Plan the Work and Work the Plan

I’m not going to lie to you. In recent weeks, I’ve been a little down. Powerful, potential presidents acting like middle-schoolers, the horror of the Orlando shootings, humidity that qualifies Georgia as a living sauna. And to top it off… we moved. The good news is I’m still married (Or I at least have not received the documents at this point, but it was a severe test). Days without sitting down, straight sweat for 72 hours, countless trips (literally and figuratively) up and down stairs. You know the scene: kids eating numerous Chick-Fil-A meals and drinking Capri Suns because you can’t find a pan or spatula; random men taking all of  your possessions and driving off in a truck. Sure, I had some paperwork but there’s still that conspiracy theorist in me that wonders if they aren’t headed for the coast with my pint glass collection…

But things turned around three days later when I rose early, dodged all the boxes, boarded a plane and flew to Oregon (You know–the way caring, devoted husbands do.)

So now I’m in Eugene at the University of Oregon. If you have never been to visit, put it on your list. Amazing town with lots of running trails, excellent restaurants, and incredible pride around their college (as evidenced by more green and yellow than anywhere above the ocean’s surface).

Colleagues from public universities from around the U.S.

I am here for a conference. Each year the Directors/VPs from major public universities gather to discuss major issues in our field. These are some of the finest folks in our country and thankfully some of my best friends. Our time was spent talking about legislative issues like the Fisher vs. Texas case and Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as the Fair Chance Pledge. These are practitioners. People who are charged with seeing their campus, American higher education, and the lives of the students and families they work with improve.

There are always little jabs about missed field goals or a coach or president who just left one school for another. But that is typically over dinner where the majority of the conversation surrounds how to continue to serve our schools by bringing in a class that is diverse in every sense of the word, or the rising cost of tuition, or the increased media focus on ROI or “product” versus the collegiate educational learning and growth experience. Deep concern was expressed about how best to reach and engage under-served communities where counselor:student ratios are well over 500:1, or where many single parent homes, first generation families, or low socioeconomic conditions greatly impact a young person’s educational experience, and yet talent and potential exist.

I always walk away from these meetings encouraged– not just because my understanding of the higher education landscape has been broadened– but because I know that literally tens of thousands of students that I will never meet or work with are in the hands of these tremendously talented, bright, and passionate folks.

PLAN THE WORK

It also serves as a touchstone for me. Because we meet at the same time each year, I am able to reflect back over the last year:  What we have accomplished? What are my peers doing better or more creatively that we need to build on? What have we failed to implement or accomplish? And what do I want to achieve in the year ahead?

It’s easy to ask these questions and consider solutions while running on trails along the Willamette River or enjoying a local beverage thousands of miles from home. But taking these ideas back and putting them into action requires a solid plan.

So to borrow from the great track tradition here at U of O, I encourage you (as a high school junior or senior, or as an entering college freshman), to look at this as a race.

WORK THE PLAN

1- ASK: Where is the finish line? What is the one thing you want to accomplish in the year ahead? Maybe that is to earn a certain GPA, or to score a 4 or higher on an AP test, or earn a spot on specific team. WRITE IT DOWN.

2- WRITE: What needs to happen in the next 3 months to accomplish this? Within 6 months? By 9 months?

3- CONSIDER:  Continuing the racing analogy, what are the hurdles that could keep your goal from coming to fruition? We all know the race to the tape won’t be smooth. Distractions, other priorities, bad weather, ruts on the track, variables you can never predict.

4- STAY FOCUSED: At your 3, 6, 9 month hurdle ASK: Am I  still on the track?  If yes, what needs to happen before the next one to clear the bar? If not, why did I crash into that last hurdle? How can I correct this and still finish strong?

oregon rainbow

5- TEAM UP: Even in track, individuals succeed because their team and coach surrounds them and pushes them in practice. If you are going to win, you will need encouragement and accountability. And this goes back to my time at Oregon with my friends and peers. They ask great questions about my work and care about my success, even if technically they are competitors. They remember what I am working on and check in with me. So WHO IS YOUR PERSON? Share your goal with them. Tell them you need them to check in with you along the way.

On my last night in Eugene, as the sun was setting, a rainbow emerged on the horizon. It was a reminder that despite the last few weeks of turbulence, better days are ahead. You just have to commit and plan to bring them about.

The Logical Connections Between College Admissions & Lasting Friendships

This summer I am moderating two conference panels for enrollment/admission leaders to share their career advice and insight. We are all concerned, no matter what our profession, with succession planning, i.d. identifying the “next generation” of talent. Maybe it’s just because its graduation season and I’ve been reading or listening to a lot of speakers lately, or maybe it’s because I’m just a little cheesy, but as I’ve been preparing my questions I realized that my tips for the  profession sound pretty similar to generally being a good friend.

Warning: If you are looking for ways to boost your SAT score or craft a perfect essay, you won’t get it in this blog entry. 

Go To Them

A former Tech football coach told me he thinks admission and coaching are very similar. “Everyone thinks they can do it better, and they are more than happy to tell you exactly how. You’ve got to get comfortable with plenty of second guessing and ‘Monday morning quarterbacking.’” It’s true. Each year hundreds, if not thousands of talented students are “left out” and thus upset about being denied admission. Internally, a campus department feels like admission did not bring them enough students, and another believes they have too many. Unlike Goldilocks you never seem to hear from anyone saying it’s “just right.” Those I think are phrased, “we don’t like the ones we have.” At the end of the day, sometimes it seems you not only can’t please anyone, but in fact you have pissed off everyone. I see our coach’s point… bowl game, 10 win season, but where is the national championship? What I have come to realize, and what I tell younger professionals, is that in those moments you cannot stay in your office and solve problems or mend relationships. Get up. Get out. Go to the people who are upset. Numerous times I’ve walked into a professor’s office when his son or daughter has been denied admission knowing it will be uncomfortable. But being in their office, looking at their pictures, and taking my time to show up is an indication that I value the relationship. It’s not always possible, but for some tough conversations with alumni or students in the metro Atlanta area, I have gone to the high school or met at a Starbucks in their community.

I think we’ve all found ourselves in a spot of feeling like we’ve pleased nobody and disappointed or pissed off lots of close friends or family members. Somehow this experience seems almost inevitable in high school– and I’d love to tell you it’s a one and done deal—but that is rarely the case. Whether this is a “mass make-up” or simply repairing the relationship with one person, I want to urge you to “go to them.” We have way too many mediums for communication: text, social media, stuff a note in their bag, send a message through a friend. It’s hard to say you’re sorry looking directly at someone. It’s uncomfortable to admit you were wrong when you see your damage in their eyes—and sometimes even worse to tell someone else that they were wrong and you are hurt. But true relationships, and ultimately lasting friendships, are mended and preserved through humility and a willingness to proactively heal the fissures.

Hey, I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success.” Dicky Fox in Jerry McGuire.

Build a Strong Core Team

If you, your team, and your university are going to have the highest level of success, you have to be ok with being surrounded by people who are better at some things than you are. There is no way you can know everything, do everything, or accomplish everything that’s being asked on your own. I learned this the hard way. In April of 2008 I became Interim Director at Georgia Tech. At the time, I was serving as Associate Director. In this role I managed our recruitment efforts, communication efforts, and our athletic and alumni liaison work. Stepping into the Interim position and maintaining those duties was daunting and exhausting. A month later, my wife and I had our first baby. That summer I dropped 10 pounds and slept about the same amount of hours in total. It was brutal. There were days I forgot to wear socks and days I drank eight Cokes. I was putting everything I had into work and home, but I was ultimately marginal in all roles. It showed me in a painfully poignant way how critical it is to build a strong team, particularly the other leaders on staff. There are still some moments when I question if I should be doing some of the work I’ve delegated, or am almost embarrassed by how much more informed on a topic or issue a team member is than I, but it does not take long to remember the summer of 2008—and I’m instantly thankful for being surrounded by people who make me better and our team more successful due to their complementary talent and knowledge.

Last night I was sitting at the pool watching my kids play. A group of high school girls were talking next to me. I pulled my hat lower and put my sunglasses back on (I know tip 1 was “go to them” but poolside is not the time for being recognized as an admission director). Ultimately, one of them left, and the three others started criticizing her as she walked away. You could easily just chalk this up to being petty and immature, but ultimately it’s a sign of insecurity. I did not hear all of their comments (splash contest to judge), but clearly something about this girl was threatening to them. Maybe she was smarter, maybe a better athlete, or funnier or smarter or who knows. Check out this video from Tech’s “Wreckless,” a group committed to encouraging fellow students. Now contrast that to Donald Trump’s comments earlier this spring.  We challenge students on this all of the time. “If you don’t like being around people who are smarter than you, or who speak more languages, or who have traveled places you could not identify on a map, don’t come here.” Improving as a learner, living a more full, rich, and worthwhile life, comes from being around people who stretch and challenge you– and yes, even humble you.  (This is not political commentary. I just patently disagree with The Donald on this point.)

Be direct.

Our profession demands an ability to say “No” with grace and respect, but also with firmness. We constantly are asked, “What’s one more?” This kid has perfect SATs… this kid would really contribute to our club robotics team… he’s a state champion chess player… or she’s a nationally ranked equestrian. The recommendations of one more email, phone call, letter, walk- in visitor could easily become 200 more students in a class, if you don’t learn to say “No” with grace and respect, but also with firmness. I’ve found that while it can be uncomfortable and tense at the outset, it is possible to salvage relationships through honesty, empathy, but clear and direct communication.

And so too with friendship. I’ll never forget being on an airplane with a friend on the way to Boston. I could tell he was not happy with me, and so I asked him what was bothering him. “You are ALWAYS late. You were late today meeting me. You were late for dinner the other night. It’s disrespectful. Do you think your time is more valuable than mine?!” He was right. And even though it was painful to hear, I deeply value that conversation because it was honest but emanated from a place of love. He wanted to preserve and improve our friendship. Sure, it would have been easier to not say anything or simply “throw shade” (really wrote this entire blog just to use that newly acquired term), but that would not have deepened our friendship, which he did by being direct and real.

As promised there have been no tangible tips here to help you in AP US History. But as you go through the admission process, or enter college, or continue on in life no matter what your age, I’d assert that being proactive in relationships, surrounding yourself with talented and caring people, and dealing with friends and family directly and honestly, will mean a whole lot more.

 

5 Essential Ingredients When Calling an Admission Office

At Tech we love formulas, and while not everything can fit into the magic of math and flow charts, I’ll let you in on a secret: there is a correct formula when you call the admission office. See, I’m the inside man. I work in the Communication Center, and generally speaking, I love talking to parents and students about Tech and helping solve the problems that come with going to college. I also train student workers. We work together every day and share insights about how to better communicate with our audience. Several months ago, I started to notice some emerging patterns and correlations – I am a Tech grad after all – regarding those frustrating or unproductive conversations, versus those where the caller left better equipped, and I or my students felt satisfied with our work.

So what is the formula? What pattern results in a positive experience with the Admission Office? Here are five essential ingredients to having the best experience:

Preparation

What you do before the call is as important as what you do during. In the most successful interactions, the caller has 1) called the right department 2) asked the right question 3) has the explanations and identification to help the process along.

  • When folks have called us erroneously (we were once asked if we could help sell a mink coat…) I wonder if they Googled it first. This is everything from the mink coat lady, to asking about programs we don’t offer or contacting us instead of Alumni, Athletics, Financial Aid, etc. It’s part of our job to help redirect calls, but we don’t love bouncing people around, or feeling like we can’t help at all.
  • Why does it matter if you call with a question versus a scenario? Our job involves problem solving, but when I don’t know what the problem is I don’t know what details I’m looking for in the story. The question first helps us know what to look for, and it helps us be more efficient if we have to redirect your call or have the answer on hand. For example, in January, a lot of applicants were having trouble submitting a document. Call volume was really high, and we knew about the problem. Applicants were under the impression they were the only one with the issue, and they would begin with a story instead of the question. Most of time, I could clarify one or two things and get an answer to them quickly and clearly without needing the longer explanation. They had a quick answer, and I could help the next person in line.
  • Sometimes explanations and stories are necessary. Ask your question first thing, but be prepared when we have to ask you clarifying questions. This means the context of why you are asking and having the proper background and identification information (like your GTID).

Be Nice

You’ve done all the prep work – now it’s time to call. I cannot emphasize enough – be nice. In Kindergarten, we were taught that when you are mad or anxious, take a deep breath (count to 10). When you engage us, you can let know your emotional status, but know we want to help you, even if the answer is an infuriating “no”.

This really is very helpful for the caller. The minute a call comes in, we are there to help you, but the more abrasive the person on the other line is, that desire to help starts draining, and I or my students just want the call to end. The reality of being nice is that it will take you further.

Call

Sometimes when people are asking questions, it’s too late to be asking questions. Once there was an applicant who had a discrepancy in his application. He called a couple weeks after decision release – which was too late for us to edit anything. Calling a month or two earlier would have ironed out the issue, and avoided a frustrating scenario. If you see a problem – and you can’t find the solution online, count to 10 and give us a call.

Communicate with the Applicant

If the student can call themselves, do that. If not, communicate with them before calling. I have had scenarios where I talked to mom, dad, mom, applicant, dad, and then the applicant again. I felt like I had entered a Days of Our Lives season finale, but I couldn’t drag everyone in a room and fanatically cry for everyone to tell the truth to each other. Students – talk to you parents. Parents – talk to your kids. Students – do as much as you can on your own. Parents – let them.

Email

Anyone – send an email. We get through most of the emails every day. Bad phone connection? Email. Expensive to call? Email. Mad? Email (then don’t send it). The only thing we ask is to please include your name on the emails, and past correspondence.

Conclusion

It should be said, formulas have variables, and one you can’t help is the human factor. For example, you do everything right, but my stomach is playing games with my temperament, and I get short with answers. So instead I promise you this, whatever capricious version you get on the phone, my students and I are working in this office because we love Tech, we value higher education and we care about students finding the right university to attend.

What Admission Folks Think But Don’t Say

A few months ago, the New York Times published an article entitled “Advice College Admissions Officers Give Their Own Kids.” There were some helpful points, as well as honest and practical advice. But what would have been far more intriguing is an article called “What Admission Folks Think But Don’t Say.”

This is the blessing and curse of our work. Each year we meet amazing students around the country who are incredibly accomplished. They’ve mastered multiple coding languages, started their own companies, written plays and books, and achieved ranks in martial arts and piloting that many twice their age would envy. They humble us, they inspire us, and honestly they give me hope for the future of our country. But on the flip side it also makes us hyper- aware of the competition that exists on a macro scale.

Fallout

It impacts our marriages: Spouse 1: “Look honey, isn’t she amazing. She’s four months and already pulling up. What core strength?! Maybe she’ll be an Olympic gymnast.” Admission Spouse: “Probably not. I’ve read essays from kids who at her age were already doing Yurchenko Loops.” (Not the recipe for amorous relations.)

It offends our mother-in-law: “Oh my goodness! He’s so smart. He knew how much change we would get when I bought him that ice cream after kindergarten today.” Admission Son-in-law: “Pssshhtt… some kids his age are doing differential equations while they eat their cheese sticks.” (Somehow you’re at the kids table at the following Thanksgiving.)

We quickly learn that to preserve our marriages and our friendships/sanity, we have to adapt. It reminds me of the childrens book Being Frank. Frank has to learn from his Grandpa Earnest that while “honesty is the best policy” sometimes it’s best served with “more sugar and less pepper.”

kids table

Spouse 1: “I think he should have him tryout for the pre-Academy team.” Admission Spouse thinks, “He’s going to get smoked. He’s not even the best player on his team. But maybe this will motivate him to practice more.” And so we say, “I don’t mind taking him.”

A friend says, “We are going to send her to X private school. Last year they sent students to Stanford, Dartmouth, and U. Chicago.” Admission Friend thinks admit rates: “4.7, 10.9, 7.8…” and then says “Well, that’s a great school. I know she’ll enjoy their class on ‘Evil in the Guilded Age.’”

If you watch closely though, you’ll see these folks utilizing some physical crutches as they utter these statements. They’ll scratch their bottom lip with their teeth before responding, or they’ll empahatically close and then re-open their eyes as if a bug just flew directly in. We do it out of love…and survival.

Consider These Stats

  • 3.3 million high school students graduating in USA on annual basis
  • 65% of high school grads go on to 4 year colleges/universities
  • Under 14,000 or .6 % of students entering a four year school will go to an Ivy League school.

OR

The Truth

We’re still typical parents. Just look back at the pictures from that NYT article. We hike, hug, drive mini-vans, and occasionally go to Chili’s due to a lack of good options at an out of town baseball tournament. We love our kids and we support them and encourage them and want them to thrive. We highly encourage them to take tough classes– to compete at a high level in athletics– and to broaden their interests and skills in the arts.

I am an optimist. A cup half fuller. Several of my family members went to Princeton and several also worked there. My wife and I both went to UNC- Chapel Hill for college. Our DNA is solid. But statistically I realize that it’s unlikely either of my kids will get into those schools. Hell, it’s unlikely that any of my close friends in Atlanta will have kids that get in or go to either.  I’m ok with that.  We still cheer for them. We buy the sweatshirts in the campus bookstore and tell stories of mid-fall strolls through the quad with fondness. But, like you, the majority of our days and years are spent reminding them that we love them; that we are proud of them; that we enjoy watching them sing on stage or swimming in meets; or just walking up the drive way after being gone. What we think is that we are just glad to be parents. What we think is that they’ll ultimately go somewhere for college- and that will be just fine, even if it’s not an Ivy or our alma mater. What we think is that we are thankful to have had our college experience, even if ultimately our kids don’t have the same one.

Perspective

where you go

Frank Bruni recently wrote Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. He enumerates endless examples of Pullitzer Prize winners, Rhodes Scholars, CEOs, etc. who went to schools on pages two and three of US News rankings or with 50%+ admit rates. These are the numbers. These are the facts. And thousands of very intelligent parents who love their kids around the country have read the book and processed the information. But in the “summer calm” I can clearly see that we are again on the cusp of another fall filled with high pressure and anxiety among parents who will push and pay and travel and angst about their kids being in that .6%.

I get why the NYT wrote the piece they did. Perhaps the broader public is not yet ready for “What Admission Folks Think But Don’t Say.” But if you are, then the next time you see an admission counselor with a band aid on her lower lip, just say, “It’s OK. I know the code. You can tell me what you’re really thinking. Should I send Jimmy to flute camp?”

 

 

 

Steph Curry and The Road Not Taken

CURRY-PROFIf you have been watching TV lately, or listening to the radio, or interacting with other humans, you know the NBA Playoffs are heating up. We’re not going to talk about the Hawks here, so don’t fear. (As an Atlanta native and longtime resident I’ve come to peace with the fact that all of our pro franchises are good enough to make the playoffs but lack the talent to advance from the first round. Literally all of them…for decades.) These days the hottest name in the NBA is Steph Curry. Curry is a uber-talented point guard for the Golden State Warriors, and he was recently unanimously named MVP of the league, which he also won along with the NBA Championship last year. To look at him now you’d think he has always lived a charmed life– beautiful wife and daughters, worldwide star, commercials with President Obama (himself a transfer student from Occidental to Columbia), and the list goes on. But interestingly when he was graduating from high school the big time college programs around the nation were not interested. He was crushed and ultimately decided to stay close to home in North Carolina and attend Davidson College.

Curry’s experience got me thinking about Robert Frost’s  poem “The Road Not Taken,” and the fact that our national consciousness is still largely focused on the traditional freshman entry process. Often news media and families do not look at the transfer route “as just as fair/ And having perhaps the better claim,” even though 1/3 of students graduating from a four year college began elsewhere, or that 1/2 of all undergraduates nationally are enrolled at a community college. At Georgia Tech, we annually enroll 850 transfer students (approx. 1/4 of our new undergraduate students). Thankfully, the press and perceived value of transfer options are improving, due to increasing political discussion surrounding college cost, value, and access, and Mrs. Obama’s Reach Higher initiative.

National Student Clearinghouse data shows that in 13 states over 50% of four-year university graduates began at a two-year school. Much of this is because public universities have established articulation agreements with colleges in their state or region geared toward enrolling transfer students. Florida is certainly a state with a strong history in this arena. The University of California system, which boasts five of the top 10 public universities also has a deep commitment to the transfers. In fact, UC-Berkeley brought in well over 2000 transfer students last year. As Tech has become more selective on the freshman side, we see more students going to another college or university for a year or two and then re-applying to earn a Tech degree. This year 1/3 of admitted transfer students applied as freshman. Five years ago that number was 1/5.   In an effort to provide students with a variety of avenues to all academic programs, we have developed a transfer pathways, including Dual Degree Engineering Program and our Arts and Sciences Pathway Program, which complement our regular transfer admission process. 

A Turning Tide?

On the private side, and particularly among elite institutions, transferring is less prevalent. Princeton recently announced they will begin enrolling transfer students for the first time since 1990 (a year when Wilson Phillips topped the charts) and Stanford and MIT enrolled a combined 30 via this route last year. While not all schools are as invested in this space, frankly that’s the beauty of a diverse system– and the importance of understanding particular institutional missions and philosophies on education. However, I do speculate that in the decade ahead, due to the increasing access to and promotion of college courses in high school; the proliferation of accredited, non-profit, credit-bearing online options; and the desire of colleges to augment geographic, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity, we’ll see more private school players in this space.

An Affordable Pathway

Type of College Average Published Yearly Tuition and Fees
Public Two-Year College (in-district students) $3,347
Public Four-Year College (in-state students) $9,139
Public Four-Year College (out-of-state students) $22,958
Private Four-Year College $31,231

This table is from BigFuture (an excellent resource for students researching colleges and looking into financial aid).

It is important to note that these figures are based on published tuition costs vs. ultimate net price. Financial aid and family need largely impact ultimate cost, but it’s clear that pursuing schools locally for the first year or two of college is often a viable financial route. We often hear from transfer students that will select a college close to home following high school, so that they can work, attend class, and live at home to save money and avoid debt. Increasingly, we are seeing  students who are offered freshman admission making these decisions in order to reduce debt upon graduation.

An Alternative Avenue

Each year we read recommendation letters and review student transcripts that describe “late bloomers” or students who did not get excited about academics until late in high school. It is also common to learn of students who had tough life circumstances: parent divorces, multiple school moves in high school, and serious health issues that diminished academic success inside and outside the classroom. If you are graduating high school and this has been your experience, I sincerely hope that you’ve been admitted to a college that you’re excited about attending. If you’re an underclassmen and this is your current experience, you should always be sure to include “special circumstances” into your applications, so that schools utilizing holistic admission processes can get a full picture of your background. Either way this is the beauty of the transfer option. It is a clean slate when you start college, because typically universities do not look back at test scores, course selection, or grades from high school when they are enrolling their transfer classes.

road less traveled

A Final Word

Whether transferring is an affordability strategy; a necessary path to your ultimate goal due to circumstances; or you wake up in a cold dorm room next November wondering “Why did I pick this place? I gotta get out of here!” think of Frost’s roads–“both that morning equally lay.” Unlike the poet who bemoans a permanent separation, the roads of transfer and freshman students converge and ultimately cross the same stage– same school name and credentials on your resume and diploma. Steph Curry held on to his  dream of playing in the NBA. He harnessed the initial setback to be his motivation at Davidson. It fueled him. It drove him to push harder and to prove himself. And ultimately, like many students who transfer colleges, it is that road “that has made all the difference.”

Key Resources: NACAC’s Transfer Knowledge Hub, College Affordability Guide, National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, Kid President on Robert Frost (notably Frost did not graduate from college but holds 40 honorary degrees).