Admission Process
College Decision
Deferral/Waitlist
Georgia Tech
Managing Stress

The Waitlist STILL Sucks!

Listen to the audio version here.

  • Pink eye.
  • A car hitting a puddle and soaking you from the waist down.
  • Someone eats the last Girl Scout cookie but leaves the box in the pantry.
  • Back pain.
  • Your car needs need a new timing belt.

Feel free to add on to this list of Things That Suck, but I figured I’d get you started. Surprisingly, it can be a bit cathartic to just toss them out there. I find it enjoyable to say these with gusto while leaning in slightly, gritting my teeth, narrowing my eyes, clenching my fist, and adding the disdain only rivaled by Jerry in Seinfeld episodes when he’d curse the name Newman! (Yes, I expect you to click on that link if you don’t know that reference. This is a life-enriching blog.)

In college admission, I’d argue the most Newman-worthy word is waitlist. A few years ago I wrote a three-part series called “The Waitlist Sucks.” Since that time, we have seen political change, population growth, and new world champions crowned. But The Waitlist Still Sucks! Here’s why.

Reason #1: I’m Not That Smart

Why does this admission purgatory exist at all? Well, it depends who you ask. Deans, directors, and other enrollment managers will say it is because predicting 17 and 18 year-old behavior is not an exact science. After all, if we could precisely determine the number of students who would accept our offer of admission and deposit (yield) by the May 1 National Candidate Reply Deadline, waitlists would not be necessary.  So in addition to reading applications all year from students who make A’s in classes I can’t even spell or accomplish things in under 20 years I’ll never achieve in my lifetime, the waitlist is an annual reminder that I’m just not that smart.

Waitlists are basically a cushion. Colleges build and utilize historical yield models in order to predict the number of students we think will say yes to their offer of admission. However, because the number of beds in residence halls, the number of seats in classrooms, and the faculty:student and advisor:student ratios are very specific, they intentionally plan to come in slightly below their target. In many cases, they do this in order to account for years when the model changes and students “over-yield.” If you are applying to a school that over-enrolled the year prior (cough… Georgia Tech), you can be sure they will be extremely conservative, e.g. filling an even higher number of spaces from the waitlist.

The waitlist also exists to allow schools to meet institutional priorities. After the May 1 deadline, colleges evaluate their deposited class and use their waitlist to increase desired demographics that were not met in the initial round of admission offers. This could mean more students from a particular state or geographic region to proliferate their college’s brand. Perhaps they just hired a new dean in business who is clamoring to grow the program. Or maybe they are trying to increase male enrollment in their education department. The bottom line is college waitlists are not restaurant waitlists. You are not ranked or assigned a number. Instead, they hand-pick applicants to fill a specific purpose. Cushion, institutional priorities, unpredictable teenager thought process. Call it what you will. Bottom line: I’m just not that smart. Newman!

Reason #2: Waiting sucks (add this, and losing to your rival in the final seconds of a game, to the list at the top.)

You applied. You waited. You waited some more. You took up curling and counted the number of Cheerios in your bowl each morning. You watched the rain fall. Finally, decision day arrives. You take a deep breath, say whatever type of prayer, hex, good luck incantation seems most fitting, enter your password, and… What?! No! Oh no you didn’t.

I wish I had a good tip for you. All I can say is what you already know—waiting is hard. Uncertainty is frustrating and unsettling. Feeling better? Yeah, I get it. I’m guessing you’re also not going to like to hear that life is full of situations just like this one. Will I get a new job, and when? Will the results of this test come back from the doctor with life-changing implications? For many of you this is the first of many big situations that mean waiting, hoping, praying, and learning to be content and joyful in the present, regardless of your circumstances. That is a challenge at any age—you are just getting some early practice. Congratulations??

**Special note/apology: Some of you were deferred and will now receive a waitlist offer. Welcome to the 9th level of admission hell. We don’t like doing it and we know you hate dealing with it. This year UNC-Chapel Hill moved away from that progression by no longer deferring anyone in EA and rather pushing students straight into waitlist. Is that kinder, gentler admission or just Newman showing up earlier in the episode? You decide.

Reason #3: It’s an ego hit.

“What’s wrong with me?” “Why did that other kid get in and not me?” “How is my 3.8 and 1520 not good enough?” Please, hear me adamantly reminding you: This is not a value judgment! Again, as my colleague Pam Ambler from Pace Academy here in Atlanta so astutely put it, “How admission decisions feel is not how they are made.” YOU are amazing! YOU are talented. Yes. I am talking to you. YOU—with the iPad out or scanning your phone, or reading this while you’re pretending to listen in class or to a friend. That doesn’t mean it does not sting, burn, or make you want to scream, “Newman!” (Feels good, right?)

Keep your head up. Don’t let a school’s decision (based on factors well outside your control) shake your confidence. Your goal is to have the confidence to embrace uncertainty as an adventure rather than a burden. Great days ahead, my friends. Where exactly? I don’t know. But walk confidently and keep your head up. You got this.

Being in limbo is tough enough on its own. But adding to the angst, frustration, and ego hit is that everyone else seems to be set and living a smooth, stress-free life as they finish high school. Seems is the key word here. Trust me—they still have their own issues and doubts. They are only posting their (occasional) fancy meals and best hair days on Instagram. And you better believe those pics are highly photo-shopped and multi-filtered.

I understand lots of your friends already know or soon will know where they are going to college next year. I hope you’ll have the vision and character not to spend your energy envying them but rather celebrating with them. This will come back around. This is all going to work out. Love on them now and they’ll be thrilled when you’ve made your final decision too. Trust.

So, what can you do?

  1. Accept your spot. At most schools the waitlist decision is actually an offer, rather than an automatic secured spot. Typically, you need to take action of some kind to accept or claim your waitlist spot. If you do claim your spot, be sure you also complete anything additional they ask you to submit. Is there a supplementary short answer question to complete? Do they want mid-semester grades sent, or another recommendation letter or an interview? All places vary. Admission 101 = read what they send and do what it says.
  2. Deposit elsewhere. The college that has offered you a spot on their waitlist should be instructing you to take this step, as it is absolutely critical. Because most schools won’t have a firm sense of deposits until late April, the majority of waitlist activity occurs in May and June. Since May 1 is the National Candidate Reply Date, you need to put your money down at another college in order to secure your spot in their class. Just like the college, you are hedging your bets.
    I sort of hate to be the one to tell you this, but just in case no one else will do it… the statistics/odds say you are likely not coming off the waitlist. Yes, there is always a chance. Dark horses win races. It somehow did rain for the 83rd straight day in Atlanta. Don’t hear me say it’s impossible. But if I were you I’d get excited about the school that accepted you and where you chose to deposit in March or April.
  3. Don’t stalk the admission office. Claim your spot, send in what they ask for, and wait. That’s it. If you really feel compelled to send an email to an admission counselor that you’ve met or corresponded with previously, that could be your other action item. If you do that, it’s a one and done deal. We have seen students send a painted shoe with a message on the bottom reading: “just trying to get my foot in the door.” Memorable, but ultimately ineffective. Admission offices regularly receive chocolates, cookies, and treats along with poems or notes. It is safe to say that a couple hundred grams of sugar and a few couplets are not going to outweigh institutional priorities. There is a distinct line between demonstrating interest and stalking. Stay in your lane.
  4. Grrrr….Newman!

Finish Well

At the end of the day, my hope is you will not let being on a waitlist keep you from enjoying the last part of your senior year. Have fun on spring break. Go to prom. Take the opportunity to thank your teachers or read something outside of school in which you are genuinely interested.

Maybe one day we’ll live in a world where the admission experience is perfect. Students apply to their one and only dream school (likely without having to write an essay or pay an application fee); the college admits them all with full scholarships; students arrive on campus singing, smiling, and holding hands; they all earn (not get) 4.0 GPAs, retain at 100%, graduate in four years, get high paying and highly fulfilling jobs after graduation, name their babies after the admission director… you get the picture.

Until then… we have the waitlist (and it still sucks!).

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Still Waiting…

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

My “quarter life commitment” came in the form of my first home purchase this summer, and I quickly learned buying a home doesn’t happen in half an hour as House Hunters will have you believe.

I know. I was just as shocked as you are.

After setting my parameters and keying into the type of home and neighborhood I was looking for, it was time to physically set foot in a few places.  The first one looked nice, but had a lot of candles burning to cover up a suspicious smell; the second one was sold before I even left my showing, but the third one? Now that I could work with (yes, I really only looked at three. Again, I’ve watched too much House Hunters)! Top floor unit, hardwood floors… sure, the bathrooms are painted school bus yellow, but otherwise, it was perfect.

I went home, had a few conversations with my real estate agent, and sent in my offer paperwork that very night. Then came the waiting. It was between me and a few other buyers. I spent several days waiting for the phone call telling me which offer the seller had chosen.  You know that forgot-to-breathe, heart-in-stomach sensation every time the phone lights up while you’re waiting for an important call or email? Let me tell you: I had it bad.

Finally, the phone rang! False alarm. It was my aunt. Thoughts swirled through my mind…

How would the seller judge me? Sure they had every piece of info about me besides my blood type and horoscope, but they didn’t even know me. 

The phone rang! My home security company. I pondered some more…

I thought my agent said they were going to get back to me yesterday. Should I send the seller cookies? A recommendation letter from my mom? (By the way, if you’re reading deep into this metaphor, the answer is no, don’t send colleges cookies).

Then…the phone rang.

How do you wait?

I only had to wait a few days, but college applicants wait a whole season. It gets especially hard this time of year when the answers are less than a few weeks and email clicks away. Many months go into actively searching out colleges and preparing your application, and then once you hit submit… radio silence. So, how do you wait?

Think about it

I will confess, this is how I wait: as soon as I confirm my orders on Amazon, I reread the product reviews and scrub through YouTube demonstration videos, imagining how great my life will be once my food scale arrives in two days. When I bake cookies, I sit in front of the oven, turn on the light and watch… and watch… and watch. And when I put an offer in on a house, I scroll through the property pictures, mentally planning the furniture layout, learning which grocery stores I will shop at, and Yelp all the restaurants nearby.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t cross the line into impatience, but I do use my nerves productively. Why? Because when I use my time wisely and channel my nervous energy towards a positive outcome, I’ll be more prepared for what comes next. And if it doesn’t go well?  I’ll be disappointed, but at least I’ll have an oddly impressive knowledge of all the grocery stores in a random Atlanta neighborhood.

I think, no, I know many college applicants feel the exact same way right about now. There are whirlwind trips for college tours, chats with friends at the schools where you’re applying, and perusals of excellent blogs (wink wink) to learn more. If you take this route, be sure to know & set your limits. Be careful not to let excited interest turn into unhealthy fixation. Ultimately, there’s going to be a lot of big decisions to make come spring, so if there’s something you’re curious about right now, this is the time to dig in and learn about it.

Don’t think about it 

Contradictory, aye? I can understand the continued focus on college causes people more stress, so not thinking about it might be more your style. The decision will come regardless of what you do at this point—the pendulum has to swing back. And while you’ve controlled your application, you can’t control what your admissions officers, or the rest of the applicant pool, will do. I could list a million different “live in the now!” clichés, but the reality is, you know this. You’ve probably played the “last” game all year now (my last year at home… my last first day…). There’s plenty going on right now that deserves your focus.

You might even be like my sister, who took a hands-off approach when she submitted her job applications last year mostly out of fear of “jinxing it.” (Fair enough, she does have her dream job now.) As long as you know that your colleges have everything they need from you, you’ve done your part. You’ve passed the ball, and you’ll get it back soon enough.

Get Busy

Are you holding your breath? Exhale. There’s no reason you can’t invite opportunities for growth right now because of decisions that will come later.

There’s a certain amount of freedom in these few months. You’re not in the college search process. You’re not writing applications, and you’re not making your college decision. You just… are. And if you can find peace with that, then you can see the opportunity. Is there something you want to do before you leave home? Remember this summer when you swore to yourself you were going to learn sign language, right after you learned how to cook? Now’s the time to do it. 

(Added bonus: if by chance any of your early action applications come back as a deferral, you’ll have something new to add to your application)

Wait Well

On behalf of college admission officers everywhere, thank you for waiting with us, and allowing us the opportunity and time to dive into your accomplishments. We’re in the home stretch.

Perhaps it’s the least discussed part of the college application process, but the wait is hard. The angst, the anxiety, the lack of control. We live in an era of instant gratification, a departure from which can be frustrating! There’s a maturity that comes with learning to wait for results, or even the simple passage of time, and it takes knowing yourself to know how to wait well. Find what works for you, and push forward in these last few weeks.

However you wait this season and whatever comes at the end of it, remember you will be okay. There will be triumphs, disappointments, and incredible opportunities.  And if things don’t work out as you’d hoped after the wait? Know there are so many great colleges where you can be a happy, healthy, and successful member of the community.

Turns out there are roughly 100 other condos in my complex with the exact same floor plan. Guess I didn’t have to go with the school bus yellow bathrooms after all. Lesson learned.

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.

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Preparation Day

Listen to the audio version here!

On Sunday my son and I went to the Atlanta United Eastern Conference Championship game against the New York Red Bulls. During the tailgate, I got a text from a friend that read:  “My daughter was deferred. We were SHOCKED! What does that really mean?” (FYI this was another school’s decision. If you are waiting on EA decisions from Tech, you have not missed anything.)

My first thought was, “Really? You were shocked? You know their profile and admit rate.” My second thought was, “I’ll deal with this on Monday,” and I put my phone on do not disturb (because that’s the kind of friend I am).

About 30 minutes later I was talking to another friend. He has one kid in college and two still in high school. He told me that after watching his older son go through the admission process he has been telling his current high school senior who is applying to colleges to be prepared to hear “no.” The dichotomy between these two approaches was both striking and instructive. More importantly, it made me realize we need to add another key date to the admission calendar.

August 1- Many colleges open their application.

October 1- FAFSA opens.

November 1- EA/ED Deadlines at lots of colleges and universities.

May 1- National Deposit Deadline.

So, by the power vested in me (which is none, by the way) I pronounce December 1 as National Preparation Day!

By or on this day, henceforth, any high school senior applying Early Action or Early Decision to a college with an admit rate of less than 50 percent must put their hand on a large, preferably leather-bound book of some kind and take this pledge:

“I, (state your name), being of sound (though overly caffeinated) mind and (sleep-deprived) body, do hereby swear that I will not presume anything in the admission process. Upon advice of my wizened counselor sages, I acknowledge that I will not look at middle 50 percent ranges and expect that my scores, though in the top quartile, guarantee my admittance.

I will not look at middle 50 percent ranges of hitherto admitted classes and expect my scores, though in the bottom quartile, will be overlooked based on my amazing essay, parents’ connections, pictures of me in a onesie from that college, or the 12 letters of recommendation that have been sent on my behalf.

I understand the heretofore explicated concept of holistic admission is neither fair nor perfect, wherein I will likely not agree with, nor be capable of predicting all results, despite the complex algorithms I employ or the kingdom fortune tellers I visit.

Furthermore, I agree that I will not view an admission decision as an indictment of my character, a judgment on my hitherto demonstrated preparation, nor a prediction of my future success.”

Note: Slightly misused Olde English conjunctions does not negate the spirit nor effectiveness of this pledge.

So What Does Defer Mean?

Back to my friend who’s daughter was deferred… what does defer actually mean, and what do you do with that decision?

It means you have some work to do.

You need to send in your fall grades. You may need to write an additional essay or tell the admission committee more about your senior year extracurricular activities. Defer is a “hold on.” It is a “maybe.” Don’t like those characterizations? Fine—call it “tell us more.” They will be looking at how you’ve done in a challenging senior schedule, or if your upward grade trend will continue, or if you can juggle more responsibility outside the classroom with your course load. Bottom line is you have work to do. Are you going to get admitted in the next round? No promises. But if getting deferred is what helps keep you focused and motivated, you should look at their decision as a good thing. Finish well.

It means you may need to submit another application or two. 

If you’ve already got this covered, that’s great. You were ahead of Preparation Day. If not, then good news—many great schools have deadlines in January. The bottom line is you need applications in at a few schools with higher admit rates and lower academic profiles than the one that deferred you.

It means holistic review is a real thing.

If your scores and grades are above their profile and they defer you, they only proved what they said in their publications and presentations—admission is about more than numbers. At Georgia Tech we are knee-deep in application review. We have not released decisions, but day in and day out we are slating students for defer who have ACT scores of 35 or 36 and great grades. Is that “shocking?” It shouldn’t be. Institutional priorities, shaping a class, and supply and demand drive admission decisions. Similarly, if your scores are in the middle or below their profile, a defer also proves decisions are made using more than just numbers.

It means you need to check your ego and wait.

Does that sound harsh? Sorry—but sometimes, life is harsh. This is why you should take the pledge. It’s why have formally added Preparation Day to the admission calendar. (Someone update the NACAC website!) If you are prepared for “no,” then a defer will not rock you as bad. Admission decisions feel personal. How could they not? Nobody loves spending a few more months in limbo. But this is not about you. This is about schools who are hedging their bets and wanting to evaluate you in context of their overall pool. Kind of sucks. I get it. But too many students do not send in fall grades, complete the deferred form, or send other information schools ask for because they’ve never heard of a “maybe” ( perhaps the first they’ve ever heard). Think of the admission experience as your first foray into your college years and start looking at maybes as good things. If you liked a school enough to apply, finish the drill. Give them reasons to admit you in the next round. It is called an admission process. There are rounds for a reason. Don’t go halfway and stop.

It means you need to look forward, not backward.

I was not going to text my friend back and say defer means to “put off or delay,” but technically that is the definition. For you it means to look forward to something in the future. DO NOT look back! DO NOT second guess whether you should have taken AP Geography in the ninth grade instead of band, or blame Mr. Thompson for giving you an 89 instead of a 93 that would have bumped your GPA by .00083. This is your MARTA bus moment.

It means control what you can control. 

People want so desperately to predict and analyze admission decisions that are influenced by macro institutional goals and made in rooms they will never enter. Defer means stay focused on the micro. This is your one and only senior year.  Do well—but more importantly do good. Don’t worry about those rooms hundreds of miles away, but rather the ones you walk into every day. Be a good friend. Be a good sibling. Be a good teammate. Go thank a teacher that wrote a recommendation for you. Hug your mama.

December 1 is coming. Preparation Day. Take the pledge.

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Hey Ya!

Prefer to listen? Check out the audio version of this post!

I’ve coached my son in soccer since he was 4. Between falls, springs, and a few Futsal winter sessions we’re sitting at 15 seasons total. He has gone from running aimlessly around the field with a uniform shirt touching his kneecaps to carrying a ball in his backpack at all times and watching professional YouTube highlights.

At the beginning of the spring season he told me he was interested in a more competitive league and wanted to try out for our local “academy” team. We talked about this in the past, and now with several of his friends from school and a few neighbors already on the club, I was not surprised. When the season ended, he had not wavered. We told him it would be competitive and there was no guarantee he would make it. But he remained interested and kept playing and practicing after school every day.

Season 2. I call this one “See no evil, hear no evil.”

So last week, despite the dismal forecast, we headed out to the fields for the first of a three night tryout. He was excited but anxious. “What kinds of drills do you think we will do? How many guys are trying out? Do you know any of the coaches?” Once we arrived they divided the players into various colored pennies and sent them to one of three fields with a few coaches to start their warm up and drills.

After 45 minutes, the club director gathered all of the parents for a quick meeting. “Thank you all for coming out tonight. We really appreciate your son showing interest in our club.” With rain coming down and whistles blowing on the fields all around us, it was tough to lean in and hear all of his words as he addressed about 40 parents huddled under tents along the sideline.

“We are about player development. There will be three teams: elite, premier, and united. If your son wants to play professional soccer, we will try to help him reach that goal. This is an academy–and we treat it like that–a school. We are here to teach the game and help your son get better. This is a community club and we are committed to having players from all backgrounds on our teams. Your fees will go to helping about 75 players a year who otherwise could not afford to play and travel, so thank you for your commitment.”

At this point, he paused and took a look over at the three fields filled with 9 and 10-year-old boys wearing blue pennies, getting absolutely soaked, and clearly enjoying every minute. “At this age, we are not too concerned with wins and losses.  Our commitment is to help each player improve and achieve his goals. Any questions?”

I’m just being honest.

DAD #1 from under a Price Waterhouse Coopers umbrella. Q: How many spots do you have on the elite team this year?

A: All returning players also have to try out again, so that number is yet to be determined.

MOM #1 standing just outside the tent with rain now tumbling off her loose-fitting jacket hood.  Q: “If my son has a bad tryout and gets placed on the lower level team, can he move up?”

A: Yes, we will move players. Sometimes during the season and sometimes they’ll need to try out at the end of the year in order to be assessed for a different squad.

I loitered around after the public meeting and heard: “You said that our fees subsidize players who cannot afford to play. Is there a preference for families that will pay a higher amount to subsidize additional players?”  I’m guessing the director was thinking was, “and this is why US Soccer won’t be competing in the World Cup this summer.” But instead he responded, “We always welcome donations but your son will be placed on the team that suits his ability, regardless of monetary contributions.” Well played, coach.

These questions sounded eerily familiar as parallels to college admission. The only one I did not hear was, “If I also played Academy growing up, does my son get any type of advantage?” Maybe that was emailed in later. But good to know that if the soccer talent in the area dries up, the league director has transferable skills.

I came home and gave my wife the report. “He did pretty well in the drills. Definitely did not get the ball a ton in the scrimmage but there are two more nights of tryouts, so we’ll see.”

Which team do you think he’ll make?

“Tough to say. There are a lot of really good players out there and even though the coach said there are no guaranteed spots for returning players, that may or may not be totally true.”

Even as I was talking I could see the same nervous, concerned look on her face our son had a few hours earlier.

I’m writing this post on night three of tryouts from an airplane that has been sitting on the tarmac in Washington D.C. for well over an hour due to terrible storms on the east coast. With no internet and lightning erupting around us, I inexplicably can only get one song on my Spotify playlist, “Hey Ya!” by Outkast. Hence the themes and subheadings.

Phone rings.

“Hey. How did it go?” I ask quietly so not to interrupt my neighbor who is already most of the way through her now lukewarm Panini and A Phantom Thread (not a recommendation).

He did ok. Not as well as last night, although he had a good shot on goal. He was upset coming home and said he’s worried he may get placed on the lowest level team. I tried to tell him even that quality would be higher than your team… I mean… you know what I’m saying, right?

I love this woman. Definitely keeps me humble. “Yeah, I hear you. Can I talk to him?”

Footsteps on stairs. Running water. Something crashes. Daughter complaining about brushing teeth in background.

Hey, dad.

“Hey, bud. How was your day?”

He launches into an assessment of the drills and his play overall.

“Gotcha. Well, I’m sorry I could not be there. Always love watching you play.”

No answer initially. And then…Yeah. We did play a pretty cool game I can show you when you get home.

I hung up and was about to put my headphones back on to see if I’d escaped the Hey Ya! loop when my neighbor asked, “Your son?” She was in her early 60’s, wearing glasses and a scarf. Her headphones were off now and she’d turned toward me.

A recent plane neighbor. What? You thought I was kidding?

Yeah, he had a soccer tryout tonight.

I’m sure he did great.

We’ll see.

Well, it sounds like you handled it pretty well. He knows you love him and that’s what is important.

To be honest I’ve recently had a string of airplane neighbors who immediately covered themselves with blankets when I said hello, so it took me a second to make the transition not only to an interaction, but someone with actual sage wisdom. (Side note: I wrote this part after we deboarded in case she was watching my screen like she was eavesdropping on my conversation.)

After she went on to explain she was not going to make a connecting flight to Des Moines for a speech her husband was supposed to make in the morning, I offered her some local hotel options in Atlanta, and she went back to her movie.

Me? I closed my eyes and hit play.

Alright, alright, alright, alright, alright.

I had a couple of thoughts.

1- He will probably make one of those teams (which, as we have established, are all better than what he has experienced before) and the coaches will help him continue to improve.

2- If he does not end up on a team with his friends, he will make new ones. He always does.

3- Not knowing is the hardest part. Once he is placed and starts playing, he’ll have a blast.

But what kept going through my head was Outkast. No, wait… it was, “He knows you love him, and that’s what is important.”

Thank God for mom and dad for sticking together.

If you are a parent of a junior or sophomore who is planning to apply to selective colleges, I’m imploring you to have these conversations with your son/daughter, your spouse/partner, and with yourself, BEFORE applications are submitted (aka tryouts) and definitely before admission decisions are released.

When a school has an admit rate of 20% or 12%, the talent, preparation and skills to contribute on that field are incredible. And the truth is those percentages don’t exactly translate to 1 of 5 or 12 of 100 because that year they may only be looking for a few “defenders”, i.e. students in a particular major or from your state, etc.   You will not be able to control who else or how many others are trying out. When you apply, there is no way to know if there are in fact some “reserved” spots (although I’d assume there are). What you do control is your mentality. You do control your perspective. You weren’t thinking this was all totally fair were you?

When you tour schools this summer, when those brochures arrive in the mail, when you talk to friends or colleagues about the variety of colleges they attended, when you look through the alma maters of Fortune 500 CEOs, I urge you to really read. REALLY listen. Notice what they have in common. No, I’m not talking about how you can grab three friends and a professor and start a juggling club. No, not the part about how apparently each place sends kids abroad to stand on high points and ruminate over life’s deeper meaning. I’m talking about the bigger connection and takeaway message—they are ALL about student development.

They ALL have faculty, programs, opportunities that say precisely what the coach said in the rain last week: if you come here, commit, work hard and plug-in we will help you reach your goals. (See Frank Bruni’s book for more on this.)

There is nothing wrong with wanting to make the Elite team. There is nothing wrong with visiting and applying to Ivy League or Ivy-like schools. But the big misconception, the big myth, and frankly the big misplaced mentality is that “getting in” to those places is a parent’s report card or that this perceived Elite, Premier, United structure of schools is somehow an indicator of a student’s future success and opportunities.

I want to challenge you to dig deeper into the methodology that dictates the tiers the US News Rankings prescribe. Question whether you really see a discernible difference in student quality or alumni outcomes at a school that is 15 percentage points higher/lower in selectivity. Read the statistics behind 100 points variation on an SAT before you mentally classify them into Elite vs. Premier. Look around you. Every day I meet people who went to schools that admit well over half of their applicants. What are they doing now? Running their own businesses, leading teams, and influencing their communities. Fundamentally, whether it is Northwestern or Northeastern, whether it is Washington State or Wash U, this is what colleges do for students who want to learn, grow, thrive, and work hard to achieve their goals. Get behind them!

What makes love the exception?

Get excited about every school your son or daughter puts on their list. Take the tour, buy the t-shirt, go to a game, and ultimately put that sticker on your car with pride. I get it can be tough when classmates or friends or neighbors end up on a different team. You stick with constant encouragement and they will embrace the opportunity— trust there are great new teammates to meet and coaches waiting to help them reach their goals. But, above all else, stick with the message of unconditional love. What makes love the exception? It’s not Andre3000, it’s the rule.

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The Countdown Is On…

I found myself in a cemetery this week contemplating the brevity of life. I know, I know, but stick with me here. Before I went to Buenos Aires, three people told me I had to check out Recoleta Cemetery. It did not disappoint. The engravings, inscriptions, and mausoleums were truly magnificent. And after an all-night flight it turned out to be a fabulous place to relax, people watch, ruminate, and most importantly attempt to escape the preoccupation with admission deposits that typically begins in March and gradually escalates as we approach the National Deposit Deadline of May 1. I often try to take a trip in late April because, as an admission director, you are basically useless to anyone around this time. At work you are checking deposit reports obsessively. At home with family, at the park, or out with friends, “the numbers” are constantly scrolling through your head.

During April, before brewing coffee or picking up a toothbrush or checking the weather, Deans, Directors, and VPs around the country are waking up each day and immediately looking at deposit reports or dashboards on their phones and iPads. “Are we up from last year? Oh man, I hope not too far up or housing is going to kill me!” “Are we down in students from abroad? Is it too early to go to our waitlist?” Scroll down the report: “We are still short four states. Come on, Wyoming!” “Are you sleeping with your phone?” Wait… that’s not my voice. Rolling over: “Yes, sweetheart. Gotta check the numbers.” (She always tells me with a mixture of concern and confusion that I make too much of an effort to think like a 17 year old, and I know the whole sleeping with the phone thing only adds ammo to her growing arsenal.)

Now the Tables Are Turned

We made you wait for months on an admission decision, and now the tables are turned. Joke’s on us. I’ve been reading back over my own advice on waiting and have officially confirmed… waiting truly sucks! It’s a maddening time for directors and other leaders because we are asked daily by parents, deans, our president, board members, and counselors, “How’s it looking?” Even the guy on the train platform asked me that the other day. I almost started delving into an explication of yield, and then I realized he was asking me for an opinion on his outfit.

While we try to speak with some confidence about the historical trends and predictive models, in the back of your mind you also know that a few percentage point variance up or down on yield can literally change everything. And with a week to go…a weekend to go… a Sunday still before May 1… that is an eternity, because like applications, the final few days are the linchpin.

I’m not looking for sympathy. Yes, I’ve read that sleeping with your phone is not optimal for rest. Yes, I know that obsessively looking at the numbers (by the way, three deposits came in while I was writing the paragraphs above) is not going to change the final result. But I share this because the experience of the deans and directors around the country is relevant to you.

If you are admitted but not deposited:

Still weighing your choices? First, I’m guessing you are down to two options. Second, I’m guessing the consternation surrounds the fact that they’re both great. I distinctly remember sitting on the curb outside my house in late April trying to make a final college decision my senior year. It’s a big one because you are officially closing a door. I get it. This is the first of many times you’ll experience these types of choices with relationships, jobs, grad school, moving to a new city or state or country. The truth—there is no right answer. The school you pick is going to be great because your job, starting today and going through this summer, is to fully commit. Yes, it’s unpaid. But like so many unpaid jobs the returns are incalculable. So no looking back once you put that deposit down. Join the Class Facebook page, donate or trade the shirts from your other schools, cancel your application at the other place, and start planning for orientation.

One more thing… May 1 means that night! You know what I was saying about lots of deposits coming in over the final few days? If you do not deposit by 11:59 p.m. on May 1 and a school comes in the morning of May 2 way over their targets, you know what they’re doing? Yep–shutting it down. They could even set the system to close on May 2 at 12:01 a.m. (we have done this before). In those years there are no excuses. No exceptions. We gave you weeks or months to deposit. Deadline means DEADline.

By the way, inevitably there will be a few calls on April 30 asking if the deadline is midnight that day or May 1 at midnight– followed often by “which time zone?” C’mon people–don’t be that person!

If you are waitlisted:

Because there is so much movement in numbers in the final week, it is rare that schools will begin to pull from their waitlists before May 1. If they do, they either intentionally under admitted (a tactic typically employed to reduce admit rate and impact rankings/prestige), or they truly are having an unexpected and significant drop in yield.

I’m just going to say it in case nobody else has: the likelihood is you are not getting off the waitlist. For a variety of reasons schools carry big waitlists. We’ve discussed how they’re used in terms of shaping a class rather than being assigned a number. You need to deposit elsewhere now. And get excited about it.  I understand you’re in a tough spot—there is still a chance. Sure, someone has to come off the waitlist, if they go to it. However, when you look at the percentages, “the odds may not be ever in your favor.”

But you know what? Some other school has admitted you. I’m guessing some of you have a sweet financial package or scholarship or perhaps a spot in an honors program. And that is pretty amazing! Rewind to the fall when you first applied. If you had known then that at this point you would have a solid offer, a financially affordable option, and an opportunity to take advantage of all that place offers you in terms of academics, network, and campus environment, you would feel great about it. Well, that’s your job. Same speech as above: Facebook page, t-shirts, orientation.

The Winged Hourglass

Sitting in the cemetery I saw a very common engraving–the winged hourglass. This symbol is typically associated with the brevity of life. It’s a reminder that we don’t control the number of days we have– but we can use those wings to fly with the opportunities this life provides.  So I’m heading into May with that excitement and mentality. Are you with me?

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