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The Magic is in You (Part 2 of 2)

In case you’re just joining us: to recap our Disney trip: we had a plan, we had a vision, and ultimately our experience was completely different than what we thought our day would look like.

You can read the details of that in Part 1, but the bottom line is while our day diverged from our initial concept, it was indeed magical, largely because our kids were thrilled with rides and experiences that we had not included in our original plan.

That being said, if you are a parent of a senior and you’ve had less than a Disney-rific college admission experience, this blog’s for you (isn’t that how the saying goes?). Anyway, we’re going to keep it very simple: One question, one favor, and one suggestion.

A Question:  Who is more disappointed, angry, hurt, frustrated or embarrassed?

Space Mountain is closed. Repeat: Space Mountain is closed. It’s tough to watch your kid cry. It’s tough to see others walk onto the ride who are no smarter or capable or talented. I get that. But before you go berating a “gate agent” or calling the folks you know “at Disney” or pulling out a checkbook or making threats and spewing insults, check in to be sure it’s really that big of a deal to your kid.

Sure, articles are written every year about the kid who gets into every Ivy League school, and people love to go home and brag about how they “rode every ride by 2 pm,” but at the end of the day, you can only attend one place. And if you’ll really stop to listen and consider what they’re saying, you’ll be amazed at how often they’re cool with a different space galaxy.

A Favor: No. I’m not going to do anything for you. I’m asking you to do yourself a favor: Give yourself a break and enjoy the ride. We both know you booked the hotel, packed the snacks, set the alarm, and had everyone there on time. You did all you could. Look. Rides break, power goes out, apps fail, and then there are people. Don’t get me started. But this is not about finger pointing and blame. This is not about what is deserved or fair or right. I’m not going to lie, I felt like I had failed my family when we got shut out of Seven Dwarfs Minetrain. Does that sound ridiculous? Well, my friend, I understand that the analogy between college admission and Disney is not perfect, but it’s also ridiculous for you to be blaming yourself or feeling guilty because your kid did not get into Duke or UCLA. Fact. Do yourself a favor: Enjoy. The. Ride.

A Suggestion I’ve talked to many parents over the last few weeks who have shared admit letters, financial aid packages, and scholarship offers from schools around the country in hopes of altering our decision- be it to get in, come off the waitlist or increase our aid award. 

If this is you, I want to suggest that instead of continuing to “refresh the app” hoping that more FastPasses are going to open up, you get fired up about Barnstormer or Buzz Lightyear. Go on! Buy the Space Ranger merchandise at the closest kiosk and get super excited because these are amazing rides that will take your kid to new heights and provide them with an awesome experience! Now, I recognize that was a lot of superlatives and exclamation points. And that is intentional. Whether you believe it or not, they always have, and will now take their cues from you. Celebrate! Late April is a time for excitement. It’s a time for dreaming. It’s a time for hand holding and ice cream and fireworks. Yes. I’m suggesting you provide that. Because, at the end of the day, MAGIC does not discriminate based on age- and IT IS IN YOU!

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The Magic is in You (part 1 of 2)

The alarm went off early in a pitch black hotel room. We didn’t shower, and we barely brushed our teeth before piling into the elevator to head downstairs. We grabbed some fruit, bagels, a bottle or two of juice, and anything else that was easy to eat on the go. Then, it was on to a quick shuttle to the Transportation Hub where we caught the monorail over to the gates of the Magic Kingdom.

We were ready. We had a plan. We’d loaded up our backpacks with food, clothes, and everything else we could possibly need the night before, and 10 minutes before the gate opened, we were at the ticket booth. You see, FastPasses to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are incredibly tough to get, and both of our kids were dead set on going on that ride. So in order to avoid the incredibly obnoxious lines that will bring any six- or eight-year old, and most 30- and 40-year olds, to their knees in tears, we had been advised by a Disney guru friend to make a b-line for that roller coaster. No watching the opening show, no lingering on Main Street to see a character, no taking a picture in front of the castle. GO, GO, GO!

“Can I see your tickets?” asked the friendly cast member. I pulled up the Disney App and handed her my phone. “I need to see the bar codes,” she said. “Bar codes?” I asked. “Okay… I’m not sure where those are, but here are the times we’ve reserved to ride certain attractions.” “Yes, but I need to scan your bar codes.” “Hmm….I know I had those in my email before I loaded everything in the app,” I told her. I began searching my email for the tickets. I don’t know about you, but when I most need to find something in my inbox, my search words and terms bring back messages from two years ago rather than the week before. Loading, loading…. “Crap,” I say (after all, we are at Disney).

Tick Tock (Croc)…

Five minutes have gone by now. I abort the email search. My daughter was pulling on my backpack, “Let’s go,” she begs. I look back at the woman in the booth. “The tickets were loaded into the app. Now I can’t seem to find them in email. Isn’t there a way to retrieve them from the app?” I point to the “My Tickets” function, and she holds the phone, peers over her glasses, and says, “I’m just not as familiar with the app.” The sun seems to have gotten much hotter and brighter as another five minutes pass. Finally she calls over another cast member who immediately locates them. “Oh. Yes. They’re right here.” I don’t see what she taps but apparently she’s found digits to input rather than bar codes to scan. There are four of us and the codes are a good 12 digits long. “A.3.5.T…..”

My wife is now looking at me, shaking her head, and showing me the time. 8:05 a.m. Finally, the agent finishes all codes. “And that does it! You’re all set. Have a magical day!” Bag checks, clogged gates, people grabbing strollers and stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to tie shoes and pick up kids… buy an ice cream from a street vendor? Come on people, it’s only 8:10. By the time we got to the Mine Train the wait time showed 45 minutes. We stood for maybe a minute, partly in amazement, partly debating if our kids could handle the wait, and partly figuring out if our daughter really needed to go to the bathroom or not. Then the sign turned to 60 minutes. “Forget it,” I said. “Let’s go ride Barnstormer.” For those of you who don’t know Disney, Goofy’s Barnstormer is a classic, standard roller coaster, meaning it does not have the fancy animatronics or story line of some of the more premier rides.

To make a long story even longer, the other two rides our kids really wanted to ride that day were Space Mountain and Splash Mountain. Splash Mountain never opened due to technical issues. Halfway through the line to Space Mountain it closed “temporarily,” only to remain closed the rest of the day. We re-routed each time. Due to closures we received complimentary FastPasses to Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise, we got front row seats for the parade and later the fireworks, and ultimately, at closing (15 hours…well, technically 14 hours and 50 mins, after entering and 9.2 miles later) we literally carried our kids out of the park.

Our daughter cried about leaving until halfway down Main Street, when she fell asleep on my wife’s shoulder. Sitting on the monorail, I asked my son what his favorite part of the day was. “Barnstormer,” he said without hesitating. “So much fun.”

Barnstormer. Rode it twice and the lines were no more than 30 minutes all day. It’s what you call an “access ride.” It does not have a big name. It does not a have a long waitlist or fancy animatronics. No supply and demand problem. No strategy involved to “get in.” The next day, on the drive home, and ever since, our kids have been dressing like pirates and begging to watch The Curse of the Black Pearl.

“Our fate lives within us. You only have to be brave enough to see it.”

If you are a high school senior who did not have the exact Disney experience you were hoping for in the college admission process, here are a few lessons I learned from our trip:

  1. Don’t blame yourself. If you did not get in to your first choice college, do not spend April (and certainly nothing beyond it) replaying in your mind how things could have gone differently. “If I had just taken one more AP class, or scored a point higher on the ACT, or chosen a different essay topic…” Nope. Move on. You have acceptances in front of you. You have places excited to provide you a great college experience. Maybe it’s not what you had “loaded into your app” a few weeks ago, but now they’re excitedly waving you in. There are plenty of other students going to that school who feel like they just won a bonus FastPass. Get in line with them. Buckle up, commit yourself to the experience, and enjoy the ride.
  2. Don’t blame other people. “If that admission counselor had come to my school and met me… if my counselor’s recommendation letter had mentioned my Eagle Scout award…” “Ifs” will kill you in the admission process– and in life in general. The closed doors, long wait lines, and low admit rates of life are what ultimately guide and steer you down different paths. So rather than looking back over your shoulder at the “mights” or “could have beens,” take full advantage of the options you have been offered. My best friend in high school did not get into Princeton. He was crushed. It was his dream school and he was convinced it was the only place for him. But I’ll never forget the day in April (probably right around this time) when he came in wearing a UVA shirt and a huge smile. “I’m going to Charlottesville!” Get your heart, your energy, and your mind pointed toward something and somewhere rather than staring back at something that is no longer there anyway.
  3. Clear your head. Is all of this starting to sound the same? Well, expect more of it because at this time of year you have big decisions to make. And you need a clear head to do that. The truth is that whether you are into your first choice, denied to all but one, waitlisted at more than you would like to admit, or still trying to talk to the gate agent about why they can’t find your tickets, you are going to be on a college campus this summer or fall. And the truth, and frankly the most important part, is not “where” you go. The infinitely bigger point, and the real long-term impact, is “how” you go, and “who” you are when you go. That’s what you should be focusing on. CLEAR. YOUR. HEAD! Go fully committed. Go excited. Go humble. Go looking forward. Go ready to help those around you make it the best experience for them.

When I finally laid my head down on the pillow again that night, I realized what I hope you will. See, they tell you to “experience the magic” as if it’s in the park, or in the characters, or on the rides, or in the experience. But the real magic, it turns out, is IN you.

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Respect is a Two Way Street

Working in the Communication Center (where my student team and I field all incoming emails and phone calls to the admission office) is an education in stopping blame and rudeness at the door, and re-framing the underlying feelings with words that are still kind. Whether it’s trying to dodge finger pointing, diffuse a dicey situation, or keeping ourselves calm and kind after being asked the same question for the hundredth time, you learn a lot about how we as a society choose to  communicate with each other.

One afternoon I was speaking with a frustrated, and angry, parent. The family was trying to schedule a campus visit on a day that we were at our maximum capacity (per fire code regulations). We could not overload the tour for extra guests, which is I understand is frustrating for families who are trying to make travel plans. I explained to the parent that we get many calls every day asking to overload the tours (which we can’t), so an exception in one person’s case would be really unfair to others. After what I thought was a successful navigation, though disappointing conclusion for the caller, the parent threw a pointed jab at me and the school and hung up. After a sigh, I had to go back to work and answer more calls. I tried not to over analyze the conversation, but in reality, it’s hard to let everything roll off.

The Snowball Effect

When someone is rude or unkind, it has an effect not only on our staff, but on other parents, students, and families who call our office. It makes my students and I less motivated to work, and less chipper on the next call. We regularly have calls where we need to “take a lap” afterwards. Usually during those breaks, I remind myself that the person on the other end of the line may be having a bad day, or things are overwhelming and stressful with trying to get into college and pay for it. While I know that I’m probably not the reason for the outburst, our team, including our student workers, still get our feelings hurt in the blast.

Even if we aren’t upset at the end of a hard call, the calls themselves are exhausting as we try to calmly, kindly and firmly give the correct responses. Calls often start with an issue… that’s usually the reason people call in the first place. The majority of problems are easy to solve and we move on. However, when the situation is dicey, it’s an intricate balance to give the caller options and resources while the ultimate conclusion is not what the caller came for. That’s why the parent’s comment in the situation I just described was hurtful. I tried to balance the situation and provide a well-informed and genuine response. The remark invalidated my work. But then… the parent called back.

A Surprising Outcome

One of our student workers waved me down. “It’s that parent. They’re asking for you.” No part of me wanted to take the call. After a quick glance for emergency exits, I mustered some fake enthusiasm, “Hi! Was there anything else I can help you with?” To my utter amazement, the parent genuinely apologized for the unkind words and tone. No one have ever done that before!

It was the first and only time anyone has ever called back to apologize for their rude behavior. In their apology, the parent recognized that while it was a frustrating situation, I was doing my job, and their annoyance had little to do with me personally.

It takes a lot to separate the message from the messenger, but we appreciate it when the caller can do that. Of course I would prefer for people to be kind in the first place, but sometimes things get away from all of us, and an apology speaks volumes to our willingness to see each other as people and not just nameless voices on the other end of a phone line.

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Embrace Your Inner Kindergartner

I am having a great week, largely because I’ve spent a lot of time with my daughter’s kindergarten class. On my birthday I had “lunch” with her, which starts at 10:45 a.m.! At that hour, I just opted for the chocolate milk (maybe it’s just me, but school chocolate milk is always better than other places… kind of like a Coke at a baseball game, or a hot pretzel on the street in New York).

Earlier in the week I got to be Mystery Reader, which is always a good time. You show up at a certain time and stand in the hallway while the teacher gives the kids clues about who is waiting outside. All 20 kids start with their hands up.

“Ok. He has brown hair.” A few hands go down.

“He likes to run.” A decent number go down on this.

“He loves Bojangles chicken biscuits.” I’m watching this one closely because no kid of mine is going to be friends with someone who’s not being raised properly. It’s down to just two kids now.

“He works at Georgia Tech.” I hear a scream and my daughter comes running out to get me. Who wouldn’t love that?!

King Hugo’s Huge Ego

I go in, say hi, high five a few kids I know, throw out some fist bumps or nods to the kids in the back of the room, and sit down to read. The book I brought was King Hugo’s Huge Ego. I’m only on the cover page when the first question comes up. “What’s an ego?” Now trying to break that down for this age group ain’t easy. Words like “id” and “conscious” are going through my head but I settled on something a lot less Psych 101.

“What does haughty mean?” He didn’t say “haughty” he said “naughty.” “Do you mean ‘hottie?’” We navigate all of this too.

In the story, King Hugo is an incredibly pretentious ruler. He brags all the time, asks his denizens to bow down as he passes, and delivers self-aggrandizing speeches from his tower every day. Finally, a sorceress puts a spell on him so that his head enlarges with every boastful statement. Still, he does not realize the error of his ways, and eventually his head gets so big that he floats away like a balloon in the wind. The sorceress then plugs up his ears and he finally listens and understands the implications of his incessant boasts. Ultimately, he repents, his head shrinks back to a normal size, and he becomes a fair, wise, and beloved monarch.

Thinking of Yourself a Lot

In the admission process, there is an important distinction between thinking A LOT OF YOURSELF and thinking of YOURSELF A LOT. The former can lead to some ill-advised choices in your application choices, some obnoxious lines in essays, and ultimately set you up for disappointment when receiving admission decisions. The latter, however, is one of the keys to having options, growing along the way, and ending up at a school that’s a great fit for you.

Since I’ve been hanging out with elementary school kids, I’m going to keep this pretty basic. If you are a junior or a sophomore in high school right now, I encourage you to draw on the adage of “STOP. DROP. ROLL,” and “LOOK. WATCH. STARE.”

LOOK.

As a sophomore or junior, you are starting to get a lot of college brochures. The first thing to remember (we’ve covered this before, but again, this is in the spirit of lower school “repetition for comprehension”) is RECYCLE. But before that, you should be LOOKing, at all of it. Never heard of the school? That’s okay. Nobody ever heard of Justin Bieber until he posted a few covers on YouTube about a decade ago. I would LOOK with one eyebrow raised at pictures. Helpful but maybe not in the “1000 words” kind of way. Many are photoshopped and some use models rather than real students. “How did they get three kids from different ethnicities reading books from three different genres while wearing three different styles?” It’s simple–they staged it. But LOOK closely at the words and statements. Who does the school say they are? Does that resonate with you? At Georgia Tech we talk a lot about innovation, entrepreneurship, and creating the next “fill-in-the-blank-here.” What is the school’s key message? Then, take a LOOK at yourself. Is that you? Is that who you want to be, or who you want to be around, or how you want your college experience to be defined? Finding the right college is a process, and it takes some work, not to mention honesty. REALLY LOOK.

WATCH.

It’s spring break time for high schools right now (like I needed to tell you). I know this not because I’m headed out on a cruise or putting a playlist together, but because we are literally receiving thousands of guests each week who want to tour Tech. When you go to a school for a college visit, I hope you will take some time before or after the tour and information session to just sit and WATCH. WATCH the other visitors. Do they look and sound like the kind of students you would want to go to college with? Find a good bench outside, or a table in the dining hall or food court, near a bunch of students. Go to a coffee shop right off campus and pretend to read, but really just listen and WATCH (do be careful not to make this creepy). What are they saying, reading, and listening to? Don’t rush on and off a college campus. Don’t just go on the tour, listen to the info session, and take the photoshopped brochure and leave. WATCHing takes time…. So make time for it.

STARE.

If you are a junior, I’m imploring you to get awkward and STARE. STARE intently at your senior (as in 12th graders) friends, neighbors, and teammates who are weighing their college options. They have gotten in at some places, been waitlisted or denied at other places, and perhaps they’re still waiting to hear from some final colleges and universities. STARE. And listen to how they’re processing these choices. What do you hear them saying? How are they going about making their final decision? Is it about the cost? Is it about the athletics, or the academics, or the location, or the opportunities? Again, you have to be willing to really assess who YOU are and who YOU want to be. What factor(s) do you want to make your college choice based upon, and which ones are most important to you? Write these down. How will what you see and hear impact where you will apply, and where do you want to be in a year from now with your choices?

BonusASK.

If you really want to be bold and embrace this process, then straight up ASK them. ASK what they would have done differently…. what they wish they had known… who they wish they’d talked to… and who they should have just ignored.

Like I said, I’ve been hanging with Kindergartners this week. I’m telling you: to do this college process right you need take a lesson from them–the master-askers of how, what and why; the unabashed kings of LOOKing, WATCHing, and STARE (bear with me) ing. So embrace your inner six-year old today. And never let go.

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The Waitlist… well….

Freshman admission decisions are out at Tech, and will soon be out at many other schools across the nation (if not already). As we mentioned in last week’s blog, emotions run high during this time of year, and it can be a stressful time for students, families, counselors, and admission staff.

When it comes to dealing with a decision of “waitlist,” there’s only so much to say… and last year Rick covered most of it in our 3-part series, “The Waitlist Sucks.” We hope you’ll check it out and learn more about the waitlist from the college perspective, the student perspective, and tips on what to do next.

The Waitlist Sucks

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