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The Magic is in You (part 1 of 2)

The alarm went off early in a pitch black hotel room. We didn’t shower, and we barely brushed our teeth before piling into the elevator to head downstairs. We grabbed some fruit, bagels, a bottle or two of juice, and anything else that was easy to eat on the go. Then, it was on to a quick shuttle to the Transportation Hub where we caught the monorail over to the gates of the Magic Kingdom.

We were ready. We had a plan. We’d loaded up our backpacks with food, clothes, and everything else we could possibly need the night before, and 10 minutes before the gate opened, we were at the ticket booth. You see, FastPasses to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are incredibly tough to get, and both of our kids were dead set on going on that ride. So in order to avoid the incredibly obnoxious lines that will bring any six- or eight-year old, and most 30- and 40-year olds, to their knees in tears, we had been advised by a Disney guru friend to make a b-line for that roller coaster. No watching the opening show, no lingering on Main Street to see a character, no taking a picture in front of the castle. GO, GO, GO!

“Can I see your tickets?” asked the friendly cast member. I pulled up the Disney App and handed her my phone. “I need to see the bar codes,” she said. “Bar codes?” I asked. “Okay… I’m not sure where those are, but here are the times we’ve reserved to ride certain attractions.” “Yes, but I need to scan your bar codes.” “Hmm….I know I had those in my email before I loaded everything in the app,” I told her. I began searching my email for the tickets. I don’t know about you, but when I most need to find something in my inbox, my search words and terms bring back messages from two years ago rather than the week before. Loading, loading…. “Crap,” I say (after all, we are at Disney).

Tick Tock (Croc)…

Five minutes have gone by now. I abort the email search. My daughter was pulling on my backpack, “Let’s go,” she begs. I look back at the woman in the booth. “The tickets were loaded into the app. Now I can’t seem to find them in email. Isn’t there a way to retrieve them from the app?” I point to the “My Tickets” function, and she holds the phone, peers over her glasses, and says, “I’m just not as familiar with the app.” The sun seems to have gotten much hotter and brighter as another five minutes pass. Finally she calls over another cast member who immediately locates them. “Oh. Yes. They’re right here.” I don’t see what she taps but apparently she’s found digits to input rather than bar codes to scan. There are four of us and the codes are a good 12 digits long. “A.3.5.T…..”

My wife is now looking at me, shaking her head, and showing me the time. 8:05 a.m. Finally, the agent finishes all codes. “And that does it! You’re all set. Have a magical day!” Bag checks, clogged gates, people grabbing strollers and stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to tie shoes and pick up kids… buy an ice cream from a street vendor? Come on people, it’s only 8:10. By the time we got to the Mine Train the wait time showed 45 minutes. We stood for maybe a minute, partly in amazement, partly debating if our kids could handle the wait, and partly figuring out if our daughter really needed to go to the bathroom or not. Then the sign turned to 60 minutes. “Forget it,” I said. “Let’s go ride Barnstormer.” For those of you who don’t know Disney, Goofy’s Barnstormer is a classic, standard roller coaster, meaning it does not have the fancy animatronics or story line of some of the more premier rides.

To make a long story even longer, the other two rides our kids really wanted to ride that day were Space Mountain and Splash Mountain. Splash Mountain never opened due to technical issues. Halfway through the line to Space Mountain it closed “temporarily,” only to remain closed the rest of the day. We re-routed each time. Due to closures we received complimentary FastPasses to Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise, we got front row seats for the parade and later the fireworks, and ultimately, at closing (15 hours…well, technically 14 hours and 50 mins, after entering and 9.2 miles later) we literally carried our kids out of the park.

Our daughter cried about leaving until halfway down Main Street, when she fell asleep on my wife’s shoulder. Sitting on the monorail, I asked my son what his favorite part of the day was. “Barnstormer,” he said without hesitating. “So much fun.”

Barnstormer. Rode it twice and the lines were no more than 30 minutes all day. It’s what you call an “access ride.” It does not have a big name. It does not a have a long waitlist or fancy animatronics. No supply and demand problem. No strategy involved to “get in.” The next day, on the drive home, and ever since, our kids have been dressing like pirates and begging to watch The Curse of the Black Pearl.

“Our fate lives within us. You only have to be brave enough to see it.”

If you are a high school senior who did not have the exact Disney experience you were hoping for in the college admission process, here are a few lessons I learned from our trip:

  1. Don’t blame yourself. If you did not get in to your first choice college, do not spend April (and certainly nothing beyond it) replaying in your mind how things could have gone differently. “If I had just taken one more AP class, or scored a point higher on the ACT, or chosen a different essay topic…” Nope. Move on. You have acceptances in front of you. You have places excited to provide you a great college experience. Maybe it’s not what you had “loaded into your app” a few weeks ago, but now they’re excitedly waving you in. There are plenty of other students going to that school who feel like they just won a bonus FastPass. Get in line with them. Buckle up, commit yourself to the experience, and enjoy the ride.
  2. Don’t blame other people. “If that admission counselor had come to my school and met me… if my counselor’s recommendation letter had mentioned my Eagle Scout award…” “Ifs” will kill you in the admission process– and in life in general. The closed doors, long wait lines, and low admit rates of life are what ultimately guide and steer you down different paths. So rather than looking back over your shoulder at the “mights” or “could have beens,” take full advantage of the options you have been offered. My best friend in high school did not get into Princeton. He was crushed. It was his dream school and he was convinced it was the only place for him. But I’ll never forget the day in April (probably right around this time) when he came in wearing a UVA shirt and a huge smile. “I’m going to Charlottesville!” Get your heart, your energy, and your mind pointed toward something and somewhere rather than staring back at something that is no longer there anyway.
  3. Clear your head. Is all of this starting to sound the same? Well, expect more of it because at this time of year you have big decisions to make. And you need a clear head to do that. The truth is that whether you are into your first choice, denied to all but one, waitlisted at more than you would like to admit, or still trying to talk to the gate agent about why they can’t find your tickets, you are going to be on a college campus this summer or fall. And the truth, and frankly the most important part, is not “where” you go. The infinitely bigger point, and the real long-term impact, is “how” you go, and “who” you are when you go. That’s what you should be focusing on. CLEAR. YOUR. HEAD! Go fully committed. Go excited. Go humble. Go looking forward. Go ready to help those around you make it the best experience for them.

When I finally laid my head down on the pillow again that night, I realized what I hope you will. See, they tell you to “experience the magic” as if it’s in the park, or in the characters, or on the rides, or in the experience. But the real magic, it turns out, is IN you.

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The Waitlist… well….

Freshman admission decisions are out at Tech, and will soon be out at many other schools across the nation (if not already). As we mentioned in last week’s blog, emotions run high during this time of year, and it can be a stressful time for students, families, counselors, and admission staff.

When it comes to dealing with a decision of “waitlist,” there’s only so much to say… and last year Rick covered most of it in our 3-part series, “The Waitlist Sucks.” We hope you’ll check it out and learn more about the waitlist from the college perspective, the student perspective, and tips on what to do next.

The Waitlist Sucks

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Be Cool.

I am not a big fan of having internet access on flights because it is a huge temptation for me to do work in the air. So one of my resolutions for 2017 is  to stop getting Wi-Fi on the plane. Instead, I read, write, listen to a podcast, or, depending on the length of the flight, watch a movie. With young kids and a wife who is the romantic comedy queen, it’s a rare thing to get to watch whatever I want to watch.

Chaos Around You…

Last week I was flying to Virginia and watched 13 Hours. It’s a super violent, super intense movie about an attack in Libya on two US compounds/outposts. The movie starts with a US special ops contractor flying into Benghazi.  Upon leaving the airport they immediately run into a road block and are boxed in by heavily armed and aggressive rebel fighters. It’s heated and confrontational. Guns are drawn and everyone is yelling at them in Arabic. But the two Americans are unflappable. They’ve been in situations like this before. They don’t raise their voices. They don’t panic. They stay calm and reason with the commander of the opposition force in a firm but balanced manner.  Not easy, right? Chaos around you. Lots of voices. Lots of emotions. Lots on the line.

At Georgia Tech, we are going to release Regular Decision notifications in a few days. And over the course of the next month, most schools will also be putting decisions on the streets. So, when you log in to a portal, or receive an email or letter from a school with an admission decision, keep two words in mind: Be Cool.  This is on you, because you can’t count on anyone else. Your parents may lose their minds. Your teachers or principal or neighbors or friends may as well. Again, lots of voices, lots of emotions, lots on the line. Two words: Be cool. Allow me to explain.

If you are admitted…

First of all, congratulations! Celebrate. Buy the t-shirt, go out to dinner, treat yourself to something you’ve been wanting to get, or just go get a double scoop of ice cream. Whatever makes you happy. Celebrate your win. Be proud. But keep in mind two things: 1- That could have easily broken the other way for you, especially if it was a highly selective college (30% admit rate or lower). Not saying you’re not the (wo)man, but holistic admission is unpredictable, as we’ve discussed. 2- Some crazy qualified and talented students did not get in, and they are disappointed and hurting.

What should you do? Act like you’ve been there before. Keep it classy, my friend. It’s okay to post your excitement on social media, but a little humility goes a long way. Big difference between: “Got into Northwestern today. They would have been crazy not to take me” vs. “Accepted to UCLA. Honored to have the chance to go there.”

What should you NOT do? Walk into school and make a big show by pronouncing your victory to the masses.  Not necessary. AND, trust me, definitely not what the school who admitted you would want from you in representing them. (This is also known as the opposite of being cool.)

If you are denied…

Well, honestly, it sucks. And you can be honest about being upset. But keep it all in perspective. Nobody died. Nobody was even physically hurt. Look in the mirror. You’re the same person you were the day before. Same talents, same passions, same goals. Just a different path to get to them. Nothing has changed. Say it with me, “Nothing has changed.” Be Cool.

What should you do? You’ll need to figure out how to work it out. Go for a long bike ride or drive. Burn the hoodie (safely, please). Play some cathartic video games. Build something. Go see a movie, or just cry. By now you know how to take care of yourself in times of disappointment. If you don’t, consider this the first lesson in that very necessary, and all too frequent, life skill.

What should you NOT do? Blame someone else. “If Mr. Pruitt had given me an A in that history class…,” “If my parents hadn’t made us move in sophomore year…,” “If Coach Williams had let me play Varsity as a freshman…” No finger pointing. No regrets or should haves. It’s time to move on. You have other options. Look at this closed door as a way to push you toward the next one. Does that sound cheesy or trite? Sometimes the truth is like that.

If you are waitlisted…

I’ve literally NEVER heard someone say they like to wait. “Hey, what are you doing this weekend?” “I don’t know. Was thinking I may just go wait somewhere.” Nobody loves “maybes.” But if you are waitlisted, that’s what you’re being asked to do. So, again, Be Cool.

What should you do? First, accept your spot on the waitlist. Yes, you have to do that. It may be as simple as completing a form or replying to an email. That is step 1; to read what they send, and do what it says. Secondly, well…wait. Easier said than done. Expect that you are not going to hear either way on admission until after May 1. Some schools, and often the extremely selective, will go to their waitlist in late April, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Most start working the waitlist in early May and it can continue well into the summer. So set your expectations on that timeframe. It’s not going to be late March and likely not mid-April. Grab a snack. Text a friend. You have time here.

What should you NOT do? Stalk the admission office. Showing up unannounced, calling every day, sending more than one letter or postcard… it’s not effective.

Next week I’ll be writing more on the waitlist.  For now, just two words: BE COOL.  You got this.

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LOST in the numbers

First, sorry for the brief blog hiatus. I came down with Bronchitis and have not been able to type more than four words without coughing for a week. I will say if you’re looking for a quick way to drop 10 lbs you may want to look into acquiring this lovely condition, otherwise it pretty much stinks.

Ever seen Lost? It’s ok if you haven’t, because now you at least know what you’re doing this summer, as it’s bar none the greatest TV series of all time. In the show, Hurley (Jorge Garcia) is shown through flashbacks to have won the lottery with the numbers 4.8.15.16.23.42. Over the ensuing weeks, everyone around him suffers horribly bad luck. He then visits a mental asylum where he apparently had resided for a time, to talk to another patient who keeps repeating the same numbers. When Hurley tells him that he used the numbers, Lenny panics and shouts, “The numbers are bad! You gotta get away from them!” The numbers continue to come up throughout the show in meaningful and correlated ways, and at times in random unconnected situations. Intrigued? If not watch the trailer here.

4.8.15.16.23.42. It’s April (4) 8th, 15th, 16th, 23rd….42nd! “Ahhhh!! The numbers are bad! You gotta get away from them!” The proverbial countdown is on as we approach the May 1 National Deposit Deadline. Before coffee, picking up a toothbrush, or checking the weather, Deans, Directors, and VPs around the country are waking up each day and immediately checking deposit reports 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: “How does our SAT average compare to last year?” Scroll down: “Do we have a kid from every state and enough in every major?” “Are you sleeping with your phone?” Wait… that’s not my voice. Roll 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.)

 

4.8.15.16.23.42. So we made you wait for months on an admission decision, and now the tables are turned. Joke is on us. I’ve been reading back over my own advice on waiting and confirmed… it sucks! It’s a maddening time because we are asked daily “how are we looking on numbers?” by our President, Provost, Deans, Boards, housing directors, student reporters, random guys at the gas station… And we try to speak with some confidence knowing that 10 days is an eternity, because like applications, hundreds of deposits will come in over the last day or two, which will change everything. Inevitably there will be many calls on April 30 asking if the deadline is midnight that day or May 1 at midnight– followed often by, “which time zone?” (Don’t be that person!) Not too long ago, when many deposits were mailed in with checks, we asked for a post-marked date of May 1. That was even more frustrating because you had to wait each day on buckets to arrive from campus mail. It was literally all hands on deck with letter openers, sorting trays, and band aids for paper cuts. Good times! I know Deans that used to go straight to the mail house around this time of year because they didn’t want to wait on Fred the mail guy to chat it up in the Chemistry department and hold up delivery.

4.8.15.16.23.42. Ultimately, we need about 2950 deposits. That way when we lose (“melt”) deposits/commitments over the summer, due to schools pulling our deposits from their waitlists, breakups, financial reasons, Visa issuance hold ups, yellow pants just don’t work in the color palette, etc., we end up at our target of 2800 in the class. So on April 8th we had 1481 deposits; on the 15th, we had 1871; on the 16th 1912.  While it scares me to report out of sequence before the 23rd, this a.m. we had 2107 deposits. Hold please. Ok, now 2112.

So that’s what’s up with me. Coughing less, sleeping less, using the word “gotta” more, but hopefully some insight from the college side. One takeaway for those of you on waitlists is this: because there is so much movement in numbers in the final week, it is rare that schools will begin to pull from their waitlists pre- 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 drop in yield this year. So if you’re on a wait list, expect news post- May 1 and be sure you deposit at your second choice school to hold your place.

 

 

 

The Waitlist…yea, you know. Part 3.

Good news, bad news. Good news is my editor just had a baby. That means the filter is off and you’re going to get an even more concentrated dose of transparency. Bad news is my editor just had a baby. That means the clean sections, readability, and schedule of these blog entries is going to take a hit. Bonus good news: this beautiful new baby just became part of a loving, amazing family.

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I coach little kids soccer. My goal (no pun intended) when the kids were three and four years old was to keep them all on the field, heading the right direction, and not crying uncontrollably. If you could achieve the trifecta in one game, it wasn’t just a win– it was like a championship run! Now most of those kids are seven or eight. We have progressed to periodic passing, trapping, and calling for passes, etc. But beyond the fundamentals we also focus a lot on sportsmanship/exhibiting class. You knock a kid down, you help him up; you lose a game, you still line up with your head up and earnestly say “good game.” The other day after a game I saw two kids pushing each other a little bit. These were not my players. Still, I couldn’t help myself. I walked over, and just as I got in earshot, I heard one of them say, “Oh, yea. What are you going to do about it?!” Now the kid really had me pissed because not only was he being a jerk, but he used one of the lamest lines of all time. Come on, man!

For the last two weeks we’ve bemoaned the waitlist. We’re on a three step process to healing.

  • Step 1: Acknowledge.
  • Step 2: Yell it a little louder.
  • Step 3: What are you going to do (and not do) about it?!

1- Do your part. At most schools the waitlist offer is just that– an option. Check what they sent you or what they put on their website. Typically, you need to take action of some kind to accept or claim your spot. So do that (Or don’t. That’s also your choice. You can absolutely cancel your application, and you should, if you’ve decided to go elsewhere.)  If you do claim your spot, be sure you do anything additional that they instruct. Is there a supplementary short answer question to respond to? Do they want you to send another recommendation letter or schedule an interview? Each school will handle this differently, so read your letter, email, or online collateral carefully.

2- Don’t get crazy. We’ve had students send a painted shoe with a message on the bottom reading: “just trying to get my foot in the door.” Cute? Well, I remember it. But it was ultimately ineffective. We’ve had lots of chocolates, cookies, and other goods sent along with poems or notes. I can’t speak for all admission offices, but there is no way I’m eating any of that, even if it’s been shrink wrapped, vacuum packed and appears to be delivered straight from the vendor. Call that paranoid or callous if you will. I’ll find my own dessert.

3- Do reach out to your admission counselor. (Unless they specifically tell you not to.) Check out our waitlist website here. We’ve been told that it’s terse. Perhaps. But it’s pretty darn clear, right? We’d rather be accused of being brief and directive than vague and verbose (put that in your SAT pipe and smoke it.) If you have met or corresponded with someone from the admission office, perhaps when they visited your high school, or while you were on their campus, send them an email. Let them know you claimed your spot on the waitlist, completed the school’s stipulated form, essay, etc. You are indicating continued interest in attending. Remember in Waitlist, Part 1 when we talked about the university’s perspective? If they miss their class and need to go to the wait list, they want to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is your wink and nod that you would accept an offer if made. Now let me be clear– I’m not tell you to reach out every day. This is a one and done proposition. One year I received a letter, email or call every day in April from a student wanting to “demonstrate interest.” There is a distinct line between demonstrating interest and stalking… and it she leapt over it with both feet.

4- Do deposit elsewhere. The university that has offered you a spot on their waitlist should be instructing  you to take this step, but I cannot reinforce that enough. Because most schools won’t have a firm sense of deposits until late April, the majority of waitlist activity occurs in May and June. Since May 1 is the National Deposit Deadline, you need to go ahead and put money down before that point to secure your spot in a class. I understand and sympathize with this position. I know you don’t want to forfeit money, as these deposits are typically non-refundable. And I know that from an emotional and mental standpoint this is a challenge. So I’ll just conclude where I began– with a sincere apology that waitlists exist at all. They suck!

5- Do wait well. Last time I said I did not have a tip for you on this. Well, that’s because I knew I’d need a fifth bullet point in this blog. Here’s my advice. After you’ve claimed your spot and deposited elsewhere, take some time to write down a few things you are looking forward to in college. In doing so, you’re focusing on “why” you are going to college, and de-emphasizing the “where.” (Keep that list and re-visit it next year at holiday break and after freshman year.) This April I want you relish your senior year. Enjoy spring break, go to prom, take the opportunity to thank a few teachers or read something outside of school that you’re genuinely interested in. When talk about college comes up, whether that be with family or friends, steer the conversation away from where and towards what you want to study, experience, learn, and accomplish.

I distinctly remember being in your spot in April of my senior year. People seemed so sure of themselves. It appeared they knew exactly who they were going to live with, which fraternity they were going to pledge, and what football games they would be going to in the fall. Let me tell you something: Life does not change in that regard. Other people always seem like they have it all together. Life looks easy for them (especially if you believe their social media account). But we all have our challenges, our doubts, and our insecurities. If you have the confidence to embrace uncertainty, and can be open to and excited about the adventure of not knowing, you will not only navigate the next few weeks well, you’re going to live a rich and content life.

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