for them does not equal right for you. So there was this girl in college… Short story is she was pretty, smart, funny, athletic, and generally a good person. Lots of guys wanted to date her. She had guys buying her meals, walking her home, and constantly asking her out.  She had guys sitting in on classes they weren’t even enrolled in to try to talk to her. Uhhh…well, that’s what I heard anyway. In the end, who did she like? My roommate. And his response? “Not interested. I don’t see it.” I never said he was smart. Just said I knew him. But here’s the point– it’s easy to believe a college is right for you or is a place you should apply or attend because a bunch of your friends, family, and classmates are into it. Have the confidence to make your own decisions.

I realize six points is random but I’m going to stop there because getting into parallels about double depositing or transferring seem dicey. At the end of the day, my best love and college advice is follow your heart and choose wisely. Have a great Valentine’s Day. I hope at least one of our songs brings you a smile or a new artist to follow.

Want to read more on love… and admission? My good friend and colleague, Brennan Barnard, also wrote on this topic earlier this week. Check out his take. 

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Change Your Filter

Last week, a friend I grew up with sent me an article ranking Decatur the #1 Place to Live in Georgia with a note: “Come a long way, brother.”

I hear that. When I grew up in Decatur, it was… fine. Great place to get your car fixed, some good burger options, and the standard churches, recreation centers, schools, and city services of most places.

My street was divided– half the houses were in the city limits of Decatur, and half were in the county (DeKalb).  As kids, we did not think much of it other than the city sign made good target practice for an array of launched objects. Adults agreed (not about the sign, but about the six to one, half-dozen the other idea of perceived quality).

When I went to college in North Carolina nobody heard of Decatur, so I would simply say I grew up a few miles east of downtown Atlanta.

Destination: Decatur

Today is a different story. The standard three bedroom, two bath houses that once filled Decatur are largely gone. It is tough to find anything coming on the market for less than $500,000 and new construction can approach seven figures. People petition for annexation and move to town just for the schools and quality of life.

Several of the old gas stations have been converted to gastropubs or boutiques with vintage garage doors. Some of the guys working at these establishments have beards that are just as impressive and hats just as dirty as the guys back in the day, but instead of an oil change and tire rotation, they’re charging $30 for tray of fries (frites, actually) with assorted dipping sauces.

During and after college, when friends would come to visit, we never chose to go out in Decatur. Virginia Highlands, Midtown, and Buckhead had the lion’s share of good dining, shopping, entertainment, and nightlife options. Now when friends visit there is no reason to leave this two-mile radius. And typically they’ve already read a review of a local restaurant, microbrew, or other shop they want to check out.

The bottom line: things have changed dramatically. You cannot apply the same filter you did 20 years ago–or even five years, for that matter. Decatur is a destination now. The schools are highly desirable, the shops and restaurants are well-regarded, and the demand for housing is at an all-time high. Even the city sign is nicer.

Destination: College

If you graduated from college before 2000, the changes in college reputation, brand, selectivity, and culture can be equally dramatic.  So if you are a parent just starting to screen and review college literature in the mail, or if you are planning your first college tour for this spring, here are a few quick takes:

“Number 1 Place to Live”

“The University of X? Where the kids from our school went if they could not get into…?”

“If you drove slowly down Main Street with your window open, they’d throw a diploma in.”

“On Tuesdays people were already tailgating for Saturday’s game.”

Yeah, yeah. I know. I’m telling you, Decatur was a little sketchy. Even as a kid, I remember looking askance at the lollipops the bank was handing out. The University of X? Yep. Because that college town is getting written up in major national magazines as a great place for food, family, culture; they have invested heavily in student support and programs; they had students win international competitions for research and prestigious scholarships and fellowships. Change your filter. X may be the absolute perfect match for your daughter, so don’t dilute her excitement or willingness to consider it with your outdated stereotypes.

“Gas stations turn into gastropubs.”

“He has a 1460. He’ll get in for sure.”

“They gave me a summer provisional admit offer and I was able to stay if I did well.”

“I wrote a two-word essay: “Go” followed by their mascot, which I misspelled, and they still let me in.”

I hear you. 1460 is high. It is impressive and noteworthy and nobody is taking that away from him.  And you are right, 25 years ago there was room for “creative admission” practices at colleges that now admit less than one of every two applicants and carry waitlists well over 1,000 additional students. There was a time when it was all about numbers. Hit a mark, cross a threshold, clear the hurdle. We all appreciate simplicity, and I’m no different. The good news is many colleges are still operating the same way. But check your filter before you make any assumptions. If anywhere in the school’s literature, website, or presentation they use the word “holistic,” 1460 is now part of a sentence and a conversation, rather than an integral part of an equation.  And your two-word essay still makes a good story, but they are reading closely now and will expect true introspection and reflection.

“$30 frites”

Note: First, can we just call them fries please? I appreciate you use a locally-sourced, all-natural, gluten-free, highly-curated, necessarily hyphenated, multi-syllabic adjective laced oil for them, but they’re still fries. I will take an extra dipping sauce though.

“Tuition was less than $1000 per quarter.”

“I paid my next semester’s bill with the money I saved from my internship.”

“I was able to pay off all of my student loans within five years of graduating.”

The truth is you have as much of a chance buying a new house in Decatur for $200 as $200,000 in today’s market. And as you begin to research college costs, you’ll likely have some eye-popping, heart-stopping, head-shaking (hyphens, they’re infectious) moments. Don’t let tuition or overall cost of attendance keep you from visiting a school or encouraging your son or daughter to apply if they’ve determined it is a good match academically, geographically, and culturally.  Do check out their published Net Price Calculator and start reading up on reliable sources about the school’s financial aid packages and program.

“My Hometown” (cue Bruce Springsteen)

“I have been buying football tickets for the last twenty years.”

“There should be spots held for families who have multiple generation connections.”

“Don’t y’all care at all about preserving tradition? We’ve been bringing our kids there since they were in diapers.”

You loved your college experience. You love your kids. You see them both enjoying and benefiting from going to your alma mater, and you see a shared college experience/alma mater as another connection in your relationship. Valid, and reasonable. I don’t hate you for it.

But one of the biggest tragedies I see is the reaction of alumni whose kids do not get in because they view it as a personal affront against their family. I implore you–commit to not letting this be your story. University of Washington, Washington University, George Washington, Mary Washington, Washington and Lee? Maybe you went to a school named after another president, or a state, or direction. Whatever. Wanting your son or daughter to go to your alma mater is not wrong. But it’s also not guaranteed. And the decision certainly won’t be connected to how many games you or your family have attended over the years. In fact, fewer and fewer schools consider legacy in their admission process.

Start with the assumption they will not get in or they will not choose to go there even if they do. Then ask yourself what other schools are solid academically, affordable, and are helping students achieve their goals. You need to fall in love with your son or daughter’s choices (not the breaking curfew ones or even the dating ones necessarily, but the college choices). All of them. Even if it was your alma mater’s biggest rival. Eighteen years > four years. You love your kids. Now fall in love with their other college choices.

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