College Decision
Guest Blogger
Junior
Prospective Student

Coffee and Good Neighbors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More and Less, Part 4

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

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

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

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

Thank you for loving your kids.

Thank you for advocating for them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More willingness to talk about money early

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

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

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

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

Draw less lines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

editorial cartoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More and Less, Part 3

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

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

Less Narrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More celebration

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

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

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

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

Less time on social media

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

More Gratitude

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

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

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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.