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Change is the Only Constant

Listen to “Change is the Only Constant. Episode 5- Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In the last few weeks, as the Coronavirus has become more of a reality in America, we have seen unprecedented change. Schools, professional sports, places of worship, and annual events have been postponed, closed, or canceled. Each day the headlines, number of known cases, press releases, and economic implications seem to multiply at head-spinning rates. To be honest I’m not sure what has been more disconcerting and harder for me to grasp, the fact that The Master’s won’t be in early April or that I’m now essentially co-teaching my kids’ (nine and eleven).

If you are a high school junior, I know you have a lot of questions about how this interruption to your normal life and academic career might impact your college admission experience. In a time when so much is shifting on a daily and weekly basis, I am not going to purport to know exactly how this is all going to play out. If someone has told you they have all the answers, you should run. They are either delusional or lying. Dangerous either way.

However, in times of uncertainty, I think it’s important to ground ourselves in what we do know. As it relates to your college admission experience, I’d argue that nothing has changed.

Nothing has changed

Colleges Need Students. (I figured I start with a mind-blowing revelation). Check your email inbox. I know you are getting a ton of messages right now. How did they find you? Traditionally, colleges buy names from the College Board (PSAT/SAT) and ACT. If you took one of tests, they’ve pulled you into their communication flow and are now attempting to recruit you.

If you were scheduled to take a now canceled exam, you should still expect to receive plenty of mail and email. How? Many vendors already existed who gather lists of students in high school via surveys or other methods. And while the actual sport of fencing may not be in line with current social distancing standards, you can be assured that other vendors are coming out of the virtual woodwork right now soliciting their latest, greatest algorithm for geo-fencing, digital marketing, and a variety of other multi-syllabic, often- hyphenated opportunities.

Sure. Currently the subject lines are not “Come visit us” or “See you soon on campus,” but the message is still the same:  We want you. We need you. We want to tell you all of the reasons why we are great, you are great, and we can be great together!

Colleges Expect Variance. I don’t know how your high school is currently teaching your courses. I DO know it varies widely across our nation and the world. We’ve heard some schools may only issue pass/fail grades for this spring. Others are saying they plan to simplify their grading scales for this term or may compress certain subjects into summer courses (assuming they are back in school by June).

Undoubtedly, a lot of nuance and diversity. This should not concern you, or make you fearful that you’ll be at a disadvantage. First, everyone is dealing with this unprecedented new reality and continually adjusting to unfamiliar territory. Second, admission folks are used to seeing varying curriculum, grading scales, and delivery methods. They are trained to ask questions and dig deeply into your transcript. Holistic review means they are not putting your GPA into a spreadsheet and multiplying by some quotient. They don’t expect uniformity. And given the global impact of Coronavirus, you should expect a lot of grace from colleges in the weeks, months, and year to come.

Colleges train readers and committees to consider your course choice and progression. Their assessment of your academic career in high school is never purely numerical or black and white.  Their biggest question is always what could you have taken and what you chose to take during high school. In that sense, nothing has changed.

You have a lot of options. There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in our country alone. Let’s be honest- the brochures they send are pretty standard, similar, and predictable.

Page 1: a picture of the football team winning. Sunny day, fans in the stands, cheering and hugging. Life is good.

Page 2: Three students of different ethnicities wearing that college’s shirt, hoodie, or hat sitting under a tree with a professor. The professor effortlessly strikes that delicate balance between youthful energy with sage wisdom and sits casually yet controlled at that perfect distance that says, “I care about you… but not in a creepy way.”

Page 3: A student standing on something high- perhaps near a statue, or on a mountain, or on a bluff overlooking the ocean, pondering life’s limitless possibilities. You get the picture. Literally.

The truth is that although these brochures may look the same, American colleges and universities vary widely. One upside of the many articles covering how Coronavirus is impacting higher education is that they shine a spotlight on this impressive, beautiful, vast landscape. In fact, I’d contest the diversity of our higher education system is one of our greatest strengths as a nation.

Good news for you is that right now schools are working extremely hard to create and publish all kinds of ways for you to interact with them online via social media, webinars, individualized appointments, and more. In the days, weeks, and months ahead, you are going to see great, new content from students, faculty, alumni, and campus organizations in a way that students before you simply did not.

Bottom line: You have a lot of options, just like always. But this disruption is going to be a catalyst for colleges to demonstrate their variety and incredible communities in even more accessible, unique, and compelling ways than ever before.

Everything Has Changed

I get it. In many ways, it feels like everything has changed: You’re not in school and it’s Wednesday at 1:32 p.m.; people around you are genuinely excited when they score a 18- count package of toilet paper; Waze time estimates have been moving to an “earlier arrival time;” “Quarantine” bingo cards are popping up on your social media feed. What the…?!! Crazy, crazy days, my friends.

My hope is you’ll see this disruption to normal life as an opportunity. Things have slowed down dramatically. Eventually and progressively they’ll boot back up. As they do, you will have the choice to re-enter relationships, organizations, and daily life in a different way.

Take some time (since you should have more of it now) to ask yourself what you want to see change in yourself, your relationships, the way you interact on social media, and how you treat and communicate with family, friends, and “your neighbors.” I hope you’ll be an encouragement to others during this time of uncertainty. I hope your relationships with your family will be strengthened.

Spend some time reflecting on how you currently invest your time and what that indicates about your priorities and character. Now that you are not in your normal patterns or rhythms think about where your identity comes from and if that is authentic and accurate.

My hope is you’ll not see the weeks ahead as isolating or something to fear, but rather as opportunity to embrace and lead change. Ultimately, you may find avenues or passions for bringing that about on a larger, broader, more societal or global level, but the courage to do that starts by honestly examining your own mind, heart, and life.

What does all of that have to do with college admission? Absolutely nothing… and everything.

Coffee and Good Neighbors

This week we welcome Assistant Director for Summer Session Initiatives, Christina Wan, to the blog. Welcome, Christina!

Listen to “Campus visit/selection tips, social media for good, & rockets; Episode 2: Christina Wan” on Spreaker.

When I first started my job at Georgia Tech, I had worked in colleges, and with college students, for a few years. I also went to college myself, for two degrees. So, I thought I knew a little bit about college life.

That’s where I was wrong. I had never worked at a place quite like Tech. I didn’t know what a Diff-Eq was, what a DefBods was, or why everybody kept talking about pythons. I just thought students must really like snakes (and, some might… that’s cool too).

Some of those amazing student leaders I was telling you about.
Photo credit: Taylor Gray

Suddenly, I needed to know what those things were, and even more, to be able to help students and families make decisions about coming to Tech. I did the only thing I knew to do:  find some students who could tell me why Tech students really like snakes. I’m kidding. But truly, I relied on a community of students who were kind enough to answer all my questions about pythons. They were instrumental in teaching me all about life at Tech, and I could not have done my job without them!

I spend a lot of time working with students and families in the transition to college, either through the iGniTe Summer Launch Program or teaching GT 1000 or GT 2000 on campus. I get to work on a daily basis with some of the most amazing student leaders, and all of this work has taught me so much about what the first year of college (and beyond!) should be. The best parts of college are the community – your friends, college staff, and professors who support you in finding your place in this new chapter of life.

Whether you’re a high school senior weighing your college options or an underclassman beginning your search, here are a few tips on how to approach the decision of where to go to college.

How can you be a part of the community? The college experience is filled with community building opportunities. When you visit, or check out online panels or social media presence, and think about how you can be a part of the community. A community of people will help you make the best of college and thrive! If you are a parent or family member, join a community with other families as they support their students in being successful wherever they go!

How can you be a good neighbor? I think about this part a lot – at work, in the office, and in my neighborhood. What can you do to make everyone’s life in the neighborhood better? If you choose to live in a residence hall, that is your new home! Something our team likes to do in a new office environment (we recently moved to a new building) is walk around with candy and visit with people around us to learn what they do. This could easily be done in a residence hall to meet new people on your floor!

It’s okay to be nervous! There are big changes ahead. You’re going to make a new friend group, start new classes, learn a new place, and join some new clubs and organizations. It can be scary, but just like there are a lot of people who helped you get to where you are, there are more people who will be there to help as you make your way through college.

Take care of each other. As college decisions are released, it’s important to lean on your current community and support everyone in their choices. And once you get to college, taking care of everyone so we can all thrive and do our best is incredibly important. Be a good human, and be kind. My students tease me for it, but I use the term “warm fuzzies” to describe all of the wonderful things that make life great – good friends, kindness, and supportive communities. Find those in your college experience!

I need coffee. Coffee is my non-negotiable to get my day started. You have to figure out what your non-negotiables are in making your choice to come to a college. There are so many unique institutions and my hope is you find the very best fit for you. Rest assured, if your non-negotiable is coffee, coffeeshops are fairly popular on campuses everywhere!

It’s okay to divert from the plan. Here at Tech students can receive several types of admissions decisions and pathways, including admission for summer semester. One of the most common questions we get is, “Why was I admitted for summer?” There is no one single answer. But we know our summer students have fun, make friends, and earn course credits along the way. It might not be your first plan, but schools put a lot of work into the offers and options for students. You might find a diversion from your original plan is a chance to do something unexpected.

Whether you are just beginning to look at college options, hoping for particular decisions in the next few weeks, or weighing the options you currently have, choosing a college is a big decision. Connect with some of the parts of college that aren’t quantifiable as you make your decision – community, care for one another, and support.

Christina Wan is the Assistant Director for Summer Session Initiatives in the Office of Undergraduate Education at Georgia Tech. She works with students taking summer classes, including through the iGniTe Summer Launch Program, and partners closely with the Office of Undergraduate Admission to work with students who start their Tech career in the summer term.

More and Less, Part 4

Over the last 20 years I’ve had the privilege of traveling around our country and the world speaking to families about college, the admission experience, and higher education.

During that time, both the work and the landscape have shifted dramatically. There is no question we currently face some unfortunate macro trends and realities: tuition costs continue to rise, putting greater financial strain on all families (particularly the middle class); decreased birth rates related to the recession in 2008-2009 will soon have significant impacts on the number of high school graduates; performance on standardized tests correspond heavily to a student’s socioeconomic background; state appropriations to public systems which were severely reduced over a decade ago have not recovered; and false narratives surrounding the economic value of a college degree have become pervasive.

Yet at its core, at the micro level, college admission is exactly what it’s always been—a family experience. Whether in Atlanta, Arkansas, Argentina, or Asia; whether a student is first-generation or from a multiple generation college-going family; whether the focus is on the Ivy League or regional publics in their state; regardless of religion or ethnicity or socioeconomic background, I’ve found one common and deeply encouraging thread: parents love their kids. While their questions may surround sterile topics like weighted GPAs or super-scored testing or application deadlines or graduation rates, they emanate from the same place: one of deep affection and unbridled love.

So before launching into the mores and less’ for parents, let me first say, “Thank you.”

Thank you for loving your kids.

Thank you for advocating for them.

Thank you for wanting them to have a better life and more opportunities and experiences than you have had.

Thank you for encouraging them and supporting them, even when they drive you nuts, roll their eyes, mumble one-syllable responses, or keep you up late at night worrying.

Thank you for washing the same dishes and clothes a thousand times.

Thank you for driving to and from practice and sitting through hours of swim meets or dance or music performances (just to hear or see your child perform for a fraction of that time).

Do I wish you wouldn’t disguise your voice in order to procure your daughter’s admission portal password? Sure.

Would admission officers prefer to come in the morning after releasing admission decisions, get a cup of coffee, and check the scores from the night before, rather than having parents outside (or in the parking lot) wanting to appeal or provide 13 additional recommendation letters? Yep.

Do I enjoy having my competence, intelligence, or soul brought into question based on an admission decision? Not particularly.

Nevertheless, as the parent of two kids, I get it. The truth is you are doing what you always have–loving them, protecting them, and providing for them. So for that, I thank you.

Understanding that is your goal, here are the mores and less’ for parents in 2020.

More willingness to talk about money early

Any admission or financial aid director can share countless stories about painful conversations with families in spring.  The student has been admitted, posted his intent to attend on Instagram, bought the hoodie, and already started scoping out dorms. Meanwhile, his parents are staring solemnly at the recently received financial aid package. They are weighing the fact that supporting this choice will mean no more vacations, or taking out a second mortgage on the house, or not retiring until the age of 78. Naturally, emotions are running high. At this point, I typically grab my laptop, place a box of tissues on the table, wish them the best and quietly close the door in search of the Keurig. I am simply not certified to moderate that type of discussion.

If you are the parent of a junior, now (before they apply to colleges) is the time to have honest conversations about what paying for college is going to look like for your family. You don’t need to itemize all of your expenditures, but “opening the books” and facilitating a transparent dialogue will shift your private financial burden to an open partnership and a collective investment. As a student’s first significant adult decision, they should be privy to the expense and implications of their college choice.

The beauty of the college admission experience is it can actually teach some long-term, real-life lessons. Sometimes that is about humility and dealing with disappointment when they are deferred, denied, or waitlisted; sometimes it’s the tension and difficulty of having to wait on results; and sometimes it is understanding how the lifestyle they know is financed, and how paying for college will factor into that.

I understand this can be uncomfortable initially. However, talking money early will not only keep you out of that dreaded April scenario I described, but will also help inform your college search. It will help generate important questions to ask on tours about co-ops, internships, major choice, return on investment, careers, salaries, and how those colleges help students pursue employment opportunities during and after college. It will help frame the difference between “sticker price” and actual cost before applying. It will allow you to use and process the results of Net Price Calculators as a family. I believe talking about money early will actually bring you together, rather than creating a painful silent wedge in your relationship during the college admission experience. Talk money early!

Draw less lines.

“My dad will only let me apply to schools in the Top X.” Before you put those types of conditions on your student’s search, I urge you to check the methodology behind how the rankings are formulated (this is how US News and World Report creates its rankings). Before you blindly follow a singular number as an authoritative signpost, ask yourself if your values are in line with their calculations.

More pointedly, do you care what one president (or their assistant who completes the survey) thinks of another college (20% of the methodology)? Is it of any consequence that a school looking to increase it’s position might intentionally inflate a small fraction of faculty salaries or decrease the class size in a major your daughter or son has no interest in pursuing (another 20% of the methodology)?

Secondly, just like college football teams may end one season inside the Top 25 and begin the next one outside of it, the same is true for university rankings. They change. The BIG difference is sports teams move up and down because of actual performance or losing a quarterback.

In contrast, last year Georgia Tech was ranked the #8 public school in the nation. This year we are in the fifth slot. The truth is we are the same place. Our students are just as bright. Our research is just as important. Nothing has changed—except that number. So before you tell your daughter she can only visit schools in the Top 50 or 100, consider not only the highly debatable methodology, but also the fact that last year number 94 was ranked 107 or visa versa (Note: I have no idea who is currently 107, 94, or any other number, except number five).

Admit rates are another line parents often draw that I urge you to focus on far less. A school counselor put this beautifully last week, “selectivity is not always a proxy for academic quality.” Bam! That is spot on. As a parent, I hope you will not find yourself coaching your daughter or son to, “only look at places with admit rates below X%.” Or to attend the “most selective school to which you are admitted.”

Here is my case study counter. When I arrived at Tech, we were admitting well over 60% of applicants. Just a few years ago we sat around 40%. This year’s class will likely see an admit rate below 20%. Are they any smarter, more talented, or more destined for future success? Absolutely not. Students we admitted at 60% are running companies now and sitting on boards of major organizations. If a parent was drawing draconian lines they may have counseled their oldest child elsewhere, but now demand Tech is the right choice for their 2020 grad simply because of a specific percentage threshold. Same dorms. Same food. Same job opportunities. Draw less lines!

Less talking to other high school parents and more talking to the parents of current college students (or those of recent college graduates).

When you were pregnant or figuring out potty training or trying to determine the best discipline tactics, or as your daughter was about to get her driver’s license, you consulted the parents of kids who had already walked that same path.

This is why high schools invite parents of alumni back to serve on panels. They have walked in your shoes. They have wisdom and tips and can console and empathize. You know what they never say? “We really wish we’d really stressed more about this whole college admission thing!” Nope. Instead, they may talk about the twists and turns. They will likely describe some lessons learned. They’ll certainly talk about how they wish they’d talked about money earlier or drawn less lines or discovered the Georgia Tech admission blog as a junior. But ultimately they say the same thing. It all worked out for the best: “she’s happy,” “he’s dating a girl we actually like,” “I never thought I could cheer for that team, but I have to admit it’s a pretty amazing school.”

editorial cartoon

So spend your time talking to your peers about the upcoming soccer game or whether their son is also going on that spring break trip, but don’t talk to them about college admission. Many exaggerate. Some straight up lie. And unless they’ve got an older kid or two in college, they are just as confused or anxious as you are. Escape your echo chamber!

As we end this four-part series, I again want to thank you.

If you are a fellow admission colleague out there bleary-eyed in the middle of reading season, thank you! Thank you for your diligence, your perseverance, and your commitment to building your campus community one application at a time. Stay hydrated. Get some sun. Connect with colleagues.

If you are a school counselor walking the halls each day, inviting kids into your office to encourage, console or just listen, thank you! Thank you for truly seeing them when they feel unseen or misunderstood. Thank you for being there to give them a hug or some perspective after a rough exam or a big break up. Thank you for juggling a million responsibilities but consistently putting your concerns aside and pouring out your time and energy into kids.

If you are a high school student, thank you. Thank you for the hope you convey in your essays. Thank you for the bold aspirations and tremendous accomplishments and talents you outline in your applications. Thank you for the boundless optimism and desire to improve our world that you discuss in your interviews (frequently despite carrying burdens of expectations, enduring a tragic loss, or weathering circumstances no teenager should ever have to endure). Our world is broken and dark at times. Too often we see the “worst of us” play out on the nightly news or in our social media feed. Particularly in an election year, when we hear polarizing rhetoric or see caustic divisions and factions, you provide incredibly refreshing light to those of us fortunate enough to read and listen. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

If you a parent, thank you! This role is an amazing, terrifying privilege that leads us down a simultaneously joyous yet heart-wrenching path without any real trail map or instruction guide. Thank you for the dozens of unseen sacrifices you make and silent prayers you offer for your kids every day. The truth is you will not be able to control everything about your family’s college experience. The good news is that is not what they need anyway. After watching this cycle repeat itself for two decades, I am convinced what they really need is what only you can provide– your love and support. Keep showing and telling them you trust them and that you are proud of them. Thank you for loving your kids!

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More and Less, Part 3

Over the last two weeks, we’ve covered the mores and less’ I’m hopeful to see from college admission professionals and school counselors.  In that same time, I’ve also been reminded of just how busy high school students are. So in hopes you might actually read this between bites of a burrito or while waiting for practice to start, I’m skipping over some cute intro or loosely correlated anecdote and diving right in.

Mores and Less’ for high schools students… (in or near the college admission experience in 2020)

Less Narrow

If you are a junior starting to consider college, I hope you will commit to staying broad by asking big questions. Why do you want to go to college? What type of people bring out your best? Where are your blind spots? Who are you now and who are you hoping to become? Back to the beginning of this post—what do you want more and less of in your life—and why? I know, I know. I told you these were big questions.

The truth is most prospective college students and applicants do not ask these questions. Instead, they start with “where do I want to go to college?” (Likely because that’s the question most adults around them are asking.) Often guidance on searching for colleges surrounds factors like size, location, cost, etc.  These are important and valid factors, but order matters. Ask big questions now!

FYI: this advice is particularly timely because people like me in colleges all around the country have just paid $.42+ for your contact information from the ACT/SAT and received huge data files.  What that means: you are about to get barraged by schools telling you how “green” they are; or how many of their students study abroad; or their squirrel:student ratio; or how highly they are ranked for bench swings or vegan options or snarky professors. If you have not asked big questions, you’ll inevitably resort to limiting your search to colleges you’ve heard of, or to the ones someone else tells you to visit or apply to.

Last week I was on a panel with a first-year college student. Asked why he chose the school he is currently attending, he replied confidently, “I wanted to spend as little as possible to ultimately make as much as possible. I want to make a lot of money.” There you go. That was his why. Clear, simple, and unabashedly his. I challenge you to distill your college search down to a mission-statement concept. Here’s a template to get you started:

I want to go to college in order to _________________________.  I like being around people who _____________ _______________. I’m at my best when ________________  so I’d like to attend a college that offers me the opportunity to __________________________________.   When I graduate I hope I’ll ____________________.

(This is not meant to be a Mad Libs exercise. You can use as many adverbs or nouns as you want. You can use single words, phrases, emojis, or even multiple additional sentences. Yes. I see all the ways a smart, creative, arguably sarcastic high school student might turn this exercise into something altogether unrelated and unhelpful for choosing a college. No. I am not deterred.)

If you will be intentional about considering what you want and why, then when those glossy, shiny brochures with lightly photo-shopped students lingering studiously on sprawling quads start showing up, you’ll have an intact filter ready to go.

Quick PSA: When these Hogwarts University owls start arriving at your mailbox (or window as it were) with letters from deans or campus visit postcards and they don’t align with your answers, give them to a friend or recycle. Seriously, recycle. Together we can save the world one college brochure at a time.

More celebration

There are over 4,000 college and universities in our nation. Universities from around the world are recruiting in the U.S. more aggressively than ever before. Translation- you have tons of college options. If you are a senior reading this, you have likely applied to anywhere between 5 and 15 colleges. When you get in (and many of you already have), promise that you’ll truly celebrate. Go out to dinner or cook your favorite meal, head to a movie, or just take a few moments to enjoy your accomplishments and this new opportunity.

I know we’ve talked about this before, but I’ve recently heard two neighbors say, “Yeah, I got in, but it was just to the University of X.” With all due respect (which in this case is very little) that comment makes no sense. You were the one who applied there. Now you are admitted and it’s just…? If you are not going to be excited about going to a certain college, do not apply. Seriously.  You took the time, wrote the essays, paid the app fee, and sent all those transcripts and other documents. What do you mean it’s just? No!! (I’m not typically a multiple exclamation point guy but come on, people).  

And regardless of where and when you get in, go to lengths to celebrate your friends when they get a college acceptance. Tell them they are awesome. Give them a big hug. Offer to do something with them you know they love. No conditions. No personal agenda.

If you’ll allow it to be, the “admission process” is way bigger than a transactional exchange between applicants and institutions. I firmly believe it has the power to make you a better person- to prepare you not only for college, but for actual life as well. Trust me. This is just one of many situations to come when you have the opportunity to put aside your situation and rally around friends. In other words, this is a chance to both grow and mature. Learning to do this now will prepare you to be legitimately excited down the road when a friend tells you they’re engaged, or just got a big promotion, or they are expecting their first child.

Less time on social media

I include this mainly because people online frequently lie, only share their happiest/best moments, and can be incredible jerks (PG’d by blog editor) in their comments. But this is also important because your time in high school is limited and quickly elapsing. I’m challenging you to leave your phone at home for one day a week from now until you graduate. Have some borderline valid reason why that is simply untenable? Okay. Then remove social media once a week. See if those days don’t lend themselves to better conversations, more time for you to think or do things you enjoy, or simply to unplug and rest.

More Gratitude

I was on a panel last night in Denver with my colleagues Matt Hyde from Lafayette College and Heath Einstein from TCU. Both are extremely thoughtful and smart admission leaders. Each of them encouraged students to consider the things and people for whom they are grateful—and more so to actually take action and express that. So I’m stealing a page from their book and asking you to make time this week or weekend to consider and express your gratitude. (Want some more insight on this? Check out this Character Lab piece.) Think about what makes your life beautiful and unique. Tell a teacher how much you appreciate the time they have taken to help you in a class or write a rec letter for you. Let a coach know how their encouragement has helped you grow and achieve your goals. Call your grandpa. Go on a walk with your little brother or sister. And, as always, hug your mama.

Up next, the final installment: Part 4 – For Parents.

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It’s The Most Wonderful Time of Year?

While the air may be filled with songs and the streets lined with lights and decorations, the holidays can be a frenetic and stressful time. If your family is like ours, the number of obligations over the next few weeks is staggering. Parties, school functions, visits from relatives, and holiday travel quickly result in a full calendar and empty energy tank. If you are the parent of a high school senior, you also juggle a unique set of concerns and pressures, as many college admission and financial aid decisions and deadlines loom just after the new year.

I do not purport to have all the answers to combat this stress, but after watching the college admission process repeat itself for the last 20 years, I do have a few tips (and hopes) for your family as you head into the holidays.

Ask big questions. The end of one year and beginning of the next lends itself to reflection. Families in the middle of their college admission experience should do the same. Instead of becoming mired down in the details about deadlines or grammatical perfection in essays, my hope is you’ll slow down and zoom out.

Your son or daughter has plenty of classmates, teammates, and random strangers asking them, “Where are you going to college next year?” Make time in the weeks ahead to have them consider a question far too few people ever ask, “Why do you want to go to college?”

Whether they have already been admitted to a few schools and are waiting to hear back from others, or have yet to submit a single application, this question is foundational. Encourage them to write their answers down. Knowing why will help answer where. It will help them think through each school they are considering and ensure it aligns with their purpose. Ultimately, it will serve as a filter this spring  when they are choosing between a few universities to which they’ve been admitted.

Protect Your Time. Discussions about college, especially during the holidays, can creep into far too much of regular life. This is the last winter break with your daughter or son living full-time under your roof—do not lose sight of that fact. These are fleeting and limited moments, my friends. What’s next is important, but what’s now is precious.

My hope is your family will put some ground rules in place. Establish an hour or two a week for a college conversation. This is more than enough time to look over an essay, double check deadlines, or schedule an interview or campus visit. Everyone must agree to show up with an open mind and a commitment to listen, but without a cell phone or terribly crunchy snacks.

Outside of those times, college conversations are off the table. The beauty of holding these “family meetings” is they allow everyone to truly rest and enjoy each other, and the much-needed vacation. If you find not talking about college outside of these isolated times is challenging, it is a good indication you should recalibrate in 2020.

Escape Your Local Echo Chamber. The great thing about the holidays is they bring people together. Unfortunately, that is also the downside. Conversations at parties often surround which students were and were not accepted in Early Action or Early Decision at certain colleges. Understandably, it is easy to leave wondering what that means for your own child or how unfair and confusing the admission experience can be.

Take time to look at the Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 lists of companies and their CEOs. Most come from schools that are not categorized as “highly selective.” Need more reassurance? Pick up and read a copy of Frank Bruni’s book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.

My earnest hope this holiday season is you will talk to fewer parents who have kids in high school and more who have kids in college. Ask them about their family’s experience. You’ll hear them say they wish they had not stressed as much. They will tell you about their daughter who was not admitted to her first choice school, ended up elsewhere, and is thriving now. They’ll talk about how their son did not receive the merit scholarship he had hoped for, selected another option from his choices, and now has an incredible internship and a girlfriend (who they actually like) that he never would have met otherwise.

Take A Break From Social Media.  I hope you will not post anything about your son’s or daughter’s college search online this holiday season. They call this an “admission process” and it should be just that. At this point, unless you have a kid who has gotten in ED to a school and is definitely going, you are only part of the way through. Hold off on putting things online about decisions, frustrations, deliberations, etc. This is not only healthy for you and your family’s relationships, but it also helps people in your community as well.

Unfortunately, social media is largely filled with terribly misinformed opinions, negative banter, catty comments, and frequently bold-faced lies. I’d encourage you not to read or engage in college admission dialogue online. Instead, take opportunities in-person to re-center the conversation with your friends, neighbors, or relatives.  If anything, my hope is you will use your platform to encourage, reassure, and provide healthy and desperately needed perspective when discussions go off the rails and fan the flames of anxiety.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

The college admission experience can seem incredibly complicated because it is filled with a myriad of dates and deadlines. It seems confusing because the press and marketed how-to guides provide incomplete and frequently inaccurate data. It seems consuming because friends and colleagues incessantly share “inside” information and anecdotes (or the alleged stories of relatives) on social media. It seems confounding because those same friends and colleagues have widely divergent experiences and opinions and are quick to share each time they see you at the school, store, or stadium. It seems complex because colleges and universities all have different processes, review different factors, and operate on different timelines.

Things seem this way because most people are solely focused on “getting in.” This holiday season I hope your family will instead ask big questions, protect your time, and escape your local echo chamber; and take a break from social media. In short, focus less on getting in and more on being and staying together as a family.

Happy Holidays!

A version of this blog originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution on December 11, 2019. See article here.