College Admission
Guest Blogger
Samantha Rose-Sinclair

Say Yes to the (School)

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome, Sammy!

“I like it a lot.”

A nice enough stamp of approval, but not the reaction to a wedding gown that Say Yes to the Dress conditioned me to expect. “The dress” is a big investment and a landmark decision that can drum up emotions of the future ahead. “Like” is good, but shouldn’t my sister be gushing about her love of the dress? Should she be crying? Should I be crying? Maybe I should cry.

My sister and her entourage.

My sister, mom, grandma and I sat in a lovely dress shop in Savannah awaiting Alex’s next thought. She twisted while carefully observing herself in the mirror and smoothing the lace. “Yeah, I really like it,” she said with a smile. She turned to us expectantly and asked, “But what do you guys think?”

For those of you who have never joined in on a dress boutique shopping adventure, here’s the play-by-play of what you can expect: the bride usually brings suggestions of styles she likes. With the help of a consultant, she picks out styles in their shop that match as closely as possible, with the occasional curveball pick or two. They retreat to a dressing room to shimmy on the dresses, and the bride then comes out in the ones she deems “entourage worthy.” We assess while the bride shares her first thoughts, then the group offers feedback and praise (or not) while she stands atop a pedestal.

Now from here, everything I knew about wedding dress shopping (which came exclusively from TLC shows) told me I should be watching for “that moment.” You know, the moment someone tries on their dress and “they just know,” or when there is an obvious blubbering mess of emotions spilling out into the room. Yet here we were, and Alex was very measured and surprisingly calm. Well, not too surprising… she’s a Pediatric ED nurse, so I probably should have expected the calm.

All those magical things, including the notion that you’ll “just know,” are also constantly repeated about the college search process. Even I, as an admission counselor, am guilty of throwing those ideas around. But the concept of a dream college and the idea of one true fit that “clicks” as soon as you step on campus… that may or may not be your experience, and that’s okay.  Colleges are real places (flaws and all), and a “dream school” sets an unrealistic expectation.

“I like it a lot” 

Just because you don’t feel that magical “click” doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the school, or more importantly, with you. If you’re more analytical, consider asking yourself questions that evaluate what you’re experiencing a little more tangibly.

When you’re researching colleges, ask yourself:

  • Do I want to learn more about this school?
  • Where could I fit into the big picture of the things I’m reading about?
  • Does the mission statement of this college resonate with me?
  • Could this school help me fulfill the goals of not only what I want to do in college (and beyond), but why I want to go to college? (this one requires a bit of self-reflection.)

When you’re visiting colleges, ask:

  • Am I counting down the minutes until I leave, or am I excited to explore more? (Note: as tough as it may be, try to separate out temporary things like weather patterns from your long term judgments. A gross rainy day can make you eager to leave, but that’s not what we’re going for here.)
  • Am I looking forward to the possibility of coming back?
  • Did I hear about any unique opportunities today that piqued my interest?
  • Can I see myself engaging in this community?

And for each of the above answers, ask yourself “Why?”

“But what do you guys think?”

Sometimes a trusted confidant can help reshape things or put the process into perspective. The floor sample of the dress Alex was wearing came in an off-white that looked greyish purple. It was hard for her to get past that in order to make a decision, even though the consultant patiently reassured her the dress she’d order could come in ivory. After noticing the hesitation, I asked the consultant to grab a fabric sample of the ivory and we pinned it to the skirt of the dress. Now she could envision it.

Your support system can look at things in a way you may not have considered. You might be looking for a major in Game Design and overlook a program called “Computational Media.” A different term, but a perfect match. It can be helpful to have a second set of eyes to assist in navigating the roadblocks to a connection.

Alex also hedged her emotions a bit out of trepidation for the entourage in the room—mom and grandma’s opinions matter a lot. Sure, she liked the dress, but what if we didn’t like it, and we didn’t approve? Parents, guardians, and supporters: sometimes a little encouragement and praise can help! In the foreign environment of a college search, be reassuring. Your student may be cautiously expressive because they’re holding their breath for what you think, or they may doubt belonging there because impostor syndrome on college campuses is very real.

 ”I really like it”

Photo used with permission from Ivory & Beau (Savannah, GA)

The dress matched everything my sister’s Pinterest board showed she was looking for, and she looked beautiful. But ultimately, Alex isn’t the “magical-fairytale-moment-crying-in-a-dress” type (Trademark, Sammy Rose-Sinclair). Remember, that’s okay. She still said yes! So with her family around her, we celebrated her decision with ”she/I said yes” tambourines (yes, I too just learned that’s a real thing, and now need one for all my decisions) and Alex bought the dress she’ll wear down the aisle next year.

She really likes the dress. She’s even thrown the word “love” around a few times since. Crazy, right? What’s most important, though, is how much Alex really loves her husband-to-be, Dave. They’re patient with each other, they’re thoughtful, silly, and kind. They’re incredibly excited about their wedding, but even more excited about the future that comes with it.

And that’s the real takeaway here: your college will be a wonderful place. I hope you really, truly, like it a lot. But it’s the things you’ll do, the people you’ll meet, the opportunities you’ll have, that will make it special.

Sammy Rose-Sinclair has worked in college admission for four years. A newly-minted southerner, she moved to Atlanta and joined Georgia Tech two years ago as a senior admission counselor on the first-year admission team. She now uses her millennial-ness and love of working with students, families, and counselors to interact with the GT Admission community through our social media channels. If you’ve gotten this far, send her questions about admission or Netflix recommendations on twitter or Instagram- @gtadmission.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

The Power of “We”

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome, Sammy!

My best friend loves soccer, so naturally we join the sea of Atlanta United fans at Mercedes Benz Stadium every time she comes to town. If you’re not familiar, allow me to introduce you: United is Atlanta’s Major League Soccer team. In their first few seasons they soared to the top of the league, broke almost every MLS attendance record on the books, and won the national championship. Today, they’re still one of the hottest tickets in town. The games are incredible, and the crowd of 70,000+ is electric. I’m proud of our team, and I feel like I’m a part of something when I’m chanting in the stadium. Sha-laaaaa-la-laaaaaaaaaaa!

We took to the field. It was game time. I went wild as Justin Meram made his first ever goal for Atlanta United. We let one slide in our goal shortly after that, but no big deal. Meram hit the back of the net AGAIN with just over seven minutes left. WE WON! Hugs with my best friend, high fives with strangers all around, Vamos A-T-L!

The next morning I dropped off my friend at the airport, refreshed the email on my phone and scanned new messages. Spam… 50% off takeout promo (save that) … Email from parent of prospective student. Click.

“I’m hoping to set up a meeting with you…. Georgia Tech is our first choice… we took the SAT in March…”

Woah. Ref shows a yellow.

I love when people refer to their sports teams as “we.” It comes from a feeling of belonging and years of dedication, commitment, and support. I understand that when parents use “we” with admission, it comes from the same well-intended sense of pride and love. There’s nothing more important than a strong network supporting students as they go through the admissions process, and parents, or those who act as parents, are the glue to that network. Parents are a critical piece of the support system. However, you’re supporting them through their journey, their game.

They’re the player, you’re the coach. As a team, you’ll have questions about applications, how to set up visits, and along the way you’ll want to learn about each college.

Now, forgive me if I side-step the sports metaphor for a little while (don’t you worry, we’ll come back to it), but what happens when your student doesn’t feel ready to ask those questions for themselves?

When They’re Anxious

I didn’t make my own dentist appointment until I was in college. And back when you had to actually, you know… call the restaurant and talk to someone to order pizza, I refused to do that too. I was terrified. The way I looked at it, there was one way those calls could go right, and a hundred ways they could go wrong. High stakes for pizza, I realize that now.

I completely understand when students feel that tension. In their eyes, admission staffers are the judge and jury, and a phone call might feel like part of the judgement (for the record, it’s not!). If your student is like me and feels nervous to dial or press ‘send,’ consider doing it with them instead of for them. Sit next to them as they send us an email. And do it sooner rather than later—you can’t sit next to them in the college library when they need to email their professor in a few years (at least you shouldn’t, though I do hear the occasional story…).

It’s also okay to prep for a phone call or conversation! To this day, I type out a script for my voicemail message in Word before recording it (I still never get it right on the first try, but I’d argue that anyone who does is superhuman). Same thing can apply for a live phone call, or an in person conversation. Calling an admission office may be a departure from a student’s comfort with text messaging. Communicating about themselves and their questions in the admission process may be an even bigger departure from anything they’ve ever done. So, when they’re about to call, or we’re about to meet at a college fair, it’s okay to write notes down. It’s okay to help them practice. Speak with them, not for them, and they’ll grow.

When They’re Unengaged

I distinctly remember wandering the gym floor during a college fair at my school and grabbing a few obligatory pamphlets in colors I liked, but not talking to a soul—an ironic twist of fate for someone who now stands on the other side of the table! I wasn’t nervous, and I wanted to go to college, I just had no idea what I was doing so I checked out.

If you’re speaking on behalf of your student because they seem unengaged, it might be worth a pause to find out why. It may not be because of lack of interest. Are they unnerved by the application or at the prospect of rejection? Maybe they’re overwhelmed or frustrated by it all.

Again, it might seem easier to take over, but the we’s enable a student to check out of the process. After all, we’ve got it handled, right? Sure, your email or phone message is intended for the college admission recipient, but the choice of pronoun also communicates a lot to your student.

Consider bringing them into the mix and encourage manageable conversations with current students and peers who may seem more approachable and can raise their confidence.  An appointment with their college counselor can demystify the process, or a quiet self-guided visit to a local college can help them see the big picture without becoming overwhelmed.

When They’re Busy

Students are busy. Period, end. Last year our supplemental essay asked students to share their typical day, and many leave home long before the sun rises and return long after the sun sets. In other words, their availability is the exact opposite of admission offices across the country. And understandably, sometimes an email or phone call just can’t wait until the next time you sit down together between 6am robotics and 7pm ravioli.

If this sounds familiar, consider CC’ing your student on the next email you send to a college. It’ll help keep them in the loop so they can jump back in when things slow down, and it enables me as an admission counselor to address both of you in my response.

When there’s a little more flexibility in their schedule, consider making a small reoccurring admission appointment on your weekly calendars. You can honor that appointment as distraction-free time to sit down, work on applications, answer questions, and communicate together. Scheduling a regular time to talk ensures the college “to-dos” won’t get lost or overpower the countless other “to-dos” going on that week.

We.

United has been privileged to have excellent coaches. They’re involved, and they’ve given their players the best shot at success without actually stepping out onto the field. As a parent, you’ll be involved too—the admission process is a family process, and there will be a lot of “’we’s.”  But plainly put, we can’t admit you, the parent.

To be clear: there is no problem with parents contacting admission offices. In fact, it’s very normal! My hope is simply that, overall, we all be mindful not to exclude a student from their journey and to engage them if they struggle to do so on their own. Recognize and celebrate your student’s achievements as such (she got X on the SAT vs we got X, he was admitted vs we were admitted… you get the point). Include them, trust them, and empower them as an adult with your language, and they’ll mature as an adult through their actions. And when you step back and let your child lead, you may be surprised to learn what they truly want, discover the complexities of who they’ve grown to be, and, fingers crossed, you just might grow a whole lot closer as a team. Admissions, United.

Sammy Rose-Sinclair has worked in college admission for four years. A newly-minted southerner, she moved to Atlanta and joined Georgia Tech two years ago as a senior admission counselor on the first-year admission team. She now uses her millennial-ness and love of working with students, families, and counselors to interact with the GT Admission community through our social media channels. If you’ve gotten this far, send her questions about admission or Netflix recommendations on twitter or Instagram- @gtadmission.

 

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

Does This Bring Me Joy?

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome, Sammy!

Everyone has that one thing they struggle with, whether it’s watching YouTube until 1 a.m. (me), drinking enough water (still me…) or picking their socks up off the floor (also me. I regret making this list!). Months ago, as the world crept into 2019 and forged hopefully into tackling New Year’s resolutions, many people’s to do lists were topped with my #1 kryptonite: organization.

In elementary school, my mom used to get calls from teachers saying the contents of my desk were spilling, literally, out onto the floor. One time, my third grade teacher paired the class up to go through one another’s backpacks and reorganize the contents in hopes we’d stop losing assignments. Boy, did my partner have a daunting task ahead of him (sorry John).

My organizational skills today are no better. My closet is overwhelming—clothes  are unfolded, unorganized, and overstuffed. The problem just might be that when given the option on what to keep, I keep all of it. I can’t be the only one who has a second wardrobe of aspirational clothes. After all, you never know when you might need a floor length black sequined dress for a Halloween-themed masquerade ball. It could happen!

Tidying Up Your College Search

Luckily, but not coincidentally, a unique organizational method took the world by storm around the start of the New Year. Marie Kondo won our hearts, while Goodwill won the contents of our closets. Marie Kondo introduced us to the Konmari method through her Netflix series. Her minimalism-inspired approach encourages people to take stock of what they have, cherish those things that bring joy, and get rid of what does not.

What does this have to do with college admission? Good question. Right now, the college search and application processes are wrapping up for high school seniors, which means it’s time for the next class of students to get started! Juniors, right now you’re probably listening to parents and counselors advise you to build a list of colleges to visit over spring and summer break. With over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States alone, it can be absolutely overwhelming to know where, or how, to start.

Visualize the destination

The Konmari method starts with creating a vision of what you want your life to feel like once you’re done with the process—who  are you, and who would you like to be in the future?

When you start the college search process, it helps to visualize the end, so let’s work backwards. Where do you imagine yourself after high school? I don’t necessarily mean which college, specifically, but when you close your eyes and see yourself walking across a campus, what do you see? What don’t you see? There are categories that are more obvious in the college search process (big school, small school, urban school, suburban school, and so on) but don’t forget about the smaller stuff. For example, I didn’t know how important trees were to me until I moved to an area of the country that had lots of fields, but not so many trees. It mattered—and it didn’t feel like home to me.

Once you have a general vision, your college counselor is an invaluable resource to help you find a few matches. There are also online college search sites to get you started if a counselor isn’t available at your school. Still not sure where to start? Check out our college selection guide, designed to help you find the right match for you.

What fits, and what doesn’t?

A shirt can be a perfectly good shirt. A sequined dress can be a perfectly good sequined dress. And a college could be a perfectly good college. But if these things don’t suit you or your specific needs, then it’s time to move on. Before even opening up a web browser, the most important thing you can do is be thoughtful about what is most important to you (and your family!). Academic offerings, cost of attendance, distance from home, the list goes on. Choose which matter to you, and how much they matter to you. Only then can you know what fits.

A quick note on college rankings: we’ve talked time and time again about where college rankings might (or might not!) fit into the college search process. To sum it up briefly for our purposes here: once you dig a little deeper, there’s a good chance the methodology and values used in the ranking system don’t fit with the things that are most important to you. Rankings might be a good tool to help you discover colleges across the country, but keep the perspective of it being just that: one tool. You don’t have to force fit at a school just because it’s highly ranked. Also, be mindful of schools that might not top a ranking list, but could very well top yours. Keep going beyond the numbers, and keep in mind the things that are genuinely important to you.

What brings you joy?

Here’s the big one! The ultimate goal of the Konmari method is to surround yourself by the things that make you the happiest. A college might look great on paper, your goals might be aligned, but it’s still entirely possible it might not feel right. And that’s okay! Fit is entirely personal.  Much of this comes down to finding your place within the larger culture and community, and that isn’t something that can be reduced to a set of statistics in a glossy brochure or a website of major offerings.

Does the vision of the institution match your values and interests? Look up the school’s mission statement– what are they about? Look at videos and blogs, projects and organizations… who are the students at that school? It’s a magical thing to interact with a community of students and realize, sometimes for the first time, these are my people. Once you start narrowing down your list and eventually visit campuses, only you will know which campuses you see yourself at, and which you genuinely hope to return to as a student down the road.

So while I work on my closet, I wish you all the best as you work on your college search. And if you need a black sequined dress for a masquerade ball, you can now find it among the racks somewhere around Atlanta—I hope it brings you joy.

Sammy Rose-Sinclair has worked in college admission for four years. A newly-minted southerner, she moved to Atlanta and joined Georgia Tech two years ago as a senior admission counselor on the first-year admission team. She now uses her millennial-ness and love of working with students, families, and counselors to interact with the GT Admission community through our social media channels. If you’ve gotten this far, send her questions about admission or Netflix recommendations on twitter or Instagram- @gtadmission.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

Still Waiting…

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome, Sammy!

My “quarter life commitment” came in the form of my first home purchase this summer, and I quickly learned buying a home doesn’t happen in half an hour as House Hunters will have you believe.

I know. I was just as shocked as you are.

After setting my parameters and keying into the type of home and neighborhood I was looking for, it was time to physically set foot in a few places.  The first one looked nice, but had a lot of candles burning to cover up a suspicious smell; the second one was sold before I even left my showing, but the third one? Now that I could work with (yes, I really only looked at three. Again, I’ve watched too much House Hunters)! Top floor unit, hardwood floors… sure, the bathrooms are painted school bus yellow, but otherwise, it was perfect.

I went home, had a few conversations with my real estate agent, and sent in my offer paperwork that very night. Then came the waiting. It was between me and a few other buyers. I spent several days waiting for the phone call telling me which offer the seller had chosen.  You know that forgot-to-breathe, heart-in-stomach sensation every time the phone lights up while you’re waiting for an important call or email? Let me tell you: I had it bad.

Finally, the phone rang! False alarm. It was my aunt. Thoughts swirled through my mind…

How would the seller judge me? Sure they had every piece of info about me besides my blood type and horoscope, but they didn’t even know me. 

The phone rang! My home security company. I pondered some more…

I thought my agent said they were going to get back to me yesterday. Should I send the seller cookies? A recommendation letter from my mom? (By the way, if you’re reading deep into this metaphor, the answer is no, don’t send colleges cookies).

Then…the phone rang.

How do you wait?

I only had to wait a few days, but college applicants wait a whole season. It gets especially hard this time of year when the answers are less than a few weeks and email clicks away. Many months go into actively searching out colleges and preparing your application, and then once you hit submit… radio silence. So, how do you wait?

Think about it

I will confess, this is how I wait: as soon as I confirm my orders on Amazon, I reread the product reviews and scrub through YouTube demonstration videos, imagining how great my life will be once my food scale arrives in two days. When I bake cookies, I sit in front of the oven, turn on the light and watch… and watch… and watch. And when I put an offer in on a house, I scroll through the property pictures, mentally planning the furniture layout, learning which grocery stores I will shop at, and Yelp all the restaurants nearby.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t cross the line into impatience, but I do use my nerves productively. Why? Because when I use my time wisely and channel my nervous energy towards a positive outcome, I’ll be more prepared for what comes next. And if it doesn’t go well?  I’ll be disappointed, but at least I’ll have an oddly impressive knowledge of all the grocery stores in a random Atlanta neighborhood.

I think, no, I know many college applicants feel the exact same way right about now. There are whirlwind trips for college tours, chats with friends at the schools where you’re applying, and perusals of excellent blogs (wink wink) to learn more. If you take this route, be sure to know & set your limits. Be careful not to let excited interest turn into unhealthy fixation. Ultimately, there’s going to be a lot of big decisions to make come spring, so if there’s something you’re curious about right now, this is the time to dig in and learn about it.

Don’t think about it 

Contradictory, aye? I can understand the continued focus on college causes people more stress, so not thinking about it might be more your style. The decision will come regardless of what you do at this point—the pendulum has to swing back. And while you’ve controlled your application, you can’t control what your admissions officers, or the rest of the applicant pool, will do. I could list a million different “live in the now!” clichés, but the reality is, you know this. You’ve probably played the “last” game all year now (my last year at home… my last first day…). There’s plenty going on right now that deserves your focus.

You might even be like my sister, who took a hands-off approach when she submitted her job applications last year mostly out of fear of “jinxing it.” (Fair enough, she does have her dream job now.) As long as you know that your colleges have everything they need from you, you’ve done your part. You’ve passed the ball, and you’ll get it back soon enough.

Get Busy

Are you holding your breath? Exhale. There’s no reason you can’t invite opportunities for growth right now because of decisions that will come later.

There’s a certain amount of freedom in these few months. You’re not in the college search process. You’re not writing applications, and you’re not making your college decision. You just… are. And if you can find peace with that, then you can see the opportunity. Is there something you want to do before you leave home? Remember this summer when you swore to yourself you were going to learn sign language, right after you learned how to cook? Now’s the time to do it. 

(Added bonus: if by chance any of your early action applications come back as a deferral, you’ll have something new to add to your application)

Wait Well

On behalf of college admission officers everywhere, thank you for waiting with us, and allowing us the opportunity and time to dive into your accomplishments. We’re in the home stretch.

Perhaps it’s the least discussed part of the college application process, but the wait is hard. The angst, the anxiety, the lack of control. We live in an era of instant gratification, a departure from which can be frustrating! There’s a maturity that comes with learning to wait for results, or even the simple passage of time, and it takes knowing yourself to know how to wait well. Find what works for you, and push forward in these last few weeks.

However you wait this season and whatever comes at the end of it, remember you will be okay. There will be triumphs, disappointments, and incredible opportunities.  And if things don’t work out as you’d hoped after the wait? Know there are so many great colleges where you can be a happy, healthy, and successful member of the community.

Turns out there are roughly 100 other condos in my complex with the exact same floor plan. Guess I didn’t have to go with the school bus yellow bathrooms after all. Lesson learned.

Sammy Rose-Sinclair has worked in college admission for four years. A newly-minted southerner, she moved to Atlanta and joined Georgia Tech two years ago as a senior admission counselor on the first-year admission team. She now uses her millennial-ness and love of working with students, families, and counselors to interact with the GT Admission community through our social media channels. If you’ve gotten this far, send her questions about admission or Netflix recommendations on twitter or Instagram- @gtadmission.

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

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.

Sammy Rose-Sinclair has worked in college admission for four years. A newly-minted southerner, she moved to Atlanta and joined Georgia Tech two years ago as a senior admission counselor on the first-year admission team. She now uses her millennial-ness and love of working with students, families, and counselors to interact with the GT Admission community through our social media channels. If you’ve gotten this far, send her questions about admission or Netflix recommendations on twitter or Instagram- @gtadmission.

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