Indivisible

Where is your other sock? How is it possible to only have one?” I said incredulously to my 7-year-old. “I’m going to start waking you up at 5 a.m.” It was 7:45 a.m. Her backpack was half-zipped, she was not wearing a jacket in 40-degree weather, and the snack I packed for her expedition to the zoo was sitting on the counter as she approached the door. Other thoughts also flew through my head, such as “you have one job; I hope you’re wearing underwear; only 11 more years; I’ll brush her hair and teeth tomorrow.” What can I say? This is next level parenting.

Like watching a movie on fast forward we drove, parked, ran across the park and into the school (embarrassingly, I was 20 yards ahead as if it’s my name on the roll). We get to the classroom at 8:00:45 a.m. and the announcements are rolling. My daughter was nervous to go in at this point, so we crossed the threshold of the door as the Pledge of Allegiance started.

A few other things also happened to me this week. I won’t get into the details on workout classes or meetings or books or movies or trips—you’ve heard about those things before. But this week two things in particular stand out:

  • A staff member announced she’s leaving our team. Granted, this has happened before. In my time at Georgia Tech, I’d put the number of colleagues who have left around 60, but some hurt worse than others. Jade is a Tech alumna. She started working for us right after graduation and over the last four years she’s been absolutely incredible with everything we’ve asked her to handle (and that’s been a lot). She’s a spitfire. I’ve walked into my office to find her sitting there eating lunch asking me, “Can I help you?” Funny, smart, caring—she’s beautiful in every way. I love her. Even though she’s staying in Atlanta, it won’t be the same not seeing her every day and I am going to deeply miss her smile, wit, perspective, and infectious personality. 
  • We’ve been making lots of admission decisions. This Saturday, March 10, we will release approximately 21,000 admission decisions. Over the last few months, and particularly the last few weeks, our staff has spent a lot of time together. In our process applications are reviewed by two team members before moving into Committee. At this stage, groups of three or pairs are going back over applications with various recommended decisions to re-examine individual decisions and ensure we meet our class goals. Admitting one of every four applicants is tough. Thousands of incredible students with great stories who we simply cannot admit. Fun? No, it’s not. Every day we have debates and disagreements in our office about a student, a school, a state, a major, our process, our communication and recruitment strategy, if only local honey has allergy countering effects, or if the correct spelling is “grey” or “gray.”

Back at my daughter’s school, I put my hand over my heart to join in the pledge and we come to the word indivisible. It struck me. It stuck with me after I hugged my daughter and walked back (much more slowly) across the park. It stuck with me on the train, on my walk, all day after, and even as I’m writing now. Indivisible.  I thought about the public finger-pointing, vitriol on social media, drama of the nightly news, bickering and blaming, dearth of humility, and the prevalence and proliferation of fear in our world today. Division seems to be far more the norm and trend these days.

And then I thought about you- as high school students. I thought about the lessons you teach us through your applications. We have the honor of reading incredible stories every year—the essays, emails, and life stories we see, hear, and read challenge us and inspire us. I’m so thankful for my job because seeing the talent, passion, and perseverance you demonstrate through your applications gives me hope.

Indivisible 

The truth is we teach you very little in the admission process. You visit. You apply. You receive a decision. You ultimately come or don’t come. So today I hope to return the favor, even to the smallest extent.

Look Back. Go Back.  

If you are a senior, I know you are excited about next year—and you should be. My guess is you are talking about “moving on” or “our last” this or that a good bit these days. That’s awesome. But remember for your parents, teachers, counselors, and coaches every time you say one of these things, or even when you just walk into the room, they feel conflicted. Sure, some have better poker faces than others. Outwardly, you will get a lot of smiles, hugs, high-fives, and congratulations and best wishes. But when you are not looking they close their eyes, take a deep breath, and remind themselves it’s going to be okay. Even if you are the third of three (some would argue especially if that’s the case) to go to college, they still feel this way. Just because they’re the adult, or they’ve been through it before, or they are the ones who have been encouraging you to do this all along, your absence will leave a hole.

We have a Facebook page for current and former staff members. When we go to conferences we make an effort to have at least one Tech dinner of current and former team members. Honestly, very little gives me as much joy as to see and hear from our former admission staff. Once family, always family.  So before you walk out of the room, before you leave school this spring, before you close the door, look back. Walk back in one more time to say thanks. Tell them you love them. Tell them something specific about how they’ve helped you. And when you think of them next year as you’re eating in the dining hall or leaving an exam or heading to a game, send them a text or email, make a quick call. Once family, always family. Indivisible.

100%

As I said, our staff disagrees constantly. If you could listen to conversations in committee you’d hear different perspectives on a student’s match for Tech or what the ultimate decision should be. In review, if counselors have opposing opinions they’ll make a note of their disagreement and send the application on for further review. I always admire that, despite not always seeing eye-to-eye in review, they go eat together, go for walks together, and spend time together socially as well.

Last week, our Senior Associate Director and I looked over all recommended decisions and projections for the class. In order to meet class goals (size, geographic distribution, etc.) we asked our team to re-visit many of their previous recommendations. Did they love our directive? Nope. Did they have legitimate questions about timing and rationale? Absolutely. But ultimately they understood the big picture and what has to be done to meet our goals. Within your family, on your team, and in your job, club, and community I hope you’ll both speak up for what you believe is right and experience progress that can emanate from confidence and also from compromise.

As you graduate and move on, I encourage you to look for opportunities to improve things by finding middle ground– and always trying to see the bigger picture, particularly when others around you are taking a myopic view.  Indivisible does not mean 100% agreement in the short term, but rather 100% commitment to ultimate unity. Listen, consider, revisit, and seek out multiple opinions. A holistic admission process is actually a great example of how this can done well, and unfortunately, there are precious few cases of this right now in our society.

What the College Experience Creates

People will tell you college is the best time of your life. Perhaps it’s partly because of what the college experience creates: a diverse community that comes to campus from a wide variety of counties, states, and nations. A group of strangers with varying religious, ethnic, political, and philosophical backgrounds who have the opportunity to live together, eat together, exchange ideas and beliefs in class and in residence halls all week, and then cheer for the same teams at night or on the weekend. One banner, one campus, one motto. Win or lose… Indivisible.

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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.

Love… and Admission

I’m not usually too big on celebrating February 14, to be honest with you. I have nothing against chocolate or flowers or cards, but there’s something about this fabricated, highly marketed, contrived “holiday” that feels forced, disingenuous, and insincere. Ironically, Valentine’s Day is everything love is not supposed to be.

But you didn’t come here to listen to my love advice, right? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what you are going to get this week, because guess what–love and college admission have a lot in common. In hopes of setting the mood, our staff, some of their kids and spouses, as well as a few Georgia Tech students put this Valentine’s Playlist together for your listening pleasure. I’m guessing that, like me, you have not heard of some of these. I even question if a couple are actually love songs at all. But these are folks I love and trust–eclectic but thoughtful. If you think about it, your college considerations and visits should be this way too. Just because you have not heard of a song (university), don’t discount it. Just because it’s not your normal genre, region, type does not mean you won’t find a new favorite– with both songs and schools.

1- You Have Lots of Options.  If you are a junior or sophomore you are starting to get some appreciation for this right now thanks to all of those glossy, shiny brochures and letters showing up in the mail. Think about it. They are putting their best foot forward: sunny days; beautiful, sweeping shots of their grand, manicured grounds; picturesque moments under captivating trees as the sun fades warmly in the distance. What are they actually saying? “We think you are great. Come check us out. We’d love you to move in for four or five years.”  Love letters, my friends.

2- Love Yourself First. I never said it wouldn’t get cheesy, but there is enough room on the heart-shaped cracker for some truth too. If you are going to find the right romantic match–and the right college match–you have to look within first. Who are you? How do you best learn? How far away from home will you feel comfortable? What type of people bring out your best? How much can you, and should you, pay for this opportunity? (Parallel may break down a little on that last one). Anyone who has been married more than a few years–and certainly anyone who has been married more than once–will say you have to love yourself, know yourself, and understand yourself before you can possibly love another person. College is no different. You can’t answer “Where you are going to college?” until you first answer “Why are you going?” Same is true for dating. Maybe you should take yourself out for V-Day tonight or later this week. Don’t go to a movie. Don’t go somewhere you know a lot of people. How about a slow, quiet stroll? We all probably spend too little time alone anyway. Don’t get in so much of a hurry with dating or college that you forget to listen to your own dreams, needs, hopes, and goals.

3- Be Realistic. I’m sure you are thinking, “First the cheese and now the dream dies.” Bear with me. Here’s the thing: some people like to flirt—and colleges will too. Your heart may flutter when you get some very flattering letters from schools. You could see pictures of the suitor standing by her Gothic castle, or in some far away land wearing a shirt with an inspiring seal on it compelling you to write a love letter back (aka an application). I’m not trying to kill the romance, but I am urging you to keep one foot on the ground. You want to take a shot at the supermodel? For the low price of $75 and another essay, you can. Time, love, and money are always connected. ALWAYS. I’m just saying if your SAT and GPA are in the school’s bottom quartile (or if both are in their top quartile but the admit rate is less than 20% a year) you better send a few love letters to equally interesting places which do not show up on the cover of every publication in the nation.

4- Say What? Love, and by extension admission, can be confusing. Sometimes you need a friend to translate what a potential boyfriend/girlfriend/ suitor is saying. I’m here for you. “Maybe” (also known as defer or waitlist) does not mean “No.” Keep your head up, man. She just said “hold on.” Of course your feelings are hurt—you wanted an outright “Yes.” Does it sting? Sure. But shake it off and keep the big picture in mind. You professed your love on your application. You said four years together (followed by a lifetime of donation solicitations) sounded magical. Now they want your fall grades and a quick statement about why you are still interested, and you have your arms folded, nose scrunched and back turned. Love hurts. (Apparently, “Admission Hurts” ended up on the cutting room floor.)

If someone else said “Yes” and you are fired up about that relationship, great. You found your match! Awesome. But don’t let your ego get in the way of seeing this through because of a maybe. You won’t learn anything about yourself, or love for that matter, by quitting.

5- No Happens. Denied, rejected, and turned down. Harsh words, for sure. But you can’t view them as anything more than re-directions. The same is true of failed dates, break-ups, or declined promposals. Re-directions. New opportunities are coming. Better days are ahead. Need to cry? Fine. Need to scream out the window at high speeds? Buckle up and watch for mailboxes, but okay. Burn the hoodie, rip off the bumper sticker, shred the poster. You do you. But then get your head up so you can get excited about the other options you have. And don’t look back. A: You shouldn’t give them the satisfaction, B: You owe it to yourself and the one you end up with to be all in.

6- Right for them does not equal right for you. So there was this girl in college… Short story is she was pretty, smart, funny, athletic, and generally a good person. Lots of guys wanted to date her. She had guys buying her meals, walking her home, and constantly asking her out.  She had guys sitting in on classes they weren’t even enrolled in to try to talk to her. Uhhh…well, that’s what I heard anyway. In the end, who did she like? My roommate. And his response? “Not interested. I don’t see it.” I never said he was smart. Just said I knew him. But here’s the point– it’s easy to believe a college is right for you or is a place you should apply or attend because a bunch of your friends, family, and classmates are into it. Have the confidence to make your own decisions.

I realize six points is random but I’m going to stop there because getting into parallels about double depositing or transferring seem dicey. At the end of the day, my best love and college advice is follow your heart and choose wisely. Have a great Valentine’s Day. I hope at least one of our songs brings you a smile or a new artist to follow.

Want to read more on love… and admission? My good friend and colleague, Brennan Barnard, also wrote on this topic earlier this week. Check out his take. 

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Change Your Filter

Last week, a friend I grew up with sent me an article ranking Decatur the #1 Place to Live in Georgia with a note: “Come a long way, brother.”

I hear that. When I grew up in Decatur, it was… fine. Great place to get your car fixed, some good burger options, and the standard churches, recreation centers, schools, and city services of most places.

My street was divided– half the houses were in the city limits of Decatur, and half were in the county (DeKalb).  As kids, we did not think much of it other than the city sign made good target practice for an array of launched objects. Adults agreed (not about the sign, but about the six to one, half-dozen the other idea of perceived quality).

When I went to college in North Carolina nobody heard of Decatur, so I would simply say I grew up a few miles east of downtown Atlanta.

Destination: Decatur

Today is a different story. The standard three bedroom, two bath houses that once filled Decatur are largely gone. It is tough to find anything coming on the market for less than $500,000 and new construction can approach seven figures. People petition for annexation and move to town just for the schools and quality of life.

Several of the old gas stations have been converted to gastropubs or boutiques with vintage garage doors. Some of the guys working at these establishments have beards that are just as impressive and hats just as dirty as the guys back in the day, but instead of an oil change and tire rotation, they’re charging $30 for tray of fries (frites, actually) with assorted dipping sauces.

During and after college, when friends would come to visit, we never chose to go out in Decatur. Virginia Highlands, Midtown, and Buckhead had the lion’s share of good dining, shopping, entertainment, and nightlife options. Now when friends visit there is no reason to leave this two-mile radius. And typically they’ve already read a review of a local restaurant, microbrew, or other shop they want to check out.

The bottom line: things have changed dramatically. You cannot apply the same filter you did 20 years ago–or even five years, for that matter. Decatur is a destination now. The schools are highly desirable, the shops and restaurants are well-regarded, and the demand for housing is at an all-time high. Even the city sign is nicer.

Destination: College

If you graduated from college before 2000, the changes in college reputation, brand, selectivity, and culture can be equally dramatic.  So if you are a parent just starting to screen and review college literature in the mail, or if you are planning your first college tour for this spring, here are a few quick takes:

“Number 1 Place to Live”

“The University of X? Where the kids from our school went if they could not get into…?”

“If you drove slowly down Main Street with your window open, they’d throw a diploma in.”

“On Tuesdays people were already tailgating for Saturday’s game.”

Yeah, yeah. I know. I’m telling you, Decatur was a little sketchy. Even as a kid, I remember looking askance at the lollipops the bank was handing out. The University of X? Yep. Because that college town is getting written up in major national magazines as a great place for food, family, culture; they have invested heavily in student support and programs; they had students win international competitions for research and prestigious scholarships and fellowships. Change your filter. X may be the absolute perfect match for your daughter, so don’t dilute her excitement or willingness to consider it with your outdated stereotypes.

“Gas stations turn into gastropubs.”

“He has a 1460. He’ll get in for sure.”

“They gave me a summer provisional admit offer and I was able to stay if I did well.”

“I wrote a two-word essay: “Go” followed by their mascot, which I misspelled, and they still let me in.”

I hear you. 1460 is high. It is impressive and noteworthy and nobody is taking that away from him.  And you are right, 25 years ago there was room for “creative admission” practices at colleges that now admit less than one of every two applicants and carry waitlists well over 1,000 additional students. There was a time when it was all about numbers. Hit a mark, cross a threshold, clear the hurdle. We all appreciate simplicity, and I’m no different. The good news is many colleges are still operating the same way. But check your filter before you make any assumptions. If anywhere in the school’s literature, website, or presentation they use the word “holistic,” 1460 is now part of a sentence and a conversation, rather than an integral part of an equation.  And your two-word essay still makes a good story, but they are reading closely now and will expect true introspection and reflection.

“$30 frites”

Note: First, can we just call them fries please? I appreciate you use a locally-sourced, all-natural, gluten-free, highly-curated, necessarily hyphenated, multi-syllabic adjective laced oil for them, but they’re still fries. I will take an extra dipping sauce though.

“Tuition was less than $1000 per quarter.”

“I paid my next semester’s bill with the money I saved from my internship.”

“I was able to pay off all of my student loans within five years of graduating.”

The truth is you have as much of a chance buying a new house in Decatur for $200 as $200,000 in today’s market. And as you begin to research college costs, you’ll likely have some eye-popping, heart-stopping, head-shaking (hyphens, they’re infectious) moments. Don’t let tuition or overall cost of attendance keep you from visiting a school or encouraging your son or daughter to apply if they’ve determined it is a good match academically, geographically, and culturally.  Do check out their published Net Price Calculator and start reading up on reliable sources about the school’s financial aid packages and program.

“My Hometown” (cue Bruce Springsteen)

“I have been buying football tickets for the last twenty years.”

“There should be spots held for families who have multiple generation connections.”

“Don’t y’all care at all about preserving tradition? We’ve been bringing our kids there since they were in diapers.”

You loved your college experience. You love your kids. You see them both enjoying and benefiting from going to your alma mater, and you see a shared college experience/alma mater as another connection in your relationship. Valid, and reasonable. I don’t hate you for it.

But one of the biggest tragedies I see is the reaction of alumni whose kids do not get in because they view it as a personal affront against their family. I implore you–commit to not letting this be your story. University of Washington, Washington University, George Washington, Mary Washington, Washington and Lee? Maybe you went to a school named after another president, or a state, or direction. Whatever. Wanting your son or daughter to go to your alma mater is not wrong. But it’s also not guaranteed. And the decision certainly won’t be connected to how many games you or your family have attended over the years. In fact, fewer and fewer schools consider legacy in their admission process.

Start with the assumption they will not get in or they will not choose to go there even if they do. Then ask yourself what other schools are solid academically, affordable, and are helping students achieve their goals. You need to fall in love with your son or daughter’s choices (not the breaking curfew ones or even the dating ones necessarily, but the college choices). All of them. Even if it was your alma mater’s biggest rival. Eighteen years > four years. You love your kids. Now fall in love with their other college choices.

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The Rules They Keep On a-Changin’

I travel a lot. I don’t have TSA Pre or Clear or Global Entry or Jedi mind powers, or any special clearance allowing me to bypass some of the issues I’m about to describe. I’ve had friends literally scoff in my face, and others, including close relatives, utter statements like, “What the @x>~?!” (Valid question, mom.) What can I say? I like being with the people. Maybe I don’t want to pay the fee. And frankly I simply haven’t taken the time to fill out the application and bring my passport to the airport to go through the process. If you know anything from reading this blog it’s that I’ve got some issues.

Atlanta Airport Security: “Remove your belt, shoes, and everything from your pockets, and place them in the bin. Laptops need to be in their own bin.” As I begin undressing in front of my fellow travelers, I hear, “Sir, sir. You do not need to take your iPad out of your bag.” With belt in mouth and one shoe off, I’m simultaneously hopping and fumbling to put my iPad back in my backpack. The TSA officer rolls her eyes. It’s shift change and I hear her replacement say something slightly more R-rated than “Same stuff. Different day.” They both look at me askance with an expression which can only be interpreted as, “Idiot.” And, truthfully, as I’m holding my pants up and chugging water from the bottle I forgot I had in my bag, it’s hard to disagree with them.

But not that hard, really.

Washington D.C. Security: “You do not need to remove your belt, sir. Please keep your belt on.” Eye roll, eye roll. Is this person the Atlanta officer’s cousin? Because I’ve definitely seen that expression recently. I re-buckle and remove my laptop. “Do you have an iPad also, sir?” Yes, I reply. “Well, you need to put it in the bin too.” I comply. “Not in the same bin as your laptop.” Oh. Ok.

“And shoes need to be placed on the belt directly.” 

This command confuses me. I slowly move my shoes toward my mid-section, “I thought you said I didn’t need to take off my belt,” I replied.

“The belt!” And he points at the conveyor belt leading into the security scan. I may not be hopping around like I was in Atlanta, but I still get the “Idiot” glance again. No shift change this time but he has really mastered the look, so it is equally condemning.

In Tampa they insisted I take off my hat. In New York they scolded me for getting out of line to put my hat in the bin. The Vermont officer was clear that you ALWAYS have to take food out of your bag. Umm…. I beg to differ, my friend, because your comrade in Houston was singing a different tune. Of course, it does no good to get into a debate about it. So I pull out the pretzels and Kind bar from my bag. Oh, crap. I realize as I pull them out one was half-opened. Crumbs, crumpling of wrappers. I know its coming and then, yep, there’s that look again.

As you can see, I cannot explain why security measures vary from one city to the next—and sometimes the same city from one week to the next. It’s confusing. It’s frustrating. It’s moderately disconcerting. Why can’t they all be the same? And if they’re all different, how am I supposed to know the rules?

What the @x>~?!  

The rules they keep on a-changin.’ And if you are junior just starting your college search experience, you probably feel the same way.

At one campus, you’re told how critical teacher recommendations are and all test scores must be officially sent from the testing agency. Two hours south and a quick stop at Wendy’s later you’re informed, “We are test score optional. So we don’t need the score report I see in your hand, but you will need to have an on-campus interview.” Got it. Bathroom break, drool-laden nap against the passenger seat window, two state boarders crossed, espresso shot: “Our College deeply values demonstrated interest. And please don’t send us rec letters, because we are not going to read them.”

And on it goes: We are exclusively Coalition App… We don’t accept the Common Application, but rather have our own school specific app…. We have Early Action, so it’s not binding…. We have Restrictive EA, which means, well, it’s restrictive… We don’t have ED1 but we do have EA and ED2, so consult your doctor if you experience any side effects in the application process…. We’re really thinking about implementing ED 2.1 next year or just skipping right to The X. It is confusing. Undoubtedly part of the anxiety and stress of applying to college arises because it’s not a uniform process from one place to another.

Admission is not Airport Security.  

I can see how the differences may be confusing and potentially frustrating, but unlike TSA, it’s logical for colleges to have different processes and requirements…BECAUSE they’re different. I realize it’s not always clear from our brochures, websites, and emails that are misleadingly and often embarrassingly similar, but it is true. We value and prioritize different things, and ultimately each school is trying to create a distinct class and community.

Over 1000 schools across our nation have determined their best match students do not need to send test scores because they can demonstrate their talents and ability to succeed on campus through different elements of an application. Georgetown University requires interviews, and many colleges highly recommend you interview with an admission representative or an alum. These places are setting aside significant time to get to know you, to let you ask your questions, and sometimes (through alumni interviews) to see a bigger part of their community and network.

Inside Tip: View the requirements of a school as an indicator of their culture. Allow those front facing webpages to lead you to ask questions and do your homework—to dig. I wanted so badly to ask the guy in Miami why I can’t put my business cards in my shoe, or why the laptop and iPad can’t share the same bin. Of course I didn’t ask for fear of ending up in some back room answering questions about that run in with the cops on Halloween of my junior year in high school. But you should ask questions when it comes to college admission. In doing so, you’ll quickly learn the school asking you to write four essays on their application is doing so because their students write a lot in class. Don’t like completing the application? Well… four years somewhere else might be a better choice. Hate interviews or personal exchanges in general? Universities requiring or recommending interviews typically deeply value classroom discussion, debate, and dialogue as a cornerstone of their curriculum and pedagogy. It’s what makes them distinct—not just in the application but in the student experience too.

Advance information. Technically, TSA has a Security Screening site but it does not provide helpful information about expectations upon arrival. This is my favorite line: “…you may notice changes in our procedures from time to time.” Yeah, I have. In contrast, colleges go to great lengths on websites, in publications and in presentations to lay out exactly what they are asking for from applicants. I wrote this on an empty stomach and decided to go with the cheese theme to pick three schools and find their requirements: Colby College, University of Wisconsin, and American University (I got all three links in less than three minutes with a total of 11 clicks).

Inside Tip: Create a spreadsheet with your college choices. Initially include basic information you can build on: school name, admission website, admission contact info, application deadlines, financial aid deadlines, requirements. You may find additional columns or sub-headings to add to this base. Once you apply, each school will give you a way to track your submitted documents, but as you’re searching for schools, and before you apply, a spreadsheet is a great way to keep up with colleges’ nuances.

Bonus: Be sure to add the admission email address to your safe-sender list, and adjust your Junk, Promotions, Updates and other folder settings throughout the process. “I didn’t get that the email” or its cousin “I didn’t see the email” are not going to be valid excuses for missing deadlines or not sending critical information (yes, we’ve seen this happen).

Double Bonus: Kudos if you got the hat-tip to Bob Dylan in the title. His song remains relevant today and even applicable in the admission experience. More on that next week.

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