Admission Process
College Decision
Course Rigor
Deferral/Waitlist
Holistic Review Process
Managing Stress
Senior

What is taking so long?

Listen to “How Are College Admission Applications Reviewed? Episode 3: Mary Tipton Woolley” on Spreaker.
Every parent develops their own strategy for how to fend off the inevitable question kids ask on road trips: “When will we get there?”

Early on, I decided the best way to help a toddler understand distance was to use the rear view mirror.

“Okay, if this is our house,” I’d say while pointing to the far-left corner of the mirror, “and this is grandma’s house,” moving my hand to the far-right side of the glass, “then we are here.” Inevitably, “here” was about an inch away from where we had started- and that was being generous.

Last week my kids had Winter Break. On Tuesday, we headed to North Carolina to see my wife’s family. Inevitably, about an hour into the drive, Elizabeth (9) asks, “Where are we, dad?”

I started to explain the county we were in and what it was known for. She was uninterested and interrupted me to ask more clearly, “No, I mean on the mirror.” Wow. What started as an age- appropriate tactic seems to have turned into a barrier to gaining knowledge about geography and state history. Since I had worked all day and did not have it in me to protest, I simply pointed about quarter of the way down the mirror.

“That’s it? What is taking so long?!” About 40 responses went through my head in under three seconds, including trucks, construction, idiotic drivers, Atlanta rush hour traffic, and a number of expletive-laden opinions about population growth, city planning, urban sprawl, and more. Rather than utter these, I simply took a deep breath, shook my head quickly back and forth, and turned up the music. My wife was unimpressed.

I’m not sure what Elizabeth did after that, because I left the music up for the next half hour. But I started to think about her question: “What is taking so long?” Our culture has created an expectation of immediacy. We order a coffee, pay, slide down the counter and pick it up. Drive thru lanes are optimized, pictures can be printed at home or are ready for pick up immediately. We expect same day pick up for car repair, dry cleaning, or prescription refills. Actually, all of that requires actual effort. How about 1-click online Amazon orders that appear at our door often within hours?

A Road Trip Through the Admission Process   

When you apply to college, especially one that receives far more applications than they have seats available and uses a holistic and layered admission review, waiting is inevitable. If I were you, I’d definitely be asking, “What is taking so long?!” Don’t worry. I’m not just going to sigh and tune you out. Read on.

The application leaves home:

You hit submit. Now what?

Merging lanes:

At this point, the college matches supporting documents to your application in their database. Supporting documents includes everything from transcripts to letters of recommendation to test scores. The take home message is they’re ensuring your file is complete so they can begin their review.

If it is incomplete, your admission portal will show exactly what you are missing and you will start getting emails/texts/calls/owls about that. (By the way, if you are a senior reading this blog and not checking your email, stop reading this blog and go check your email!)

Carpool:

At this point, it depends on the system or style of application review a school has decided to use, but generally speaking the person who visits your school or is in charge of recruiting your city or state will be the one initially responsible for reading your application. At many colleges, file review begins once it’s complete, while others wait until all applications for that round have been received. Seeing all applications from a particular high school allows counselors to understand how your grades, rigor, trends compare to your peers in the applicant pool.

For example, one student receives a 91 in AP World History. That school adds 7 points of “weight” to all AP grades. While an admission officer would already know the A range extends from 90-107 based on the school profile and transcript, reading all applicants from a particular high school in the same day allows them to also see applicants who may have 102s or 104s. What does this mean for you?

  • Holistic review is both individual and comparative, rather than simply formulaic.
  • In a weighted system, two students can both have “4.0s” that look very different (in this example, 17 points).
  • This does not mean the student with the 104 is automatically getting in. Again, holistic means holistic. The entire goal of these processes is to gain and keep perspective, rather than to draw hard lines or apply a purely academic formula.

In some cases, initial review is conducted by a single individual. That counselor reads your application in its entirety, makes an admission decision recommendation and passes it along to another team member (often one slightly more experienced/senior on the team). Think about this as checks and balances. Schools want to be sure multiple people read your file and have a chance to offer their opinion on your candidacy for admission.

In other cases, schools employ Committee Based Evaluation or Team Based Review. The concept here is a simultaneous and synchronous review. Two team members read your application at the same time. One will evaluate you from a purely academic standpoint by reviewing transcripts, testing, and teacher and counselor recommendations. They take a deep dive into your course choice, grade trends, and how you have performed within your school’s context. The second reader tries to understand how you’ve used your time outside the classroom, as well as the impact and influence you’ve had on others through working, clubs, sports, or other pursuits. That staffer also reads your essays, short answer responses, and, depending on the college, may also read recommendations.  Each staff member makes individual recommendations based on their evaluation. They could both agree to admit or deny, or there could be a split decision.

Traffic Jam:

“Are we there yet?”

No! We are still only mid-mirror.

“But the driver and passenger both agree to head a certain direction.”

True. However, there are other cars on the highway, so now most files sit for a while.

“What does a while mean?”

You know how your Waze App has varying levels of red for traffic? Yea. Kind of like that. Sometimes it’s a dark pink, and often the time just keeps adding up.

“Why?”

Because admission decisions at selective institutions (those invariably using holistic review) are both individual and collective. Students are evaluated based not only on their performance in their school setting, and the other students in their high school (see example above), but also in comparison to the entire applicant pool.

Now counselors move on to that work. They begin reading other applications from schools, cities, or states they are responsible for, and they also help the rest of the team complete their first round of review.

As an example, if a college receives 20,000 applications in their Regular Decision round and has on average 10 pairs of people reading 50 applications a day, five days a week, it would take eight weeks to complete the first round of review. But you know life (and road trips) are never going to be that simple. There are holidays, sick days (for staff or their own children), as well as other recruitment responsibilities. Throw in some technology challenges, a fire alarm triggered by someone microwaving fish in tinfoil, and a good old snow day or two and you’re easily pushing 10 weeks.

“Why don’t you just hire more staff?”

Please call me on a secure line.

Recalculating….recalculating….

Next, schools move into “committee review,” or “cohort review,” or “class shaping.” Deans, directors, and VPs provide additional direction about institutional priorities and empower larger groups of staff to review applications on both an individual and comparative basis. Typically, in this phase discussions are informed by specific targets. Do we have enough admits from certain counties, states, or nations? How are particular majors doing in terms of their specific enrollment targets? Geography, academic major, ROTC, special talents, first generation, financial need, demonstrated interest may all come into play. Some or all of these student attributes, and potentially many more, are discussed as applications move through the committee review stage.  If faculty engage in the admission process, this is a logical time frame in which they’ll be consulted or asked to weigh in on student fit to their programs or the institution overall.

At some colleges, all files are reviewed again in committee, while at others only those who had a split decision in the first round enter this phase of review. Many colleges make admission offers to applicants about starting their academic career on a different campus, abroad, or in an earlier or later semester than the one for which they initially applied, which means committees are also attempting to hit targets for those institutional needs.

How long does this take? Well, that depends on the number of applications, the number of staff, and how bad flu is that year, but it usually takes several weeks. These are often tough and complex decisions that involve more people in the room weighing a series of macro factors and goals.

Re-routing:

We are almost to the far-right side of the mirror. Decision release day is approaching. Your calendar is marked and so is ours. Everyone is nervous. At this point, deans and directors are consulting with their data analysts to gauge their mathematical models for “yield” (the number of admitted students who actually choose to enroll).

Let’s say a college has a yield rate of 34% (this is actually quite common nationally). The dean knows her president, board, and faculty are counting on a class of 1,400. The current number of admits after committee is 5,000, which would result in a class of 1,700 students. The dean knows about 100 of the students who deposit do not ultimately enroll (this is known as “melt”). With residence halls and dining halls built for 1,400 new students, she is over by 200.

Accounting for yield and melt, a small group of senior-level admission folks take on the unenviable task of further reducing the number of admits (in our example by about 600+ students). This pushes previously slated admits to the waitlist, and as a result has a cascading effect on both the number and percentage of students who end up with that particular decision.

Owner’s Manual:

Every road trip and car system varies. I’ve tried to provide a general overview of how colleges review applications. If you want the full details of the operating system from a school you’re considering, check their website or consult one of their admission counselors. As an example, Georgia Tech made a video to illustrate our process.

Buckle Up!

I’m sorry this process takes so long (I’m also sorry this blog is so long). I don’t like to wait either. In fact, I don’t think I’ve never heard anyone say, “You know what I really love… waiting.”

If you are a junior just entering the college admission experience, I hope this gives you some insight and questions to ask as you consider specific colleges. When you visit or talk to one of their representatives, listen for their explanation of the process. Speak up and ask questions if it is not clear. You are going to put a lot of time and effort into applying. It is your right and responsibility to understand how they make decisions, as well as a clear timeline in which they do that.

If you are an applicant still waiting for the car to pull into the driveway, I hope you will take a holistic approach to waiting. Like admission officers, your goal is to keep perspective. You only have one senior year. Enjoy it. Go to games, hang out with friends, take trips, and have fun! Nobody ever looks back and says, “I wish I stressed out more and wished away the spring of my senior year in high school.” (Kind of like nobody says, “I want to marry someone mean,” or “I prefer to overpay for my meals.”)

Look around you this week in school.  I am asking you to fight the temptation to look to far ahead. Slow down. Remember this–  most of the folks you see every day now will not be around (in person) at this time next year. Give them a hug. Grab a meal together. Go see a concert. Just enjoy being together.

Ultimately, it is the things we have to wait for in life are the ones that shape us the most. You will come to the end of the mirror soon enough. Take in the sights. Share the road. Enjoy the ride!

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Lice (and admission) Lessons

Three years ago, I wrote a blog about my family getting lice.

Here is how it went down.

Cue dream sequence…

My wife called to tell me some horrible news.

“Our daughter has lice.”

“Oh, crap.”

“No. Lice. She has to leave school.”

“Okay. Got it.”

Since my wife works at a hospital she can’t leave at a moment’s notice, so I started packing my bag and canceling meetings. Five minutes later, she called back.

“Our son also has it.”

“Oh, CRAP!”

“No. Lice.”

“Yeah, I’m on it.”

I put down my phone and started scratching my head. Power of suggestion, I suppose. 45 minutes later I picked the kids up from school and we immediately went to a local shop that specializes in debugging (my term, not theirs).

I had not seen the signs. I needed someone else to identify the situation, alert me to the problem, and ultimately deal with it for me.

Then, And Now

Not this time….

Fast forward to two weeks ago. I arrived home from a five-day trip well after midnight, slept on the couch, and awoke a few hours later to my son dropping a spoon on the tile floor in the kitchen (his coordination improves as the day goes on).

I stumbled over to start making coffee, gave him a hug, and asked, “How’s it going, bud?”

“Alright.”

“Had a good week?”

“Yep.”

Then I noticed it. In less than 90 seconds, he had already scratched his head twice. My Spidey senses (and frankly my own scalp) were tingling.

“Does your head itch?”

“Uh. Huh.”

“Has it been itching before today?”

“Yeah. Mom said it’s probably just dry scalp.”

Right at that moment my daughter came down the stairs. I’d always found her shuffling feet, wrinkled nightgown, and disheveled, tangled mess of hair to be endearing. I saw her rub her eyes, yawn, and then (seemingly in slow motion) move her hands to her hair to scratch the back of her head.

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

She looked hurt and confused. I did not care.

Meanwhile, my son had gone back to filling his bowl. I had to double take. Was that cereal previously regular shredded wheat? Because it definitely looked frosted now.

Not going to lie. I put on a toboggan hat (we were fresh out of shower caps and hair nets) and told them to get in the bathroom.

“But dad I’m hungry,” my daughter protested.

“Girl, right now you are the meal. Get in the bathroom.”

Still confused (and scratching) she followed my son down the hall.

I found a pencil and started examining. Unlike the last time when I needed the “lice lady” to tell me about their condition, this time I was positive within 30 seconds.

“Okay. I’m going to email your teachers and cancel my meetings today. We have to deal with this. And don’t sit on the couch, put on a hat, or move at all until I come back.”

I went upstairs, threw all of my clothes in the hamper, and took a shower. And yes, I may have cried just a bit.

Unlike the last time, I did not need anyone else to tell me about the problem. I knew what to look for and how to deal with it- right down to drying all towels, sheets, and blankets on high and bagging up the stuffed animal zoo my daughter has created in her bedroom. Moreover, even though I was confident they were infected, I knew I was lice-free. I had not had head-to-head contact with them recently due to travel, and I was able to do quick self-examination.

Paranoia, the power of suggestion, and the possibility of a problem

Just saying the word, “lice” causes most people to start itching. Inevitably they move back a little and wince, or shift in their chair and alternate twitching their shoulder blades, or simultaneously shake their head and crinkle their nose, while firmly closing their eyes and shaking their hands.

Let’s be honest. The college admission process is eerily similar. We hear stories about smart kids not getting into certain schools, or read articles about the growing competitiveness of a school that “used to be so easy to get into,” or see social media posts touting the newest rankings, admit rates, or ROI statistics—and we start to “crtich” (equal parts cringe and itch).

Are you infected?

In our labs at Georgia Tech, we are currently working on an “anti-admission itch cream.” Since it is patent pending and not immediately available for over the counter sales, let’s conduct a quick online exam and virtual treatment procedure:

  • You are a senior who was recently deferred admission in EA/ED.

Bugs: You are thinking about “demonstrating interest” to help your chances of being admitted in the next round by writing a letter a day to the admission office, or calling/emailing every member of the admission team to plead your case and articulate your love of the school (happens every year), or sending flavored, scented, or sweetened gifts to the admission director (no way I’m opening, let alone eating, any of that), or popping in, tweeting at, or just showing up… YES! You are infected.

De-Bug:  Do what they have told you to do. Most likely that will just be sending in your fall grades, filling out a quick form, or writing a supplementary essay. Want to go one step (ONE- not 100) further? I get it. Send a quick email to the admission officer who reads/recruits your school/state letting them know you appreciate their time and continued review of your application. That’s it. Stop scratching. There are no bugs. You are good. Repeat: YOU.ARE.GOOD! 

  • You are a parent considering using an independent counselor or consultant to help your family navigate the college admission experience.

Bugs: Their sales pitch (and basically only “credential”) centers around their own kid getting into an Ivy League school two years ago. They are not an expert. YES. You need to be examined. Someone in your neighborhood, school community, or workplace has leaned over and created a bug bridge from their infected head to yours. And if anyone “guarantees” you admission to a college (especially those considered selective or highly selective) you should both check your head and the headlines. Googling Rick Singer.

De-Bug: If you already have a high quality, well-trained, deeply experienced counselor in your school, you most likely do not need additional assistance. However, if after examining your situation, i.e. penciling your head closely, you believe outside or more individualized assistance is critical, find someone who is a member of HECA, IECA, NACAC, or another reputable professional organization.

  • You are a junior who is unhappy with your initial standardized test scores.

Bugs: Life is over. I’m not going to college. No college will admit me. I’m not smart. If any of those thoughts have gone through your head, then YES, you are buggy. The itch is real, my friend.

De-Bug:  There are 4,000+ colleges in America. Most of them admit far more students than they deny.  SPOILER ALERT: If you are reading this blog, you are not only going to college, you are going to absolutely kill it when you do. That is a guarantee! So, don’t avoid human contact. Instead, start by checking out the more than 1,000 colleges in our country who do not require or consider test scores as part of their admission process. A full list is found at FairTest.org.

Talk to the admission reps from schools you are thinking about applying to, and ask them if they are splitting hairs (couldn’t help myself) over 80 points on an SAT or two points on an ACT. Then, after they give you their scripted answer, say, “Really though? Is that just what you say publicly, because I’m kind of itching here and I need you to level with me.”

Go see your school counselor and keep working to create an academically and financially balanced list. And before you decide to spend your incredibly valuable time in test prep courses or paying hundreds/ thousands of dollars to a company who is having company retreats in the islands, look into low- cost, free, or online sources like Khan Academy.

  • You are the parent of a student who was denied admission.

 Bugs: “That’s my alma mater and I’m writing them out of my will and never going to another football game on campus.”

“I’m going down there myself and demanding someone tell me exactly why my son was not admitted.”

“They did not take my daughter because the only kind of kid they admit now is (fill in the blank).”

 De- Bug: What your daughter or son needs most is for you to just listen and reassure them with your presence and perspective. Sometimes that may mean saying absolutely nothing for a little while and just being able to sit with them in the disappointment.

Ultimately, however, they’ll look to you for important reminders: you love them, you are proud of them, and you’re there for them and with them every step of the way. They need you to remind them that they are the same talented, cool, interesting, and bound-for-a-great-future kid they were before submitting that application.

Reassure them that admit letters are coming (or have already arrived). And give them even better news– they’re going to end up on a campus filled with other talented, cool, interesting, and bound-for-a-great-future kids as well.

Enjoy these precious final months of their senior year. They go far too fast to spend them itching, scratching, and infecting others. You’ve got this!

Diagnosis

I understand you may feel a little unsettled at times. The admission experience can do that. Whether you are a parent or a student, you are going to see some serious “critching” around you, especially at this time of year.

Remember, others “condition” does not mean you have a problem. Stay calm. Get the facts. Don’t gossip, speculate, or presume. Talk to the experts. And for the love of all things holy, don’t go down internet or social media rabbit holes about this stuff. That’s the exact type of head-to-head contact you need to avoid!

Feel free to go upstairs, throw your clothes in the hamper, and take a shower. But there is no need to cry.  Now that you’ve read this blog, I’m officially declaring you “bug free.” You have my anti-itch guarantee on that.

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Remember The Important Things

What am I forgetting?

Sunday, December 1

7:13 a.m. – I awake to the faint sound of singing. This is not typical. Groggily, I open my eyes and look over at my wife. Dead asleep.

7:15 a.m. – I drag myself out of bed, pull on a shirt, and shuffle to the bathroom exhausted. After a week of traveling, spending time with extended family, and consuming more food in a day than I normally do in a week, we had returned home just in time to host eight 3rd graders for my daughter’s ninth birthday. We’d gone to bed around 1 a.m. after a night of ice skating, pizza, cake, popcorn, and a late night movie.

7:19 a.m. – I open our bedroom door and walk down the stairs to the unmistakable tune (though in a very high key) of “Jingle Bells” echoing from the living room.

“Good morning, ladies,” I croak. I received a few casual glances and then witnessed a truly incredible, seamless transition to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Turning on the coffee machine and leaning against the counter I ponder just how much money it would take to convince my son and his friends to sit in a circle wearing their pajamas, hold hands, and sing Christmas Carols.

7:23 a.m. – I pour a full cup of dark roast coffee. You may have seen the mug or sign “No Coffee No Workee.” For me it is more “No Coffee No Thinkee.” The synapses in my brain are powered by caffeine. I am simply a better human post- coffee. All of that.

7:25 a.m. – I begin mixing pancake batter and begin to have that strange feeling that I’m forgetting something important…

  • Accounted for all children in my charge.
  • Recounted number of cracked eggs.
  • Wearing pants.

*All of those would have been bad on some level. Jail time would vary.

8:03 a.m. Girls have now torn through 26 pancakes and are bouncing on the trampoline (still singing).  Amy comes downstairs and heads straight for the coffee. Sympatico.

Me: Hey. Was there something I was supposed to do today?

Her: Pretty sure you were going to rub my feet and wash my car. (Clearly, coffee is just a habit as her synapses seem to fire just fine on their own).

Me: I don’t know what it is, but there’s something significant about December 1.

Her facial expression is equal parts concern, bemusement, and disgust. Tilting her head down and to the left while simultaneously raising her right eyebrow, she sasks (partly saying/ partly asking) “It’s our daughter’s birthday.” Translation: “Are you kidding me right now?”

Me: Flipping my head in direction of the caroling trampoline… No. No. I do know that. Something else.

Her: Sips coffee. 

10:21 a.m. – The girls have been picked up and the house is quiet, but my mind is racing. Granted, I’m three cups of coffee in, but it is something else. Something about today. What am I forgetting? I check my phone calendar, my Ipad calendar, my laptop calendar (sometimes I have syncing issues). Nothing.

11:34 a.m. – I go for a run. This will clear my mind and help me remember. Nada.

12:08 p.m. – Stretching. Still tormented. Not quite Edgar Allen Poe The Raven level but definitely something rapping, tapping in my mind for sure.

3:13 p.m. – We are at the symphony watching Home Alone. Side note: If you’ve not gone to see a movie played with live music accompaniment, do it sometime. If you’ve not seen Home Alone, you’ve lived an incomplete life.  That is your holiday assignment for sure.

Mrs. McCallister is having the same type of day I am. She knows she has forgotten something important but cannot seem to remember what it is. Finally, she sits bold upright in the plane and yells, “Kevin!”

BAM!! That’s what it took to jar my memory. I looked over at my wife, tapped her shoulder, and whispered, “It’s Preparation Day! That’s what I could not remember.”

Her: (Again, with that vicious concoction of concern, bemusement, and disgust.) What is Preparation Day?

Me: Do you remember that blog from last year about students being deferred admission?

Her eyes gently close. She takes a long, deep breath, rocks her head back, and then slowly rotates it in a complete circle. I’ve learned this to be her non-verbal sign for, “When I open my eyes again, I’m going to pretend like you’re not here.”

Anyway…

As you may recall, last year I pronounced December 1 “National Preparation Day” and challenged seniors who had applied Early Action or Early Decision to colleges with less than a 50% admit rate to take the “PDP”—Preparation Day Pledge. (So I’m a few days late but thankfully was able to pull some strings and get you a deadline extension this year!)

While there is nothing magic about these words (although I worked some pretty cool ones in), my hope is by actually saying this pledge, you will: prepare yourself for the possibility of being deferred or denied, keep perspective, and move forward in your admission experience in a balanced, grounded, healthy way.

Take the 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. 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 fortunetellers 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.”

I got deferred…

Since many colleges will be releasing admission decisions in the next few weeks and being deferred is a very real possibility, I wanted to be sure that you had a few tips on how to understand and handle that decision.  What does being deferred really mean?

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. 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.

Technically, defer does mean “to put off or delay,” but my hope is you’ll re-frame that as 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.

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. I hope you’ll focus more on the rooms you enter every day. Your classroom, living room, etc. 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. 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.

It means remember the important things. Don’t be like me or Mrs. McCallister. Take the Pledge!  (And seriously, go watch Home Alone for the first or fifteenth time. So good!)

Communicating Thanksgiving

Each Monday morning our Communications Team meets. Our agenda is broken into four basic parts:

Immediate outbound: We discuss mass communications via email and address what applicants need to know about the admission cycle. What expectations do we need to set on timing? What are we communicating to prospective students to help them better understand campus culture, highlight interesting students, faculty, alumni, etc.?

Urgent/Fires: Our website is down. There has been a natural disaster somewhere in the world and we need to consider and communicate a deadline extension. My parents are coming tonight and you did not finish folding the laundry. (Wait… sorry, that was just a text from my wife.)

Our team member from the Communications Center (aka “the Calm Center”) reports on inbound calls and emails. What do we need to clarify or address immediately? “We’ve had 100 calls this week about X.” We then examine the source of confusion and look to communicate X more clearly on our site, publications, or in presentations.

On application deadline day, we inevitably get hundreds of calls asking, “Is today really the deadline?” “Is that midnight my time or yours?” “It says on my portal that I’ve been admitted. Is that really true?” You think I’m kidding. That is a very common one, actually. While it does make us question the decision, we don’t view skepticism as a reason for rescinding admission. Instead, we have come to appreciate there are some questions people simply want another human to answer. This is not an admissions fire. This is human nature (an entirely different type of fire).

If you are not receiving these types of emails from schools you are interested in, you can visit their website to subscribe. If you are receiving too many of these emails from colleges around the country, I can only apologize and urge you to a: unsubscribe to those you are no longer legitimately considering; b: create a separate email address just for your college search; c: blame the internet (that’s kind of my go to for all that is awry in the world).

Future focus/Strategic: What is coming up? These are the bigger communication projects we are working on, such as the production of videos, publications, events, or campaigns. We check in on needs/ status/necessary iterations or alterations.

Social Media/ Timely: We try to provide an authentic, day- to- day sense of campus life. Pictures, stories, events… a “sense of face and place” is our fundamental goal. What have we or should we be saying and showing on social media to engage, educate, entertain, and at least one more word starting with the letter “E.” Following (or at least trolling) social media from official admission accounts is worthwhile. I would also highly recommend doing the same for campus clubs or orgs at the schools you are interested in, because this is student-to-student communication that is organic, authentic, unvarnished and unfiltered, i.e. the real deal. Great way to get a sense of true culture and student life.

Back when only my mom and a few of her friends were reading this blog, we’d sort of hit that at the end. And by “the end,” I basically mean as people were walking out someone would idly mumble, “So, Rick. Are you going to write another bizarre story about your kids and then loosely correlate it to college admission?”

Once they realized that there was an endless supply of said anecdotes and debatable correlations, more team members volunteered to write. Now, we actually discuss the blog more intentionally: Who is writing this week and next week? What topics are most relevant/timely/helpful during this part of the cycle? What have we learned from feedback via comment or email?

This week the basic consensus was, No blog needed. Students are checked out, counselors/teachers are burned out, and parents are wishing they could just eat out. I get it. Thanksgiving is a time to relax, watch football, hang out with family, sleep, and travel. “Light reading” is the score ticker at the bottom of the TV, rather than a blog about college admission.  Still, because we all have so many challenges and rough situations to deal with throughout the year, I thought a brief and simple message was important.

Give Thanks

The admission process- like our communications meetings and life in general- is filled with a lot of looking forward. It is clogged and clouded with impending deadlines, calendared dates, planning, wishing, expectation and anticipation. While it is important, it is so rare and hard to celebrate your wins. As humans it seems we are always on to the next thing. But this week… this week is an oasis–a respite. It  is a rare time to reflect and to actually sit still for a minute or two, or take a long walk and ruminate.

I’ve heard a number of politicians use the quote, “If you see a turtle on a fence post, you can be sure it did not get there by itself.” On some level, however, we all fool ourselves into thinking we have achieved, succeeded, or climbed on our own, because we know that it has taken a lot of work. Today, however, I am asking you to reflect on who it is that has helped facilitate your success. Who gave you that job? Who selected you to be on the team or named you captain? Who took time to also write your recommendation letters after a long day teaching, coaching, and grading papers? Who sponsored the club you have grown to care about so deeply?

Take the time right now to send them a text or give them a call. Simple but powerful. Give thanks for these folks. This is not homework. This is an opportunity.

A Note to Seniors
Your parents need some love this week. Fall of your senior year is not easy on them. They’re excited for you, but they’re also nervous. They’re starting to realize this is the last Thanksgiving you will be living full-time at home. They may pretend it’s just dusty in the house or blame their emotions on a turkey- induced stupor, but it’s actually reality sinking in. Don’t let their plans to convert your room to an office or guest room fool you. Their hearts are breaking a little right now. They could use a hug and a note too.

Despite what the commercials might say Thanksgiving is not really about the food or football or pre-Christmas sales. The true heartbeat of Thanksgiving is slowing down, reaching out, and choosing family. At its core, so too is the college admission experience. “Getting in” is what people talk about but staying together is what they should be focused on.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

 

Run YOUR Race

I went for a run in the woods the other day. I do that a lot this time of year. Last weekend it was a 15-mile trail race in North Georgia. In early December, I’ll go 19 miles through the rolling pines near Warm Springs, GA, where FDR famously spent time.  Late fall and winter is a busy time in college admission, so multi-hour runs are a catharsis of sorts.

On a particularly long and isolated stretch of forest last week, I began thinking about a conversation I’d just had with a friend whose daughter is a high school senior. He called me because they were arguing about her applications- mainly where she should apply and if she’d applied to “enough” colleges. “So, what would you tell her?”

I said I would think about it. And so somewhere around mile eight, that’s exactly what I was doing. Ironically, the more I ran, the more I realized how much trail running and college admission have in common. I also realized there was not much to “tell” – but definitely a lot to hope for.

So, seniors, as you run YOUR race this year– as you work on applications, await and receive admission decisions, and head into your final holiday breaks before heading to college, here are my TOP 5 hopes for you:

1-      That you will not be overly influenced by the opinions or experiences of others. Remain true to yourself and your unique and deeply personal college admission experience. Listen. In races you see some runners go out quickly. They charge up the hill or around the corner. That is not wrong, but it may not be your style or best approach. Maybe you did not have an Early Decision school that you felt 100% sure about and now you are questioning if you did something wrong by not applying under that plan. Maybe a few friends have already been admitted to college and you are still waiting on decisions or working on essays for other applications. Maybe you look around and believe everyone else knows where they want to go and you are still unsure and open. My friend, that is absolutely fine. Perfectly normal. You are not alone. Ultimately, your goal is to find a college campus where you can thrive both academically and socially. Pace of getting there will naturally vary. Keep the end in mind.

People will use the word “process” when they talk about college admission. This makes it seem like it’s a one-size-fits-all equation or formula, or that there is a specific way that leads to a predictable conclusion. That is a bunch of crap. Reject that. This is an experience. You have choices, options, and there will be inevitable turns and twists along the way. Run YOUR race. The beauty of trail running, in my opinion, is that you have to make decisions and keep your head up to look for blazes on the trees or signs in the woods. Unlike a road race where everything is cleanly marked, train running requires more thought and decision-making. The same is true for college admission. If you are doing this right, you won’t do it the same as your brother or best friend or the way you read it online in some guide. Keep your head clear and be confident. Run YOUR race.

2-      Enjoy your one and only senior year. Anytime you only have one of something it’s precious and should be treated and cared for as such. Enjoy your year. Don’t rush it or wish it away, because it will go fast enough on its own. Look around you in class or in the hallways or in the cafeteria next week. These people you have grown to know and love- and who also know and love you– will not be with you on a daily basis next year. Don’t take that for granted. Be proactive and give them a hug and tell them you appreciate them. Be specific about why they’re awesome. Make time for these people. You’ll never just have it.

3-      Be a light. Encourage people around you and help them. This is not going to help you get into college, but it is exactly the kind of person colleges are looking for. One thing I love about trail running is when someone misses a blaze and goes off track, other runners call to them. If a front runner sees a rock or a root or a branch, they call out or point to those obstacles and possible hazards. No matter what anyone tells you college admission it is not a zero-sum game. On almost every admissions panel I’m on someone in the audience will raise their hand and ask, “So if you have two applicants with the same GPA and same test scores, which one do you take?” In reality that’s not how it works.

I’ve often heard from high school teachers or counselors about students who won’t help others study for tests or share notes from class, because they’re afraid that will give their classmate a leg up. We’ve read essays about top students vying to be valedictorian who compete so ruthlessly academically they sacrifice their friendship. If thoughts like that are going through your head this year, I am imploring you to see the bigger picture. Helping others, sharing what you know, encouraging and facilitating the success of friends, classmates, teammates, colleagues is a life skill that will take you much further than the distinction of being valedictorian or getting into a specific school.

If you’ve been the subject of this type of behavior, I’ll simply quote the prophet Taylor Swift and say, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate…” They may end up with a specific title or offer of acceptance, but long-term that type of behavior, character, and approach ends up empty and often alone.

4-      Celebrate every offer of admission. I get that some of you go to “college preparatory” schools or take Dual Enrollment classes. I understand that you’ve taken more Advanced Placement classes than I have hairs left on my head. In your family or school or community, it may be a foregone conclusion that you’ll go to college, but that is not really what the world looks like. Did you know that less than 40% of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree, and worldwide that number is less than 10%? Keep this in mind when you receive an offer of admission. It is not “Just the University of X…” No. No!! It is “I was admitted to the University of X!”

This is an opportunity and a choice. This is what you wanted from the beginning- options, choices, and offers. Congratulations! Celebrate every win. Go to dinner, buy yourself something. You do you. But promise me you’ll celebrate—and also thank those around you who have made your achievements possible.

5-      Tell your parents/family/support network THANK YOU and I LOVE YOU! I am always amazed when I get to the end of a long trail race and see how many family members are there with signs, food, smiles, and hugs. People drive long distances and wait patiently for hours (often in crappy weather) for runners to arrive at the finish line.

That teacher who wrote your recs or helped you prep for exams; that coach or club sponsor or boss who gave you opportunities, challenged you, and encouraged your best— that’s who I’m talking about. Write them a note, give them a high five, send them a text. Be sure you let them know you appreciate them, their time, & their part in your success. They don’t expect thanks, but they deserve it. If you are a senior, this is your job.

And for your family- whatever instrument or sport you play well now used to be very painful to watch and listen to. Still, they kept driving you, encouraging you, paying for lessons or practice or competitions, etc.

Not convinced? Go open up the cabinets in your kitchen. Pull out any bowl or plate. Then ask your mom, dad, or whomever has raised you how many times they washed that or filled it with food. Think about five years ago when you were twelve or thirteen. Seems like a long time ago, right? Well, for the first five years of your life (time you basically have no recollection of), they fed you, clothed you, rocked you, nursed you, sang to you, woke up in the middle of the night worrying about you. They may not be able to physically still hold you the way they did then, but they are still doing absolutely everything they can to lift you up and support you now. Does that love look kind of crazy at times? Absolutely. Love is weird like that. What can I say? Nothing. What can you say? “THANK YOU and I LOVE YOU!” Make an effort to say that weekly from now until you graduate.

Along the trail in a race, there are all kinds of variables: hills, rocks, roots, creeks, downed limbs, changing temperatures, rain, wind, snow, blazing heat, major elevation changes. You have to adapt and adjust. It’s unpredictable- and college admission is the same. So while I can’t promise or predict exactly where you’ll start in college next year, I can guarantee that if these hopes come true, you’ll finish this year well- and that is a race worth running.