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The Three T’s

A few weeks ago, my wife called me at work around 2 p.m. This is not typical.

“Hey, what’s up?” I answered.

“Walter (our neighbor) is walking around his house with a clipboard,” she said.

“Weird.”

Not catching my sarcasm, she replied, “I know, right? Do you think they’re moving?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he has taken up sketching. I’ll see you around six.”

But like so many times before, she was exactly right. The next day there were guys pressure washing and painting. Within a week, red mulch was spread around the yard, and a bunch of boxes went out to a mobile storage unit.  Next came the “Coming Soon” sign, which a week later turned to “Just Listed.”

Since that day there have been regular showings, real estate caravans, and cars slowly cruising past the house. If you have ever sold a house, you know how all-consuming it can be. First you have to prepare to sell, which includes all the things our neighbors have been doing recently: de-cluttering inside; touching-up outside; and buying decorative items for show like doilies (things you would never actually use in day-to-day living). Once on the market, you are at the mercy of potential buyers. I distinctly remember this from a few years ago when we moved. “Someone wants to come see it at 8 a.m. on Saturday,” our real estate agent would say. We’d clean up the kids’ toys, wipe down the counters, throw about three boxes of stuff we did not have a place for into the back of the van and go eat the All-Star Breakfast at Waffle House (that part was actually okay).  “Someone wants to come at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday,” “Let’s have an open house Sunday from 1-4 p.m.,” “Look out your window. Yeah, those folks want to see it now!”

Let’s not forget you also have to move somewhere. The buying side can be worse. You download every possible real estate app: one from your realtor, not to mention all the other real estate search engines on the web. Whatever you can find. You set your parameters on the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, location, price, and so on. Then the notifications start coming… or they don’t. Either way it is maddening. If you are moving locally, every trip to the grocery store becomes a detour “just to see if anything has popped up” (as if your realtor’s search would not have caught that). You become the one that is manic about getting in to see houses before other potential buyers. You are the one in the driveway asking to “see it now!”

Conversations over meals are about houses and prices and what else might come up next week. Everyone in the family (even ones who are not going to live there and don’t even visit regularly) have an opinion about how you’ve priced your house and what you need in the next home.

We’re Moving!

If you are a high school senior, all of this may sound familiar. Every time you get home there is another glossy, shiny brochure telling you with a $75 fee and a few essays you might be able to move in for four years. You have also been “caravanning” around to colleges and creating pro/con lists about size, price, location, and other factors. Like the real estate apps and websites, I’m guessing you also have found conflicting information and question the accuracy or relevance of data like test score ranges and admit rates. Everyone from coaches to aunts to random baristas are asking you questions and expressing their opinions about which place you should choose, what schools are overpriced, or which ones are unwarranted in their popularity. It’s uncertain and protracted. Let’s face it, as humans we just hate the waiting. For too many students and families the college admission experience, like the home buying and selling process, can be exhausting, maddening, and not a lot of fun.

I’m here to tell you there is a better way. You have a choice. Since I was recently trying to teach my kids the concept of alliteration, I present to you “The Three T’s.”

1 – Time. It is incredibly easy to let the college conversation permeate life, especially as a high school senior. Where are you applying? Did you write your essay yet? Aren’t we visiting Northwestern next month? When is that financial aid deadline? Did you see that brochure from U Conn? Left unchecked these queries and conversations are like incessant app notifications: after practice; on the way home from school; during breakfast, or when you are just sitting on the porch trying to relax.

I propose you and your family allocate just three hours a week to college applications and discussions. Sunday afternoons from 2-5 p.m., Thursday nights from 6-9 p.m. Find a time that works. You do you (Southern Translation: Y’all do y’all). Protect your time, and protect your sanity.

Here is how this works:

PARENTS: This is your time to bring the brochures you’ve noticed in the mail and say, “Hey, look honey, the leaves are turning in South Bend. Isn’t it pretty?” You get to ask, “Have you written your supplemental essays for SMU?” Or “Do you still want to take that trip to California to look at schools in November?” It’s all fair game.

Outside of that time, college talk is banned.  Drive past a car with a University of Colorado sticker? Not a peep. Sean next door gets accepted to Auburn or Washington State? Mute button is on.

STUDENTS: You don’t get to bring your cell phone, crunchy snacks, or a bad attitude. Three hours a week. You come ready to string multi-syllabic words together and use intonation. No shoe gazing. You are committed to being fully engaged in the conversation because it’s the ONLY ONE! One time a week… only three hours (1/8 of one day). You got this!

Three hours a week is also plenty of time to get college applications done (just not the last three hours before the deadline!). If you use three good hours for several weeks, you can absolutely do a great job and in truth, your essays will be better having re-visited them in multiple sittings. There is a lot to say for letting something sit for a week and then coming back to it with fresh eyes, some sleep, and a new perspective.

Note to students: I know sometimes your parents’ questions and opinions can sound like nagging or overreach. See that for what it really is—love and deep affection in disguise. The thought of you heading to college brings a crazy mixture of emotions, and frankly sometimes they are still trying to reconcile you are taking AP Biology or standing at over 6 feet tall. Somehow, carpool lines and tricycles do not seem like that long ago. Give them a break. Fear, excitement, love—these all warrant your being fully engaged. Three hours is less than 1.8% of your week. Phone down. Answer their questions—and every now and then, how about a hug?

2 – Talk. One of the main issues with home buying and selling is how public it becomes. Everyone can see pictures, prices, statistics about square footage, and the number of bathrooms on flyers and online. Neighbors are chatting in the streets about why someone is moving, when the house will sell, who might move in, and if it is over or under priced. After the sale is finalized, that too is public information—setting off another wave of gossip. That type of unnecessary, unhealthy, and unbridled noise can also occur in your admission experience if you share too much publicly. I strongly encourage you to consider how much you are going to volunteer with friends and online about where you are applying, because that opens you up to questions later about whether you are admitted, deferred, denied, or waitlisted.

Students, consider holding this process a little closer to your vest (or sweater or shirt for non-vest wearers) and only letting in a very small subset of trusted people. Parents, commit (before any admission decisions are released!) to not adding to the speculation and consternation surrounding college admission by sharing stories at parties or games or online about where your son or daughter is admitted, denied, or offered scholarships. Keeping decisions and deliberations private has incredible potential to build trust and bond your family in what should be a very personal process.  Taking this a step further, do not ask others about their college admission decisions. Not only is it really none of your business, but typically the information shared is exaggerated or inaccurate. Sorry, but sometimes… people, you know?

3 – Trust. Paranoia often surrounds buying and selling a house making it even more all–consuming. We are not going to be able to sell our house for the amount we want. I just know we are going to get outbid. There are almost no houses for sale and lots of people buying in that neighborhood. All of this, again, is extremely similar to college admission. There are thousands of applicants for a limited number of seats in classes. You apply (make an offer) and then have to wait anxiously to see if you are going to be admitted (offer accepted). With tens of thousands of dollars involved and a potential move out-of-state, it’s expensive and emotional.

I am asking—scratch that—I am telling you this is all going to work out. How do I know? Last Sunday, we hosted a program at Tech called Give 1 Get 1. Before Convocation, students brought shirts from other colleges where they visited, applied, or were admitted. That day we got lots of different shirts, saw lots of different faces, and heard lots of different backgrounds and stories about how they arrived at Tech. They were bonded by one commonality—they were all excited to be on campus and get started with their college career. This is the beautiful and inevitable other side  I described a few weeks ago.

Trifecta: Combining the 3 T’s

Anyone who has bought or sold a house has had some disappointments and made some adjustments during the process. With so many variables in timing, pricing, and other buyers and sellers, things never go exactly as you hope or plan. But they will also tell you that a house becomes a home because you move into it. You make it yours.

The truth is there are lots of great colleges in the nation where you could move in, succeed, and be thrilled with the community—where you could make friends, do well, be happy, and thrive. Right now these places are just names and addresses—don’t place any more emotional attachment on any one of them than that. Talk to friends this year when they come back from college for Thanksgiving or Winter Break. Ask them where they thought they would be a year prior—for many their current school was not their first choice or even on their radar. But then they moved in. They made it their home. And so will you.

Time, Talk, Trust. Apply these well and behold the power of alliteration, my friends!

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The Other Side

Listen to the audio version here!

Rewind

Sunday we were on our way home from the mountains and the song “The Other Side” from The Greatest Showman came on our playlist. Before I knew it, my wife and kids were singing every word. If you have not seen the movie, I highly, highly recommend it. Inspired by the story of P.T. Barnum’s creation of the Barnum and Bailey Circus in the late 1800s, it is a musical with several big stars (including Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron). We saw it in the theater, twice, and immediately bought it on Amazon when it became available.

What I love and appreciate about the movie is Barnum’s (Jackman) incredible imagination to dream up a circus; his creativity and perseverance in bringing his vision to life; and his ability to disregard his naysayers who told him it would not be successful. In addition to finding and recruiting interesting acts and attractions and securing extensive funding for the show, one of his biggest challenges was bringing credibility to the circus. Barnum was obsessed with convincing the upper class in New York, who normally spent their money on theatre or opera, that this too was worthy of their attention and investment.

“The Other Side” is a fast-paced negotiation between Barnum and Phillip Carlyle (Efron), a wealthy New York aristocrat and playwright. In the song, Barnum is attempting to convince the young, popular, conventionally established Carlyle to take a risk and become his business partner. The song, like the movie itself, is about having the vision to see something new and different, but also the faith and courage to act on it.

Pause

Many colleges open their applications on August 1. If you are a senior, I am guessing you already created at least one application account and may have also started writing your college essays. It is also likely you are scheduled to take or re-take the SAT or ACT in the fall. I would not doubt you took time this summer to visit a college… or 18, and questions from family, friends, coaches, and neighbors like “where are you applying to college?” have become ubiquitous. I have bad news for you: it gets worse. Thanks for reading and have a great day. Kidding!

Understandably, there are some elements of the college admission process many students do not find enjoyable: keeping track of the dates and deadlines for applications, scholarships and financial aid; looking deep into your soul to introspectively articulate your passion (in 300 words or less!); taking seemingly endless standardized tests in sterile environments (some beginning at a God-forsaken hour on Saturday); reading blogs that simply won’t come to the point… the list goes on.  Lest (no longer a word on the SAT) we forget, all of that is just getting to the point of submitting your applications. We have not even delved into some of the stress around waiting endless months for decisions, or the frustration of being deferred admission, or the dismay of being denied by your dream school. And don’t even get me started on the vortex that is the waitlist. Feeling better yet?

I get it. There is nothing I can say, write, or sing that is going to eradicate moments of uncertainty or consternation in the year ahead. What I can offer you is perspective. I can offer you a vision. I can help you see “The Other Side.”

Right here, right now 
I put the offer out
I don’t want to chase you down 

I know you see it
You run with me
And I can cut you free
Out of the treachery and walls you keep in
So trade that typical for something colorful
And if it’s crazy, live a little crazy
You can play it sensible, a king of conventional
Or you can risk it all and see

Track 1- The Other Side

Monday, in an effort to memorize the lyrics, I was listening to “The Other Side” as I walked from the train station. It was a perfectly clear day with low humidity and temperatures around 70. In late July in Atlanta, you cannot ask for better conditions. Just as I got onto campus, I saw a couple of first-year summer students walking into the dining hall together. They were laughing and smiling.  I recognized one of the guys in the group because I met with him at an admitted student program in the spring. At the time he told me Tech was not his first choice, but he would come here if he did not get admitted to…. names aren’t important, right? In late April, he emailed me to say he had not been offered admission to the other place and had decided to become a Yellow Jacket. Three months later (basically to the day) here he was on campus with a smile on his face, a few new friends around him, and enjoying a perfect summer morning.

Don’t you wanna get away from the same old part you gotta play
‘Cause I got what you need
So come with me and take the ride
It’ll take you to the other side

Track 2- The Other Side, Remix

A few years ago I was helping students move into residence halls. As I entered the building I saw a father out of the corner of my eye I had met before. I remembered him clearly because a few years earlier he had been in the office yelling at me for denying his son’s admission. I put the box down in the room of the student I was helping, wished her a good year, and then wiped the sweat from my brow. While the box was heavy and I had just basically sprinted up two flights of stairs, the perspiration was from that memory. Heading back out the front door (side door was locked) I scanned the lawn. Whew! He was gone. Then… a hand on my shoulder. “Oh… Hi. How are you?” I managed to say in feigned surprise. After talking for a few minutes, his wife came up with their two sons. Unbeknownst (also no longer on SAT) to me, the younger brother had been admitted to Tech and was starting his first year. The older son explained he had chosen a smaller school and was now a rising senior majoring in business. “Could not have been a better choice,” the father added, and then went on to proudly describe his son’s summer internship and added he already had a job offer waiting upon graduation.

‘Cause you can do like you do
Or you can do like me
Stay in the cage, or you’ll finally take the key
Oh, damn! Suddenly you’re free to fly
It’ll take you to the other side

Track 3- The Other Side, Re-remix

Each summer we have orientation for new students. This year we’ve already held six and still have two more to go. I love these days on campus because they are filled with balloons, loud music, skits, banners, cheering orientation leaders, smiling students, and proud parents. Go check out the social media accounts of a few college and university orientations or new student programs. You’ll love seeing the pictures, images, and videos that demonstrate a real sense of community, belonging, and excitement.

In all that happiness, remember that three, six, and nine months prior, none of that excitement was there. Those same smiling faces were grimaces as they attempted to “craft an essay” or remember which password they had selected for the Common Application. Was it “12^gold!!”or “emojisRpasswords2~@?”

You would finally live a little, finally laugh a little
Just let me give you the freedom to dream and it’ll
Wake you up and cure your aching
Take your walls and start ’em breaking
Now that’s a deal that seems worth taking
But I guess I’ll leave that up to you

Play

So here you sit. Senior year is about to start. After nearly 20 years of watching this cycle repeat itself, here is what I know: there are no guarantees in college admission and financial aid.  Where you will end up is absolutely uncertain. Unsettling? It shouldn’t be. The mystery of where is the adventure of the college admission experience (and some would say it’s the adventure of life in general).

Bottom line: there is no “dream” college. Instead, there is just a dream…a vision. It is one of smiles, balloons, friends, celebration, a new home, excitement, aka “The Other Side.” Don’t forget that as you are applying to colleges. When you get deferred admission, remember the students I described walking into the dining hall. When you don’t get a scholarship, envision the older son who went elsewhere and ended up exactly where he was meant to be. When you don’t get into your first choice school, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just the first step to The Other Side.  Balloons, smiles, exuberance. That is what awaits you. A year from now you’ll be there. Trust me.

Forget the cage, ’cause we know how to make the key
Oh, damn! Suddenly we’re free to fly
We’re going to the other side

Bonus Track

I still may not know all the lyrics but I do know the truth. There are many times in life that we need to be reminded to slow down, remain calm, and dream of The Other Side.  I hope you’ll strive to recognize those moments not only in your own life but in those of your friends and family members too. Take the time to encourage them; to come around them; to describe with optimism and confidence the better days that lie ahead.  Like Barnum and Carlyle, it will make the celebration when you arrive there together that much sweeter.

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Girls Night!

Listen to the audio version here!

A couple of weeks ago I told you listening is “the one thing you can do” when it comes to college admission. The one thing you completely control. After that I got some really encouraging and humorous emails from fellow wallet-leavers (and those who love them) around the country. It is good to know I am not alone. I also got one note that said, “What they really need is just to know what admission people really want.” Challenge accepted!

You could call what I’m about to share the magic bullet; the linchpin, the Holy Grail. Or you could just call it “the one thing that admission people want.” It is what we hope you will do with your time outside the classroom. It is the type of person we want on our campuses. It is how we hope you’ll go about choosing your academic path through high school. And it’s also the best way to navigate the admission experience. For those of you who have been reading this blog since it started three years ago, I hope you were a freshman then, because your patience is finally paying off—just in time for this pivotal trade secret.

But since you have waited this long, you can wait a few paragraphs more, right?

Not everything that can be counted counts…

Unfortunately, too often the college admission experience begins with, and is plagued by, a mentality of “what do I have to do?” Here’s how this plays out:

Q: In your presentation, you showed your middle 50% score ranges. (As they Google test-prep programs) So if I get 60 points higher, I will have a better chance, right?

Q: Your first-year profile shows that most students entering have taken around nine or 10 AP, IB or Dual Enrollment courses. Which other class should I add to my schedule?

Q: So I was reading about the value you place on extra-curricular involvement, contribution to community, and Progress and Service. Which is better: two years of ultimate Frisbee, or three years of Beta Club?

Year 1

The other night my wife and I watched the movie Girls Just Want to Have Fun with our kids. As it started, my wife said, “I haven’t seen this since our girls’ nights,” and then looked at me. Confused, so did both our kids. Let me explain.

When Amy and I first moved to Atlanta, she did not know anyone in the city. No friends, no job—just a new husband…me. She was planning on getting her master’s in physical therapy, but had a year to work on the pre-requisites, study for the GRE, establish residency, make some money to pay for the program, and adjust to a new town (and husband).

I know what you’re thinking: that must have been rough. And you’re right.  I already had a job and was originally from Atlanta. Several of my good friends from college lived here as well, so I was plugged in and fairly busy. In those first few months, Amy tried one job and hated it. Knowing everything was short-term with school starting the next fall, she took another job, and then another (to clarify, she did not work three jobs simultaneously).

We would go to dinner or watch a game or just sit on our porch, and she’d talk about how difficult it was not having close friends or family in town, like she did in California and North Carolina. Finally, one night I decided I had to take a more radical approach to cheering her up. I had to do something unexpected—something just for her.

We started “girls’ nights” once a month. I had long argued that I was not physically built to power walk the way I knew she and some of her friends could. I remember seeing them go at an incredible clip for what seemed like hours, chatting and enjoying time together. So one night we power walked. Two hours, just walking and talking all through the neighborhood(s). Admittedly, I looked pretty awkward, and at times I struggled to keep up, but it was absolutely worth the effort for the joy it brought her. One night dinner was a just a giant salad and we spent the evening reading a book aloud to each other. And yes, one night we did facial masks and watched Girls Just Want to Have Fun (I’m telling you, it’s a must see!).

Not everything that counts can be counted…

So what’s the perfect class schedule, the right test score, the magic combination of sports, work, and school leadership? What is it that admission people really want? The answer is simple: we want Girls’ Nights!

  • Power Walks. We’d love for you to choose a rigorous curriculum solely for the love of learning and expanding your knowledge (more on love in the next point). That is why you so often hear the buzz phrase “intellectual curiosity.” What admission people really want to see is you power walking through your curriculum in high school. Yes—it means there will be times you are not totally comfortable. There will be some classes where you are not a complete natural and you have to work harder than some classmates to keep up or to excel. But if power walking is your mindset, you’ll know when the load is appropriately challenging versus absolutely overwhelming. You will be more appreciative of your teachers; more likely to seek help when you need it and give help when you are able; less focused on the grade and more on the content; and ultimately you’ll end up far more prepared when you arrive at college.
  • Love. We want you to volunteer at a hospital or master a language or earn your black belt not because it will look good or separate you from other applicants, but because it’s a genuine interest, an opportunity to grow, a passion, a love. If you hate tennis, quit. If you are miserable eating the bread in French Club, pack up your things and leave. Au revoir. “Which is better: two years of ultimate Frisbee, or three years of Beta Club?” Neither. Trust me—we are not making those kinds of delineations. Your sanity, enjoyment, and time are the priority. Love does not keep records or count accomplishments or track time. What do admission people want? We want to attract applicants and enroll students who are looking to build others up, rather than one up or edge others out. We are looking for future graduates who will invest deeply in people, communities, clubs, sports, and jobs—whether or not there is a picture in a yearbook or a line on an application.

The Perfect Night

There is no perfect or right girls’ night, just like there is no perfect or right college. Amy loved those evenings not because they were ideas from a Top 10 list or what someone else said would be best. She loved them because they were perfect and right for her. Some people are not big salad fans. I get it. If you don’t like humidity and roads that start with “Peach,” avoid Atlanta for college.

What do admission people want? We want you to explore all your options and to honestly consider and intentionally choose your best fit when you apply to college. We want you to be mindful that this is a deeply personal choice that is authentically yours, so you’ll be confident when you arrive at your university.

Utopian? Pollyanna? Perhaps, but I’m okay with that. Granted, you are talking to someone who has now read nearly every Nicholas Sparks novel aloud and unashamedly endorses early Sarah Jessica Parker. But this is about you, not me. I am just doing what was asked– telling you what admission people want: Girls Nights!

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That ONE Thing!

You can also listen to the audio version of this blog here.

On Father’s Day we had my parents over for dinner. It was a beautiful early summer night. June in Atlanta can get pretty sticky, but there was a nice breeze. We sat outside and laughed, talked, listened to music, played a few spirited rounds of corn hole, and watched our kids put on some impromptu “shows.”

I had a conference set to start in Asheville, NC the next day at noon, so throughout the afternoon and evening I was progressively packing. You may have heard of progressive dinners– this is the lesser-known cousin. On the way to check the food on the grill, I put my phone charger and sunglasses in the truck. After setting out a few chairs in the yard, I put my bag and running shoes in the backseat. Some would call it multi-tasking, others would call it completely inefficient. It’s our differences that make the world interesting, people. Embrace diversity of approach and thought.

My parents left around 8 p.m. We cleaned up the yard and kitchen and got the kids ready for bed.  Hugs, prayers, put one idle corn hole bag back to the garage, and then I left around 9 p.m. for the 200-mile trip.

Heading for the hills…

Asheville, NC (Visit soon. There is something for everyone.)

With a full tank of gas, a couple great podcasts (highly recommend We Came to Win during the World Cup), and a few friends to call on the way, the drive passed quickly. I pulled into my friend’s house around 12:30 a.m., found the stashed key, and crashed on the downstairs bed.

We got up around 7 a.m. and went for a great run on a lake trail near his house. After a quick shower, we headed to downtown Asheville for breakfast. It was on the way I realized I did not have my wallet. The realization washed over me slowly as I checked carefully through my clothes, bag, and truck. No wallet. 200 miles away from home with no cash, no credit card, and even more disconcerting, no driver’s license.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you. I have arrived to work, drove to the store, and showed up at the gas station wallet-less. If it’s never happened to you, congratulations! But for me, it’s happened—let’s say once a year or so (maybe more frequently when we had newborns and I was lucky to remember to put on shoes). I’m sure the first six months of each kid’s life significantly inflated my LWLA (lifetime wallet-leaving average). So while I’m no wallet-leaving virgin, I had never left the state and driven hundreds of miles without it before. This was a first. This was a problem.

Here is what I did have:

  • 2 pairs of running shoes
  • 1 hammock
  • 2 phone chargers
  • 2 ear plugs
  • 7  (yes, seven!) bungee cords
  • 1 pocket knife
  • 1 inflatable pillow
  • 1 regular pillow
  • 2 toothbrushes (found one of my daughter’s in the console)
  • 1 jump rope
  • 1 umbrella
  • 0 wallet
  • 0 cash

I was only staying in North Carolina until Tuesday afternoon, so I certainly could have done with just one pair of shoes. No bungee cord would have been fine. But you know what I did need? A wallet. Yep. That I would definitely call essential. In fact, you could argue it was really the only critical item.  You can solve a lot of problems with a wallet. Forget a belt? Credit card. Pulled over in rural South Carolina? Driver’s license. Thirsty? Cash.

The Most Important Thing

I can’t tell you how many times after an admission presentation someone has come up and said, “Thanks. Really enjoyed that. So I heard you say grades and test scores and extracurricular impact and essays all matter,” and now leaning in closer as if to assure me the secret is safe, “But what’s the MOST important thing?” When a student is denied admission, we also receive countless calls and emails (apologies for a few currently unreturned) asking where they fell short. Was it my GPA or number of APs? Did I not have enough volunteer hours? Should I have done two years of cul-de-sac whiffle ball to enhance my sporty side?

The answer, of course, is never that simple. It’s never really just one thing in holistic admission review and decisions, because by definition they are broad and subjective. It’s not a formula ruined or solved by one factor.  Yes, nine AP courses does sound rigorous. But that one thing is not going to carry a decision. Your 1500 SAT is great. Still, it’s not the only thing. 28 ACT? Sure, lower than our average, but not going to keep you from being admitted. It’s awesome that both your parents are alumni, but again, not the only thing. No, the fact that you switched schools is not why you were denied. Yes, we did super score that to a 1500. Wait…ma’am didn’t you call two days ago with the same question?

Maybe as humans we just like simplicity and a clean answer. Give me the pill. Give me one reason. Yes, I’m hearing you describe all the problems my car has… bottom line, how much is it going to cost to fix it? You said it’s not me, it’s you. But exactly why?

I’m not going to lean in after a presentation and give that one thing. First, it would be creepy if we were both leaning in. Second… actually, there is not a second in this case. Since you’ve paid such a high price to subscribe to this blog, I’m going to give it to you for free today.

This is the one thing.

LISTEN. Yes, listen.

Listen to your counselors. They will say you can apply only to schools with admit rates below 20%. When you don’t really listen, that’s all you hear. April rolls around and you are on a bunch of waitlists or straight denied and there is finger pointing, gnashing of teeth, and a whole lot of second guessing. When you listen, you hear them add, “But it’s important that you also include a few foundation schools where your likelihood of being admitted is very high, you have an affordable option, and you might also be offered a spot in their honors program.”

Listen to your parents when they say it’s not a problem to apply to schools whose tuition is over $65,000 a year. When you don’t listen, you miss this part: “however unless they provide you a scholarship, a waiver, a significant discount, or an aid package that moves the actual cost closer to $32,000 a year, it won’t be a realistic option.” FYI. This listening thing extends beyond college admission. When you really listen to them, you’ll also pick up on a lot more “I love you’s” than you are currently hearing/feeling.

Listen to kids from your school or team or neighborhood who are in college when they come home over winter break and talk about how much they love their university. And recall (not technically a second thing because recalling is just remembering your prior listening) how only last year that was not their first choice school.

Listen to your teachers when they say they’ll be happy to write you a letter of recommendation. Inevitably, there is also the caveat of “but I’ll need you to tell me at least two weeks ahead of the deadline because I have lots of others to write and I’ll be taking my own kids out trick-or-treating on Halloween night.”

Listen to admission counselors when they come to your school this fall or you visit them on campus in the summer and they tell you what they’re looking for in applicants. When you don’t pay attention, you end up writing a terribly generic essay or deciding it’s not important to do the “optional” interview. When you listen, you pick up on all kinds of distinguishing characteristics and institutional priorities that can help you decide whether you really want to apply there, and if so, how to put your best foot forward in their process.

On the Road

I’m writing this post from Canada. For this trip we had checklists for packing. We distributed clothes and shoes and books and toys in our various bags to avoid weight limits and ensure the kids could help carry some of the load. But you know the very first thing I grabbed the morning we left? My wallet. It was the one thing I was not going to forget.

Like traveling there are elements of the admission process you cannot completely control or plan for. There may be some curveballs, frustrations, uncertainty and complications. But now you know the one thing you really need. The one thing you can do. The one thing you completely control. The one thing to keep with you through your entire admission experience. The one word to remember: listen.

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Would You Rather…?

Would You Rather…? Yep. This question was a big part of the Olympic viewing experience at our house.

  1.  Would you rather have no training and compete in the Skeleton OR Ski Jump? Personally, I’m going Skeleton all the way here. Sure, it would be moderately terrifying to go that fast, but worst case you roll off (careful for those blades on the dismount) and walk to the finish line. Meanwhile, with Ski Jump, I just see no way I’m walking away with less than two broken bones.
  2.  Would you rather be in Ice Dancing OR Curling? Our kids are split here. Our son is adamant that he’d never wear that costume and dance with a girl. (In this case, I am translating “never” as “check back when I am 16.”) Our daughter adamantly argues that Curling is the most boring thing she’s ever seen. “Is this still on?” “Sweeping is not for fun,” and my personal favorite, “He looks like our neighbor.” Hard to argue.

I didn’t pose this one but it did go through my head (because this is the kind of thing that does): Would you rather participate in a sport that has a score/time to win OR one that is judged? I can see both sides here. You’ve trained for four years (some would argue a lifetime). You’ve risen early, worked, sweated, and bled. You’ve sacrificed your time and sleep and diet and even personal relationships to get to this point.  It makes sense that you might want a very objective, neutral, quantifiable measure to differentiate you from the other competitors. And if you compete in one of those sports, that’s exactly what you get. Granted, it must have been heart-breaking for the US Luge Team not to medal when they finished .57 seconds from Gold and .103 from stepping onto the podium for a Bronze, but they signed up for it.  And clearly the German bobsledders who finished upside down were not concerned about impressing any judges on route to their Gold medal. They were the fastest. Period.

In Freestyle Skiing or Figure Skating it is all about the difficulty of your program, the execution of your routine, and your style (could argue personality) that you exhibit to the judges. Frankly, as a native southerner, I was just impressed when someone made it down the hill, landed a jump, or managed not to fall during a routine.  As I watched some of these events, the eventual medalists were not always the athletes I thought were the best from the outside looking in. Of course, I was not privy to all of the metrics or aspects they were looking for to make those determinations. Still, I could see how after all of those practice sessions and injuries that having a group of judges deduct or reward points based on the slightest angle of a skate or hand position on a snowboard would be maddening. And yet, it’s not like they were racing. They were not expecting their results or medal to come from time or speed. They knew that there would be a level of subjectivity leading to or from the medal stand.

So many lessons to be drawn from Olympians about perseverance, dedication, sportsmanship, teamwork, etc. but I am going to stay in my lane and focus on how this applies to college admission.

Let’s start with this.  Most schools make decisions based on quantifiable metrics. Of the four thousand post-secondary options in our country (with over 2000 four-year colleges), the average admit rate is 65% (See page 3). In the vast majority of schools nationally, they have space available for talented students like you, and they are going to use your GPA and test scores to make those decisions.  These are publicly available formulas that are clearly outlined on their sites, in publications, and in presentations. In most cases, these schools have admit rates over 50% and they have determined that if you are performing a certain level in high school, you will be academically successful on their campus. At least one of these schools should be on your list. The good news is that you will absolutely find more than a few where: you will be admitted; you will find a lifelong friend; you will find a professor who will mentor you and set you up for success in graduate school or as you launch into a career; you could take advantage of phenomenal internships, study abroad opportunities; you can afford and may even provide you with scholarships as well.

Like an Olympic athlete competing in a sport that is evaluated by people, here are some things you should know if you are applying to a highly selective college that has very few spaces and yet a pool of incredibly accomplished students.

  • Numbers are not going to be the deciding factor. Yes, we ask for test scores. We look at them and consider them, but at Georgia Tech this year two of every three applicants had a 1400+ SAT/ 30+ ACT. The College Board and ACT research clearly demonstrates that using “cut scores” (i.e. drawing an arbitrary line between say a 1360 and a 1370 is a misuse or abuse of tests). Our own campus specific research verifies this as well. Testing is far less indicative of academic success on our campus than rigor of curriculum and performance in classes. This is why students appealing a denial at a highly selective institution because they have a 1500 SAT has no merit. This is not short track racing. We never said it was going to be about your testing- and our decision only demonstrates that we were transparent here.
  •  Strength of program matters. If you watched any of the Snowboarding or Aerial or Figure Skating, you heard the announcers talking at length about difficulty of program. An athlete who attempts and converts a quadruple salchow or double lutz or a Triple Lindy is rewarded for that accomplishment, skill, and ability at a higher level than a competitor who hedges their difficulty in order to avoid a fall or mistake. In admission committee and file review, we do the same thing. This is why colleges that have a difficult curriculum (not always directly correlative to admit rate or rankings) also value your course choice in high school. The bottom line is that a student from the same high school, i.e. has similar access to courses, who takes AB Calculus and Physics II and does well is a better fit for our Civil Engineering program than a student who has opts instead for Pre-Calculus and AP Psychology.  You don’t see the Olympic judges walking out of the arena questioning their decision to place value on this element, and we do not either. Rigor matters. 

 

 

 

 

  • Paper vs. Practice. “How could you deny my son? He has all A’s.” I understand, sir. However, since his school adds extra points for rigorous courses, an A can range from 90 to well over 100. A 91 and a 103 are not the same… and we are going to differentiate. This year we have a school that sent us nearly 200 applications. Of those 160 had above a 90, i.e. an A average. Now we can go round and round all day about the chicken and the egg here on grade inflation just like we can try to grapple with how Russia’s Alexander Krushelnitsky failed a doping test for Curling, but that seems counterproductive. Highly selective schools, just like Olympic committees, are going to differentiate great from outstanding.
  •  Style matters. Yes, we look at the technical as well as the full program. Review includes essays, interviews, and opportunities for you to tell us what you do outside the classroom. Why? Because you will not just be a student on campus, you will be a contributing citizen. Ultimately, once you enroll and graduate, you will be an ambassador. Judges give style points. Admission committees do as well. We care where you are from. We are listening for your voice. We want to know how you have impacted and influenced your community. We are counting on your counselors and teachers in their recommendations to build context around a GPA or a test score or an IB diploma. And because all of this is plays out in a holistic admission decision, the student with the highest test score or most APs or who sits at the top of a spreadsheet on a sorted GPA column is not necessarily the gold medal winner. Nobody is holding a stopwatch in admissions committee.
  • It cuts both ways. The hard truth of selective college admission is that it is a very human process. The upside? You’re not being sorted out based on GPA or test score alone. We are looking in depth at school curriculum, grade trends, course choice, performance, as well as who you are, who you want to be, how you impact others, and how you will match with our culture and mission. The downside? We are human. Read: judgment calls, conversations in committee, subjective decisions based on institutional priorities. Not gold, silver or bronze… grey.

Ultimately, if you are choosing to apply to a highly-selective university, you have to submit your application with the mentality of an Olympian. The competition will be stiff and there is no guarantee that you “end up on the podium.” Trust your training. You have prepared well. You have worked hard. Watch the closing ceremonies this weekend. Whether an athlete has a medal around their neck or not, they will walk through that stadium with incredible pride in their accomplishments, as well as confidence and hope for the future. If you are a senior this spring, regardless of admission outcomes, this is how you should be walking the halls each day and ultimately across the stage at graduation. Confidence and hope, my friends. Your future is bright.