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Time to Level Up

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

When you think about stressful experiences, taking a test in front of a crowd probably ranks pretty high on the list. Last year Rick shared a story about his son’s Taekwondo belt test. My 6-year old daughter has been in Taekwondo for a few months now and is getting ready for her third belt test. Now that we’ve been through a couple of tests we know what to expect… but that wasn’t initially the case.

Her first test to move from a white belt (beginner) to a yellow belt (slightly more advanced) was a nerve-racking experience for her—as well as for me as a parent. She had no idea what to expect, and candidly neither did I.

The white belts and yellow belts tested together in the same room. Clearly the instructors know what they’re doing, because the yellow belts were tested first, giving the white belts a chance to watch and get an idea of what’s going on. When their time came, all the white belts stood in a group, and 12-15 kids were tested on their basic form, kicking motion, and board breaking simultaneously. Meanwhile a crowd of parents (and newly minted orange belts) watched.

Focus… Concentration…

Everything went according to plan until the board breaking portion. Older students (or junior instructors) each paired up with younger students to hold their boards for breaking. The kids got ready as the Master led the chant: “Focus…. Concentration… kyah!” A series of boards around the room shattered… except for one.

One boy did not break his board. The rest of the students celebrated with smiles on their faces and sat down in their spots. The Master continued the chant for the boy: “Focus… concentration….” The boy tried again. And again. And again. At least six tries went by before he quietly whispered to the junior instructor “can you crack the board for me a little?” She whispered back, “no, but I know you can do it.” Every eye in the room was on this kid, and I started to feel uncomfortable to the point I felt bad for watching, so I intentionally averted my eyes to look out the window. When I glanced back, the board suddenly cracked and the room erupted in cheers. He sat down with a smile, belt testing continued, and each student received their yellow belt.

On the drive home we talked about the experience. My daughter asked, “Why did you cheer for him? You don’t know who he is…” An understandable question for a 6-year old involved in a sport for the first time. I replied, “We cheered because that was tough. Everyone was watching as he failed over and over again. It would’ve been easy for him to quit—but he didn’t. He kept going, even with people watching, and that takes courage. And when you see someone have courage like that it’s worth cheering for.”

Belt Tests and Graduations

Belt tests and graduations have some things in common. As you work up to the big event, you go to class, you practice, you study, and you prepare. You work for the goal, and lots of people—some you know, many of whom you don’t—show up to watch and cheer.

As a high school senior on the cusp of graduation, here are three takeaways to keep in mind as you finish out your year.

You don’t know someone else’s story. In our case we saw the boy struggle to break his board and, after many tries, ultimately achieve success. But most of the time in life that’s not the case. Now that May 1 has passed, you’ll see peers recognized for acceptances, scholarships, and other achievements. It’s easy to look at another person’s end result and think about how lucky they are. But behind that “luck” is a lot of hard work, time invested, and sacrifice. You may not see the number of times they failed. You may not know the physical or emotional challenges they overcame to achieve their goal. Cheer them on, and remember…

Someone else’s win isn’t your loss. This is the time to celebrate! You did it! You’ve worked hard for years to graduate from high school. You may have a friend who got into their (or your) dream school and you didn’t. You may still be sitting on someone’s waitlist. Of course that stings. But remember, you’ve gotten accepted (and hopefully have deposited!) to a great place too. And guess what? There are people at that school making plans right now to welcome you to campus next fall, and they want to make your first year an amazing experience. So enjoy these last few weeks of high school and summer with your friends. Then…

Get Ready to Level Up. After my daughter got her yellow belt, we celebrated and told her how proud we were to see her work for a goal and achieve it. Then we reminded her: it will get harder from here. Each level you go up in life, things become more challenging. More is expected of you—if you want to succeed you have to continue to work hard. It’s the same for you as you head to college. You’re moving up a level. More will be expected of you—not only in the classroom, but also in life. No longer will your family be there to make sure you get places on time, to feed you healthy meals, to do your laundry, or give you a curfew to make sure you’re in bed at a decent hour to sleep. These life choices are now up to you.  You can take your new-found freedom and run wild—or you can make the best choices for you as you take the next step into adulthood. Life won’t be as easy as it has been—but as you already know, nothing rewarding comes easily.

Make time for work, but also make time for fun. Your moment of truth is here, Class of 2018. Celebrate each other and get ready for your next adventure. After all, life moves pretty fast—if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

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The Countdown Is On…

I found myself in a cemetery this week contemplating the brevity of life. I know, I know, but stick with me here. Before I went to Buenos Aires, three people told me I had to check out Recoleta Cemetery. It did not disappoint. The engravings, inscriptions, and mausoleums were truly magnificent. And after an all-night flight it turned out to be a fabulous place to relax, people watch, ruminate, and most importantly attempt to escape the preoccupation with admission deposits that typically begins in March and gradually escalates as we approach the National Deposit Deadline of May 1. I often try to take a trip in late April because, as an admission director, you are basically useless to anyone around this time. At work you are checking deposit reports obsessively. At home with family, at the park, or out with friends, “the numbers” are constantly scrolling through your head.

During April, before brewing coffee or picking up a toothbrush or checking the weather, Deans, Directors, and VPs around the country are waking up each day and immediately looking at deposit reports or dashboards on their phones and iPads. “Are we up from last year? Oh man, I hope not too far up or housing is going to kill me!” “Are we down in students from abroad? Is it too early to go to our waitlist?” Scroll down the report: “We are still short four states. Come on, Wyoming!” “Are you sleeping with your phone?” Wait… that’s not my voice. Rolling over: “Yes, sweetheart. Gotta check the numbers.” (She always tells me with a mixture of concern and confusion that I make too much of an effort to think like a 17 year old, and I know the whole sleeping with the phone thing only adds ammo to her growing arsenal.)

Now the Tables Are Turned

We made you wait for months on an admission decision, and now the tables are turned. Joke’s on us. I’ve been reading back over my own advice on waiting and have officially confirmed… waiting truly sucks! It’s a maddening time for directors and other leaders because we are asked daily by parents, deans, our president, board members, and counselors, “How’s it looking?” Even the guy on the train platform asked me that the other day. I almost started delving into an explication of yield, and then I realized he was asking me for an opinion on his outfit.

While we try to speak with some confidence about the historical trends and predictive models, in the back of your mind you also know that a few percentage point variance up or down on yield can literally change everything. And with a week to go…a weekend to go… a Sunday still before May 1… that is an eternity, because like applications, the final few days are the linchpin.

I’m not looking for sympathy. Yes, I’ve read that sleeping with your phone is not optimal for rest. Yes, I know that obsessively looking at the numbers (by the way, three deposits came in while I was writing the paragraphs above) is not going to change the final result. But I share this because the experience of the deans and directors around the country is relevant to you.

If you are admitted but not deposited:

Still weighing your choices? First, I’m guessing you are down to two options. Second, I’m guessing the consternation surrounds the fact that they’re both great. I distinctly remember sitting on the curb outside my house in late April trying to make a final college decision my senior year. It’s a big one because you are officially closing a door. I get it. This is the first of many times you’ll experience these types of choices with relationships, jobs, grad school, moving to a new city or state or country. The truth—there is no right answer. The school you pick is going to be great because your job, starting today and going through this summer, is to fully commit. Yes, it’s unpaid. But like so many unpaid jobs the returns are incalculable. So no looking back once you put that deposit down. Join the Class Facebook page, donate or trade the shirts from your other schools, cancel your application at the other place, and start planning for orientation.

One more thing… May 1 means that night! You know what I was saying about lots of deposits coming in over the final few days? If you do not deposit by 11:59 p.m. on May 1 and a school comes in the morning of May 2 way over their targets, you know what they’re doing? Yep–shutting it down. They could even set the system to close on May 2 at 12:01 a.m. (we have done this before). In those years there are no excuses. No exceptions. We gave you weeks or months to deposit. Deadline means DEADline.

By the way, inevitably there will be a few calls on April 30 asking if the deadline is midnight that day or May 1 at midnight– followed often by “which time zone?” C’mon people–don’t be that person!

If you are waitlisted:

Because there is so much movement in numbers in the final week, it is rare that schools will begin to pull from their waitlists before May 1. If they do, they either intentionally under admitted (a tactic typically employed to reduce admit rate and impact rankings/prestige), or they truly are having an unexpected and significant drop in yield.

I’m just going to say it in case nobody else has: the likelihood is you are not getting off the waitlist. For a variety of reasons schools carry big waitlists. We’ve discussed how they’re used in terms of shaping a class rather than being assigned a number. You need to deposit elsewhere now. And get excited about it.  I understand you’re in a tough spot—there is still a chance. Sure, someone has to come off the waitlist, if they go to it. However, when you look at the percentages, “the odds may not be ever in your favor.”

But you know what? Some other school has admitted you. I’m guessing some of you have a sweet financial package or scholarship or perhaps a spot in an honors program. And that is pretty amazing! Rewind to the fall when you first applied. If you had known then that at this point you would have a solid offer, a financially affordable option, and an opportunity to take advantage of all that place offers you in terms of academics, network, and campus environment, you would feel great about it. Well, that’s your job. Same speech as above: Facebook page, t-shirts, orientation.

The Winged Hourglass

Sitting in the cemetery I saw a very common engraving–the winged hourglass. This symbol is typically associated with the brevity of life. It’s a reminder that we don’t control the number of days we have– but we can use those wings to fly with the opportunities this life provides.  So I’m heading into May with that excitement and mentality. Are you with me?

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What’s Now?

“Let’s get a FastPass for Everest, run to Pandora, and then we can be to Epcot by noon.”

“If we alternate getting lunch while the others stand in line, we’ll only have a 30 minute wait each.”

I happened to see this on a wall the day I was writing this blog post. What’s Now is a real thing.

These were just a couple of the “suggestions” I heard during our day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom last week. I’ve previously confessed to eavesdropping, but this time was different. These were not even conversations but rather commands called out over shoulders from 10 yards ahead as one family member looked manically at the Disney App and the others ralked behind (part run/part walk). You know, ralking—that  awkward gait where you attempt to keep more than two family members together in a crowded space that won’t allow a complete run, and  either hip alignment, lack of practice, or perhaps pride prohibits all out power walking.

Then of course there is the next level of determination and commitment, which I experienced first-hand. Without glancing back, a man yelled, “Can you hold it for the next 30 minutes? We gotta get to that side of the park NOW!” No response. I looked behind me and was pretty sure I saw his family a few yards back– all with large refillable Disney cups. This was not going to end well. Then, at a slightly louder volume, “Well…can you?!”  He finally slowed slightly, looked back expecting to see his family and instead…me. Confused and irritated he furrowed his eyebrows and quickly shook his head as if he had smelled something noxious. I’ll admit I wanted to nod my head courageously and say, “Yeah, I think so.” Instead, I just raised my shoulders, tilted my head slightly to the right and simultaneously squinted my left eye as if to say, “Probably not.”

What’s Now?

On some level, thinking about what’s next is all very understandable. There’s nothing wrong with trying to maximize life. Looking ahead is natural and having a plan is important. Organized, strategic, ambitious people accomplish amazing things, and if you’re reading this I’m guessing you have a lot of that in you. But there will always be a next.

I call this frontwards photobomb.

At 17 it’s college; at 27 it’s a relationship or a job; at 37 next is a vacation or a house; at 47 and 57…. As you can see, somehow now becomes far more elusive.

Sometimes the plan, which is all in theory, needs to take a back seat to the tangible present—to the moment of now, where you can stop and reflect. While the next things are important, the ability to be mindful of the value of the things in the now is what builds and preserves relationships, brings smiles, makes memories, and allows you to remember exactly why (or if) the next thing is so important.

Don’t Wish Away Now for Next

As a senior in high school, especially in the spring, it’s easy to be completely focused on “What’s Next?” You are looking ahead to AP or IB exams; trying to figure out if you can get a job and fit in some trips this summer; or thinking about graduation. And, of course, the question of “Where are you going to college next year?” has not gone away.

If you are admitted to your dream school: You are fully committed— shirt purchased, bumper sticker on, the whole nine yards. The final weeks of school are simply an albatross and a nuisance. Tests, classes, and requirements are just a long line standing in your way to the ultimate ride.

If you are maddeningly debating between your college options: You have pro-conned this thing to death. You bought an eight ball. You asked Siri. You’ve flipped coins. You’ve got Venn diagrams including geography, size, major, and ROI. What’s next? is the only question consuming your mind.

If you are on a waitlist: First, on behalf of admission directors, VPs and deans everywhere, I am sorry. Really. In a perfect world there would be no waitlists. In a perfect world we’d all walk right up to Flight of Passage with a FastPass and enjoy the ride. Waiting can be frustrating in general, and The Waitlist Sucks in particular. The “what if’s” of both the past and the future are driving you crazy. You just want answers!

I’m asking you not to wish these final weeks of high school away. Do not let them be about just surviving or making it through. Days turn to weeks turn to months turn to years, and it happens fast, my friends. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”

Listen.  You don’t owe me anything, but regardless of your current college plans I’m still going to ask you a favor. Take some time today to pause. Take a moment longer at breakfast or lunch and breathe. Go for a walk and look around. Consider and appreciate this moment in your life. For just a bit, forget about what’s next. Think about the people who helped get you to now, or those around you who are hurting right now, or those you know who need to be celebrated or encouraged now.

Tell your friends you are really going to miss them next year no matter where you all end up. Go back and visit the coach or teacher who inspired you or encouraged you in the ninth grade and would love to hear about where you are now. Hug your mom. Then walk out and come back in and do it again.

All of these folks are going to sorely miss you. While they love hearing you talk about what’s next and they’re legitimately excited for you, it also hurts. It’s the epitome of bittersweet. Share a few precious what’s now moments with them this week.

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That’s Not How It Works (#TNHIW)

Eat all your broccoli. “I did. That entire piece.” Mmm… That’s not how it works. Every single piece on your plate.

You collected all the trash, right? “Yep. It’s all downstairs now.” But, son, it needs to actually go to the street. “Well, I…” That’s not how it works.

Did you wash your body and hair? “Well, the shampoo ran down my body, so…” Uh-uh. That’s not how it works.

Innocent misinterpretations, wishful thinking, or legitimate manipulation? It’s debatable. I’m sure you can think of illustrations in your own family, on your team, in your neighborhood, or at school reflecting similar disconnects and the distance between one person’s interpretation and another’s expectation or reality. I’m sure any professional can also describe common questions or myths in their niche.

To your accountant: “Well, no. I don’t have a receipt for that, but I bet we can call them and they’ll vouch for me.” Um… no. That’s not how it works.

To the city water clerk: “I’m not paying that bill. We had a leak in our pipe and the toilet runs incessantly, but it’s not like we really used the water.” Cocked head, one eye squinted. Lips pursed.

College admission has many of these situations. This time of year there are a few #TNHIW for you to be aware of:

The Waitlist

“I have decided not to come to Georgia Tech, and I have a friend on the waitlist. I’d like to give her my spot.” It’s a kind idea. Not only should you be proud of getting in, but also for thinking of your friend. But no, that’s not how it works. Throughout the month of April you’ll find there’s very little waitlist activity (with a few exceptions). Why? Because other schools are still making admission offers, financial aid packages are being released (and compared), and admitted students are coming to visit campus to compare options. Most admitted students wait until the last two weeks of April to commit to a college and pay a deposit (while colleges would love for you to commit earlier, take as much time as you need before May 1). So schools have to wait and see how their class forms.

In the end colleges use their waitlist to shape their class. For example, Georgia Tech is comprised of 60% Georgia residents and 40% from outside of Georgia. If we do not have enough students deposit from our state, we will make offers to round out that part of our class. The same could be said of any demographic, including major, gender, or another nuance a school is trying to grow. This is why colleges typically tell you that they don’t rank their waitlist. We’re not trying to be cagey—we’re being honest. If we hit our target for students from abroad on May 1, we might offer 500 spots from the waitlist but none to international students.  If you’re on a school’s waitlist, hopefully this gives some perspective. More here.

If “Someone” told you that you could just show up to a tour without a reservation, definitely bring an email confirmation or number in case they aren’t working that day.

Visiting Campus (particularly in March/April)

“Yes, I saw online you were full today but I thought if I showed up…” “We booked tickets two months ago and now we are here. You have to work us in…” “Do you really think I would come here without a reservation?” “No. I don’t have a confirmation number. But this is the only day that works for us and I talked to someone who said…” At this time of year, thousands (truly, thousands) of students and families visit campus each week. Between spring breaks, admitted student programs, and improving weather, it makes sense.

Look, I’d love to show up at an Atlanta United match without a ticket and have them “work it out” for me too, but you’ve already got people sitting on each other’s laps so that does not seem like a good plan. A big smile and desire isn’t going to change that I don’t have a ticket.  Does not mean they’re not nice. Does not mean they’re not flattered by the interest. That’s just not how it works.

Now, don’t mishear me. If you check online and a school is full for visits, you can still go in the hopes they have some no-shows or a extra tour guide shows up. But be ready to improvise. Ask the front desk for a self-guided tour map, go eat on campus, and listen to students as they talk. Check out the buildings where your major is and ask students walking by some questions. Shy? Bring a Frisbee and a dog and see if that helps break the ice. Just promise me that you won’t show up and give some poor student or junior staffer at the front desk a hard time because what you already saw online days ago is now reality.

Appealing an admission decision

“My son is amazing! Didn’t you see his test scores? And we know someone who got in who is not as good. How do we appeal?” Well… first, it’s very nice to talk to you ma’am. Not being admitted to a school that you really want to attend stings. There is just no easy way to say it. And at most selective schools, denied and waitlisted students can easily make a case for

Basic tip for visiting campus and life in general…

why they would be great students on campus. However, applications have been read multiple times in a holistic process and ultimately are made in line with achieving institutional priorities. I see how you could read that as the party line but it’s actually just confidence in our decisions.

A couple of things to know here: first, we want to talk to the applicant in these cases. Not someone who does a good voice imitation of the student, and not someone who really loves the student. Honestly, our first thought when we speak to a parent or connected alum about an appeals is, “does the student really want to come?” If so, it seems like they’d be the one to pick up the phone, send the email, or complete the appeal form.

Second, we explain on our website what makes a valid appeal. It varies from school to school, so check their information. Our reasons for a valid appeal normally include medical information, significant life circumstances, or academic details that were not correct on the transcript initially. We also list some of the invalid reasons for appeal. You’ll notice among others that pictures as an infant on campus, a really strong desire to come, or “it’s the only school I applied to” don’t fall into the valid category. #TNHIW

I could go on about how score ranges don’t guarantee admission or how we don’t have quotas of admits by school, or how the recruited athlete didn’t really take your spot, or the fact that deadline really means deadline, or how remnant shampoo doesn’t really wash your body, but I think we’re on the same page now, right? Got some other admission or life examples? We’d love to see them on Twitter @gtadmission using #TNHIW.

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Two Sides of the Same Story

This Saturday we will release admission decisions. On Friday, we will gather our entire staff in a room we affectionately call the “collaboratory” or the “collaborodome”—a  big space including about 12 work stations, a few white boards, a flat screen, and more forms of chocolate than you find in most grocery stores.

First, we will walk through the number and percentage of students in each admission decision category, as well as their basic academic and geographic profile, the timeline for pushing the decision into our portal, and the email communications to follow. These are the numbers and the mechanics. But where we will spend most of our time is encouraging and preparing our staff for what’s to come.

Great work, tough decisions, many responsibilities.

We will thank staff for their great work to get us to this point. 18,000 applications reviewed (many having been read two or three times) in less than 12 weeks (that’s 18,000 essays and 18,000 short answer responses, people), not including review with faculty from all six colleges. By all counts it’s a huge challenge and a phenomenal accomplishment. In the midst of reviewing applications, we’ll acknowledge how our staff also spent time hosting families on a daily basis and traveled to high schools to talk to students and families about Tech specifically and the admission experience broadly. We will applaud the sacrifice of time away from family; the toughness to push through fatigue and illness; and the commitment they’ve demonstrated to get us here. Working in college admission is not an easy job—and we try to drive this point home. Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect. And chocolate for everyone!

Not everyone agrees.

Once we have laid all of the accolades on pretty darn thick, we will discuss how tough the decisions really are. There are many difficult choices in order to select the best match students from thousands of incredibly talented applicants. Even in our own committee discussions we have disagreements. So, especially for the staff members who have not been in our office for many years, we prepare them to hear from many students, friends, parents, counselors, principals, neighbors, loving aunts, alumni, and even seemingly unconnected observers who will not agree with our decisions. If, conservatively, you assume every applicant has four people “in their corner,” you’re talking nearly 100,000 people this Saturday who are impacted by these decisions. Expect to receive emails and calls questioning and commenting on almost every element of our process. “Didn’t you see how high her test scores are?” “You clearly have no idea how hard our high school is.” “I thought you had a holistic review. There is nothing else he could have done outside the classroom.” And within minutes you will receive contradictory accusations. “I know you only took her because she’s a legacy.” Followed by “Apparently, you could care less we are a third-generation Tech family.” “And why didn’t you fold the laundry?” (Wait…. That was a text from my wife.) Bottom line: there will be a lot of people poking holes, second guessing, and generally frustrated about things not going the way they think they should have gone.

Miles to go before we sleep.

In many ways putting these decisions on the proverbial streets is only the beginning of our work. As soon as we admit students, the hard work of convincing them to come begins. Known as “yield season” in our world, it’s a time filled with calling campaigns, open house programs, and even more travel. Not to mention another 18,000 regular decision applications to review by early March. Tight timeframes… lots of work to be done. Keep the coffee pot full, re-stock the Emergen-C, and keep your head up. We got this.

A Commonality

As I was making my notes on what to say to staff on Friday, I could not help but notice that as an applicant, all of these things can be said for you too. Most of you will receive some combination of admission decisions from different schools this year. When they roll in, regardless of the outcome (admitted, deferred, denied, waitlisted) keep these three things in mind:

Great work, tough decisions, many responsibilities.

You have juggled a lot to get here: classwork, practice, job, family. It has taken sacrifice, commitment, desire, and a willingness to trade some comfort and ease for a more difficult path. If you are admitted, great. Kudos. Well done. You took the classes, made the grades, put in the work and deserve to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing your efforts get rewarded. Keep your celebration classy, my friends. Act like you’ve been there before. If you are not admitted, nothing has changed. An admission decision does not invalidate the character you’ve displayed or knowledge you’ve gained. Hey. Hey! Do you hear me? Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect. Some other school is going to send you chocolate soon (metaphorically speaking, of course) and it will taste doubly sweet when they do. Trust me.

Not everyone agrees.

I’m sorry to tell you this, but you may actually have to be the adult in this situation, even in your disappointment. I’ve seen many grown people absolutely lose their minds over admissions decisions: rants, cursing, threats, accusations, pulled donations, thrown objects, broken friendships. I’ve NEVER seen this kind of behavior from a student (well, maybe a few curses, but basically warranted). You may get in somewhere only to have a friend’s parent assert it is “just because ___________.” Just because of… gender, major, your parents’ jobs, one of your feet is slightly longer than the other, or you’re left-handed. You may not get in and have your own parent cite one or all of these same reasons. Bottom line: there will be a lot of poking holes, second guessing, and general frustration around things not going the way others think they should have gone, and when it does, remember most of it stems from a place of love. It may not feel like it at the time, but love is the root of the behavior. Two pieces of advice: 1 – read the poem “if” by Rudyard Kipling soon. 2 – Hug them. If you keep your composure, maintain your confidence, focus on the big picture, and express love in the moment, there’s nothing you can’t handle (actually a rough paraphrase of “if”).

Miles to go before we sleep.

I understand how in January it feels like getting in is what it’s all about. But the truth is some of the toughest work is still ahead of you. The likelihood is you’re going to get in several places. You still need to compare those options, visit campus, receive and evaluate financial aid packages. Oh—and not to mention next week’s Calculus exam and the paper you still need to write.

Miles to go, my friends. But that’s the adventure, isn’t it? Enjoy every step!

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