Essays
Georgia Tech
Parents

A Parents Guide to the College Admission Essay

My son started with Taekwondo when he was five. A few weeks ago, he was invited to test for his black belt. It’s a big accomplishment and he’s definitely excited. My wife and I are proud of him (and honestly kind of proud of ourselves too- that’s lot of driving, watching, and paying over the past six years).

Before a student can officially participate in the test, there are two final assignments to qualify.

One- you must build a carrying case for an egg and carry it around without breaking it for the week prior to the exam.

Two- In order to receive said egg, you must write a 3-5-page essay about your journey to this point, lessons learned, and how Taekwondo has impacted your life.

Now, I’ve seen him spar against black belts and get knocked down pretty hard numerous times. I’ve seen him get verbally lambasted by the master in front of the entire class and on-looking parents. He’s twisted ankles and bruised ribs along the way. But nothing has made me question whether or not he can actually achieve this more than the 3-5-page essay assignment.

While he has seen friends test for their black belts in the past, somehow this facet of the process escaped him too. “3 pages?!” he said exasperated and then went rolling onto the couch and smothering himself with throw blankets and pillows. “Oh… my…. gosh!” he said with a mix of desperation and exasperation.

As he continued muttering incoherently, my wife looked at me with her head slightly tilted, nodded in his direction and mouthed, “Have fun with that…” (I mouthed something back, but this is a PG-ish blog, so I’m leaving that out.)

Black BeltAre you with me?

If you are the parent of a senior, you may have experienced some of this same joint angst in recent weeks or months. The likelihood is that with more deadlines coming up for colleges, it’s not quite over either. Sorry to broach this if you were having an otherwise carefree and blissful day (please go immediately back to sipping your chamomile and mindfulness practices after you’ve read this).

Whether it be for college, Taekwondo, scholarships, job interviews, etc., as parents we simply want our kids to meet deadlines, write well, put their best foot forward, and not procrastinate. We know we should not do the work for them, but it is admittedly tempting.

Before you lose your mind in or snatch their laptop in frustration and begin writing or re-writing your daughter’s or son’s essay, I want to give you three tips to help them improve their essay and get it done, and then two others to help you keep perspective and sanity.

TIPS FOR STUDENTS

Have them voice record. My son had literally no idea where to start. The mere mention of three pages sent him tumbling over furniture and burying himself in a mixture of fleece and wool (not really the stuff of black belts, but I did not mention that to him at the time).

Whether they have not started on their essay, are merely brainstorming, or if they have been looking at a blinking cursor for the last three days, verbalizing their thoughts both changes and improves their writing. Suggest they grab their phone and simply get ideas out. This is not supposed to be perfect. Just words, phrases, quick sentences. Totally fine if they are not in a particular order or connected with perfect conjunctions or transition words. Just start expressing. Note: This is also helpful when they are done (or think they are done). We have all read an email or report we’ve written and thought it made perfect sense. Then, after hitting send, we realize we’ve left out a word or transposed two. As we know from reading books out loud to kids, there is great power in reading aloud. Suggest that before hitting submit, they print their essay out and actually read it again out loud.

Suggest they move around. In most cases, students are using mobile devices to apply—laptop, IPad, etc. If they’ve come into the kitchen eight times for snacks over a 47-minute period, you can officially diagnose them with writer’s block (citation: Dr. George P. Burdell, 1885).  You’ll need to find your moment, but encourage them to change locations. Go out on the porch. Head to a coffee shop. Find a table at the local park. Change of scenery does us all good. Charge the device and go.

Tell them to be specific. Many admission readers are reviewing between 30 and 50 essays a day. At Georgia Tech right now, we have 22,000 Early Action apps to consider before mid-January. That is a lot of different students, situations, lives, and stories. Think about the last time you watched American Ninja Warrior or the Bachelor (insert your show of choice here where multiple people are introduced). What helps us remember who is who? Specifics. We remember the guy from Indiana who grew up boxing with his cousin. We can vividly recall the picture they flashed on the screen of the barn with the Sharpie stenciled sign behind their makeshift ring. Why? Because it is specific. One of the best ways you can help your son/daughter write a “good” essay is by insuring that it is specific and unique to them. This is what admission folks mean when they say, “We just want to hear their voice…” or “tell us about your passions…”

Initially, I asked my son to simply type out what he wanted to say. Here are three verbatim sentences he wrote (and when I say verbatim, I mean I literally copied and pasted): Taekwondo has not always been easy. There have been times that I have wanted to quit. I like sparring.

He’s eleven. I get it. So after I read his first draft (which took him about thirty minutes to come up with and only included about four other sentences), we went for a walk. I brought my phone and just asked him a bunch of questions. Anytime he gave me something general (see above), I asked him to tell me a story: When did you want to quit? Who do you like sparring with and tell me about a specific time- what kicks and punches did you use, etc.? I understand that you are likely not going to be strolling your neighborhood asking your 17-year-old these types of questions, but the concept is the same. Be specific. Give details.

Parents are often tempted to re-write or edit essays by inserting multi-syllabic words or focusing on the transition from one paragraph to the next. Those suggestions are not entirely unhelpful. But what a reader is looking for is detail. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. They have already read 37 other essays that day. Daylight savings has kicked in and it’s cloudy outside. They just had their 2 p.m. coffee and are thinking about the text they just got asking if they can swing by the grocery store on the way home later.

Tell them a story. Be specific. Be memorable. “Taekwondo has not always been easy”…not memorable.

TIPS FOR PARENTS

It’s a thing. But it’s not the only thing. Yes, colleges require essays. They read them. They matter. Yes, readers want them to be good. They score them. They make notes and bring the subject and insight gained from essay up in committee. They are expecting them to be grammatically sound and flow well. However, the truth is they matter less than most students/parents think. For most schools if a student is solid inside the classroom, involved and impacting people outside the classroom, the essay is not going to be the tipping point. Decisions on a student like that are far more influenced by supply and demand and institutional priorities (where you are from, what you want to study, what the school is trying to increase or grow or achieve in their community) than an essay.

You’ll read on Reddit or see the video of a student on YouTube say, “Yea. I had seven APs and did well on my SATs, but I think it was really my essay that got me in.” No it wasn’t. That student was admitted because she had chosen rigorous courses and done well, had an impact on people outside the classroom in high school, and wrote an essay that was specific and (to use a very precise term here) not bad.

Similarly, my son’s essay for Taekwondo matters. His master is going to read it. It needs to not suck. But as long as he’s put solid effort and thought into it, the decision on whether or not he receives his black belt is going to come down to his performance and other factors (like that stinking egg).

Now, I understand you can read this one of two ways. A- What a relief! My daughter/son just needs to be specific and basically not write a bad essay. B- That is a bunch of crap. This is the magic bullet and everything hinges on it.

Admittedly, I am writing this to give you some solace. But I’m not going to lie to you. (Hint: The answer is A).

Simone Biles flipping before throwing out first pitch in GAME 2 of 2019 World Series.

Simone Biles flipping before throwing out first pitch in GAME 2 of 2019 World Series.

Go off speed. Earlier this week I had the opportunity to participate in a Facebook Live interview with Grown and Flown (which is a great organization that produces a ton of good content for parents). At the end, for some reason my internet connection cut out. The question I was unable to answer was essentially, “What do parents do when their son/daughter has not finished their essay. Or when deadlines to schools are approaching and it feels like everything hangs in the balance?” Should you just finish it for them? Should you “make them” apply to two more schools or that one in particular. How do you motivate them to just get it done for God’s sake?!!

Maybe I’m being influenced by what I thought was a riveting World Series, but my answer is to throw an off speed pitch. The truth is that there is never a good time to have this conversation. If you bring it up again, things are going to go south quick. There is never going to be a “right time” or “right place.” So instead, I’m encouraging you to write also. Yes, it’s old school. Pick up a pen and piece of paper and write them a letter. This does not have to be an epistle. Simple is always best. Just remind them that you love them. Tell them you are proud of them and concerned because they have worked hard and deserve to put their best foot forward, i.e. you want them to succeed. Let them know you are there to help, but know you won’t be next year when they’re at school. And then have a glass of wine, go for a walk, i.e. let it go.

Tough for everyone but the truth is that the admission process is a necessary time for parents to also realize that kids will need to do their work, manage their time, and fight their own battles at college very soon- and certainly in life beyond. Put it down on paper. Find a good envelope and leave it for them to read on their own time and terms. Then, to reiterate, wine and a walk—very important.

The Power of “We”

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

My best friend loves soccer, so naturally we join the sea of Atlanta United fans at Mercedes Benz Stadium every time she comes to town. If you’re not familiar, allow me to introduce you: United is Atlanta’s Major League Soccer team. In their first few seasons they soared to the top of the league, broke almost every MLS attendance record on the books, and won the national championship. Today, they’re still one of the hottest tickets in town. The games are incredible, and the crowd of 70,000+ is electric. I’m proud of our team, and I feel like I’m a part of something when I’m chanting in the stadium. Sha-laaaaa-la-laaaaaaaaaaa!

We took to the field. It was game time. I went wild as Justin Meram made his first ever goal for Atlanta United. We let one slide in our goal shortly after that, but no big deal. Meram hit the back of the net AGAIN with just over seven minutes left. WE WON! Hugs with my best friend, high fives with strangers all around, Vamos A-T-L!

The next morning I dropped off my friend at the airport, refreshed the email on my phone and scanned new messages. Spam… 50% off takeout promo (save that) … Email from parent of prospective student. Click.

“I’m hoping to set up a meeting with you…. Georgia Tech is our first choice… we took the SAT in March…”

Woah. Ref shows a yellow.

I love when people refer to their sports teams as “we.” It comes from a feeling of belonging and years of dedication, commitment, and support. I understand that when parents use “we” with admission, it comes from the same well-intended sense of pride and love. There’s nothing more important than a strong network supporting students as they go through the admissions process, and parents, or those who act as parents, are the glue to that network. Parents are a critical piece of the support system. However, you’re supporting them through their journey, their game.

They’re the player, you’re the coach. As a team, you’ll have questions about applications, how to set up visits, and along the way you’ll want to learn about each college.

Now, forgive me if I side-step the sports metaphor for a little while (don’t you worry, we’ll come back to it), but what happens when your student doesn’t feel ready to ask those questions for themselves?

When They’re Anxious

I didn’t make my own dentist appointment until I was in college. And back when you had to actually, you know… call the restaurant and talk to someone to order pizza, I refused to do that too. I was terrified. The way I looked at it, there was one way those calls could go right, and a hundred ways they could go wrong. High stakes for pizza, I realize that now.

I completely understand when students feel that tension. In their eyes, admission staffers are the judge and jury, and a phone call might feel like part of the judgement (for the record, it’s not!). If your student is like me and feels nervous to dial or press ‘send,’ consider doing it with them instead of for them. Sit next to them as they send us an email. And do it sooner rather than later—you can’t sit next to them in the college library when they need to email their professor in a few years (at least you shouldn’t, though I do hear the occasional story…).

It’s also okay to prep for a phone call or conversation! To this day, I type out a script for my voicemail message in Word before recording it (I still never get it right on the first try, but I’d argue that anyone who does is superhuman). Same thing can apply for a live phone call, or an in person conversation. Calling an admission office may be a departure from a student’s comfort with text messaging. Communicating about themselves and their questions in the admission process may be an even bigger departure from anything they’ve ever done. So, when they’re about to call, or we’re about to meet at a college fair, it’s okay to write notes down. It’s okay to help them practice. Speak with them, not for them, and they’ll grow.

When They’re Unengaged

I distinctly remember wandering the gym floor during a college fair at my school and grabbing a few obligatory pamphlets in colors I liked, but not talking to a soul—an ironic twist of fate for someone who now stands on the other side of the table! I wasn’t nervous, and I wanted to go to college, I just had no idea what I was doing so I checked out.

If you’re speaking on behalf of your student because they seem unengaged, it might be worth a pause to find out why. It may not be because of lack of interest. Are they unnerved by the application or at the prospect of rejection? Maybe they’re overwhelmed or frustrated by it all.

Again, it might seem easier to take over, but the we’s enable a student to check out of the process. After all, we’ve got it handled, right? Sure, your email or phone message is intended for the college admission recipient, but the choice of pronoun also communicates a lot to your student.

Consider bringing them into the mix and encourage manageable conversations with current students and peers who may seem more approachable and can raise their confidence.  An appointment with their college counselor can demystify the process, or a quiet self-guided visit to a local college can help them see the big picture without becoming overwhelmed.

When They’re Busy

Students are busy. Period, end. Last year our supplemental essay asked students to share their typical day, and many leave home long before the sun rises and return long after the sun sets. In other words, their availability is the exact opposite of admission offices across the country. And understandably, sometimes an email or phone call just can’t wait until the next time you sit down together between 6am robotics and 7pm ravioli.

If this sounds familiar, consider CC’ing your student on the next email you send to a college. It’ll help keep them in the loop so they can jump back in when things slow down, and it enables me as an admission counselor to address both of you in my response.

When there’s a little more flexibility in their schedule, consider making a small reoccurring admission appointment on your weekly calendars. You can honor that appointment as distraction-free time to sit down, work on applications, answer questions, and communicate together. Scheduling a regular time to talk ensures the college “to-dos” won’t get lost or overpower the countless other “to-dos” going on that week.

We.

United has been privileged to have excellent coaches. They’re involved, and they’ve given their players the best shot at success without actually stepping out onto the field. As a parent, you’ll be involved too—the admission process is a family process, and there will be a lot of “’we’s.”  But plainly put, we can’t admit you, the parent.

To be clear: there is no problem with parents contacting admission offices. In fact, it’s very normal! My hope is simply that, overall, we all be mindful not to exclude a student from their journey and to engage them if they struggle to do so on their own. Recognize and celebrate your student’s achievements as such (she got X on the SAT vs we got X, he was admitted vs we were admitted… you get the point). Include them, trust them, and empower them as an adult with your language, and they’ll mature as an adult through their actions. And when you step back and let your child lead, you may be surprised to learn what they truly want, discover the complexities of who they’ve grown to be, and, fingers crossed, you just might grow a whole lot closer as a team. Admissions, United.

Sammy Rose-Sinclair has worked in college admission for four years. A newly-minted southerner, she moved to Atlanta and joined Georgia Tech two years ago as a senior admission counselor on the first-year admission team. She now uses her millennial-ness and love of working with students, families, and counselors to interact with the GT Admission community through our social media channels. If you’ve gotten this far, send her questions about admission or Netflix recommendations on twitter or Instagram- @gtadmission.

 

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You Wanna Bet?

Warning 1- This blog acknowledges (neither endorsing nor condemning) the existence of gambling/wagering money- often the loss of it.

Warning 2- This blog uses analogies that are imperfect.

Warning 3- Our editor is on vacation, which means decreased quality of format and increased use of ellipses and parenthetical statements.

Warning 4- Actually, that’s it. Here we go.

I’m not a big fan of large, indoor spaces, especially those without windows. This has never been formally diagnosed and in Google searches I can’t seem to find an exact match of symptoms or causation, so I refer to it as “Clagora”– an odd combination of Claustrophobia and Agoraphobia. In general this aversion has served me well, as it severely limits my time in malls, conference halls, and casinos.

But a few weeks before my wedding, I was in New Orleans with some good friends. I told them I wanted to do one thing- place $50 on black in roulette. No food or drinks. No sitting down. This was a get in and get out mission. One spin of the wheel. So we headed to Harrah’s Casino in the French Quarter.

As we approached the table, one of my friends (none of whom were married at the time themselves) grabbed my shoulder. “We were talking and have an option for you. We can all get you some crappy, forgettable wedding gift like a toaster or some candlesticks…or we can each give you $50 right now. One bet. All in.”

I paused and considered for… about three seconds (OK. Two.)… “Give me the money.”

“$400 cash on the table,” I heard the dealer say calmly. He deftly put the shiny, silver ball onto the roulette wheel and sent it spinning.

Students- Know Your Odds

The odds of hitting black on a single roll in roulette are 47.4%. Now, this may blow your mind but that means the odds of not hitting black are 52.6%. Put differently that’s less than ½ or more likely you’ll lose than win. Need more examples? Sometimes flipping statistics and changing your perspective in general can be helpful. Walk a route you normally drive. Take a helicopter tour of your town. Consider that while you “only have to put down 20%,” you still owe 80%.

Listen, I’m not saying that admission is roulette (see Warning 2). Applying to college is not a game. Admission decisions are not arbitrary. But it is helpful to “consider your odds” as you are building a list of schools to apply to.

A number of years ago, I suggested the Common App insert an acknowledgement button on the application of any university with an admit rate below 25%: “I understand this is not a fair process. Being of sound mind I agree not to assign self-worth to admission decisions. Further, I agree to apply to at least two additional schools with admit rates above 50%.” I never got a reply.

Well, I’m working on another petition now to US News and World Report and several other publications who commonly list schools by admit rates (typically starting with lowest as an implied metric of quality/value).  The ask—publish deny rates instead.

How would it change the make-up of your list of colleges if you thought about your odds or percentage chances in reverse? How would it alter the way you feel when you receive an admission decision, if you had looked at your odds differently from the start?

Applying to Stanford and Harvard is essentially like putting a chip between the 0/00 on the roulette table (95%~ chance of not hitting). I could see placing one bet like that, if you are a truly outstanding student. But more than that? High school counselors are always advising students to create a “balanced list” of colleges to consider. This is why.

So the next time you are listening to a college admission presentation or looking at admit rate information online, reverse their numbers. As an example, Georgia Tech’s deny rate for international students last year was nearly 90%, 82% for US non-residents, and 55% for Georgia applicants. Do the math and know your odds. It may help you spread your chips/apps in a more strategic and logical manner.

Parents- Consider All The Angles

$50 on black. In and out. Nobody gets hurt. That was the plan.

But the game changed. The stakes went up. The emotions of the moment were palpable and it was not “just me” involved anymore. All of a sudden the dollars multiplied eight fold. The “offer” of cash for wedding gifts now involved my wife and our future (Again, see Warning 2).

It is still July. Before your son or daughter starts filling in their name and asking you about employment history or your driver’s license number, you need to talk money. I wrote more extensively about this in March, but my strong recommendation is you establish and discuss three key elements of paying for college and finances: limitations, conditions, and expectations.

Limitations

How much are you willing to invest in your son or daughter’s college education? Particularly in states with strong public university systems, we often hear parents say, “I am willing to pay for any of our state schools or the equivalent price, if my daughter chooses to go to an out-of-state public or private school.”  Consider and honestly discuss what limitations you want to establish. These should not necessarily keep your student from applying to a particular school that looks like it will cost more than your determined threshold, but setting clear limitations early changes the dynamics, frames the emotions, and helps prevent feeling “gut punched” in the spring when financial aid packages arrive.

Conditions 

“We will not pay for a school south of Virginia,” or “No child of mine is looking at schools west of Colorado,” or “We will pay for $40,000 a year for College X, but we are simply not paying that for Y University.”

What are your financial conditions- and why? College is an investment. Your family’s goal is to be confident in the dollars you spend. If you talk about why you are putting conditions in place, they will not come across as irrational or arbitrary, but rather instructive and rooted in love.

Expectations

What role will/should your student have in paying for their own college education? Is there a flat amount or percentage you expect them to contribute? Setting clear expectations before applying to college allows them to consider if they need to work and save money during and high school, consider a gap year, or what questions they ask colleges about opportunities for on-campus jobs, the prospects for (and salaries associated with) internships or co-ops, etc. Instead of being divisive, setting expectations can unify your family because “the problem” of paying for college becomes a joint effort—one to solve together.

If there is one common thread that connects all parents in the college admission experience, it’s this—you love your kids. You want the best for them. You want them to be happy. You want to provide for them and say yes. As a parent of two, I totally get that.

However, here’s what I can tell you about the seductive roulette wheel of admission (for issues with that wording see Warnings 1-3)—it gets emotional. The offers start coming in, the dollar figures start going up, and it’s not just you at the table. You love your kids. Consider all the angles now because when that ball lands there will be some cheers, some disappointments, and often a crazy mix of both.

Back at the casino

The ball spun, slowed, and started bouncing. Red, black, red, black. Finally, it landed. Red 28.

Slowly, I let my head fall backward. I felt my friend’s hand on my shoulder again. “Well, at least we won’t be giving you some crappy hand towels or doilies from Target.”

Know your odds and consider all the angles. I’m betting that takes you a long way in your college admission experience.

Formal end of blog

——————————–

Feeling lucky?

A few years ago, there was a school in our state who had a relatively new head football coach, a lot of swagger, and fans that probably love roulette for the colors alone. Mid-season I told a friend that if they made the national championship, I’d donate $100 to his university’s need-based scholarship fund.

Well…I’m $100 dollars lighter now but at least I know my money went to helping some kid offset costs. When I unsubscribed from the Foundation solicitations, I chose “Other” as the reason and inserted this: “I LOST A BET. I’m the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech. Congratulations on coming within inches of winning the national championship. Now, please, never email me again!” I actually got a response saying it was the “best opt-out they’ve ever received.”

So before you bet a friend $20 or $50 or dinner on a game this fall, consider instead wagering a donation to the need based financial aid fund of the winner’s alma mater.  Can’t fathom “ever contributing one dime to that school?” No problem. Donate to the NACAC Imagine Fund and help high school counselors who send kids to many different amazing colleges.

 

Sports Metaphors and College Admission

This week we welcome Senior Associate Director of Admission Mary Tipton Woolley to the blog. Welcome, Mary Tipton!

I’m doing what we tell students not to do in their essay—writing about how sports are a parallel to life. But please indulge me for a minute. In fact, if you want to skip past my life story and get to the point of this blog, feel free to go straight to paragraph number five.

My daughter is seven. Since she was three we’ve joined countless other parents in trying out various local sport leagues. Why? The common refrain among parents is that we want him/her to have the experience of playing on a team. It typically ends with a phrase such as, “just like I did as a kid” (more on that later). First we, er… I mean she… tried soccer. Nothing says ‘team’ like a herd of three year olds running in a pack after the ball with one inevitably picking daisies in the corner of the field. By the time the kids turned 5 and pushing/shoving became more prevalent, mine decided she had enough of others up in her personal space.

Next, she decided to join our neighborhood swim team, and we were introduced to the production that is summer swim team in neighborhoods all over Atlanta. Swim lessons have vexed me her whole life. Unless you believe your child is the next Michael Phelps and want them to swim year round in a club, finding swim lessons that fit the schedule of two working parents is more difficult than getting tickets to Hamilton. Even knowing her swimming skills weren’t great, we dove right in (see what I did there?) to putting her on the team.

Finally, in a truly bold move, she decided to play softball. She didn’t know anyone who had played, none of her friends were doing it, and she would be the youngest in a combined 6U/8U league. In an even more shocking twist, I think she got the idea from me (likely one of the few things in her life she thought was a good idea from mom!). After she got hit in the face during tryouts by an equally inexperienced 6-year old, I thought she was done. But she persevered. We were introduced to a fielder’s mask and off she went!

It’s Not My Journey

So, what have I learned over the last few years? Most importantly, this is my daughter’s journey–not mine. Ugh – that’s a hard lesson that I’m confident I will have to learn over and over. I should confess now that she took two seasons of softball to get a hit, which finally came in the last game this spring (where she got three!). She also started the season as the slowest member of her swim team, and I’m editing this while I watch her swim in our city-wide meet at a real Olympic pool at Georgia Tech (where she finished 45 of 46).

Despite, or due to, this she is having fun, making new friends, listening to her coaches, improving and showing lots of signs of resiliency and bravery! These are all traits I can get behind – even if it isn’t the same path as mine. In fact, I’m working on getting behind them because it isn’t the same path as mine.

While my daughter may not be getting ready for college applications just yet, I do see similarities between this season of parenting and the one I’ll face in 10 years when she’s 17. I’ve worked with a lot of families as they’ve navigated the admission process, and here are a few takeaways for both parents and students as college admission season gets cranked up.

To Parents:

I’m sure you have similar memories of your student’s younger years, whether it’s sports teams, music lessons, or chess club. As parents of children in the midst of their college search, these same lessons apply but are often harder to remember, especially since it feels like more is on the line. It’s okay for your student to seek out different schools than the one you attended – they may even have a list that’s entirely different than yours! Ultimately, that’s a good thing.

This journey belongs to your student, and, just like these early life experiences, it can be humbling for a parent. Instead of focusing on the bumper sticker you want, focus on the experience your student is having in high school and what is really going to be the best fit for them in college.

Sit down and talk to your student about what they are looking for in a college. Questions about size and location are obvious. Some others to consider are:

  • How do you want to be involved on campus?
  • How do you want to remember your time in college?
  • What are you most looking forward to in your college experience?
  • Who do you want to be in college?
  • What kind of life are you expecting after college?

You should also visit campuses together as a family. If you can’t travel to a specific college due to distance, visiting local schools can still be helpful. Sit back and let your student take the lead on those visits – your focus should be on watching their reaction. What’s their body language? Are they smiling? Do they want to stay and see more than the tour covers or are they ready to leave immediately? Answers to these questions can help you as a parent gauge how truly interested, and engaged, your student could be at that particular school.

To Students:

Don’t be afraid to speak up and tell your family what you want out of a college experience. I know, that’s sometimes easier said than done.  But it is going to be your college experience for the next four years.

  • Ask good questions during your campus visit.
  • Consider each college’s mission and think about how it fits with what you’re looking for in your experience.
  • Talk to your parents, and discuss any legitimate constraints for your college search, especially surrounding finances. Having an honest conversation now can save a lot of stress down the road.

Finally, utilize resources you have at your disposal to figure out what you want in a college experience. High school counselors, friends and older students already in college are great resources. I’m always impressed by the clarity college students seem to have about the search process, despite how stressed they may have been when going through the process themselves. Hindsight is 20/20, so don’t be afraid to talk to those around you and learn from their experiences!

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Tryouts, Part 2

Is Facebook attempting to take over the world? Do their seemingly benign terms like connection and algorithm really cover a secret plot to install a Zuckerbergian World Order? I don’t know. This is not that kind of blog. What I’m really doing is telling you I got a Facebook memory this week from my son’s “Academy” soccer tryouts last year.

If you are someone who insists on reading the foreword or won’t read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe until you’ve first read The Magicians’ Nephew, you can go back and read last year’s blog here. Here’s the short version: prior to academy soccer I coached my son’s recreational soccer team and he was trying to take the next step up.

Looking at the picture reminded me of a few things…

It reminded me of when the club director gathered all the parents for a quick meeting during the first night of tryouts. “Thank you all for coming out tonight. This is an academy, and we treat it like that: a school. We are all about player development and are here to teach the game and help your son get better. There will be three teams: elite, premier and united.”

As parents, we love our kids and want the best for them. Of course we want them to grow, improve, and develop, but sometimes we confuse what’s “best” on a list, ranking, or some contrived perception vs. what’s best for them as a person (a match, fit, etc.).  Too often (and sometimes subconsciously) parents begin to believe the reputation of the colleges their son or daughter gets into or chooses to attend is somehow a reflection of their parenting.

At least in part, this is why the first questions after the coach’s solid speech (especially given the steady rain under which he delivered it) were:

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

Coach: All returning players must try out again, so that number is yet to be determined.

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

Coach: Yes, we will move players. Sometimes during the season, but other times they’ll need to try out at the end of the year to be assessed for a different squad.

As your family visits colleges and works to create a list of schools to apply to this summer, fight the temptation to focus solely on rankings or preconceived echelons. Instead, ask “Does this school focus on and provide the type of environment to help our child thrive?” In other words, what is the best match based on location, size, setting, programs, and support systems?

Question whether you really see a discernible difference in student quality or alumni outcomes at a school that is 15 percentage points higher/lower in admit rate or 20 spots lower/ higher in a particular ranking.

Consider if what some online guide has categorized as “Elite, Premier, or United” is relevant or valid based on your kid’s goals and personality.

Look around you. If you’re like me you know plenty of people who went to schools that admit well over half of their applicants and don’t show up in many Top 25 or 50 lists, but are now running their own businesses, leading teams, and influencing their communities.

The picture reminded me that before we found out which team (if any) he made, we ensured he knew we loved him and were proud of him regardless.

Your job as a parent is to fall in love with ALL of your son or daughter’s college choices; to remind them (and yourself) that their worth and potential is not dictated by the name of the school they wear on a hoodie; and to emphatically convey that your love, pride, acceptance, and belief in them is not correlated with admission decisions.

The picture reminded me I needed to finish the story and tell you my son made the United team. He was excited. And even though it meant an end to my 15-season coaching streak, I was excited for him. After he got the call from the coach, I took my own advice and earnestly congratulated him, had him call a few family members so they could celebrate with him, and took him to an Atlanta United game (and for some ice cream).

Looking at him in that picture reminded me of how far he’s come over the last year, and reinforced that where he ended up really was the best place for him. As promised, he has gotten significantly better. The Academy has done what it said it would do—helped him improve as a player. His fundamental skills are stronger, he’s more confident, and he made a few close friends on the team who spent the night regularly and are rooming with him at a camp this summer. His coach was amazing— and perfect for his transition into that league. He not only liked my son but took time frequently after practice and even on a few off weekends to work with him.

Every year I meet parents or counselors of students who did not get into their first choice school or could not afford to attend (we’ve written about this too). Inevitably, they tell stories about how well they’re doing and say things like, “Looking back I’m so glad she didn’t get into X college because Y University really has been perfect for her.” Sometimes the admission process is like a roller coaster. Even though you see people coming off the ride smiling and talking excitedly about the experience, there is still fear, anxiety, and some trepidation that it’s not going to go as well for you. My hope is you’ll lift your hands up, trust, and enjoy the ride — together.

It reminded me that tryouts are again this week. Last night we had the conversation you would expect a dad who grew up around soccer and is an admission director to have—“even though you have worked really hard and gotten so much better” (said in a gentle, encouraging way), “you may not get moved up. It depends on who else tries out; if Premier needs someone with your skill set; and who is making the decisions for setting the teams.”

When a school has an admit rate of 20% or 12%, the talent, preparation and skills to contribute are incredible. And the truth is those percentages don’t exactly translate to 1 of 5 or 12 of 100 because that year they may only be looking for a few “defenders,” e.g. students in a particular major or from your state. You will not be able to control who else or how many others are trying out. You won’t be in the room when applications are reviewed and discussed. What you do control is your mentality. You do control your perspective.

After I finished my speech, he slowly nodded his head, paused, and then said calmly, “I know, dad. I just like getting to play.”

Kids. Whether 8 or 18, when it comes to this kind of thing, they understand and can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. Sometimes we just have to get out of their way.

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