Application Advice
Becky Tankersley
Guest Blogger
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The Next Right Thing

Listen to “Episode 12: The Next Right Thing – Becky Tankersley” on Spreaker.

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

As the mom of two young girls, it isn’t shocking that over the last few weeks we’ve watched Frozen II in our house… A LOT. In full disclosure, I enjoy the movie (I will never be too old for Disney animated films and Pixar movies!), so watching it on repeat isn’t a burden. There’s a lot I love about the film, from the animation to the storytelling to the foreshadowing of what’s to come. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but I do need to give you a few details for the purpose of this post.

The future of the kingdom of Arendelle is uncertain and obscured, and early in the movie one of the characters tells Princess Anna, “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing.” This concept shows up repeatedly throughout the film, ultimately climaxing at a moment when all hope seems lost, and Anna is left alone to ask, “what now?” (in classic Disney heart-wrenching-song fashion, of course).

I’ve known for a few weeks now that I was scheduled to write the blog this week. As the primary editor of the blog, I have the privilege of being very familiar with our previous and upcoming content. Over the last two months, many voices have shared great wisdom for these trying times. As my week approached, I’ve wondered what I could possibly say that would be of any value to you, our readers. COVID-19 has made life uncertain for everyone, and I have a feeling hearing another voice say, “I don’t know” or “wait and see” isn’t helpful to anyone.

So instead of telling you any of those things, I’ll take a cue from Frozen II (and Kristen Bell) and encourage you to do the next right thing.

“But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make…”

If you’re a high school senior….

You’re wondering if you’ll have an actual in-person graduation ceremony. You’re waiting to learn whether or not you really will be moving out of your house and on to a campus in the fall. You left your school building weeks ago and “digital learning” and “remote delivery” have become your new normal (as has doing your work while your parents and siblings are on conference calls just down the table from you).

What is next? What will life look like in a few weeks, months? I don’t have an answer for that, or a crystal ball to look into the future.

But I do know you have an opportunity to do the next right thing. That will look different for each of you. Perhaps the next right thing is to spend part of your summer helping take care of your younger siblings (especially if their summer camps are cancelled). The next right thing may be helping your grandparents out around the house. The next right thing could be going grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor. The next right thing could be calling up a friend to ask how they’re doing. You can make an impact from exactly where you are right now.

If you’re a high school junior…

The way you thought your college applications would look has totally changed. Between cancelled ACT and SAT test dates, distance learning, changes in AP exams, and the cancellation of extracurricular activities, your application will not look the way you had planned. And guess what—we get it (see this blog for proof)!

You also have an opportunity to do the next right thing. This summer you can review the essay prompts for schools to which you’re considering and start drafting your essays. You can research financial aid and scholarship opportunities. You can take virtual tours of campuses, explore social media handles for student organizations, and sign up for webinars to learn about different colleges, their missions, and their application review process.

The next right thing for you involves using your time wisely. Your summer plans may be cancelled, postponed, or just… different. Regardless, you’ll likely have more down time on your hands than usual. Use that time to your benefit, and when the speed of life picks up again, you’re adequately prepared to step up and move forward.

If you’re a parent…

This one is a bit tougher to write. My oldest daughter is 8, so I won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be in your shoes and be the parent of a high school student. Maybe you’re nervous to send your child to college. Maybe you’re equally nervous to not send them to college, wondering what that could mean in the long term. Perhaps you’re concerned about your child’s lack of in-person social interaction and how it’s been replaced with virtual-everything.

Many of our families have been home, together, for a few weeks now. Some days are easier (or harder) than others. But as parents, as leaders of our families, we can also do the next right thing.

The next right thing could be creating intentional space to be together doing something other than looking at your computers. Take a hike, plan a picnic, plant and tend to a garden, schedule a movie night at home (yes, it’s a screen, but this one is okay!). Find something you can enjoy together, like watching all the Marvel movies in chronological order (what, that’s just me?).

Look for the little opportunities to enjoy time together in a different way. Have honest conversations about life, the world we live in, and how you too sometimes struggle to find and embrace the new normal. Honesty goes a long way.

Just do the next right thing

When we’re caught in the “what do I do now” situations of life, it’s easy, and natural, to become self-focused. Add quarantine and social distancing into the mix, and it becomes even easier. But I encourage each of you to do the next right thing in this moment. The answers we’re waiting for may not come for a few more weeks. No one knows what the “new normal” will look like–we can’t control it, and worry and anxiety won’t change it. But doing the next right thing is something we can control.

“Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing.”

Becky Tankersley has worked in higher education for more than a decade. She joined Georgia Tech in 2012 after working at a small, private college in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. Prior to working in higher education, she worked in television news. Her current role blends her skills in communication and college recruitment. Becky is the editor of  the GT Admission Blog, and also serves as a Content Coordinator for the American Association of Collegiate Registrar and Admission Officers.

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Class of 2020: Great Minds Think Differently

Listen to “Great Minds Think Differently. Episode 7- Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Each year after we release admission decisions in March, I spend time cleaning up my office. After weeks of committee, reviewing predictive models, and hosting ad nauseum meetings, the room is typically littered with Coke cans, candy wrappers, errant scratch paper with quick calculations or idle doodlings, and a month of unopened mail littering my desk.

In a particularly thorough round of purging and organizing, this year I came across a trove of old marketing materials from Georgia Tech and other colleges around the country (I use an alias to receive these) that I have been collecting for the last decade. As a high school senior, I’m guessing you may have a few of these laying around your house or room right now too.

Invariably, the brochures prominently feature a 3-4 word verb-led challenge like Change the World, Dream Big, Live Bigger, Lead the Way, or Create the Future.

Having been in the room when these taglines are created, I can tell you that countless sticky notes, multiple whiteboards, copious amounts of catered turkey wrap sandwiches, and well-dressed, bespectacled consultants are involved in their formation. Some are cheesy, some fall flat, but occasionally you get it right. And as I leafed through the stack and tossed most into the recycling bin, I came across the one I always thought was our best: Great Minds Think Differently.

I texted a picture of the cover to a friend who was also involved in developing the piece and put the brochure in my bag. That was March 17th–the last day I was on campus this spring.

Since then our world has shifted dramatically. The majority of news, stories, and data are disconcerting, and inevitably many people around you are expressing concern and anxiety about what the short- and long-term future may hold.

I’m not saying this is easy, but as you finish high school, make a final college choice, and prepare to leave home in the coming months, I want to challenge you to think differently.    

In Your Actions

Last week I talked to a friend whose daughter is graduating from high school this spring. “She already knows where she’s going to college and her school just announced pass/fail grades for this spring, so she’s basically checked out. Just prepping for AP tests, but even those are not going to cover the full amount of material.” 

Great Minds Think Differently

I get it. If you are a senior, so much of what you were looking forward to is off. Games, prom, graduation, tradition, and last after last. That sucks. Really, really sucks. I’m not going to sugar coat this, because that’s not the world we’re living in right now. Instead, I am going the exact opposite direction. I ask you not to quit on you.

Wise words thought differently from my friend and colleague, Adrienne Oddi, at Trinity College.

Much of life is lived when no one else is looking. This is a good time to consider why you took that class or spend time preparing for exams. Is it just for a letter or a grade? Are you hoping to just get through it?

Now your test will not cover certain material… so you could basically stop here without any short-term consequences. But scenarios like this are not isolated to the current impact we’re all feeling from COVID-19… scenarios like this occur all through your life.

Right now you have a precious opportunity to pause and ask yourself questions far too few high school students (and too few people in general) ever do: what drives and motivates me? Why am I doing this?

If you are checking out on Chemistry or Biology because the information is not going to be covered on a test, should you really pursue pre-med in college (despite how many people around you may have suggested you become a doctor)?

If you are “done” with Calculus or Physics and not planning to keep pushing and learning in these weeks ahead, then do not pursue engineering in college. I, for one, do not want you building the bridges or planes that might carry my kids in the future.

The truth is we know what really drives someone by the things they make time for and commit to. What are you curious about? What do you care about? When you found out you just got back a ton of time, where did your head go? Those are your real passions. Be honest with yourself and then let your responses guide you as you enter college, select your courses, or pick a major and a career path.

Thinking differently impacts your actions.  

Your Decisions

In webinars, emails, and interviews lately I’ve been asked numerous times: “How should a senior make their final college decision if they cannot visit campus?”

Dr. Beth Cabrera not only with a message of encouragement but also thinking differently about her own situation.

I’ll be honest. I truly hate that you cannot visit college campuses this spring. Anyone in college admission loves showing admitted families around and introducing you to faculty and students. The weather is amazing, students are excited—there is no better place in the world than a college campus in April.

But I will tell you the Covid-19 crisis has pushed colleges to significantly up their game and provide quality online content through live and recorded webinars, student and faculty videos, and helpful and creative information on social media. You should take advantage of all of these new resources.

You should intentionally check out the social media accounts of the student groups or clubs that interest you, and compare them between colleges. If you are thinking about participating in music or club soccer or robotics, go to the Instagram or SnapChat pages of those clubs and organizations. Why? Because they are not intentionally talking to you for recruitment purposes. Read the comments and see who is involved. That will provide you invaluably organic and authentic insight. They’re not trying to “sell” you on attending–they don’t even know you are there.

You should read the online school newspaper and alumni magazine from the universities you’re considering. Using sources that are intended to “talk to each other” is going to help you glean true culture. Do these conversations resonate with you? Are these your people? Do they make you excited to be part of that community?

You should reach out to advisors, faculty and current students. They are remarkably available right now. Ask them your specific and personal questions so you are able to make the best final college choice.

If your family’s financial situation has changed since you were admitted or received your financial aid package, you should contact those institutions to submit new information or ask whether they are able to alter your aid package. You should do this respectfully and with the understanding that many schools may not have additional funding to extend because of the current climate, the flexibility of their funds, the size of their endowment, and the fact that many other families are in similar situations.

Great Minds Think Differently so let’s spin the question: “What can you be doing now?”

The truth is none of those shoulds will matter if you are not honest with yourself about who you really are, what you want, and what type of people, setting, and community bring out your best both inside and outside the classroom.

You can see this time as a rare opportunity to separate yourself from the voices that typically surround and influence you–and actually listen to your own voice.

You can consider Steve Jobs’ comments in his Stanford commencement address, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

You can recognize that whether it be this fall or some months after that, you will be leaving home. You can forgive and ask for forgiveness. You can go out of your way to spend time with your mom doing whatever she really enjoys. If you do nothing else this week, hug your mama!

Thinking differently will impact your decisions.

Your Words

Right now much of the news we see and hear is bleak. Unemployment is at a record high, hospital beds are filling or spilling over in major US cities, and the majority of people at the grocery store are wearing masks and gloves.  You cannot go online, watch TV, or listen to a podcast without hearing phrases like “everything has changed” or “the world has stopped” or “this is crazy.” One thing is abundantly clear right now in every facet of society: we do not have all the answers, but we do have a choice.

Great Minds Think Differently!

A recent GT Admission staff meeting (crazy hat theme). Highly entertaining…and productive.

Find creative ways to encourage your friends, serve your family, and be a source of energy and strength online. Send a positive text message to a teacher, organize a Zoom call to sing happy birthday to a friend, or offer to mow a neighbor’s yard.

If you have not seen John Krasinksi’s “Some Good News” Network on YouTube, stop reading this immediately and click here.

Need more ideas? Check out @goodnews_movement on Instagram. Find reasons to laugh and spread the love, my friends. Or this incredibly uplifting video from our creative and encouraging friends Jeff and Andre Shinabarger of Plywood People.

Thinking differently will impact your words (and your words can go places you never will).

This time is a gift. Consider looking at it that way. Use it to think differently about your actions, your decisions, and your words. In doing that, you’ll finish high school well, make a college choice that is truly yours, and bring signs of light, life, and hope to a world that desperately needs it right now.

Great Minds Think Differently. Thanks for being one of those!

What is taking so long?

Listen to “How Are College Admission Applications Reviewed? Episode 3: Mary Tipton Woolley” on Spreaker.
Every parent develops their own strategy for how to fend off the inevitable question kids ask on road trips: “When will we get there?”

Early on, I decided the best way to help a toddler understand distance was to use the rear view mirror.

“Okay, if this is our house,” I’d say while pointing to the far-left corner of the mirror, “and this is grandma’s house,” moving my hand to the far-right side of the glass, “then we are here.” Inevitably, “here” was about an inch away from where we had started- and that was being generous.

Last week my kids had Winter Break. On Tuesday, we headed to North Carolina to see my wife’s family. Inevitably, about an hour into the drive, Elizabeth (9) asks, “Where are we, dad?”

I started to explain the county we were in and what it was known for. She was uninterested and interrupted me to ask more clearly, “No, I mean on the mirror.” Wow. What started as an age- appropriate tactic seems to have turned into a barrier to gaining knowledge about geography and state history. Since I had worked all day and did not have it in me to protest, I simply pointed about quarter of the way down the mirror.

“That’s it? What is taking so long?!” About 40 responses went through my head in under three seconds, including trucks, construction, idiotic drivers, Atlanta rush hour traffic, and a number of expletive-laden opinions about population growth, city planning, urban sprawl, and more. Rather than utter these, I simply took a deep breath, shook my head quickly back and forth, and turned up the music. My wife was unimpressed.

I’m not sure what Elizabeth did after that, because I left the music up for the next half hour. But I started to think about her question: “What is taking so long?” Our culture has created an expectation of immediacy. We order a coffee, pay, slide down the counter and pick it up. Drive thru lanes are optimized, pictures can be printed at home or are ready for pick up immediately. We expect same day pick up for car repair, dry cleaning, or prescription refills. Actually, all of that requires actual effort. How about 1-click online Amazon orders that appear at our door often within hours?

A Road Trip Through the Admission Process   

When you apply to college, especially one that receives far more applications than they have seats available and uses a holistic and layered admission review, waiting is inevitable. If I were you, I’d definitely be asking, “What is taking so long?!” Don’t worry. I’m not just going to sigh and tune you out. Read on.

The application leaves home:

You hit submit. Now what?

Merging lanes:

At this point, the college matches supporting documents to your application in their database. Supporting documents includes everything from transcripts to letters of recommendation to test scores. The take home message is they’re ensuring your file is complete so they can begin their review.

If it is incomplete, your admission portal will show exactly what you are missing and you will start getting emails/texts/calls/owls about that. (By the way, if you are a senior reading this blog and not checking your email, stop reading this blog and go check your email!)

Carpool:

At this point, it depends on the system or style of application review a school has decided to use, but generally speaking the person who visits your school or is in charge of recruiting your city or state will be the one initially responsible for reading your application. At many colleges, file review begins once it’s complete, while others wait until all applications for that round have been received. Seeing all applications from a particular high school allows counselors to understand how your grades, rigor, trends compare to your peers in the applicant pool.

For example, one student receives a 91 in AP World History. That school adds 7 points of “weight” to all AP grades. While an admission officer would already know the A range extends from 90-107 based on the school profile and transcript, reading all applicants from a particular high school in the same day allows them to also see applicants who may have 102s or 104s. What does this mean for you?

  • Holistic review is both individual and comparative, rather than simply formulaic.
  • In a weighted system, two students can both have “4.0s” that look very different (in this example, 17 points).
  • This does not mean the student with the 104 is automatically getting in. Again, holistic means holistic. The entire goal of these processes is to gain and keep perspective, rather than to draw hard lines or apply a purely academic formula.

In some cases, initial review is conducted by a single individual. That counselor reads your application in its entirety, makes an admission decision recommendation and passes it along to another team member (often one slightly more experienced/senior on the team). Think about this as checks and balances. Schools want to be sure multiple people read your file and have a chance to offer their opinion on your candidacy for admission.

In other cases, schools employ Committee Based Evaluation or Team Based Review. The concept here is a simultaneous and synchronous review. Two team members read your application at the same time. One will evaluate you from a purely academic standpoint by reviewing transcripts, testing, and teacher and counselor recommendations. They take a deep dive into your course choice, grade trends, and how you have performed within your school’s context. The second reader tries to understand how you’ve used your time outside the classroom, as well as the impact and influence you’ve had on others through working, clubs, sports, or other pursuits. That staffer also reads your essays, short answer responses, and, depending on the college, may also read recommendations.  Each staff member makes individual recommendations based on their evaluation. They could both agree to admit or deny, or there could be a split decision.

Traffic Jam:

“Are we there yet?”

No! We are still only mid-mirror.

“But the driver and passenger both agree to head a certain direction.”

True. However, there are other cars on the highway, so now most files sit for a while.

“What does a while mean?”

You know how your Waze App has varying levels of red for traffic? Yea. Kind of like that. Sometimes it’s a dark pink, and often the time just keeps adding up.

“Why?”

Because admission decisions at selective institutions (those invariably using holistic review) are both individual and collective. Students are evaluated based not only on their performance in their school setting, and the other students in their high school (see example above), but also in comparison to the entire applicant pool.

Now counselors move on to that work. They begin reading other applications from schools, cities, or states they are responsible for, and they also help the rest of the team complete their first round of review.

As an example, if a college receives 20,000 applications in their Regular Decision round and has on average 10 pairs of people reading 50 applications a day, five days a week, it would take eight weeks to complete the first round of review. But you know life (and road trips) are never going to be that simple. There are holidays, sick days (for staff or their own children), as well as other recruitment responsibilities. Throw in some technology challenges, a fire alarm triggered by someone microwaving fish in tinfoil, and a good old snow day or two and you’re easily pushing 10 weeks.

“Why don’t you just hire more staff?”

Please call me on a secure line.

Recalculating….recalculating….

Next, schools move into “committee review,” or “cohort review,” or “class shaping.” Deans, directors, and VPs provide additional direction about institutional priorities and empower larger groups of staff to review applications on both an individual and comparative basis. Typically, in this phase discussions are informed by specific targets. Do we have enough admits from certain counties, states, or nations? How are particular majors doing in terms of their specific enrollment targets? Geography, academic major, ROTC, special talents, first generation, financial need, demonstrated interest may all come into play. Some or all of these student attributes, and potentially many more, are discussed as applications move through the committee review stage.  If faculty engage in the admission process, this is a logical time frame in which they’ll be consulted or asked to weigh in on student fit to their programs or the institution overall.

At some colleges, all files are reviewed again in committee, while at others only those who had a split decision in the first round enter this phase of review. Many colleges make admission offers to applicants about starting their academic career on a different campus, abroad, or in an earlier or later semester than the one for which they initially applied, which means committees are also attempting to hit targets for those institutional needs.

How long does this take? Well, that depends on the number of applications, the number of staff, and how bad flu is that year, but it usually takes several weeks. These are often tough and complex decisions that involve more people in the room weighing a series of macro factors and goals.

Re-routing:

We are almost to the far-right side of the mirror. Decision release day is approaching. Your calendar is marked and so is ours. Everyone is nervous. At this point, deans and directors are consulting with their data analysts to gauge their mathematical models for “yield” (the number of admitted students who actually choose to enroll).

Let’s say a college has a yield rate of 34% (this is actually quite common nationally). The dean knows her president, board, and faculty are counting on a class of 1,400. The current number of admits after committee is 5,000, which would result in a class of 1,700 students. The dean knows about 100 of the students who deposit do not ultimately enroll (this is known as “melt”). With residence halls and dining halls built for 1,400 new students, she is over by 200.

Accounting for yield and melt, a small group of senior-level admission folks take on the unenviable task of further reducing the number of admits (in our example by about 600+ students). This pushes previously slated admits to the waitlist, and as a result has a cascading effect on both the number and percentage of students who end up with that particular decision.

Owner’s Manual:

Every road trip and car system varies. I’ve tried to provide a general overview of how colleges review applications. If you want the full details of the operating system from a school you’re considering, check their website or consult one of their admission counselors. As an example, Georgia Tech made a video to illustrate our process.

Buckle Up! Inspirational picture describing the open road

I’m sorry this process takes so long (I’m also sorry this blog is so long). I don’t like to wait either. In fact, I don’t think I’ve never heard anyone say, “You know what I really love… waiting.”

If you are a junior just entering the college admission experience, I hope this gives you some insight and questions to ask as you consider specific colleges. When you visit or talk to one of their representatives, listen for their explanation of the process. Speak up and ask questions if it is not clear. You are going to put a lot of time and effort into applying. It is your right and responsibility to understand how they make decisions, as well as a clear timeline in which they do that.

If you are an applicant still waiting for the car to pull into the driveway, I hope you will take a holistic approach to waiting. Like admission officers, your goal is to keep perspective. You only have one senior year. Enjoy it. Go to games, hang out with friends, take trips, and have fun! Nobody ever looks back and says, “I wish I stressed out more and wished away the spring of my senior year in high school.” (Kind of like nobody says, “I want to marry someone mean,” or “I prefer to overpay for my meals.”)

Look around you this week in school.  I am asking you to fight the temptation to look to far ahead. Slow down. Remember this–  most of the folks you see every day now will not be around (in person) at this time next year. Give them a hug. Grab a meal together. Go see a concert. Just enjoy being together.

Ultimately, it is the things we have to wait for in life are the ones that shape us the most. You will come to the end of the mirror soon enough. Take in the sights. Share the road. Enjoy the ride!

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More and Less, Part 3

Over the last two weeks, we’ve covered the mores and less’ I’m hopeful to see from college admission professionals and school counselors.  In that same time, I’ve also been reminded of just how busy high school students are. So in hopes you might actually read this between bites of a burrito or while waiting for practice to start, I’m skipping over some cute intro or loosely correlated anecdote and diving right in.

Mores and Less’ for high schools students… (in or near the college admission experience in 2020)

Less Narrow

If you are a junior starting to consider college, I hope you will commit to staying broad by asking big questions. Why do you want to go to college? What type of people bring out your best? Where are your blind spots? Who are you now and who are you hoping to become? Back to the beginning of this post—what do you want more and less of in your life—and why? I know, I know. I told you these were big questions.

The truth is most prospective college students and applicants do not ask these questions. Instead, they start with “where do I want to go to college?” (Likely because that’s the question most adults around them are asking.) Often guidance on searching for colleges surrounds factors like size, location, cost, etc.  These are important and valid factors, but order matters. Ask big questions now!

FYI: this advice is particularly timely because people like me in colleges all around the country have just paid $.42+ for your contact information from the ACT/SAT and received huge data files.  What that means: you are about to get barraged by schools telling you how “green” they are; or how many of their students study abroad; or their squirrel:student ratio; or how highly they are ranked for bench swings or vegan options or snarky professors. If you have not asked big questions, you’ll inevitably resort to limiting your search to colleges you’ve heard of, or to the ones someone else tells you to visit or apply to.

Last week I was on a panel with a first-year college student. Asked why he chose the school he is currently attending, he replied confidently, “I wanted to spend as little as possible to ultimately make as much as possible. I want to make a lot of money.” There you go. That was his why. Clear, simple, and unabashedly his. I challenge you to distill your college search down to a mission-statement concept. Here’s a template to get you started:

I want to go to college in order to _________________________.  I like being around people who _____________ _______________. I’m at my best when ________________  so I’d like to attend a college that offers me the opportunity to __________________________________.   When I graduate I hope I’ll ____________________.

(This is not meant to be a Mad Libs exercise. You can use as many adverbs or nouns as you want. You can use single words, phrases, emojis, or even multiple additional sentences. Yes. I see all the ways a smart, creative, arguably sarcastic high school student might turn this exercise into something altogether unrelated and unhelpful for choosing a college. No. I am not deterred.)

If you will be intentional about considering what you want and why, then when those glossy, shiny brochures with lightly photo-shopped students lingering studiously on sprawling quads start showing up, you’ll have an intact filter ready to go.

Quick PSA: When these Hogwarts University owls start arriving at your mailbox (or window as it were) with letters from deans or campus visit postcards and they don’t align with your answers, give them to a friend or recycle. Seriously, recycle. Together we can save the world one college brochure at a time.

More celebration Celebrations and congratulations

There are over 4,000 college and universities in our nation. Universities from around the world are recruiting in the U.S. more aggressively than ever before. Translation- you have tons of college options. If you are a senior reading this, you have likely applied to anywhere between 5 and 15 colleges. When you get in (and many of you already have), promise that you’ll truly celebrate. Go out to dinner or cook your favorite meal, head to a movie, or just take a few moments to enjoy your accomplishments and this new opportunity.

I know we’ve talked about this before, but I’ve recently heard two neighbors say, “Yeah, I got in, but it was just to the University of X.” With all due respect (which in this case is very little) that comment makes no sense. You were the one who applied there. Now you are admitted and it’s just…? If you are not going to be excited about going to a certain college, do not apply. Seriously.  You took the time, wrote the essays, paid the app fee, and sent all those transcripts and other documents. What do you mean it’s just? No!! (I’m not typically a multiple exclamation point guy but come on, people).  

And regardless of where and when you get in, go to lengths to celebrate your friends when they get a college acceptance. Tell them they are awesome. Give them a big hug. Offer to do something with them you know they love. No conditions. No personal agenda.

If you’ll allow it to be, the “admission process” is way bigger than a transactional exchange between applicants and institutions. I firmly believe it has the power to make you a better person- to prepare you not only for college, but for actual life as well. Trust me. This is just one of many situations to come when you have the opportunity to put aside your situation and rally around friends. In other words, this is a chance to both grow and mature. Learning to do this now will prepare you to be legitimately excited down the road when a friend tells you they’re engaged, or just got a big promotion, or they are expecting their first child.

Less time on social media

I include this mainly because people online frequently lie, only share their happiest/best moments, and can be incredible jerks (PG’d by blog editor) in their comments. But this is also important because your time in high school is limited and quickly elapsing. I’m challenging you to leave your phone at home for one day a week from now until you graduate. Have some borderline valid reason why that is simply untenable? Okay. Then remove social media once a week. See if those days don’t lend themselves to better conversations, more time for you to think or do things you enjoy, or simply to unplug and rest. Remember to stay grateful while applying to college

More Gratitude

I was on a panel last night in Denver with my colleagues Matt Hyde from Lafayette College and Heath Einstein from TCU. Both are extremely thoughtful and smart admission leaders. Each of them encouraged students to consider the things and people for whom they are grateful—and more so to actually take action and express that. So I’m stealing a page from their book and asking you to make time this week or weekend to consider and express your gratitude. (Want some more insight on this? Check out this Character Lab piece.) Think about what makes your life beautiful and unique. Tell a teacher how much you appreciate the time they have taken to help you in a class or write a rec letter for you. Let a coach know how their encouragement has helped you grow and achieve your goals. Call your grandpa. Go on a walk with your little brother or sister. And, as always, hug your mama.

Up next, the final installment: Part 4 – For Parents.

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It’s The Most Wonderful Time of Year?

While the air may be filled with songs and the streets lined with lights and decorations, the holidays can be a frenetic and stressful time. If your family is like ours, the number of obligations over the next few weeks is staggering. Parties, school functions, visits from relatives, and holiday travel quickly result in a full calendar and empty energy tank. If you are the parent of a high school senior, you also juggle a unique set of concerns and pressures, as many college admission and financial aid decisions and deadlines loom just after the new year.

I do not purport to have all the answers to combat this stress, but after watching the college admission process repeat itself for the last 20 years, I do have a few tips (and hopes) for your family as you head into the holidays.

Ask big questions. The end of one year and beginning of the next lends itself to reflection. Families in the middle of their college admission experience should do the same. Instead of becoming mired down in the details about deadlines or grammatical perfection in essays, my hope is you’ll slow down and zoom out.

Your son or daughter has plenty of classmates, teammates, and random strangers asking them, “Where are you going to college next year?” Make time in the weeks ahead to have them consider a question far too few people ever ask, “Why do you want to go to college?”

Whether they have already been admitted to a few schools and are waiting to hear back from others, or have yet to submit a single application, this question is foundational. Encourage them to write their answers down. Knowing why will help answer where. It will help them think through each school they are considering and ensure it aligns with their purpose. Ultimately, it will serve as a filter this spring  when they are choosing between a few universities to which they’ve been admitted.

Protect Your Time. Discussions about college, especially during the holidays, can creep into far too much of regular life. This is the last winter break with your daughter or son living full-time under your roof—do not lose sight of that fact. These are fleeting and limited moments, my friends. What’s next is important, but what’s now is precious.

My hope is your family will put some ground rules in place. Establish an hour or two a week for a college conversation. This is more than enough time to look over an essay, double check deadlines, or schedule an interview or campus visit. Everyone must agree to show up with an open mind and a commitment to listen, but without a cell phone or terribly crunchy snacks.

Outside of those times, college conversations are off the table. The beauty of holding these “family meetings” is they allow everyone to truly rest and enjoy each other, and the much-needed vacation. If you find not talking about college outside of these isolated times is challenging, it is a good indication you should recalibrate in 2020.

Escape Your Local Echo Chamber. The great thing about the holidays is they bring people together. Unfortunately, that is also the downside. Conversations at parties often surround which students were and were not accepted in Early Action or Early Decision at certain colleges. Understandably, it is easy to leave wondering what that means for your own child or how unfair and confusing the admission experience can be.

Take time to look at the Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 lists of companies and their CEOs. Most come from schools that are not categorized as “highly selective.” Need more reassurance? Pick up and read a copy of Frank Bruni’s book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.

My earnest hope this holiday season is you will talk to fewer parents who have kids in high school and more who have kids in college. Ask them about their family’s experience. You’ll hear them say they wish they had not stressed as much. They will tell you about their daughter who was not admitted to her first choice school, ended up elsewhere, and is thriving now. They’ll talk about how their son did not receive the merit scholarship he had hoped for, selected another option from his choices, and now has an incredible internship and a girlfriend (who they actually like) that he never would have met otherwise.

Take A Break From Social Media.  I hope you will not post anything about your son’s or daughter’s college search online this holiday season. They call this an “admission process” and it should be just that. At this point, unless you have a kid who has gotten in ED to a school and is definitely going, you are only part of the way through. Hold off on putting things online about decisions, frustrations, deliberations, etc. This is not only healthy for you and your family’s relationships, but it also helps people in your community as well.

Unfortunately, social media is largely filled with terribly misinformed opinions, negative banter, catty comments, and frequently bold-faced lies. I’d encourage you not to read or engage in college admission dialogue online. Instead, take opportunities in-person to re-center the conversation with your friends, neighbors, or relatives.  If anything, my hope is you will use your platform to encourage, reassure, and provide healthy and desperately needed perspective when discussions go off the rails and fan the flames of anxiety.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

The college admission experience can seem incredibly complicated because it is filled with a myriad of dates and deadlines. It seems confusing because the press and marketed how-to guides provide incomplete and frequently inaccurate data. It seems consuming because friends and colleagues incessantly share “inside” information and anecdotes (or the alleged stories of relatives) on social media. It seems confounding because those same friends and colleagues have widely divergent experiences and opinions and are quick to share each time they see you at the school, store, or stadium. It seems complex because colleges and universities all have different processes, review different factors, and operate on different timelines.

Things seem this way because most people are solely focused on “getting in.” This holiday season I hope your family will instead ask big questions, protect your time, and escape your local echo chamber; and take a break from social media. In short, focus less on getting in and more on being and staying together as a family.

Happy Holidays!

A version of this blog originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution on December 11, 2019. See article here.