More and Less, Part 2

This is my auto-generated monthly recap from December. That was 6 “quiet days” more than the November report, so here’s hoping for 2020.

Last week we kicked off the new year with some questions around what you want to see more and less of in your life in 2020. I confessed my need to unplug more and email/text/tweet while walking less. Again, if you have not already done so, I highly encourage you to take some time this week to write down your goals and priorities and revisit them periodically in the year ahead. I also shared my hopes for mores and less’ from my college admission colleagues around the country. You can read that blog here. Now, you’re all caught up.

Since our best work is done in collaboration and partnership, this week Part 2 continues with a focus on school counselors. First, Happy New Year! I am guessing for many of you it already feels like two months back, rather than just two weeks, because the beginning of any semester is a frenetic–especially in high schools.

If you have not heard, “Thank You!” lately, then please pause on those words. I’ve had the opportunity to walk the halls of a few schools over the last week, and it reminded me of how deeply thankful I am that you are there each day. These students walk through your doors carrying such a breadth of burdens, questions, pain, and uncertainty. Your smile, fist bump, hand shake, or offer to simply sit down and breathe is invaluable. As a parent that drops two kids off each day in a public school, I live this. Knowing there are caring adults who see and hear things I’ll never be privy to has made me even more grateful for the pivotal role you play in loving, encouraging, and mentoring our kids. Thank you!

To my school counselor colleagues:

More Advocacy

Nationally, the counselor: student ratio is nearly 500:1. School counselors are frequently asked to proctor exams, assist with class registration and course changes, handle psycho-social and family-related counseling, and much more. As a result, writing recommendation letters, ensuring transcripts are sent, and providing guidance to students in their college search is a small, and ever-decreasing percentage of the work.

My hope for 2020 is more counselors will lift the issue of chronically high ratios to principals, superintendents, PTA/PTO, and broader school community, as well as with local and state representatives. Addressing this problem has short and long-term implications on mental health, high school and college retention and graduation rates, as well as finding the best academic and financial college matches for students.

It is my hope through collective advocacy, as well as telling a broader story, decision makers will gain more appreciation for the value of investing in K-12 counselors, which will improve college performance at their state’s public schools and ultimately reduce student debt due to finding the best academic and financial matches. If you are a parent or student reading this, take the time to learn more about your school’s ratio and then ask your counselor what they could do more, or by necessity do less, based on that number. Want to know your state’s overall ratio? Check here.

Another important point surrounds the fact that many of the degrees counselors need to practice in our high schools require precious little emphasis on college guidance. Equally unfortunate is continuing education requirements rarely include robust college counseling exposure. Add to the equation a severe lack of budget, time, and support for public school counselors in particular to attend professional development programs, and we are left with both a significant gap and an equally viable opportunity.

Whether you are in an independent school with a counselor: student ratio of 40:1 or working at a public high school and carrying a 400:1 caseload, it is imperative for those of you who live this every day to raise your voice and tell your story.

We need your singular anecdotes as well as your aggregate data to provide policy makers compelling illustrations of how helping students find good college matches allows them to earn a degree, graduate with less debt, and find a job quickly, therefore helping them to contribute to the economy.  Easy? No. Critical? Absolutely.

Wondering how to get started? Contact your local government relations liaison through your regional or state affiliate or contact NACAC’s Government Relations Jedi master and esteemed legislative guru, Mike Rose.

Less Rush to Judgment

My hope is 2020 will bring more trust between school counselors and college admission officers. We effectively build and fortify this bridge when admission reps focus on improving transparency, and school counselors commit to being more quick to listen and learn about the pressures their university colleagues face, and less apt to jump to conclusions without first gleaning appropriate context and engaging in conversation.

Recently, a colleague told me about a change that his university has decided to make for next year’s admission cycle. “I’ll tell you what I’m not looking forward to is dealing with the maelstrom this is going to create among counselors next fall.” His statement is reflective of what needs to change in the professional dynamic going forward.

I hope you will remember just as you operate within the framework/pressures/dictates of your school or system, admission offices are doing the same. When they set policies, timelines, or admission decisions, they are responding to institutional priorities which are typically driven by a board, chancellor, president, provost, or even the regents or administration of a state system.

While it is critical for you to challenge us at times, as well as to highlight the implications these decisions have on you, your students, and your communities, too often the tone of comments on social media or the edge voiced in questions is skeptical and accusatory at best, and confrontational at worst.

Comparative questions like, “Why don’t you all do X like Y college?” and comments beginning with “I just don’t understand….” Or “It makes no sense that you….” neither facilitate a healthy exchange nor set an example for students on how to seek information or understand nuanced issues.

I hope in the year ahead, you’ll pick up the phone or reach out to contact admission colleagues more quickly, rather than make assumptions or post speculation/ isolated anecdotes without attempting to glean context.

More Collaboration

Just as I hope more universities will look for diverse partners to travel or host programs with, I’m similarly hopeful for my school counselor friends.  In 2020, I hope you will consider not simply putting on programs for your individual school community, but will look around your area to see who you can partner with. Could you open up your evening panel of visiting college deans to all schools within a five-mile radius, or local CBOs? If you have an admission director coming to speak with your students or families in the evening, could you host a lunch for all local counselors to learn more about that school or set of schools? Can you create or broaden your college fair to include even more high schools and local students?

I can tell you without a doubt that directors and deans will be far more apt to attend your programs if you demonstrate collaboration with counselors at other schools. This is the type of ROI for them that makes it worth leaving campus for a few days or spending time away from family. I’ve seen great examples of models for these types of programs, so please reach out if you want to share your previous models with others or receive ideas or contacts from colleagues (@clark2college).

Looking Forward

As 2020 gets rolling, I am optimistic. While the challenges are many, I am deeply encouraged by the quality of professionals in our field. Want to be inspired? Check out this piece by Brennan Barnard in which he highlights the influential work happening in high school and college communities around the country.

Next week, Part 3- More and Less for parents and students in the college admission experience.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address above, or click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.

More and Less, Part 1

“You’re going to be out 14 nights in November?!”

Now. What I should have said was… nothing. But what I actually said was, “Yes. But I’ll definitely be home for Thanksgiving.”

Let me back up. My wife and I have a planning and calendar meeting each month. This exchange (well, that and her getting up and leaving the room) was how our October meeting ended. 

I knew I’d bitten off more than I could (or should) chew. In addition to Georgia Tech programs, I was also chairing the search for a new pastor at our church, and had committed to a few speaking engagements connected to the book I recently published.  

Being a keen observer of non-verbal cues, I made sure our November planning meeting went differently. First, it started with flowers and a deep apology. Second, I’m proud to say I made sure I did not board a plane or sleep in a hotel in December.  

The final week of the year was by far the best.  Georgia Tech was closed, and for the first time in my 16-year tenure, I did not try to “catch up” or “keep up” during that time. In fact, I took email off my phone and left my laptop at work. I encouraged my team to do the same. “It will all be here when we get back. Enjoy your break and your family!” 

After truly unplugging, here were my two biggest takeaways: 

  1. Balance within any single day is a myth. We will drive ourselves nuts attempting to squeeze everything we value into a 24- hour period. Whether you are in high school, college, or 20 years past both, we need to continually ask, “What do I value and why?” And just as importantly “Am I making appropriate time for these things? And what frequency is realistic?” 

Otherwise, we end up unnecessarily spinning our wheels, or feeling like a failure when something gets dropped. I’m hopeful in 2020 we’ll all give ourselves more grace and look at balance less in the context of a day, and more in the context of week or month. If you value spending time with friends, reading, or traveling and those things are not happening in a broad period of time, then you are out of balance. 

The beginning of the year is the time to reflect on this. Make time to actually write down what brings you joy and energy. What (or who) challenges you, helps you grow, and adds value to your life? How can you make time for these things and people? And what regularity is healthy and realistic? 

2. Priorities also adhere to Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion (For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”).  If I am going to make room (or more room) for one thing, something else needs to be reduced or eliminated. While our culture incessantly tells us to keep adding things to our plate, that is fundamentally impossible.

We frequently hear the term “More or Less,” but the truth is we need to think about “More and Less.” As we head into 2020, here is my list:   

Top 3 Mores:

  1. More dates/trips with my wife.
  2. More nights/weekends totally unplugged.
  3. More reading physical (not Kindle) books.

Top 3 Less’: 

  1. Less checking email/social media on my phone (especially while walking).
  2. Less saying “Yes” without considering the implications/trade-offs.
  3. Less tabs open at the same time.

As I thought about the year ahead, I came up with the mores and lesses I hope to see in my college admission colleagues. Parts 2 and 3 of this series will include thoughts for school counselors, parents, and students, but this week I’m writing for those doing admission work in colleges around the country. 

To my admission colleagues…

Whether you are in year two or 20, I want to say a big thank you for the great and important work you do! If you (and your team) did not take the time to look back at 2019 and marvel at your accomplishments, make that a priority. Celebrate your wins! It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle and move from one goal to the next. Particularly in the cyclical world of college admission, we need to be intentional about pausing, reflecting, and appreciating how we’ve grown and what we achieved, rather than dwelling on all that could have gone better or the particular metrics we missed. The truth is even when we hit enrollment targets or meet net tuition revenue or increase or decrease what was asked of us, someone will have an issue with how it was done or some nuance buried within the macro. We must learn to focus on and be encouraged by our progress and opportunity, rather than bogged down and burned out chasing perfection.   

More Transparency

Let’s be honest. 2019 was a pretty low point in the world of college admission. Operation Varsity Blues brought our work into the spotlight and called the integrity of the process into question. Far from Hollywood the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice cited our field’s largest professional organization, NACAC, for violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act due to the Association’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practices. Combined with escalating tuition, a growing narrative around the value of college, as well as more closures of colleges around the nation, public trust naturally eroded. 

As a result, there has never been a more critical time for admission representatives to be honest and open about how admission decisions are made, what we are looking for in students, and how our distinct institutional missions impact our timeline, process, and class goals. I hope admission and enrollment reps from schools with a broad reach and platform will commit to telling a bigger story about the landscape of higher education. It is incumbent upon the enrollment leaders at these colleges to model this approach and empower their teams to adopt a more inclusive mentality and philosophy. 

Specifically, I hope 2020 brings more variety and diversity in consortium travel, rather than traditionally narrow groupings. If you work at a school that only collaborates with others similar to you in size, selectivity, or athletic conference, I hope you will question if including a more diverse set of schools could help tell a more robust narrative about the options students have in our higher education ecosystem.  The Colleges That Change Lives Tour and the RACC events in California are great examples, as they convey a variety of campus cultures, missions, curricular focus, and selectivity. (Send more examples via Twitter to @clark2college and I’ll retweet and add those to the list.)

In addition to publishing a macro admit rate, I hope colleges will make more of an effort to display in presentations how these vary based on decision plan, e.g. ED, EA, Regular Decision, by residency (if public), or other influencing categories when possible. Currently, families have to dig too deep into the dark corners of our institutional research sites to procure this. Again, we build trust and raise transparency when we are willing to be forthcoming with data. Going forward highly selective schools should be banned from saying, “We are looking for reasons to admit applicants.” It sounds good on a panel, but if your admit rate is >25% this is semantics at best and patently false at worst. Be willing to articulate how supply and demand and institutional priorities, rather than fairness or purely quantifiable metrics dictate admission decisions.

I hope schools will be more specific about their college’s real costs and net price, and work to simplify and clarify financial aid letters. Too many families are unnecessarily confused and cannot make the best comparisons and financial choices because of the conflation of loans, scholarships, grants, and institutional aid. When astute professional accountants receiving these packages are bemused, something is broken. Additionally, I hope admission offices will collaborate either internally or externally to create videos, provide webinars, or host programs to help families in your community better understand scholarships, financial aid, debt repayment, and other terms.

Yes, this is more. A lot more. But if we truly want to enter 2020 and the new decade committed to being better- more equitable, more positioned as educators, more in line with fulfilling the mission of higher education as a public good, then this is not only necessary, but our fundamental responsibility. 

Less Isolation

College admission is tough work. Between weeks or months of recruitment travel, hundreds or thousands of applications to read, dozens of speeches and information sessions to give, and countless emails and phone calls to return—not to mention occasionally squeezing in some laundry and dishes, there is no wonder our profession sees high turnover, particularly around the three to five year mark. 

As you enter 2020, my hope is you will be committed to building a broad and diverse network and support system. It is easy, especially in the winter, to become myopic and mired in the cycle turning from review to yield, or immediately back to recruitment of the next class. Make an effort this month to find someone outside of your office to connect with. Perhaps that is a colleague on campus, an admission officer from another college in your town or city, or someone you met during your travels who you can commit to keeping in touch with professionally in the year ahead. 

I hope you will be proactive to initiate a monthly coffee or lunch, or a regular call to check in, catch up, and share celebrations or frustrations. What I’m describing is completely free. Don’t allow yourself to be limited by the perspective and opinions of people in your own office or institution. Do not wait around for someone to tap you or fund you to go to a conference or join a professional organization. We all need sounding boards, encouragement, and colleagues who understand our challenges.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

What are your mores and lesses for 2020? Again, if you have not already done so, I highly encourage you to take some time this week to write them down and revisit them periodically in the year ahead.

Next week, Part 2: More and Less for school counselors. 

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address above, or click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.

Turning a Loss into a Big Win

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

A couple of years ago a piece of Atlanta history came crashing down. A key step to opening Mercedes-Benz Stadium was imploding the Georgia Dome. As with most major demolitions, news crews from all over the city were there to cover the action. After all, who doesn’t love to see a good building implosion?

The Weather Channel’s coverage easily won the internet that day. The timing couldn’t have been worse for a city transit bus to roll in and completely block the biggest moment of the event, which only lasted around 30 seconds at most. The frustration, disappointment, and angst in the videographer’s voice is priceless.

 

Before working in higher education, I was a television news producer. So much of my fascination (and pure enjoyment) of this video has to do with my knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes of live tv. That experience gives me some insight into what likely happened off-camera that day:

1 – No doubt the videographer scouted out the ideal spot to capture the action days, if not weeks, ahead of time. There was a plan in place!

2 –  He arrived at said location in the early, early morning hours on a very cold day, maybe as early as 4 a.m., to test his equipment, set up the angle, and be sure he had a clear connection for his live shot back to the station.

3 – Meanwhile, back in the newsroom, a whole host of staffers—including producers, directors, and anchors—were all waiting for this video and had centered their newscast around it. The bus was not included in any part of the script.

What should have been a straightforward live shot ran off the rails, and the outcome wasn’t anything close to what anyone expected. As for the videographer, in that moment he’s likely thinking a lot of things, including, “This bus ruined everything. Why did this happen?!”

Transit Buses and Admission Decisions

How does any of this remotely relate to college admission, you ask? This month a host of colleges and universities across the nation released their early admission decisions. While I don’t know exact details on percentages, the law of averages tells me many students did not get the news they hoped for. In fact, more students likely received a decision that starts with a D (defer or deny) rather than A (admitted).  If you find yourself in the D group, you could say you’ve had a Georgia Dome experience: a bus rolling into your frame at a critical moment, completely blocking you from the one thing you’ve worked so hard to get.

It’s easy to feel defeated. Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like being put off for another few months, or getting flat out rejected, by your dream school.

So how can you handle it when a bus rolls into your live shot? Take a few lessons from the Georgia Dome incident.

Trust the process. There’s two ways to look at the bus: you can get mad, shout, yell, throw in the towel, and give up. Or, you can get mad, shout, yell, and… wait. The bus in front of you will eventually move, and you’ll be left with a completely new perspective. Once the bus gets out of the way, you’ll have some great choices—so get ready.

Assess where you are now. You can’t go back in time and change your application, but you can look at where you are now and choose your next step. If you were deferred, is there a piece of information you can add into your deferred applicant form? Will their admission office accept an updated transcript with fall grades? If you have open applications at other schools, are you meeting their deadlines and turning everything in that they need to make a decision? If you were denied at one school, do you have applications in at others that fit what you’re looking for in a college experience? There are still colleges that are accepting applications, so get those apps in!

Accept it. Sounds a little harsh, but bear with me. You might ask, “how does she know what it feels like to be turned down by your dream school?” I actually know exactly how it feels. When I was a senior one of the Southern Ivies was at THE top of my list. I was in love with this school in every way. I applied Early Decision and was deferred to Regular Decision. A few months later, I was denied. It’s been 20 years, and I still remember receiving the letter, sitting down with my parents, and crying for three solid hours. I felt disappointed, sad, and betrayed. I had to allow myself time to mourn the end of my dream. Then, I looked at the other colleges where I was admitted, chose the school I felt would be the best fit, paid an enrollment deposit, and never looked back (p.s. I made a good decision, too!).

I bet the videographer also allowed himself time to lament his ruined live shot. But then he picked up his camera, jumped back in the truck, and headed off to the next shoot. Because that’s how news, and life, works–as one story ends, another is beginning.

Turning Abject Failure into a Big Win

Here’s the point: at the end of the day, what may have felt like abject failure to the guy behind the camera actually turned into a huge win for him, and his station. The Weather Channel embraced the video and put it on YouTube. As of today it has more than 1.4 million views! There is no way their coverage would have gotten so much mileage had everything had gone right that day. The video went viral and trended for days. National news outlets picked it up, and in no time spoofs were made of the incident. The internet loved it!

Even the associate science editor at The Weather Channel at the time was able to joke about it.

I’m not telling you to broadcast your defer or deny all over social media (in fact—please don’t). What I am telling you is what looks like, feels like, and is one of the hardest moments of your life will eventually turn into something good. You will find a college to call home… you will find a school that wants you on their campus… and when you get there in the fall, the sting of this decision will fade away as you make new friends, pursue new dreams, and make new memories.

Hang in there… easy to say, hard to do, but please try. The holidays are here, and you have a couple of weeks to rest, recover, and breathe. Be with family and friends, do something fun, read a book for enjoyment (not school!), and invest in your overall well-being. You’ve got one more semester left before your life changes… clear your head, and get ready. Great things are ahead!

Editor’s note: This post first appeared on the GT admission blog in December 2017.

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.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address above, or click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of Year?

While the air may be filled with songs and the streets lined with lights and decorations, the holidays can be a frenetic and stressful time. If your family is like ours, the number of obligations over the next few weeks is staggering. Parties, school functions, visits from relatives, and holiday travel quickly result in a full calendar and empty energy tank. If you are the parent of a high school senior, you also juggle a unique set of concerns and pressures, as many college admission and financial aid decisions and deadlines loom just after the new year.

I do not purport to have all the answers to combat this stress, but after watching the college admission process repeat itself for the last 20 years, I do have a few tips (and hopes) for your family as you head into the holidays.

Ask big questions. The end of one year and beginning of the next lends itself to reflection. Families in the middle of their college admission experience should do the same. Instead of becoming mired down in the details about deadlines or grammatical perfection in essays, my hope is you’ll slow down and zoom out.

Your son or daughter has plenty of classmates, teammates, and random strangers asking them, “Where are you going to college next year?” Make time in the weeks ahead to have them consider a question far too few people ever ask, “Why do you want to go to college?”

Whether they have already been admitted to a few schools and are waiting to hear back from others, or have yet to submit a single application, this question is foundational. Encourage them to write their answers down. Knowing why will help answer where. It will help them think through each school they are considering and ensure it aligns with their purpose. Ultimately, it will serve as a filter this spring  when they are choosing between a few universities to which they’ve been admitted.

Protect Your Time. Discussions about college, especially during the holidays, can creep into far too much of regular life. This is the last winter break with your daughter or son living full-time under your roof—do not lose sight of that fact. These are fleeting and limited moments, my friends. What’s next is important, but what’s now is precious.

My hope is your family will put some ground rules in place. Establish an hour or two a week for a college conversation. This is more than enough time to look over an essay, double check deadlines, or schedule an interview or campus visit. Everyone must agree to show up with an open mind and a commitment to listen, but without a cell phone or terribly crunchy snacks.

Outside of those times, college conversations are off the table. The beauty of holding these “family meetings” is they allow everyone to truly rest and enjoy each other, and the much-needed vacation. If you find not talking about college outside of these isolated times is challenging, it is a good indication you should recalibrate in 2020.

Escape Your Local Echo Chamber. The great thing about the holidays is they bring people together. Unfortunately, that is also the downside. Conversations at parties often surround which students were and were not accepted in Early Action or Early Decision at certain colleges. Understandably, it is easy to leave wondering what that means for your own child or how unfair and confusing the admission experience can be.

Take time to look at the Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 lists of companies and their CEOs. Most come from schools that are not categorized as “highly selective.” Need more reassurance? Pick up and read a copy of Frank Bruni’s book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.

My earnest hope this holiday season is you will talk to fewer parents who have kids in high school and more who have kids in college. Ask them about their family’s experience. You’ll hear them say they wish they had not stressed as much. They will tell you about their daughter who was not admitted to her first choice school, ended up elsewhere, and is thriving now. They’ll talk about how their son did not receive the merit scholarship he had hoped for, selected another option from his choices, and now has an incredible internship and a girlfriend (who they actually like) that he never would have met otherwise.

Take A Break From Social Media.  I hope you will not post anything about your son’s or daughter’s college search online this holiday season. They call this an “admission process” and it should be just that. At this point, unless you have a kid who has gotten in ED to a school and is definitely going, you are only part of the way through. Hold off on putting things online about decisions, frustrations, deliberations, etc. This is not only healthy for you and your family’s relationships, but it also helps people in your community as well.

Unfortunately, social media is largely filled with terribly misinformed opinions, negative banter, catty comments, and frequently bold-faced lies. I’d encourage you not to read or engage in college admission dialogue online. Instead, take opportunities in-person to re-center the conversation with your friends, neighbors, or relatives.  If anything, my hope is you will use your platform to encourage, reassure, and provide healthy and desperately needed perspective when discussions go off the rails and fan the flames of anxiety.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

The college admission experience can seem incredibly complicated because it is filled with a myriad of dates and deadlines. It seems confusing because the press and marketed how-to guides provide incomplete and frequently inaccurate data. It seems consuming because friends and colleagues incessantly share “inside” information and anecdotes (or the alleged stories of relatives) on social media. It seems confounding because those same friends and colleagues have widely divergent experiences and opinions and are quick to share each time they see you at the school, store, or stadium. It seems complex because colleges and universities all have different processes, review different factors, and operate on different timelines.

Things seem this way because most people are solely focused on “getting in.” This holiday season I hope your family will instead ask big questions, protect your time, and escape your local echo chamber; and take a break from social media. In short, focus less on getting in and more on being and staying together as a family.

Happy Holidays!

A version of this blog originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution on December 11, 2019. See article here.

Remember The Important Things

What am I forgetting?

Sunday, December 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her: Sips coffee. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway…

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

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

Take the Pledge!

“I, (state your name), being of sound (though overly caffeinated) mind and (sleep-deprived) body, do hereby swear that I will not presume anything in the admission process. I acknowledge that I will not look at middle 50 percent ranges and expect that my scores, though in the top quartile, guarantee my admittance.

I will not look at middle 50 percent ranges of hitherto admitted classes and expect my scores, though in the bottom quartile, will be overlooked based on my amazing essay, parents’ connections, pictures of me in a onesie from that college, or the 12 letters of recommendation that have been sent on my behalf.

I understand the heretofore explicated concept of holistic admission is neither fair nor perfect, wherein I will likely not agree with, nor be capable of predicting all results, despite the complex algorithms I employ or the kingdom fortunetellers I visit.

Furthermore, I agree that I will not view an admission decision as an indictment of my character, a judgment on my hitherto demonstrated preparation, nor a prediction of my future success.”

I got deferred…

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

It means you have some work to do.

You need to send in your fall grades. You may need to write an additional essay or tell the admission committee more about your senior year extracurricular activities. Defer is a “hold on.” It is a “maybe.” Don’t like those characterizations? Fine—call it “tell us more.” They will be looking at how you’ve done in a challenging senior schedule, or if your upward grade trend will continue, or if you can juggle more responsibility outside the classroom with your course load. Bottom line is you have work to do. Are you going to get admitted in the next round? No promises. But if getting deferred is what helps keep you focused and motivated, you should look at their decision as a good thing. Finish well.

It means you may need to submit another application or two. 

If you’ve already got this covered, that’s great. You were ahead of Preparation Day. If not, then good news—many great schools have deadlines in January. The bottom line is you need applications in at a few schools with higher admit rates and lower academic profiles than the one that deferred you.

It means holistic review is a real thing.

If your scores and grades are above their profile and they defer you, they only proved what they said in their publications and presentations—admission is about more than numbers. At Georgia Tech we are knee-deep in application review. We have not released decisions, but day in and day out we are slating students for defer who have ACT scores of 35 or 36 and great grades. Is that “shocking?” It shouldn’t be. Institutional priorities, shaping a class, and supply and demand drive admission decisions. Similarly, if your scores are in the middle or below their profile, a defer also proves decisions are made using more than just numbers.

It means you need to check your ego and wait.

Does that sound harsh? Sorry—but sometimes, life is harsh. This is why you should take the pledge. If you are prepared for “no,” then a defer will not rock you as bad. Admission decisions feel personal. How could they not? Nobody loves spending a few more months in limbo. But this is not about you. This is about schools who are hedging their bets and wanting to evaluate you in context of their overall pool. Kind of sucks. I get it. But too many students do not send in fall grades, complete the deferred form, or send other information schools ask for because they’ve never heard of a “maybe” (perhaps the first they’ve ever heard). Think of the admission experience as your first foray into your college years and start looking at maybes as good things. If you liked a school enough to apply, finish the drill. Give them reasons to admit you in the next round. It is called an admission process. There are rounds for a reason. Don’t go halfway and stop.

It means you need to look forward, not backward.

Technically, defer does mean “to put off or delay,” but my hope is you’ll re-frame that as to look forward to something in the future. DO NOT look back! DO NOT second guess whether you should have taken AP Geography in the ninth grade instead of band, or blame Mr. Thompson for giving you an 89 instead of a 93 that would have bumped your GPA by .00083.

It means control what you can control.

People want so desperately to predict and analyze admission decisions that are influenced by macro institutional goals and made in rooms they will never enter. I hope you’ll focus more on the rooms you enter every day. Your classroom, living room, etc. Defer means stay focused on the micro. This is your one and only senior year.  Do well—but more importantly do good. Don’t worry about those rooms hundreds of miles away. Be a good friend. Be a good sibling. Be a good teammate. Go thank a teacher that wrote a recommendation for you. Hug your mama.

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