This week we welcome Senior Assistant Director of Special Scholarships Chelsea Scoffone to the blog. Welcome, Chelsea!
Earlier this month, I returned from a leadership Tech Trek with 10 incoming first-year students. We spent nine days in the back country learning how to navigate through the Bob Marshall Wilderness with 45 pounds on our backs and little-to-no outdoor experience (apart our trained guides).
Our group of 15 included four upperclassmen and me, serving as the lone staff member. We had students from as far away as Rhode Island and as close as Atlanta. They represented future architects, engineers, doctors, and policy makers. On the surface they seemed to have little in common. Throughout the trip they experienced struggles that ranged from taking the wrong trail to heat exhaustion. We experienced the thrill of summiting a mountain and the pain in our knees from descending 3,500 feet on the final day.
I watched the students begin to lift each other up when they were struggling to get up the mountain, share their food when another person had none readily accessible, and engage in dialogue on ideas where they diverged. It was extremely rewarding to observe their personal growth, and it gave me so much faith in the individuals who will be some of the change-makers on Tech’s campus over the next four years.
You may be wondering how this relates to the college and the admission process. Here are five things I learned from the Tech Trek excursion that you will undoubtedly experience during the college application process.
The journey matters far more than the destination.
Montana’s views were breathtaking. Many colleagues told me Montana was the best location among the several I had to choose from. However, I would trade Montana for Atlanta (or any other place) if I knew I got to keep the students on my trip. The students made the trip memorable, not Montana. When you’re going through the college admission process, it is easy to get caught up on the name brand certain universities carry and the preconceived notion that only certain schools can prepare you for success. I challenge you to forget about rankings and prestige (yes, even ours!) and instead focus on which university offers the experience that is a best fit for YOU. Your ability to be successful does not stem from the name of a university, but instead from taking advantage of opportunities and the investment you put into learning and growing during your collegiate career.
Your ability to accept help is crucial to your success.
During our backpacking adventure we hiked 30 miles just over three and a half days. The hike challenged us and required us to utilize our different strengths in order to complete the trek. I found it fascinating that most participants did not want to ask for help on day one, and instead tried to unsuccessfully perform tasks on their own. By day two, each of us were asking for help with setting up tents, cooking food, and even reaching a water bottle that was wedged in our pack. The group’s efficiency and success took a noticeable turn once they began to rely on each other for support.
From my experience working with students, one of the most difficult things for them to do is to ask for assistance from others. Asking for help requires vulnerability and for many seems like weakness. However, let me ask you this—how many college applications ask if you received help during your high school career? Or if you sought tutoring or counseling? To my knowledge, 0% of colleges and universities will ask if you sought help or support. So, what are you waiting for? Seek advice and support from others when you are struggling and remember some of the best leaders in the world are those who lean on others.
This is a marathon, not a sprint.
I vividly remember on our first day of the hike a group of the students nearly running because they were so excited to get to our first campsite. However, after lunch, the group took an obvious turn and seemed to have no energy left for the last three miles. We struggled a lot that day. At the debrief at the end of the day though, I was impressed to see the team reflect on why they were rushing to finish and recognizing that no matter how fast they moved, they were still going to be in the wilderness for three more days.
Their reflection reminded me of the admission process. Many of you will be tempted to rush through your applications so you can hurry and submit them. But then what? For most schools, the notification date is set, and you will still be left waiting for the results. I encourage you not to sprint through the application process. Slow your pace and take time on each part of the application. Stop to take in the view, enjoy it, ponder it, and eventually move on to the next section, much like you would during a hike. The process can be long and grueling. But if you take it one mile at a time you will find it to be more enjoyable and rewarding (and you won’t be exhausted at the end).
You are capable of more than you realize.
I watched 10 students push themselves outside their comfort zone and succeed in the wilderness. However, almost all of them were apprehensive and worried about their abilities to survive the backpacking experience. Some questioned their ability to do it once they saw the strength of their peers and worried they might be the weak link. Luckily, none of them chose to throw in the towel. Instead, they pushed themselves for nine days and found new strength and confidence when they finished the trip.
So, let me repeat the bold words above: YOU are capable of more than you realize! Senior year is difficult. You will likely have to choose between competing events and write 10 iterations of the same essay for your college applications. However, I want you to know you will get through this year and the investment you make with your college applications will pay off in the spring. You will be able to look back on the last nine months and see how strong and capable you are and will be able to channel those skills into whichever university you choose to attend.
Enjoy the process.
The biggest lesson I learned from the Tech Trek was to enjoy the process and not be so focused on the finish line. I enjoyed our 30-mile hike but there were times when I just wanted to finish and did not care about the scenery around me. Some of my most memorable moments on the trip were those that were unplanned, such as an unexpected break to swim in the lake, or summiting Holland Peak, which was not part of original route. Had I only focused on the outcome, I would not have built relationships with others or recognized the sheer beauty of the landscape.
Many of you are in the thick of college applications or supporting someone who is in the midst of applying to college. Some of the best moments that lie ahead are those you don’t expect. Celebrate each college acceptance. Talk to strangers during your campus visits. These are the experiences you will remember most. I know how easy it is to focus on the admission decisions, but I challenge you to use this exciting time in your life to ask current students on college campuses about their experience, put down a textbook for a few hours and catch up with a high school friend, and reflect on how far you have come. These are the moments you will want to remember as you begin college.
Chelsea Scoffone joined Georgia Tech in 2015 and works with the Office of Special Scholarships. In her current role, she manages the recruitment and selection process for the Stamps President’s and Gold Scholarships and assists with other programmatic responsibilities such as student mentorship, academic support, and student development initiatives. Her interest in merit scholarships has led her to her involvement on the Board of Directors for the Undergraduate Scholars Program Administrators Association where she currently serves as Vice President.
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