Andrew Cohen
Application Advice
Georgia Tech
Guest Blogger
Prospective Student

The Event Planner’s Guide to a College Application

This week we welcome Associate Director for Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen, to the blog. Welcome, Andrew!

As the leader of Georgia Tech’s campus visits team, part of my role is to plan and execute our daily visit program, open houses and events.  I love the thrill of event planning – from the initial conversations about the vision of the event to seeing it all come together.  Being a professional event planner, I often find my event planning skills and thinking spill over into my personal life… just ask my friends when it comes to making plans… everything is a production!

Georgia Tech Event Planning TeamRight now, our team is preparing for multiple events on campus. We are excited to host a large group of high school seniors this week for our open house event.  This weekend we host our annual counselor fly-in program for college counselors from all over the county and world.

Event planning is much like preparing to submit a college application.  Everything leads up to the moment you press the submit button.  Like an event, there are multiple people involved in this process, like your college counselor and parents. There are also times when things do not go according to plan, and you must be prepared for these situations.  As you work on your college application, here are some helpful event planning tips to help you stay organized and be prepared to hit that submit button.

Understand the Bigger Picture

When planning events, it is crucial to understand the big picture.  Sometimes we get so caught up in our to-do list that we forget we need to take a step back.  This week we are hosting multiple events in a short amount of time.  This requires me to understand the impact different to-do list items have on other people assisting with the event, not to mention the event’s overall success.  For example, although we have several events this week, we also must think long term as space reservations become available for next year.  If we do not reserve these spaces now, we will face challenges when hosting events next year. It’s hard to think about a year from now when there’s something else in the immediate future.

When it comes to preparing your college application, it is essential to understand the bigger picture.  You will need assistance from others, so it is important to think about their schedules and what else they might have on their plate.  Teachers and college counselors are happy to help with your college application, but you need to understand what else is on their plate and remember they are helping multiple students, not just you.

Understanding when a college needs your high school transcript will help you know when you need to request this from your college counselor.  You cannot expect them to drop what they are doing to submit your transcript the second you ask.  They are submitting transcripts for many students to multiple schools.  Putting your request in well in advance is necessary to ensure they are all delivered in a timely manner.  (This also goes for teacher recommendations, so make sure to give them plenty of time to write and submit the letter).

Proofread… Proofread… Proofread!

When we host a large open house event, we have multiple sessions, in multiple locations, with many different presenters.  These sessions and their locations are all listed on a program for guests to use to navigate the event.  We have a separate list of spaces we have reserved for the event, and another spreadsheet listing all the sessions, locations, and names of presenters.  For an event to run seamlessly, we must be sure all these different lists and spreadsheets match what is listed on the program given to our guests.

If we didn’t carefully proofread, anything could happen at the event.  We could be sending guests to a room we do not actually have reserved.  Or maybe a faculty member could show up to the wrong building or room, maybe even at the wrong time!

Whenever I review an event program, I always proofread by crosschecking these additional lists/spreadsheets.  I must be sure all the times and locations are correctly listed on all of them and be sure a presenter has been secured for each presentation.

When finishing your college application, you need to proofread!  Yes, I know you have probably read your essay 100 times, but one last thorough read is worth the effort!  I always print copies of my event programs to review, and you should do the same with your application.  I know it’s not the most environmentally friendly option, but it will help with that final review (plus, that’s why recycling exists!). A final proofread is your chance to be sure all your application details make sense and show up correctly.  After every application deadline, our Communications Center receives hundreds of calls and emails about minor errors on an application (which we cannot update).  I bet many of these could be avoided by printing out your application and reviewing it one final time from start to finish (and ask someone else to read it too!)

Have a Rain Plan

Over the past year the weather has not been in our favor.  We can plan an awesome event that runs smoothly, but the one thing out of our control is the weather!  Torrential downpours can obviously affect our event and we must be prepared for these situations.  This might mean we pre-order rain ponchos for our guests, or we make last-minute changes to the program to keep guests inside a bit more.

An hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doingIt may not be rain that affects our event, but a fire alarm set off by another department, or a power outage in the building (all things that have happened to me before!).  These things are out of our control, and as much as we are prepared for our event to run smoothly, we must be ready to think on our feet and make last-minute changes. Believe it or not, this is one of my favorite parts of being an event planner. It tests me and keeps me on my toes. No, I do not hope we have pouring rain or other disruptions, but I do enjoy the thrill of needing to quickly make a change and implement it with our team.

When submitting your college application, you will encounter hiccups and issues.  Many of our early action applicants encountered a curveball this year when they logged into Common App and received a message (in bold red letters) that the deadline had already passed. The deadline had not passed, and students could still submit their applications. But this situation could have been avoided by submitting your application a few days (or a week) before the deadline!  Building extra days into your timeline allows for extra time should there be an issue with the processing of your application or application fee.  Giving yourself a few days helps you avoid panic when you run into an issue at 11:59 p.m. prior to the deadline. (Please note… Admission Offices are not open at that hour and we will not respond to emails/calls until the next day).

As you continue to work on your college application, build a to-do list, similar to the one I have sitting on my desk as we get ready to host a number of events over the next week (bonus tip: when you complete an item/task, it feels great to cross that item off the list!).  As we are busy working on putting the finishing touches on our events, you can do the same with your applications.

Andrew Cohen joined Georgia Tech in 2018 and currently oversees the guest experience for all Undergraduate Admission visitors. His love for providing visitors with informative, authentic and personal experiences started as a student tour guide at his alma mater, Ithaca College. Andrew’s passion for the visit experience has lead him to his involvement in the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association, where he currently services as the Treasurer on their executive board.

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Lessons and Hopes for High School Seniors

Warning: This one is long. If you are apt to scroll before reading to determine length, save your thumbs.

We really think you are great and have been impressed with the track record you’ve established to this point.

We want you to apply because we believe you are exactly the type of person who would excel here!

Please write a 250-word statement about your background that will help us get to know you more.

If you are a high school senior, these lines probably sound very familiar. I’ve written emails, built applications, and edited brochure content with verbiage exactly like this. However, in this case, I was the recipient rather than the author. These were the messages I received over the last nine months encouraging me to apply to serve on the Board of Directors for NACAC, a professional admission/counseling organization I’ve been part of for about a decade.

I was flattered. I was excited. I was nervous.

As I wrote each statement, I contemplated the perfect way to say precisely how I felt or viewed particular issues. I tweaked, edited, and finally hit submit with nervousness about how my words would be received.

Ultimately, I went through a battery of interviews (actually, a barrage may be more appropriate), including several hours of speaking with delegates who would ultimately cast votes for the candidates they wanted to serve in this role.

After the many months of waiting, the moment of truth came.

Election Day

Last week I, along with six other candidates, was ushered into a small room behind the stage of a cavernous convention hall in Louisville, KY at our national conference. Our group of candidates sat, chatted, paced, checked phones, and made small talk as the votes were tallied. As I stood there looking around at my colleagues, I re-ran the numbers in my head. Seven candidates. Three spots. A 43% chance of winning, 57% chance of not being elected. I listened to the conversations. I considered my company.

Candidates for the Board and President of NACAC

In that room were professionals from all over the nation. During the nomination process I’d had the opportunity to get to know this group well. I read their campaign statements; sat at dinners and discussed issues; heard about their accomplishments and experience; and was impressed by their passion for serving students, bringing solutions to our education system, and continually growing as people and professionals.

A representative from the organization walked into the holding area and interrupted my considerations. She announced, “I’ll now read the results of the election.” Slowly, she called each of the three names.

Rick Clark… was not one of them.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. One by one, I hugged each of my fellow candidates, both those elected and those not chosen to serve the organization in this capacity.

It was not easy. It was not fun.

While the conference was not over, it was for me. I opted out of other sessions or lunch invitations and headed back to my hotel. I ditched the suit for jeans, put on a hat, grabbed my backpack and caught a Lyft to the airport. Honestly, I just wanted to be alone.

In the days since the election, I’ve been alone a lot. I’ve been on six flights, stayed in two hotels, and made one 10-hour road trip. TRANSLATION: I’ve had time to think.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from my experience that I hope you’ll consider and apply to your college admission experience.

When you apply, give it everything you have.

Trust me: I questioned if my speeches or written statements should have had different themes. I wondered if I was not elected because I’m from the south, or male, or from a public school, or the combination of all three. I pondered if I did not spend enough time with the voting delegates demonstrating my ability and background and how I could contribute.

Ultimately, as I assessed each, I was confident I’d done all I could. I wrote what I believed. I answered the questions honestly and authentically. I ran my race.

Maybe my geography or school type worked against me. Maybe one of my statements did not sit well. I’ll never know exactly why I was not elected.

Similarly, if you are applying to selective schools running holistic admission processes who have far more talented applicants than spaces available in their class, you are not going to be given a specific reason for why you are not admitted. Nobody is going to tell you, “If your ACT was a point higher it would have worked out.” Admission officers won’t say, “Too bad you’re not from Nebraska, because we are all full up on Pennsylvania this year.”

Instead, they will say, “We had a very competitive pool this year.” Their letters, email responses, or phone call explanations are going to highlight the strength of other candidates and the pure volume of applicants. In other words, and this may seem odd, but it’s both true and really important: they’re not going to talk about you in their rationale. They (we) are going to include phrases like, “While your credentials are impressive…” or “Although you are an incredibly talented student…” their ultimate decision not to admit you will point to the other applicants. I hate to say this, but get used to it. If it has not already, that’s what will happen throughout life. Jobs, elections, teams, dates… it’s not you, it’s… you get the point.

You need to point to you. You have to know that you gave it everything you had. Don’t wait until you get admission decisions back to ask these questions. Start now. Is your essay authentically yours? Have you prepared adequately for your interviews. Have you done your homework to know why you are applying where you are? Before you submit your application, ask yourself if you’ve truly given it everything you have!

While you are waiting, live your life.

After I was nominated, and during the months I was submitting statements and going through multiple rounds of interviews, I wondered how this would all turn out. I held dates on my calendar for possible future travel. I considered who I would have the opportunity to meet while serving in this capacity.  But far more importantly, I continued to live my life. My family took a great vacation to Colorado. I completed and published a book. I ran a few races.

As a senior in high school, this is perhaps my biggest hope for you this year. Keep things in perspective. You have one senior year, my friends. Enjoy it. Go to games, hang out with friends, take trips, and have fun! Nobody ever looks back during their sophomore year of college and says, “You know, I wish I stressed out more when I was a senior in high school.” Nobody! Look around you this week in school.  It’s natural to imagine yourself on certain college campuses or to be cautiously excited about opportunities next year, but remember this–  most of the folks you see every day now will not be around (in person) at this time next year. Give them a hug. Grab a meal together. Go see a concert. Just enjoy being together. Does that sound kind of cheesy? Good. Mission accomplished. Who said cheesy was bad anyway? I’d rather be kind of cheesy than cool and alone, or seemingly cool but fake. Embrace the cheese, people. Live your life.

When you receive admission decisions, visualize the other applicants.

If you are applying to a school that admits less than 50% of applicants, more students will be denied than admitted. I know, I know, you didn’t come here for the math. But the truth is you need to say this out loud: “My chances of not being admitted are greater than they are of being admitted.” Seriously, say that.

Thankfully, you are not going to stand in the same room with other applicants while admission decisions are read. That’s tough for a 30 or 40 year- old, but it would be cruel and unusual punishment for a 17 or 18 year- old.

While difficult, I also consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to physically see my fellow candidates’ faces. They are amazing. They are the type of people I want to know, work with, and emulate. They’re impressive, genuine, talented, passionate, and capable.

I wish you could see the other applicants who also hope to be admitted to the schools you’re considering. Not their GPAs. Not how may AP classes they’ve taken. Not if they’re 40 points higher or lower than you on the SAT. I wish you could see them, know them, and spend time with them.

When you are admitted, remember that many were not. Be cool. Visualize those who were not offered admission. Think about their efforts, their families, and their disappointment. Do you get credit for this? No. This is the development of empathy, and you’ll be a better human by developing it. The admission experience, if you’ll let it, can teach a lot of life lessons– this is one of them.

If you are not admitted, I’m not saying it won’t sting.  Don’t get me wrong, I ate more fries the day I found out about the election than I had in the last two months combined. I played some loud music on the plane home, went for an “angry run,” and may or may not have referred to the group I’d not been selected to join as “The Bored.” I never said I was perfect. But I do hope you will try to visualize the other applicants when you are not admitted. Be happy for them. Congratulate those you know. Wish them the best. Try to take the focus off yourself. I promise you it will help you start to move on.

MY HOPE FOR YOU

After a 20-hour day, I arrived in Cocoa Beach, FL where my family was staying that week. Around 1 a.m., I crept in and slept on the couch. Six hours later I woke up to my kids staring at me from about 7 inches away. “Let’s go to the beach!” And that’s exactly what we did. On the walk there, they asked, “Did you win?” Nope, I replied. “Good. That means you won’t have to go on any more trips.” And then we jumped into the waves.

My hope is you will surround yourself with family and friends who are 100% in your corner and encourage you; people who know you and love you, regardless of the college hoodie you wear or the diploma you ultimately put on your wall. College is four or five years. They matter and this is a big deal, but family is forever. So, if you remember only two words from this ridiculously long blog, they are, “Family first!”

We often call all of this the “college admission process.” However, too often that process is something that happens to you or that you go through. I hope you will embrace the word process and see your senior year as a real opportunity to grow, learn, mature, and prepare not only for college but for years well beyond it. The odds are somewhere along the line in your admission experience you are going to be disappointed. You may not get into your first choice school. You may not receive a big enough financial aid package to afford the college you want to attend. You don’t get into the Honors Program, don’t get your first choice major/residence hall, and so on.

The truth is we learn more about ourselves when we don’t get something, or when something is taken away, than when everything is smooth, easy, and going our way. Growth comes after discomfort or pain. My hope is you won’t just get through the admission process, but rather embrace it as an opportunity to remember the decisions of others are not what define us. They may change our direction, but character, mentality, and motivation is ours to choose.

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What Are You Strava-ing For?

I run. That is to say I’m not a pure or true runner. True runners glide. True runners wear shorter shorts, lighter weight shirts, and have a shoe rotation system. True runners portion out food, drink blended stuff with weird combinations of veggies and powder, and talk a lot about running. I simply run. I enjoy the simplicity of leaving my house early in the morning, being the first to see late night road kill, and experiencing the quiet darkness when most the world is still sleeping or blearily rousing to make coffee.

We all need our head clearing experiences, moments of freedom, and frankly, time to be alone. With two big kids and a loud staff….wait, reverse that… with two loud kids and a big staff, running is one of the only times I can tune out the world, reflect, consider, plan, or simply let my mind go blank. However, in June I was visiting a friend in Asheville, NC who introduced me to an app called Strava. The program allows you to see total distance, pace per mile, elevation gain, and maps your route. Since he’s not on any other social media platform, his pitch was it would be a good way to keep up with each other,  and it would offer some accountability on training. I suggested just texting, but he doesn’t do that much either.

I downloaded the app and started carrying my phone on runs, since I don’t have a fancy watch (because, again, I’m not a true runner. What he did not tell me is Strava also allows you to see who else has run your same route. So if you run a certain segment in your area and have the 10th fastest time or better, you receive “achievements” with medals for being 3rd or faster, and apparently a “crown” if you are the fastest on that hill or mile or loop.

Before I had this app, I rarely brought my phone with me on a run unless I needed the flashlight or wanted to listen to a podcast. Before I had the app, I’d come home with new ideas or perspective, or just feeling lighter (minus my legs) because I’d tuned out and refilled my proverbial cup. Lately, I’ve been coming back and checking to see my pace, achievements, and who else I know has run those segments. Even in the middle of runs, I’ve found myself thinking, “I need to PR (personal record—it  tracks those too) this mile or loop.”

Strava also allows other runners and your own contacts (like my friend in Asheville) to give you “kudos” or comment on your run, hike, or bike ride. So, admittedly, after a particularly long run or faster route, I’ll check back later in the day to see if anyone interacted with my post.

What are you Strava-ing for?

If you are a high school senior, you are probably starting to work on your college applications. Before you start contemplating which essay topic to choose or ruminating on whether to use “raconteur” as a way of describing yourself in your supplemental essay question, ask these basic questions first:

Why?

I’ve had to reconsider why I run. As a senior, everyone will ask you “Where you want to go to college?” I’m hoping you’ll tune out those voices for a bit and go all the way back to crawling before walking, much less running. Before you submit even one application, take some time to write down, voice record, or type out your answers to “Why??”

  • Why would you invest this much money in a college education?
  • Why are you willing to work hard academically beyond high school to earn a particular degree?
  • Why are you going to leave all of your friends, and the comfort of the known and move 500 miles away to sleep in a single bed and share an 8×8 room?
  • Why are you going to study until 3 a.m. and eat coffee grounds to stay awake in preparation for a Differential Equations or British Literature exam?

Why is tough. It leads to big questions like who are you? And who do you want to be in the future? You may get there eventually, but you can start more simply with:

  • Who do I hope to meet, connect with, and learn from in college?
  • What opportunities do I want this experience to provide in the future?
  • What type of people and learning environments bring out my best?

Ask anyone who has been to college and if they are honest, they can describe a dark, cold day in their first year when they sat on their all-too-firm mattress in their residence hall listening to a song that reminded them of high school friends or their hometown. They remember doing laundry at midnight alone, or leaving the library bleary-eyed and over-caffeinated. Social media will tell you that college is a never ending string of sunny days filled with groups of smiling friends going to class outside, but at some point every first-year student has the same questions rattle around in their head: “Why am I here?” “Did I make the right choice?” “Why does everyone else seem to be doing well, while I am struggling?” Everyone has that day. Everyone has those lonely walks, isolated thoughts and inevitable doubts. Everyone. Crawl first.

Where?  

Look closely again at the list of colleges you are applying to. Why is each one on your list? If it is because it aligns with your answers above; you feel confident you would thrive in that environment; they offer the major you are excited to pursue; or you know people who are there that have a lot of similar interests and goals, then you are good to go. If it is just because your parents went there, it is highly ranked, you like their colors or mascot, or “someone told me it was good,” then take a step back. You need to wait to hit submit on every application until you’ve really considered how that places matches up with your whys. Walk on.

Who?

Listen. I don’t have all the answers. I’m over twice your age and a stupid running app has me all twisted up in the game right now. But I can tell you this: being at peace and confidently answering “Who is this really for?” is a pretty essential question to ask before you make any big life decision. Actually, it’s a pretty good one to ask each morning when you get dressed too. Who is the for? Is your “run” purely for you or is it because you want “kudos” from someone else? Is your first choice college first because it aligns with your whys, or because you think there will be some medal or crown for getting in? I’m not trying to be too dramatic here, but I’ve seen folks wake up in their 40’s realizing they’ve lived way too long without being honest about their answers to, “Who’s this really for?”

Last week I was really struggling with a decision. I needed to clear my head and process. So Saturday morning, I woke up early, grabbed my shoes, put on my longer-than-a-real-runner shorts, and headed out on a trail. No phone. No app. I have no idea how long, fast, or relatively well I ran that day. But I worked through my problem. I came back with a new way to approach the situation. I asked, “Why? And who is this really for?” The run, the process, the decision was purely mine. I knew what I was Strava-ing for. I can only wish the same for you. Run well, my friends.

 

An Inconvenient Opportunity

This week we welcome Communications Manager for Strategy and Enrollment Planning (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley back to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

It was a rainy Mother’s Day in Georgia last week. Still a lovely day, but weather-wise it was dreary with showers that came and went throughout the day. In mid-afternoon my daughters, ages 3 and 7, went outside with our puppy to play outside. Even though it was wet, they needed to get some energy out so I put some old shoes and play clothes on them and told them to go for it.

This picture popped up in my Facebook memories today. Clearly, even years ago, I’ve always been okay with my kids playing in the rain!

While they were outside it started to mist… which turned to a sprinkle… which turned into a light, gentle rain. No wind, no storm, just soft rain falling from the sky. As I watched them (from the dry area underneath the edge of the house), it occurred to me that maybe I should bring them inside. At this point they, and the dog, were soaking wet—there was no turning back. I decided to ride it out. A little rain (and dirt!) is good for kids. And dogs, too, I guess.

The rain was an inconvenience. The wetness of these little people was definitely an inconvenience. But running laps through the house was slowly driving us all crazy (okay, maybe it was just me). It wasn’t what I planned or wanted. In truth, letting the kids play in the rain actually caused more work for all of us, as now I had to wrangle two wet kids (and one wet dog), with wet clothes, and get them from the backdoor to the bathtub without getting mud all over the house.

The easy thing would have been to bring them in immediately when the rain began. To let them stay outside, getting their feet muddy and their hair wet while pretending to fly on the swings, certainly created more work for me. But, it was time they spent together, outside, being free, and not in front of a screen. The inconvenience was absolutely worth it.

Inconvenience, or Opportunity?

Later that night, I had just finished my shower and brushed my teeth. I was pretty excited, as it appeared as though I might actually get to sleep at a decent hour (and on Mother’s Day, no less!). Just as I was wrapping up, my 7-year old walked in to tell us she was having scary thoughts. So I did what most moms would do—I went to her room, laid down with her, and stayed there until she was asleep. Getting to bed early (who am I kidding—on time, even!) wasn’t going to happen. It was an inconvenience.

But again, that inconvenience was an opportunity. An opportunity to be present, to comfort her, and to get some sweet snuggles. I know that as she grows up the opportunities to simply be with her and snuggle her will be fewer and farther between until they eventually disappear. As she gets older she will seek reassurance from someone other than me. So while this incident may have “cost me” a little sleep, it also presented me with a beautiful opportunity.

The month of May, by all counts, is crazy. End of year school parties, field days, art days, awards days… and that’s just elementary school! At the high school level you’re adding prom, end of year ceremonies, AP tests, and a little thing called graduation. You’re either getting ready to go to college, or preparing to apply to college. Let’s be honest: May is crazy. And sometimes, well, inconvenient.

If you’re a graduating senior….

This is your last summer at home. Even if you’re not going far away to school, life will still change in many significant ways. So this summer when your mom asks you to drive your little brother or sister to summer camp, try not to scoff at the inconvenience. Your time with them is limited. Next year you’re going to change a lot, and so will they. Instead of getting upset that this takes time out of your day, try to be present and have a conversation. Appreciate the time you have. Realize that next year when you’re asked to do the same thing, you’ll be spending time with a different person, who has grown and changed in the time that you’ve been gone. And that little brother or sister, while perhaps annoying at times, will miss you greatly when you’re gone. They’ve never known a life without you! So take the opportunity to connect, and make some memories along the way. (Note: you may not have a younger sibling—or you may BE the younger sibling. Replace the sibling in this scenario with a parent, grandparent, neighbor, or other person who may need your help in this season—same theory applies!)

If you’re a rising senior…

You’re moving into what we in the admissions world call “visit season.” Your summer is likely booked up with activities, maybe a job, and oh, a list of colleges to visit in hopes of finding “the one” that you’re looking for. Hitting the road with your family and visiting college after college may start to feel inconvenient at a certain point. Remember: this is an opportunity. An opportunity to set foot on campus and see what it’s really like (not just what we tell you in our glossy brochures and mailers); an opportunity to engage the process with your family and have a voice in the conversation; an opportunity to ask good questions; and an opportunity to visit a new town. The summer college visit road trip will be tiring, but I promise it will be worth it if you keep a positive mindset. If you need some ideas for what you should be doing during these visits (hint: it’s more than going to an information session and tour), check out these tips.

If you’re rising into 9-11 grades…

This may be your first summer with a job, or a research opportunity, or in a leadership position. Likely this summer you will experience some type of “first.” As you get older, the days of freedom with no responsibilities will become harder to come by. You’re going to learn how to juggle more things throughout your day as new tasks are added on to the ones you already have. Being asked to do your chores may be inconvenient. Let’s be honest here—no one wants to unload the dishwasher or fold clothes. (Psst! Not even your mom—trust me!). Before you heavy sigh and/or roll your eyes, take a deep breath and look for the opportunity. It’s in there! Maybe it’s a chance to have a conversation with a parent or friend while you complete the task. Maybe it’s a chance for some much needed quiet in your day. Maybe it’s a chance to let your brain just rest for a bit while you do something mindless.

Welcome the Unexpected

Opportunities often lurk in unexpected places. When we get bogged down in the “I have to” perspective, rather than embracing an “I get to” perspective, we often lose sight of what we could gain from the situation. As you move into the summer and discover wrinkles in your well laid plans, look for the opportunity that is quietly presenting itself. Once you find it and embrace it, you will be amazed at what you gain.

Becky Tankersley has worked in higher education for more than 10 years. She joined Georgia Tech in 2012 after working at a small, private college in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. Prior to working in higher education, she worked as a television news producer. Her current role blends her skills in college recruitment and communication. Becky is the editor of  the GT Admission Blog, and also serves as a Content Coordinator for the American Association of Collegiate Registrar and Admission Officers.

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I Have a Brother

Listen to the audio version here.

Chapter 1 

I have a brother.

Like many little boys he grew up playing sports. His favorite was basketball. He practiced and worked hard and dreamed of making the school team. But it didn’t happen.

He wanted to be a leader. He ran for student government several times. Along the way he both won and lost. Ultimately, he became president of our high school.

He studied, did his homework, crammed for tests, and did not cheat, even when those around him took shortcuts. He wanted to be the valedictorian or the salutatorian. But it didn’t happen.

If you are a sophomore or junior reading this: be encouraged that you are still in Chapter 1. Heartbreak, setbacks, and challenges. Every year we read regularly about losses of siblings; parents getting divorces; difficult uprooting moves to different schools, cities or states; breakups; substance abuse problems; discipline issues; severe illnesses, and the list goes on.

These events or periods will always be part of your story. But they do not define you. Rather, they help give you a deeper sense of empathy. They make you a better listener. And they simply demonstrate a fundamental truth — we were made to be in community. We were made to have deep friendships and relationships. My hope is these early experiences, while incredibly tough in the moment, will help you learn now what many struggle with well into adulthood: we must be able to trust others in our weakness and be available to them in theirs.

Chapter 2

I have a brother.

He wanted so badly to attend a particular Ivy League school. It was his dream. It was his top choice. He applied with high hopes and a strong record. But it didn’t happen.

He was admitted to a public school—an incredible campus and community. A place he was excited about. He interviewed for their top merit scholarship, a prestigious award and an elite group. He spent the weekend there, and felt confident about his chances.

He did not receive the scholarship, but chose the school anyway and made the most of it. He wrote for the school paper, joined a number of groups, plugged into the community, and studied abroad. He blazed a path of a new major and befriended professors and students alike. He ran for student office— and lost. He wanted so badly in his final year to receive the honor of living in a special part of campus. But it didn’t happen.

If you are senior reading this: Some of you have been admitted to your first choice university and are excited to get started this fall. Others were denied admission to your top choice. A few have realized your dream college is ultimately not affordable, and you’ve reluctantly put down your deposit to another place. Then there are those of you who ultimately won’t come off the waitlist at your number #1 school.

My hope is regardless of where you are going, you get excited about that place—that community and experience. People will describe college as “some of the best years of your life.” I think hearing that before you go puts unnecessary pressure on you. Instead, I’d say they are unique years. You get the chance to be around a bunch of young, interesting, fun, creative, (insert your preferred adjective here) people who all live close, have free time to be together, and are not juggling as many responsibilities as life typically brings later down the road. And that is amazing! Arrive on campus excited about the uncertainty and committed to exploring.

Regardless of where you are today in your college journey, I have good news— failure awaits, and disappointment and heartbreak are coming. Congratulations! In college you are going to receive some grades that you did not even know existed (read Bs or Cs); someone is going to turn you down for a date, an internship, a research opportunity, or a summer program (hopefully those are separate people for each because that would be weird otherwise). You may learn the major or profession you’ve always wanted to pursue is really not for you. You may end up transferring to a different college. Don’t be dejected. Instead, be thankful. The truth is you don’t learn lessons, or grow or improve, or develop deep friendships and trust when things are totally smooth, comfortable or easy—in fact, the opposite is true.

Chapter 3

I have a brother.

He graduated and moved overseas so he could master the language he’d taken as an undergraduate. Eventually he went to law school and added a second language while there.

He took a position at a prestigious law firm. He worked 100 hour weeks, impressed clients, married a smart, beautiful woman and started a family.

He did not make partner. He was “out-counseled.” He started a company that ultimately failed.

He moved back overseas, practiced law, and eventually started a different company. This one made it.

Anyone reading this who meets my brother today would be impressed. They would see, respect, and admire the accomplishments. They have not heard the pain, seen the tears, or experienced the disappointment. They would not know that along the way he’s also lost a father and a child.

Anyone student reading this should take time to seek out and really listen to a few people you admire. Forget about who they appear to be. Ask them about their almosts, their low points, and their losses. One of the worst things about social media is it allows people to showcase wins and hide their struggles. One of the best things you can do is take time in the months ahead to find someone twice your age and ask them to share it all. They’ll be honored and you’ll be encouraged.

Like all of us, my brother is both perfect and deeply flawed. He’s a failed athlete, an Ivy League reject, a fired employee and an unsuccessful entrepreneur. He’s a tri-lingual attorney turned successful small business owner who lives abroad with his incredible wife and amazing children.

Chapter 4

I have a brother.

We don’t share the same parents. We did not grow up in the same house. Our bond is not blood but rather a lifetime of sharing joy and sorrow—hopes, dreams, setbacks, and progress.

If you are reading this, my hope is you will come to understand and appreciate that success is not a point-to-point trip. A life fully and well-lived is not a straight road. So when you feel like things are falling apart; when you look around and believe “everyone else is happy;” when you question what you did wrong or why something did not work out, my hope is you will remember you are not at a dead-end, or even a U-turn that is forcing you to double back. These are inevitable turns, re-routes, and natural bends in the road you should expect on any journey.

Part of your story is already written. Beginnings are interesting, but incomplete. They are often filled with challenges, setbacks, and difficulty. The beauty is you get to keep writing. No matter where you are today or where you plan to be next year, I hope you will not dwell on what has been but instead commit to explore, attempt, edit, and continually learn.  Get excited about writing your next chapter!

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