The Great Kindness Challenge

I arrived home from work Monday to my kids asking to do a “funny, crazy dance” for me.  So I sat down and watched as they flailed around, sang, and fell down a few times. Honestly, it looked like most of their everyday antics. But when they were done, they went over to a sheet of paper and checked something off.

Apparently, doing a crazy dance for someone qualifies as being kind. In case you didn’t know, this week is The Great Kindness Challenge. I apologize for sending this out towards the end of the week, but there is good news: you can actually be kind anytime you want.

Throughout this week, they’ve progressively checked things off the list. “Say Good Morning to 15 people” led us to scare the crap out of a few runners and dog walkers on the way to school. “Thank a crossing guard” brought up a conversation about how people appreciate being called by their actual name. “Good morning, Crossing Guard! Dad, where is my checklist?”

Being Kind and the Admission Process

Why does this matter to you? One thing I’ve observed in the college admission process is that  students can, unintentionally and progressively, become very myopic and self-absorbed. Some of that is necessary and not entirely wrong. Naturally, you need to be selfish with your time when you are writing essays or preparing for an interview. But the unhealthy side is that you can also stop celebrating the wins of others or truly demonstrating empathy in their disappointment, because the immediate thought is either comparison or “what does this mean for me?”

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the admission process (Good thing, right? … since that’s my job). When process is a noun it becomes something you encounter or that you endure. My hope is that you will begin to flip the script to processing. When the admission “process” becomes a verb, you change because you challenge yourself to think and grow. There are many ways you can do this along the way. But for now I hope you will ask yourself a few basic questions about who helped you get to where you are today, and consider taking time to thank them, encourage them, or check in on how they’re doing. You know… be kind. Look beyond your world, your problems, your current concerns, or your celebrations.

Your Kindness Checklist

While The Great Kindness Challenge may be coming to a close, your admission process (and processing) has not. I encourage you to consider a few of these people and acts.

1- Thank a teacher or counselor who wrote a letter of recommendation for you or provided you with some good advice and insight during the admission process. Some of these folks write hundreds of rec letters. As a reader of those, I can tell you that their effort, passion, and advocacy for you is inspiring. So think about dropping off a note or swinging by their classroom/office and give them a high-five, hug, or fist bump.

2- Give mom, dad, sibling, or another family member a call, hug, or text with earnest emojis. Family does not always get it right. Sometimes they annoy you, pester you, or give unsolicited feedback. Do you know why? THEY LOVE YOU. I get it–sometimes expressed love does not look like we want it to, and sometimes it’s covertly disguised in questions or reminders. But that is what it is. So give it back in a way you know they’ll appreciate it.

3- Go back to your elementary school or middle school. (Sounds like a penalty on K-12 monopoly). I don’t talk much in this blog about my own college experience, mostly because it’s not that interesting and I think you’d find it outdated. But one thing I did do right in my senior year was go back to my elementary school with a classmate. We went one day at the end of school and talked to a second grade class. After the bell rang, we just walked the halls and said hi and thanks to the teachers who taught us. Not only was this a reminder of how far we’d come (highlighted by the incredibly low set urinals in the bathroom), but it also meant a lot to the teachers. We told them a bit about what we were up, to but I remember distinctly talking to several almost like friends about their class, the school, and their memories. Good stuff all around. Costs you nothing but time. Do it.

4- Check in on a friend or classmate. Nothing in the conversation about you. How are they doing? How are they feeling about college, graduating, getting in or not getting in? Best done over a meal or coffee that you pay for, but a walk, run, or long drive also works.

5- The Kindness Checklist ends with “Create Your Own Deed,” so I’ll leave the creativity up to you. But consider who in your life has helped you. When you think about how you are “processing admission,” who comes to mind as an influencer or someone you trust? Answer that and you are halfway there.

February 17 is officially “National Random Acts of Kindness Day.” Frankly, I somewhat take issue with the word “random” if you’ve been planning on it and marking it on a calendar, but who am I to stand in the way of goodwill?

Lastly, if you just want to smile, check out #greatkindnesschallenge.

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Do Something New

Keeping it simple. Sort of…

My wife and I had a one-present Christmas, as in, one gift only to exchange. “Let’s keep it simple.” But while one present should be easy, it also adds some pressure. Do you go functional? Something she’s asked for to show I am listening? Or is that predictable and boring? Should I give her an experience (show tickets or a night away)?

In the end, I gave her a jacket. On the surface, that may sound lame. But this is not just any jacket. It’s the Patagonia Houdini, the best low weight, versatile jacket on the market. I’ll not delve into all of the virtues and attributes of the jacket, but message me if you want more testimony.

On Christmas Day, after our kids ripped through their gifts like small, wild animals, I looked for her gift in anticipation. What would she choose? And what would that say about our relationship? This was particularly intriguing because rather than a big box or a new bike in the driveway (shoot!), there was a small envelope. “Tell me this is not a gift card!” was all that was going through my head. I know she’s got more creativity than that. I mean, gift cards are an uncle’s gift, c’mon.

I opened the envelope and read curiously. I was definitely surprised. Does this mean she loves me or hates me?  It was in fact a gift card… from her Yoga studio, a class called “Yoga for the stiff guy.” Six weeks to cover the basics of positions, poses, props, etc.

A Humbling Experience

I’m not going to lie to you. The first class was humbling. I think the instructor was pretty easy on us. I hung in there overall, but just when I started feeling more confident, she’d say something I could not even reconcile, like “Now, move your belly towards your thigh.” Wait, what? Balance, breathing, Bhakti. I was just trying to comprehend the language and instructions. At times I could sense her eyes scanning the room, and inevitably they’d land on me.  I’ve learned that “You may want to modify that”  is Yoga-speak for “you’re not ready for this.” And even when I thought I had mastered some poses, I’d hear “Oh no. Much, much wider.” Okay. Watch your much’s–one will do.

I was challenged.  I was humbled. But it has also helped me think more about my posture, my breathing, my core strength, and a general awareness of my body. I still don’t know how to bring my belly to my thigh, but I figure that comes in the latter part of the six weeks.

Incredibly Different

So as we launch into 2017, I’ve decided she gave me the perfect gift, because it’s such a divergence. So incredibly different. A nudge to grow and stretch (literally in this case).  Here are three reasons I hope you’ll also get out there and do something different in 2017.

1- You will see new places.

No matter where you live, your community focuses on a few colleges or universities. As a culture we get very myopic, especially among the most academically talented students, and focus on an incredibly small set of schools. I want to challenge you to at least visit, apply, and strongly consider attending a college nobody in your family went to, or a place nobody in last year’s senior class decided to attend. Not saying you need to actually attend, but do go see it. I guarantee you will learn, grow, and benefit from the experience.  The courage to explore…the desire to try something completely new and different, will lead you to places you’d otherwise never experience.

2- You will need to process. 

At some point in the college admission process, you will likely be deferred, denied, waitlisted, or receive a financial aid package that makes it impractical for you to attend a certain school. You will likely see someone “get in” or even get a scholarship when you do not believe it is right or fair.  This is called a “process.” But you need to remember it’s a verb too. Process things. Grow from your thoughts and your experiences. To do that you will need to clear your head and get perspective. Do something different. New music, new road trip, different type of podcast or book or movie. If you do this, you will grow. You will change. You will be preparing yourself in ways no AP or IB course ever could for what it means to really be ready for college.

3- You will challenge and ultimately make others around you better. Do you know someone who is always picking up a new hobby or listening to a new artist or reading something you’ve never heard of? If you don’t, go find someone like that. I have a friend who is a DJ, a Taekwondo master, and an airplane pilot. Another friend is a pediatrician who in the last few years has built box gardens, picked up the guitar, BMX racing, and is emerging as an accomplished storyteller in Portland. When I listen to these guys talk about their curiosity, lessons learned, and the people they meet and know, it’s inspiring. It makes me want to expand my knowledge, my skills, and my worldview.

Push, Stretch, and Be Challenged

At the end of the day, that’s what college should be about, right? To be surrounded by people who will push you, stretch you, and challenge you to be better, to be smarter, to explore and experiment and consider things that you have not to this point. It’s easy to list school size or location or cost or other highly quantifiable traits. But as you pick schools to visit, apply to, and ultimately attend, these are the types of communities that you should be listening for in talking to students, faculty, and alumni.

I’m currently reading Grandma Gatewood’s Walk. It’s the story of a 66-year old mother of 11 and grandmother to 23 who in 1955 left her Ohio farm with a pair of Keds and a hand-sewn bag to become the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. It’s remarkable because after a lifetime of intensely hard work, a marriage riddled with physical and mental abuse, and years of pouring her life into raising a family, she walks into the woods. Her experiences inspired our nation. And many say her reports from the trail “saved the Appalachian Trail.” We all need those outlets that give us vision beyond the immediate. I’m urging you to try something new and different this spring. Namaste.

By the Way…

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Diving into 2017

It’s a busy week here at Georgia Tech as we prepare to release more than 15,000 Early Action admission decisions this coming Saturday. Since Rick is tied up with the business of admission, I hope you’ll bear with me as his fill-in this week!

We don’t get a lot of snow here in Atlanta… if I’m being honest, we don’t get any. Maybe the occasional ice storm will roll through, but snow? Not so much. So you have to understand why the GT swim team (and one diver!) had a pretty epic experience when last week’s swim meet at UVA was canceled due to snow.

So what does swimming in the snow have to do with a new year, college admission, and the blog? More than you may think…

New year, new goals

It’s a new year, and our tendency as humans is to dive in (see what I did there?) as we turn the page from 2016 to 2017. Something about the freshness of a new year (maybe it’s the calendars?) makes us excited to set goals and create new plans for ourselves both personally and professionally. We’re eager to shake off the shackles of whatever held us back before and move boldly into the future.

But… Before we forge ahead into our new to-do list and start checking those boxes, we can’t forget one little word that has a whole lot of impact: assessment.

If we really want 2017 to be different, and to be better, it must begin with a true look back. Assessment helps us see where we stumbled, where we excelled, and how we can improve.

Help us help you

The GT Admission blog has been up and running for over a year now, and we’re thrilled to have more than 400 subscribers (thank you!). Our team eagerly reads and shares any and all feedback we receive on our posts, and we use those conversations to shape our strategy for future posts.

One of our goals for the blog is to lift the veil on college admission. We try to give you an inside look into the who, what, how and why of admission. We want to help students (and families and counselors) understand what they can, and cannot, control when it comes to “getting in” at their top schools.

Each week our team brainstorms ideas for the blog, hoping to hit on what you want to hear. Sometimes we knock it out of the park… other times, not so much. What is it that makes one post successful, and another not?

We’re asking you to lift the veil on your side of the curtain, and help us understand what YOU want to hear from us. How can we provide the content you’re looking for? It starts with assessment. We’ve created a quick survey (and I do mean quick–only 7 questions!) that we hope you’ll take a moment to complete. We know you’re busy folks, so trust me when I tell you that not only are we anxious to hear your thoughts, but we will use what we learn to steer the blog forward in the year ahead.

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Breaking Down The Admission Team. Week 5: Quarterbacks

This year we moved our Regular Decision Deadline from January 10 to January 1. When we initially made the call to change the date, one of my boss’s biggest concerns was that “we would ruin New Year’s Eve” by “making them” stay in to apply to Tech.

My counter was two-fold. First, the application opens on August 1, so we’ve “given” them five months to apply. How long do you need to write a few paragraphs and ask mom and dad some questions about their jobs, degrees, and residency?

Second, let’s not forget about January 1. Even if they stay out to celebrate NYE, they still have ALL DAY January 1. And, predictably, 3,500 students did wait to apply for 2017 in 2017.

I can relate. I started this series on The Admission Team in early November and committed to finishing before we went back to work January 3, and here I am writing this on January 2 (with all the time in the world to meet that deadline). Takes one to know one.

QB1

We’ve worked through The Communications Team (Defense), The Operations Team (Offensive Line), The Initial Review (The Bench), and The Recruitment and Holistic Review Team, (WRs and RBs). And that leaves us with just one position left to cover: The Director/Dean/AVP (or some other fancy title) of Admission. You can basically throw in folks with titles like Associate and Senior Associate to this group as well.

These are the Quarterbacks of the team. They call the plays, scan the entire field, read defenses, and align their team’s talent in the right positions to be successful. They make strategy and personnel adjustments as the game progresses in order to lead their team to victory.  Consequently, they are typically the names on recruitment and decision letters, the spokespeople providing quotes to journalists, and they’re also the ones who take the heat when goals are not met.

Signal Callers

These folks are part demographer, part pitch-man, part cheerleader, part bridge-builder, and of course, part soup maker. 

Directors and Deans are over-“meetinged.” They spend time looking at historical trends of applications by state or major or some other category; they are concerned about demographic shifts; they are constantly refining predictive models in order to be sure they bring in the right class size and make-up.  They field way too many calls from vendors wanting to sell them services. They meet with and listen to alumni, presidents, provosts, deans, donors, board members, legislators, and other key constituents, and attempt to translate sweeping five-part mission statements and aspirational future casting about the university into succinct, engaging messages that can be easily understood and attractive to students and parents.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit we don’t always get this right. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of glossy, shiny brochures with phrases like “Invent your future” or “Be Bold” or “Find it here.” Trite? Cheesy? Sure. But next time you scoff at one of these short verb-led challenges on a mailing, imagine if instead it read “Engaging students in co-curricular and inspiring world-class education in order to create global citizens committed to endeavoring into passionate, meaningful dialogue for life-long learning and the cultivation of future impact.” (The reason you know I made that up is there are nearly ten mono-syllabic words).

These folks are multi-taskers (and often caffeine junkies) who have become masters of slipping out of meetings with influential alumni in order to quickly welcome a group of visiting sophomores to campus.

Quarter Backgrounds (see what I did there?)

If you look at quarterbacks around the NFL, you’ll find their backgrounds and personalities vary widely. Eli Manning comes from a family that’s basically football royalty. He attended a prestigious private school in New Orleans, and played big time college ball at Ole Miss in the nation’s biggest powerhouse conference. Joe Flacco went to the University of Delaware (Go Blue Hens!) out of the Colonial Conference– far more known for basketball than football– and attended  public high school in New Jersey. Cam Newton has a gregarious and sometimes flamboyant personality. Drew Brees… not so much.

And so it goes with admission directors and deans. There is no template or mold. Accountants have CPAs. Lawyers have JDs. Look at some of these biographies online. Music majors, MBAs, PhDs in History and Fine Arts. Some have parents who were long time deans with a deep lineage in higher education, while others are converts from corporate America or have migrated from other parts of academia.

But there is one trait I’ve found applies to all of the folks: they are extremely genuine. They deeply want to see young people thrive and succeed. They believe in and love the school they represent.

What’s it to you? 

Like quarterbacks in football, these are typically very goal oriented, driven people. They spend a great deal of time analyzing, tweaking, refining. They like to win, they like to compete, and they want their team to be the best. But they are also committed collaborators. They share ideas and best practices, even with direct competitors, because they want to see others become better. They are humble people who know that even with all the skill in the world, there’s no way that they can individually recruit or enroll a great class. They need the full investment of their campus community, alumni community, and the team around them. No quarterback throws a pass to himself. And without support from the team, they’d be on their back every play.

So What?

Knowing this about the people who are recruiting you or reviewing your application is not going to give you any kind of edge when it comes to “getting in.” The truth is that most applicants never meet the dean or director of the colleges to which they apply or ultimately attend. But it is important to know what type of person is behind the emails, or the marketing materials, or the counselors and other admission representatives that you do meet. Their values and personality and priorities drive and transcend a great deal of what you see and experience.  These are people who  strive to create access to higher education for all students, and are fully committed to enrolling thoughtful, dynamic, diverse classes.

Post-Game Press Conference

If you have taken away nothing else from the parallels between positions on a team and the roles people play in the admission office at universities around the country, please remember this: the work of recruiting students and making admission decisions is deeply human. Unfortunately the vocabulary of this field (application, process, deadline) dilutes that very important truth. But it is critical that you know this, because ultimately you’re not applying to an institution. An institution does not teach nor inspire; a community does these things.

Now that you know the people of college admission, make your experience about the people. Don’t let the list of schools you apply to or ultimately choose be about where they are ranked, or what that name might look like on a bumper sticker. Don’t let the claim that you “got in” dictate your decision. Instead, make it about finding a distinct community where your talents, your goals, your skills, your vision, and your aspirations align with that team.

Tune in next week when we’ll be talking about something other than football.

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Denied or Deferred Admission? Perspective is a precious holiday gift.

We aren’t sending Christmas cards this year. Normally, we drag the kids out to a park somewhere, force them to wear festive clothing, and pack their weight in snacks to get through a one hour session. Last year I was literally so worn out from picking them up, coaching them to smile or keep still, or to contort their bodies in some unnatural positions while tossing leaves, that I had to stop for a hamburger on the way home. Crossfit may increase strength but family pictures easily burn as many calories.

So this year, instead of that miserable experience, we’re just cobbling together some pictures from the year and sending Happy New Year cards. Buys some time and saves some heartache, so it’s a win-win. As we were looking through pictures to use, I found one from 2015 that I really liked. “We can’t use that one. It’s not from this year,” my wife protested. “Yeah, but it’s so good, and most people haven’t seen it. We all still basically look the same,” I asserted. That last comment sunk me because both our kids have grown several inches since that time. Probably should not have pushed my luck or stretched my argument there.  But, unlike small children who DO change dramatically in a year’s time, college admission (for better or worse) DOES NOT.

Moving Forward After ED and EA Decisions

Last week a number of schools across the country released Early Decision or Early Action decisions. I heard a good bit about this from friends via text, social media, and email over the weekend. “What should I tell her? She’s crushed.” “Do you think it’s worth doing the deferred form or should we just move on?” “Will visiting in January help our chances? We can book a trip to Boston over the MLK weekend.” And the beat goes on.

So while I may be keeping my Christmas cards purely 2016, last year I wrote two blogs in December that I think are relevant this week. 

1) Deferred? Check out The D Word. This walks you through key next steps and gives you some healthy perspective: “You are not denied. Finish the drill. Check your ego.”

2) If you were denied, take a look at It’s Not You, It’s Me.   “You are not okay… but you WILL be okay. Time to refocus.”

If you remember nothing else, remember this: admission decisions are just that. They are limited. They are finite. They are not sweeping judgments of your value or character.  They don’t change who you were the moment before you received that letter or opened that portal, and more importantly they don’t dictate who you will be and can be in the future. You’re disappointed. You’re mad or frustrated or angry or sad. All of those feelings are understandable and legitimate.

Last December thousands (literally!) of students were denied and deferred from the nation’s elite schools. They felt the same way you do now. You probably know some of them and remember that time. And where are they now? They’re on some of those exact campuses after being deferred. Or they’re happy at another school after being denied.  As I said last year, “Go ahead and scream, cry, talk to your parents… beat your pillow, or cook something. Do whatever it takes for you to begin to move on and clear you head.” But don’t let these decisions ruin your holidays. Don’t let them disrupt precious time with family. Don’t let them keep you from some good naps or from getting out to the movies or hanging out with friends.

And most of all, don’t let them put any doubt whatsoever into your mind about your talents, your abilities, and your confidence.

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