Andrew Cohen
Campus Visit
College Admission
College Visit
Guest Blogger

A Board Gamer’s Guide to College Admission

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

My brother and sister-in-law are obsessed with board games.  From popular games like Settlers of Catan to more obscure ones like Sheriff of Nottingham (look it up, it is a fun one!), they have a large collection that is constantly growing. Whenever I spend time with them, we usually end up playing some type of game together… but only certain ones.  They have a pretty good idea whether or not I will like a game, and they know if it is worth trying to convince me to learn a new one.  I tend to gravitate towards games that require less strategy, are shorter in length and, most importantly, are not very complicated to learn.

When they finally convince me to play a new game, they teach me the rules, strategy, and logistics of the game.  We have a routine when learning a new game, which makes it a bit easier to pick up.  When I think about our love for playing games, I see lots of similarities to the college search and admission process.

No two games are alike

In their collection of games, my brother and sister-in-law have quite a variety.  Who knew there were so many different types of games? Their collection includes games like What do you Meme, which is an Apples to Apples type game but with pictures and captions to make up memes.  One of my favorites is Sushi Go!, a card game with various items from Japanese cuisine that have different point values (but don’t get too excited about your hand–each each turn you pass your hand to the person next to you!). They have several board games with tons of little pieces… games that take too much time to set up… and games that require a certain number of players. The options are truly endless when it comes to their board game collection.

When you begin your college search, you will discover that no two schools are the same.  There are many differences, from the majors offered to the layout of residence halls to the types of experiential learning available.  With all these differences, you have to come to terms that not every college (or board game) will be for you.

My family knows me well enough to only recommend games they think I will like. Once I play a game, I have a much clearer opinion of it.  Take your college counselor’s recommendations, learn more about the schools they recommend, and if possible, schedule a campus visit.  These experiences are going to help you determine if an institution is the right fit for you.

Read the Instructions!

When it comes to the college search process, you can expect certain things. But like a board game, there are many variations and differences. So you first have to rely on a board game’s instruction manual to get started.

One of the first sections in the manual will be a summary of the various pieces included in the box. When a game comes with many different pieces, the instruction book will explain all of them.

When you review an admission website or attend an information session, all admission offices are going to clearly outline the necessary requirements to apply to the institution.  Is the institution test optional? Can you submit teacher recommendations?  Are there supplemental essays? If so, what are the topics?  When doing research about various institutions, all of these should be clearly outlined for students.

That explains how you play, but how do you win? In all games there are winners and losers, and all instruction manuals will outline what it takes to win a game. When it comes to the college admission process, you will have to learn what it takes to be admitted.  At many schools, they provide a specific GPA and/or test score requirements needed for admittance. But for schools that utilize a holistic application review, the question of “how do I get in” or “will I be admitted” is not as clear cut.  Just like playing a board game, sometimes you try your hardest and do your best but still don’t win.  There are many factors out of your control. It is important to understand what that means for you as the player, or student.

We Can All Become Gamers

bingo card

Click the image above to download campus visit bingo!

Over time, the more we play games, the easier it is to pick up on new ones.  When learning a new game, we start by looking through the instructions to get an idea of how to play.  When it gets confusing, we turn to YouTube and watch a few “how to” videos.  This is usually what I find to be the most helpful.  The videos are planned out and ensure you learn all the necessary rules to start playing. They also walk through different examples that make it easy to understand the logistics of the game.

As you go through the college search, it gets easier and you become more knowledgeable.  As you visit more schools, you learn more about the differences and similarities between schools. What you like and what you don’t like.  You become more familiar with the lingo and the questions that you should ask.  Visiting colleges and universities, attending college fairs and meeting admission counselors when they visit your high school are all great ways for you to become more comfortable and familiar with today’s college admission landscape.

Your first college tour might be completely overwhelming, but by the time you visit your fifth college, you will be looking out for specific facts and know what specific questions to ask.

In a few weeks, I will be spending a long weekend with my family in the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York.  I guarantee my brother will bring a few games we have all played before.  It will be nice to be able to pick up a game and start playing right away.

For students who return to school in the coming weeks, I am sure you will start thinking about college applications and what schools you want to visit.  As the person at Georgia Tech who oversees the campus visit program, I understand that your college visits can be like learning a new game—a lot of information you need to take in and remember.

To help you remember important information shared during your campus visits, we encourage you to make a game out of it!  Don’t worry, this game requires little direction and is something you are already familiar with.  On your next college tour, play Campus Visit Bingo.  The directions are easy: during your information session and campus tour, listen for the answers and fill in all the boxes.  See how many boxes you can fill in, and feel free to ask question to help fill in your board.  Most importantly, have fun with it!

Andrew Cohen joined Georgia Tech in 2018 and currently oversees the guest experience for all Undergraduate Admission visitors. His love for providing visitors with informative, authentic and personal experiences started as a student tour guide at his alma mater, Ithaca College. Andrew’s passion for the visit experience has lead him to his involvement in the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association, where he currently services as the Treasurer on their executive board.

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You Wanna Bet?

Warning 1- This blog acknowledges (neither endorsing nor condemning) the existence of gambling/wagering money- often the loss of it.

Warning 2- This blog uses analogies that are imperfect.

Warning 3- Our editor is on vacation, which means decreased quality of format and increased use of ellipses and parenthetical statements.

Warning 4- Actually, that’s it. Here we go.

I’m not a big fan of large, indoor spaces, especially those without windows. This has never been formally diagnosed and in Google searches I can’t seem to find an exact match of symptoms or causation, so I refer to it as “Clagora”– an odd combination of Claustrophobia and Agoraphobia. In general this aversion has served me well, as it severely limits my time in malls, conference halls, and casinos.

But a few weeks before my wedding, I was in New Orleans with some good friends. I told them I wanted to do one thing- place $50 on black in roulette. No food or drinks. No sitting down. This was a get in and get out mission. One spin of the wheel. So we headed to Harrah’s Casino in the French Quarter.

As we approached the table, one of my friends (none of whom were married at the time themselves) grabbed my shoulder. “We were talking and have an option for you. We can all get you some crappy, forgettable wedding gift like a toaster or some candlesticks…or we can each give you $50 right now. One bet. All in.”

I paused and considered for… about three seconds (OK. Two.)… “Give me the money.”

“$400 cash on the table,” I heard the dealer say calmly. He deftly put the shiny, silver ball onto the roulette wheel and sent it spinning.

Students- Know Your Odds

The odds of hitting black on a single roll in roulette are 47.4%. Now, this may blow your mind but that means the odds of not hitting black are 52.6%. Put differently that’s less than ½ or more likely you’ll lose than win. Need more examples? Sometimes flipping statistics and changing your perspective in general can be helpful. Walk a route you normally drive. Take a helicopter tour of your town. Consider that while you “only have to put down 20%,” you still owe 80%.

Listen, I’m not saying that admission is roulette (see Warning 2). Applying to college is not a game. Admission decisions are not arbitrary. But it is helpful to “consider your odds” as you are building a list of schools to apply to.

A number of years ago, I suggested the Common App insert an acknowledgement button on the application of any university with an admit rate below 25%: “I understand this is not a fair process. Being of sound mind I agree not to assign self-worth to admission decisions. Further, I agree to apply to at least two additional schools with admit rates above 50%.” I never got a reply.

Well, I’m working on another petition now to US News and World Report and several other publications who commonly list schools by admit rates (typically starting with lowest as an implied metric of quality/value).  The ask—publish deny rates instead.

How would it change the make-up of your list of colleges if you thought about your odds or percentage chances in reverse? How would it alter the way you feel when you receive an admission decision, if you had looked at your odds differently from the start?

Applying to Stanford and Harvard is essentially like putting a chip between the 0/00 on the roulette table (95%~ chance of not hitting). I could see placing one bet like that, if you are a truly outstanding student. But more than that? High school counselors are always advising students to create a “balanced list” of colleges to consider. This is why.

So the next time you are listening to a college admission presentation or looking at admit rate information online, reverse their numbers. As an example, Georgia Tech’s deny rate for international students last year was nearly 90%, 82% for US non-residents, and 55% for Georgia applicants. Do the math and know your odds. It may help you spread your chips/apps in a more strategic and logical manner.

Parents- Consider All The Angles

$50 on black. In and out. Nobody gets hurt. That was the plan.

But the game changed. The stakes went up. The emotions of the moment were palpable and it was not “just me” involved anymore. All of a sudden the dollars multiplied eight fold. The “offer” of cash for wedding gifts now involved my wife and our future (Again, see Warning 2).

It is still July. Before your son or daughter starts filling in their name and asking you about employment history or your driver’s license number, you need to talk money. I wrote more extensively about this in March, but my strong recommendation is you establish and discuss three key elements of paying for college and finances: limitations, conditions, and expectations.

Limitations

How much are you willing to invest in your son or daughter’s college education? Particularly in states with strong public university systems, we often hear parents say, “I am willing to pay for any of our state schools or the equivalent price, if my daughter chooses to go to an out-of-state public or private school.”  Consider and honestly discuss what limitations you want to establish. These should not necessarily keep your student from applying to a particular school that looks like it will cost more than your determined threshold, but setting clear limitations early changes the dynamics, frames the emotions, and helps prevent feeling “gut punched” in the spring when financial aid packages arrive.

Conditions 

“We will not pay for a school south of Virginia,” or “No child of mine is looking at schools west of Colorado,” or “We will pay for $40,000 a year for College X, but we are simply not paying that for Y University.”

What are your financial conditions- and why? College is an investment. Your family’s goal is to be confident in the dollars you spend. If you talk about why you are putting conditions in place, they will not come across as irrational or arbitrary, but rather instructive and rooted in love.

Expectations

What role will/should your student have in paying for their own college education? Is there a flat amount or percentage you expect them to contribute? Setting clear expectations before applying to college allows them to consider if they need to work and save money during and high school, consider a gap year, or what questions they ask colleges about opportunities for on-campus jobs, the prospects for (and salaries associated with) internships or co-ops, etc. Instead of being divisive, setting expectations can unify your family because “the problem” of paying for college becomes a joint effort—one to solve together.

If there is one common thread that connects all parents in the college admission experience, it’s this—you love your kids. You want the best for them. You want them to be happy. You want to provide for them and say yes. As a parent of two, I totally get that.

However, here’s what I can tell you about the seductive roulette wheel of admission (for issues with that wording see Warnings 1-3)—it gets emotional. The offers start coming in, the dollar figures start going up, and it’s not just you at the table. You love your kids. Consider all the angles now because when that ball lands there will be some cheers, some disappointments, and often a crazy mix of both.

Back at the casino

The ball spun, slowed, and started bouncing. Red, black, red, black. Finally, it landed. Red 28.

Slowly, I let my head fall backward. I felt my friend’s hand on my shoulder again. “Well, at least we won’t be giving you some crappy hand towels or doilies from Target.”

Know your odds and consider all the angles. I’m betting that takes you a long way in your college admission experience.

Formal end of blog

——————————–

Feeling lucky?

A few years ago, there was a school in our state who had a relatively new head football coach, a lot of swagger, and fans that probably love roulette for the colors alone. Mid-season I told a friend that if they made the national championship, I’d donate $100 to his university’s need-based scholarship fund.

Well…I’m $100 dollars lighter now but at least I know my money went to helping some kid offset costs. When I unsubscribed from the Foundation solicitations, I chose “Other” as the reason and inserted this: “I LOST A BET. I’m the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech. Congratulations on coming within inches of winning the national championship. Now, please, never email me again!” I actually got a response saying it was the “best opt-out they’ve ever received.”

So before you bet a friend $20 or $50 or dinner on a game this fall, consider instead wagering a donation to the need based financial aid fund of the winner’s alma mater.  Can’t fathom “ever contributing one dime to that school?” No problem. Donate to the NACAC Imagine Fund and help high school counselors who send kids to many different amazing colleges.

 

Strange(r) Things About College Admission

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!

I am not a scary movie person. I like happy endings and clean resolutions. When it comes to entertainment, I mainly stick to light-hearted comedies, a few documentaries, and any and all movies in the Marvel Universe.

stranger things poster

Photo Credit: Netflix

That being said, I, along with millions of other viewers in the world, have been sucked into season three of Netflix’s Stranger Things (don’t worry—no spoilers lie ahead!). For those unfamiliar, the series focuses on a group of kids who experience…. unusual… events in their small town in the 1980s. As a Gen X-er, it’s fun to see that era, along with the products and fads that were prevalent in my childhood, come back to life. (Bonus: much of the show was filmed in and around Atlanta.)

While I enjoy the element of nostalgia, there’s also some pretty dark things that happen in the show. When a particularly intense scene comes up (as you can always tell from the ominous lighting and music), I cover my ears, close my eyes, and ask my husband to tell me 1) when it’s over, and 2) what happened.

Yep—I’m in my late 30s and acknowledge that I have the same reaction to scary things as my 8-year-old daughter.

If you’re a rising high school senior, you should be aware that when it comes to the college admission process, there are some strange(r ) things ahead of you. Don’t worry, there are no evil monsters or government conspiracies lurking around the corner! But there are a few things to consider as you start your journey.

The Upside Down

Okay, maybe one sneak peek (but it’s not a spoiler!). In the first season a character is pulled into the “upside down,” an alternate dimension that looks like the one we’re in but is very different. I won’t go into details on what happens down there, but just know that things in the upside down are nothing like they are here.

Things will happen on your college admission journey that will seem upside down. You may visit your number one college choice and, after taking a closer look, decide it’s not a great fit after all. Then again, a college you had little to no interest in (and to be honest, may be visiting only to pacify your parents) may be far more incredible than you thought, and it’s now in the top spot. Your list has essentially turned upside down.

When it comes to decision release day, things can turn upside down again. You may not get into a school you thought was a sure bet. You may hear of someone else who got in that you believe was a lesser candidate than you. It seems upside down, and it won’t make any sense. When you find yourself in that spot (and I say “when,” not “if,” because it has happened to most everyone I know, including me), remember there are things going on behind the scenes that you cannot control. College acceptances are often based around strategic priorities—it’s not a value judgement of you or your character. Colleges are working to find the right mix of students when making the soup each year… and sometimes it will seem upside down.

Be Open to All Possibilities

In season three, a character notices the magnets fell off her refrigerator, and she puts them back up… or at least she tries to. The magnets keep falling and refuse to stick. She talks to a scientist to learn how this is possible. After he runs through all the likely, and most logical, scenarios, she asks “yes, but what else? Is there anything else it could be?” He then shares a very remote, and what most would call illogical, possibility. She looks beyond the obvious answers and digs deeper for an answer that makes sense to her.

As you go through the college visit and application process, dig deep for what you’re seeking. While advice is always well-intended, there are times you should ask yourself a few questions first. Who is recommending this information? Do they have your best interests at heart, or are they advising through their own limited experiences?

When you’re on a campus tour, don’t just listen to the questions asked by those around you. Ask good questions (then ask them again).  Be willing to step outside your comfort zone and consider new possibilities.

Last but not least, when reading through publications and emails, remember that colleges are also marketers—we will always show you the our very best side. Grab a student newspaper or alumni magazine to learn more about what’s happening on campus now, and what graduates are doing with their degrees down the road.

Don’t let yourself be spoon-fed information. Investigate on your own and be open to the possibilities that may lead you to reset the destination on your “college GPS.”

It’s About the People

As previously mentioned, I’m not into scary things. So why do I spend valuable time watching something that, in truth, sometimes stresses me out? It’s not the plot that keeps me coming back, but the people in it. I’m invested in the characters and the relationships in the show. The kids at the center of all three seasons have an unshakable bond, despite the turmoil surrounding them. They don’t always agree and get along, but in the end, they have each other’s back.

As you go through your college search, don’t forget: it’s the people around you that matter. You’re surrounded by people who love and care about you: parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, counselors, coaches… the list goes on.

You will forge new relationships as you go through this process, and the ones you already have will shift in certain ways. It’s easy to get pulled into the plot of college admission—the essays, the activities, the grades, the applications, the deadlines. Yes, the plot certainly matters. But if, in the process of resolving the plot, you lose sight of the people within it, you’ve missed the point.

Schedule regular timeouts to simply enjoy being with your family (no college talk allowed)! Take a moment to thank a teacher for the impact they’ve had in your life. Treat your little brother or sister to a movie. Hang out with your friends and just have fun.

The plot of your life will continually shift, complete with twists and turns and unexpected story lines. But at the end of the day, the plot is situational—and means nothing without the connections between the characters within it.

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(A College) Search of Greatness

A few weeks ago I watched In Search of Greatness, a documentary featuring some of history’s best known and most accomplished athletes, including Serena Williams, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, and Pele. It covers their backgrounds, motivations, challenges, unconventional styles, and inimitable spirit.

I’ve engaged in some vehement debates with friends about who was the “greatest of the greats,” but we all agreed on one thing: seeing true greatness in action is a rare privilege. Over the course of the last decade, that’s exactly the position I have been in serving under our now outgoing president, G.P. “Bud” Peterson.

Anyone who saw MJ at the height of his game or watched Pele play loves to tell stories about “that day” or “that game” because indelible moments leave lasting impressions. As Peterson prepares to retire from Georgia Tech, here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned from his leadership.

Engage Fully

Move-in day in August is one of my favorites of the year. It’s gratifying (and frankly relieving) to see students arrive on campus. When numbers on spreadsheets and essays on applications manifest themselves in actual people with cars filled with boxes of shoes, bedding, and neatly packed toiletries, I may say, “Welcome to campus!” but I’m really thinking, “Phew. Thank God. I get to do this for at least one more year.”

The incoming class in 2009 was the first I brought in as director and happened to be Peterson’s first fall on campus as well. I was invited to join a group of administrators who were helping students unload cars at the residence halls.

Along with student volunteers, we greeted cars as they pulled up on the street outside residence halls and helped them unload from the curb. Doors would open, trunks would lift, and a swarm of movers would descend upon the wide-eyed family’s vehicle. It was hot and there was a steady stream of cars.

Many leaders would see move-in day merely as a photo opp. Grab a shoe box or some hanging clothes, shake a few hands, and wait for the article to be written up. But invariably, President Peterson would grab the mini fridge in the back of the car or the largest and heaviest box he could find and bound through the doors of the dorm and up two flights of stairs before the student’s younger brother even got out of the car.  Peterson has never been about appearance. He approached that minor activity the same way he consistently operates—fully engaged and invested.

Your Takeaway

The admission process will Jedi-mind trick you with dates, deadlines, applications, decisions, seemingly dry or mechanical components, and an endless deluge of emails and brochures in your mailbox. It’s easy and understandable to look at the 16th  college tour of the summer or another supplemental essay you have to write merely as a task to be done or an inconvenience in the midst of your busy life.

Peterson’s was formally recognized last week in the form of a $17 million endowment in his honor to help students with financial need.

My hope is you will follow Peterson’s lead and fully engage. Approach this not as a process, but rather as an experience—an opportunity to grow and learn. Instead of simply listing and describing what you’ve done on the extra-curricular section of applications, give real thought as to why you participated and what you learned. What did you get out of being on the swim team? Why did you join the Spanish club? How did it shape and change you? And do you want to broaden, deepen, or discontinue that involvement in college?

Don’t just ask teachers for recommendations. Take the opportunity to thank them for their time and effort. Share what you learned in the course and how it’s helped or impacted you. College applications should not be treated only as a vehicle for delivering information to schools. If you fully engage, they actually have the potential to be an exercise in reflecting on your high school career and assessing how your experience directs you in the future, regardless of where you end up going to college.  Engage Fully!

Ask Simple Questions

While there are many anecdotes I could recount, one of the most poignant occurred when President Peterson learned I was considering a position at another university. The title was higher, the portfolio was bigger, and the salary was larger.

He invited me to sit down and discuss the opportunity. After he shared a similar story from his career he said, “Really, there is just one thing to consider.” I waited expectantly, convinced this would be my answer, and he had the pearl of wisdom I needed to make a decision. “You need to ask yourself, ‘Do I want that job?’” He did not try to convince me one way or another. He did not encourage me to build a big spreadsheet of pros and cons or attempt to strategically analyze how this may impact my long-term career. Instead, he asked me to consider the perfect question—one that triggered a series of others I needed to reflect upon: Is this a fit? Where will I thrive? His question helped me tune out external pressures, opinions, and perceived factors and to be honest about what I really wanted…and why.

Your take-away

Too many students follow the crowd in the admission process. They apply to the same schools their siblings or friends applied to. They only consider local options or the most popular colleges in their region. They want to please their parents or feel like they must go to the most selective or highly ranked school to which they are admitted.

In the past we’ve written about asking better questions and even asking the same questions again and again. I stand by that advice, but to take a page out of Peterson’s book, my hope is throughout your admission experience you will continually ask the most important question: “Is this for me?”

When you are on a college campus listening to an admission officer or tour guide or academic advisor, ask, “Is this for me?” When you put together the list of colleges to apply to, ask, “Am I applying here for someone else or is this for me?”  When you are selecting a major or deciding what topic to choose for your essay or making a final college choice, ask, “What are the outside pressures I am feeling? Is this being pushed on me, or is this really for me?”

Around November of the first year (sometimes earlier) many students begin to question their college choice. They spend consecutive nights endlessly scrolling Instagram or visiting friends at other schools and returning to a dark dorm room believing they made a mistake. Sometimes this happens because they limited their admission experience to a process and simply went through the motions. They “ended up” somewhere rather than choosing it. Outside factors and pressures corrupted an honest, intentional, introspective experience. I hope you’ll have both the courage and confidence to ask, “Is this for me?”  Ask Simple Questions!

Family First

President Peterson has four (now adult) children of his own. He and his wife, Val, have fostered nine others. If you are around him long enough, you’ll hear him recount stories about conversations with President Obama, Fortune 100 CEO’s, and some of our nation’s highest-ranking military officials. He will passionately discuss thermodynamics or complex engineering concepts. But I’ve seen his greatest joy come as he’s shared simple stories about his kids and their families.

One day, early in Peterson’s tenure at Tech, we were informed of an admitted student who died in an automobile accident while driving his sister to school. We learned these were the only two children in this particular family. He invited me to his office to learn more and discuss the situation, as this was an admitted, not an enrolled or current, student.

I explained that traditionally I took care of writing to families during the admitted stage. He leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath, then slightly shook his head and said, “You know, Rick. I’ve had a lot of titles in my life: professor, dean, provost, Chancellor, but by far the one I cherish the most is ‘father.’ I simply cannot imagine how these parents are feeling tonight.”

He wrote the letter that day. I went home, hugged my wife, and slept on the floor next to our son’s crib.

Your take-away

After sitting at the intersection between high school and college for the last 20 years, I’m convinced that at its core the admission experience is fundamentally about family. Admission officers rattle off factors and stats and dates that appear quantifiable.  Students and parents focus on elements like grades and test scores and decisions and money and other elements that appear to be sterile. The truth is the admission experience is not defined numbers but is instead deeply relational. It is rooted in both individual and collective hopes and dreams.

Visiting and applying to colleges, handling decisions, weighing options, and ultimately arriving on a campus provides an opportunity to connect rather than divide; to trust each other rather than be paranoid and skeptical about how decisions will turn out; to control what you can control—how you treat and love one another. Family First!

In Search of Greatness

Georgia Tech’s motto is “Progress and Service.” I like to modify it when talking to students and our team to “Progress (not perfection) and Service.” If you watch the documentary, you’ll notice each of the stars talks at length about losses, setbacks, challenges and difficult moments. Clearly, the refusal to accept the status quo and the desire to continually refine and improve is a commonality among the greats.

I hope you’ll take a similar approach to your next year of high school and keep that mentality as you enter college. Nobody expects perfection from you, even though at times it may feel that way. They simply see your greatness and want you to strive for it. Similarly, I cannot offer you a perfect way to go through your college experience, because it’s your experience. I can only encourage you to Engage Fully, Ask Simple Questions, and keep Family First.

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Sports Metaphors and College Admission

This week we welcome Senior Associate Director of Admission Mary Tipton Woolley to the blog. Welcome, Mary Tipton!

I’m doing what we tell students not to do in their essay—writing about how sports are a parallel to life. But please indulge me for a minute. In fact, if you want to skip past my life story and get to the point of this blog, feel free to go straight to paragraph number five.

My daughter is seven. Since she was three we’ve joined countless other parents in trying out various local sport leagues. Why? The common refrain among parents is that we want him/her to have the experience of playing on a team. It typically ends with a phrase such as, “just like I did as a kid” (more on that later). First we, er… I mean she… tried soccer. Nothing says ‘team’ like a herd of three year olds running in a pack after the ball with one inevitably picking daisies in the corner of the field. By the time the kids turned 5 and pushing/shoving became more prevalent, mine decided she had enough of others up in her personal space.

Next, she decided to join our neighborhood swim team, and we were introduced to the production that is summer swim team in neighborhoods all over Atlanta. Swim lessons have vexed me her whole life. Unless you believe your child is the next Michael Phelps and want them to swim year round in a club, finding swim lessons that fit the schedule of two working parents is more difficult than getting tickets to Hamilton. Even knowing her swimming skills weren’t great, we dove right in (see what I did there?) to putting her on the team.

Finally, in a truly bold move, she decided to play softball. She didn’t know anyone who had played, none of her friends were doing it, and she would be the youngest in a combined 6U/8U league. In an even more shocking twist, I think she got the idea from me (likely one of the few things in her life she thought was a good idea from mom!). After she got hit in the face during tryouts by an equally inexperienced 6-year old, I thought she was done. But she persevered. We were introduced to a fielder’s mask and off she went!

It’s Not My Journey

So, what have I learned over the last few years? Most importantly, this is my daughter’s journey–not mine. Ugh – that’s a hard lesson that I’m confident I will have to learn over and over. I should confess now that she took two seasons of softball to get a hit, which finally came in the last game this spring (where she got three!). She also started the season as the slowest member of her swim team, and I’m editing this while I watch her swim in our city-wide meet at a real Olympic pool at Georgia Tech (where she finished 45 of 46).

Despite, or due to, this she is having fun, making new friends, listening to her coaches, improving and showing lots of signs of resiliency and bravery! These are all traits I can get behind – even if it isn’t the same path as mine. In fact, I’m working on getting behind them because it isn’t the same path as mine.

While my daughter may not be getting ready for college applications just yet, I do see similarities between this season of parenting and the one I’ll face in 10 years when she’s 17. I’ve worked with a lot of families as they’ve navigated the admission process, and here are a few takeaways for both parents and students as college admission season gets cranked up.

To Parents:

I’m sure you have similar memories of your student’s younger years, whether it’s sports teams, music lessons, or chess club. As parents of children in the midst of their college search, these same lessons apply but are often harder to remember, especially since it feels like more is on the line. It’s okay for your student to seek out different schools than the one you attended – they may even have a list that’s entirely different than yours! Ultimately, that’s a good thing.

This journey belongs to your student, and, just like these early life experiences, it can be humbling for a parent. Instead of focusing on the bumper sticker you want, focus on the experience your student is having in high school and what is really going to be the best fit for them in college.

Sit down and talk to your student about what they are looking for in a college. Questions about size and location are obvious. Some others to consider are:

  • How do you want to be involved on campus?
  • How do you want to remember your time in college?
  • What are you most looking forward to in your college experience?
  • Who do you want to be in college?
  • What kind of life are you expecting after college?

You should also visit campuses together as a family. If you can’t travel to a specific college due to distance, visiting local schools can still be helpful. Sit back and let your student take the lead on those visits – your focus should be on watching their reaction. What’s their body language? Are they smiling? Do they want to stay and see more than the tour covers or are they ready to leave immediately? Answers to these questions can help you as a parent gauge how truly interested, and engaged, your student could be at that particular school.

To Students:

Don’t be afraid to speak up and tell your family what you want out of a college experience. I know, that’s sometimes easier said than done.  But it is going to be your college experience for the next four years.

  • Ask good questions during your campus visit.
  • Consider each college’s mission and think about how it fits with what you’re looking for in your experience.
  • Talk to your parents, and discuss any legitimate constraints for your college search, especially surrounding finances. Having an honest conversation now can save a lot of stress down the road.

Finally, utilize resources you have at your disposal to figure out what you want in a college experience. High school counselors, friends and older students already in college are great resources. I’m always impressed by the clarity college students seem to have about the search process, despite how stressed they may have been when going through the process themselves. Hindsight is 20/20, so don’t be afraid to talk to those around you and learn from their experiences!

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