Each year, right before we release admission decisions, I speak with our tour guides. I love talking to this group because they are smart, excited, and always have really good snacks (shout out to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels). They amaze me because they voluntarily give up valuable hours each week to walk families across campus (often in the blazing sun or pouring rain or right after two exams and a bad break-up) and share all of the incredible opportunities available both inside and outside the classroom.
They love Tech. They believe in this place. They have drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid. At their Monday night meeting I asked them a few questions:
Q: Was Tech your first choice when you applied to colleges?
A: 62% responded NO.
Q: How many of you are happy here now and are thankful for the way it has worked out?
A: All but two responded YES, which I thought was pretty good. (Plus “here” and “it” were vague… they may have been thinking about that particular meeting and whether or not they got the right ratio of pretzel dogs: pretzel nuggets).
Q: How many of you think if you were at another college you would have no chance for success or happiness in the short or long-term?
A: Only one of the 71 said they would have no chance of happiness or success elsewhere. Now you could call this contrarian, but I call it “ALL IN!” Give that kid the TGOTY (Tour Guide of Year) Award.
If you are a senior…
Whether you are waiting on an admission decision or trying to choose from your college options in the weeks ahead, I hope you will find comfort and confidence in these responses. The take home message is #ItWorksOut. Since lot of selective colleges will put decisions out in the weeks ahead, I don’t want you to lose sight of this fact.
Over the years I’ve written extensively about my own personal “re-routes,” as well as the experiences of students, family, and friends in hopes of providing solace when something you hope for doesn’t go as planned. Some of these include:
- It’s Not You It’s Me. Junior year in high school, dumped by my girlfriend. (2.0 of that same story is in 2018’s Handling That Moment)
- Lessons and Hopes for High School Seniors. Happened this past fall, wasn’t elected to the board of my national organization.
- I Have a Brother. Multiple instances of not making a team, being selected, getting a job, getting into his first-choice college, and more.
- The Other Side. Stories of current college students who did not end up where they expected.
Again, the resounding commonality in all of these stories: #ItWorksOut.
While perspective always comes with time, it is accelerated by hearing the stories of others. I recently started reading Paul Tough’s book, The Years That Matter Most. I highly recommend it (it’s unquestionably the second best book about college admission to come out within the past year). In chapter one he tells the story of Shannen, a senior from New York City, who is denied admission to her top choice. She’s crushed. She’s inconsolable. A few days later she receives admission to two other great schools (with better climates) who both offer excellent financial packages. Ultimately, she has achieved the real goal of the college admission experience: not just a single offer from a particular college, but multiple offers from different schools. She has options.
These stories are all around you, but you have to be intentional about being still and quiet and really listening. When you do, you’ll hear about the job someone did not get, the house purchase that fell through, the relationship that did not work out, or the deal that didn’t happen.
A Few Noteworthy Examples
Beyonce. Before she figured out that one name/one person was adequate, she was in a group called Girl’s Tyme (there’s a reason you’ve never heard of it).
Harrison Ford, and Henry Ford (only related by their similarly circuitous paths to fame and success).
Stephon Curry. From not being recruited by major college basketball programs to becoming, well… Steph Curry.
Albert Einstein. Failed his Swiss entrance exam, barely graduated from college, sold insurance door to door. So many great Einstein quotes to choose from. Perhaps the most apropos in this situation is, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
When things don’t go the way we hope, our tendency is to withdraw from others or go into our shell or gravitate toward people who are equally upset and in the exact same situation (see ad nauseam Reddit threads). Ironically, it’s in these precise moments we need to do the opposite—open up, listen to really hear, and seek perspective from people two, five, or 25 years older.
- You are not alone. EVERYONE. EVERY. ONE. has stories of re-routes and disappointments. If someone cannot share at least one anecdote like this, do not trust them because THEY. ARE. LYING. Need more evidence? Go look at the admit rate of some of the schools you’ve applied to. Now flip that percentage (deny rate) and multiply it with the total number of applications received. That is a big number. That number is a lot higher than one, right? I know, I know. You come here for the math.
- Re-routes and the things we do not get teach valuable lessons. Whether you are denied admission or you get in but ultimately don’t receive the financial aid package necessary for you to attend your top choice college, you will grow. My hope is you’ll be able to see these situations as opportunities rather than as disappointments. Use them as motivation. Anyone who is truly content, successful, and happy will not describe their life and journey as a predictable point-to-point path. Instead they’ll discuss bumps, turns, and moments of uncertainty along the way.
- The real decision belongs to you. The common thread between the answers of our tour guides and the famous people listed above is that ultimately, we all need to choose how we handle re-directions, decide where our identity comes from, and determine how we are going to move forward.
To Parents, Counselors, and Teachers
March and April are critical times to give examples of how people students know, respect, and trust have weathered disappointments and emerged thankful on the other side.
So I have three favors to ask:
- Make a concerted effort in the weeks ahead to share your personal stories with the students around you. Extra Credit: join the movement by sharing your experience on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) Need some guidelines? Tell us:
- What happened and when?
- How did things ultimately work out?
- Link to the blog, @gtadmission and #ItWorksOut.
- Talk to the parents of college students or recent college graduates about how things worked out for their kids. You’ll hear them tell encouraging stories of how #ItWorksOut. Maybe not the way they thought or scripted, but inevitably their anecdotes will be filled with examples of what we all hope for our kids: friends, happiness, and opportunities.
- Keep lifting up the students around you. They will need an appropriate amount of time and space to express their frustration or sit in the disappointment. Totally natural, normal, and necessary. But if you sense they are bumping up against the “wallow” line, use it as an opportunity to help them hone and develop a critical life skill– the ability to look down on a situation from 30,000 feet. It’s only from that vantage point we are able to absorb and handle disappointment, but also make big life decisions.
I’m not saying any of this is easy. But I am saying with absolute confidence #ItWorksOut. I’m excited to hear the stories of how it has (and will) in your life!
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