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The Long Game

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

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

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

Don’t second guess your interests. 

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

Care Instructions

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

Who is on your maintenance team?

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

Keep your eye on the long game.

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

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

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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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Transitions

This week we welcome Admission Counselor KatieRuth Tucker to the blog. Welcome, KatieRuth!

Cue the pomp and circumstance. Begin the slide show. Start the waterworks. You made it through graduation! Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? How many comments have you received on how you’ve grown and how every moment has led to this one point where everything changes? Are you sick of the never-ending clichés and graduation presents reiterating advice on balancing freedom and responsibility?

I remember thinking if I heard the words “exciting new adventure” one more time, I’d storm off, determined to have as bland and boring a transition as I could muster. Maybe you feel suffocated by the same mantras and well-wishes. But know this: all of the advice-giving, gift showering show of support is because we old people want you to launch in adulthood well. What we already know, and try desperately to communicate, is this transition is of the utmost importance. For 18-year-old ears it sounds like the teacher on the old Peanut cartoons. The truth is adults make such a big deal of going to college because it is the first major transition of your life, and it’s incredibly significant.

College is the time you will start to build your lifelong habits. You start making friends more intentionally, and your choices are truly your own. The series of changes that define your adulthood begin when you step out the door of your parents’ house. The advice is to help you avoid the pitfalls of bad habits and dangerous choices, but also to take risks that pay off. It’s a whole new kind of decision-making and discipline. It takes practice, and college is the perfect training ground. Your parents, mentors, and teachers have all tried their best to give you the tools you need because once you are in college, those direct supports are gone. Sure, there are career centers, counseling, advising and tutoring available, but no one is going to make you go. If this sounds like freedom, you’re right—it is! But freedom also includes learning to take initiative, responsibility, and learning out when it’s time to ask for help.

Guarantees

There are a few guarantees with going to college:

  • It will be hard.
  • You will fail.
  • It will be terrifyingly awesome.

There are a few guarantees with all your future transitions too:

  • They will be hard.
  • You will fail.
  • They will be terrifyingly awesome.

My Hardest Transition

My hardest transition was not college. After graduating from college I moved to a foreign country for work. For a variety reasons I became lonely, frightened and felt disillusioned by what I had imagined for the experience. But I pulled through thanks to the lessons I learned in college. I learned to be bold and make new friends even though I was scared, and years later those habits helped me reach out and make new friends again when I needed them most.  College taught me to ask for help, so I got a tutor to help me learn the language. As I worked through that season, I learned new lessons about when it’s okay to move on, when to stand up for yourself, and when to dream something new. This stacking of life lessons and experiences needs a solid foundation, and for many of us, that foundation is built in college.

Change never stops invading your life and taking you by surprise. You will change jobs. You may get married, and if you don’t, some of your friends will. You may decide to change career fields, go back to school, or move to a new city. The lives of graduates today are not like those of previous generations—they fluctuate far more, and learning to adapt is one of the most important skills you learn. Some changes are scarier and more painful than others, but when you face what seems like an insurmountable challenge you can rely on the times you had to change and grow before. You’ll know you’ve done it before and you can do it again, even as those changes become more complex and frightening. There will be times you will look back at the end and think, “Wow, that was terrifying and awesome, and I’m glad I did it.” I know I do.

One of the best parts of changing is realizing you can do it. You will face decisions throughout your life and there are times when “better safe than sorry” is absolutely the best choice (Please, wear a seatbelt, don’t text and drive, and make wise financial decisions!) There will also be times you should take that calculated risk. From asking someone out to moving to a new city to choosing to take the high road and not bend to peer pressure, scary choices come in all forms. College is the time to start creating and practicing new habits so you become the bravest, most adaptable, wisest grown-up version of you that you can 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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