To Answer or Not To Answer the College Admission Covid-19 Question

Listen to “Episode 19: Answering the Covid Question – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

My cousin comes to our house each Wednesday afternoon to tutor our kids. Not only is it always good to see her, because she’s family and has the biggest smile and most genuinely cheerful spirit of anyone I know, but it’s also a helpful reminder of the day.

“Kenzie’s here!!” Okay. Must be Wednesday.

When Covid really hit the U.S. in mid-March, life got wonky for us all. One of my friends has decided it’s actually still March—in this case March 182. You don’t have to look far on the internet, social media, or the national news to be reminded that the last five months have varied widely based on who you are, where you live, your family’s health/wealth, school response, and community impact. Personally, I have friends who have lost their business and were forced to sell their house as a result. I know people who have gotten sick and recovered, as well as several who have contracted the virus and died. However, I also have friends who have received promotions, new jobs, and are in businesses that are thriving as a direct result of the pandemic.

So not only is it logical, but it’s also critical that The Common Application has provided an opportunity for students to respond to a question directly related to Covid-19.

This optional question is accompanied by an FAQ to assist students if they choose to respond:

Community disruptions such as Covid-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.

  • Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N
  • Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

Here are three basic tips on how to approach this question/section.

  1. Optional means optional.

You’ve likely heard this statement related to standardized testing this year, but it applies here too.

This is the question you need to ask yourself:

Do I have something additional I want them to know about my last six months in particular that I’ve not been able to express elsewhere?

If the answer is Yes, this section is available to you. If No, click the box and move on.

2. So What Did I Miss?

We use the title “admission reader” intentionally. They read. Think of your application as a story.

Chapter 1- You complete the demographic information, including name, gender, high school, age, family information, etc.

Chapter 2- You provide a transcript and your counselor sends us a school report so we understand your academic background, choices, and performance.

Chapter 3- You tell us on your Activities section what you chose to invest your time in outside the classroom.

Chapter 4- You write an essay and answer short answer questions for colleges to help them hear you and see you— think of writing like coloring in an otherwise black and white outline.

Okay. Are you satisfied? Do you feel like your story has been told? If not, what did you miss (I had I bet with my daughter that I could work in at least three Hamilton references on this blog)?

If there is more to share, you need to determine whether to include that in the “Additional Information” section or in the Covid response piece. Again, that will be dictated based on timing. If what you want a reader to know is acute and was triggered by the pandemic, this question is for you. If the circumstance is more broad and protracted, likely it best fits in the Additional Information section.

3. This is a thing. But it’s not the thing.

Please do not overthink this. We’ve already gotten way too many calls and emails about this question. I’m willing to put money on these two statements at any college around the country:

First, if you put something down that a reader does not think is relevant, they’re just going to move on. It’s not going to hurt you and it’s not going to “keep you from being admitted.”

Second, imagine the most dramatic, gut wrenching, tear jerking, and unbelievable scenario you can describe in 250 words. Even that… yes, even that, is not going to get anyone in. No reader is going to say, “Hey. This kid has been making C’s and D’s since 9th grade, has been expelled three times, and put down “Torments Cats” as their only activity. BUT…check out this Covid response! I really think we should admit them!”

Unfortunately, I was kicked out of the Cub Scouts, so I don’t know a special sign that means “Trust me.” Honestly, I wish someone would develop an emoji that equates to: “I’m not BS’ing you here,” because if I had that, I’d put about nine of them here at the close. In the absence of that, I’ll just trust you are a logical, smart, and reasonable person. I mean you are reading this blog after all, #amirite?

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Application Tips for Activities and Leadership

Listen to “Episode 16: Application Tips for Activities and Leadership – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Earlier this week, The Common Application sent out an email indicating 166,948 students have created an account to start the process of applying to college this year.

If you are a senior working on your application, you will find the first few sections go pretty fast, and you quickly arrive at the Activities section. On the surface, this is relatively self-explanatory and the directions provided are clear. In other words, completing it should not be hard or confusing.

However, it is always helpful to get some perspective “from the other side.” I believe that’s particularly true during Covid when many colleges will not be using test scores to make admission decisions and some of the activities you usually participate in have been canceled or modified over the last six months.

What method are they using to evaluate? 

Just like individual high school grading scales, the rubrics colleges use to evaluate this section are not uniform. So, if you are applying to five or seven schools, your application will likely be evaluated on a variety of scales. Same application, same activities, same applicant – different systems. While one college may use a scale of 1-5, another could be out of 10 or 100. Alphabetic evaluations, check marks, +/-, or perhaps even emojis and .gifs could be used. Some schools fold their evaluation of this section into an overall admission decision recommendation without even assigning points or a score.

Who is reading?

People– not robots or algorithms. I’m always amazed that students believe we’re just feeding their applications into some kind of a machine that calculates the number of words you’ve used or hours you’ve reported in this section. Nope. These are actual living humans with families and dogs. They have been living through this quarantine just like you. They understand that life looks really weird right now. They get that your drama production was canceled and the internship you had lined up fell through.

The way colleges will read your activities is not going to change this year. They always make assumptions and inferences-and those always (and I use that word intentionally) lean toward providing you the benefit of the doubt. I believe that will be particularly true this year because my prediction is colleges in general will see applications go down and admit rates go up. Translation: They want and need students who are going to contribute on their campus.

…So What are they looking for?

While the training of staff, the number of committee members, and the flow of an application between admission officers will vary from one college to the next, the fundamental questions they are asking as they review your activity section are the same:

  • What was this student involved with outside the classroom?
  • Is there evidence this student made an investment beyond that involvement?
  • What impact is evident through this student’s investment and involvement?
  • Is there evidence that this student’s involvement, investment, and impact influenced others?

In an effort to help you get inside the mind of the admission committee, and also to receive tangible and actionable tips, I dug through the archives of our blog to find helpful advice we’ve provided over the years.

What: The Nuts and Bolts (Part 2)

When: October 2017

Who: Mary Tipton Woolley,  Senior Associate Director of Admission

Why: Because Mary Tipton answers questions students and families always want to know, including how many files do we read a day and how many people are in the room where it happens. But she also provides sage wisdom in her recommendation to “front” your most significant activities by listing them first.

“Then put the remainder in descending order of importance to you. It could be descending order of time spent, or significance of impact – you know best what will work for you. We discussed the review of activities in our staff training, emphasizing the importance of looking at both pages of activities in our review, but we all confessed we’d missed significant activities because they were at the end of the list.”

You can also apply this concept to your essays and admission or scholarship interviews. Make your most important point quickly. “Hook” the admission officer intentionally by prioritizing what matters most to you.

What: Subtle Leadership

When: October 2019

Who: Dr. Paul Kohn, VP for Enrollment Management

Why: Because this blog, written before any of us could have come up with the word “Covid” in a game of Scrabble, demonstrates the continuity of college admission. The way Dr. Kohn articulates leadership and impact proves my point that admission committees’ review of community involvement has not changed due to Coronavirus (Thanks, boss.).

If we were counting hours invested or the number of words on each line of your application, then sure, you would likely have less to include or describe during this pandemic. But check out his instruction to think about the filter in which you consider your influence, and how that comes across in the Activities or Community Involvement section:

Truly examine your experiences and look for the times you inspired others, demonstrated good decisions, set an example of honesty and integrity, or showed commitment and passion for a goal. Look for moments in which you cooperated with others to achieve an outcome, or you displayed empathy for others.”

Importantly, the questions he enumerates are arguably even more helpful this year than when he originally wrote his blog:

  • Have you demonstrated and preached tolerance of divergent ideas and thoughts?
  • Have you helped a classmate accomplish a goal?
  • Have you helped members of your family through a difficult time?
  • When have you helped others know the path without literally ushering them down it?
  • Have you given a speech or written an op-ed piece about the benefits of voting or contributing to certain causes?

What: Which Activities Will Make Me Competitive?

When: April 2019

Who: Katie Mattli, Senior Assistant Director of Admission

Why: Because she keeps it simple. Aaron Burr may have rap sung/ sung rap/ the 10 Duel Commandments in Hamilton, but Katie rocks the Three Extra Curricular Tenants here (apologies in advance for my attempt to lyricize her wisdom).

Number 1 – If you love it, you naturally become more competitive. The challenge demands satisfaction. This is not a reaction. She’s unapologetically repetitive. Simplicity and consistency are her sedative. Don’t write this off as sappy, because it’s true, “’What activities make you happy?’ Do… more of those things!”

Number 2 – If you are interested, I’ll be more interested.  If you are sitting pat, applications fall flat. Don’t concern yourself with what we want to hear. Be sincere. “Nothing engages me more than a student who tells me, “I love XYZ!” See? “Trying to craft a summary of undertakings that you really don’t enjoy.” Oh, boy. No. Want the bottom line? Fine. Don’t let this cause you strife. “Applications have a life and an energy when a student is trying to use every available space to expound on a passion project.”

And if you didn’t know- now you know.

Number 3 – Activities that are difficult can still make you happy.  “I said this was not a softball answer and I meant it.” Hold on a minute. That’s right- “easy and happy are not the same thing.” That line should be on a cover. And that’s why we love her. Because she can cover the basics and make great suggestions. Read her full blog for more insight and guiding questions.

What: Is it OK if I?

When: October 2018

Who: Ashley Brookshire, Regional Director of Admission, West Coast

Why: Because what you do in high school, what you do in college, and what you do throughout life should not be about playing the game or trying to win the approval of others. That box checking, resume padding climb will end up with you looking down/out/over what, exactly?

As we’ve said before, your college admission experience is a foreshadowing of your overall college experience. Don’t miss the important lessons it can teach.

In this piece, Ashley helps you “reverse this idea” and “apply to the colleges that model YOUR interests and values, rather than molding yourself to fit a school.” Now that is a life lesson. You can apply that same thinking to relationships, jobs, and many others decisions. Ashley went to Tech. She worked as a student in our office, and began her career as an admission counselor with us.

She’s since gotten married, moved to California, and had a baby. Lots of changes in her life, but what has not changed is her ability to things down to their essence and help bring out the most salient and important point. In this case:

“Is it ok if I…? Yes. Yes, to however you finish the question, because it is, and will be, okay! You can and should invest your time and energy in the things that feel most beneficial for your personal development and growth, regardless of which college you end up attending.”

What does all of this mean for you? 

Ultimately, your job is to convince the admission committee that you will be missed once you graduate– whether that be by a coach, a club sponsor, a boss, your family, a non-profit in your community, or another group or organization.

I’m confident after reading these excerpts you will have no problem doing that. Enjoy the experience. Take some time after you’ve completed this section to marvel at what you have done—and equally as important what you will inevitably contribute on a college campus.

Bonus Listen: Want more on this topic? Here’s an excellent conversation from CollegeWise to check out.

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What I Do and Do Not Know…

Listen to “Episode 11: What I Do & Do Not Know – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Georgia Tech Admission Staff Webinar Meeting
“Dress up/formal” staff meeting theme

Each of the last seven Wednesdays at 2:45 p.m., we’ve held a full-staff meeting. While smaller teams are also meeting at other points, this is our weekly chance to all be “together.” As our time sheltering in place has lengthened, and reports and articles of other universities around the country issuing furloughs or discussing re-entry timelines proliferate, I’ve found it increasingly important to begin each meeting by laying out what I do and do not know. The latter is way longer most weeks.

When it comes to how COVID-19 will impact our work in the months ahead, however, the story is far more balanced.

What I DON’T know

In April and early May, admission deans and directors around the country get a lot of questions from their faculty, staff, alumni, and administrators such as, “How are the numbers looking?” or “Are we on target for next year?” Normally thousands of visitors are touring campus, neighbors’ or friends’ kids are weighing college options, and they’re seeing social media posts and online articles about high school seniors graduating and heading off to various colleges.

In most years by this point I have a great sense of how August will look. In fact, we often host a Cinco De Mayo gathering for our campus partners to thank them for their assistance and tell them about the incoming class in terms of size, demographics, geographic and curricular make-up, academic quality, along with a few interesting anecdotes from students’ essays.

This year is different. This year there are many uncertainties about what the months ahead hold, and the only honest answer to “How are the numbers looking?” or “Are we on target for next year?” is simply “I do not know.” Granted, no admission dean is that succinct, so those four words are quickly followed by some combination of “ifs,” “assumings,” or “hopefullys” in the subsequent sentences.

Here are a few of the key predictive metrics enrollment managers and their data gurus typically watch in late spring:

  • comparisons with historical trends.
  • the number of pending offers of admission.
  • the number of students canceling their applications to go elsewhere.
  • the number of students who attended a campus visit or information session.
  • open rates on emails and interactions online or via phone with staff.
  • the number of students registered for orientation and applying for housing.
  • the number of students who completed all financial aid documents and viewed their aid package online.

These indicators, in combination with a variety of other factors, help determine the number of waitlist offers to make, as well as how many deposited students will melt (or choose to go elsewhere) over the summer.

The basic math of college admission:

Admitted students/ Total applications = Admit rate

Deposited students/ Admitted students = Yield rate

100- (Enrolled students/ Deposited students) = Melt rate

Right now there are simply too many unknowns to accurately predict the final class size. So, “how are the numbers looking?” and “Are we on target for next year?”

Great questions. Any chance you could help me answer these?

  • Is the economy going to rebound, and to what extent?
  • Will US embassies and consulates again be issuing student visas so international students can study in America in the fall?
  • Will in-person instruction be permitted and/or advisable from a public health standpoint?
  • How open will travel be around the United States?
  • How comfortable will families be sending their kids 10s, 100s, or 1,000s of miles away from home?
  • How many students will opt for a deferment term or gap year? 

Other things I’ve recently learned I don’t know:

  • How to braid hair.
  • “New math.”
  • How to separate plastic vegetable bags at the grocery store while wearing gloves and a mask.
  • The neighbors directly across the street.

I wish I had more answers for my own staff, administration, and family. I wish I could tell my friend whose daughter is supposed to leave for college in August whether that university will be on campus for in-person instruction. The truth, however, is I do not know.

What I DO know

When we discuss and attempt to predict the “further future” of how juniors will be evaluated in the admission process in the year ahead, I feel a lot more confident.

Q: How will you evaluate GPA and grades when students may only have pass/fail grades or partial term grading for the spring semester?

A: We will do what we always have done:  look at the high school they attend, what courses they had access to (course availability), which courses they took (course selection, e.g. academic rigor), and how they did in those classes (course performance, e.g. GPA). We will not look at all high schools uniformly, but rather take the time to understand context, including how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted that community, school, and student.

We’ll also review grade trends. In other words, how did they do in 9th, 10th, and the first part of 11th grade, and perhaps also ask for a mid-term report in the senior year, especially for applicants in EA/ED rounds. Lastly, we will use historical information from classes from previous years to see how similar students from that high school have fared on our campus. No students from that high school previously? Not a problem. In fact, we are always excited to receive apps from schools we’ve not in the past. Again, we will look comprehensively at all of the factors outlined above.

Q: How are you going to evaluate extra-curricular involvement since students had seasons, performances, or elections canceled in the junior spring?

A: Holistically, and with benefit of the doubt. I know everyone says how important the junior year is and I’m not taking away from that. But again, we know what you had planned. We know what you already participated in and what you have accomplished. We’ll do what we do every year—we’ll make assumptions and inferences, which always (and I use that word intentionally) lean toward benefiting you. Here is how that will sound in admission committee: “She was on the soccer team but they did not get to play most of the season. She also plays club soccer and summer tournaments and camps were canceled. Looks like she’s listing her intent to play again in her senior year.” Translation: They’re reviewing your file as if all of that actually happened. Always, to your benefit.

Q: What about testing if administrations continue to be canceled? How will colleges review tests administered at home or those of a different format/length?

A: The test score optional movement gains momentum every day. In recent weeks, you’ve seen many public and private colleges around the country introduce either pilot plans for the year ahead or permanent policies within admission review that do not require standardized testing. A full list of nearly 1,200 colleges and universities can be found here. I highly recommend this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education from my colleague Jon Boeckenstadt from Oregon State University, a long-time champion of test-optional admission policies. College Admission Standardized Tests

For those colleges who continue to require standardized testing they will need to be very clear about their policies and considerations surrounding testing prior to or after Spring 2020.  As a prospective student, you will have to wait and watch this summer for indications from the colleges you are considering.

If you already have a test score that falls into a college’s middle 50% range (whether they are test score optional or not), I recommend sending those as an indicator of interest. In addition to registering for one of their information sessions or accessing their virtual tours, this helps them identify and communicate with you as a student who is serious about applying and potentially enrolling.

Other things I know:

  • I REALLY need a haircut.
  • Colleges need students now more than ever.
  • Hybrid models, including synchronous and asynchronous, are being developed. This will allow some schools to grow their enrollment and create more access/seats.
  • While highlights and re-runs of games are entertaining initially, they only make you long for live sports to return.
  • I appreciate you reading and hope you have a great week. Don’t miss this opportunity at home to tell the people in your house how much you love them and appreciate them.
  • Grace, forgiveness, patience, benefit of the doubt, and love need to rule the day during this time (and by this time, I mean ALWAYS).

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Run YOUR Race

I went for a run in the woods the other day. I do that a lot this time of year. Last weekend it was a 15-mile trail race in North Georgia. In early December, I’ll go 19 miles through the rolling pines near Warm Springs, GA, where FDR famously spent time.  Late fall and winter is a busy time in college admission, so multi-hour runs are a catharsis of sorts.

On a particularly long and isolated stretch of forest last week, I began thinking about a conversation I’d just had with a friend whose daughter is a high school senior. He called me because they were arguing about her applications- mainly where she should apply and if she’d applied to “enough” colleges. “So, what would you tell her?”

I said I would think about it. And so somewhere around mile eight, that’s exactly what I was doing. Ironically, the more I ran, the more I realized how much trail running and college admission have in common. I also realized there was not much to “tell” – but definitely a lot to hope for.

So, seniors, as you run YOUR race this year– as you work on applications, await and receive admission decisions, and head into your final holiday breaks before heading to college, here are my TOP 5 hopes for you:

1-      That you will not be overly influenced by the opinions or experiences of others. Remain true to yourself and your unique and deeply personal college admission experience. Listen. In races you see some runners go out quickly. They charge up the hill or around the corner. That is not wrong, but it may not be your style or best approach. Maybe you did not have an Early Decision school that you felt 100% sure about and now you are questioning if you did something wrong by not applying under that plan. Maybe a few friends have already been admitted to college and you are still waiting on decisions or working on essays for other applications. Maybe you look around and believe everyone else knows where they want to go and you are still unsure and open. My friend, that is absolutely fine. Perfectly normal. You are not alone. Ultimately, your goal is to find a college campus where you can thrive both academically and socially. Pace of getting there will naturally vary. Keep the end in mind.

Cheering someone onPeople will use the word “process” when they talk about college admission. This makes it seem like it’s a one-size-fits-all equation or formula, or that there is a specific way that leads to a predictable conclusion. That is a bunch of crap. Reject that. This is an experience. You have choices, options, and there will be inevitable turns and twists along the way. Run YOUR race. The beauty of trail running, in my opinion, is that you have to make decisions and keep your head up to look for blazes on the trees or signs in the woods. Unlike a road race where everything is cleanly marked, train running requires more thought and decision-making. The same is true for college admission. If you are doing this right, you won’t do it the same as your brother or best friend or the way you read it online in some guide. Keep your head clear and be confident. Run YOUR race.

2-      Enjoy your one and only senior year. Anytime you only have one of something it’s precious and should be treated and cared for as such. Enjoy your year. Don’t rush it or wish it away, because it will go fast enough on its own. Look around you in class or in the hallways or in the cafeteria next week. These people you have grown to know and love- and who also know and love you– will not be with you on a daily basis next year. Don’t take that for granted. Be proactive and give them a hug and tell them you appreciate them. Be specific about why they’re awesome. Make time for these people. You’ll never just have it.

3-      Be a light. Encourage people around you and help them. This is not going to help you get into college, but it is exactly the kind of person colleges are looking for. One thing I love about trail running is when someone misses a blaze and goes off track, other runners call to them. If a front runner sees a rock or a root or a branch, they call out or point to those obstacles and possible hazards. No matter what anyone tells you college admission it is not a zero-sum game. On almost every admissions panel I’m on someone in the audience will raise their hand and ask, “So if you have two applicants with the same GPA and same test scores, which one do you take?” In reality that’s not how it works.

I’ve often heard from high school teachers or counselors about students who won’t help others study for tests or share notes from class, because they’re afraid that will give their classmate a leg up. We’ve read essays about top students vying to be valedictorian who compete so ruthlessly academically they sacrifice their friendship. If thoughts like that are going through your head this year, I am imploring you to see the bigger picture. Helping others, sharing what you know, encouraging and facilitating the success of friends, classmates, teammates, colleagues is a life skill that will take you much further than the distinction of being valedictorian or getting into a specific school.

If you’ve been the subject of this type of behavior, I’ll simply quote the prophet Taylor Swift and say, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate…” They may end up with a specific title or offer of acceptance, but long-term that type of behavior, character, and approach ends up empty and often alone.

Percentage of population 25 years and over who completed high school or college4-      Celebrate every offer of admission. I get that some of you go to “college preparatory” schools or take Dual Enrollment classes. I understand that you’ve taken more Advanced Placement classes than I have hairs left on my head. In your family or school or community, it may be a foregone conclusion that you’ll go to college, but that is not really what the world looks like. Did you know that less than 40% of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree, and worldwide that number is less than 10%? Keep this in mind when you receive an offer of admission. It is not “Just the University of X…” No. No!! It is “I was admitted to the University of X!”

This is an opportunity and a choice. This is what you wanted from the beginning- options, choices, and offers. Congratulations! Celebrate every win. Go to dinner, buy yourself something. You do you. But promise me you’ll celebrate—and also thank those around you who have made your achievements possible.

5-      Tell your parents/family/support network THANK YOU and I LOVE YOU! I am always amazed when I get to the end of a long trail race and see how many family members are there with signs, food, smiles, and hugs. People drive long distances and wait patiently for hours (often in crappy weather) for runners to arrive at the finish line.

That teacher who wrote your recs or helped you prep for exams; that coach or club sponsor or boss who gave you opportunities, challenged you, and encouraged your best— that’s who I’m talking about. Write them a note, give them a high five, send them a text. Be sure you let them know you appreciate them, their time, & their part in your success. They don’t expect thanks, but they deserve it. If you are a senior, this is your job.

And for your family- whatever instrument or sport you play well now used to be very painful to watch and listen to. Still, they kept driving you, encouraging you, paying for lessons or practice or competitions, etc.

Thank you

Not convinced? Go open up the cabinets in your kitchen. Pull out any bowl or plate. Then ask your mom, dad, or whomever has raised you how many times they washed that or filled it with food. Think about five years ago when you were twelve or thirteen. Seems like a long time ago, right? Well, for the first five years of your life (time you basically have no recollection of), they fed you, clothed you, rocked you, nursed you, sang to you, woke up in the middle of the night worrying about you. They may not be able to physically still hold you the way they did then, but they are still doing absolutely everything they can to lift you up and support you now. Does that love look kind of crazy at times? Absolutely. Love is weird like that. What can I say? Nothing. What can you say? “THANK YOU and I LOVE YOU!” Make an effort to say that weekly from now until you graduate.

Along the trail in a race, there are all kinds of variables: hills, rocks, roots, creeks, downed limbs, changing temperatures, rain, wind, snow, blazing heat, major elevation changes. You have to adapt and adjust. It’s unpredictable- and college admission is the same. So while I can’t promise or predict exactly where you’ll start in college next year, I can guarantee that if these hopes come true, you’ll finish this year well- and that is a race worth running.

Just Get Started

This week we welcome Communications Manager of Strategy and Enrollment Planning (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley back to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

Last week I chatted with the mom of a high school senior. She shared how her son came home in a flurry at 4 p.m. the Friday before fall break, stressed out over finishing an assignment that was due at 5 p.m. Of course, she’d given him the usual “why didn’t you start this earlier” speech, but it was too late at that point. We each conceded there are times in life your kids have to learn hard lessons for themselves.

ProcrastinationAs we talked about “his” procrastination, I had to admit that even as an adult I deal with the same issue. Just like a high school senior, I tend to put things off until the last minute, OR until everything is just right (call it the Enneagram 9 in me—not familiar? Check it out). Write a blog? I’ll troll the internet and think about it. Organize the closet? Let me make sure I have all the right storage solutions and containers. Make dinner? Let me first get everyone’s vote and then I’ll get on Pinterest. Sometimes my distraction isn’t even useful. Take a shower? Let me scroll through my Instagram feed…

The difference between me now (an adult) and me 20 years ago (a high school senior) is I have enough life experience to know my “sweet spot.” I’ve found the balance needed to produce quality work in a short amount of time. And while it’s good to know my sweet spot, there are situations when nothing can replace the investment of time—real, actual time—to complete a long-term project or goal.

No Substitute for Time

A year ago I started running. If you don’t want to take a trip down memory lane, here are the highlights: in my 20s I was super fit. In my 30s I had babies. After baby #2, I was NOT super fit, and went on a three-year exercise hiatus (oops). The hiatus lasted until “the photo” was taken, and it was then I knew something had to change. I researched different workouts and chose running—the ONE activity I swore I would never do (“why would anyone run for fun?”). I started a Couch to 5k program and finished my first 5k two months later. I’ve continued running and am now staring down my first 10k (less than one week away!).

I’ve gone from struggling to run 10 minutes to successfully running for an hour. But I’m not here to talk about my fitness journey—I’m here to talk about time. No matter how adept I become at procrastination, there are moments when I have to spend extended time to get things done. I can’t expect my body to go from running one mile to four miles in a single week. Building up that kind of endurance takes time (and a lot of it!). The key to maximizing that time is simple: just get started.

In an ironic twist of fate, I work in an industry where I routinely remind students via blogs, emails, and other marketing materials of the perils of procrastination. When I worked in the admission call center, student workers and I would regularly shake our heads at the number of panicked calls and emails we received from students who waited until THE LAST MINUTE to meet a deadline, ran into an obscure technical issue, then called us when they were melting down. And I’ll be candid—as a rule, our student workers didn’t have a lot of sympathy.

Early action/decision deadlines are right around the corner. Even if you don’t plan to apply early to a school, applications are still open and being reviewed at colleges across the nation right now. And if you’re like me, you may be sitting… and waiting… to start. After all, you’ve still got a (week? month?) to get it done.

Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction. Just start.It’s easy to fall into this trap. Don’t do it! We’ve written about time management, essay topics, and deadlines on this blog many times in the past. These posts are all worth reviewing again (hint hint!). When it comes to meeting admission deadlines, there are three main areas that tend to trip students up the most. Here are a few tips to get past those hurdles.

1 – The Essay

Take it from someone who writes (and edits) for a living—your first draft is NOT your final draft. Your first draft will, must, and should change. Seasoned writers go through multiple drafts to get their content right, and you’re no different than them. Yes, you need to think through your essay and find a creative way to tell us about yourself. Thinking is great, and necessary—but that’s not ACTION. Jot those thoughts down. Grab your phone and voice record your ideas. I’ve found I never actually listen to any of my voice recordings, but the simple act of talking it through—sometimes multiple times—is enough to get my brain to focus on my topic and narrow my thoughts. The most important thing is to write. Something. Down. Once you have a “brain dump” in a Word document, come back to it—two, three, maybe even four times—to make edits and changes. Each time you look at it with a fresh pair of eyes you’ll discover something new to say (or remove). If you wait until the last minute to actually write your essay, you lose those precious chances for review. So grab your laptop and write something down. Just get started!

2 – The Activity List

The amount of activities students list on their college applications astounds me. I don’t know how you squeeze so much activity into your schedules (kudos to you!). But some students get lost in how to best record those. Do you list by longevity? By contribution? In chronological order? If you have more than 8-10 activities, which ones should you leave out? It can become overwhelming. Similar to the essay, voice record your thoughts, jot them down, write them in a Word document (or a Google doc, I have no preference here), and let it sit there. Come back the next day and review it. Maybe what seemed important in that first draft no longer resonates. Perhaps you left out something significant. Or maybe you need to highlight your own personal contributions in a different way. Like the essay, if you wait until the last minute you lose that crucial time for reviewing, and re-reviewing, what you’ve written down. Just get started!

3 – Hitting “Submit.”

This part is possibly the biggest challenge you’ll face. There’s something about that final “submit” button that almost taunts you. Are you sure? Should you look again? Did you remember to say everything? Wait, did I use my legal or preferred name? Hitting the submit button is the final thing within YOUR control—once you submit, control no longer belongs to you. The ball is officially out of your court. This makes it tempting to wait until the last minute to check that box and call it done. After all, as long as it’s still in your hands it’s still within your control, right? While that may feel empowering, it’s also a weight that you don’t have to carry. Remember—if you’ve followed the steps above then you’ve done your job. The last thing on your to-do list is finish the race. Hit submit. Just get started!

Just Start!

As a mom, I implore my 2nd grader every day to just do your homework! Get it done and you can do whatever you want (within reason). But like me, she drags her feet—eats a snack, gets water, goes to the bathroom, wait, does the dog need a walk? Last week she had the light bulb moment: “Wait a minute,” she said thoughtfully. “If I do all of this right now, does that mean the next two days I don’t have to do this when I get home?” “Yes,” I emphatically replied. “That’s exactly what it means. So do you want to power through and get this done?” “YES!” she said.

Progress. She just had to get started. So did I. And so do you. Stop thinking about it, stop waiting for “x” to happen, and for all that’s good in the world, stop scrolling through your social media feed. Just get started!

Becky Tankersley has worked in higher education for more than 10 years. She joined Georgia Tech in 2012 after working at a small, private college in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. Prior to working in higher education, she worked as a television news producer. Her current role blends her skills in college recruitment and communication. Becky is the editor of  the GT Admission Blog, and also serves as a Content Coordinator for the American Association of Collegiate Registrar and Admission Officers.

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