Archives for September 2019

Just Get Started

This week we welcome Communications Manager of Strategy and Enrollment Planning (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley back to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

Last week I chatted with the mom of a high school senior. She shared how her son came home in a flurry at 4 p.m. the Friday before fall break, stressed out over finishing an assignment that was due at 5 p.m. Of course, she’d given him the usual “why didn’t you start this earlier” speech, but it was too late at that point. We each conceded there are times in life your kids have to learn hard lessons for themselves.

As we talked about “his” procrastination, I had to admit that even as an adult I deal with the same issue. Just like a high school senior, I tend to put things off until the last minute, OR until everything is just right (call it the Enneagram 9 in me—not familiar? Check it out). Write a blog? I’ll troll the internet and think about it. Organize the closet? Let me make sure I have all the right storage solutions and containers. Make dinner? Let me first get everyone’s vote and then I’ll get on Pinterest. Sometimes my distraction isn’t even useful. Take a shower? Let me scroll through my Instagram feed…

The difference between me now (an adult) and me 20 years ago (a high school senior) is I have enough life experience to know my “sweet spot.” I’ve found the balance needed to produce quality work in a short amount of time. And while it’s good to know my sweet spot, there are situations when nothing can replace the investment of time—real, actual time—to complete a long-term project or goal.

No Substitute for Time

A year ago I started running. If you don’t want to take a trip down memory lane, here are the highlights: in my 20s I was super fit. In my 30s I had babies. After baby #2, I was NOT super fit, and went on a three-year exercise hiatus (oops). The hiatus lasted until “the photo” was taken, and it was then I knew something had to change. I researched different workouts and chose running—the ONE activity I swore I would never do (“why would anyone run for fun?”). I started a Couch to 5k program and finished my first 5k two months later. I’ve continued running and am now staring down my first 10k (less than one week away!).

I’ve gone from struggling to run 10 minutes to successfully running for an hour. But I’m not here to talk about my fitness journey—I’m here to talk about time. No matter how adept I become at procrastination, there are moments when I have to spend extended time to get things done. I can’t expect my body to go from running one mile to four miles in a single week. Building up that kind of endurance takes time (and a lot of it!). The key to maximizing that time is simple: just get started.

In an ironic twist of fate, I work in an industry where I routinely remind students via blogs, emails, and other marketing materials of the perils of procrastination. When I worked in the admission call center, student workers and I would regularly shake our heads at the number of panicked calls and emails we received from students who waited until THE LAST MINUTE to meet a deadline, ran into an obscure technical issue, then called us when they were melting down. And I’ll be candid—as a rule, our student workers didn’t have a lot of sympathy.

Early action/decision deadlines are right around the corner. Even if you don’t plan to apply early to a school, applications are still open and being reviewed at colleges across the nation right now. And if you’re like me, you may be sitting… and waiting… to start. After all, you’ve still got a (week? month?) to get it done.

It’s easy to fall into this trap. Don’t do it! We’ve written about time management, essay topics, and deadlines on this blog many times in the past. These posts are all worth reviewing again (hint hint!). When it comes to meeting admission deadlines, there are three main areas that tend to trip students up the most. Here are a few tips to get past those hurdles.

1 – The Essay

Take it from someone who writes (and edits) for a living—your first draft is NOT your final draft. Your first draft will, must, and should change. Seasoned writers go through multiple drafts to get their content right, and you’re no different than them. Yes, you need to think through your essay and find a creative way to tell us about yourself. Thinking is great, and necessary—but that’s not ACTION. Jot those thoughts down. Grab your phone and voice record your ideas. I’ve found I never actually listen to any of my voice recordings, but the simple act of talking it through—sometimes multiple times—is enough to get my brain to focus on my topic and narrow my thoughts. The most important thing is to write. Something. Down. Once you have a “brain dump” in a Word document, come back to it—two, three, maybe even four times—to make edits and changes. Each time you look at it with a fresh pair of eyes you’ll discover something new to say (or remove). If you wait until the last minute to actually write your essay, you lose those precious chances for review. So grab your laptop and write something down. Just get started!

2 – The Activity List

The amount of activities students list on their college applications astounds me. I don’t know how you squeeze so much activity into your schedules (kudos to you!). But some students get lost in how to best record those. Do you list by longevity? By contribution? In chronological order? If you have more than 8-10 activities, which ones should you leave out? It can become overwhelming. Similar to the essay, voice record your thoughts, jot them down, write them in a Word document (or a Google doc, I have no preference here), and let it sit there. Come back the next day and review it. Maybe what seemed important in that first draft no longer resonates. Perhaps you left out something significant. Or maybe you need to highlight your own personal contributions in a different way. Like the essay, if you wait until the last minute you lose that crucial time for reviewing, and re-reviewing, what you’ve written down. Just get started!

3 – Hitting “Submit.”

This part is possibly the biggest challenge you’ll face. There’s something about that final “submit” button that almost taunts you. Are you sure? Should you look again? Did you remember to say everything? Wait, did I use my legal or preferred name? Hitting the submit button is the final thing within YOUR control—once you submit, control no longer belongs to you. The ball is officially out of your court. This makes it tempting to wait until the last minute to check that box and call it done. After all, as long as it’s still in your hands it’s still within your control, right? While that may feel empowering, it’s also a weight that you don’t have to carry. Remember—if you’ve followed the steps above then you’ve done your job. The last thing on your to-do list is finish the race. Hit submit. Just get started!

Just Start!

As a mom, I implore my 2nd grader every day to just do your homework! Get it done and you can do whatever you want (within reason). But like me, she drags her feet—eats a snack, gets water, goes to the bathroom, wait, does the dog need a walk? Last week she had the light bulb moment: “Wait a minute,” she said thoughtfully. “If I do all of this right now, does that mean the next two days I don’t have to do this when I get home?” “Yes,” I emphatically replied. “That’s exactly what it means. So do you want to power through and get this done?” “YES!” she said.

Progress. She just had to get started. So did I. And so do you. Stop thinking about it, stop waiting for “x” to happen, and for all that’s good in the world, stop scrolling through your social media feed. Just get started!

Becky Tankersley has worked in higher education for more than 10 years. She joined Georgia Tech in 2012 after working at a small, private college in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. Prior to working in higher education, she worked as a television news producer. Her current role blends her skills in college recruitment and communication. Becky is the editor of  the GT Admission Blog, and also serves as a Content Coordinator for the American Association of Collegiate Registrar and Admission Officers.

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Time To Make The Donuts

We don’t watch a lot of TV in our house. In fact, until recently we only had Amazon and Netflix. But as big soccer fans we broke down earlier this summer and got a few cable channels so we could watch the Women’s World Cup. Now with college football upon us we (okay, I…) decided not to pull the plug just yet.

The other day at a commercial break I muted the TV and our 8-year old daughter looked at me as though I had thrown her favorite stuffed animal away.

“What? It’s just a commercial,” I said bemused.

She gave me the international facial expression for “What?!!!” and replied, “I know! That’s my favorite part.”

They seem to be big fans of GEICO and the Michael Bublé ad about sparkling water. However, understanding their sample size is limited to about four months and less than 10 channels, I searched “best commercials ever.” (I do realize that by providing this link you well may not read further, but I can’t hide gold from you.)

The phrase “internet rabbit hole” does not adequately describe what happened next, and before we knew it, we heard a car door slam and saw my wife on the back porch. The kids dashed into the other room and picked up books to feign reading.

“All finished with homework?”

“Uhhhh… pretty close. Yeah.”

Real Life Catchphrases

Whether they be movie quotes or pithy lines from commercials, what sticks with us are phrases that we can apply to everyday life. Can you say, “Dilly dilly!”

One phrase admission directors around the country are saying right now is, “Time to make the donuts!” It comes from this campy 1981 Dunkin Donuts commercial. It’s not polished, the acting is terrible, and the production costs had to be close to $0. But “time to make the donuts” caught on. For a solid decade (and occasionally even today) you would hear that reference as people headed to work, went in to take to take a test, or dealt with a variety of imperative tasks.  Now that classes on college campuses have resumed, admission deans and directors are waking up with those words on their minds. Time to do this again.

Before they start frosting, baking, or reaching for the powdered sugar, they start by talking to the shop owner, e.g. president, provost, board of trustees, deans, and so on. (please don’t tell them I made this parallel). Essentially, we need answers to two questions.

  1. What kind of donuts do you want this year?

Known as “institutional priorities” this helps donut makers determine the proportion and representation of certain flavors, such as demographics. Everyone on a college campus has their own opinions about which ingredients are essential. Deans from each academic unit will want more or less students in their program depending on faculty: student ratios or the health of job prospects in their industry. For example, Tech recently added a major in Music Technology. That means students who may not have been a good fit in the past are now very much on our radar. Conversely, if a college enrolled too many computer science or biology majors the year prior, or if they eliminated a major or a sport, the strawberry sprinkles or maple frosting that were popular in the past may not be as much of a priority in this year’s batch.

A college seeking to increase its academic profile will create a different mix than one whose primary objective is to increase international diversity, raise net tuition revenue, bolster its percentage of first-generation students, or enroll a student from each state. If a school does not enroll “enough” business majors one year, the next fall that donut maker is told to ensure more business donuts are included and prioritized. Therefore, not only do admit rates vary based upon donut type, but financial aid packages do as well. Bottom line: the mix matters. While I’m a sucker for the “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign at Krispy Kreme, I’d be fired if our class was made up completely of cinnamon donuts.

2. What is the size of our box?

Each school has a different quantity target. A dozen, two dozen, 64 count of munchkins? It’s not the same from school to school—and interestingly it’s not always the same from year to year.

There are lots of reasons why the quantity changes: a university adds a new dorm, the public system issues an edict that demands the addition of 200 more students in this year’s class, the list goes on. Virginia Tech made news this summer by over-enrolling their first year class by 1,000. That is absolutely going to have an impact on the type and number of Hokie donuts moving forward.  Conversely, Bucknell missed their class target in 2019, so you can guarantee the Bison donut factory is altering their formula as they make admission decisions and determine financial aid packages in this year’s batch.

What does this mean for you?

  • You are not necessarily competing against ALL other applicants.

Public schools in North Carolina are legislated to enroll at least 82% of their class from their state. In other words, the Tarheel Donut Shop is largely locally sourced. You may be the sweetest, most flavorful spice out there, but if you were grown in Boston or Chicago, your odds of being included in that lovely sky-blue box are simply not as high as those grown in Wilmington or Asheville.

Fair? No. This is a donut making. The state you are from, the major you want to study, or the background and interests you bring to the table (pun intended), dictate your admission prospects.

  • Ask specific questions.

When you visit the campuses you’re interested in, ask them about students like you. “What is the admit rate from my state?” “Do you make admission decisions based upon the major I’m applying for?” These answers will help you determine how percentages vary beyond the macro statistics published on outward facing sites. At Tech our Early Action admit rate is higher than our Regular Decision admit rate, often by more than 15 percentage points. Part of that is driven by the fact that Georgia students apply early, and our total undergraduate population is 60% Georgia. Historically our most talented in-state students apply in the first round. Takeaway: Don’t just look at the numbers—ask them to give you nuance within the stats too.

Some schools won’t know all the various admit rates or demographics off the top of their head. Are they trying to protect their recipe? Usually not. A donut maker (admission rep) walking around your school in the fall has his/her mind on telling the story of the shop (university). That’s not cagey. It’s human. Ask them to get back to you with the answers. This demonstrates your interests, continues the conversation, and gives you a better understanding of how donuts like you are viewed.

The truth is when you ask these questions to highly selective schools nationally (less than a 20% admit rate), you’ll often get a confounding answer that sounds a lot like a Jedi mind trick or political stump speech. Don’t be frustrated. Just translate that as a reminder that there are scores of donut shops around your state and thousands in the country.

  • Control what you can control.

Your job is to express your flavor on your application and send it to a variety of shops with different size boxes and admit rate ranges. You cannot control the year you were born, or the macro directives or strategic changes made in boardrooms around the country. An admit rate might rise or fall the year you are applying to a specific school. That impacts you, but it’s not really about you. Quit comparing yourself to older siblings or classmates or teammates.

If you are looking at highly selective schools, you very well may end up in a different place than you have in mind right now. But the fact that you read this entire post, rather than getting totally derailed by random commercial links, gives me 100% confidence there is a donut maker waking up today who can’t wait to get you into their shop. And trust me, they are going to ensure the other donuts in the box around you are just as unique, interesting, and flavorful as you!

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Say Yes to the (School)

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome, Sammy!

“I like it a lot.”

A nice enough stamp of approval, but not the reaction to a wedding gown that Say Yes to the Dress conditioned me to expect. “The dress” is a big investment and a landmark decision that can drum up emotions of the future ahead. “Like” is good, but shouldn’t my sister be gushing about her love of the dress? Should she be crying? Should I be crying? Maybe I should cry.

My sister and her entourage.

My sister, mom, grandma and I sat in a lovely dress shop in Savannah awaiting Alex’s next thought. She twisted while carefully observing herself in the mirror and smoothing the lace. “Yeah, I really like it,” she said with a smile. She turned to us expectantly and asked, “But what do you guys think?”

For those of you who have never joined in on a dress boutique shopping adventure, here’s the play-by-play of what you can expect: the bride usually brings suggestions of styles she likes. With the help of a consultant, she picks out styles in their shop that match as closely as possible, with the occasional curveball pick or two. They retreat to a dressing room to shimmy on the dresses, and the bride then comes out in the ones she deems “entourage worthy.” We assess while the bride shares her first thoughts, then the group offers feedback and praise (or not) while she stands atop a pedestal.

Now from here, everything I knew about wedding dress shopping (which came exclusively from TLC shows) told me I should be watching for “that moment.” You know, the moment someone tries on their dress and “they just know,” or when there is an obvious blubbering mess of emotions spilling out into the room. Yet here we were, and Alex was very measured and surprisingly calm. Well, not too surprising… she’s a Pediatric ED nurse, so I probably should have expected the calm.

All those magical things, including the notion that you’ll “just know,” are also constantly repeated about the college search process. Even I, as an admission counselor, am guilty of throwing those ideas around. But the concept of a dream college and the idea of one true fit that “clicks” as soon as you step on campus… that may or may not be your experience, and that’s okay.  Colleges are real places (flaws and all), and a “dream school” sets an unrealistic expectation.

“I like it a lot” 

Just because you don’t feel that magical “click” doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the school, or more importantly, with you. If you’re more analytical, consider asking yourself questions that evaluate what you’re experiencing a little more tangibly.

When you’re researching colleges, ask yourself:

  • Do I want to learn more about this school?
  • Where could I fit into the big picture of the things I’m reading about?
  • Does the mission statement of this college resonate with me?
  • Could this school help me fulfill the goals of not only what I want to do in college (and beyond), but why I want to go to college? (this one requires a bit of self-reflection.)

When you’re visiting colleges, ask:

  • Am I counting down the minutes until I leave, or am I excited to explore more? (Note: as tough as it may be, try to separate out temporary things like weather patterns from your long term judgments. A gross rainy day can make you eager to leave, but that’s not what we’re going for here.)
  • Am I looking forward to the possibility of coming back?
  • Did I hear about any unique opportunities today that piqued my interest?
  • Can I see myself engaging in this community?

And for each of the above answers, ask yourself “Why?”

“But what do you guys think?”

Sometimes a trusted confidant can help reshape things or put the process into perspective. The floor sample of the dress Alex was wearing came in an off-white that looked greyish purple. It was hard for her to get past that in order to make a decision, even though the consultant patiently reassured her the dress she’d order could come in ivory. After noticing the hesitation, I asked the consultant to grab a fabric sample of the ivory and we pinned it to the skirt of the dress. Now she could envision it.

Your support system can look at things in a way you may not have considered. You might be looking for a major in Game Design and overlook a program called “Computational Media.” A different term, but a perfect match. It can be helpful to have a second set of eyes to assist in navigating the roadblocks to a connection.

Alex also hedged her emotions a bit out of trepidation for the entourage in the room—mom and grandma’s opinions matter a lot. Sure, she liked the dress, but what if we didn’t like it, and we didn’t approve? Parents, guardians, and supporters: sometimes a little encouragement and praise can help! In the foreign environment of a college search, be reassuring. Your student may be cautiously expressive because they’re holding their breath for what you think, or they may doubt belonging there because impostor syndrome on college campuses is very real.

 ”I really like it”

Photo used with permission from Ivory & Beau (Savannah, GA)

The dress matched everything my sister’s Pinterest board showed she was looking for, and she looked beautiful. But ultimately, Alex isn’t the “magical-fairytale-moment-crying-in-a-dress” type (Trademark, Sammy Rose-Sinclair). Remember, that’s okay. She still said yes! So with her family around her, we celebrated her decision with ”she/I said yes” tambourines (yes, I too just learned that’s a real thing, and now need one for all my decisions) and Alex bought the dress she’ll wear down the aisle next year.

She really likes the dress. She’s even thrown the word “love” around a few times since. Crazy, right? What’s most important, though, is how much Alex really loves her husband-to-be, Dave. They’re patient with each other, they’re thoughtful, silly, and kind. They’re incredibly excited about their wedding, but even more excited about the future that comes with it.

And that’s the real takeaway here: your college will be a wonderful place. I hope you really, truly, like it a lot. But it’s the things you’ll do, the people you’ll meet, the opportunities you’ll have, that will make it special.

Sammy Rose-Sinclair has worked in college admission for four years. A newly-minted southerner, she moved to Atlanta and joined Georgia Tech two years ago as a senior admission counselor on the first-year admission team. She now uses her millennial-ness and love of working with students, families, and counselors to interact with the GT Admission community through our social media channels. If you’ve gotten this far, send her questions about admission or Netflix recommendations on twitter or Instagram- @gtadmission.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

That’s Not How it Works… Part 3

Okay, so I lied. Or if you’re looking to be more gracious and generous (which doesn’t seem to be the norm these days) I was flat wrong. Back in March 2018 I wrote a two-part series titled “That’s Not How It Works!” (You may remember my lackluster attempt to proliferate #TNHIW, but like Gretchen Wieners with “fetch” in Mean Girls— it really didn’t take.) Regardless, my exact statement was, “There won’t be a three-peat or trilogy for #TNHIW, but if you want to peel back more admission myths and misconceptions, check out this layered Onion piece.”

I should have known this day would come. The truth is there have been many things I said I’d never do—wear buck oxford shoes, get a pedicure (in my defense it was a date with my daughter, but I’d be lying if I did not admit I enjoyed it), and the granddaddy of them all… own a minivan (initially painful but man, the sliding doors and TV are sweet). Professionally, this is also true. “We’re not going to the Common App…” “We’ll always release EA decisions before the Winter Break…” “I’m not a bow tie guy…”

So if you want to know who is going to win the Super Bowl, I’m not your best resource. Or if you hear me say, “I’m definitely not going to start wearing skinny jeans,” it’s understandable if you give me a sideways stare with a raised eyebrow.

Here’s the thing about college admission: it’s cyclical. The original two-part #TNHIW series was written in the spring, when we dealt with topics like the waitlist, depositing, financial aid, and appealing admission decisions. All still valid and helpful information if you want to check it out later, but it’s not as important to you right now.

Since I’ve been on the road presenting and fielding questions from prospective students, as well as talking to students on campus, I thought I’d address a few of the common misconceptions admission officers often hear.

Quotas

“Our son goes to X high school. We’re a big feeder, so I’m concerned it’s going to hurt him because I know you only take a certain number from each high school.”

Well… that’s not how it works.

The truth is colleges do want to diversify their class. They work hard to recruit an applicant pool with qualified students from a wide variety of backgrounds—geographic, ethnic, socioeconomic, and so on—in order to insure their entire first-year class is not made up of students from only one county or state or nation. Ironically, what irks people in the admission process (“you don’t take as many as you should from my school”) is ultimately one of the aspects of campus life students (and alumni) love and appreciate (“I met people from all over the state/country/world, and not only learned from them but built a huge network as a result”).

Because there are not quotas, in any applicant pool, colleges can typically point to high schools with a 100% admit rate (granted the n of that varies) and others from whom they did not admit a single student.

Don’t believe me? (Understandable given this blog’s preface.) I point you to the data. Our office frequently gets calls like, “I got transferred by my company and we are buying a house in Atlanta. What’s the best school for my 7-year old to attend if she ultimately wants to go to Tech?”  Since we are not real estate agents, and because it keeps us (okay, me) from asking something like, “I’m sorry, sir, did you say 7 or 17?” we developed and published admission snapshots so families and counselors can see admit rate variance from school to school or state to state.

While not all universities capture or publish this granular data, most of their publications show lists or maps of their applicants and students. They also all have institutional research offices that keep this information  (there are even conferences for research folks, which I’m sure are a real hoot). Go check out some of the tables, records, fact books, and common data sets and you can see a varied admit rate and lack of quotas. Or just go ask your school counselor. Often they track this data or can show you variance in your high school from one year to the next. What you’ll likely see and hear is most colleges admit different numbers and percentages of students from your school each year. “But last year you took seven from our school and this year only five?” Exactly. No quotas… because #TNHIW

AP vs. IB vs. Dual Enrollment (vs. whatever your school calls challenging)

“You like to see AP more than IB, right?”

 “I’ve heard you prefer IB to AP.”

“Just tell me the total number of APs I need to get in.”

“I was thinking about designing my own curriculum. Which sounds better, IP or IA, because you know AI is already taken and I don’t like the idea of having a ‘B’ in there, you know?”

Well…that’s not how it works.

First, if you are applying to or planning to attend a school with a 60%+ admit rate (and remember they make up the majority of colleges in the country), the odds are if you have good grades and take generally challenging courses, slight curriculum differences and course choices are not going to be of great consequence. In fact, many schools openly publish their academic parameters online so there is absolutely no mystery in whether or not you’ll be admitted.

Instead of worry about the type/name of a course- or the exact number of rigorous courses you have taken- here’s what you should be asking: “What’s my goal?” Is it to be as prepared as possible for the pace and depth of the classes you’re going to take in your major or college in general? If so, choose the path that is in line with those goals and aspirations. Look at the kids a grade above you or the seniors who just graduated who wound up at some of the schools you are interested in attending. There are no guarantees your outcomes will be identical, but at least you have some evidence of a viable path. Talk to your counselor now about the colleges you are interested in attending. They can guide you and, hopefully, provide you a bit of solace in your deliberations.

If your ultimate goal is simply to “get in” to a highly selective school (let’s arbitrarily say a 30% or lower admit rate, which would be around 100 of the nation’s 3,000+ colleges), then regardless of what the classes are called, you need to take the toughest ones available and do very well in them. Which classes are those? You know better than I do. What does “do very well” mean? Again… you know. Selective colleges are agnostic when it comes to what the course may be called- they just want to know that you have chosen rigor and responded well to it, because when you arrive on their campus, professors will have high expectations of your knowledge, and you’ll be surrounded by peers who are both prepared and eager to be challenged and stretched in the classroom.

Take some time to ask yourself if the reason you want to go take English or Calculus at the college down the road is really because your high school’s teacher is known to be really tough, or if it is because that is actually the best choice to help prepare you when you arrive on a campus full-time. If your school offers both AP and IB and you have a choice of one over the other, no college is going to say one is preferred in all cases. Instead, they’re going to evaluate you in context of your school. Which one attracts the best students in your grade? Ultimately, “ducking rigor” is not going to fly in the admission process at a college that admits one of every three, five, or 10 students.

So is the reason you want to take Spanish because of your passion for the language, or because you don’t know if you can juggle Chemistry, Physics, and Biology in one semester? Bottom line: the students admitted to Stanford, or those receiving premier merit-based scholarships at our nation’s top schools will take the three courses, suggest a more efficient way to run the labs, and teach the Spanish class. I’m not saying that is the way it absolutely should be. I’m just telling you how it works. And while I kind of hate to be the one to say this so bluntly, someone has to.

Ultimately, my advice is to forget the titles. Start by asking yourself why you are taking each course on your schedule. Is it to protect your GPA? Take advantage of state funded dual enrollment programs in order to save money and earn course credit? Provide time and balance for other pursuits inside or outside the classroom? To avoid a certain subject? Be honest about your goals, understand the pros and cons of each decision, and go from there. That’s how it should work.

Now, I’ve said my peace. Other than Rocky, Harry Potter (and arguably Star Wars depending on where you start counting) there is no need for a fourth edition of anything, so while I’ve learned my lesson to “never say never,” don’t expect another #TNHIW. And seriously, I’m drawing the line with skinny jeans.

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