The Lies We Tell Ourselves, Part 1. Students.

I run, but I’m not a REAL runner. But I am a competitor. So when someone passes me or is faster than me, I always tell myself that they’re just in the first quarter mile. Conversely, when I pass someone, I convince myself that they’re fresh and barely getting started, while I’m nearing the end of my jog. It’s ridiculous. But we all do this on some level, don’t we? “I’m not gaining weight, this scale is always five pounds too high.” “Going out with friends instead of studying for tomorrow’s final will be fine. I’m really at my best after 2 a.m. anyway.” “This shirt is expensive, but I need to look good and land this  job.” On some level, we know these thoughts aren’t true but they help us justify our actions, they make us feel better, and they provide us a little bit of hope that we love to cling to.

These little lies also happen in college admission, and we’re all guilty- students, college admissions counselors, and parents. Let’s start with students.

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Students:

Lie 1- Applying to multiple schools with extremely low admit rates increases my chances of getting into one of them. Statistically incorrect. If every school you apply to takes one out of every five students (or less), you are entering a complete crap shoot, as we examined in Holistic Admission, The Struggle is Real. Each year I hear from a student or about a student who applied only to Ivy League Schools, and was not admitted to any of them. Or worse, from the student who applied only to one ultra-selective school, only to learn in March they’ve been denied and are left scrambling for options. Maybe you’re too young to have seen the cinematographic masterpiece Dumb and Dumber in which Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carey) asks Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly—also briefly, and I mean briefly, Carey’s wife) the chances of them ending up together. He suggests one in a hundred to which she replies, “I’d say more like one in a million.” Christmas pauses, considers, and then replies exuberantly, “So…you’re telling me there’s a chance… YEAH!” Like I said before… it’s the hope we love to cling to.

If you’ve been tuning out counselors, teachers, or parents who advise you to apply to a “foundation” or “safety” school, it’s time to snap out of it and get one or two more applications in NOW. If you’ve been looking at data in Naviance or from prior years matriculation lists from your high school and see no one with your profile has been admitted to a particular college over the last few years, then I implore you to submit at least one application to a place you could see attending (not only one that will admit you, but likely offer you a scholarship too).

Lie 2- I have to go to X institution if I’m going to have a really successful career. Look at the Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 list of companies and their CEOs. Most come from schools not categorized as highly selective. While this is a purely monetary measure, it demonstrates that you do not have to attend an elite college in order to be highly successful. Similarly, ask any parent or teacher that attended a prestigious school about their experience and their experience now 20-30 years after graduating from college. They’ll inevitably rattle of plenty of examples of classmates who have not “succeeded,”, and an equal or greater number who are not happy, content, or thriving. The college you attend does not dictate your life trajectory. Getting into a school earns you nothing but the right to pay tuition. It’s the work you do once there, the contacts you make, the worldview you gain, and the opportunities you grasp and capitalize on that will have the primary bearing on your future success—however you define that.

Lie 3- The school I get into and attend represents my success and standing. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and this is a very noble trait. In its best form, it leads to people serving in the armed forces or sacrificing their own stat sheet for a team win. But when it comes to college admission, unfortunately, this often goes the other way. Take Eric. Yesterday he was admitted to Stanford. Congratulations, Eric! Only 5% of applicants will be this year. Today Eric proudly threw open the schoolhouse doors with his chest out, his hair flipping, and his chin unnaturally high. The other mere denizens of the school (including his teachers and administrators) were simply thankful to be in his esteemed presence. Eric perused the cafeteria at lunch as he considered whom he should grace with his presence….. Eric had been admitted to Stanford. But he’d also become a complete jerk. Don’t be like Eric.

Tomorrow we’ll hear the lies college admission officers tell.

A (Fox) Worthy Approach to Admission

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When asked to name some of the greatest minds in history, many would respond with Plato, DaVinci, Descartes, or Tesla. Certainly there would be controversy in assembling such a list, and ordering would be nearly impossible.. However, when it comes to establishing a clear front runner today, it’s much easier than looking back through history. Clearly, one man would rise to the top… Jeff Foxworthy (and you were worried this was going to be an idle diatribe about college rankings!).

I am confident we can all attest Foxworthy’s portfolio is impressive and wide-reaching, from The American Bible Challenge to Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader to the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. What launched such success, brilliance, range and influence? Well, certainly his education at Georgia Tech did not hurt, but ultimately it was his astute ability to help others with effective, actionable self-realization. Foxworthy utilized extensive qualitative research to develop what is known in modern psychology as You might be a redneck. His approach was simple—systematically use “if – then” prompts to suggest indicators of this condition and help listeners self-diagnose.: If your family tree does not branch, then you might be a redneck. Valid and noted, sir.

I think many parents can use Jeff Foxworthy’s approach to take a pulse on how they’re doing. Ultimately, this litmus test comes down to pronouns.

  • If you’ve recently said, “We are taking the SAT next weekend” then you might be overly involved.
  • If you said to a friend in the bleachers last week, “Our first choice is Columbia” then you might be overly involved.
  • If, as your daughter was leaving for school the other day, you said, “Let’s ace that Calculus exam!” then you might be overly involved.

Shift from Parent to Partner

Listen, I get it. We’ve already established that “people love their kids” so your desire to help and see them thrive is absolutely commendable. But this spring is the right time to make an intentional shift from parent to partner. We talk a lot about this concept in our orientation and first-year programs. Stepping back (not away), changing pronouns, and providing opportunities to make practical, diurnal decisions before heading to college is critical.

If you have a high school senior, they are going to be on a campus somewhere in a few short months (grab some Kleenex, but keep reading). And once there, your student will face options and opportunities each day that you’ll never know about. Bolster your confidence in them now by stepping back and empowering them as they navigate this spring. If you have a junior or underclassmen, you can set a pattern now for your support and direction and control of the college admission process.

Going for a college visit soon? Let them find the hotel and make dinner reservations. Talk through the budget, the details on logistics, and what they’re wanting out of the trip beyond seeing the school.

Son was deferred by a college? He should be the one to reach out to his admission counselor or to verify that all necessary transcripts or supplements have been received.

Laundry/Credit Card bills? Who is taking care of those things? And who will during freshman year in college? Or who will when they’re 24? The time to provide opportunities to become more independent and more aware of limitations is now—while you are there to answer questions and give guidance.

I’m no Jeff Foxworthy but I am hoping you’ll take these prompts to heart, watch your pronouns, and seize the opportunity to start making that frightening yet crucial shift from parent to partner today.

 

 

When Should Families Start Talking About Paying for College?

Financial aid deadlines at colleges across the nation typically arrive in mid-February. When should your family start the conversation about paying for college? Is it better to have the cost conversation early on, or wait until a student has been accepted to his or her dream college?

Holistic Admission – The Struggle is Real (Part 3 of 3)

The Do’s and Don’ts of Holistic Admission

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I know it’s unsettling to read or hear that in holistic review there is little to no certainty. And I realize that uncertainty is one reason anxiety surrounding college admission exists. I don’t have the remedy for eradicating all stress but I do have some tips:

As you work on your applications, or as you research schools to apply to, you should be thinking about what differentiates one school from another in ethos and mission. While they may all have websites with happy smiling students under trees with professors or sunny days and brick buildings, there are fundamental differences. At Tech you will see a good deal of reference to our motto of “Progress and Service.” We are looking for evidence within a student’s background that is in line with this concept. A student who exhibits and embodies these characteristics, while potentially 40 points less on a section of the SAT or .2 lower in GPA than another student or the normal profile is more compelling since data will show those numbers have no predictive difference in determining college academic success. What does a school discuss online or in their print materials? Is your background or goals in alignment? How can you highlight or tailor your writing, course choice, experience to bolster your candidacy?

Tell your full story. Or as one of my colleagues says, “I want to see that they’re hungry (typically not hard for high school students).” Translation: do not let your numbers or stats deter you or leave you complacent. Every year we hear from students or parents after being deferred or denied asking why. Here’s a common lead into that query: “Didn’t you see I have a 35 ACT?” or “Don’t you know our school is the best in the state?” or “But I took more AP courses than your average…” As we unpack the process and the particular application, however, we often find there were many activities or anecdotes the student could have included but did not because they felt their academics would be sufficient. When a student at or below profile applies they know they have to do a great job on every part of the application and put their best effort in as a result. Students above profile applying to schools with low admit rates have to ignore the ranges or averages and do the exact same thing.

Don’t bother with “Chance Me” conversations online or in person and skip to the next item.

Be sure your essays and short answer questions broaden our understanding of who you are—not simply what you’ve done. We can pick up your accomplishments from your transcripts or extracurricular record. We want to hear your voice and deepen our understanding of “why and how” you would thrive on our campus or contribute to the dynamics. More on essays here.

Keep admission decisions in perspective. These are not value judgments or character decisions. Your future, value, and worth is not hinged to what a school decides in admission. So please do not blur those lines. The existence of a holistic admission process means by nature that highly qualified, supremely talented students will not be offered admission. If you choose to apply to a school that utilizes a holistic process, you are also stating that you are willing to accept an admission decision without an “admission explanation” you can fully understand, especially through the filter of numbers alone.

Holistic Admission – The Struggle is Real (Part 2 of 3)

Formula vs… well, no Formula

If you are applying to Georgia Tech or schools with a similar or lower admit rate, you are being reviewed under a holistic admission process. Many of you have heard this term before but what does it really mean? Essentially, there are two types of admission review. The first is a formulaic process, which is what I described yesterday. Most less-selective schools utilize this process, and for many public schools in Georgia it is called a “Freshman Index.” You can literally plug in a GPA, test scores, and sometimes (though often not) factors for rigor of courses to determine admission. The upside here is that when you apply to a school like this you basically know your decision before you even apply. I always equate it to running track. There is a hurdle set at a certain height and you either clear it or crash into it. Formulaic admission is clean, clear, black and white, and pretty simple.

The easiest way to explain a holistic file review process (other than the video link I included above) is to say it’s exactly the opposite. It’s very much gray, and it’s not clean or clear or easy to predict. All of the certainty you get in a formulaic admission process essentially goes out the window with holistic review.

Tangent (Skip this section if you don’t want to join me on a personal diatribe)

And that’s why the whole “Chance me” thread from College Confidential is basically pointless. College Confidential is an online forum where students discuss the admission process, pose questions to other commenters, and share their experiences with particular schools. There are some helpful threads on subjects and occasional experts who provide facilitation of topical discussion. But largely, at least at this time of year, there are long exchanges between students and parents that have come to be known as “chance me.” In these threads parents, I mean students… well, let’s call a spade a spade, parents pretending to be students, post stats such as GPA, test scores, extracurricular involvement, essay topics, and other demographic descriptors. Then other forum members provide their thoughts, speculation, and odds of that person being admitted to a particular school. In reading those strings, I am reminded of the quote “most advice is sound- but it’s rarely sound advice.”

And, We’re Back

Nearly 600 of our denied students had either a 35-36 ACT or 1500-1600 SAT (CR+M). The vast majority of students who were denied or deferred have taken AP Calculus or higher and are in the top 10% of their class and taking the toughest curriculum in that context. In other words, numbers are by no means the whole story. Holistic admission is going to look at every single element of an application and weigh that overall file in comparison not only with the applicant pool, but also with institutional priorities. This is where you start to hear words like “fit” and “match.” Ultimately, colleges are attempting to enroll classes that are in line with the goals of the institution.

Competitive vs. Compelling

In admission committee, we often see notes or hear verbal summaries that include this distinction. A student may be extremely strong from a pure academic standpoint but fails to truly distinguish him or herself when it comes to evidence of fit or match overall. Here’s how this plays out: two schools have essentially the same academic profile but are worlds apart when it comes to the type of student that excels in that environment, or who will add value to their campus culture. Take Brown University and Cal Tech as examples. When you read their websites, hear their admission representatives speak, or walk around their campuses, you know there is a fundamental dichotomy. However, the academic profile of the two is not disparate. A student who applies to these two institution may have completely different admission results based not on numbers but rather on personal attributes or background, and how that either complements or fails to add distinct value to the rest of the student population or overall mission.

Tune in tomorrow for the final post in this 3-part series… my tips on how to handle the uncertainty of a holistic admission process.