The Welcome Manual, Step 3: “Holy Cats! Keep Singing!”

Songs at Bedtime 

I have two kids, ages 8 and 5. They’re hilarious, quirky, and a ton of fun– but they also have boundless energy. Which means at night you don’t just tuck ’em in and walk out; otherwise, in the morning, you’ll find a fort made of disassembled furniture held together by Play Doh, or perhaps a barricade of clothes by the door and a naked kid sleeping in the closet.

When it comes to bedtime, my wife and I alternate between the kids each night, which makes it tough sometimes to know what happened in a book (missing two chapters every other night means lots of assumptions about how characters ended up on magical islands or colluding with a neighbor that had previously been a rival).

My tactic is read for 20 minutes or so, and then check to see if I hear snoring. If yes, creep out ever so quietly and endure the pain silently if I step on an errant Lego. If no (which is 90% of the time), pray with them. Sometimes that puts them to sleep (less characters and plot). If they’re still awake, sing. Now let me say that I’m a horrendous singer– so out of key and tune that I sit in the front row at church so nobody can hear me. I’m sure my pastor thinks I want a good seat for his sermon or quick access to the freshest communion bread– nope. At best it’s an act of mercy and love for fellow congregation members. At worst, it’s my own pride and shame.

But for some reason, my kids seem to like my singing. I’ve attempted everything from the Beatles to Beyonce, Al Jarreau to Alvin and The Chipmunks. One of their favorites– and one of the first I sang to them as babies, is Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” Simple tune, easy lyrics, and a great message:

3 birds

Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright
Rise up this mornin’
Smiled with the risin’ sun
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true
Saying’, (this is my message to you)

And then I throw their name in (partly to personalize, partly to see if they’re still awake) “Oh Lizzy, don’t worry about a thing… cause every little thing gonna be all right.”

This is My Message to YOU

Do you have an older sibling, a friend from the neighborhood, or a teammate that’s heading off to college in the year ahead? Ask them where they were a year ago in their thought process for college selection. Or even ask about a few months ago in March/April. Many did not get into their first choice school and are now excitedly heading somewhere else. A year ago, some of them had one place in mind and that changed radically as the year went forward, due to major of interest, realizations of weather patterns, or bad break ups.

And you’ll hear this exact thing from college freshman when they return for Thanksgiving or Spring Break. They are glad it worked out the way it did. “I did not get into X or could not pay for Y, so I came here…. and I’m so glad.” I was on a panel recently and a mom in the audience said indignantly to an admissions dean of an Ivy League school, “When you’re denying over 90% of students, how can you sleep at night?!” His response was honest and perfect: “If we were the only school out there, I couldn’t.” So true.

The landscape of American higher education is vast. Forty-five percent of degree seeking undergraduates right now are at community colleges. Most of our 4,500 colleges and universities admit far more students than they deny. Forty percent of four-year students graduate with no debt, and of the 60% who take out loans, the average debt is under $30,000. There is a good academic, social and financial fit for every college applicant. Your job is to ensure that your list of schools is diverse and that you’ve really considered why you’re going and how you’ll pay for it. You will end up happy and at a great place next year– even if that’s not the place you have top of mind right now.

The bottom line: kids are like cats (all due respect to both parties in this analogy)– they always land on their feet. And you will too. Right now, and at points in the admission process, it can feel like an unsettling free fall. Read too much in the press, or get too wrapped up in the highest tier of selectivity, or fail to examine numbers like the “trillion dollar student debt in our nation” and you can believe that you can’t get in or won’t be able to afford to go. And that is patently false.

Case In Point

I distinctly remember meeting with a family a few years ago after our admission decisions were released. We had denied this young man and his folks were beyond angry. They were a multi-generation Georgia Tech family, consistent donors, season ticket holders– the whole nine-yards. We talked through admit rates, selectivity, competition, and our inability to admit many amazing students despite their academic qualifications due to space and faculty:student ratios.

catsNow I’d love to tell you that I was so compelling and charming that they left enlightened and wrote a bigger check to Tech. Not the case. They did not care about how Tech’s reputation, and their degree, is benefiting from growing selectivity. They wanted their kid in. I get it. We’ve talked about this. People love their kids. And we want what we want, right? They left as mad and frustrated as they entered. And I was left with less tissues and some choice new word combinations that had never been directed toward me before.

Fast forward a few years. I am at an admitted student event and meet their daughter who is a senior in high school. She’s been accepted to Tech. She’s thrilled and her mom is too! After some brief discussion about dorms and major I asked, “So how is your brother doing?” “He’s great,” she said. “He’s a junior at X college and majoring in business. This summer he was home doing a really cool internship with Coke. Looks like he’ll graduate with honors next year.” Sure, a lot of things could have been going through my head right then. Thoughts like “Good for him” or “Glad we don’t have to have another denied student meeting” or “Hope they did not really get rid of their season tickets because we need every fan we can get” but instead my only thought was… “Cats!”

Every Little Thing…

So whether you are a parent or a student (or perhaps even a counselor or teacher about to head back to school for another year) we all need to hear this: (insert name here) don’t worry about a thing…’cause every little thing gonna be all right.

Addition: I’m adding this in a few weeks late because I just came across a great testimony of exactly what I’m talking about. You don’t have to listen to the entire thing but atleast check out from the 5 minute mark to about 6:45. Here you go.

Author: Rick Clark

Rick Clark is the Executive Director of Strategic Student Access at Georgia Tech. He has served on a number of national advisory and governing boards at the state, regional, and national level. Rick travels annually to U.S. embassies through the Department of State to discuss the admission process and landscape of higher education. He is the co-author of the book The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together, and a companion workbook published under the same title. A native of Atlanta, he earned a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a M.Ed. from Georgia State University. Prior to coming to Tech, Rick was on the admissions staff at Georgia State, The McCallie School and Wake Forest University. @clark2college