College Admission
Early Action
Parents

The “D” Word

I don’t swear a lot. Occasionally, but not that often. Partly that’s because I’m not apt to losing my temper, and I also remember being told that cursing lacks creativity. That always stuck with me, and I think it’s had a lasting impact.

THE ‘S’ WORD

Recently, my seven year old son came home extremely upset because a neighbor kid had used “THE ‘S’ WORD!” Despite being the Holidays I was pretty sure we weren’t talking about Santa, so I immediately started considering how I’d respond. I asked him to tell me more and as he began I started thinking about my advice. Something surrounding how “THE ‘S’ WORD” is not appropriate and you can get in trouble for using it and…. then I heard something that made me pause. “Yea. He was like, ‘that is just plain Ssssssss’… and then you know… and then, ‘Pid.'” Ok. Totally different “S word.” Totally different lecture. Totally different approach. Now we are moving into how that word is insulting, and lazy, and all the other synonyms that are more interesting.

THE ‘D’ WORD

But it got me thinking about college admission. Logically. At this time of year a lot of schools are releasing their EA and ED decisions. I’m already seeing posts on social media and hearing more from friends in our neighborhood talk about their son or daughter. One of the biggest questions surrounds…. “THE D WORD!” Nope… not deny. I suppose that’s kind of like the actual “S WORD.” Pretty clear. If you are denied, it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting, it’s a tough blow. But at least you have a decision and you can move on. I’ll write more about this in a future post, but it’s a lot like breaking up. You know where you stand… and who you won’t be standing next to. Unfortunately, defer and deny both start with the same letter. But their implications are extremely divergent.

If you are deferred admission from a school, it’s important for you to remember three things:

1. You are not denied. If a school did not think you were competitive or a good fit, they would have denied you. This sounds harsh but it’s true. There is a reason you got a different “D Word,” so pay attention because the message is as different as the two “S Words” above.

2. Finish the drill. Getting deferred is not fun. It means being in limbo a while longer. Now you are going to need to send in fall grades, you may need to write an additional essay or tell more about your personal activities. But you are not denied. The school that deferred you wants to see more. They need to understand perhaps how you’ve done in a challenging senior schedule, or if your upward grade trend will continue, or if you can juggle more responsibility outside the classroom with your course load within. And they likely also want to see how you stack up with the entire applicant pool. So defer is a “hold on” or a “maybe” or even a “tell me more.” So do that. If you liked a school enough to apply, you should finish the drill. After all, it’s called an admission process. Sometimes that means more than just one round. See it through by submitting what they request and put your absolute best foot forward. OR cancel your application and be done. But don’t go halfway and stop giving your best effort.

3. Check your ego.  The truth is that you should do this when you are admitted, denied, or deferred. After all, an admission decision is not a value or character decision. Don’t blur the lines. If you are deferred from a college you really want to attend, you need to give them every confidence that you should be admitted in the next round, or even from the wait list. If a school asks for a mid- spring report, or they call your counselor, or they ask you to come in for an interview, you have solid grades and interesting new information to share. Your job as a senior is to finish well.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address above, or click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.

How To Pay For College

how to pay for college

Recently, a good friend of mine told me that after his wife delivered their baby he went down to the hospital cafeteria and the “panic” of paying for college was all he could think about while eating his soggy salad. While I challenged his priorities and encouraged him to definitely practice his swaddling technique, he was likely just responding to the frenzy of conversations among older peers in his neighborhood, workplace, and community who are currently in the throes of this conundrum.

With the price of higher education rising much faster than inflation, many students and families find themselves struggling to pay for college, or looking for ways to reduce or offset the costs. To that end, we’ve developed a series entitled “How To Pay For College” designed to help, with expert advice and creative ways for meeting this challenge.

Check out our first installments with author, columnist, and visiting scholar Jeff Selingo and Rich DeMillo, director of Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U).

And for parents much closer to writing checks and packing bags for college, here are five tips.  

A Family Affair, Part 3

“Look Beyond What You See”

If you have ever watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you will remember Kostas “Gus” Portokalos issuing a challenge: “Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek.”  So call me the Gus of college admissions. Here’s a few examples:

What’s the value of college visits?

It’s just like dating… all about getting a good image in your head of what you are or are not looking for- and what will be a good fit for you

Colleges that use demonstrated interest?

It’s like deciding who you’re going to ask to prom. You don’t walk down the hall blindfolded and grab someone (Please. Please. Don’t do this!). You want to get a sense that they may say yes.

Double depositing?

Two-timing.

Okay… so maybe I need to work on some of these a little bit. But the point is there are parallels between everyday life (and love) experience and the college admission process. Hopefully these begin to help clarify what’s often seen as mysterious or veiled.

In an earlier post, we established that I speak Disney. In The Lion King 1 ½ , Rafiki encourages Timon to “look beyond what you see.” Those words really stuck with me because of how tough they are to live out, especially in high school. Even with access to information and connections all over the world, our daily exposure and interactions have incredible influence on the decisions we make and our view of ourselves and of our world.

No matter where you live, there are a group of schools that you regularly hear about on TV or see on bumper stickers in the school parking lot or drive-thru line. If you read national news about college, particular related to rankings and admit rates, the school set is even more limited.  So it’s easy to develop tunnel vision and believe there are only a handful of colleges for you to consider. In truth, there are  more than 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States alone, and more students are going abroad for college every year.

Look beyond what you see.  I wrote this last year but it bears repeating. “Look at the alma maters of Fortune 100 CEOs and you’ll find as many public or not well known schools as you will Ivy League schools. The pathway to success does not always go through Cambridge or Palo Alto. Does the college you are considering facilitate your ability to continually learn, adapt and think analytically? Many schools do this phenomenally well. Too many families stretch financially for a brand, when the better option may be a college off the beaten path.” 

Students:

As much as you may love cheering for a certain school’s football or basketball team, it does not mean that it’s a good match for your education. You may have a picture of yourself as a baby in a onesie from your mom’s alma mater. Or you may be admitted to the same school as your best friend, or a place with an exceptionally low admit rate. But I urge you, “look beyond what you see.” It’s not easy. It takes the willingness to trust yourself and to diverge from the common route in your community or family. Ultimately, that self-awareness, confidence, and self-reliance will prepare you not only for success in college, but in life well beyond too.

Parents:

Maybe you’ve dreamed about a particular school for your student (remember the picture of them in that cute onesie?). If that dream is driven from your desire to boast of their admittance or attendance, I implore you to take a step back and examine if you really believe it will be a good fit for them. While they may not tell you, your opinion and approval influence them heavily. I know that can be hard to believe based on some of your interactions lately, but I talk to students all the time who say parental pressure is a major reason for their college selection. Too frequently that leads them to make a choice that was not truly right for them.

As you navigate this road, take heart and remember the wise words of Rafiki, “It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all through despair and hope, through faith and love.”

A Family Affair, Part Deux (For Parents)

Let’s go for a ride together. Not a driverless car or a Bactrian camel. Let’s go out on the sea for a bit. Winds, squalls… rudders… you know, sailing.

When you first have kids, you are undeniably the captain of the boat. At the helm you grip white knuckled even when the skies are clear and the seas are calm because you are so sleep deprived you don’t even see the blue or feel the warmth of the sun.

As kids get a bit older, you start to loosen your grip. You let out the sail and occasionally gaze at the horizon. But make no mistake- you are the captain. You are dictating the “ports” (where to go to school, which neighborhood to live in), and when to “come about.”

As your son or daughter enters adolescence, you let them hold the wheel (granted, you still remain within arm’s length). You may even go up on deck to sun yourself and they take the helm (but you never actually shut both eyes).

If you have a high school senior, I implore you to start climbing the ladder to the crow’s nest. This means taking both hands off the wheel to let your son or daughter try theirs. This means occasionally leaving town with no groceries in the fridge to be sure they’re still nourished when you return. This means letting them do their own laundry, even if only for a month.

Climb up to the crow’s nest for the college admission process. Let your student write their own essay (but call out from your perch a reminder to edit, so they don’t include the name of another school before submission.) Let them be the ones that meet deadlines and get their resume to their recommenders well in advance. Climb up to the crow’s nest and yell down a week before the deadline to check on progress. “Iceberg!” “Shoal!” “You can apply to that school honey, but if you are admitted, we are going to need $20,000 in aid.” Or “The prospects for employment in that major are slim. If you decide to pursue that, you have to get an internship every summer.”

Climb up to the crow’s nest. If you do that now, the conversations you have this year will be far more empowering and mutually enjoyable. More importantly when your son or daughter does select a college and begins freshman year, you will have already positioned yourself appropriately (and they won’t mix colors and whites in warm water.)

After all, you cannot captain from 50 or 500 miles away. Climb up to the crow’s nest. You’ll enjoy the view and will be proud and impressed with the captain below.

See you next week as we round out A Family Affair.

A Family Affair, Part 1

It’s taken me over fifteen years working in college admission to realize a basic human truth:  People love their kids. Profound, right? But it’s an extremely important lesson and a statement I continue to tell myself and our staff each year.

People love their kids. That’s why a mother might call pretending to be her daughter in hopes of receiving a password or an admission decision. That’s why a father will be in the lobby at 7:30 a.m. after his son was deferred admission or waitlisted the day before. People love their kids. You’ve been holding them up literally since they were born and even now at 120 lbs or 250 lbs, you’re figuratively still doing just that.

This is why this excerpt from Jay Mathews’ article in the Washington Post a few years ago is so disconcerting to me: “There are few experiences short of death, disease, injury or divorce that have as much potential for trauma for American families as the college admissions process. The first great rite of passage for young humans once was killing a wild animal. That was replaced by getting married, or getting a job. These days it is getting into college.”

Now I realize this is hyperbolic journalism. Regardless, nobody wants to be part of an industry that breeds that kind of angst. However each year we see strained family dynamics, so his sentiments are somewhat true.  I believe there is a different solution– a better way forward. So here is a practical tip for helping your family thrive in the admission process, rather than allowing it to be divisive.

Safe place-safe space

Starting in the junior year of high school and gaining momentum in the senior year, the “college conversation” can seem like THE ONLY topic. So whether you are on the way to church or coming home from a tennis match, or driving two states over to visit relatives, the talk is always about college. “Have you considered applying to University X?” “I hear Brandon is really happy at Y College. You remember Brandon, right sweetie?” “Have you finished your essay?” “Where is your friend Sarah going to go for college next year?” And on and on and on…

If this is your pattern, then the quality of the conversation simply cannot be sustained. Nobody can talk about one subject all of the time and expect everyone else to continue to be interested or engaged.

I propose your family set aside two hours on a specified night each week or perhaps on Sunday afternoons and agree that the conversation will be about college. It’s in this time you open college mail, discuss deadlines that are coming up, look over essays to be edited, or discuss upcoming trips and the logistics of all of this. Everybody agrees to come to that meeting open, potentially even smiling (snacks help) with a willingness to ask and answer questions in the spirit of unity.

If this sounds cheesy or utopian or Pollyanna, then good. We all need a bit more of that in life in general, and certainly in the college admission process (Again, your alternative is what Mathews proposes). Also, no cell phones, no petting the cat, no staring longingly out the window. Just a defined period of time and a “safe place” where these necessary (and hopefully now more intentional) conversations can take place. Outside of that time and place, the college conversation is forboden (a great and all too infrequently used word). So if mom asks about a scholarship deadline on Wednesday at 7:30 a.m.- you can simply reply, “Safe place- safe space.”

At the end of the day, people love their kids. Students- remember that when mom and dad are on your case about this. Parents- remember that when your voice raises or when your patience wanes.

Tune in next week for tip 2 of A Family Affair.