Be A Good Partner

Last week my wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary, so the parallels between love and admission have been on my mind lately.  

Do I acknowledge some portion of readers will be bewildered by the first part of the last sentence? I do (What can I say? I married a patient woman). 

Do I appreciate another portion of readers will be moderately disconcerted by the latter part of that last sentence? I do (What can I say? I’m a romantic).  

Do I understand the ring on my finger is older than the final portion of readers? I do (What can I say? Oh… I’ll tell you. There should absolutely be an award or club at the 20-year mark for people still wearing their original wedding band).  

Anyway, we had a great trip, good weather, amazing food, and precious time together to look back– and forward.  

When I really think about where I have succeeded and fallen short over the last two decades, and when I consider what I want to focus on in the years ahead, it is extremely simple- BE A GOOD PARTNER. Easy to say, but often challenging to live (and love) out.

After watching the admission cycle repeat itself for those same twenty years, and speaking with hundreds (thousands?) of families during that time period, BE A GOOD PARTNER is also my hope for parents/supporting adults of high school juniors who are looking toward their admission experience in the year ahead. 

BE A GOOD PARTNER 

  1. Stay Curious. While Hollywood may portray relationships as full of passionate professions or grandiose statements, real love is often most sincerely expressed through asking questions. As your family receives mail from schools, visits colleges, or as your student talks about particular universities, one of the ways you can best engage, support, and partner is by persistently seeking to understand.

The families I’ve seen most enjoy their experience- and those who have grown closer not further apart through college search and selection- are those who let go of thinking they need to have all the answers, control the process, or attempt to steer things in a particular direction. Instead, they embrace this as an opportunity for discovery and exploration—and a journey together. Be vigilant about asking questions and really listening to answers.  

Will all of their responses satisfy you in the moment? No. Just like any marriage or other partnership/relationship in your life, you should expect gaps, delays, awkward silences, or even incoherent/illogical/indecipherable utterances.  

Easy? Definitely not. You know from experience this will demand energy, persistence, tenacity, and patience. But you also know unity, growth, and ultimately understanding is realized through a fierce commitment to learning- and learning comes from staying curious. 

2. Money matters. April is money month in college admission. No, it’s not “Hallmark official,” so nobody is celebrating with cards, .gifs, or hashtags, but since financial packages are on the table and deposits are due at many schools in early May, families of seniors are currently weighing options, comparing scholarship offers, and considering return on investment between various colleges.

Let me say from both recent and annual experience: April of the senior year is not the time to have this conversation for the first time!! (Yes, that warranted two exclamation marks).  

Being a good partner means opening the books and talking honestly and openly with your student about paying for college BEFORE they ever apply. Communicating clearly and transparently about how much you can pay, will pay, or are able to pay in the context of your other goals, pressures, and priorities is essential. Some of the most awkward and painful family dynamics I’ve witnessed (and gently excused myself from), have come when parents/supporting adults have not been clear about their financial limits and rationale, until after a student has been admitted/bought the hoodie/posted on social media that they are in and think they are all set to attend to their “top choice.”  

My hope is you will understand it’s not only ok, but absolutely critical to establish conditions or limitations, and expectations about finances. Setting these ranges with clear explanations provides clarity– and as you well know as a parent, love often necessitates setting boundaries. More on all of that here.    

  1. Celebrate. Look for opportunities and creative/unique ways to celebrate your student in the months and year ahead. First college visit, first application submission, and every acceptance!

The world spins too fast. It takes intention, discipline (and yes, love) to be a good partner. So hit pause and be consistent about lifting up the successes, milestones, and opportunities your family will experience.  

You know your student the best, so consider how they most feel appreciated, supported, and seen, and lean into their love language. If you create a pattern of celebration, they will be confident that your pride in them is not about an outcome, but rather engagement, effort, and shared experiences.    

  1. Schedule and Protect Time. We all live busy lives filled with obligations and distractions. And all of us have seen in other relationships that if we are not intentional about how we invest our time, the tyranny of the urgent takes over, important conversations are rushed or severely delayed, and we lose sight of priorities.

As a result, too often parents/supporting adults unconsciously default to broaching college at unexpected and inconvenient moments (car rides, breakfast, on their way up the stairs) that lead to students shutting down or seeming/being unconcerned, annoyed, or frustrated.  

College should be a conversation. And like any meaningful and healthy conversation, it is best when it’s intentionally scheduled, and everyone is prepared and focused. I’m encouraging you to protect, prioritize, and facilitate this by setting aside time each week to discuss college, including details, deadlines, choices, etc. Perhaps that is an hour each Sunday or the one night each week nobody has practice or another obligation. This is your time to plan, evaluate, research, or weight options and decisions.  

Outside of that time, my hope is you will not let college talk dominate or dilute your time, conversations, and bigger relationship. More on all of this here.   

  1. CHECK your ego.  If you are married, have been married, or are in any kind of lifelong partnership/committed relationship, I am guessing I really don’t need to keep writing. We all know how critical this is, as well as the damage that can be done when we are unwilling to adjust, shift position, compromise, listen, and—in the case of college admission- remember who is actually going to college.

As adults we have hopes/dreams and desires for our children. That’s natural, and in fact a manifestation of love. But being a good partner means consistently checking in on our motivations, ensuring our words and actions are sincere and earnest, and keeping perspective. Too often adults fool themselves into thinking where their student goes to college reflects on their parenting acumen. The truth is how they go, and the condition of your relationship when they go, is the real indicator of success.  

Here’s to you 

The morning after our anniversary, we woke up and toasted (coffee) to the next twenty years. Inevitably, we’ll continue to make plenty of mistakes in our relationship, but we are committed to continuing to learn, work, grow, and love each other uniquely. The fact that you read this and considering how you can be a good partner in the college admission experience is a gift.  So, cheers! Thanks for being committed not to perfection but to progress. Thanks for being a good partner!   

5 Years of Advice for Seniors Making A Final College Decision

If you are a senior admitted to multiple colleges and trying to make a final choice, this blog’s for you!  

I totally get this decision may feel overwhelming. Nothing I can say is going to eradicate that emotion or provide you with complete clarity. So why read on? Because in times of uncertainty it’s helpful to seek collective wisdom and perspective. But if you read only one more sentence, remember this: a life well-lived, a “successful” life, and frankly a life of freedom and joy, is typically one filled with choices and options. You’ve earned the right to make this decision. Celebrate that!  

Listen, I know you are busy. You’ve got lots going on outside the classroom at the end of the school year, you’re likely getting ready to take AP/IB/Dual Enrollment exams, and there’s inevitably other tasks or obligations in your life that make reading a blog just one more thing. So… I’m going to keep this brief and not attempt to recreate the wheel.  

Instead, I did the heavy lifting by going back over the last few years to synthesize advice, tips, and other resources on how you can make this decision… and do so with solace and confidence. So, my friends, with no further ado, here’s the way back machine on final college selection (cue the psychedelic music and wavy, colorful lines on a screen). 

 2021 

Going a bit meta here as this one is sort of a best of within the best of. Further demonstration that I don’t have all the answers (far, far from it), but I try to learn from those around me who have more insight and experience. This one features a who’s who including Nicole Hurd, Tevera Stith, Adam Grant, Jeff Selingo, my friend and co-author Brennan Barnard, and the imitable Angel Perez.  

Key Quote: Nope. Impossible. Too many pearls of wisdom. Read the entire piece.  

2020 

Who doesn’t love a Top 10 list? Our Associate Director, Andrew Cohen wrote a real gem here on ways to make a final decision without physically visiting or re-visiting a college. While this came out at the very beginning of the Covid pandemic, his advice is just as relevant now since most students don’t have the time or resources to revisit all of their college options.  

Key Quote:At the end of the day, whether you visit a campus or not, you need to trust your gut. You can read websites, watch webinars, and scroll social media, but at the end of day you will have a feeling and need to trust yourself. You know yourself best! You will have that “aha moment,” at some point this year.”  

2019 

Be honest- when you see the numbers 2.0.1.9., there is that brief thought of, “MAN. That seems like a lifetime ago.” Well, friends, this one starts with a scene out of Hitch featuring Will Smith, so it’s not just you….  

Key Quote: “Options and choices can feel overwhelming, but don’t forget that THIS WAS THE GOAL! This decision is not a burden—it is a privilege. It is a blessing. THIS is why you visited schools, researched colleges, and applied to more than just one place. THIS is why you took tough classes, studied, worked hard, and sat through multi-hour standardized tests—to have choices, to have options. You are EXACTLY where you wanted to be! You did this to yourself—and that is a great thing!” 

Bonus: This one includes a 2 hour + playlist of songs our staff recommended to play as you are deliberating. It’s free and pretty diverse in genre. So, whether you need to go for a long walk or lay on your bed and contemplate your options, we’ve got your theme music covered.   

2018  

Yes. I wrote this one from a cemetery in Argentina, but don’t be dissuaded, it’s far more optimistic and lighter than the setting may connote. Note: I acknowledge there are multiple antiquated references to Facebook, but otherwise plenty of relevant advice on making a decision, including advice for students on waitlists.  

Key Quote: “This is the first of many times you’ll experience these types of choices with relationships, jobs, grad school, moving to a new city or state or country. The truth—there is no right answer. The school you pick is going to be great because your job, starting today and going through this summer, is to fully commit.” 

2017 

Apparently, we figured that class had it covered as it appears we did not write a blog on final selection tips this year.  

2016 

It’s about football and ice cream. If you like either of these, you’ll enjoy this one. If you don’t like either…, who are you?  

Key Quote: Pretty sure we nailed it with the title “Ice Cream is the Answer!” So go grab a pint or gallon and a few spoons and figure this thing out, people.  

Honorable Mention: 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.” 

Five years, friends. Hopefully, you’ll find a few helpful takeaways. If not, I’m going to suggest a coin flip, a dartboard, or letting your little sister pick for you. There you have it…everything AND the kitchen sink.

Good luck. You got this!

Visiting Campus? The Four Questions for Admitted Students

This week we are joined by our Associate Director of Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen. Welcome, Andrew!

It has been a while, but it is good to be back on the blog, especially during one of my favorite times of the year.  April is a busy month for all admission professionals, but especially for those responsible for campus visit programming.  Between high school juniors starting to tour campuses to admitted students hunkering down to make their college enrollment decision, institutions are busy welcoming students and families to their campuses.  Here at Georgia Tech, it is not unusual for us to see 400 visitors each day throughout the month of April! 

My cousin, brother and me cooking matzah balls with Bubbie Cohen.

But it is not just these busy weeks of spring break visits and admitted student events that I look forward to each year, it is also my favorite Jewish holiday that always falls right in the middle of all of this craziness.  The Jewish holiday of Passover is celebrated each spring to commemorate and retell the story of the exodus from Ancient Egypt.  Each year, Jewish families all over the world gather together for a seder to retell the story.  For me, Passover is a time filled with family traditions and memories, like making matzah balls with my Bubbie (Yiddish for grandmother), utilizing various family heirlooms on the seder table that have been used for decades and always some subpar singing from my father.  We even use the same Haggadah (book or guide used during the Passover seder), that has been used by my family for more than 30 years.  My father still uses my grandfather’s Haggadah with all his notes from when he led our seders until his passing.   

One of the parts of a traditional Passover seder is known as the Four Questions.  Early on in the seder, the youngest family member recites a series of four questions to help fulfil the obligations of retelling the story of Passover and to help children at the seder better understand the significance of the holiday.  Although I am in my thirties, I am still the youngest at the Cohen Family Seder, so I continue to hold the responsibility of reciting these four questions (really hoping for a nephew or niece to eventually take this one over!).  The Four Questions all center around the idea of “Why is this night different from all other nights?”  As we go through each question, we are reminded of the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the traditions of Passover that are still practiced today.   

Cohen Family Seder from 1948. The same wine decanter, plates and kiddush cups are all still seen on the Cohen Family Seder table today.

Like the Passover seder, visiting campus should be an engaging, interactive experience. It’s an opportunity for you to pause, reflect, and and ask important questions to help you make or confirm your final college choice. Here are ways to frame your questions and prepare ahead of time to maximize your visit.  

 1. Academic Interests and Options

Make an effort to meet with experts beyond admission counselors and tour guides. Inquire in advance to see if you might be able speak with faculty members, academic advisors, or students within a particular major.  This is your chance to understand specific courses, various research projects, or other academically-related opportunities. Prospective students frequently ask general questions about majors and academic programs such as “do you have a psychology major?” or “tell me about your engineering program?”  As an admitted student, your goal is to understand details about the academic area you are considering, and how you can tailor your studies toward your interests.  “How can I be a computer science major but also be a pre-med student?” or “I am interested in fintech. What kind of classes would I be able to take in this area?”  Remember,  your goal is to glean insight and details to gain an understanding of what your experience will really look like on these  campuses.    

If the standard tour does not go to the buildings, or area of campus, where you will be spending a lot of your time, go there on your own. Even if you do not speak with someone, go into the different facilities, read the posters on the walls, and listen to what students are talking about in the hallways.  This is about understanding possibilities and culture.     

2. Community  

Students and families always have questions about living on campus and want to see specific residential halls.  Unfortunately, that is not always possible, due to the safety and privacy of students.  You’ll find most institutions have alternatives to allow you to better understand the on-campus living experience.  At Georgia Tech, we are unable to show visitors a residential hall, but our Office of Housing and Residence Life, have 360 photos of every single option… much more than what you would be able to ever see on a campus tour.   

As an admitted student, your goal is to understand some of the unique residential opportunities available. For example, many institutions offer the option to live in theme-based housing which connects programming and classes.  Talk to your tour guide and other current students about the pros and cons about these types of experiences.   

3. Culture 

For admitted students, this is your chance to get an inside look at what it is really like to be a member of the institution’s community.  As an admitted student, don’t rush on and off campus. Build in time to explore parts of campus not shown on tour, talk to current students, attend an event, or just sit on campus and watch and listen. 

Keep in mind you are visiting campus one day out of the year, so your experience is not going to be a fully accurate representation of the campus culture.  For instance there might not be many events happening if you are on campus the Friday before spring break or during final exams. This is where social media accounts can really help you learn more about things that happen throughout the year.  My colleague, Sammy, shared some great tips in a TikTok video on how to use social media effectively in your college search or decision-making process.  We all spend time scrolling on our social media, but this is a really great way to make that time productive!  

4. Stories not statistics  

Statistics can be helpful in helping you make a final decision, but you can ask Google for those. Use your time on campus to ask for stories and anecdotes about graduates or graduating seniors.  As an admission staff member who works with our campus tour guides, I love to brag about them (just like their parents and family members).  Yes, I can tell you a graduation rate, but talk to people like me on campus and they’ll inevitably tell you about a student deciding between multiple job offers across the country in their area of study, or connect you with a tour guide who interned over the summer and worked on a project that was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And ask tour guides for their stories too! It might be their own personal experience finding an internship or maybe their friends.  By reframing these questions, you will gain much better insight to the all-important topic of return on investment. 

As we head toward May 1 and you visit schools to make your final choice, I hope you will refine and reframe your questions so you can utilize your time on campus. Ultimately, this will help you gain the insight and confidence you need to make this important decision.   

I wish you the best of luck. Enjoy the remainder of high school– and an early congratulations on graduation.   

And for those readers, who celebrate Passover, Chag Sameach.   

Andrew Cohen joined Georgia Tech in 2018 and currently oversees the guest experience for all Undergraduate Admission visitors. His love for providing visitors with informative, authentic, and personal experiences started as a student tour guide at his alma mater, Ithaca College. Andrew’s passion for the visit experience has led him to his involvement in the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association, where he currently services as the Treasurer on their executive board.