If you’ve been reading much surrounding the world of college admission this year, you’ve heard about the report out of Harvard called Turning the Tide. In this report, there is a call for colleges to attempt to minimize the stress in the process by not putting as much emphasis on test scores, redefining achievement and promoting meaningful contributions to the public good, rather than perpetuating the resume padding and gamesmanship that draws such angst and frustration. I am a signee on this report, so I’m not contesting or detracting from its noble intentions or merits. However, I also firmly believe that as long as American universities have single digit admit rates, there will always be frenzy that cannot be solved by asking different essay questions or telling students not to spend thousands of dollars to go on a mission trip. We can “turn the tide” slightly. Colleges can make efforts, many of which are outlined in the report, so that after riding the proverbial waves of the admission cycle you can still see your umbrella and beach blanket, but we’re not talking about bringing six feet waves down to a still pool by any means. The only place that can happen is at home.
Let me tell you a story. A few weeks ago, I was walking across campus and bumped into Derrick Moore. “D. Mo” as he’s known on campus is the chaplain to our football team, a former NFL player, and one of the most passionate, inspirational, gracious people you will ever meet. If you’ve not seen one of his pre-game speeches on YouTube, you have unknowingly been leading an incomplete life. His messages typically surround the concept of being “all in” and fully committed to the team, believing in yourself, and family. When you hear these, you know he believes them with every fiber of his being.
And what I’ve come to appreciate about Derrick is he lives these messages every day at home with his wife and daughters. Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of watching him navigate the admission process twice now with his girls. His older is in college and another is a high school senior.
On the day we saw each other recently, he said it was ironic because that night his daughter would be finding out if she’d been admitted to her top choice school. He told me she’d been deferred in EA and had been understandably dismayed, but thankfully he explained, she also had a few other acceptances to some great universities. I asked him how he was doing and how she was feeling about everything.
He kind of shook his head and looked down, shuffled his feet a little and said, “Man, Rick. I’m nervous. I’m really nervous. She really wants to get into this school. It’s her first choice, and we are really hoping it’s going to work out.”
Then he looked up and said with striking confidence and conviction, “But here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going down to practice now to be with the team. Then I’ll leave a little early and stop by the store. I’m picking up some of my favorite ice cream and some of hers. Then we’ll sit down around our table, open up her laptop, and check her admission decision as a family. And I’ll tell you what– if she gets in, we’re going high five, hug, dig into that ice cream and enjoy every spoonful. But if she doesn’t get admitted, there are going to be some tears. Some tears from her and some from me and my wife too because we just love her so much. Then we’re going to eat our ice cream, give each other some big hugs, and then cry a little more. But tomorrow morning we’ll get up and we’ll get really excited about her going to X College, because it’s a great school and she loved her visit there.”
Behold the power of ice cream. It’s like the duct tape of foods. It repairs, it reinforces, it supports, it covers up, and it endures. Big break up– ice cream. Stressed about an exam– ice cream. Pregnant (not in high school. This is an illustration of ice cream’s longevity as a cure all) — ice cream. Celebrating a raise or a new house or a retirement— ice cream is the answer! In fact, when people tell me they don’t believe in God, I lean not on theology but rather on– ice cream. They quickly point to our current political climate to refute the existence of a higher loving deity. I pause, eat ice cream, and renew my faith. And frankly, in that moment with D. Mo, I also realized it’s also the way to best navigate the admission process. From searching for a college to applying to dealing with admission decisions to ultimately choosing a college– ice cream. Because ultimately it’s just love in a frozen state.
Do colleges have a responsibility to attempt to de-stress the process, to be more transparent, to think deeply about how to make applying to school more simple? Yes, of course. But the way students will feel good about their options at the point of application; the way they’ll process and deal with denials and admits with a healthy perspective; and the way they’ll best make a final decision does not hinge on semantics in an application or on a college’s website, but rather on a family sitting together around their kitchen table with spoons enjoying the same tub of ice cream. Unified, confident, committed to support and excitement, regardless of the outcome. That doesn’t turn the tide, it eradicates it altogether.
May 1 is nearly upon us. I’m sure there are still a lot of you who are coming down to the wire on deciding the best school for you and your family. What makes financial sense? Where will I thrive, grow, enjoy, be challenged and succeed? Before you make that decision, I point you to ice cream. When you grab your spoon remember this– you are not walking on a tight rope. This choice is like strolling on a very wide, smooth promenade. At the end of the day, the decision you make on where to go to college is not going to determine the rest of your life, contrary to what someone has inevitably told you or what the press will often purport. Instead, it will be the decisions you make in college: the grades you make, the internships you pursue, the network of friends, professors, advisors you create. Those will dictate your trajectory, your success, and your options, and ultimately your contentment in college and life beyond.
Whether you are a parent or a student reading this, it’s time to commit. It’s time to be all in. It’s time for family. And that means it’s time for ice cream! So donate or burn the other schools’ t-shirts, recycle all the literature colleges have sent you, go grab a few spoons and crack open a tub of your favorite ice cream with your family this week—and notice how smooth the waters are around you.