Not so Fast

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Strategy and Enrollment Planning, Matt McLendon, joins us on the blog. Welcome, Matt!

One of my favorite puzzles comes from the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by economist Daniel Kahneman. The riddle is deceptively simple: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The answer? Five cents. Despite many years of reading that problem, my intuition always says 10 cents. (Curious? View an explanation of the answer here.) Kahneman’s argument is we have two mental systems in place. One system thinks quickly and makes snap judgements, while the other requires effort and strains our mental capacity. It turns out, the intuitive or fast answer is often wrong. To arrive at the correct response requires us to slow down and use reasoning, not intuition alone.

A Ball Park Figure

Photo credit: https://www.ballparksofbaseball.com/

The baseball riddle occurred to me during a chat with Director of Admission, Rick Clark, on how much of the news about college admission focuses on a tiny subsection of the overall number of colleges. In particular, the universities with a large number of applications and exceedingly low admit rates receive a lot of press. This attention leads to “fast thinking” errors among many students and families, leading people to believe the best choice is the most selective, and not getting into one of those schools spells disaster for the future.

Recently more has been written about the challenges this belief brings to the college admission process.  This article by Jeff Selingo written a few years ago and Frank Bruni’s book Where You Go is Not Who You Will Be are two examples.

Despite their data, anecdotes, and logic, I can hear the argument from those saying, “That’s all well and good, but I still want to go to one of those institutions.” To which I say if that is where you want to go, then I hope you do. However, I also urge you to consider Kahneman’s baseball example and take the time to “think slowly” and realize there are many more options than may first appear. Doing this requires extra thinking, setting aside biases, and really considering your interests and goals, as you contemplate where to attend college.

Throwing a Curve Ball

Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education created a chart showing institutions with an admit rate greater than 50% who also boasted high first to second year retention rates. Many of these schools you have heard of before—and some may surprise you. All around the country, numerous colleges and universities are taking steps to improve student outcomes. The Chronicle list was a good reminder that many colleges in our nation do an excellent job helping students succeed—not just a select few.

After reviewing that information, I wanted to look at the data in a slightly different way. I conducted a quick analysis using a subset of IPEDS data comparing admit rates to graduation rates for four-year degree granting institutions in the United States.

As you will see in the descriptive chart below, colleges and universities with less than or equal to 20% admit rates have remarkable graduation rates. Do you notice something else? There’s not that many of them! In my selected data set, just over 40 colleges and universities fit those criteria.

 

This second chart below, however, tells another story. There are well over 400 schools with admit rates over 50% and a graduation rate at or above the national average of 60% (NCES, 2017).

Many of these of the colleges and universities in this second group are doing good work to help their students graduate. However, much of what is in the media and within social circles is dedicated to those schools in the first set.

What does this mean for you? To return to our baseball bat and ball problem from before, I encourage some extra thinking with your college choices.  You may be a fan of a particular school since kindergarten, but what about the schools you’ve dismissed? Are you writing them off based on fast or slow thinking? Do a few of them deserve a second look? Don’t forget the incredible number of colleges you have to consider, visit, or apply.

Step Up to the Plate

Here are a few things to consider as you approach the college admission, and selection, process.

  1. Start with your why. Why do you want to go to college? A great post on this topic from a few years back talks in more detail. We also have a great tool in our college planning guide. Both these will re-frame your thinking on what you look to get out of going to college, not just where you’ll go.
  2. Dive into the data. There are many effective tools that are easy to use and can benefit you, the largest of which is the College Scorecard. This tool allows you to compare multiple institutions and draws from the data colleges and universities are required to report. Compare a few metrics such as retention, student debt, and employment. Do any surprise you?
  3. Set aside biases. Are you overlooking a particular school based on a hunch? Check out a few that are outside of what you think may be for you. Remember all those brochures you received in the mail you tossed in the recycle bin? Pull out a random sample of five and read them. Even if you don’t apply, you may find some information that helps you clarify why you like the universities you do.
  4. Read widely. I’ve given a few examples already, but also look into what professionals are saying. I know your time is limited, but there is a substantial amount of information out there on college admission. An excellent place to start is the admission professional association NACAC. While a good deal is for professionals in the industry, there is a lot you can gather from what the practitioners are saying.

My hope is that you will approach your college admission experience the way baseball players approach the game they love—prepare, study, work hard, but when the lights come on and the game starts— play your game and enjoy!

References:

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Success Isn’t Guaranteed—Try Anyway

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, joins us on the blog. Chaffee has administered prestigious scholarship programs for the past 20 years, and is also a past president of the Undergraduate Scholars Program Administrators Association. Welcome, Chaffee!

Let’s start by admitting that not everyone’s experience growing up in the United States is the same. Rural, urban, and suburban life looks different, and there are certainly other differences when considering family background and other factors. Having acknowledged that, I think it’s fair to say the people of Generation X (to which I belong) grew up with a great deal more freedom to explore the world around them as children than today’s kids and youth. By late elementary school I could explore the neighborhoods around me a mile in any direction.

Talk to my Baby Boomer parents and they’ll tell you that not only were they given even more freedom, but also asked to work harder at an earlier stage of life. My father mowed lawns, drove a tractor, roofed houses, and used hatchets as early as fourth grade. Compare these experiences with today, where I know thriving middle schoolers who aren’t allowed to walk 500 yards to the nearest corner with a traffic light because of concerns about safety.

I don’t share these views to judge parents or children today. After all, today’s world is bigger, especially online. Taking more safety precautions is necessary. Yet coinciding with these observations is a feeling that several colleagues and I share—a feeling supported by frequent recurring experiences. High school and college students today do not experience failure because 1) they’ve been shielded from them when they occur or 2) are steered away from undertaking opportunities that might result in anything but clear success.

Take the Opportunity to Fail

Although versions of this topic have been trending the past few years (and even before that in some circles), I want to provide insight which I hope is new. I want to talk about why students should put themselves in circumstances where success is not guaranteed. When you look at it as an opportunity for success as well as failure, the intention and aim become different. Simply looking for opportunities to fail can be a hollow exercise, but earnestly pursuing a goal that may or may not be reached is an opportunity for a win-win experience, regardless of the final outcome.

I had a student ask me to write a recommendation for them for the Truman Scholarship, a nationally competitive and prestigious scholarship for public service leadership. Some regard it as having the most rigorous application of any of the major national and international graduate scholarships. As you can imagine, the percentage of people awarded from among applicants is quite small. Despite the odds not being in anyone’s favor, the student elected to try. By clarifying purpose, thinking about future goals, losing sleep, and sacrificing comfort all in hopes of a slim chance to leverage the scholarship toward making the world a better place, this student gained tremendous personal insight. This kind of personal insight only comes through testing oneself, working hard, and reaching for something most likely out of reach. Did it yield a scholarship? No.

Undaunted, the student went on to apply for the Marshall and Mitchell scholarships as well. Again, hard work and sacrifice led to self-awareness, goals clarification, personal insight … but no scholarship. Yet on the horizon was the famous Fulbright Fellowship for graduate study in another country, which my student ended up receiving.

Seems like three losses and a win, right? I count it as four wins. Each attempt helped my student to grow. Each attempt taught lessons in perseverance, grit, and humility. Even if my student had not won the Fulbright, it wouldn’t change my mind. Four wins, zero losses. I believe that if you asked my student, the response would be the same. The win was in trying to reach for the stars and the growth that resulted.

Pursue Possibility

I’ve been fortunate over the past seven years to travel with my students on outdoor leadership expeditions in some beautiful – and physically challenging – environments around the country and the world. These trips are led by experts in Georgia Tech’s outdoor recreation department. Scholarship programs around the nation often encourage or require their scholars to participate in these types of adventures with similar organizations. There is no defined “win,” only an expectation that you’ll make it from the start to the end, persevering through trying circumstances. Blisters, aching muscles, exhaustion, cold or heat, insects, cuts and scrapes. They are all there. Getting through means relying on your own inner strength and your team.

For a very few, these trips are easy (at least at first). For most others, they will mess up the cooking, go slower than the team, or otherwise “not be great.” Yet when they talk about these trips days, months, and even years later, many speak of how the difficult circumstances on the hike resulted in the ability to handle the rigors of college life better than they would have done otherwise.

One of my favorite illustrations of the points I’ve been making comes from the movie, Meet the Fockers. In it, Jack Byrnes, played by Robert De Niro, notices his son-in-law, Greg Focker, played by Ben Stiller, has a 9th place ribbon displayed at his parent’s house. Not second or third … but ninth. I love that Focker’s parents encouraged him to participate in something that he clearly did not win (and they probably knew he wasn’t going to, either). No matter what the outcome, Greg had to come to terms with the fact that he did not experience success, at least not by traditional measures. Did he learn something from competing, from trying, from watching eight others do better than he did? The movie doesn’t go into this, but I suspect he did.

If you’ve seen the rest of the movie, you know that Greg messes up a good bit, but in the end, how he handles these failures and keeps picking himself up amplifies his fiancé’s love for him and earns him the respect of his future in-laws. All that said, in real life I wish his “award” for competing wasn’t a ribbon but a pat on the back from his parents. Because part of the lesson in trying is not everyone gets a trophy nor deserves one.

If I were to outline a lesson from all this, it would be to challenge everyone to pursue possibilities where the chances for a win are moderate to slim. The challenge must be measured though. The more talented or well-trained an individual, the more they should pursue even more difficult experiences. Whether one is in high school, college, or well beyond, remember that we grow by reaching skywards, not by standing still.

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The Discipline of College Admission

Listen to the audio version here.

If you are not one for imposed holidays, you’re in the right place. Last Valentine’s Day, I wrote about how love and admission have a lot in common. This V-week we are going full contrarian and talking about school discipline.

Most applications ask students to report discipline/behavior history, including suspension, expulsion, and arrests. In acceptance letters colleges discuss both the need to keep your grades up, as well as your responsibility to inform them if you have some form of school or community discipline incident after you’ve been admitted.

I’ve had several questions about this topic on college panels recently, so this is my attempt to address those and provide broader insight. As always, I’m writing generally and do not claim to speak on behalf of all colleges. If, after reading this, you have specific questions, call or contact the particular school you are interested in (don’t worry–you won’t be the first to disguise your voice or indicate you are “asking for a friend”).

The short answer: schools use the same individualized, holistic process for reviewing a student’s discipline history that they do for reviewing academic or extra-curricular background.

Here’s the long answer.

Context. Typically, the first question admission counselors ask when they open an application is “where does this student live and go to school?” The goal is to understand who you are, where you are from, and what your family, academic, social, and community background looks like. Admission counselors are charged with gaining perspective on your high school setting and experience in order to understand both the options available to you and the choices you made, both inside and outside the classroom.

Moved three times in high school? Had a two-hour commute each day? Saw mom and dad go through an ugly divorce? Suffered a concussion or another illness that caused a prolonged absence? In college application review, context matters. Context is critical. Therefore context is always considered.

The same is true of our review of your disciplinary background. I once read the application of a student who was arrested for being in a dumpster behind his school. Why? Because his mother was working a double shift and had not left him a key to their apartment, so he was looking for warmth and shelter. Another student was arrested for being in a dumpster after spray painting the school with graffiti and slurs (the dumpster was simply where the police found him and his friends hiding). As you can see, context matters—and context will always be considered.

Timing. In their academic review, many colleges separate a student’s 9th grade GPA from their 10th-12th grade academic performance. This does not mean grades in Geography or Geometry in freshman year don’t matter, but rather indicates we recognize they’re not as predictive of academic success in college as grades in higher level courses (this is also why committees look at grade trends in a holistic review process).

Timing is also one of the factors admission counselors consider when reviewing a student’s discipline record. No, we don’t love your sophomore year suspension, but if there are not additional infractions, we are likely to exercise grace, consider it an isolated incident, and trust you learned a valuable lesson. The bottom line: holistic review = human review. Admission deans, directors, counselors may look polished or established now, but we’ve all made plenty of mistakes (I likely up the overall average). It is important you know we bring our ability to make judgment calls into our review of transcripts, test scores, family background, non-academic impact, and yes, disciplinary infractions as well.

Process. The admission “process” is not just for students. Colleges also have an entire process, including one for review of all elements of an application. In most admission offices, there are initial guidelines for discipline/behavior/criminal review. Most of the questions relate to severity, timing, the school’s action, and the implications that incident had on other students. If the situation warrants additional review, staff members escalate it to an Associate Director, Dean, Director, or an official review committee. At this point, 99% of cases are cleared without further action. However, if the case requires another layer of review, schools will involve partners from around the university for insight and areas of expertise, e.g. Dean of Students, General Counsel, and perhaps Chief of Police or other security representatives.

Having participated in many of these layers, I am always encouraged by how thoroughly and thoughtfully questions are asked and facts are gathered. One of the most difficult things about living in this beautiful but broken world is coming to the realization that as much as we may desire it, there are few things that are 100% good or bad; 100% right or wrong; 100% black or white.

Ownership.  Answer the questions honestly and thoroughly on your application or reach out personally and immediately to a school who has admitted you, if you have some type of infraction post-admit. Every year we receive emails and calls from other students, principals, counselors, “friends,” or others in the community informing us of discipline/behavior/criminal matters involving an applicant or admitted student. It is much, much better to be honest and proactive than to have an admission counselor receive information from another source and have to contact you to provide an explanation of circumstances.

“My friends made me…” “I didn’t want to but…” “I tried to tell them it was wrong…” and the list goes on. Please. I am begging you, PLEASE be sure none of these phrases are in your application. Whether at home, at school, or at work, disciplinary action is serious. If you have something to report, own it. Drunk at prom? Arrested at 2 a.m. for re-distributing neighbors’ leaves back across their yards after they’d lined and bagged them at the street? “Borrow” the car in the middle of the night by putting it in neutral and coasting out of the driveway with the lights off? We’re listening.

Application evaluation, individualized discipline review, life in general… it’s nuanced, complicated, and grey. Why did you choose to do that? What did you learn from it? How has it changed you as a person, a student, a friend, a family member? Those are the questions at the core of our review. You made a decision and now we have one to make. Help us by not waffling or watering down your explanation.

A Final Note to Seniors

Your final semester is supposed to be fun. You have lots to celebrate and enjoy: games, productions, awards ceremonies, spring break, prom– tradition upon tradition, and last upon last. I get it.

I ask you to please hit pause when you find yourself in certain situations or when a “great idea” gets proposed in these next few months. Each year we see incredibly smart and talented kids do

FYI- Wow. What a diversity of Google images you get when you search for “seniors.”

indescribably dumb stuff that has lasting implications or consequences. So before you get behind the wheel; before you go to (or throw) that party; before someone brings out another bottle; when “everyone” is going to jump off that bridge naked in the dark into water at an untested depth; when cramming 12 people into a hearse to go blow up the principal’s mailbox gets suggested as a senior prank; before you post pictures or gossip or antagonizing content on social media, I hope you will thoughtfully consider your beliefs, character, and goals. (If all of that sounds too specific to be made up, well…).

I implore you not to rationalize with phrases like “everyone else is” or “she told me to” or “someone said it was okay.” Have the maturity and vision to say no or walk away or stand up or defuse the situation or speak calmly in frenetic moments.

I encourage you to read your offers of admission from colleges closely. They are promises of a future community. They are based on your academic potential but also upon their belief you have and will continue to enrich those around you.

I said there would be no cheesy Valentine’s sap here, and I’m sticking to my promise. True love is not capable of being boxed up and forced into one day. It can’t be captured in a card. Instead, it is both shown and proven over time. My hope is you will look around you this week (and every week between now and graduation). Be reminded of how much your friends, family, class and teammates love and respect you– not for what you do or don’t do (or will or won’t do) in a certain moment on a particular night– but for who you are consistently.

Above all else, my hope is you will have the composure and confidence to lead yourself and others with character in these final months of high school. Finish well.

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The College Visit Checklist

This week we welcome Associate Director for Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen, to the blog. Welcome, Andrew!

Back in November I wrote a blog post about moving to Atlanta over the summer, and how that move was a big step out of my comfort zone.  I often think back on my initial interview and visit to Atlanta. I imagine my first visit to Atlanta felt similar to what many students experience when they visit college campuses. Once I knew I was seriously considering a move from New York to Atlanta, I realized how important it was to not only find answers to all my questions, but to also take the time to really get to know my (at the time potential) new city. From walking around campus to trying out the food, my overall experience helped me better understand what life could look like in this new place.

I’m now more than six months in and am working with our staff to prepare for our newly admitted students to flock to campus to see if Georgia Tech is the right fit for them. Whatever college you’re considering, it’s important to make your campus visit about more than just the standard information session and tour. Take advantage of these tips to help you make the most of your time on campus.

Allow yourself extra time to explore.

During my first visit to Atlanta, I allowed myself to spend an extra day in the city to better explore the overall feel of the area.  If I was going to move here, I needed to know if I liked it.  I explored the area around campus and different neighborhoods, and also experienced some of Atlanta’s local highlights, like Ponce City Market.  When you plan your visit to campus, try to allow extra time to become more familiar with the area rather than rushing to visit another school or catching a flight home.  After your “official” visit is over, further explore academic facilities for your intended major, eat on campus, or spend some time in popular places like the student center (don’t forget to eavesdrop while you’re there!).

Talk to Students

See these tour guides? They’re also regular, every day students. Talk to them!

During your time on campus there is a real benefit to speaking with current students.  This is a great way to get an authentic look at what it is like to be a student at the institution you are visiting.  Whether it is the person behind you in line for food in the dining hall or a student employee working in one of the departments you visit, students are usually happy to chat with you. When I visited Atlanta for the first time, I had dinner with friends who lived in the area, and they gave me some great advice about moving from New York and living in Atlanta.

Build Your Own Visit

During my initial visit to Atlanta I wanted to be sure to experience some of the local highlights. I planned a full day of exploring, which included things like eating breakfast at the Silver Skillet, walking on the Belt Line, and visiting some of the downtown tourist attractions.  Just like these extras that I was able to add on, it is important for you to customize your visit to make the most of it.  When not restricted by time, you can make a whole day out of your time on campus, even if you are only scheduled to attend a 2-hour information session and tour.  At many institutions, departments and colleges offer sessions about specific academic programs.  Even if there is not a formal session scheduled, reach out in advance and talk to someone, as chances are someone would be able to meet with you.

Experience the Weather

This one is a bit more difficult because you cannot always visit during specific times of year, but it definitely is important to understand the weather you might encounter during your college career.  I went to school in Upstate New York, where it is cold, grey and windy for a large portion of the academic school year.  It is very different to visit there in the summer than it is in February.  Although weather was not a big factor for me personally, if it is for you, make sure to plan your visit accordingly.  If you are going to live somewhere for four years, it helps to know what it will feel like.  (Although it does get cold in Atlanta, I have been enjoying the much milder winter!)

Ask for Advice

Georgia Tech admission staff appreciates the work of school counselors! #nscw19

Prior to my visit to Atlanta, I reached out to a number of people to get advice.  I got food recommendations, learned local lingo (like OTP and ITP), and learned more about Georgia Tech. Utilizing resources like your college counselor are crucial throughout the whole college decision-making process.  Ask for their advice before you visit campus.  They can help ensure you make the most out of your visit.  They may be able to put you in contact with a student at the institution you are visiting, or share some information they know about the school.  A conversation with your school counselor will help better prepare you for your visit, which in the end will result in a more informed visit.

(To all of the counselors reading this post – thank you for all of the work that you do with students, we really appreciate it.  And happy National School Counselor Week!)

On behalf of all of the campus visit professionals around the country, we are looking forward to seeing you on campus over the next few months. Happy Visiting!

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Admission Mystery: Follow the Clues

Listen to the audio version here.

My friend and colleague Brennan Barnard recently wrote an incredibly insightful, heartfelt, and encouraging letter to students in Forbes. I hope you will read it. His conclusion really stuck with me: “I hope you are ready because you are bound for an amazing college experience filled with opportunities to learn, connect, and grow. Where all of that will happen is a mystery—and like all good mysteries, it should be filled with twists, turns, discovery, new places, and interesting people. My hope is that you will find joy in uncovering the clues that lead you, and that ultimately you will arrive on a college campus confident and excited to embrace the opportunity. Enjoy the journey.”

A Game of Clue

Those words reminded me of last Saturday night after dinner at our house. My kids insisted we play the classic board game Clue. If you are not familiar with the game, the goal is to use the process of elimination to determine the character who did the deed, the weapon they used, and the room where the crime occurred. 

First, you choose a card from each category to put in an envelope in the middle of the board. Then, by looking at your cards, asking questions of the other players (as well as closely watching the interactions of other players), and moving around the board to different rooms, you attempt to solve the mystery. (Rules are here, if that brief description is not adequate. I recommend the movie too.)

By the time our kids took their baths, put on pajamas, and got everything set up, it was about 8 p.m. It didn’t take long to realize this was not going to end well. Within a 10 minute period, Elizabeth, our eight year old, fell off the bench, knocked over her milk, and started crying because she thought we had skipped her turn (and she had just gone).

Elizabeth (Ozzie in stripes) in an entirely different mood.

My wife (far more patient and generous than me) had just poured her another glass of milk when Elizabeth inadvertently dropped two of her cards face up on the table. This led our son to say, “Ahh… okay. So it’s not Mr. Green…” and then he feigned making a note. Game over. Tears, flailing on the ground, and of course, more spilled milk— this time on her teddy bear Ozzie, aka her teammate.

“That’s it!” I pronounced. “We’re done. We can finish this tomorrow.”

HOLY COW! You would have thought I said we were going to burn Ozzie and throw his remains in the sewer. It was like scene from the Book of Revelation. Writhing, gnashing of teeth, and an alternation between screams and whimpers that left me questioning our decision to have a second child.

Once she pulled herself together and blew her nose about seven times, she insisted on looking at the cards in the envelope to learn the answers.

“No, sweetheart,” I told her. “We will finish the game tomorrow.” I picked her up and carried her to bed. She was snoring within 46 seconds.

Second verse, same as the first

I was working at the dining room table the following morning and heard her come down the stairs. Not realizing I was watching, she went into the room where the board was set up in order to peek inside the envelope.

It felt like Groundhog Day as I walked in and reprimanded her. Bam! She hit the floor, casting Ozzie aside in her grief. As I watched her moan and roll around (essentially serving as a human Swiffer), I thought about… well, first about being on the beach alone. But then I considered just how natural her desire was to check the envelope and uncover the resolution.

A Desire for “The Answers”

We have all been there…

  • Is this date going to lead to anything significant?
  • How did I do on that test?
  • Is this job interview going to result in an offer?
  • Is my health exam going to come back positive or negative?

The desire to know how it’s all going to work out is true in the college admission experience as well.

If you are a junior

Emails flood your inbox. Every brochure presents you with another beautifully manicured quad, incredible brick or stone architecture, and a perfectly balanced array of students from different ethnicities, majors, and states. They seem to say (without overtly saying), “no matter who you are, there is a place for you here.” The big machine of college admission marketing is in full gear and your name is up.

  1. Look at those letters, emails, and brochures as clues. Ask yourself, like you would in the game, what am I holding in my hand— in other words, who am I? And who am I not? Take the time to consider, refine, and record distinctions between what you want (would be nice) and what you need (must have) in your college experience. Think about your school, community, and the teams, clubs, jobs, and other places you are involved and plugged in. What do you love about those opportunities or environments and want more of in college? What do you not see, have, or enjoy that you are hoping to gain, learn, or be exposed to after high school? These are fairly deep but incredibly important questions. They will take work and effort to answer. But like anything into which you invest time and effort, they will provide you with invaluable ownership and confidence.
  2. “Like all good mysteries, your college search should be filled with twists, turns, discovery, new places, and interesting people.” Get online and poke around on schools’ virtual tours. Snoop around on social media accounts of the student groups from campuses you are interested in. Go see the places that match your needs and wants and investigate for yourself. When you are there, interrogate everyone you meet as a potential suspect. Wait…no, don’t do that.
    When you are there, don’t just settle for the canned tour and spiel. Work a little harder. Eavesdrop in the dining hall or student center. Listen to the conversations students are having. Go find the buildings that house your major if you don’t get there on the tour. Observe the interactions of faculty and students. Are these your people? Like any good detective, pay close attention. Take notes. Ask the same questions to as many people as possible on each campus and continually compare those answers.

Yes, there were a lot of underlined verbs in those paragraphs. Again, a college search done right is supposed to require time and effort. At times it might seem easier to simply pull the envelope from the middle. Remember, that information will come last.

Just because everyone in your family has gone to a particular school or these are the five colleges with the highest ranking in the major you want to pursue does not mean they are the answers in your envelope. Don’t cheat yourself of the opportunity to discover more about who you are, how you are made, and the best environment to help you move toward your goals by taking short cuts.

If you are a senior (or the parent of a senior)…

You may have one or two admission decisions back and are potentially waiting for a few more. Maybe you have been admitted to your first choice school and just need to receive the financial package. Either way, you have some information but need more clues before you open the envelope and solve the mystery. Be comfortable in the waiting. In the weeks and months ahead, you have some great stuff to look forward to— prom, spring break, final games or meets or performances. Don’t be so concerned with what is in the envelope that you dilute the enjoyment of those unique, important, and fleeting experiences.

  1. Just like in the game of Clue you need to pay attention and look around at the other players— your friends, family, coaches, teachers, and other important people in your life. Where you will be next year may be a mystery but one thing is certain— you will not be where you are right now. Don’t waste this time of uncertainty stewing or shrinking inward. Proactively pursue the relationships around you. Go back to the teacher who inspired your love of Biology and tell her that. Let your coach know how much you appreciate their time and effort and how it impacted you. These folks invest countless hours every year. They may not be looking for acknowledgement, but I guarantee they’ll appreciate it. Don’t look at your younger brother’s incessant requests for a ride or pleas to borrow a sweatshirt as annoying, but rather as a chance to connect that you simply won’t have on a daily basis eight months from now. And, I have said it before but this won’t be the last time— hug your mama!
  2. Don’t pay too much attention to the other players. Huh?! Listen, if John or Madison or Ryan or Lauren or some other person you know whose name ends in “n” gets into a particular school, or gets a scholarship, don’t spend your time or energy thinking about it. Honestly, it means nothing for you. They had their questions and you have yours. That is their envelope and yours is coming. Keep focused on your cards and the board in front of you. “Find joy in uncovering the clues that lead you, and ultimately you will arrive on a college campus confident and excited to embrace the opportunity.” That is not a hope or a utopian thought— it’s a promise rooted in experience.

Eventually, even the best metaphors eventually break down, and we’ve reached that point here. College admission is not a game (cue Allen Iverson); and contrary to common vernacular it is not a process; instead, it is an experience. “Enjoy the journey!”

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