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An Inconvenient Opportunity

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

It was a rainy Mother’s Day in Georgia last week. Still a lovely day, but weather-wise it was dreary with showers that came and went throughout the day. In mid-afternoon my daughters, ages 3 and 7, went outside with our puppy to play outside. Even though it was wet, they needed to get some energy out so I put some old shoes and play clothes on them and told them to go for it.

This picture popped up in my Facebook memories today. Clearly, even years ago, I’ve always been okay with my kids playing in the rain!

While they were outside it started to mist… which turned to a sprinkle… which turned into a light, gentle rain. No wind, no storm, just soft rain falling from the sky. As I watched them (from the dry area underneath the edge of the house), it occurred to me that maybe I should bring them inside. At this point they, and the dog, were soaking wet—there was no turning back. I decided to ride it out. A little rain (and dirt!) is good for kids. And dogs, too, I guess.

The rain was an inconvenience. The wetness of these little people was definitely an inconvenience. But running laps through the house was slowly driving us all crazy (okay, maybe it was just me). It wasn’t what I planned or wanted. In truth, letting the kids play in the rain actually caused more work for all of us, as now I had to wrangle two wet kids (and one wet dog), with wet clothes, and get them from the backdoor to the bathtub without getting mud all over the house.

The easy thing would have been to bring them in immediately when the rain began. To let them stay outside, getting their feet muddy and their hair wet while pretending to fly on the swings, certainly created more work for me. But, it was time they spent together, outside, being free, and not in front of a screen. The inconvenience was absolutely worth it.

Inconvenience, or Opportunity?

Later that night, I had just finished my shower and brushed my teeth. I was pretty excited, as it appeared as though I might actually get to sleep at a decent hour (and on Mother’s Day, no less!). Just as I was wrapping up, my 7-year old walked in to tell us she was having scary thoughts. So I did what most moms would do—I went to her room, laid down with her, and stayed there until she was asleep. Getting to bed early (who am I kidding—on time, even!) wasn’t going to happen. It was an inconvenience.

But again, that inconvenience was an opportunity. An opportunity to be present, to comfort her, and to get some sweet snuggles. I know that as she grows up the opportunities to simply be with her and snuggle her will be fewer and farther between until they eventually disappear. As she gets older she will seek reassurance from someone other than me. So while this incident may have “cost me” a little sleep, it also presented me with a beautiful opportunity.

The month of May, by all counts, is crazy. End of year school parties, field days, art days, awards days… and that’s just elementary school! At the high school level you’re adding prom, end of year ceremonies, AP tests, and a little thing called graduation. You’re either getting ready to go to college, or preparing to apply to college. Let’s be honest: May is crazy. And sometimes, well, inconvenient.

If you’re a graduating senior….

This is your last summer at home. Even if you’re not going far away to school, life will still change in many significant ways. So this summer when your mom asks you to drive your little brother or sister to summer camp, try not to scoff at the inconvenience. Your time with them is limited. Next year you’re going to change a lot, and so will they. Instead of getting upset that this takes time out of your day, try to be present and have a conversation. Appreciate the time you have. Realize that next year when you’re asked to do the same thing, you’ll be spending time with a different person, who has grown and changed in the time that you’ve been gone. And that little brother or sister, while perhaps annoying at times, will miss you greatly when you’re gone. They’ve never known a life without you! So take the opportunity to connect, and make some memories along the way. (Note: you may not have a younger sibling—or you may BE the younger sibling. Replace the sibling in this scenario with a parent, grandparent, neighbor, or other person who may need your help in this season—same theory applies!)

If you’re a rising senior…

You’re moving into what we in the admissions world call “visit season.” Your summer is likely booked up with activities, maybe a job, and oh, a list of colleges to visit in hopes of finding “the one” that you’re looking for. Hitting the road with your family and visiting college after college may start to feel inconvenient at a certain point. Remember: this is an opportunity. An opportunity to set foot on campus and see what it’s really like (not just what we tell you in our glossy brochures and mailers); an opportunity to engage the process with your family and have a voice in the conversation; an opportunity to ask good questions; and an opportunity to visit a new town. The summer college visit road trip will be tiring, but I promise it will be worth it if you keep a positive mindset. If you need some ideas for what you should be doing during these visits (hint: it’s more than going to an information session and tour), check out these tips.

If you’re rising into 9-11 grades…

This may be your first summer with a job, or a research opportunity, or in a leadership position. Likely this summer you will experience some type of “first.” As you get older, the days of freedom with no responsibilities will become harder to come by. You’re going to learn how to juggle more things throughout your day as new tasks are added on to the ones you already have. Being asked to do your chores may be inconvenient. Let’s be honest here—no one wants to unload the dishwasher or fold clothes. (Psst! Not even your mom—trust me!). Before you heavy sigh and/or roll your eyes, take a deep breath and look for the opportunity. It’s in there! Maybe it’s a chance to have a conversation with a parent or friend while you complete the task. Maybe it’s a chance for some much needed quiet in your day. Maybe it’s a chance to let your brain just rest for a bit while you do something mindless.

Welcome the Unexpected

Opportunities often lurk in unexpected places. When we get bogged down in the “I have to” perspective, rather than embracing an “I get to” perspective, we often lose sight of what we could gain from the situation. As you move into the summer and discover wrinkles in your well laid plans, look for the opportunity that is quietly presenting itself. Once you find it and embrace it, you will be amazed at what you gain.

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I Wish I Knew…

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor Sparkle Hodge to the blog. Welcome, Sparkle!

Back when I was in high school I remember having lots of questions and no one to answer them but Jeeves. Some of you may be too young to remember Jeeves, but he served as a guru to countless lost souls. Jeeves was my most trusted source. I spent many hours online typing away what felt like one of Homer’s epic poems.

As I grew older, my questions went from trivial to life-changing. I specifically remember how wearisome the college application process was for me.  I’d ask questions like: “What is a FAFSA and why are there so many letters in this acronym?” “What makes the Common App common?” “What is a major and how do I choose one out of the hundred these schools offer?”

While I’m glad I had Jeeves, there is so much that I wish I knew back then. Many of you are probably in that place right now. One of the best ways to find answers is to ask those who have gone through the process before you. If you have questions about navigating the admission process, current college students are a great resource!

In my current role as a Senior Admission Counselor, I manage our student staff who are in charge of handling the daily emails, phone calls, and walk-ins for our office. Each day looks pretty different depending on deadlines, holidays, and all that jazz. However, one thing that remains the same is the fact that we answer questions from students and families every day.

I asked my students what they wish they knew when they were going through the admission process during high school, and I’m here to share their answers with you.

What Current College Students Wish You Knew

Rishav, 2nd-year

I wish I understood the phrase “everything happens for a reason” back in high school. I applied to 11 colleges my senior year in high school and got denied from 10 of them, including my dream school. While all my friends celebrated their acceptances and excitedly thought about their futures, I found myself pondering where I had gone wrong in the process and why, with the same GPA and extracurriculars, I was less qualified for those colleges.

What I didn’t realize is that maybe it was in my best interest that I didn’t get accepted; the colleges that denied me may not have been the right fit for me. Not attending my dream school my freshman year allowed me to solidify my GPA and double the amount of credits I had, so when I transferred I was further ahead than most of my peers. So as you struggle through the college process grind, just know that no matter what decisions you receive, you are still destined for great things.

Shanice, 3rd-Year

In high school, I wish someone had told me it is okay to not have everything planned out. My college experience has definitely forced me to bend and be flexible; whether that be in terms of courses taken in a particular semester or the grades I received. At first I was completely taken aback but I’ve come to see the importance of truly trusting the process. The minor setbacks I’ve encountered have allowed me to slow down and either regain focus or discover a new passion. Sometimes when you have everything planned down to the minute, you forget to schedule time for yourself and the things that you love.

Melissa, 5th-year

Applying to college was a nightmare. Looking back on my college application experience, I spent a multitude of hours stressing about every last word on my application when it really wasn’t needed. These are some helpful hints that I wish I knew about applying to college when I was in high school. First and foremost, the admission counselor is looking to see if you will be a good fit for the school. GPAs and standardized test scores are not the only important factor for college admission. Take the time to describe your activities and how you were a leader and an influencer within that activity. Really put your personality into the essay. Most counselors have read every single essay topic already, so it doesn’t matter what you write about. What matters is how you portray yourself. These are the things that will set you apart from another applicant who has very similar grades and test scores.

Secondly, keep in mind how the school will be a good fit for you. Ask yourself if the program will help you achieve your goals? Do you like the location of the school? Do you want to go to a private or public school? Applying to a school just for the sake of it is just adding more work for yourself.  Find the qualities of your ideal college and figure out which schools reflect those qualities. Remember these two things, and hopefully your application process will be a little less stressful than mine was. Good luck!

Asher, 4th-year

If I could tell my high school self what I know now, I would say remain calm, everything will work out, and trust the process. I applied to ten colleges, and I ended up attending the college that I applied to and was admitted to first. Going through the process of applying to 10 or more schools might seem worth it, however, I would caution you from applying to a school just for the sake of it – especially if you have little to no intention of going there (I am guilty of this)! The best way to stand out when applying to a college is to best describe who you are – not what you think an admission officer wants to hear. Staying true to yourself and writing accurately about your life experiences will allow admission officers to see if the school you apply to is your best fit. It is okay if you get denied admission—I was too! The admission process is there for schools to find the candidates who will succeed, further a school’s mission, and add to the community they have. Being genuine in your application will give you the best chance at finding the right place for you, even if it is not your first choice. Good luck!

Closing Thoughts

Everyone has their “I wish I knew…” moments. We all struggle to ask what we don’t know, then later discover what we didn’t realize all along! Just remember the right answers will come to you at the right time. In the meantime, there are people who are here to help you navigate the process. So, sit back, take a deep breath, and (try to) enjoy the process.

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College Bound… But Where?

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

If you’re a high school senior, it’s almost time to commit to the college or university you’ll be attending in the fall.  As you go through this process, it may seem daunting to have multiple options to choose from… confusing to figure out finances… and confounding that your friends appear to know exactly where they are headed and the reasons why.  Meanwhile, you can’t decide whether you want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or pizza for dinner, much less decide where to go to college.

You probably have some concerns, doubts, and fears. Is this really the best school for me?  Am I good enough to succeed there? Will I fit in? Who will I live with and where?  Then others, maybe family, add: is it going to pay off?  Aren’t you going to miss home?  How will you deal with the cold, or the snow? Will you be safe? Are you really going to borrow that much money? You may have friends who are choosing to stay home and either skip going to college or start out at the more affordable and familiar local junior college—and by their example, your concerns just loom larger.

If you weren’t already worried, you might be now! Before you get overwhelmed, here are a few tips to help you get through this process and make the best decision for your future.

STOP!  First and foremost, if you haven’t congratulated yourself on reaching this milestone where you stand upon the threshold of attending college, then do it now! Stop and remember all you have accomplished, how fortunate you are to have choices and how blessed you are to be facing such possibilities. Believe it or not, relatively few people graduating high school this year will go to college next. What may seem like problems are really gifts.

REFLECT upon how you reached this point in your life.  You worked hard.  You asked lots of good questions.  You learned to make good choices.  Others have likely helped and supported you on this journey.  Your skills, your intuition, and your mentors are with you and they will help guide you to make a good choice.  You got yourself to this point in time. Trust your instincts, but also be practical.

MAKE A LIST of the pros and cons of the final choices you are considering.  Review your list with friends, relatives, and teachers.  Listen to the thoughts that come to mind as these guides point out details about you or about the schools.  Distinguish between your past actions versus your thoughts of the future.  I personally think our past actions and choices provide much more insight into who we truly are than the way we think we should be.

For example, I have a friend who says he loves going to concerts, but his actual behavior reveals he hasn’t been to a live show in years.  When he told me he was thinking about moving to Austin to enjoy the thriving live music scene, I challenged him, and he recalled the 101 excuses he routinely has for not going to any shows—and  he lives in New York City!  What do your actions tell you about yourself, and are they more telling than your beliefs?  Now go back and rewrite your list. Narrow things down to two options.

If you can afford the time and expense, go visit the finalists one last time.  If you cannot, watch some YouTube videos about life at each school.  Read about the accomplishments of current students, recent grads and professors.  Get inspired.  Transform your quandary into: which of these two great schools would be perfect for me?

Then accept that the answer is neither—there is no perfect place! Come October, you will second guess whichever choice you made because you’ll be one month (or more) into the semester. You may have no idea what grades you are achieving, you’ll face more exams, papers, problem sets and group projects, and life overall will feel stressful.

When you go on social media, it will look like your friends at other schools are having the times of their lives, while you’re mired in stress from making a bad choice.  Don’t let social media be your barometer for relative happiness. You’ll get through the assignments. You’ll survive the stress.  You’ll learn how to succeed in a new environment, make friends from distinctly different backgrounds, and see how the power of a positive attitude can make an enormous difference in how you experience the stress of decision-making, the stress of uncertainty, the stress of the unfamiliar.  If you truly hone these skills, you may begin to see all the stress as part of the adventure. For that is what is truly ahead of you–one of life’s most remarkable adventures, in which you will build memories, skills, relationships and goals you may have never dreamed of.

TRUST that you’re where you are because of your ability to make good choices, and send in your deposit. Stop agonizing over where to go, and start picturing yourself in your new school colors, cheering for the team, pranking your roommates, talking with professors, and deciding if it matters which side of the bread you put the peanut butter on and which side you put the jelly.  Either way, it’ll still be a PB&J and if you believe it’s good, it will be.

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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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Success Isn’t Guaranteed—Try Anyway

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, joins us on the blog. Chaffee has administered prestigious scholarship programs for the past 20 years, and is also a past president of the Undergraduate Scholars Program Administrators Association. Welcome, Chaffee!

Let’s start by admitting that not everyone’s experience growing up in the United States is the same. Rural, urban, and suburban life looks different, and there are certainly other differences when considering family background and other factors. Having acknowledged that, I think it’s fair to say the people of Generation X (to which I belong) grew up with a great deal more freedom to explore the world around them as children than today’s kids and youth. By late elementary school I could explore the neighborhoods around me a mile in any direction.

Talk to my Baby Boomer parents and they’ll tell you that not only were they given even more freedom, but also asked to work harder at an earlier stage of life. My father mowed lawns, drove a tractor, roofed houses, and used hatchets as early as fourth grade. Compare these experiences with today, where I know thriving middle schoolers who aren’t allowed to walk 500 yards to the nearest corner with a traffic light because of concerns about safety.

I don’t share these views to judge parents or children today. After all, today’s world is bigger, especially online. Taking more safety precautions is necessary. Yet coinciding with these observations is a feeling that several colleagues and I share—a feeling supported by frequent recurring experiences. High school and college students today do not experience failure because 1) they’ve been shielded from them when they occur or 2) are steered away from undertaking opportunities that might result in anything but clear success.

Take the Opportunity to Fail

Although versions of this topic have been trending the past few years (and even before that in some circles), I want to provide insight which I hope is new. I want to talk about why students should put themselves in circumstances where success is not guaranteed. When you look at it as an opportunity for success as well as failure, the intention and aim become different. Simply looking for opportunities to fail can be a hollow exercise, but earnestly pursuing a goal that may or may not be reached is an opportunity for a win-win experience, regardless of the final outcome.

I had a student ask me to write a recommendation for them for the Truman Scholarship, a nationally competitive and prestigious scholarship for public service leadership. Some regard it as having the most rigorous application of any of the major national and international graduate scholarships. As you can imagine, the percentage of people awarded from among applicants is quite small. Despite the odds not being in anyone’s favor, the student elected to try. By clarifying purpose, thinking about future goals, losing sleep, and sacrificing comfort all in hopes of a slim chance to leverage the scholarship toward making the world a better place, this student gained tremendous personal insight. This kind of personal insight only comes through testing oneself, working hard, and reaching for something most likely out of reach. Did it yield a scholarship? No.

Undaunted, the student went on to apply for the Marshall and Mitchell scholarships as well. Again, hard work and sacrifice led to self-awareness, goals clarification, personal insight … but no scholarship. Yet on the horizon was the famous Fulbright Fellowship for graduate study in another country, which my student ended up receiving.

Seems like three losses and a win, right? I count it as four wins. Each attempt helped my student to grow. Each attempt taught lessons in perseverance, grit, and humility. Even if my student had not won the Fulbright, it wouldn’t change my mind. Four wins, zero losses. I believe that if you asked my student, the response would be the same. The win was in trying to reach for the stars and the growth that resulted.

Pursue Possibility

I’ve been fortunate over the past seven years to travel with my students on outdoor leadership expeditions in some beautiful – and physically challenging – environments around the country and the world. These trips are led by experts in Georgia Tech’s outdoor recreation department. Scholarship programs around the nation often encourage or require their scholars to participate in these types of adventures with similar organizations. There is no defined “win,” only an expectation that you’ll make it from the start to the end, persevering through trying circumstances. Blisters, aching muscles, exhaustion, cold or heat, insects, cuts and scrapes. They are all there. Getting through means relying on your own inner strength and your team.

For a very few, these trips are easy (at least at first). For most others, they will mess up the cooking, go slower than the team, or otherwise “not be great.” Yet when they talk about these trips days, months, and even years later, many speak of how the difficult circumstances on the hike resulted in the ability to handle the rigors of college life better than they would have done otherwise.

One of my favorite illustrations of the points I’ve been making comes from the movie, Meet the Fockers. In it, Jack Byrnes, played by Robert De Niro, notices his son-in-law, Greg Focker, played by Ben Stiller, has a 9th place ribbon displayed at his parent’s house. Not second or third … but ninth. I love that Focker’s parents encouraged him to participate in something that he clearly did not win (and they probably knew he wasn’t going to, either). No matter what the outcome, Greg had to come to terms with the fact that he did not experience success, at least not by traditional measures. Did he learn something from competing, from trying, from watching eight others do better than he did? The movie doesn’t go into this, but I suspect he did.

If you’ve seen the rest of the movie, you know that Greg messes up a good bit, but in the end, how he handles these failures and keeps picking himself up amplifies his fiancé’s love for him and earns him the respect of his future in-laws. All that said, in real life I wish his “award” for competing wasn’t a ribbon but a pat on the back from his parents. Because part of the lesson in trying is not everyone gets a trophy nor deserves one.

If I were to outline a lesson from all this, it would be to challenge everyone to pursue possibilities where the chances for a win are moderate to slim. The challenge must be measured though. The more talented or well-trained an individual, the more they should pursue even more difficult experiences. Whether one is in high school, college, or well beyond, remember that we grow by reaching skywards, not by standing still.

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