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Make it a summer!

In the world of college admission, March and April are a busy time as campuses host prospective underclassmen, admitted seniors, and their families. Those heavy visit months come right on the heels of an isolated and compressed winter hibernation (also known as application reading season). And that period was immediately preceded by a fall of heavy recruitment travel, which is guaranteed to garner lots of hotel and airline points but ruin some otherwise promising millennial romantic relationships. Personally, I love that this work is highly cyclical, and you’ll notice that career admission folks will schedule weddings, vacations, tax submissions, and house closings around this schedule (attempts to schedule births are noble but less predictable, and often met with mixed reactions from spouses).

So each year as May arrives, I’ve started telling myself and our staff to “make it a summer!” Summer is our time to think, reflect, plan, and just relax a little. We encourage staff to work remotely more consistently; put the suits, ties, and dresses in the closet for a while; take vacation; get out to professional development conferences and workshops; and build campus relationships when everyone has more capacity. Make it a summer: go to the beach; don’t stay longer at the office than you need to; build that deck; and hang out with your friends and family. Admittedly, at times it can feel a bit neurotic. It’s how I imagine Manitobans treat the month of August: “Go!! Do everything this month before the snows return and your flip flops are buried until this time next year.”

If you are wrapping up your junior year, I suggest you “make it a summer,” because even though you are excited about exams being over and the pool opening, sometimes as the weather warms up, so to can the pressure from parents and others about your upcoming senior year and the college application process.

So stay calm and check out these seven tips for making the most of your summer

One: Write

Writing your essays in the summer allows you to spend your senior fall focusing on school and life outside the classroom, rather than agonizing over your introductory paragraph. My guess is when it comes to completing the application, you’ll nail your name and birthday pretty easily. It’s the essays that take time. And let’s be honest, writing by the pool is a lot more appealing than on October 15 at 11:38 p.m. in your room with mom looking over your shoulder yelling, “Submit! Submit! Submit!” Just a heads up, the Common Application and Coalition Application essay prompts are now posted for your writing enjoyment.

Two: Visit

Summer visits often get a bad rap because fewer students are on campus. While this may be true at some schools, summer visits are a great way to rule places in or out of consideration.

If you visit and discover that you don’t like the town/city, or the campus has too much green grass, or the gothic architecture freaks you out, that’s not going to change if students are walking around and leaves are falling. Often advisors and faculty (if you give them advance notice) have more time in the summer to meet and talk– as do admission officers. You can revisit schools you’re interested in  after you are admitted, or in the fall to confirm you want to apply.

Three: Homework

Normally, when I say that word my second-grade son falls over and starts rolling around on the ground. In hopes you won’t have the same response, let’s call it “poolwork.” Regardless, this is the season for narrowing your college list and determining exactly where you want to apply. Use resources like BigFuture or CollegeView as well as less conventional tools such as Reddit or College Confidential. We’ve also found this to be one of the most helpful, creative, and comprehensive websites in the college admission space. Keep in mind (minus the last site) these are only one part of the equation, but the more pieces you compile, the better cumulative picture you will have of a place.

Four: Relax

It’s summer. Enjoy it. The truth is, you don’t need to put your summer calendar into an optimized spreadsheet to enjoy your senior year or have a good plan for applying to colleges. Ultimately, there is no perfect formula. A certain enrichment program, mission trip, or particular internship isn’t going to “get you in” to a specific school. So, this summer don’t think too much about a high GPA — do think about a high SPF.

Five: Work

Gotta love “work” coming right after “relax.” Sheesh! You have an opportunity every summer, but particularly right before your final year in high school, to get a sense of the type of job you might ultimately want.

Even if you don’t land a paying job, maybe you can work out a deal to get in 10 to 15 hours a week volunteering at a local business or organization. Being in a professional environment will give you a sense of what you may or may not want to pursue. And to be honest, working in any setting is a good thing, even if it’s at the local yogurt shop (just keep your job by not giving away too much away for free), or waiting tables or selling camping equipment at REI. My favorite high school job was delivering Chinese food. Good money, quality time listening to music, and I now have no need for the Waze app because I still have all streets in my hometown in my head. Downside is I consumed more fortune cookies in those two years than most humans could in two lifetimes.

Six: Learn

What do you love? What is the most interesting topic or subject for you? Look around and see if a local university or community college is offering a course in that field. Not only could you earn college credit, but you’ll get a good sense of the rigor and pace of a college course.

Schedule too tight or not too concerned about earning credit? How about a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)? Learning in this environment will serve you well as you head to college, and certainly in your career as this medium will be increasingly vital to business and relationship cultivation. What better way to stretch your knowledge of a field and also grow as a learner than taking a course in this format?

Seven: Network

Reach out to an older student you know who just finished senior year. Ask them fresh off their admission search and decision making process about lessons learned, tips, and so on. Extra Credit: Find someone coming home after freshman year in college. There is often no better resource for insight into a college — especially one farther from home — than a student who once sat in your high school and adjusted to that living and learning environment from your hometown. (If you end up getting a date out of this, give a shout out @gtadmission)

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Ice Cream is the answer!

If you’ve been reading much surrounding the world of college admission this year, you’ve heard about the report out of Harvard called Turning the Tide. In this report, there is a call for colleges to attempt to minimize the stress in the process by not putting as much emphasis on test scores, redefining achievement and promoting meaningful contributions to the public good, rather than perpetuating the resume padding and gamesmanship that draws such angst and frustration. I am a signee on this report, so I’m not contesting or detracting from its noble intentions or merits. However, I also firmly believe that as long as American universities have single digit admit rates, there will always be frenzy that cannot be solved by asking different essay questions or telling students not to spend thousands of dollars to go on a mission trip. We can “turn the tide” slightly. Colleges can make efforts, many of which are outlined in the report, so that after riding the proverbial waves of the admission cycle you can still see your umbrella and beach blanket, but we’re not talking about bringing six feet waves down to a still pool by any means.  The only place that can happen is at home.

Let me tell you a story. A few weeks ago, I was walking across campus and bumped into Derrick Moore. “D. Mo” as he’s known on campus is the chaplain to our football team, a former NFL player, and one of the most passionate, inspirational, gracious people you will ever meet. If you’ve not seen one of his pre-game speeches on YouTube, you have unknowingly been leading an incomplete life. His messages typically surround the concept of being “all in” and fully committed to the team, believing in yourself, and family. When you hear these, you know he believes them with every fiber of his being.

d moAnd what I’ve come to appreciate about Derrick is he lives these messages every day at home with his wife and daughters. Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of watching him navigate the admission process twice now with his girls. His older is in college and another is a high school senior.

On the day we saw each other recently, he said it was ironic because that night his daughter would be finding out if she’d been admitted to her top choice school. He told me she’d been deferred in EA and had been understandably dismayed, but thankfully he explained, she also had a few other acceptances to some great universities. I asked him how he was doing and how she was feeling about everything.

He kind of shook his head and looked down, shuffled his feet a little and said, “Man, Rick. I’m nervous. I’m really nervous. She really wants to get into this school. It’s her first choice, and we are really hoping it’s going to work out.”

Then he looked up and said with striking confidence and conviction, “But here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going down to practice now to be with the team. Then I’ll leave a little early and stop by the store. I’m picking up some of my favorite ice cream and some of hers. Then we’ll sit down around our table, open up her laptop, and check her admission decision as a family. And I’ll tell you what– if she gets in, we’re going high five, hug, dig into that ice cream and enjoy every spoonful. But if she doesn’t get admitted, there are going to be some tears. Some tears from her and some from me and my wife too because we just love her so much. Then we’re going to eat our ice cream, give each other some big hugs, and then cry a little more. But tomorrow morning we’ll get up and we’ll get really excited about her going to X College, because it’s a great school and she loved her visit there.”

Behold the power of ice cream. It’s like the duct tape of foods. It repairs, it reinforces, it supports, it covers up, and it endures. Big break up– ice cream. Stressed about an exam– ice cream. Pregnant (not in high school. This is an illustration of ice cream’s longevity as a cure all) — ice cream. Celebrating a raise or a new house or a retirement— ice cream is the answer! In fact, when people tell me they don’t believe in God, I lean not on theology but rather on– ice cream. They quickly point to our current political climate to refute the existence of a higher loving deity. I pause, eat ice cream, and renew my faith. And frankly, in that moment with D. Mo, I also realized it’s also the way to best navigate the admission process. From searching for a college to applying to dealing with admission decisions to ultimately choosing a college– ice cream. Because ultimately it’s just love in a frozen state.

ice creamDo colleges have a responsibility to attempt to de-stress the process, to be more transparent, to think deeply about how to make applying to school more simple? Yes, of course. But the way students will feel good about their options at the point of application; the way they’ll process and deal with denials and admits with a healthy perspective; and the way they’ll best make a final decision does not hinge on semantics in an application or on a college’s website, but rather on a family sitting together around their kitchen table with spoons enjoying the same tub of ice cream. Unified, confident, committed to support and excitement, regardless of the outcome. That doesn’t turn the tide, it eradicates it altogether.

May 1 is nearly upon us. I’m sure there are still a lot of you who are coming down to the wire on deciding the best school for you and your family. What makes financial sense? Where will I thrive, grow, enjoy, be challenged and succeed? Before you make that decision, I point you to ice cream. When you grab your spoon remember this– you are not walking on a tight rope. This choice is like strolling on a very wide, smooth promenade. At the end of the day, the decision you make on where to go to college is not going to determine the rest of your life, contrary to what someone has inevitably told you or what the press will often purport. Instead, it will be the decisions you make in college: the grades you make, the internships you pursue, the network of friends, professors, advisors you create. Those will dictate your trajectory, your success, and your options, and ultimately your contentment in college and life beyond.

Whether you are a parent or a student reading this, it’s time to commit. It’s time to be all in. It’s time for family. And that means it’s time for ice cream! So donate or burn the other schools’ t-shirts, recycle all the literature colleges have sent you, go grab a few spoons and crack open a tub of your favorite ice cream with your family this week—and notice how smooth the waters are around you.

Life Lesson #2: Don’t be an idiot!

Ok. Where were we? Right…Don’t be an idiot.

Did you ever see the movie “Hitch” with Will Smith? It’s hilarious from beginning to end and has some pretty solid love advice themes in there too. In one scene, Hitch (Smith) is jet skiing in the New York City harbor with Sara Melas (Eva Mendes) on a first date.  His jet ski sucks up a plastic trash bag and completely dies, so he attempts to get on with her. In doing so, he swings his leg around and kicks her smack in the face (that’s not the solid love advice part). As she’s nursing her bruised eye and bloody nose, he says, “I saw that going differently in my head.”

In their acceptance letters, most colleges, in addition to mentioning grades and continued academic excellence, will also discuss character/behavior, and an expectation that you will maintain the record they reviewed when you applied. Unfortunately, every year at this time, we receive emails and calls from students, principals, counselors, “friends,” or others in the community informing us of matters we should evaluate regarding discipline infractions of varying severity.

Senior year is supposed to be fun. Especially your last semester. Lots to celebrate. Teams win, there are awards ceremonies to attend, spring break, prom, tradition upon tradition, and last upon last. I get it. I lived it. And along the way I made some pretty bad decisions, so trust, I don’t claim to be saying this from a place of perfection.

dont be an idiotWhat I have now is perspective on the risk you run when you decide to drink underage, jump off a bridge naked in the dark into water at an untested depth, cram 12 people into a hearse and blow up the principal’s mailbox, or deride and harass people on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Imagine sitting in a Principal’s, Dean of Students’, or attorney’s office saying, “I saw it going differently in my head when: my friend showed up to prom with a handle of bourbon… when we stole a farm animal for our ‘promposal’… when I posted those pictures and comments of my teammates on social media.”

I’m not trying to give you ideas here. These examples are all based tightly on reality, and all of them ended up having significant consequences. All relational, some ending in a revocation of admission, and some with long lasting legal implications. The big umbrella here continues to be “don’t be an idiot.” But I also have a few tangible tips as well.

Tip 1: Lock Down Social Media. At Tech, and most schools of similar scope, we do not have time to troll your social media accounts. But increasingly we’re sent links to those or images from them. We have had several incidents reported to us over the last few years that have led to revocation of admission, and another handful that we’ve referred to our Dean of Students for a summer conference and first semester probation. My advice is to make all of this private. Even if you are not trying to hide anything, this is just a wise move to make now. More and more employers and scholarship foundations are looking on social media, so start the practice now to insure only those you invite in have access to your life, thoughts, and comments.

Tip 2: Keep Studying. Sound familiar? As we speculated, you’ve likely already forgotten that catchy title from last week but don’t forget the concept. Not only do you need to keep working, keep your grades up, etc., but make sure YOU ARE THE ONE taking the tests and writing the papers. If you start sliding on your studying, the temptation to cheat grows. Several times recently we have been informed about egregious academic infractions in the senior spring. We have had one lead to the removal of a merit scholarship, and more than a few that have ended in revocation of admission. I know you have the integrity and drive to finish well, and I’m imploring you do engage both right now.

Tip 3: Zoom Out. Ever seen that kids book “Zoom?” It starts with a picture of a bunch of red triangles. On the next page you realize that those are really a rooster who is being watched through a window by two kids. Then you find out the children are actually toys in a set being played with by a girl but that all ends up being a cover of a magazine being read on a cruise that’s actually an ad on a side of a bus etc.  It’s an amazing book (and a great graduation gift too). I’m urging you to zoom back from these next few weeks as you close out high school. Think about your dreams and excitement for college. Consider what you might want life to look like in your early 20s once you’re out of college. It’s tough to think five years down the line as a high school student (Frankly, I did not find it all that easy in my 30s). But if you can see down into the framework you’re setting up now; if you can see how one decision (good or bad) leads to the next year, then you will think twice about going too far on the senior prank, or getting behind the wheel when you should not, and the list goes on… Basically, I’m encouraging you to turn the page from high school to college without ripping it.

 

 

 

Keep Studying. And other life lessons.

Recently, I was sitting at dinner with my family. Now you need to understand that a meal with young kids is actually more like circuit training. It’s a series of deep squats where you rarely remain in place for more than a minute or two, followed by the inevitable bend or stretch to pick up a rolling grape or a bouncing fork. There are periodically laps to the kitchen to retrieve additional napkins, and shuttle run sprints to the bathroom at unexpected moments to insure a kid “made it on time” or didn’t come up bloody after crashing down from the stool while washing hands.

They say you burn more calories than you consume when you eat celery. Due to the CrossFit workout that is dinner at my house, I’m pretty sure I’m doing that even over a meal of steak, potatoes, and a substantial side of avocados. Anyway, we’re eating and my daughter keeps saying she’s cold. Mind you—she’s wearing only underwear at the time… that’s how we roll. Finally, after the third time, I looked up and said, “If you’re cold, put on some more clothes. That’s a life lesson.” You know. The way you talk to little kids.

So consider today’s blog life advice/ admission advice (and a side of thoughtful family planning thrown in for good measure). You’ve been admitted to your dream school. Or you’ve been admitted to your second or third choice school, and you’re getting excited now to go there soon. Congratulations! That is great. Like your parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, and community, I’m very proud of you and excited for you. Now… Don’t Screw It Up! There are a few basic ways that students go off the rails in the spring of the senior year, and either have their admission decision revoked, or end up meeting with the Dean of Students prior to matriculating.

For today we’ll focus on Academics. Life Lesson: Keep working.

Schedule Changes. If you were admitted in EA/ED or you applied before your senior spring schedule was firm, and you drop classes in the spring, it is incumbent upon you to reach out to the college to inform them. Ideally, you would actually consult the admission office ahead of time to see how this may impact your admission decision or their consideration of your file. Generally speaking, if you are dropping a course that does not have graduation implications, is of similar rigor, and is not directly related to your intended major, it should not be an issue. For instance, if you plan to major in English and are proposing switching out of AP Psychology and into AP Environmental Science, we should be good. However, if you are dropping Multivariable Calculus and picking up Advanced Weight Training B, we should talk. Schedule alternations that indicate a decline in commitment to your preparation may have an impact on your admission decision, especially at schools with very low admit rates.

keep studying

Grade Decline. Check your offer of admission. After the congratulations and before the offer to visit campus or connect with a staff member, there is likely a paragraph that discusses your established pattern of excellence in grades. They may directly say they “reserve the right to revoke admission” if your final grades are not on par, or they’ll at least instruct you to contact them for consultation. The best thing you can do here is keep your grades up! Don’t take your foot off the gas. I’m sure Nike makes a lightweight, water-wicking shirt that has a pithy phrase that applies here: “Finish Strong” or “Lock In.” Put that on and wear it every day. “Keep Studying” would likely not be a big seller but that’s what I’m telling you.

Every year we have a handful of deposited students who submit final spring grades with straight Cs, or all As and two Ds. We’ve certainly had some Fs thrown in for good measure. Typically, this does not impede a student’s graduation, or it would be a non-issue (no graduation= no college). If this is the case for you, or if you “have a friend” in this situation, the best thing to do is get out in front of this. Call the admission office once those grades are official, or if you see this as inevitable, let them know the situation. If there are extenuating circumstances surrounding the precipitous drop, those are important to discuss. It will then be in their hands to evaluate the courses, speak with your counselors and teachers, and determine if that trend may continue into college, or if they believe you turn it around on their campus.

Our office has gone in multiple directions here. Sometimes we’ve rescinded admission because of the egregious grades and lack of reasonable rationale for the drop. Sometimes we’ve assigned academic counselors and RAs to monitor students in the first semester or first year to insure necessary support is in place immediately. But don’t let us find this out by reviewing your final transcript. And definitely DON’T intentionally hold sending your transcript until late summer because you know this is going to be an issue. I’ll never forget talking to a student several years ago from New Jersey who had failed two courses in the spring of his senior year. These courses were not required for graduation, but they were important to his foundation for success at Tech. I literally called him while he was packing his car to drive down to Atlanta and had to tell him to “unpack.” Not fun for anyone, especially because he had not shared any of this with his parents to that point.

Later this week we’ll delve into social media, discipline issues, character questions, etc. Life Lesson: Don’t be an idiot.

The Waitlist…yea, you know. Part 3.

Good news, bad news. Good news is my editor just had a baby. That means the filter is off and you’re going to get an even more concentrated dose of transparency. Bad news is my editor just had a baby. That means the clean sections, readability, and schedule of these blog entries is going to take a hit. Bonus good news: this beautiful new baby just became part of a loving, amazing family.

waitlist-300x200

I coach little kids soccer. My goal (no pun intended) when the kids were three and four years old was to keep them all on the field, heading the right direction, and not crying uncontrollably. If you could achieve the trifecta in one game, it wasn’t just a win– it was like a championship run! Now most of those kids are seven or eight. We have progressed to periodic passing, trapping, and calling for passes, etc. But beyond the fundamentals we also focus a lot on sportsmanship/exhibiting class. You knock a kid down, you help him up; you lose a game, you still line up with your head up and earnestly say “good game.” The other day after a game I saw two kids pushing each other a little bit. These were not my players. Still, I couldn’t help myself. I walked over, and just as I got in earshot, I heard one of them say, “Oh, yea. What are you going to do about it?!” Now the kid really had me pissed because not only was he being a jerk, but he used one of the lamest lines of all time. Come on, man!

For the last two weeks we’ve bemoaned the waitlist. We’re on a three step process to healing.

  • Step 1: Acknowledge.
  • Step 2: Yell it a little louder.
  • Step 3: What are you going to do (and not do) about it?!

1- Do your part. At most schools the waitlist offer is just that– an option. Check what they sent you or what they put on their website. Typically, you need to take action of some kind to accept or claim your spot. So do that (Or don’t. That’s also your choice. You can absolutely cancel your application, and you should, if you’ve decided to go elsewhere.)  If you do claim your spot, be sure you do anything additional that they instruct. Is there a supplementary short answer question to respond to? Do they want you to send another recommendation letter or schedule an interview? Each school will handle this differently, so read your letter, email, or online collateral carefully.

2- Don’t get crazy. We’ve had students send a painted shoe with a message on the bottom reading: “just trying to get my foot in the door.” Cute? Well, I remember it. But it was ultimately ineffective. We’ve had lots of chocolates, cookies, and other goods sent along with poems or notes. I can’t speak for all admission offices, but there is no way I’m eating any of that, even if it’s been shrink wrapped, vacuum packed and appears to be delivered straight from the vendor. Call that paranoid or callous if you will. I’ll find my own dessert.

3- Do reach out to your admission counselor. (Unless they specifically tell you not to.) Check out our waitlist website here. We’ve been told that it’s terse. Perhaps. But it’s pretty darn clear, right? We’d rather be accused of being brief and directive than vague and verbose (put that in your SAT pipe and smoke it.) If you have met or corresponded with someone from the admission office, perhaps when they visited your high school, or while you were on their campus, send them an email. Let them know you claimed your spot on the waitlist, completed the school’s stipulated form, essay, etc. You are indicating continued interest in attending. Remember in Waitlist, Part 1 when we talked about the university’s perspective? If they miss their class and need to go to the wait list, they want to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is your wink and nod that you would accept an offer if made. Now let me be clear– I’m not tell you to reach out every day. This is a one and done proposition. One year I received a letter, email or call every day in April from a student wanting to “demonstrate interest.” There is a distinct line between demonstrating interest and stalking… and it she leapt over it with both feet.

4- Do deposit elsewhere. The university that has offered you a spot on their waitlist should be instructing  you to take this step, but I cannot reinforce that enough. Because most schools won’t have a firm sense of deposits until late April, the majority of waitlist activity occurs in May and June. Since May 1 is the National Deposit Deadline, you need to go ahead and put money down before that point to secure your spot in a class. I understand and sympathize with this position. I know you don’t want to forfeit money, as these deposits are typically non-refundable. And I know that from an emotional and mental standpoint this is a challenge. So I’ll just conclude where I began– with a sincere apology that waitlists exist at all. They suck!

5- Do wait well. Last time I said I did not have a tip for you on this. Well, that’s because I knew I’d need a fifth bullet point in this blog. Here’s my advice. After you’ve claimed your spot and deposited elsewhere, take some time to write down a few things you are looking forward to in college. In doing so, you’re focusing on “why” you are going to college, and de-emphasizing the “where.” (Keep that list and re-visit it next year at holiday break and after freshman year.) This April I want you relish your senior year. Enjoy spring break, go to prom, take the opportunity to thank a few teachers or read something outside of school that you’re genuinely interested in. When talk about college comes up, whether that be with family or friends, steer the conversation away from where and towards what you want to study, experience, learn, and accomplish.

I distinctly remember being in your spot in April of my senior year. People seemed so sure of themselves. It appeared they knew exactly who they were going to live with, which fraternity they were going to pledge, and what football games they would be going to in the fall. Let me tell you something: Life does not change in that regard. Other people always seem like they have it all together. Life looks easy for them (especially if you believe their social media account). But we all have our challenges, our doubts, and our insecurities. If you have the confidence to embrace uncertainty, and can be open to and excited about the adventure of not knowing, you will not only navigate the next few weeks well, you’re going to live a rich and content life.

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