Tell Yourself a Different (College Admission) Story

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Last week I received an email entitled “Admission Fears.” The title struck me immediately, but what saddened me was it was sent from an 8th grader.  Her note was only three sentences and did include a very sweet P.S., but it left me asking a host of questions about how we got here as a society, my role in tweens sending “Admission Fears” emails, whether now might be a good time to open a bike shop/ bar on the beach, and many more. Ultimately, her question was, “I was wondering what you were looking for in a student, so that I may know what I have to offer to your prestigious school.”  If you’d rather not read my reply, here’s the original Twitter thread.

Dear Liza,  

Thanks so much for your email. I am sorry for not replying earlier and hope your year is going well. It sounds like you are a very diligent and focused student who is already thinking about college after high school. That’s awesome!   

I was thinking a lot about your email this weekend. Based on your title and question I’m assuming you have heard it is really hard to get into college, or that you are concerned you will not be/have what colleges “are looking for in a student.” Because this narrative and anxiety is so prevalent, we write a blog and produce a podcast about these topics at Georgia Tech.  I even wrote an entire book geared toward helping students and families keep perspective during the admission experience. But you don’t need to worry about any of that right now.

The truth is our country is in a negative loop when it comes to its view on and discussion around college and college admission. There is too much misinformation, disinformation, and limited information in this space, which often emanates from people with loud megaphones or big platforms who often make/charge lots of money to incite the type of fear you referenced in your note. 

So, as you move into and through high school, I want to encourage you to tell yourself a different story about college and college admission. This starts by replacing fear with hope. 

First, a confession. Your note struck me because my son is your age. So while I’m emailing you back, I’m also thinking about him, and other kids in high school (Oh… and I also turned this into a blog. Don’t worry- I changed your name). 

Admission Hopes 

My biggest hope is during most of high school you will not think about college too often. Instead, just focus on being a good high school student. Go to class. Learn how to take notes and study efficiently. Listen and ask good questions. Participate in your classroom discussions and do personal research on some of the topics you cover in school on your own, so you can dig deeper and get as big and broad of an understanding on issues and information as possible. Outside the classroom, get involved in the things you enjoy and find fun, interesting, or broadening. Invest in your school and local community and seek to positively impact the people around you.  

Ultimately, that is what colleges are looking for. We want to build a community of people who are interested in learning and challenging themselves academically, and who are committed to impacting and influencing people around them-both inside & outside the classroom.  

In other words, don’t worry about college admission committee rooms you will never enter. Instead, focus on the rooms and spaces you walk into every day. Your living room, classroom, place of worship, or job. Be a good classmate, friend, daughter, sibling. Ultimately, nobody can promise you that if you take certain classes, make particular grades, or participate in specific activities you will “get in” to a certain college. If anyone does try to tell you that—let them know they sit on a throne of lies-or just run. Here’s what I can promise you—if you will simply focus on being a good high school student, you are going to have lots of college choices and options when you are finishing high school, because the bottom line is that’s what colleges are looking for—good high school students.  

And that leads me to my next hope. Too many students and parents talk about and think about college and college admission from a scarcity standpoint. I’m not going to delve too much into an economics lesson at this point, but I hope you will look at this from an abundance perspective.  

Particularly, around this time of year, there are many articles published, news reports broadcast, or social media posts leading people to believe it’s impossible to get into college, and that the competition is increasing every year. This is fundamentally false– and increasingly so. The average admit rate for four-year universities in our country is 67%. In other words, most colleges admit most applicants. The pandemic has increased your options not reduced them. Colleges need students- now more than ever! As a result, good students (as we just discussed) who apply to a wide range of schools (listen to your counselor and keep an open mind) will not only have a variety of admission offers but will also find financially affordable options in the years ahead. So, I’m imploring you to not listen to anyone who uses words of scarcity and attempts to breed fear or desperation into your view of college or college admission.  Tell yourself the abundance story.

Third Hope- I understand you may be tired of hearing words like “pivot,” “resilient,” or “disrupted.” Over the last two years, it’s been hard to go a week without hearing each of these repeated multiple times. However, one blessing of the pandemic is it forced students to flex these muscles of adaptability, flexibility, and resilience in unprecedented (another Covid bingo word) ways. As a result, you have figured out at an early age how to learn in different environments, build or maintain relationships despite time/space obstacles, and adjust to constantly shifting information.  

What does that have to do with college and college admission? Absolutely everything. College people (yes, like me) often talk about finding a good college fit, as if students are square (pick your favorite shape) pegs (pick your favorite object), and your job is to carefully search and find a school where you seamlessly enter. Total BS.  

Don’t listen to anyone (even if they live in your house) who leads you to believe there is only one college, one type of college, one particular setting, or one major/academic area in which you can thrive. YOU are adaptable, dynamic, and capable of excelling in a wide variety of places. You are more like a Swiss Army Knife than a singular key. Tell yourself that story and you will breathe, enjoy, and see a very big path to college, rather than one that feels limited, confining, burdensome, or fear filled. 

You asked me what you have to offer a college. Here’s my answer…  

What do you have to offer?  

The truth is college admission should not be about what you can offer. I’m earnestly hopeful you won’t spend your high school years trying to figure that out. Don’t attempt to play some box-checking, soul-crushing game. Instead, when the time comes, the real question will be: what do they have to offer you? And the only way you are going to know that is if you invest time getting to know yourself honestly and authentically. My hope is your high school years will be about learning, growing, thinking, exploring, and most of all enjoying.  

Please write me back in a few years. I would love to hear from you.  

Sincerely, 

Rick  

Learn more and listen to Q&A about this blog on the College Admission Brief podcast: Spreaker | Apple Podcasts | Spotify

 

Three (MORE) Messages Parents of High School Students Need to Hear About College Admission

Learn more and listen to Q&A about this blog on the College Admission Brief podcast! Apple | Spotify | Spreaker | Google

…and we’re back. As mentioned in Part I, I decided to write these two blogs specifically for my friends, neighbors, and other adults in my life who now have kids in high school or considering college. As such you are welcome to read and consider, read and ignore, or not read but still forward or share.

  1.  The admissions essay. First, not all colleges require students to write an essay or respond to short answer questions on their application. Those who do include writing as an opportunity for students to bring voice and personalization to an otherwise heavily box, number, and line- filled application. In reading essays, admission reviewers simply want to get a sense of students’ ability to express themselves or provide insight into their character, background, motivations, and so on. As a result, essays matter. Nobody adds questions or prompts to their application just to make it longer. We read. We share. We glean insight from student writing.

However, just as much as a comma splice or failure to underline the name of a book in an essay is not going to keep a student from being admitted, the essay in general is not going to be the thing that “gets your kid in.” Anyone who tells you otherwise: a) has never worked on a college campus b) has a vested (usually monetary) interest in convincing you otherwise c) that’s it. There is no C—other than their pulse on college admission. Is it wise to have someone look over an essay for feedback? Absolutely. Should students put thought, effort, and care into their writing for colleges? Undoubtedly. But as a parent or a supporting adult please do not edit out your kids’ voice/style, or pressure them to write about something they don’t genuinely value or believe has been impactful to them, because in doing so you rob the application of the very qualities we are hoping to see in their writing. More here. Bottom line: Essays are not the magic bullet/Hail Mary/death nail/Lazarus factor people believe them to be.

 2. High School/Club Sports vs. College Athletics. Too many conversations leap from “my kid is talented in (insert sport here)” to they’re going to play in college and “get a full ride scholarship.” Consider this: fewer than two- percent of high school athletes receive athletic scholarships, and most of those only cover a percentage of tuition, housing, meals, books, fees, and so on.

As your athlete has success at higher and more competitive levels, it is exciting to imagine them playing in bigger stadiums, in front of more people, or even on TV. My hope is you will focus more on the day to day and week to week of supporting, encouraging, and enjoying watching your athlete play club and high school sports, than speculating about or assuming where it may lead. Keep saving for college. Keep pushing your student to excel in the classroom. Be proud of them for who they are and what they’ve accomplished– and be sure they know it. In other words, don’t convince yourself there is an inverse correlation between the number of trophies or media coverage and the number of dollars you will be spending on college. It may play out that way, but in the overwhelming number of cases, it won’t. Dream killer or friend? You decide. Stay grounded, stay humble, and stay focused on being able to finance a college degree without dependence on a full athletic scholarship.

3. Quality of institution is not correlated with admit rate, ranking, or any other singular number or metric.

Whether it be an effort to simplify, ego, or buying into the false narrative around selectivity and rankings, parents and supporting adults too often reduce a student’s options, limit their perspective, and curb their ability to explore based on numbers.

Admit rate: When I arrived at Tech, we were admitting well over 60% of applicants. Just a few years ago we sat around 40%. This year’s class will see an admit rate below 20%. Are the students significantly smarter, more talented, or more destined for future success? Absolutely not. Students we admitted at 60% are running companies now and sitting on boards of major organizations. I’m not going to go down the rabbit hole of how different colleges count differently on apps received or admits issued, but the bottom line is selectivity level is not a proxy for academic quality. Most colleges in the country admit more students than they deny. If the best match for your student has an admit rate that is 20 points higher than another one they are admitted to, don’t let your ego or a false narrative cloud your judgment.

Ranking: The students at Tech who are currently sophomores applied here when we were ranked number five in the nation for public universities. Within a month of enrolling here, we’d dropped to number eight, and this year we are number 10. I’ve yet to see a student transfer because of this change—because nothing has changed. Same great students, important research, and valuable network/job opportunities. I  urge you to not draw firm (arguably arbitrary) lines, whether it be at number 10, 50, or 100. College is a big decision. College is expensive. College cannot be reduced to one number. Don’t fall into that trap. And for the love of all things holy, friends, if you are going to ascribe any value to a singular number or deem it an authoritative signpost, examine the methodology and ask yourself if your values are in line with their calculations.

In most cases, leading or pushing your student to limit or dictate their choice of where to apply or attend based on one number (or even small set of numbers) is short-sighted bordering on irresponsible.

Since there won’t be a part three to this series, let’s conclude this way. I know it’s challenging supporting your student through high school, and particularly through the college experience. So, while I do hope you will legitimately consider everything I have shared in this blog and the one prior, I also want to sincerely thank you.

First day of school
editorial cartoon

Thank you for loving your kids.

Thank you for advocating for them.

Thank you for wanting them to have a better life and more opportunities and experiences than you have had.

Thank you for encouraging them and supporting them, even when they drive you nuts, roll their eyes, mumble one-syllable responses, or keep you up late at night worrying.

Thank you for washing the same dishes and clothes a thousand times.

Thank you for driving to and from practice and sitting through hours of swim meets or dance or music performances (just to hear or see your child perform for a fraction of that time).

Do I wish you wouldn’t disguise your voice in order to procure your daughter’s admission portal password? Sure.

Would admission officers prefer to come in the morning after releasing admission decisions, get a cup of coffee, and check the scores from the night before, rather than having parents outside (or in the parking lot) wanting to appeal or provide 13 additional recommendation letters? Yep.

Do I enjoy having my competence, intelligence, or soul brought into question based on an admission decision? Not particularly.

Nevertheless, as the parent of two kids, I get it. The truth is you are doing what you always have–loving them, protecting them, and providing for them. And since you absolutely do not hear this enough– THANK YOU!

Got friends who won’t read 1200 words on this topic, but still may benefit from hearing these messages– pass them this Twitter thread.

Three Messages Parents of High School Students Need to Hear About College Admission

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I am getting older. I know this because I now bring a mini-massage gun with me when I travel; my pant legs neither tightly hug my calves nor end an inch above my ankle; and when I buy wine at the grocery store the cashier either does not card me or goes back to scanning items when I confidently reach for my wallet (plus, hey, I’m regularly buying wine at the grocery store).

I’m not sure if you are also experiencing this, but my kids are getting older too, as are their parents. So, with each passing year, I’m getting more texts, emails, and calls from friends about college and college admission, and over-hearing both discussed frequently at games or other events.

While I did write an entire book on this subject, I feel like I owe my friends more than simply texting them an Amazon link. Plus, I understand not everyone is up for reading 200+ pages. But after watching this cycle repeat itself for over two decades (use of “decades” being another “getting older” give-away), I’m convinced there are a few messages most parents of high school students need to hear-and hopefully will listen to also.

Pronouns Matter. As your kids enter and move through high school, and especially as they are applying to college, I hope you will be cognizant of your pronouns. If you find yourself commonly saying things like, “We have a 3.8,”Pre-Calc is really killing us this year,” or “Our first choice is ___________,” it may be time to take a long walk, a deep breath, or a stiff drink. Ask yourself if those pronouns are just a reflection of your love and years of intimately intertwined lives, or if they are a subtle prodding to step back and let your student demonstrate what you know they are capable of handling.

As you well know, parenting is a delicate dance that becomes increasingly complicated as kids get older. Be honest with yourself and pay attention to when its time to take the lead or step back. Interestingly, it was current Atlanta Mayor (and former Georgia Tech staff member) Andre Dickens who introduced me to the concept of moving from parent to partner with a presentation he used to give at new student-parent orientation. And that should be your focus as your kids move closer toward graduation from high school.

As a parent, I understand this is not easy. But don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal. “College Prep” is not simply about academics, and we should be focused on ensuring our kids are socially, emotionally, and practically prepared, regardless of where they end up going to college. Watching your pronouns is a great place to start.

College admission is not fair. However, in contrast to what most people think, it is easy to understand. Admission is driven by two fundamental rules:

  1. Supply and demand. The Applicant to Class Size ratio drives admit rate. If applications go up and enrollment does not, the admit rate drops.

This is why you hear about Younger Sibling not getting into University of X (Home of the Fighting X’s) with the same, or even better high school grades and classes, than Older Sibling (a current junior at X with a 3.4 GPA). Three years have passed, U of X’s new first-year class size is the same, but this year they receive 5000 more applications than the year Older applied. Could Younger do the work? 100%. Is Younger talented, ambitious, and very interested in going to University of X? Without question. Is this fair? Nope, but it is logical.

  1. Mission drives admission. As we just established, Older is a good student and a good person (3.4 GPA in college and very active on campus). But three years ago, when she applied as a high school senior, there was another candidate vying for admission—Applaquint. “App” had better grades, better classes, better writing, and more community involvement (all the things U of X says it values) than Older. App, however, was denied.

Why? Well, it happens that App is from Y (the state just to the east of X). Because University of X is a public school, students from the state are admitted at 5 times (would have been too confusing to say 5x) the rate of non-Xers. Fair? No! Again, App is smarter, nicer, and better looking than Older. But again, totally logical.

College brochures may make all campuses look the same, but the goals for the composition of their classes vary widely in number, geography, major, gender, and so on. So when admission committees discuss candidates, they are reviewing and considering GPA, essays, and letters of recommendation,  but ultimately institutional mission and priorities are the lens and filter through which admission decisions are made.

As a parent, my sincere hope is you hear, believe, and prepare yourself for this truth- neither an admit nor deny decision is a value judgment or evaluation of your job as a parent. My friend Pam Ambler from Pace Academy puts it perfectly: “Admission decisions feel deeply personal, but that is not how they are made.” As a result, many parents react when their student receives disappointing admission news. They see that hurt and think they need to call the admission office (or the president or the governor), appeal the decision, “come down there,” or pull strings. After watching this cycle repeat itself over and over, and particularly as my own kids grow up, I’ve come to appreciate ALL of that comes from a place of deep and genuine love. But ultimately, in these moments what kids need from you is very simple—love, concern, empathy, belief, and encouragement, or sometimes just a heartfelt hug.

College Parents > HS Parents. When your kids were little and you were struggling with potty training or getting your baby to sleep through the night, did you seek advice and insight from other parents in the same chapter? No! Because they were either a: just as clueless or frustrated as you were b: maddeningly oblivious c: prone to lie, exaggerate, or hide the reality of their situation.

The same is true when it comes to college admission. Other parents with kids in high school often have just enough information to sound informed but frequently serve to proliferate inaccuracy and consternation– “You know the valedictorian three years ago did not get into….” and “It’s easier to get in from (insert high school three miles away), because they don’t have IB like we do.” Generous generalizations and liberal rounding phrases like, “he has mostly As and Bs” or her SAT is “around a 1400″ should send your BS radar way up in cases like this. Walk away, my friends. Dismiss, change the subject, and don’t let those comments stress you out. 

The bottom line is parents of high school students should talk to fewer parents of high school students about college admission, and more parents of current college students, or recent college graduates. These folks, who are one chapter ahead, invariably provide perspective, levity, insight, and sanity. They are far less prone to exaggeration, and in fact often incredibly raw and honest in their evaluation. “She was crushed when she did not get into Stanvard. But now she’s at Reese’s U and is not sorry.” Or “We didn’t get the financial aid package we needed for him to go to Enidreppep University, so he ended up at QSU. He graduates this spring and already has a great job lined up with the company where he’s been interning.” Again, seek perspective, levity, insight, and sanity from parents of current college students, and spend your time talking to parents of other high school students about the upcoming game or recently opened restaurant in your area.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. And stay tuned for upcoming podcasts and blogs with a few more key messages for high school parents coming soon…

If you have friends who not won’t read 200+ pages, but are likely not even ready 1000+ words, you can send them to my original Twitter thread with these messages for parents. 

Holistic Academic Review: More Than a GPA

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This week we welcome Assistant Director of Admission & Digital Media, Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome back, Sammy!

It’s that time of year! For new goals and resolutions? Perhaps. For feeling recharged after time off from work and school? Hopefully. For a crisp 3-inch blanket of snow draped across the ground? Maybe, but in Atlanta probably not. 

 For “How’d Emily get admitted with a 4.4 and John get denied with a 4.7?” Absolutely. Given my digital media work for our office, I’m privy to chat threads that start just like that, all the time. This time of year, those questions are on especially heavy rotation as “Chance me with a X.XX GPA” turns into “I was admitted/denied/deferred with a X.XX GPA.” So, all other elements of fit and the holistic review process aside (Which is no small “aside”, but my colleagues have written lots of great blogs on the matter) let’s talk about the limitations of using, and comparing, transcript GPAs alone as a decision indicator in holistic admission.  

The impact of weighting, and extracurricular courses 

Many schools use weighted GPAs to add extra point(s) to their more rigorous courses- AP, honors, etc. Essentially, the aim is to create a grade point that not only factors in a student’s performance in a class, but also the difficulty of the class. 

 Let’s say a school gives one extra grade point to AP courses (So, an A in an AP is five grade points, compared to four in a regular course). Emily and John both take two AP courses, and both get As for grade points of five. Emily has early dismissal at the end of the day, which she uses for her internship. She doesn’t get a grade for it. John is particularly interested in science, and is taking an anatomy course he’s enjoying- it’s offered at a regular level, so his A gets him four grade points.  

EMILY Classes Letter Grade Grade point 
AP Calculus A 5.00
AP Biology A 5.00
Early Release—Work  
AVERAGE   5.00

 

JOHN Classes  Letter Grade Grade point 
AP Calculus  A  5.00 
AP Biology  A  5.00 
Anatomy  A  4.00 
AVERAGE    4.666 

 In the short example above, both students received all As, both students used their time productively to explore additional interests, yet Emily’s average is a 5.00, John’s average is a 4.67.   

As the “A” in the abbreviation suggests, GPAs are just averages. They don’t give the context of what courses a student took, and how that impacted the final number. Here’s the good news: in holistic review, context is everything. Using your transcript to unpack your full course history and performance gives far more insight into your academic preparation than the GPA summarizing that performance.  (Video version, if you prefer)

The impact of non-universal school scales and curriculums 

In the above example, I gave you the scale by which the school weighed GPAs. When admission counselors review transcripts, we’ll typically have grading information available to us from a school report, school profile, or on the transcript itself. Out in the wild of various admission forums and chats with neighbors/friends/your great aunt’s second cousin… you won’t have that information, yet, it’s critical to understanding the ranges of GPAs typical at a given high school. A few weighted 4.0 scale examples: 

School One: honors get .5 points added, APs have 1 point added. The highest grade awarded is an A+. They offer 34 honors courses and 29 AP courses and do not limit the APs a student can take. Valedictorian has about a 4.9 

School Two: again, honors get .5 points added and APs get 1 point added. The highest grade awarded is an A. The school offers 18 honors courses and 22 AP courses, students are limited to taking 1 AP sophomore year, 3 junior and senior years. Accordingly, GPAs tend to average lower than School One, the valedictorian has about a 4.5 

School Three: Honors and AP courses are both weighted with two points, accelerated courses are weighted with one point. In the spring of 2020, all passing grades were marked as As, which is the highest grade awarded. There are no limits on weighted courses. Valedictorian has about a 5.6.  

There are an infinite number of curriculums and grading scales, there is no universal standard across United States school districts. The above hasn’t scratched the surface on 4.0 models, let alone 100 point models, 6 point, 7 point… you get the idea. When you see Emily on Reddit’s admission decision with a 4.4 and you’re curious what it means for you, it’s a fruitless comparison. Or perhaps fruit filled, as a 4.4 at her school is likely apples and oranges to a 4.4 at yours. Terrible play on words, sorry. 

apple and orange on a scale

Unweighted GPAs and the impact of rigor

In an unweighted GPA model, there’s no extra weight added to coursework, each course is factored into the GPA based on points for performance alone. Emily and John are both interested in aerospace engineering, and took the following schedules this year:  

EMILY Classes  Letter  Grade point 
AP Physics  A  4.00 
Calculus  A  4.00 
Honors English  B+  3.3 
AVERAGE    3.766 
JOHN Classes  Letter  Grade point 
Underwater Basket Weaving  A  4.00 
Precalculus  A-  3.7 
The Art of Napping  A  4.00 
AVERAGE    3.9 

At first glance, John’s earned a higher average than Emily, with a 3.9 compared to her 3.77. But all naps that I took in college aside…who has the stronger academic preparation for college-level coursework in aerospace engineering? I’ll let you make that call.  

The impact of performance over time and subject  

When looking at the transcript, admission reviewers can see patterns in course choice and performance. Where did the student perform their best? Which subjects did they challenge themselves in? And, how did they perform over time? We also may receive information from the student or school providing insight on circumstances that impacted a student’s academics. We may find upward academic trends (improved grades as a student progressed) or downward trends. In other words, while Emily and John could have a similar GPA, one might have had lower grades in 9th grade, while the other, in 11th. We know juniors are tired of hearing this, but given that they represent the more advanced coursework that you’ll build from in college, those later courses and their grades tend to matter more. All in all, the transcript tells a story of academic fit through the lens of your growth, strengths, and interests, which isn’t quite captured in a single number.   

So why does this matter? If you’re waiting on admission decisions, it can truly be stressful reading other students’ stats and trying to anticipate what it means for you. The reality is, those numbers are entirely devoid of the context—academically, and the additional context of holistic application review that we’ve sidelined for now—that they were made in. And so, I encourage the academic equivalent of “don’t judge a book by its cover”. While I know it’s tempting to try and find signposts hinting at a decision as you wait, my hope is that armed with this understanding, you can save yourself the headache and heartache of comparison and keep your sights on your own path, and your own accomplishments in this new year ahead.

Applying to College Isn’t Like The Movies

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This week we welcome current Admission Digital Media Student Assistant Sarah Engel to the blog. Welcome, Sarah!

This admission blog has long been written by experts in application evaluation, the admission counselors themselves. But they’ve always hoped you would seek out additional voices in your college admission experience as well—students who can share the culture and community of their colleges as they experience it every day, who can provide been-there-done-that support and encouragement as you navigate the college admission experience. And truly, as a current college student, and the first to write on this blog (no pressure!) I can echo the importance of those lived perspectives. I know first hand that when you’re actually in the midst of gathering your materials, writing your essays, and sending them off to colleges with the click of a button, it can all seem a little…surreal and disconnected. Not only do you have academic and social pressures from your friends and family, you likely have your own, internal expectations and media driven perceptions that hover over you like a dark storm cloud. 

Press Play

Growing up, I recall seeing countless teen rom coms and dramas in which the protagonist is somehow accepted into a prestigious university. Serena van der Woodsen from Gossip Girl being admitted to Brown University despite never attending class? Aaron Samuels from Mean Girls getting into Northwestern despite not understanding calculus? And, of course, the entire cast of High School Musical committing to Ivy Leagues, Juilliard, Stanford, and UC Berkeley? Not once did I see them studying between musical numbers in the gymnasium!

Disney family singalong: Zac Efron joins 'High School Musical' reunion

Now, in the age of social media, we are constantly exposed to “Reacting to my College Decisions” videos of shrieking students surrounded by family members, deserving student stories on Good Morning America being posted across Twitter, and congratulatory Instagram posts for friends committing to universities. As exciting as these seem, I know from experience how they can affect one’s mental health. The neverending stream of collegiate content across the internet, film, and television puts an invisible weight on the shoulders of students to perform well. Audiences (myself included) love the satisfaction of a loveable character embarking on a new, happy journey. But how realistic is the journey really? And what does this fascination with college in the media mean for real students applying to real schools?

Take a Pause

Spoiler alert: life isn’t always like it is in the movies (seriously, how do characters have so much time to hang out before they go to work and school in the morning?) and social media isn’t all that realistic either. When your admission experience looks different from everyone’s social media highlight reel, and Disney’s happily-ever-afters, that can feel a little lonely. But you’re not alone. My hope for you is that you’ll be kind to yourself. Check in on your friends, check in on yourself, have honest conversations with each other, and set boundaries. Hey, I work with digital media in our office, and while we hope to provide helpful content to students, I know that muting and stepping away from the screen can absolutely be an act of self-care. Taking breaks isn’t just healthy, it’s necessary.

Fast Forward 

Let’s look beyond the admission decisions: a fast forward through time for you, a rewind in time for me. Though it feels recent, I applied to college over three years ago (how is that possible?!). I remember dreading meetings with my college counselor, stressing over standardized test scores, reading my essays over and over, asking for recommendation letters, and that agonizing waiting period after applying. But then came the spring of 2019, and I was perfectly calm. Excited for the future, researching classes and clubs, planning out my dorm room decorations, and connecting with future classmates on social media. So much has changed for me since then! What hasn’t changed, however, is this truth: that, after the dust settles and the whirlwind of admission hype and headlines is behind you, what’s in front of you is an opportunity that’s yours to embrace. The keyword here is embrace. You may receive many admission decisions in the months ahead, ranging from exciting and surprising, to disappointing and… “you mean to tell me I have to send them more information?!”  The admission decisions themselves may not be yours to make, but choosing how you move forward, is. 

When I was a freshman in high school, I dreamed of going to a liberal arts college in the northeast. Perhaps Yale University, like Rory Gilmore (Gilmore Girls), or NYU, like Lara Jean Covey (To All The Boys I Loved Before). I thought, with my grades and extracurriculars, I’d be able to get in anywhere and everywhere, that I would live out the dark academia aesthetic of my dreams (a la Harry Potter). But by the time I was touring and applying to colleges, that fantasy seemed so far away. I had to face a reality check somewhere around junior year. I realized I wasn’t getting many scholarships at private, out-of-state schools. I also came to understand that I didn’t want to be all that far from my family. That I could always revisit the liberal arts school dream for graduate school. 

As colleges prepare to release decisions in the coming weeks and months, I hope you take away at least this message: it works out. Everything will be okay. Your admission decisions might not be the fairytale ending you first imagined, but that’s because they were never really an ending at all…just the opportunity to embrace a new storyline, whatever it may be. Don’t be discouraged if your fictional hero or heroine is accepted to every school they apply to, or if your best friend got a better scholarship than you. Remember that you are the protagonist of your own story on your own path. It might not be easy, but try your best, and believe me, #ItWorksOut.

Sarah Engel is a third-year LMC major from Dunwoody, Georgia. Her involvements have included the North Avenue Review Magazine, LMC CoLab, Excel Program, German National Honor Society, and FASET. Now, she works as the digital media assistant for the Office of Undergraduate Admission.