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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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Sweet Summertime

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

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

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

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

Assess the year behind

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

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

Prioritize tasks for the year ahead

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

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

Make it a summer!

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

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Spring Cleaning

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

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

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

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

New You

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

Unsubscribe

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

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

Compile Your Thoughts and Research

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

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

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Feel The Burn

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

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

Feel the Burn

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

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

If you are a graduating senior

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

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

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

If you are a junior/sophomore

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

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

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

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Time to Level Up

This week we welcome Communications Officer (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

When you think about stressful experiences, taking a test in front of a crowd probably ranks pretty high on the list. Last year Rick shared a story about his son’s Taekwondo belt test. My 6-year old daughter has been in Taekwondo for a few months now and is getting ready for her third belt test. Now that we’ve been through a couple of tests we know what to expect… but that wasn’t initially the case.

Her first test to move from a white belt (beginner) to a yellow belt (slightly more advanced) was a nerve-racking experience for her—as well as for me as a parent. She had no idea what to expect, and candidly neither did I.

The white belts and yellow belts tested together in the same room. Clearly the instructors know what they’re doing, because the yellow belts were tested first, giving the white belts a chance to watch and get an idea of what’s going on. When their time came, all the white belts stood in a group, and 12-15 kids were tested on their basic form, kicking motion, and board breaking simultaneously. Meanwhile a crowd of parents (and newly minted orange belts) watched.

Focus… Concentration…

Everything went according to plan until the board breaking portion. Older students (or junior instructors) each paired up with younger students to hold their boards for breaking. The kids got ready as the Master led the chant: “Focus…. Concentration… kyah!” A series of boards around the room shattered… except for one.

One boy did not break his board. The rest of the students celebrated with smiles on their faces and sat down in their spots. The Master continued the chant for the boy: “Focus… concentration….” The boy tried again. And again. And again. At least six tries went by before he quietly whispered to the junior instructor “can you crack the board for me a little?” She whispered back, “no, but I know you can do it.” Every eye in the room was on this kid, and I started to feel uncomfortable to the point I felt bad for watching, so I intentionally averted my eyes to look out the window. When I glanced back, the board suddenly cracked and the room erupted in cheers. He sat down with a smile, belt testing continued, and each student received their yellow belt.

On the drive home we talked about the experience. My daughter asked, “Why did you cheer for him? You don’t know who he is…” An understandable question for a 6-year old involved in a sport for the first time. I replied, “We cheered because that was tough. Everyone was watching as he failed over and over again. It would’ve been easy for him to quit—but he didn’t. He kept going, even with people watching, and that takes courage. And when you see someone have courage like that it’s worth cheering for.”

Belt Tests and Graduations

Belt tests and graduations have some things in common. As you work up to the big event, you go to class, you practice, you study, and you prepare. You work for the goal, and lots of people—some you know, many of whom you don’t—show up to watch and cheer.

As a high school senior on the cusp of graduation, here are three takeaways to keep in mind as you finish out your year.

You don’t know someone else’s story. In our case we saw the boy struggle to break his board and, after many tries, ultimately achieve success. But most of the time in life that’s not the case. Now that May 1 has passed, you’ll see peers recognized for acceptances, scholarships, and other achievements. It’s easy to look at another person’s end result and think about how lucky they are. But behind that “luck” is a lot of hard work, time invested, and sacrifice. You may not see the number of times they failed. You may not know the physical or emotional challenges they overcame to achieve their goal. Cheer them on, and remember…

Someone else’s win isn’t your loss. This is the time to celebrate! You did it! You’ve worked hard for years to graduate from high school. You may have a friend who got into their (or your) dream school and you didn’t. You may still be sitting on someone’s waitlist. Of course that stings. But remember, you’ve gotten accepted (and hopefully have deposited!) to a great place too. And guess what? There are people at that school making plans right now to welcome you to campus next fall, and they want to make your first year an amazing experience. So enjoy these last few weeks of high school and summer with your friends. Then…

Get Ready to Level Up. After my daughter got her yellow belt, we celebrated and told her how proud we were to see her work for a goal and achieve it. Then we reminded her: it will get harder from here. Each level you go up in life, things become more challenging. More is expected of you—if you want to succeed you have to continue to work hard. It’s the same for you as you head to college. You’re moving up a level. More will be expected of you—not only in the classroom, but also in life. No longer will your family be there to make sure you get places on time, to feed you healthy meals, to do your laundry, or give you a curfew to make sure you’re in bed at a decent hour to sleep. These life choices are now up to you.  You can take your new-found freedom and run wild—or you can make the best choices for you as you take the next step into adulthood. Life won’t be as easy as it has been—but as you already know, nothing rewarding comes easily.

Make time for work, but also make time for fun. Your moment of truth is here, Class of 2018. Celebrate each other and get ready for your next adventure. After all, life moves pretty fast—if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

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