Archives for October 2019

A Parents Guide to the College Admission Essay

My son started with Taekwondo when he was five. A few weeks ago, he was invited to test for his black belt. It’s a big accomplishment and he’s definitely excited. My wife and I are proud of him (and honestly kind of proud of ourselves too- that’s lot of driving, watching, and paying over the past six years).

Before a student can officially participate in the test, there are two final assignments to qualify.

One- you must build a carrying case for an egg and carry it around without breaking it for the week prior to the exam.

Two- In order to receive said egg, you must write a 3-5-page essay about your journey to this point, lessons learned, and how Taekwondo has impacted your life.

Now, I’ve seen him spar against black belts and get knocked down pretty hard numerous times. I’ve seen him get verbally lambasted by the master in front of the entire class and on-looking parents. He’s twisted ankles and bruised ribs along the way. But nothing has made me question whether or not he can actually achieve this more than the 3-5-page essay assignment.

While he has seen friends test for their black belts in the past, somehow this facet of the process escaped him too. “3 pages?!” he said exasperated and then went rolling onto the couch and smothering himself with throw blankets and pillows. “Oh… my…. gosh!” he said with a mix of desperation and exasperation.

As he continued muttering incoherently, my wife looked at me with her head slightly tilted, nodded in his direction and mouthed, “Have fun with that…” (I mouthed something back, but this is a PG-ish blog, so I’m leaving that out.)

Are you with me?

If you are the parent of a senior, you may have experienced some of this same joint angst in recent weeks or months. The likelihood is that with more deadlines coming up for colleges, it’s not quite over either. Sorry to broach this if you were having an otherwise carefree and blissful day (please go immediately back to sipping your chamomile and mindfulness practices after you’ve read this).

Whether it be for college, Taekwondo, scholarships, job interviews, etc., as parents we simply want our kids to meet deadlines, write well, put their best foot forward, and not procrastinate. We know we should not do the work for them, but it is admittedly tempting.

Before you lose your mind in or snatch their laptop in frustration and begin writing or re-writing your daughter’s or son’s essay, I want to give you three tips to help them improve their essay and get it done, and then two others to help you keep perspective and sanity.

TIPS FOR STUDENTS

Have them voice record. My son had literally no idea where to start. The mere mention of three pages sent him tumbling over furniture and burying himself in a mixture of fleece and wool (not really the stuff of black belts, but I did not mention that to him at the time).

Whether they have not started on their essay, are merely brainstorming, or if they have been looking at a blinking cursor for the last three days, verbalizing their thoughts both changes and improves their writing. Suggest they grab their phone and simply get ideas out. This is not supposed to be perfect. Just words, phrases, quick sentences. Totally fine if they are not in a particular order or connected with perfect conjunctions or transition words. Just start expressing. Note: This is also helpful when they are done (or think they are done). We have all read an email or report we’ve written and thought it made perfect sense. Then, after hitting send, we realize we’ve left out a word or transposed two. As we know from reading books out loud to kids, there is great power in reading aloud. Suggest that before hitting submit, they print their essay out and actually read it again out loud.

Suggest they move around. In most cases, students are using mobile devices to apply—laptop, IPad, etc. If they’ve come into the kitchen eight times for snacks over a 47-minute period, you can officially diagnose them with writer’s block (citation: Dr. George P. Burdell, 1885).  You’ll need to find your moment, but encourage them to change locations. Go out on the porch. Head to a coffee shop. Find a table at the local park. Change of scenery does us all good. Charge the device and go.

Tell them to be specific. Many admission readers are reviewing between 30 and 50 essays a day. At Georgia Tech right now, we have 22,000 Early Action apps to consider before mid-January. That is a lot of different students, situations, lives, and stories. Think about the last time you watched American Ninja Warrior or the Bachelor (insert your show of choice here where multiple people are introduced). What helps us remember who is who? Specifics. We remember the guy from Indiana who grew up boxing with his cousin. We can vividly recall the picture they flashed on the screen of the barn with the Sharpie stenciled sign behind their makeshift ring. Why? Because it is specific. One of the best ways you can help your son/daughter write a “good” essay is by insuring that it is specific and unique to them. This is what admission folks mean when they say, “We just want to hear their voice…” or “tell us about your passions…”

Initially, I asked my son to simply type out what he wanted to say. Here are three verbatim sentences he wrote (and when I say verbatim, I mean I literally copied and pasted): Taekwondo has not always been easy. There have been times that I have wanted to quit. I like sparring.

He’s eleven. I get it. So after I read his first draft (which took him about thirty minutes to come up with and only included about four other sentences), we went for a walk. I brought my phone and just asked him a bunch of questions. Anytime he gave me something general (see above), I asked him to tell me a story: When did you want to quit? Who do you like sparring with and tell me about a specific time- what kicks and punches did you use, etc.? I understand that you are likely not going to be strolling your neighborhood asking your 17-year-old these types of questions, but the concept is the same. Be specific. Give details.

Parents are often tempted to re-write or edit essays by inserting multi-syllabic words or focusing on the transition from one paragraph to the next. Those suggestions are not entirely unhelpful. But what a reader is looking for is detail. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. They have already read 37 other essays that day. Daylight savings has kicked in and it’s cloudy outside. They just had their 2 p.m. coffee and are thinking about the text they just got asking if they can swing by the grocery store on the way home later.

Tell them a story. Be specific. Be memorable. “Taekwondo has not always been easy”…not memorable.

TIPS FOR PARENTS

It’s a thing. But it’s not the only thing. Yes, colleges require essays. They read them. They matter. Yes, readers want them to be good. They score them. They make notes and bring the subject and insight gained from essay up in committee. They are expecting them to be grammatically sound and flow well. However, the truth is they matter less than most students/parents think. For most schools if a student is solid inside the classroom, involved and impacting people outside the classroom, the essay is not going to be the tipping point. Decisions on a student like that are far more influenced by supply and demand and institutional priorities (where you are from, what you want to study, what the school is trying to increase or grow or achieve in their community) than an essay.

You’ll read on Reddit or see the video of a student on YouTube say, “Yea. I had seven APs and did well on my SATs, but I think it was really my essay that got me in.” No it wasn’t. That student was admitted because she had chosen rigorous courses and done well, had an impact on people outside the classroom in high school, and wrote an essay that was specific and (to use a very precise term here) not bad.

Similarly, my son’s essay for Taekwondo matters. His master is going to read it. It needs to not suck. But as long as he’s put solid effort and thought into it, the decision on whether or not he receives his black belt is going to come down to his performance and other factors (like that stinking egg).

Now, I understand you can read this one of two ways. A- What a relief! My daughter/son just needs to be specific and basically not write a bad essay. B- That is a bunch of crap. This is the magic bullet and everything hinges on it.

Admittedly, I am writing this to give you some solace. But I’m not going to lie to you. (Hint: The answer is A).

Simone Biles flipping before throwing out first pitch in GAME 2 of 2019 World Series.

Go off speed. Earlier this week I had the opportunity to participate in a Facebook Live interview with Grown and Flown (which is a great organization that produces a ton of good content for parents). At the end, for some reason my internet connection cut out. The question I was unable to answer was essentially, “What do parents do when their son/daughter has not finished their essay. Or when deadlines to schools are approaching and it feels like everything hangs in the balance?” Should you just finish it for them? Should you “make them” apply to two more schools or that one in particular. How do you motivate them to just get it done for God’s sake?!!

Maybe I’m being influenced by what I thought was a riveting World Series, but my answer is to throw an off speed pitch. The truth is that there is never a good time to have this conversation. If you bring it up again, things are going to go south quick. There is never going to be a “right time” or “right place.” So instead, I’m encouraging you to write also. Yes, it’s old school. Pick up a pen and piece of paper and write them a letter. This does not have to be an epistle. Simple is always best. Just remind them that you love them. Tell them you are proud of them and concerned because they have worked hard and deserve to put their best foot forward, i.e. you want them to succeed. Let them know you are there to help, but know you won’t be next year when they’re at school. And then have a glass of wine, go for a walk, i.e. let it go.

Tough for everyone but the truth is that the admission process is a necessary time for parents to also realize that kids will need to do their work, manage their time, and fight their own battles at college very soon- and certainly in life beyond. Put it down on paper. Find a good envelope and leave it for them to read on their own time and terms. Then, to reiterate, wine and a walk—very important.

Live Your Story

This week we welcome Assistant Director of International Recruitment, Sara Riggs, to the blog. Welcome, Sara!

The long-awaited fourth season of the 2004 cult classic Veronica Mars finally made its debut on Hulu this past summer.  If you haven’t watched it (or seasons 1-3, along with the Kickstarter-funded VM movie, for that matter) what are you waiting for?  Ten of ten would recommend.

Spoilers Ahead! But I’m not here to just talk about TV.  All you need to know is season four ends tragically. I found out about the terrible, horrible, no good, very sad ending the same day season four debuted because I did exactly what I’m going to tell you NOT to do—I looked it up.  I put all my marbles in the “how does this end” basket.

(Don’t) Begin with the End in Mind

The thing is, I LoVe to know an ending.  There is a certain immediate, anxiety-reducing thrill when I find out what happens before the storyteller means for me to know what happens. But the other thing, the more important thing, I’ve learned is jumping ahead is always a mistake.  If I’m honest with myself, and with you, every single time I fast forward or (100% of the time) Google it, I begin to feel regret descend after the initial glow.  The even worse consequence is that neither the ending nor the actual story are as sweet because I already know what’s around the corner.

In reality, a good story is about more than an ending.  Though I’ve never watched a single episode of Game of Thrones, I know exactly who died (basically everyone), when (the moment you least expected), and how (in bloody, gruesome torture-death). But any true GOT fan will rightfully shame me for how much of the rich character development, dramatic plot twisting, and overall unparalleled viewing experience I missed out on, even if though they weren’t particularly enthusiastic about the final seasons. I know Khaleesi’s ending without any real emotional understanding of why she was cool for raising dragons in the first place.

A really good story holds magical powers.  It draws you in, lifts you up, devastates you, and brings you joy. The beautiful details are found in the mundane. No matter how it ends, the journey of a good story changes you.  In fact, the good story of a journey *is* your life.

Where YOUR Story is Found

What in the world does this have to do with applying to college?  Everything!  Your story is found in the application process and the waiting to learn a decision.  If you’re going through admission the right way, it’s not about where you end up; it’s about how you get there and what you learn about yourself along the way.

I’m here to tell you: DON’T read the last page first! Instead, try as hard as you can to shift your question from “where will I get in?” and “where will I go?” to “what will I learn about myself along the way?” and “how am I growing through this process?”

Bad things can happen when your primary focus is the ending, especially in your own story.  You run the risk of becoming someone you might not actually like or presenting an inauthentic version of yourself, not only to the colleges reading your applications and the circle of people who support you, but even to yourself.

Instead, take time through this process to focus and reflect. Grab some popcorn and play back your highlight reel. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who am I in this moment?
  • Where am I at this point in my story?
  • How did I get here?
  • Who or what has helped shape me?
  • Where do I want to take my story next?
  • Who do I hope to become, and why?

Don’t try to create your story based on the ending you think you want. Instead, embrace the process of finding your voice and learning to tell your own story.

Maybe your story is dramatic, or maybe it’s entirely unexciting.  Maybe it’s brilliant or tragic or a grand epic of redemption.  It’s possible that you don’t know exactly what you want your story to be yet.  Maybe you’re a natural-born storyteller, and maybe you aren’t.  No matter what, it’s your story, and one of the most valuable elements you can gain from the college application process is learning to tell it.  This is an opportunity not only to find the right university home but also to refine your ability to “know thyself” and begin articulating who you are (a valuable skill which pays dividends in all stages of life). Consider reaching out to some of the people who have been part of your story and thanking them.  Make productive use of the process and try to enjoy the benefits (aside from “getting in”) as much as you can.

If you’re still working on your application, make sure you’re having these conversations with yourself and anyone walking through this journey with you.  If you’ve applied and are waiting to hear back, keep having these conversations.  Ultimately, you’ll get to decide the ending of this story’s chapter, and you’ll choose the best beginning for your next chapter if you’ve taken time to understand your story as much as possible.

Will you get the Disney ending you expected?  Will you end up at your “dream” college?  Maybe.  But just as likely, maybe not.  If you spend time pondering your story rather than your ending, perhaps your ideal ending will be different than you anticipated when the process began.  Even if you don’t immediately like the outcome, give your story a chance to tell itself.

Take it from John Lennon (whether or not he was the first to say it), “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Sara Riggs has been with Georgia Tech since 2015. Prior to her time at Tech, she began her career in admission at a small, liberal arts college. She works primarily with international students and appreciates the truly global impact of a Georgia Tech education.  

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Your Application is in… Now What?

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!

If you’re a high school senior, you’ve likely submitted at least one college application by now (or you will be soon, right?). As I review our blog posts over the past year, I see we’ve covered a lot of ground. We’ve talked about writing your long essay… writing your supplemental essay… building your activity list… what to ask during your campus visit… what to do when the answer you hoped to hear turns into a “no”… and tips for parents to consider along the way.

What seems to be missing is this: what do you do AFTER you’ve submitted your application? A lot of focus is placed on the process of visiting, applying, and choosing your best college match. But there’s a good bit of time between the moment you submit your application and when you receive an actual decision.

What happens in the gap? Here are some ways you can make the best use of the newfound time you suddenly have on your hands.

Check your email and/or applicant portal. Once your application is in, be sure to check your email and applicant portal (if applicable) to monitor the status of your application and additional materials needed. Please note: IF YOU HAVE ALREADY ASKED YOUR SCHOOL COUNSELOR TO SUBMIT INFORMATION and it hasn’t appeared in your checklist yet, be patient! Many colleges have separate deadlines for students and school counselors to submit information. For example, at Tech our early application deadline is October 15. The document deadline (the deadline for documentation such as transcripts, recommendations, etc. to arrive) is November 15. We realize it takes time for counselors to gather and submit information for multiple students. So, please don’t panic if something is missing! If you’ve made the request, give it some time.

Not only does it take your counselor time to send in your information, but it also takes time for us on the college side to receive, process, and tie your documents to your application. If something is still missing after a bit of time, check back in to see if your documents are in the queue. But by all means do not become rude or pushy! School counselors don’t like that… and (hint) admission staffers don’t either.

Also, be aware there may be times your application is marked as complete, then after your documents are reviewed by the admission committee, your application once again becomes incomplete. You may be asked to submit more information. This is why it’s critical to check your portal every week or so. A potential change in your application status is also why you need to OPEN AND READ the emails you receive from colleges where you’ve applied. We get it—we know you get a ton of emails from a lot of colleges! But if you read nothing else, at least read the messages from schools where you have an active application on file. Emails from those schools are timely and can impact whether or not you receive an admission decision on time.

Start applying for financial aid. Now that your admission applications are in (or will be soon!), it’s time to apply for financial aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is free and available now! While this form has become somewhat simpler over the years, it’s still not an easy form to complete. Give yourself, and your parents, time to complete this important document if you want to be considered for Federal or need-based aid.

Similar to your admission application, financial aid offices also track your documents as they arrive. If you are selected for verification you could be asked to provide additional information, so be sure to allow enough time to fully complete this process ahead of the financial aid deadlines each school has set (hint – our priority deadline at Tech is Jan. 31).

Beyond the FAFSA, each school may have its own financial aid forms to complete. Be sure to check the financial aid websites of the schools where you’ve applied and get started on this important information sooner rather than later.

Hurry up and wait. The last thing to do is… wait. And wait well. Life doesn’t stop while you’re waiting for an admission decision. Sitting around and worrying isn’t going to benefit anyone, especially you! Write a thank you note to everyone who has helped you in this process (e.g. school counselors, letter of recommendation writers, and anyone else who has served as a mentor to you). Lead a project at school, help a friend, spend time with your family, and of course keep studying and working hard in class. Be active and grow where you’re planted.

Right now, in this moment, actually BE where you are instead of worrying about where you will be in a few months. Rest easy in knowing you’ve done your part (assuming you’re checking your email!) and give it time.

Easier said than done, but trust me, practicing that now will help keep your blood pressure down in the future.

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 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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Subtle Leadership

This week Georgia Tech’s Vice Provost for Enrollment Services, Dr. Paul Kohn, joins us on the blog. Welcome, Dr. Kohn!

Colleges want to enroll leaders: in how many ways are YOU a leader?

Traditionally, leadership is defined as both having a vision and the capacity to engage others in the pursuit of that vision. The persuasiveness of a person and the resonance of the idea or vision usually act like magnets, drawing others in a desired direction. Because leadership is contagious, colleges see leaders as contributors to the student body, campus culture, and the classroom, as well as potential contributors of ideas to make the world a better place. When an applicant combines leadership with a commitment to service, they may be considered a competitive candidate by the most selective institutions in higher education.

Some institutions clearly state their commitment to leadership and service, while for others it is a more subtle characteristic of the student body. In either case, leadership is likely to be a component of the application review process and admission criteria at many schools.

While there is a limit to how high test scores and grade point averages can climb, there are limitless ways in which leadership and service can manifest. And these attributes can manifest in ways you hopefully find enjoyable, which can feel satisfying in the midst of enduring high stakes testing, or reaching for perfect grades.

If you are on the verge of submitting your college applications, you may be concerned with your leadership resume. Maybe you worry you didn’t do enough… or you wish you could have done more. If so, how can you convince the university of your dreams that you WILL do more in the future?

The Range of Leadership

The range of leadership opportunities for high school students can be limited. For many students, leadership experiences are usually found within student clubs, or religious or athletic activities. However, if your circumstances have kept you from becoming captain of the _____ team or president of the _____ club, there may still be a wide range of experiences for you to highlight as examples of your leadership experience or potential.

You may need to look deeply for examples of subtle leadership, and the extent to which those can be seen as precursors of leadership potential in the future. Have you really captured all your leadership experience, or is some of it less obvious? Is some of your leadership experience atypical and not often cast as “leadership?” For example, a subtle way in which you may have demonstrated your ability to lead is by giving a voice to those who may have otherwise not been heard. Has your writing or public speaking reflected a commitment to helping people in this way?

Here are some other questions to consider:

  • Have you demonstrated and preached tolerance of divergent ideas and thoughts?
  • Have you helped a classmate accomplish a goal?
  • Have you helped members of your family through a difficult time?
  • When have you helped others know the path without literally ushering them down it?
  • Have you given a speech or written an op-ed piece about the benefits of voting or contributing to certain causes?

Truly examine your experiences and look for the times you inspired others, demonstrated good decisions, set an example of honesty and integrity, or showed commitment and passion for a goal. Look for moments in which you cooperated with others to achieve an outcome, or you displayed empathy for others.

Connecting Subtle Leadership to Your Application

I hope these examples will help you think differently about the experiences you’ve had through school, your work, your family, or your community. Using this lens, you may see a much larger number of examples demonstrating your leadership ability. In fact, there may be so many that you now need to sort out which are the worthiest to put forward in your college application. First, identify the ones which mean the most to you. Then, consider which ones hint at the ways you will get involved during your college years and possibly beyond.

If you’ve done your research about the colleges to which you are applying, you should have a sense of the campus culture. Where does your sense of that campus ethos intersect with the leadership experiences you have now uncovered?

For example, a student who did a notable science fair project about recycling might connect the dots to a campus-wide emphasis on sustainability. This student might describe the influence their project had on the behavior of their family or classmates and couple that to their intent to participate in the college’s campaign to reduce waste or become more energy efficient. If this student were planning to major in environmental studies, the intersection works even better at building the case that the applicant has shown leadership potential, has researched the college, is committed to the idea, and plans to devote time beyond the classroom to this interest.

Highlighting your past actions can show an admission staffer you are committed to improving the world, your school, your class, or your family. All of these should be evident in the ways you have spent your time and the ways you think about your future. Hopefully you’ve strived to set a good example for others to follow—and that is leadership.

Dr. Paul Kohn joined the Georgia Institute of Technology in August 2010, coming from the University of Arizona, where he was Dean of Admissions and Vice President for Enrollment Management. As Vice Provost for Enrollment Services, Dr. Kohn oversees Undergraduate Admission, Financial Aid, Scholarships, Registrar, and Strategy and Enrollment Planning. Dr. Kohn serves as Chair of the Student Information System (SIS) Governance Committee, served on the Strategic Technology Initiatives Committee and sits on the SIS-Planning Committee and Technology Governance Steering Committee. Dr. Kohn also serves as the Institute’s representative on the University System of Georgia’s Enrollment Management Administrative Committee.

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.

Lessons and Hopes for High School Seniors

Warning: This one is long. If you are apt to scroll before reading to determine length, save your thumbs.

We really think you are great and have been impressed with the track record you’ve established to this point.

We want you to apply because we believe you are exactly the type of person who would excel here!

Please write a 250-word statement about your background that will help us get to know you more.

If you are a high school senior, these lines probably sound very familiar. I’ve written emails, built applications, and edited brochure content with verbiage exactly like this. However, in this case, I was the recipient rather than the author. These were the messages I received over the last nine months encouraging me to apply to serve on the Board of Directors for NACAC, a professional admission/counseling organization I’ve been part of for about a decade.

I was flattered. I was excited. I was nervous.

As I wrote each statement, I contemplated the perfect way to say precisely how I felt or viewed particular issues. I tweaked, edited, and finally hit submit with nervousness about how my words would be received.

Ultimately, I went through a battery of interviews (actually, a barrage may be more appropriate), including several hours of speaking with delegates who would ultimately cast votes for the candidates they wanted to serve in this role.

After the many months of waiting, the moment of truth came.

Election Day

Last week I, along with six other candidates, was ushered into a small room behind the stage of a cavernous convention hall in Louisville, KY at our national conference. Our group of candidates sat, chatted, paced, checked phones, and made small talk as the votes were tallied. As I stood there looking around at my colleagues, I re-ran the numbers in my head. Seven candidates. Three spots. A 43% chance of winning, 57% chance of not being elected. I listened to the conversations. I considered my company.

Candidates for the Board and President of NACAC

In that room were professionals from all over the nation. During the nomination process I’d had the opportunity to get to know this group well. I read their campaign statements; sat at dinners and discussed issues; heard about their accomplishments and experience; and was impressed by their passion for serving students, bringing solutions to our education system, and continually growing as people and professionals.

A representative from the organization walked into the holding area and interrupted my considerations. She announced, “I’ll now read the results of the election.” Slowly, she called each of the three names.

Rick Clark… was not one of them.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. One by one, I hugged each of my fellow candidates, both those elected and those not chosen to serve the organization in this capacity.

It was not easy. It was not fun.

While the conference was not over, it was for me. I opted out of other sessions or lunch invitations and headed back to my hotel. I ditched the suit for jeans, put on a hat, grabbed my backpack and caught a Lyft to the airport. Honestly, I just wanted to be alone.

In the days since the election, I’ve been alone a lot. I’ve been on six flights, stayed in two hotels, and made one 10-hour road trip. TRANSLATION: I’ve had time to think.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from my experience that I hope you’ll consider and apply to your college admission experience.

When you apply, give it everything you have.

Trust me: I questioned if my speeches or written statements should have had different themes. I wondered if I was not elected because I’m from the south, or male, or from a public school, or the combination of all three. I pondered if I did not spend enough time with the voting delegates demonstrating my ability and background and how I could contribute.

Ultimately, as I assessed each, I was confident I’d done all I could. I wrote what I believed. I answered the questions honestly and authentically. I ran my race.

Maybe my geography or school type worked against me. Maybe one of my statements did not sit well. I’ll never know exactly why I was not elected.

Similarly, if you are applying to selective schools running holistic admission processes who have far more talented applicants than spaces available in their class, you are not going to be given a specific reason for why you are not admitted. Nobody is going to tell you, “If your ACT was a point higher it would have worked out.” Admission officers won’t say, “Too bad you’re not from Nebraska, because we are all full up on Pennsylvania this year.”

Instead, they will say, “We had a very competitive pool this year.” Their letters, email responses, or phone call explanations are going to highlight the strength of other candidates and the pure volume of applicants. In other words, and this may seem odd, but it’s both true and really important: they’re not going to talk about you in their rationale. They (we) are going to include phrases like, “While your credentials are impressive…” or “Although you are an incredibly talented student…” their ultimate decision not to admit you will point to the other applicants. I hate to say this, but get used to it. If it has not already, that’s what will happen throughout life. Jobs, elections, teams, dates… it’s not you, it’s… you get the point.

You need to point to you. You have to know that you gave it everything you had. Don’t wait until you get admission decisions back to ask these questions. Start now. Is your essay authentically yours? Have you prepared adequately for your interviews. Have you done your homework to know why you are applying where you are? Before you submit your application, ask yourself if you’ve truly given it everything you have!

While you are waiting, live your life.

After I was nominated, and during the months I was submitting statements and going through multiple rounds of interviews, I wondered how this would all turn out. I held dates on my calendar for possible future travel. I considered who I would have the opportunity to meet while serving in this capacity.  But far more importantly, I continued to live my life. My family took a great vacation to Colorado. I completed and published a book. I ran a few races.

As a senior in high school, this is perhaps my biggest hope for you this year. Keep things in perspective. You have one senior year, my friends. Enjoy it. Go to games, hang out with friends, take trips, and have fun! Nobody ever looks back during their sophomore year of college and says, “You know, I wish I stressed out more when I was a senior in high school.” Nobody! Look around you this week in school.  It’s natural to imagine yourself on certain college campuses or to be cautiously excited about opportunities next year, but remember this–  most of the folks you see every day now will not be around (in person) at this time next year. Give them a hug. Grab a meal together. Go see a concert. Just enjoy being together. Does that sound kind of cheesy? Good. Mission accomplished. Who said cheesy was bad anyway? I’d rather be kind of cheesy than cool and alone, or seemingly cool but fake. Embrace the cheese, people. Live your life.

When you receive admission decisions, visualize the other applicants.

If you are applying to a school that admits less than 50% of applicants, more students will be denied than admitted. I know, I know, you didn’t come here for the math. But the truth is you need to say this out loud: “My chances of not being admitted are greater than they are of being admitted.” Seriously, say that.

Thankfully, you are not going to stand in the same room with other applicants while admission decisions are read. That’s tough for a 30 or 40 year- old, but it would be cruel and unusual punishment for a 17 or 18 year- old.

While difficult, I also consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to physically see my fellow candidates’ faces. They are amazing. They are the type of people I want to know, work with, and emulate. They’re impressive, genuine, talented, passionate, and capable.

I wish you could see the other applicants who also hope to be admitted to the schools you’re considering. Not their GPAs. Not how may AP classes they’ve taken. Not if they’re 40 points higher or lower than you on the SAT. I wish you could see them, know them, and spend time with them.

When you are admitted, remember that many were not. Be cool. Visualize those who were not offered admission. Think about their efforts, their families, and their disappointment. Do you get credit for this? No. This is the development of empathy, and you’ll be a better human by developing it. The admission experience, if you’ll let it, can teach a lot of life lessons– this is one of them.

If you are not admitted, I’m not saying it won’t sting.  Don’t get me wrong, I ate more fries the day I found out about the election than I had in the last two months combined. I played some loud music on the plane home, went for an “angry run,” and may or may not have referred to the group I’d not been selected to join as “The Bored.” I never said I was perfect. But I do hope you will try to visualize the other applicants when you are not admitted. Be happy for them. Congratulate those you know. Wish them the best. Try to take the focus off yourself. I promise you it will help you start to move on.

MY HOPE FOR YOU

After a 20-hour day, I arrived in Cocoa Beach, FL where my family was staying that week. Around 1 a.m., I crept in and slept on the couch. Six hours later I woke up to my kids staring at me from about 7 inches away. “Let’s go to the beach!” And that’s exactly what we did. On the walk there, they asked, “Did you win?” Nope, I replied. “Good. That means you won’t have to go on any more trips.” And then we jumped into the waves.

My hope is you will surround yourself with family and friends who are 100% in your corner and encourage you; people who know you and love you, regardless of the college hoodie you wear or the diploma you ultimately put on your wall. College is four or five years. They matter and this is a big deal, but family is forever. So, if you remember only two words from this ridiculously long blog, they are, “Family first!”

We often call all of this the “college admission process.” However, too often that process is something that happens to you or that you go through. I hope you will embrace the word process and see your senior year as a real opportunity to grow, learn, mature, and prepare not only for college but for years well beyond it. The odds are somewhere along the line in your admission experience you are going to be disappointed. You may not get into your first choice school. You may not receive a big enough financial aid package to afford the college you want to attend. You don’t get into the Honors Program, don’t get your first choice major/residence hall, and so on.

The truth is we learn more about ourselves when we don’t get something, or when something is taken away, than when everything is smooth, easy, and going our way. Growth comes after discomfort or pain. My hope is you won’t just get through the admission process, but rather embrace it as an opportunity to remember the decisions of others are not what define us. They may change our direction, but character, mentality, and motivation is ours to choose.

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