The Next Right Thing

Listen to “Episode 12: The Next Right Thing – Becky Tankersley” on Spreaker.

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

As the mom of two young girls, it isn’t shocking that over the last few weeks we’ve watched Frozen II in our house… A LOT. In full disclosure, I enjoy the movie (I will never be too old for Disney animated films and Pixar movies!), so watching it on repeat isn’t a burden. There’s a lot I love about the film, from the animation to the storytelling to the foreshadowing of what’s to come. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but I do need to give you a few details for the purpose of this post.

The future of the kingdom of Arendelle is uncertain and obscured, and early in the movie one of the characters tells Princess Anna, “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing.” This concept shows up repeatedly throughout the film, ultimately climaxing at a moment when all hope seems lost, and Anna is left alone to ask, “what now?” (in classic Disney heart-wrenching-song fashion, of course).

I’ve known for a few weeks now that I was scheduled to write the blog this week. As the primary editor of the blog, I have the privilege of being very familiar with our previous and upcoming content. Over the last two months, many voices have shared great wisdom for these trying times. As my week approached, I’ve wondered what I could possibly say that would be of any value to you, our readers. COVID-19 has made life uncertain for everyone, and I have a feeling hearing another voice say, “I don’t know” or “wait and see” isn’t helpful to anyone.

So instead of telling you any of those things, I’ll take a cue from Frozen II (and Kristen Bell) and encourage you to do the next right thing.

“But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make…”

If you’re a high school senior….

You’re wondering if you’ll have an actual in-person graduation ceremony. You’re waiting to learn whether or not you really will be moving out of your house and on to a campus in the fall. You left your school building weeks ago and “digital learning” and “remote delivery” have become your new normal (as has doing your work while your parents and siblings are on conference calls just down the table from you).

What is next? What will life look like in a few weeks, months? I don’t have an answer for that, or a crystal ball to look into the future.

But I do know you have an opportunity to do the next right thing. That will look different for each of you. Perhaps the next right thing is to spend part of your summer helping take care of your younger siblings (especially if their summer camps are cancelled). The next right thing may be helping your grandparents out around the house. The next right thing could be going grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor. The next right thing could be calling up a friend to ask how they’re doing. You can make an impact from exactly where you are right now.

If you’re a high school junior…

The way you thought your college applications would look has totally changed. Between cancelled ACT and SAT test dates, distance learning, changes in AP exams, and the cancellation of extracurricular activities, your application will not look the way you had planned. And guess what—we get it (see this blog for proof)!

You also have an opportunity to do the next right thing. This summer you can review the essay prompts for schools to which you’re considering and start drafting your essays. You can research financial aid and scholarship opportunities. You can take virtual tours of campuses, explore social media handles for student organizations, and sign up for webinars to learn about different colleges, their missions, and their application review process.

The next right thing for you involves using your time wisely. Your summer plans may be cancelled, postponed, or just… different. Regardless, you’ll likely have more down time on your hands than usual. Use that time to your benefit, and when the speed of life picks up again, you’re adequately prepared to step up and move forward.

If you’re a parent…

This one is a bit tougher to write. My oldest daughter is 8, so I won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be in your shoes and be the parent of a high school student. Maybe you’re nervous to send your child to college. Maybe you’re equally nervous to not send them to college, wondering what that could mean in the long term. Perhaps you’re concerned about your child’s lack of in-person social interaction and how it’s been replaced with virtual-everything.

Many of our families have been home, together, for a few weeks now. Some days are easier (or harder) than others. But as parents, as leaders of our families, we can also do the next right thing.

The next right thing could be creating intentional space to be together doing something other than looking at your computers. Take a hike, plan a picnic, plant and tend to a garden, schedule a movie night at home (yes, it’s a screen, but this one is okay!). Find something you can enjoy together, like watching all the Marvel movies in chronological order (what, that’s just me?).

Look for the little opportunities to enjoy time together in a different way. Have honest conversations about life, the world we live in, and how you too sometimes struggle to find and embrace the new normal. Honesty goes a long way.

Just do the next right thing

When we’re caught in the “what do I do now” situations of life, it’s easy, and natural, to become self-focused. Add quarantine and social distancing into the mix, and it becomes even easier. But I encourage each of you to do the next right thing in this moment. The answers we’re waiting for may not come for a few more weeks. No one knows what the “new normal” will look like–we can’t control it, and worry and anxiety won’t change it. But doing the next right thing is something we can control.

“Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing.”

Becky Tankersley has worked in higher education for more than a decade. 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 in television news. Her current role blends her skills in communication and college recruitment. 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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College Admission Brief Podcast

We started the GT Admission Blog in 2015. At the time, I had a regular Thursday afternoon “running meeting” with our former director of enrollment communications, Matt McLendon. We’d set off with a full agenda to cover, but inevitably somewhere along the Beltline I’d start rambling about a particular challenge or admission issue. One day (mid-run/ mid-rant), Matt gently suggested I “write this stuff down.” He asserted that families needed to hear more honesty and openness from admission deans and directors, and my random analogies and anecdotes may actually be a refreshing way to present subjects that often stir anxiety. (Is it likely he was just trying to enjoy the run and stay on task? Absolutely. Nevertheless, here we are.).

In the early days of the blog, I was the sole/soul author. And for the first month, it was basically just my wife, mom, and aunt reading (using several email accounts to up our subscriber number). Since that time, we’ve found ways to bring in a variety of different voices from our admission team, enrollment division, as well as campus partners. The goal remains to provide perspective, insight, and helpful tips in a relatable and accessible tone–and hopefully to also bring some levity and solace along the way.

At the time of this writing, we have over 3,550 subscribers. We know that parents and counselors regularly share our blogs in their communities and friend sets. Thank you! And while we occasionally hear from applicants who have read an entry or two, we understand high school students may not always be up for reading another 1,200-1,400 words in an already word-filled day/week of going class, studying, taking notes, etc.

Still, we know from questions in and after presentations, as well as from emails, calls, and online posts, students want to get perspective about college admission. They want to know how decisions are really made, what they mean (and don’t mean), and often simply need to be reminded that the people reading their apps are just that—people.

College Admission Brief Podcast

College Admission Brief Header

To that end we just launched a new podcast, The College Admission Brief. Just like our blog, we hope to personalize the admission process by sharing timely tips and encouraging advice from colleagues and campus partners. While we’ll sometimes use Georgia Tech as an example, the goal is to include general information, advice, and broadly applicable admission insight for students to use in their college admission experience.

A great example of why we launched this podcast is my obnoxiously long (2,160 words to be exact) blog from last week. If you read it, thank you. Grit is a valued trait and you have it in spades, my friend. (Plus you now have a sense of what Matt was dealing with on those runs). The actual title was “What’s Taking So Long?” and anyone who is honest would admit they asked themselves that precise question several times during the reading.

If you skimmed a few paragraphs and clicked back over to Instagram or scrolled down twice hard with your thumb only to realize you were only to the second picture, I understand why you bowed out. Seriously, I get it. Good news- our latest podcast episode with our Senior Associate Director, Mary Tipton Woolley, covers the same content in under 10 minutes. Bonus- you can listen while walking, driving, or waiting around for a practice or rehearsal to start. (Multitasking is a skill and we’re here for you.)

Listen to “How Are College Admission Applications Reviewed? Episode 3: Mary Tipton Woolley” on Spreaker.

We are still tweaking the audio and working out some behind the scenes kinks, so just like: the world; my laundry folding skills; the admission experience; or any one of us, it is not perfect. Still, we hope you’ll find these interviews and recordings encouraging, relatively light, shareable, and at times humorous. But if nothing else we guarantee this—they’ll be brief! Each episode is less than 10 minutes. How bad can it be? Download and listen on iTunes, Spotify, or Spreaker to check it out. Happy listening!

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Lice (and admission) Lessons

Three years ago, I wrote a blog about my family getting lice.

Here is how it went down.

Cue dream sequence…

My wife called to tell me some horrible news.

“Our daughter has lice.”

“Oh, crap.”

“No. Lice. She has to leave school.”

“Okay. Got it.”

Since my wife works at a hospital she can’t leave at a moment’s notice, so I started packing my bag and canceling meetings. Five minutes later, she called back.

“Our son also has it.”

“Oh, CRAP!”

“No. Lice.”

“Yeah, I’m on it.”

I put down my phone and started scratching my head. Power of suggestion, I suppose. 45 minutes later I picked the kids up from school and we immediately went to a local shop that specializes in debugging (my term, not theirs).

I had not seen the signs. I needed someone else to identify the situation, alert me to the problem, and ultimately deal with it for me.

Then, And Now

Not this time….

Fast forward to two weeks ago. I arrived home from a five-day trip well after midnight, slept on the couch, and awoke a few hours later to my son dropping a spoon on the tile floor in the kitchen (his coordination improves as the day goes on).

I stumbled over to start making coffee, gave him a hug, and asked, “How’s it going, bud?”

“Alright.”

“Had a good week?”

“Yep.”

Man itching over his current stressful situationThen I noticed it. In less than 90 seconds, he had already scratched his head twice. My Spidey senses (and frankly my own scalp) were tingling.

“Does your head itch?”

“Uh. Huh.”

“Has it been itching before today?”

“Yeah. Mom said it’s probably just dry scalp.”

Right at that moment my daughter came down the stairs. I’d always found her shuffling feet, wrinkled nightgown, and disheveled, tangled mess of hair to be endearing. I saw her rub her eyes, yawn, and then (seemingly in slow motion) move her hands to her hair to scratch the back of her head.

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

She looked hurt and confused. I did not care.

Meanwhile, my son had gone back to filling his bowl. I had to double take. Was that cereal previously regular shredded wheat? Because it definitely looked frosted now.

Not going to lie. I put on a toboggan hat (we were fresh out of shower caps and hair nets) and told them to get in the bathroom.

“But dad I’m hungry,” my daughter protested.

“Girl, right now you are the meal. Get in the bathroom.”

Still confused (and scratching) she followed my son down the hall.

I found a pencil and started examining. Unlike the last time when I needed the “lice lady” to tell me about their condition, this time I was positive within 30 seconds.

“Okay. I’m going to email your teachers and cancel my meetings today. We have to deal with this. And don’t sit on the couch, put on a hat, or move at all until I come back.”

I went upstairs, threw all of my clothes in the hamper, and took a shower. And yes, I may have cried just a bit.

Unlike the last time, I did not need anyone else to tell me about the problem. I knew what to look for and how to deal with it- right down to drying all towels, sheets, and blankets on high and bagging up the stuffed animal zoo my daughter has created in her bedroom. Moreover, even though I was confident they were infected, I knew I was lice-free. I had not had head-to-head contact with them recently due to travel, and I was able to do quick self-examination.

Paranoia, the power of suggestion, and the possibility of a problem

Just saying the word, “lice” causes most people to start itching. Inevitably they move back a little and wince, or shift in their chair and alternate twitching their shoulder blades, or simultaneously shake their head and crinkle their nose, while firmly closing their eyes and shaking their hands.

Let’s be honest. The college admission process is eerily similar. We hear stories about smart kids not getting into certain schools, or read articles about the growing competitiveness of a school that “used to be so easy to get into,” or see social media posts touting the newest rankings, admit rates, or ROI statistics—and we start to “crtich” (equal parts cringe and itch).

Are you infected?Analyzing a situation to discover the root problem

In our labs at Georgia Tech, we are currently working on an “anti-admission itch cream.” Since it is patent pending and not immediately available for over the counter sales, let’s conduct a quick online exam and virtual treatment procedure:

  • You are a senior who was recently deferred admission in EA/ED.

Bugs: You are thinking about “demonstrating interest” to help your chances of being admitted in the next round by writing a letter a day to the admission office, or calling/emailing every member of the admission team to plead your case and articulate your love of the school (happens every year), or sending flavored, scented, or sweetened gifts to the admission director (no way I’m opening, let alone eating, any of that), or popping in, tweeting at, or just showing up… YES! You are infected.

De-Bug:  Do what they have told you to do. Most likely that will just be sending in your fall grades, filling out a quick form, or writing a supplementary essay. Want to go one step (ONE- not 100) further? I get it. Send a quick email to the admission officer who reads/recruits your school/state letting them know you appreciate their time and continued review of your application. That’s it. Stop scratching. There are no bugs. You are good. Repeat: YOU.ARE.GOOD! 

  • You are a parent considering using an independent counselor or consultant to help your family navigate the college admission experience.

Bugs: Their sales pitch (and basically only “credential”) centers around their own kid getting into an Ivy League school two years ago. They are not an expert. YES. You need to be examined. Someone in your neighborhood, school community, or workplace has leaned over and created a bug bridge from their infected head to yours. And if anyone “guarantees” you admission to a college (especially those considered selective or highly selective) you should both check your head and the headlines. Googling Rick Singer.

De-Bug: If you already have a high quality, well-trained, deeply experienced counselor in your school, you most likely do not need additional assistance. However, if after examining your situation, i.e. penciling your head closely, you believe outside or more individualized assistance is critical, find someone who is a member of HECA, IECA, NACAC, or another reputable professional organization.

  • You are a junior who is unhappy with your initial standardized test scores.

Bugs: Life is over. I’m not going to college. No college will admit me. I’m not smart. If any of those thoughts have gone through your head, then YES, you are buggy. The itch is real, my friend.

De-Bug:  There are 4,000+ colleges in America. Most of them admit far more students than they deny.  SPOILER ALERT: If you are reading this blog, you are not only going to college, you are going to absolutely kill it when you do. That is a guarantee! So, don’t avoid human contact. Instead, start by checking out the more than 1,000 colleges in our country who do not require or consider test scores as part of their admission process. A full list is found at FairTest.org.

Talk to the admission reps from schools you are thinking about applying to, and ask them if they are splitting hairs (couldn’t help myself) over 80 points on an SAT or two points on an ACT. Then, after they give you their scripted answer, say, “Really though? Is that just what you say publicly, because I’m kind of itching here and I need you to level with me.”

Go see your school counselor and keep working to create an academically and financially balanced list. And before you decide to spend your incredibly valuable time in test prep courses or paying hundreds/ thousands of dollars to a company who is having company retreats in the islands, look into low- cost, free, or online sources like Khan Academy.

  • You are the parent of a student who was denied admission.

 Bugs: “That’s my alma mater and I’m writing them out of my will and never going to another football game on campus.”

“I’m going down there myself and demanding someone tell me exactly why my son was not admitted.”

“They did not take my daughter because the only kind of kid they admit now is (fill in the blank).”

 De- Bug: What your daughter or son needs most is for you to just listen and reassure them with your presence and perspective. Sometimes that may mean saying absolutely nothing for a little while and just being able to sit with them in the disappointment.

Ultimately, however, they’ll look to you for important reminders: you love them, you are proud of them, and you’re there for them and with them every step of the way. They need you to remind them that they are the same talented, cool, interesting, and bound-for-a-great-future kid they were before submitting that application.

Reassure them that admit letters are coming (or have already arrived). And give them even better news– they’re going to end up on a campus filled with other talented, cool, interesting, and bound-for-a-great-future kids as well.

Enjoy these precious final months of their senior year. They go far too fast to spend them itching, scratching, and infecting others. You’ve got this!

Diagnosis

I understand you may feel a little unsettled at times. The admission experience can do that. Whether you are a parent or a student, you are going to see some serious “critching” around you, especially at this time of year.

Remember, others “condition” does not mean you have a problem. Stay calm. Get the facts. Don’t gossip, speculate, or presume. Talk to the experts. And for the love of all things holy, don’t go down internet or social media rabbit holes about this stuff. That’s the exact type of head-to-head contact you need to avoid!

Feel free to go upstairs, throw your clothes in the hamper, and take a shower. But there is no need to cry.  Now that you’ve read this blog, I’m officially declaring you “bug free.” You have my anti-itch guarantee on that.

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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

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. Visual display of families discussing financial aid

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.”

First day of school and first day of college cartoon

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 Celebrations and congratulations

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. Remember to stay grateful while applying to college

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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