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“Cracking” The College Admission Code

Much of the media, gossip, and general conversation surrounding the college admission process includes words like “dates, deadlines, decisions,” or perhaps “stress” and “anxiety.” It does not have to be that way. The admission experience can be just that: an adventure- an opportunity to grow and a time to explore and discover. You just have to be willing to travel, twist, and trust.

Recently, I had the opportunity to go to China. In the period of 10 days, we covered a few thousand miles and seven different cities.  On my last day in Shanghai, before boarding a 14-hour flight home, a friend who lives 60 miles outside the city invited me to come for the day promising, “Good food, good conversation, and the best massage in China.” Sure. It would have been easier to stay in Shanghai, but I was intrigued, so I followed his directions through the busy train stations and met him in Suzhou (Go check out the incredible gardens there, if you ever have the chance).

He delivered on his promise. Great food, a low key day touring the city, an opportunity to meet his wife and mother-in-law, and to cap it off a 90- minute massage that cost a grand total of $20. After sipping tea (literally- not the term), soaking our feet, and enjoying/enduring some much needed work on my neck and lower back, he looked over at me on the table and said, “Do you trust me?” In my stupor, and with a masseuse’s elbow squarely in my shoulder blade, I managed to nod and almost inaudibly reply, “Yes.” (Leaving my lips it sounded more like a question than an answer.)

He said something in Mandarin and within the minute two extremely muscular guys walked into the room. Understanding the international hand motion for “sit up,” I complied. Before I knew it, one of them had my hands interlaced behind my head and my arms up in a butterfly position. Quickly and expertly he grabbed and twisted my elbows. Every vertebrate in my spine cracked. I gulped hard. Instantly, he raised my arms again, repositioned me, and twisted the other direction. I threw my head back, simultaneously opened my eyes and mouth wide, and borderline yelled, “Whao! Holy cow! (Possibly the PG-13 version),” which caused my friend and the other masseuse to erupt in laughter. Once I realized I was not paralyzed, it felt amazing– refreshed, rejuvenated, and relaxed all at the same time. I would never have signed up for that in the States. In fact, if he’d explained all of this to me in English ahead of time, I’d have passed on it for sure.

I’m not sending professional “back crackers” to your house or school (although that would be both weird and kind of awesome if I could), but I am hoping your admission experience will be like my day in Suzhou.

Travel– Go visit as many schools as you can. If you have not already read this on our blog or heard it from a school counselor, consider yourself told (or “done told”). These don’t have to be 12 day blitzkriegs where you see 37 different places. Pull off the highway when you see a college’s sign or tag on an extra day or two to a trip this summer. The college admission experience offers you the opportunity to see new places, experience new cities or states, and consider who you really are and what you want from college and beyond.

Don’t just stick to the “Shanghais.” In other words, don’t limit the colleges you visit only to the big or popular or best known schools in your state or region. Don’t let someone else’s list or ranking dictate your decisions or thought process.

Go to Suzhou. When you are driving between the University of Tennessee and the University of Kentucky, swing over to see Centre College. When you are on your way to U Penn stop by Muhlenberg College (Insert your regionally appropriate example here).

Be willing to “go there” figuratively as well. If the list of schools you’ve visited or are researching doesn’t have one or two “surprises” on it, I’d argue you’re limiting yourself and the potential for discovery, adventure, and growth. Look beyond the colleges you constantly see around you on t-shirts and window decals, or playing sports on TV. If you will do that, it’s fine to end up at your state’s flagship or a university that has a Shanghai-like brand or name. But don’t throw away brochures that arrive in your mailbox or inbox just because you’ve never heard of them. Be confident enough to think through what you want and need from a college experience (and how those two differ), and then honestly match those to individual school cultures.

I could not tell you what I did last Wednesday. Probably took the train to work, wrote some emails, and washed dishes. But I can tell you in detail about my day in Suzhou- and I expect I’ll be able to years from now as well. Take some detours. Inconvenience yourself. Be willing to take the path less traveled. Don’t shortchange yourself in this unique time and experience. Travel!

Twist– When you apply to college, you’re definitely putting yourself out there. It’s kind of like sitting up on a massage table and allowing a man three times your size to crack your back. I hope you’ll keep that image in your mind as you apply to college and receive admission decisions and financial aid packages. Well… maybe not that image exactly, but the concept. There can be moments of pain or discomfort but that is not necessarily a bad thing, if you commit to keeping a long- term, big picture perspective.

As an example, this year we pulled over 300 students into our class from the waitlist. Many of those kids applied in October, were deferred in January, and then were waitlisted in March, before ultimately getting an offer in May. Is that a bit painful? Absolutely. Just typing that makes me wince a little. But I’ve met some of those students over the last week, since our summer term began. I’m seeing a lot of smiles (and good posture).

Still not convinced? This fall we are enrolling 600 transfer students. Well over half of those students applied for first year admission. Some were denied initially and went elsewhere. Others were admitted and could not afford to attend, but are now coming after attending a more affordable option for the first year or two.

I hope you will be willing to raise your arms, interlace your fingers behind your head, and endure some proverbial back cracking. Twisting is not breaking. The truth is that too many students get their feelings hurt when they are deferred admission or waitlisted. Too many families become angry or insulted when they don’t get that invitation to the honors program or other perceived merit- based option at a particular school. Getting denied admission or “passed over” for a scholarship is not a dead end, it’s just rerouting you to a different adventure. Twist!

Trust- A few years ago I was helping students move into residence halls. As I entered the building I saw a father out of the corner of my eye who I had met before. I remembered him clearly because a few years earlier he had been in the office yelling at me for denying his son’s admission (you seem not to forget those types of interactions).

I put the box down in the room of the student I was helping, wished her a good year, and then wiped the sweat from my brow. While the box was heavy and I had just basically sprinted up two flights of stairs, the perspiration was from that memory. Heading back out the front door (side door was locked) I scanned the lawn. Whew! He was gone.

Then… a hand on my shoulder. “Oh… Hi. How are you?” I managed to say in feigned surprise. After talking for a few minutes, his wife came up with their two sons. Unbeknownst to me, the younger brother had been admitted to Tech and was starting his first year. The older son explained he had chosen a smaller school and was now a rising senior majoring in business.

“Could not have been a better choice,” the father added, and then went on to proudly describe his son’s summer internship and added he already had a job offer waiting upon graduation.”

It’s understandable to be a little nervous or anxious about this whole college thing. You’re not crazy and there is nothing I can say, write or sing to make you totally trust me. Plus, I’ve learned folks don’t like hearing, “this is all going to work out.” But it’s kind of like standing in line for a big roller coaster. If you only see the drops and hear the screams, it’s natural to be scared. But watch the people coming off the ride. They’re “high-fiveing” and talking about how great it was. Trust them. Go to your high school’s graduation. Talk to graduates at the pool or a game this summer. Did their admission experience go exactly as they’d expected? Are they going to the school they thought they would be a year or two ago? Occasionally, perhaps. But I’d assert the most confident and excited traveled and twisted a bit along the way. Trust!

 

 

 

 

Same Boat, Different Missions

Last weekend our daughter spent the night out, which meant our 11-year-old got to pick the movie without having to compromise (the first three syllable word he was forced to learn).

He immediately began scrolling through superhero movies and ultimately landed on Captain America- The Winter Soldier. Highlights include seeing Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson share the screen, as well as a few truly incredible chase and fight scenes. The trade-off is you end up having to explain to a rising 5th grader that winning WWII took a lot more than an amazing ricocheting shield.

Photo credit: Microsoft.com

In one of the first scenes, Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) are sent to free hostages aboard a ship. During the battle, Rogers realizes Romanoff has diverged to complete another mission– extracting data onto a jump drive from the ship’s computers for S.H.I.E.L.D boss, Nick Fury.

This scene not only sets the stage for the entire plot (and encapsulates the complex relationship between Rogers and Romanoff), but also illustrates the differing missions and motivations of high school counselors and college admission officers. Let me explain…

High school counselors are Captain America.

If you know Steve Rogers’ background, you’ll recall he volunteered to give his life and body to his country. He was transformed through an experiment into a super soldier. His quest is always to serve, protect, and advocate. There is no second mission or ulterior motive. He’s always going to choose and focus on people.

The same is true for high school counselors. This is why they spend countless hours at school, wear far too many hats for too little pay, and still find, or make, time to go to games, dances, performances, and graduation celebrations. Like Captain America they are uniquely made and fully committed.

Admission officers, deans, and directors are Black Widow.

Still a super hero… but it gets complicated.  They care about people. They want students to be happy, healthy, and successful, and they spend a lot of time in Hampton Inns eating extremely questionable breakfasts to prove it. Their direction comes from S.H.I.E.L.D. (read: an institution). They are not independent agents. Their measurement of success and ultimate objective is getting that jump drive. Save as many people as  you can along the way, but the data and numbers are the supreme mission.

For many years, people have described admission officers and school counselors as working on either “side of the desk.” Frankly, I think it’s time to Marvelize the dynamic to “same boat: different missions.”

Over the last two years, I’ve co-authored a book to guide families through the college admission experience with my friend and colleague Brennan Barnard, a school counselor who is also the college admission program manager for Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project. As a result, we talk regularly about various components of this intersection between high school and college, and have written before on the varying perspectives on our field and work. He has helped me appreciate and consider how admission messages, decisions, and policies play out “on the ground” in school communities.

To Serve and Protect

He may not wield a shield, but you can hear his Captain America serve and protect mentality in our email exchange about UVA’s recent announcement to reinstate a binding Early Decision application plan with a deadline of October 15.

“October 15th for a seventeen-year-old student to decide where they want to go to college? I feel the same way about this as I do about back to school sales at the end of June, snow blowers for sale in August,” (he’s from New Hampshire, so this one was kind of lost on me), “or Halloween decorations in stores before Labor Day.”

When the UVA made their announcement, he talked at length about issues surrounding access and equity, rightly pointing out that under-resourced students often do not know about early deadlines, nor do they have the ability to visit multiple colleges to appropriately weigh their options.

He also pointed out the anxiety he and his colleagues on the secondary side observe in their schools and how he sees the move to earlier applications as part of the problem. Frankly, he’s a better writer than me, so I’m just going to hand it off here:

“It is no secret that mental health is a huge concern on college campuses and in high schools as well. In a recent NPR interview, the authors of “The Stressed Years of the Lives” identify college admission as one of the primary stressors for young people. It aligns with evidence found at Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common project about achievement pressure and concern for others and the common good in college admission. While Early Decision is not the singular cause of stress, it certainly contributes to the arms race and students feeling that they need to game the process.

Increasingly students are asking “where” they will go to college before they even answer “why” they are going, because they know the reality of acceptance rates. All we have been learning about brain development and decision-making suggests that, if anything, we should be giving them more time! We need further national research on retention rates, freshman year GPAs, mental health struggles and other indicators, split out by students who came in through early and regular application, including demographic information.

Early Decision has the unintended consequence of pushing everything earlier in high school and is rendering the senior year impotent. Not only do we see students obsessing over college in 9th and 10th grades, but the second half of senior year looks really different when more than half a class is already into college by December.”

Same Boat, Different Mission

As an admission director (aka Black Widow), I join in his concern about equity, stress, and senioritis. I absolutely care. My colleagues on other college campuses care as well. We want to save everyone on the boat. But ultimately S.H.I.E.L.D. is telling us to get that jump drive. Our job is to bring in a class of students who will succeed academically, proliferate the brand of the college, and ensure the revenue generated by tuition is in line with the overall budget.

Note guy in back right. Told you someone always has an eye on the data.

This is an unprecedented time in college admission (and I’m not referring to the Varsity Blues scandal). As author Jeff Selingo discusses in “How the Great Recession Changed Higher Education Forever,” state appropriations for public universities have continually been reduced. As a result, publics with the regional and national brand to attract non-residents made up for their budget shortfall by looking out of state for more students. The population is declining and will continue to do so in the Midwest and New England. In response, population dense California now has almost 200 representatives from institutions outside the state who live and recruit there, including regional admission directors.

A growing number of colleges are closing their doors or re-examining their mission and viability. In “The Higher Education Apocalypse,” Lauren Camera outlines these challenges and highlights specific cases. She also cites Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen who predicts that as many as half of all universities will close or go bankrupt in the next decade.

One way to protect your class (and tuition revenue) is to install a binding ED plan. Is it a perfect or fair solution? No. Are there sometimes other motivations for having an ED process? Yes, of course. It can serve to lower admit rate, increase yield, and could have implications for some of the methodology within US News rankings. (Why do all of those caveats feel like the end of a commercial for pills combating the other type of ED?)

Is UVA in danger of closing? No. They have a different challenge. Since 2008 applications for first-year admission have more than doubled. You know what hasn’t mirrored that growth? Their staff size. As the director of admission at Georgia Tech, I can relate, because over the last decade our story has been similar.

Running a holistic admission process demands time, and a lot of it. Understanding the differences between school grading scales and curriculum takes time. Reading essays and understanding how a student’s high school experience has prepared them for college takes time. If we were just plugging test scores and GPAs into a formula, we could turn decisions around in a day. But, in a simplistic example, that would mean a student with a 1400 and no demonstrated impact on his community edges out the team captain, hospital volunteer, all-around good person with a 1390. Nobody wants that (except the uninvolved 1400 kid).

Ultimately, we set a deadline. Whether that be November 15 or October 15, basically nobody applies until three days before that date. In fact, there are typically more applications submitted four hours before the deadline than four days ahead of it. Once those applications are in, we are on the clock. Financial Aid is breathing down our neck so they can package students. Academic departments want to contact students. And there is a constant concern (particularly among the board, administration, or boisterous alumni) that other institutions are moving faster, releasing decisions more quickly, and taking our applicants.

If staff size is not changing, and application volume is increasing, what can we change? The timeline. Spread out the submission of applications. One solution is to move the deadline up. One solution is to employ ED. In the case of UVA, it was both.

Do I see the challenges this may present? Absolutely. As an institution with an October 15 deadline, I hear them every year.

Agree to Disagree

Brennan’s take is this, “Let’s face it, early deadlines for college admission really are designed to benefit colleges not students. Sure, it is nice for some kids to know early in their senior year that they have a college acceptance locked in. But that nicety is far outweighed by the myriad reasons why the creep of early applications is detrimental–Early Decision being the worst of these evils.” (He expounds on our conversation in Forbes.)

My response?

Black Widow: The truth is a matter of circumstances, it’s not all things to all people all the time. And neither am I.

Captain AmericaThat’s a tough way to live.

Black WidowIt’s a good way not to die, though.

I told you it was complicated.

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Tryouts, Part 2

Is Facebook attempting to take over the world? Do their seemingly benign terms like connection and algorithm really cover a secret plot to install a Zuckerbergian World Order? I don’t know. This is not that kind of blog. What I’m really doing is telling you I got a Facebook memory this week from my son’s “Academy” soccer tryouts last year.

If you are someone who insists on reading the foreword or won’t read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe until you’ve first read The Magicians’ Nephew, you can go back and read last year’s blog here. Here’s the short version: prior to academy soccer I coached my son’s recreational soccer team and he was trying to take the next step up.

Looking at the picture reminded me of a few things…

It reminded me of when the club director gathered all the parents for a quick meeting during the first night of tryouts. “Thank you all for coming out tonight. This is an academy, and we treat it like that: a school. We are all about player development and are here to teach the game and help your son get better. There will be three teams: elite, premier and united.”

As parents, we love our kids and want the best for them. Of course we want them to grow, improve, and develop, but sometimes we confuse what’s “best” on a list, ranking, or some contrived perception vs. what’s best for them as a person (a match, fit, etc.).  Too often (and sometimes subconsciously) parents begin to believe the reputation of the colleges their son or daughter gets into or chooses to attend is somehow a reflection of their parenting.

At least in part, this is why the first questions after the coach’s solid speech (especially given the steady rain under which he delivered it) were:

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

Coach: All returning players must 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: “If my son has a bad tryout and gets placed on the lower level team, can he move up?”

Coach: Yes, we will move players. Sometimes during the season, but other times they’ll need to try out at the end of the year to be assessed for a different squad.

As your family visits colleges and works to create a list of schools to apply to this summer, fight the temptation to focus solely on rankings or preconceived echelons. Instead, ask “Does this school focus on and provide the type of environment to help our child thrive?” In other words, what is the best match based on location, size, setting, programs, and support systems?

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 admit rate or 20 spots lower/ higher in a particular ranking.

Consider if what some online guide has categorized as “Elite, Premier, or United” is relevant or valid based on your kid’s goals and personality.

Look around you. If you’re like me you know plenty of people who went to schools that admit well over half of their applicants and don’t show up in many Top 25 or 50 lists, but are now running their own businesses, leading teams, and influencing their communities.

The picture reminded me that before we found out which team (if any) he made, we ensured he knew we loved him and were proud of him regardless.

Your job as a parent is to fall in love with ALL of your son or daughter’s college choices; to remind them (and yourself) that their worth and potential is not dictated by the name of the school they wear on a hoodie; and to emphatically convey that your love, pride, acceptance, and belief in them is not correlated with admission decisions.

The picture reminded me I needed to finish the story and tell you my son made the United team. He was excited. And even though it meant an end to my 15-season coaching streak, I was excited for him. After he got the call from the coach, I took my own advice and earnestly congratulated him, had him call a few family members so they could celebrate with him, and took him to an Atlanta United game (and for some ice cream).

Looking at him in that picture reminded me of how far he’s come over the last year, and reinforced that where he ended up really was the best place for him. As promised, he has gotten significantly better. The Academy has done what it said it would do—helped him improve as a player. His fundamental skills are stronger, he’s more confident, and he made a few close friends on the team who spent the night regularly and are rooming with him at a camp this summer. His coach was amazing— and perfect for his transition into that league. He not only liked my son but took time frequently after practice and even on a few off weekends to work with him.

Every year I meet parents or counselors of students who did not get into their first choice school or could not afford to attend (we’ve written about this too). Inevitably, they tell stories about how well they’re doing and say things like, “Looking back I’m so glad she didn’t get into X college because Y University really has been perfect for her.” Sometimes the admission process is like a roller coaster. Even though you see people coming off the ride smiling and talking excitedly about the experience, there is still fear, anxiety, and some trepidation that it’s not going to go as well for you. My hope is you’ll lift your hands up, trust, and enjoy the ride — together.

It reminded me that tryouts are again this week. Last night we had the conversation you would expect a dad who grew up around soccer and is an admission director to have—“even though you have worked really hard and gotten so much better” (said in a gentle, encouraging way), “you may not get moved up. It depends on who else tries out; if Premier needs someone with your skill set; and who is making the decisions for setting the teams.”

When a school has an admit rate of 20% or 12%, the talent, preparation and skills to contribute 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,” e.g. students in a particular major or from your state. You will not be able to control who else or how many others are trying out. You won’t be in the room when applications are reviewed and discussed. What you do control is your mentality. You do control your perspective.

After I finished my speech, he slowly nodded his head, paused, and then said calmly, “I know, dad. I just like getting to play.”

Kids. Whether 8 or 18, when it comes to this kind of thing, they understand and can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. Sometimes we just have to get out of their way.

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The Best of Intentions

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

I love stories of wild animals mistakenly brought into people’s homes. While some of these stories are fake, it’s easy for us to believe that it could happen. You know the drill. It starts with a well-meaning, kind hearted (yet naive) individual who sees what they believe is a domestic pet in distress. They bring the creature into their home and give the animal what’s “best” for it: food, a bath, a warm bed. The images become public when this do-gooder posts them to social media, or a neighborhood app, hoping to reunite the scared, mangy, and increasingly irritated “pet” with its owner.

The entire time they are operating with the best of intentions, but unfortunately end up trying to fit a square peg in a round hole (or a mountain lion in a bathtub). It’s only when others chime in to widen their frame of reference (“that’s not a cat, its possum”) does the person start to gain perspective. Maybe the solution offered wasn’t best for the animal in question after all.

Mountain lion in a bathtub (psst… hoax alert!)

The best meaning people in your community will have an abundance of opinions to offer as you go through the college application process: what is most important about a college experience… what athletic division is best… why you should go Greek… the one thing colleges care about in the application process… the sure-fire way to be admitted. Buckle up – this won’t be the only time you receive rapid-fire, unsolicited advice during a life chapter (weddings and pregnancies have a very similar effect on people).

Stop and Reflect

All of this advice is typically very well intended. Some of it may even resonate with you. But a lot of it may feel like grooming a coyote: it just doesn’t fit. Before you take to heart every piece of college-going advice you receive, stop and reflect:

  • Is the advice from someone who is a repeated participant in the college admission process (like a school counselor)? Or is it from someone speaking from a single experience, like your uncle who will likely disown his own children if they don’t attend his alma mater?
  • Are you learning about campus through the perspective of current students, or an alumna whose time in college didn’t include the internet?
  • Are you learning about requirements admission offices consider while reviewing applications from a representative of the school, or from the friend of your older sister who applied to three colleges five years ago?

Everyone – EVERYONE – has valuable wisdom and insight they can share from their experiences. Take time to listen to what those around you choose to share. After all, wild animal or pet, we can all appreciate a free meal from someone who cares. But please, keep in mind when people speak from their experiences, their perspective can be very limited—especially when it comes to talking about the “right” or “wrong” way to go through a process.

Have Perspective

Instead, think about the perspectives that some of the individuals mentioned above can provide, and how that may resonate with your search. While your uncle may not be the best person to talk about Early Action vs. Early Decision, he can certainly speak to the value of school spirit as part of his undergraduate experience and as an alum. While an older alumna may not know all today’s undergraduate experience entails, she does know how her university experience and network prepared her for life after college. And while your sister’s friend may not be an expert on enrollment management, she can share wisdom into the strategies she used to navigate the process (and keep her sanity).

Equally important, learn where you should go to get information from the most appropriate source. Repeat participants in the college admission process, like your high school counselor and college admission representatives, can speak to trends and best practices. Questions about common application pitfalls, recommended timelines, and possible outcomes should absolutely be directed to these individuals.

While I love the Institute I represent, the reality is I am a paid staff member of the school. I take pride in the fact that our office and campus community operate with authenticity and transparency, but at the end of the day I am biased about opportunities at Georgia Tech (if I wasn’t, this would be a terribly challenging career). Our brochures, website, and admission presentations are also biased in highlighting the benefits of an undergraduate career spent on our campus. Keep that in mind as you use college-provided resources as part of your search. While incredibly helpful, they also have an agenda.

Current students are an invaluable resource to your college search. Unlike paid staff and faculty, students are consumers of the undergraduate experience and will provide you with a review from their perspective. That’s why so many resources about campus visits encourage you to engage with students in the dining hall, on the sidewalk, or at the student center. They will undoubtedly provide insight beyond the scope of the official school tour or information session you just completed as part of your visit.

Consider your resources and use them appropriately. Understand that those around you are excited for you, want to help you through your search, and are very well intended. But, also understand that wild mountain lions don’t need a good shampoo. Similarly, make sure the tools you’re using and the advice you’re considering makes sense for you and your college search.

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Best Part, Worst Part, Opportunity. Admission Advice for Parents

In Georgia, our local schools finish in May. Because of all the end of year plays, celebrations, ceremonies and tournaments, parents (not-so-affectionately) call it “MAYhem” or “MAYcember” (all the busyness but no gifts).

During the frenzy of this time, it’s tough to sit down for family dinners, so we have not had many (ok…zero) nights spent casually sitting around the dining room table conversing wistfully about the year. Nope. We have disproportionately used the word “microwave” and “take-out” in recent weeks. The dining room (not just the table) is a chaotic assortment of school projects, credit card and lawn care solicitations, random food wrappers, and a few slowly deflating helium balloons from our son’s birthday party three weeks ago. Needless to say, most meals have been consumed far too quickly while hovering around the kitchen bar.

However, in hopes of generating some semblance of conversation and even temporarily calming the noise of these days, we have made it a point to each share: the best part of our day, the worst part of our day, and “an opportunity” (a moment when we were able to encourage, celebrate, forgive without being prompted, or really listen to a friend, neighbor, co-worker, classmate, etc.).

There have been a couple absolutely hilarious impersonations (one of my wife’s hidden talents), real revelations, some completely disingenuous and perfunctory answers (not going to pretend every night is magical here- we’re dealing with a 2nd and 4th grader), but also a few acts of kindness and moments of true empathy and generosity that have been incredibly heart-warming and inspiring.

So in the spirit of best part/worst part/opportunity, the wisdom in crowd-sourcing insight, and immediately following another year of reading files, hosting students on campus, and traveling extensively around the state and nation, I asked our team to contribute the one thing they would want parents to consider and embrace in the year ahead.

Best Thing/Worst Thing

Kathleen Voss

Alma Mater:  Salve Regina University

Important fact: Father was a long-time dean of admission in New England.

“Sometimes what a student considers to be a ‘good fit’ is not always what the parent considers a ‘good fit.’ It is important for the student to be confident in their choice.  As parents we are looking at the college through a different lens.  Also, if you have not had a conversation about cost with your child, now is the time to do that…not after your student falls in love with a school that is not affordable.”

Alex Thackston

Alma Mater: Florida State University

Important Fact: Huge Atlanta United fan. Oh… and father is the president of college in Florida.

“Be supportive, but also be real about your situation. Let your student lead the process. You should be involved in a secondary manner. Students should contact schools, admission counselors, and their school counselors. You are there as a support system. Unfortunately, you will not be able to follow them to college, so this is one of your first chances to help them become independent!”

Katie Mattli, aka K. Mat, aka Matie Kattli

Alma Mater: Auburn University

Important Fact: Most dogs don’t live as long as she’s been in college admission. Also, cannot be held responsible for comments made when “hangry.”

“When a parent calls or emails me because their student does not have time, I immediately question if the student is truly interested in our institution or just the parent.  Students make time for their priorities and it is telling that we are not one of them. I welcome questions from parents, but a student should be able to communicate and advocate effectively on their own.”

Becky Tankersley

Alma Mater: UNC-Asheville

Important fact: Spent five years working as a television news producer. First generation college student, joy/ infectious laugh undiminished by length of commute.

“Listen to your school counselor! They have a wealth of knowledge to guide your family through the process. Listen to them and consider the schools they recommend. Lean on their experience–they do this every year! Also, be transparent about money with your student. If there is no limit to what you will pay, let them know that. If there is a limit, talk about it now, rather than waiting until the first offer of admission comes in.”

Laura Simmons

Alma Mater: Furman University

Important fact (s): Parent of two current college students and married to a AP History teacher.

“Let your student drive this process.  Like driving a car, they cannot do it with you behind the wheel.”

Sara Straughn

Alma Mater: Wofford College

Important Fact: Met husband through college admission (to clarify- they were both working professionals at the time).

“Don’t try to bribe anyone.  It is not that serious.  And you’ll probably end up in jail which is totally not worth it.  Where your student goes to school matters much less than what they do with their college experience.”

Mary Tipton Woolley 

Alma Mater: Mississippi State University

Important fact: Hails from Union City, TN, which boasts the amazing Discovery Park of America museum.

“Remember what it was like to help your child explore the world – your backyard, the park, etc. – when they were a child. Then and today, there’s a good chance your child is nervous (even if he/she won’t admit it!). They still need your support and encouragement but also the freedom to explore, make choices within bounds and make their own mistakes (picking up a piece of dog poo anyone!).”

Ashley Brookshire

Alma Mater: Georgia Tech

Important fact- inexplicable fear of mascots (yet is regularly around the Chick-fil-A cow)

“In a year’s time, your student will be immersed in a new college environment. Use their senior year as an opportunity to build the soft-skill set required to become the adult that they’re expected to be in college. Once they’re a college student, they will need to register for classes without your direct intervention, approach faculty with questions on their own, and overall act as a self-advocate. The college search process can serve as an intentional time to allow your student to take ownership, while still having the luxury of your close proximity as a sounding board.”

Rick Clark

Alma Mater: UNC- Chapel Hill

Important fact: Greatly enjoys the random solicitations (particularly the odd combinations) on the Marta train. A few recent gems include- three cigarettes for $1 (literally had people grabbing cigs from the box and paying with change), Mini Snickers bars and incense, ear buds and socks, and a personal fave, glow sticks and chewing gum.

“Talk to parents who have kids in college. Ask them to reflect on their experience. Inevitably, you will hear them say they wish they had not stressed as much. They will tell you about their daughter who was not admitted to her first choice school, ended up elsewhere, and is thriving now. They will go into great detail about how their son did not receive the merit scholarship he had been hoping for, selected another option from his choices, and now has an incredible internship and a girlfriend (who they actually like) that he never would have met otherwise.”

Opportunity

If you are not intentional, the college admission process can feel like the frenzy and stress of May. As a result, too many families miss the opportunity that the college admission experience presents. If you will really listen to your student’s hopes and dreams; if you will be willing to trust that this will all work out; if you will focus more on staying together than simply “getting in” to a particular school; if you will check your ego and be more concerned with your child’s goals than the name of a college on a list or its order in a ranking, the college admission experience can be a unique time to explore, learn, discover, and grow closer.

You can find my extended thoughts in Hope For The New Year, so I’ll simply close with this– My biggest hope is that no matter where the college admission journey leads your family, you’ll keep telling your kids three things: I love you. I trust you. I am proud of you.