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The Scholar Ship

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

I met an old sea captain while travelling through Croatia about five years ago. While we chatted, he told me his criteria for assembling a crew. Each member had to fundamentally understand that when you are at sea, the ship comes first, the crew comes second, and the sailor comes last. Those who didn’t understand and embrace the concept in action weren’t fit for his ship.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Titanic, but I suspect neither the ship nor the crew were the captain’s primary concern. The wealthy passengers’ interests, or perhaps the company’s that owned the ship. Maybe it was the fancy white hat? Need I say more?

One of the sea captain’s stories focused on how to best prepare for a typical six month trip at sea. When it came to provisions, all the food had to be packed very carefully in a tight room in his small vessel. The items set to expire early in the journey needed to be near the door and other items at the back – which literally could not be accessed until months into the journey. Such packing couldn’t be left until the last minute. Careful planning and execution prior to setting sail was essential. What weighed too much and had to be left behind? What food didn’t have enough calories to sustain the crew? What was frivolous?

There are lessons to be learned in pondering this story which relate to scholarship (and admission) applications. So I invite you now to board a different vessel, the “Scholar Ship,” and take a guided tour with me. While this isn’t the first time someone has used this metaphor (nor will it be the last), it will help you visualize your own scholarship journey.

Captain’s Lesson #1: The Ship and the Crew Come Before You

This one is pretty simple, but is often overlooked. When you are working through a scholarship application (and/or admissions application if that is used for scholarship consideration), focus on what you can bring to the institution, not initially what you will get out of the deal. How will your presence will ostensibly improve the college community if you are given a scholarship? Focus on those elements in your application and subsequent interviews if applicable. It not only shows you want to give back, but also shows humility and a contributor mindset. These days, universities want to give scholarships to people who will make a difference, not just those looking for a cash prize.

Captain’s Lesson #2: Pack Only the Necessary Items in the Right Order for the Journey

When you are boarding the Scholar Ship, you’ve got to pack only the most important items. This means when you list your extracurricular activities, awards, work or volunteer experience, and honors on your application, or deciding on elements of your essay, focus on the ones that are the most significant to you and provide you with the most excitement, joy, and impact (this is especially if you are limited in what you can share). Case in point: many professionals have a 1-2 page resume. Compare this with my experience hearing from a few high school students and their parents that only an 8-pager will capture all they’ve accomplished. See the irony here? If a seasoned professional with years of experience can fit their biggest accomplishments on a 1-2 page document, so can you!

The order is also important. You don’t put cookies on the ship before potable water. List your activities and ideas by importance to you. Put down your accomplishments before you list your hobbies. Note also that written communication typically precedes verbal, so focus on your application before preparing for a potential interview. Most universities’ top scholarships are given to intellectually curious students who think critically, communicate effectively in writing and voice, and make an impact in some fashion, whether in leadership, service, or some other emphasized arena.

Captain’s Lesson #3: The Sailor (that’s you!) Does in Fact Matter

Colleges and scholarship programs also want to know why you are interested in them. Why is what they offer compelling to you? How you will make the world a better place by taking advantage of those offerings and produce a return on their investment? Imagine for a second that you tell the old sea captain, “I’m a good fit because I know you will stop on this particular island where I can find a resource that will lead to cures for diseases back on the mainland. I am really interested in being able to go to that island.” Even more simply, it’s fine to say, “I really want a strong degree, great job or graduate school offer, and the rich college experience your school offers.” Be sure to articulate your “why,” because that’s important! Colleges want scholars who will make an impact, but they also want to see you enjoy yourself simultaneously on campus. Most will even try to ensure it!

Captain’s Lesson #4: Don’t Be Afraid to Jump Ship

Well, honestly, the old sea captain never told me this one. It’s just one I think he might have shared had he had the opportunity. While you may have a destination in mind on the Scholar Ship you board, you are likely to find that some of the places you visit along the way – like a backup school or the more obscure one that offered you a great scholarship complete with both financial and developmental incentives – is really where you want to disembark. Such a school might end up being a better endpoint to your journey than you originally intended. If the final destination is what you want, that’s wonderful—go there and finish the voyage. If not, and something else feels like a better option, throw out your anchor and row to shore!

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Breathing Room

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission (West Coast) Ashley Brookshire to the blog. Welcome, Ashley!

Have you ever watched a presenter on a raised surface, or a singer on a stage? Think about the space they leave between themselves and the end of the stage. Now, imagine that person chooses to pace on the very edge of the stage, rather than a safe distance back. I don’t know about you, but I would be much more concerned about that person walking themselves right off the edge of the stage than focused on their presentation. Because the speaker has positioned themselves in a place without margin, stress has now entered the situation for both them and the audience.

Margin is an essential part of our lives. Without margin we run right up to the edge. Once on the edge, our focus turns to simply staying upright, rather than paying attention to the quality and intentionality with which we operate. Breathing room is absolutely necessary in the college admission process! But if you don’t plan for it, you likely won’t have any.

For those of you who are high school seniors, the college application process has already begun. Here are a couple of tips to help you  set limits and expectations for the ride ahead—tips that will allow you to preserve margin around your college search process and decision.

Dead Line

Did you know that the origin of the word deadline comes from the American Civil War? It referred to a line within prison walls beyond which inmates were shot. What a terrifying origin for a word that is now a part of our everyday language! As you can imagine, during the era when this term was making its debut prisoners probably left plenty of margin between themselves and the deadline.

Fast forward about 150 years… these days we’re not very good at leaving margin between ourselves and deadlines. As the west coast representative for an east coast school, I’m often asked if our application deadline refers to 11:59pm ET or PT. If the answer to that question makes a difference in your plan to complete your application, then you are cutting things too close!

Last year at Georgia Tech more than 60 percent of our early action first-year applications were received within three days of our application deadline (that’s over 11,000 applications!). As more applications come in, the number of phone calls, emails, and walk-in visitors who have important, time sensitive questions increases. Needless to say, despite additional staffing, our response time during these few days of the year is slower than nearly any other time in our office.

If you’re treating the deadline as THE DAY on which you plan to apply then you find yourself with a last-minute question, you’re welcoming unnecessary stress into your life as you anxiously await a response. The solution is simple: build in breathing room! When you see a deadline, give yourself a goal of applying one week in advance. Then if something unexpected happens, such as illness, inclement weather, or the internet breaks (true story—it’s happened in the past!), you still have margin between yourself and the actual deadline.

Quiet Hours

Back when my husband and I were engaged, we realized very early on we could not talk about wedding planning every waking moment. There was plenty to discuss, and each day we could spend hours talking about song lists, seating charts, and minute details. But the obsession of planning was exhausting. If we wanted to actually enjoy our engagement, and plan for a future far beyond our wedding day, we had to set limits on when we discussed wedding plans.

I strongly encourage you and your family to do the same for your college search process. If you set no limits to college talks, then you all will inevitably burn out. A time of discovery and maturity will be marred with talking about details that are subject to constant change. You’ll find yourselves rehashing the same conversation over and over and over again, but with different levels of emotion and stress.  There are important things for you and your family to discuss, and you certainly need to have dialogue around the college process. Just don’t make it part of every conversation you have during your senior year.

Find the best time for you all to sit down each week and talk (sound familiar? It should!). Maybe you agree not to talk about college on the weekends… or before school… or maybe you only talk about it on a designated day. Do whatever makes the most sense for you, but make sure you’re setting a framework around when these important, but exhausting, conversations take place. Leave margin in your day and your conversations so college talk doesn’t permeate all aspects of your life.

Just Breathe….

Breathing room is valuable in many aspects of life, but in the frenzy and significance of the college process, we often lose sight of it. Keeping margin in the picture can substantially reduce the amount of stress you carry during this season as you keep your head above the chaos. Take a deep breath, make a plan, and use this unique time to determine what things matter most to you.

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The Other Side

Listen to the audio version here!

Rewind

Sunday we were on our way home from the mountains and the song “The Other Side” from The Greatest Showman came on our playlist. Before I knew it, my wife and kids were singing every word. If you have not seen the movie, I highly, highly recommend it. Inspired by the story of P.T. Barnum’s creation of the Barnum and Bailey Circus in the late 1800s, it is a musical with several big stars (including Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron). We saw it in the theater, twice, and immediately bought it on Amazon when it became available.

What I love and appreciate about the movie is Barnum’s (Jackman) incredible imagination to dream up a circus; his creativity and perseverance in bringing his vision to life; and his ability to disregard his naysayers who told him it would not be successful. In addition to finding and recruiting interesting acts and attractions and securing extensive funding for the show, one of his biggest challenges was bringing credibility to the circus. Barnum was obsessed with convincing the upper class in New York, who normally spent their money on theatre or opera, that this too was worthy of their attention and investment.

“The Other Side” is a fast-paced negotiation between Barnum and Phillip Carlyle (Efron), a wealthy New York aristocrat and playwright. In the song, Barnum is attempting to convince the young, popular, conventionally established Carlyle to take a risk and become his business partner. The song, like the movie itself, is about having the vision to see something new and different, but also the faith and courage to act on it.

Pause

Many colleges open their applications on August 1. If you are a senior, I am guessing you already created at least one application account and may have also started writing your college essays. It is also likely you are scheduled to take or re-take the SAT or ACT in the fall. I would not doubt you took time this summer to visit a college… or 18, and questions from family, friends, coaches, and neighbors like “where are you applying to college?” have become ubiquitous. I have bad news for you: it gets worse. Thanks for reading and have a great day. Kidding!

Understandably, there are some elements of the college admission process many students do not find enjoyable: keeping track of the dates and deadlines for applications, scholarships and financial aid; looking deep into your soul to introspectively articulate your passion (in 300 words or less!); taking seemingly endless standardized tests in sterile environments (some beginning at a God-forsaken hour on Saturday); reading blogs that simply won’t come to the point… the list goes on.  Lest (no longer a word on the SAT) we forget, all of that is just getting to the point of submitting your applications. We have not even delved into some of the stress around waiting endless months for decisions, or the frustration of being deferred admission, or the dismay of being denied by your dream school. And don’t even get me started on the vortex that is the waitlist. Feeling better yet?

I get it. There is nothing I can say, write, or sing that is going to eradicate moments of uncertainty or consternation in the year ahead. What I can offer you is perspective. I can offer you a vision. I can help you see “The Other Side.”

Right here, right now 
I put the offer out
I don’t want to chase you down 

I know you see it
You run with me
And I can cut you free
Out of the treachery and walls you keep in
So trade that typical for something colorful
And if it’s crazy, live a little crazy
You can play it sensible, a king of conventional
Or you can risk it all and see

Track 1- The Other Side

Monday, in an effort to memorize the lyrics, I was listening to “The Other Side” as I walked from the train station. It was a perfectly clear day with low humidity and temperatures around 70. In late July in Atlanta, you cannot ask for better conditions. Just as I got onto campus, I saw a couple of first-year summer students walking into the dining hall together. They were laughing and smiling.  I recognized one of the guys in the group because I met with him at an admitted student program in the spring. At the time he told me Tech was not his first choice, but he would come here if he did not get admitted to…. names aren’t important, right? In late April, he emailed me to say he had not been offered admission to the other place and had decided to become a Yellow Jacket. Three months later (basically to the day) here he was on campus with a smile on his face, a few new friends around him, and enjoying a perfect summer morning.

Don’t you wanna get away from the same old part you gotta play
‘Cause I got what you need
So come with me and take the ride
It’ll take you to the other side

Track 2- The Other Side, Remix

A few years ago I was helping students move into residence halls. As I entered the building I saw a father out of the corner of my eye I had met before. I remembered him clearly because a few years earlier he had been in the office yelling at me for denying his son’s admission. I put the box down in the room of the student I was helping, wished her a good year, and then wiped the sweat from my brow. While the box was heavy and I had just basically sprinted up two flights of stairs, the perspiration was from that memory. Heading back out the front door (side door was locked) I scanned the lawn. Whew! He was gone. Then… a hand on my shoulder. “Oh… Hi. How are you?” I managed to say in feigned surprise. After talking for a few minutes, his wife came up with their two sons. Unbeknownst (also no longer on SAT) to me, the younger brother had been admitted to Tech and was starting his first year. The older son explained he had chosen a smaller school and was now a rising senior majoring in business. “Could not have been a better choice,” the father added, and then went on to proudly describe his son’s summer internship and added he already had a job offer waiting upon graduation.

‘Cause you can do like you do
Or you can do like me
Stay in the cage, or you’ll finally take the key
Oh, damn! Suddenly you’re free to fly
It’ll take you to the other side

Track 3- The Other Side, Re-remix

Each summer we have orientation for new students. This year we’ve already held six and still have two more to go. I love these days on campus because they are filled with balloons, loud music, skits, banners, cheering orientation leaders, smiling students, and proud parents. Go check out the social media accounts of a few college and university orientations or new student programs. You’ll love seeing the pictures, images, and videos that demonstrate a real sense of community, belonging, and excitement.

In all that happiness, remember that three, six, and nine months prior, none of that excitement was there. Those same smiling faces were grimaces as they attempted to “craft an essay” or remember which password they had selected for the Common Application. Was it “12^gold!!”or “emojisRpasswords2~@?”

You would finally live a little, finally laugh a little
Just let me give you the freedom to dream and it’ll
Wake you up and cure your aching
Take your walls and start ’em breaking
Now that’s a deal that seems worth taking
But I guess I’ll leave that up to you

Play

So here you sit. Senior year is about to start. After nearly 20 years of watching this cycle repeat itself, here is what I know: there are no guarantees in college admission and financial aid.  Where you will end up is absolutely uncertain. Unsettling? It shouldn’t be. The mystery of where is the adventure of the college admission experience (and some would say it’s the adventure of life in general).

Bottom line: there is no “dream” college. Instead, there is just a dream…a vision. It is one of smiles, balloons, friends, celebration, a new home, excitement, aka “The Other Side.” Don’t forget that as you are applying to colleges. When you get deferred admission, remember the students I described walking into the dining hall. When you don’t get a scholarship, envision the older son who went elsewhere and ended up exactly where he was meant to be. When you don’t get into your first choice school, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just the first step to The Other Side.  Balloons, smiles, exuberance. That is what awaits you. A year from now you’ll be there. Trust me.

Forget the cage, ’cause we know how to make the key
Oh, damn! Suddenly we’re free to fly
We’re going to the other side

Bonus Track

I still may not know all the lyrics but I do know the truth. There are many times in life that we need to be reminded to slow down, remain calm, and dream of The Other Side.  I hope you’ll strive to recognize those moments not only in your own life but in those of your friends and family members too. Take the time to encourage them; to come around them; to describe with optimism and confidence the better days that lie ahead.  Like Barnum and Carlyle, it will make the celebration when you arrive there together that much sweeter.

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The Long Game

This week we welcome Senior Assistant Director of Admission Katie Mattli to the blog. Welcome, Katie!

I like quirky historical novelties and the Livermore Light Bulb, or known to its friends as the Centennial Bulb, is one of my favorites.  Never heard of it?  Let me explain.  Yes, there is indeed a light bulb in Livermore, California so famous it has a name and actual caretakers.  Why? Because the Livermore Light Bulb has been softly glowing in the Pleasanton Fire Department for 117 years! In fact, it just had a birthday in June. The Centennial Bulb has a website, a festival, a children’s book, and –this is my favorite part – its own Bulb Cam. You can literally watch a light bulb glow in real-time, which I find humorously whimsical.

What does a light bulb have to do with college admission?  A few things actually.

Don’t second guess your interests. 

I mean it.  Live them loud and proud.  I’m writing about a light bulb I like and you are still here, so that proves authenticity is interesting.  The applicants who get my attention in the admission process are those who, for lack of a better phrase, really like stuff.  All kinds of stuff.  They hear about a cause, read about a historical event, or learn about a theory and they dive in for the pure pleasure of learning more about it.  You can sense joy in their application—joy in sharing something that really engages them. Students always ask, “How can I make my application stand out?” Follow your true-North passions and your application will naturally have a strong voice in the crowd.

Care Instructions

The Centennial has been glowing for so long because no one remembered to turn it off – for a long time. It turns out that switching lights on and off all the time actually reduces their shelf life.  It makes me wonder how often we, students and adults alike, take stock of what is healthy for us. We don’t have care instructions attached to our lives, but if asked we could probably name the basics.  We are the opposite of lightbulbs.  We can, and should, turn off to recharge. You should sleep.  You should eat.  You should spend time with friends.  Do you live by your calendar? Then put your self-care appointments on the docket with reminders such as “lunch,” “snack,” “aspirational bedtime,” and “breathing room/free time.”  A healthy student will thrive in high school and in college. I haven’t made any clichéd references to lightbulbs and burn out here, but you get the picture. Don’t get so caught up in the everyday noise that you forget to be healthy.

Who is on your maintenance team?

The Centennial Lightbulb has three different organizations devoted to keeping that little four-watt light bulb softly glowing.  Before you start the college admission process, take stock of who is in your corner.  Who are the folks in your inner circle?  Choose carefully.  Do they see your value? Do they give you honest feedback?  Do they encourage you? Do they keep you anchored? The vast majority of students headed to college had help along the way.  Family members are not the only people who hopefully have your back. Don’t forget you can create a supportive network staring with a favorite teacher, a retired neighbor, a high school guidance counselor, your coach, a friend who graduated last year.  Reach out, ask for some time, make an appointment, start a conversation. It takes a village.

Keep your eye on the long game.

Physicists have studied the Centennial and have discovered its filament is thicker than today’s commercial lightbulbs.  It is made of sterner stuff. The college admission process can rattle high school students. I think students believe they are focusing on their future (hence the anxiety), but I think they have lost sight of the long game.  After years of watching students and their families navigate applying to college, here are my thoughts on the admission long game and students who are made of “sterner stuff”:

  • Finding a good fit is the ultimate goal.  Your best-fit school may not be your best friend’s best-fit school.  Get comfortable with that. Put institutions on your list where you will thrive. That is the long game.
  • Ignore the myth of “the one.” A college will not be the making of you but your decisions in college will. That is the long game.
  • Be happy for others.  Time will prove to you that what feels like competition now dissipates with age.  If your buddy gets that coveted acceptance or the Val or Sal spot, cheer for them. It shows character and you will be happier for it. That is the long game.
  • Enjoy senior year.  This is your last homecoming, last high school debate competition, last playoff, senior night… Enjoy them!  That is the long game.

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Do All You Can

This week we welcome Communications Officer (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley back to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

I came home yesterday to find two very sad, wilted tomato plants. If you haven’t been to Atlanta in July, let me assure you—the southern humidity is no joke. I grew up in the mountains, so every year when we hit July and August I lament the stickiness of the heat. When I was growing up my family always raised a big garden. Still today I love the entire process of gardening, from planting to caring and of course the ultimate harvest of the plant. This year I hoped to build raised beds for my garden, but instead we prioritized building a new deck (after all, life all comes down to priorities in the end). The raised beds are now on the to-do list for next year. All that to say, that’s how I ended up with tomato plants living in five-gallon buckets.

The great thing about a tomato plant in a bucket is it’s pretty easy to care for—no weeding, no plowing the ground, no building of beds. You put it in there, stick a cage around it, and boom! You’re done.

The not-so-great thing about a tomato plant in a bucket (aside from the not-so-pretty appearance) is it dries out in the summer sun quickly. Because it’s contained, it has no way to pull moisture from anything beyond the bit of dirt it’s confined to. So if you miss a watering, things can go downhill pretty fast.

When I arrived home yesterday and looked out the backdoor, my stomach sank—one plant was wilted to the point that every single leaf and limb drooped down at least a couple of inches. I raced outside, grabbed the watering can, and filled each bucket with plenty of water. I shook my head in frustration at myself, then shrugged, hoping for the best. Aside from giving the plants water, there wasn’t much more I could do besides wait and see how they fared.

Life Unattended

Life, tasks, and relationships, gone unattended, can wither quickly before you realize it. No matter your season of life, there are lots of important things to think about…. Family, friends, school, activities, and, for you rising seniors, those pesky college applications looming right around the corner.

I can hear the collective sigh from here, “its summer! I have plenty of time to work on those. I’ll think about it later.” You’re right. But for students in Georgia (and other southern states), “summer” will end in the next 2-3 weeks as school gets back in session (for those of you in other parts of the country who don’t start school until after Labor Day—enjoy the summer! But know the start of school is coming for you soon).

We’ve written before about getting your college application ready—the most important thing to dotips to keep make your life easierhow to write an essay… and insight into how a holistic application review works at selective schools.

Application deadlines will be here before long. So after you’ve done a little research on the links above (hint, hint), worked on your application, and hit submit, you can sit back and wait, right?

Kind of… but no. Like the tomato plants, if you just put it out there and pay no more attention to it, things can go downhill fast. I know much of the college admission process is out of your control. But there are a few action items you can put on your list to care for your application as it moves through the review process.

Read your emails from any colleges to which you applied. Notice I didn’t say check your emails, or skim your emails—READ your emails! We’re all guilty of checking emails on a mobile device. While it’s great to quickly access your inbox, it can come back to bite you if you glance at a message, it moves to “read” in your inbox, and then totally falls off your radar. Take the time to read all emails you receive from colleges where you have an active application. Once you become an applicant, colleges reach out to you more regularly with all kinds of updates and next steps.  If you don’t have time to read an email at the moment, mark it as unread and come back to it later. But by all means, don’t let it just sit there! Otherwise you could be making a panicked phone call near another impending deadline, pleading for more time.

Check your admission portal. Many schools have a way for you to check on your application status. This is a tool at your disposal to access whenever you like, but on average a weekly check is adequate. When you’re checking your portal, I again implore you to READ any notes that are in there—don’t panic at the first red “x” you see on a checklist, but instead read to learn what’s missing and what kind of timeline you have to get the task completed.

Be patient, and don’t panic! Every year we receive the vast majority of our applications within 48 hours of the actual application deadline. When this happens, it takes longer than usual for processing staff to import your application and find any matching documents that may already be in hand (insider tip: don’t submit any documents until AFTER you submit your actual application—everything comes together much more quickly that way). Also, keep in mind that at some schools the application deadline for you is different from the document deadline for your counselor and recommenders. If that’s the case and your counselor assures you they’ll send it in, please give them time to do it!  Once something is sent in, if the college website says “allow 3-5 days for processing,” then allow 3-5 days—we’re not kidding!

Take care of yourself. As you complete all the steps above, don’t forget to take those small moments to take care of yourself. Hang out with your friends, find some form of exercise, get some sleep, go outside, and give your parents plenty of hugs (trust me, it will make you all feel better!). Self-care is important, so don’t shrug it off.

Once application season ends, you will harvest the fruits of your labor. I’m not saying you will magically get in to every school you’ve applied to… but if you have a strong, diverse list of schools (both competitive and not as competitive) you will be getting in somewhere (most likely several somewhere’s). In the end, you can look back and know that you put forth your best effort.

Back to the Tomatoes…

Sometimes my plants don’t yield what I hope they will (case in point, my blackberry vines, which merely survived the winter in buckets and are now planted in the ground but are still overcoming the shock of change… a blog topic for another day). Sometimes the tomatoes become unhealthy for no reason other than something was floating in the air on a particular day. But my goal, always, is to look back and know that I did all I could. I pruned, I watered, I cared, and I waited.

The good news: this morning my tomatoes looked good as new. And this time, before I came to work, I didn’t forget to give them a good drink before another 90+ degree day.

So do all you can, in college applications and in life in general, so you can look back and know you did all you could, and everything will work out just as its meant to be.

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