College Application Submission, 3 Final Checks

I fly a lot. Not “consultant a lot” or “pilot a lot,” but monthly or multi-monthly for sure. Over time I’ve gotten pretty good about tuning out the safety video that precedes take off. Recently, however, I saw one that caught my attention. Instead of a flight attendant walking down the aisle of a plane or vested and scarved employees’ predictably demonstrating seat belt tightening techniques, this one took place in a theater with ushers, a stage, and an entirely different context for how to discuss the same topics. It caught my attention. I watched the entire production. And, for the first time ever, confirmed I actually had a flotation device below my seat.   

It’s October. You may have picked up on that based on the cooler weather, the preponderance of pumpkins, and possibly… just possibly Christmas music playing in a shop. Do I think they should be fined? YES. Is that what this blog is about? NO. Do I think Christmas is the global warming of Holidays? YES. Do I understand even mentioning global warming may be a way to lose readership/followers/applicants? YES. Do I care? NO. 

Anyhoo… it’s October. This is a huge application submission month, since many colleges have EA (Early Action) and ED (Early Decision) deadlines on or around October 15 and November 1. Over the years, I have come to understand and appreciate through writing books and blogs that we all want some security, comfort, and peace in knowing that we are done and ready to hit submit, aka to “take off.”

So, if you are a senior who is logging in multiple times to your Common Application to be sure everything is saved; if you find yourself going down YouTube rabbit holes about “essays that worked;” or if you find yourself obsessively re-ordering your Activities list, here is your pre-flight safety video, aka pre-submission final checklist, designed to give you some solace and confirmation that you are set and clear.

Final Checks

  1. Look over your entire application. Flight attendants walk the whole plane checking to be sure seats are in their upright position, tray tables are locked, and all bags are stowed securely under the seat in front of you (Told you… multi-monthly). You should be disturbed and disconcerted if they only check first class or shrug their shoulders disinterestedly if an overhead bin is open with a 30 lb. dumbbell teetering on the edge.  

My point? Too many students obsess about their essay, but they do not have anyone read their entire application for them. Do this! Have a parent, a friend, or another supporting adult you trust “walk the entire plane.” The question they should be asking is “What is missing?” We established last time that while super form-y, the application is actually YOUR STORY. So have them look for what details or interesting parts of the plot, or instrumental character development is either absent, buried, or needs to be revisited.  

After you receive feedback and make your edits, convert your entire application to a .pdf. and both save it and print it out. First, this is how colleges see your application- in .pdf format. And it does look different from how you see it on the screen. Second, you will inevitably see something in that different view which will help you make final adjustments. And third, having a saved .pdf on file will provide you additional solace, and possible back up, if there are issues or questions later. I’ve seen this be a huge benefit to students for a variety of reasons in the past.

2. Sleep on it. I’m guessing you have sent hurried texts, snaps, or emails in the past to the wrong person, or having left out word (see what I did there?), or with an illogical .gif (not going to debate pronunciation).  

Before you submit your app, I want you to take at least 1 day-and ideally two- away from working on it. A final look with fresh eyes and hopefully some good rest in between will help you catch mistakes, make valuable edits, or be confident that you’ve said what you want to. You want a well- rested, fresh- eyed pilot flying your plane, right?

Don’t be “that guy” who calls asking about time zones on November 1. Technology fails, credit cards don’t go through, and sending anything in around 11:59 p.m. just sounds like an all around bad idea. We’re trying to fly a plane here, people. Let’s be professional.

3. Confirm your destination. Recently, I was on a plane that was still parked at the gate. The pilot announced over the PA, “We are set for an on-time departure. The weather looks good the entire way up to Detroit. If you don’t want to go to Detroit, now is the time to deboard.” It was humorous, and seemingly ridiculous given all the ID and boarding pass checks it now takes to get onto a plane, but apparently those mistakes still happen.  

Before you hit submit, ask yourself if you would go to each of the schools you are applying to. Does that sound as dumb to read as it does to write? Do it anyway! Every year kids with high grades, tough classes, and good test scores, apply to schools where when they get in, they ultimately say, “They admitted me, but I was never really interested in going there.” So, look your list over. If you are on the plane to Detroit and you do not want to go there, please get off. Don’t waste their time or your money. You should be excited and sincerely interested in every school on your list! 

This is your captain speaking… 

After you have gone through these final checks, my hope is you will feel confident and excited, rather than nervous or anxious about getting airborne (i.e., hitting submit). And once you do, sit back, relax, and enjoy your senior year. You only get one, and it’s not worth wasting unnecessarily by expending energy worrying about things you cannot control that may or may not be happening in committee rooms hundreds of miles away. Instead, commit yourself to being a positive influence and a meaningful contributor in the rooms you walk into each day- your living room, classroom, etc.   

Fly well, my friends!  

 

The College Application is NOT a Form. It’s YOUR STORY!

Over the years, I have tried to shine a light on what people often misunderstand in the college admission experience. This has ranged from explorations of waitlists to examinations of deadlines to explications of supply and demand and institutional missions. (I’m sure if I thought hard enough I could come up with other verbs starting with ex and how admission issues are connected.)

Recently, I have also come to appreciate the massive disconnect between how students approach and complete the application and how it is actually read in admission offices.

Students see the application as a form. And I get that because it starts the same way most forms begin- asking for biographic information like name, address, family details, date of birth, etc. It also looks a lot like other forms they have seen in high school— job or driver’s license applications, sport and club registrations, and so on.

Report your test scores, tell us which high school you attend, etc. It’s definitely form-y. Even after the standard details, college applications include sections with lots of lines and boxes that ask you to provide details about what you have done outside the classroom. These are extremely prescriptive in their character counts and instructions. Form-ish for sure. On the Common Application, which I’m guessing if you are a senior you are using for at least a few of the schools you are considering, you need to quantify exactly how many hours a week and weeks per year that you have worked, played sports, volunteered, etc.

So, yea, when you log into an online platform and begin entering and saving information, this all seems like a standard and basic form. But the truth is that at schools using holistic review where essays and supplemental responses are required, once you hit submit, the person on the other side is not “reviewing” your form. They are reading YOUR STORY.

Think about it. Colleges post jobs for “application readers.” There are videos about reading season. And you’ll inevitably receive email bounce backs from schools in the winter that basically say, “Yea. Not going to reply anytime soon— I’m READING.”

If you view the application as a story, it will change the entire way you approach applying to college. And it will greatly reduce some of the stress you feel along the way. Win-Win.

Telling a story is an opportunity. Completing a form is a task. When you login to your applications this fall, I’m hopeful you will think about conveying rather than completing. You are not “working” on your application, which is what most students say. Instead, you are simply telling your story. Poll 100 people and ask them to list the Top 10 things they do for fun. “Complete forms”—not on the list. Telling, reading, watching stories, however. Different…well…story. Similarly, when you finish, you are not “submitting.” Forms get submitted. Sending in your story, on the other hand, is exciting. It is something you can and should take pride in. And if you will let it, it may even be the F word– FUN.

Stories are read. Forms are processed. Holistic admission is human. People with their own kids, hopes, worries, DNA, Instagram, and food preferences read your application. If you think of your application as a story, it changes how you approach this. Think about it. Nobody buys and opens a book hoping it sucks. Nobody pays $17 to go to a movie and another $24 for popcorn, candy, and a coke in anticipation of a boring or lackluster experience. Instead, as people, we always start with the desire to see something good. So that is your job on the application. That is your job with your story. Tell them what is interesting about you. Give them a full sense of your character- what interests you, what excites you, what do you hope for, and how have you arrived at this point. The same way authors and directors create compelling characters in their movies, novels, or video games.

If you look at your application this way, it will help you know where to start on your Activities section. It will help you figure out what you WANT to write about in your essay. Not what you SHOULD or what they want to hear, but what you genuinely NEED them to know about you as a fully developed character, aka applicant.

Stories are fully reviewed before publishing. We just published a book on college admission, so I can tell you that typing the last word or page does not mean you are done. Instead, there are multiple phases of review. In the editing process, we had to go back over each chapter, each piece of data, and each table, figure, and image to confirm, check, and verify. We also had an outside editor read over the entire book to provide insight and feedback.

In my experience, students are apt to have a parent, counselor, coach, teacher, or another trusted adult or friend read their essays and perhaps their supplemental responses. In other words, they do ask for feedback on what they have written. BUT most students do not have anyone read the way admission readers do- from beginning to end. So, before you hit enter and send up your prayers for stable technology and a kind soul on the other side of the interwebs, have at least one other human read your entire application from beginning to end.

Ask them to write down what they think you have left out. Have you undersold something you’ve been investing in at home, school, or in your community? Give them the chance to relay how your story reads and if there is any opportunity they see to provide more context, information, or insight into who you are, what you have accomplished, and how you would likely contribute and enhance a college campus.

Peace

One of the reasons students struggle to ultimately send in their applications is because they know that letting go means signing up for weeks or even months of uncertainty. I’ve been there friends, so I get it. Not easy. However, my hope is that changing your perspective from completing and submitting a form to sharing your story will help. Ultimately, when you are sitting in class or driving home from school wondering what is happening in some distant office or committee room, you will not dread the review of your form, but instead be excited for someone to read your authentic and unique story. (Trust me- I try to think this way every time I post one of these blogs.)

Ultimately, you can’t control if a school you apply to gets 4000 more apps this year and their admit rate drops as a result. You cannot control if a college decides that they are going to reduce the number of students they admit and enroll from your state or in your major this year. But you can control how you tell your story; think like an admission reader; review and seek feedback on your entire application; and choose peace and confidence.

TELL YOUR STORY. AND ENJOY DOING IT!

Let’s Get A Few Things Straight (about College Admission)

There has been a lot of talk in the last few weeks about how much has changed in college admission.

Maybe….

But just like during and following the pandemic, much remains constant. So, let’s get a few things straight.

College Admission is Not Fair. I know some groups may claim to have brought this about with the proverbial wave of a wand or banging of a gavel, but the truth is that no system or process is (or ever will be) fair or perfect. Humans run processes. Humans are imperfect, flawed, and operate in a broken world.

Do not confuse quantitative measures with fairness. I remember when Georgia Tech operated on a purely formulaic basis. We recalculated GPAs so that everyone had a max GPA of 4.0. We did not consider the rigor of the high school, performance of past graduates, or a student’s grade trends. We considered Honors, Magnet, Gifted, AP, IB, Dual Enrollment to all be rigorous and each received an extra .5 bump- again with a max GPA of 4. We effectively “let out the slack” from the top until we had admitted the number of students we needed based on historic yield models.

I’m guessing many of you are already poking holes in how FUBAR this model is– and can likely channel some of the complaints and questions we’d get…

I have all APs and my classmate only took honors level. You’re weighting that the same?

But I had all As in a full IB diploma program and my “friend” only took general courses. Are you telling me that we both end up with a max 4.0?

I made a 1300 on one take with no outside help. My neighbor made a 1200 the first time and then after thousands of dollars in private tutoring ended up with a 1350. That’s going to be the difference? He’s got lower grades than me!!

At the time, I was not the director, but my name was on admission letters for students whose last name started with A-C.  As a result, even though I did not agree with how we were making decisions, I was left to defend them.

One of the most memorable cases was a girl in North Georgia who was the valedictorian of her high school. She had taken the toughest classes, made the highest grades, and accomplished all of this while juggling a 25-hour a week job at a local restaurant to help support her family. She was not admitted because her SAT score was 10 points below our threshold that year– 10 points. Meanwhile, we admitted three other kids from that school who had slightly lower grades, less rigorous courses, and less impact on their community, etc. Fair? Hell no. In fact, I can still remember talking to her mom on the phone and having to suppress my own frustration.

Over the years, we have continued to evolve our file review process to make it more contextual and holistic. Academically, we look closely at grade trends, course choice, rigor, high school history, etc. We do not draw hard lines on test scores and we use macro data to help understand student testing context.

And, of course, a great deal of time is spent in committee looking at a student’s involvement, impact, and influence. Still, I’d be the first to say that neither our process, nor any other college’s in the world, is perfectly fair– it’s not possible or designed to be. Instead it’s designed to be comprehensive and thorough, but fair….NO.

There has been a lot of talk lately about checkboxes on applications. Here is one you won’t see on an application but you need to mentally agree to:

“By submitting this application, I understand I may not agree with the decision I receive, the timeline on which I receive that information, or the rationale I get for why the decision was made.”

Mission Drives Admission. Think of your high school. It exists for a purpose. Maybe it’s a public school and is located to intentionally serve kids from your part of the city or county. Maybe you attend a private or religious school. Again, it was founded for a reason and is attempting to attract and enroll students and families centered on that mission. Companies, community centers, organizations… they all have a mission and are making decisions geared toward moving that forward.

As a public school, Georgia Tech’s goal is to enroll 60% of our undergraduates from our state. This means we prioritize Georgians in our entire process. We attend more recruiting events in Georgia than out of state; we set deadlines earlier for our residents, and inform GA applicants of their decisions ahead of non-residents. Tuition is much lower for Georgia kids and our admit rate is three to four times higher for Georgia students than it is for non-Peach staters.

In an attempt to enroll students from all across our state, we have programs like the Georgia Tech Scholars Program for valedictorians and salutatorians. Are there cases where the number three (or thirteen) student at one school is as strong as the salutatorian from another… and yet decisions vary? Yes. Is the average SAT/ACT from out of state/country higher than it is for Georgia students? Yes. Is mission driving admission? Y.E.S.

A college you apply to may be trying to grow a particular major. That is going to influence their admission decisions. Another school is looking to enroll more students (or less) from your region of the country or nation. That will have an impact.

The truth is you are not always going to know these things. What you do know that is institutional missions – not your particular test, GPA, number of APs, or selected essay topic- drives admission.

What does all of this mean for you? 

1- Apply to a balanced list of colleges. If your current college list only includes schools with admit rates under 20%, you need to re-think. Applying to more schools with single digit admit rates does not increase your odds of being admitted to one of them. That’s just not how it works.

2- Celebrate your wins. Every time you receive an offer of admission, you need to pause, celebrate, reflect on your hard work, and thank the people around you who’ve made that possible, i.e. friends, family, teachers, counselors, coaches, and so on. As always, hug your mama!

3- Control what you can control. Admission is not fair. And mission drives admission. You cannot control where you get in or how much money they offer you in financial aid. You can control how you receive and process admission decisions. These are not value judgments or predictions of future success. Don’t over index.

You can control how  you treat people around you. You cannot control the decisions made in admissions offices you’ll never enter, but you can control the decisions you make in the rooms you enter everyday– your living room, classroom, etc. I hope you’ll make that your mission. Fair?

 

 

Playing to Win vs. Playing Not to Lose

You may not have been following Georgia Tech football in recent years. Suffice it to say, it’s been rough. Rough– as in three consecutive three-win seasons. If you are not an American football fan, it’s important to note- there are a lot more than three games in a season. Last month I walked by a man and his family looking at the field and overheard him say, “When I went here they played football down there. Now I hear they host some good concerts.” So, bottom line- not good. 

As a result, a little over a week ago, our head coach was fired, and assistant head coach and Tech alumnus Brent Key was named interim coach. In his first statement to the press, Coach Key stressed the importance of playing to win versus playing not to lose. His point was our players were worried something would go wrong and were playing tight as a result. He wanted them to feel empowered to make things happen versus waiting for things to happen. Well…in his first game as head coach, the Yellow Jackets (a double-digit underdog) traveled to Pittsburgh and beat the #24 Panthers. Clearly, Coach Key had unlocked (yea, I went there) something in his players.  

If you are a senior, my hope is you will also play to win versus playing not to lose in college admission and your final year of high school as well. Here’s what that looks like.

  1.  Trust yourself. Playing to win means believing in your preparation, intuition, and ability. Lots of seniors right now are stressed about their essay with EA/ED deadlines looming. Listen- you can write. And you have valuable stories to tell and perspective to share. There is no perfect essay topic, so don’t let that give you anxiety. Admission readers want specifics from you. They want to read something uniquely yours. Playing not to lose would be convincing yourself you need more multi-syllabic words or angsting over possibly missing a comma splice. Playing to win means being prepared, I.e. writing multiple drafts, having one or two others give you feedback, and then hitting submit with the confidence that you have done your best work.  

In the year ahead, I also hope you will trust yourself when it comes to the colleges you chose to apply to and those you decide not to pursue. To hear yourself you may have to tune out other voices. When you are deferred, waitlisted, or denied, trust other good things are coming your way. Success in college admission is not getting into your “top choice,” but being prepared, excited to play, and ready to take advantage of the opportunity wherever you end up. Playing to win will mean quiet confidence when the day comes to put your deposit down or close apps at other schools. Trusting yourself means knowing the choice is authentically yours.  

I hope your senior year is characterized by building friendships, preparing academically, and enjoying a unique time you’ll never be able to repeat. Take time to thank and appreciate the people around you who believe in you.  

2. Be Proactive. In the Pitt game and going forward, Coach Key wants his players to make plays, rather than waiting for the game to come to them. Good high school students, good college applicants, and good college students do the same thing. What is not done today that you need to take care of? Are you procrastinating on finishing your application? Figure out what it’s going to take and execute that plan. Are you nervous or unclear about what test optional really means at a college you are considering? Reach out to them. Do you need a teacher to write a rec letter for you, or your neighbor who is an English teacher to look over your essay? TODAY is the day! The college admission experience, if you will let it, can teach you lessons about how to succeed in college and beyond. Playing not to lose means hoping, worrying, and being tight or nervous. Playing to win means being proactive. 

I hope this is how you approach the rest of your senior year too.  A year from now your parents, teachers, coaches, boss, and the other supporting adults in your life won’t be there in the exact way they are currently. Are you waiting on them to provide, guide, decide, or drive?  I hope you won’t spend the year looking around waiting for others to create opportunities for you. To make a play you must move. What do you have to lose when you are playing to win?

3. Have fun.  I Googled fun and did not see pictures of people answering short answer prompts, brainstorming essay topics, or taking standardized tests. But let’s flip the script here. You don’t have to apply to college. Unlike the vast majority of the world’s population, you get to apply to college. We often call it an admission process, and that can make it feel like a grind. I believe that term makes this all seem transactional versus being transformational. Don’t lose sight of the big picture here. If you are reading this, YOU ARE GOING TO COLLEGE. That’s amazing! That’s exciting. Where? I don’t know. You don’t know. So, yea, there’s some uncertainty and mystery. Again, flip the script. Instead of that being what has you nervous, get excited and commit to having fun with the adventure of discovering.  

Ok. Let’s play this out and assume you won’t get into a couple of the schools you apply to. Playing to win does not mean everything goes your way or you control every down or play. Instead, it means you are on the field. You are in the arena. You get to see how and where your preparation, effort, ability, intuition, and excitement lead. That. Is. FUN.  

And again, same for your senior year.  Enjoy. Have fun. Laugh, smile, do things you want to do. For the love of all things holy don’t let college admissions dominate this final year of high school.  Playing to win means being relaxed, confident, trusting yourself, being proactive, and absolutely having fun. And, as always, hug your mama. 

Will Tech beat Dook (you run your spellcheck and I’ll run mine) on Saturday? I am not putting $ Down. But I know they’ll be playing to win- and I’m hoping the same for you in the days, months, and year ahead.   

 

How to WIN College Admission

Get out your pen or phone because I’m only going to go through this once.

To get into any college in the country, you need to follow these steps exactly.

Note: It is important you complete each task in listed order. Failure to include one of these on your application negates the guarantee.

  1. Take AP Physics
  2. Volunteer as a translator at your local hospital
  3. Use either bucolic or grandiose in the opening line of your essay (ideally both)
  4. Score at least 70 points higher than your current score on the SAT

Excellent. Now, be sure you say this to yourself every day, and post it on social media more than twice but no more than four times each month, “I will only be happy if I attend (insert your top choice here).”

As you know, visualization is a powerful tool. Athletes, actors, prominent speakers, and other top performers use this strategy in preparation for achieving excellence, and you need to do the same thing in your college admission/application process. So, close your eyes and imagine yourself at your dream school. Think about walking around campus, eating in the dining hall, laughing boisterously with friends, and hashtagging #BestLifeEver on a daily basis.

You are killing this exercise. Well done. This time close your eyes and imagine yourself at any other college. Think about the disaster this would be. Tears, ruin, and utter carnage should be filling your mind and thoughts. Forget posting on social media in this place. Your fingers will be trembling, internet will be intermittent if functional at all, and all of your friends will have unfollowed you anyway.

Parents/ Supporting adults– I don’t want to leave you out of the fun. Think back on your student’s life to this point. You’ve always known success and happiness to be monolithic. That’s how  your life has played out, and it’s what you’ve seen repeatedly in your friends too. One path to success- and a specific college determines EVERYTHING.

Consider when they were little. All of the parenting books said you should only let them pretend to be one thing, and you followed that advice verbatim. One outfit, one sport, one interest to pursue. You’ve spent so long limiting them and pigeonholing them, but now everything is on the line. This is a test of your mettle. Welcome to the show. Their future- and yours hinges on this- college. Don’t falter and DO NOT relent! Keep pushing them towards one absolute outcome.

And for the love of all things holy don’t let others distract you with stories of unexpected joy or alternatives to your master plan for your child’s life.  You know as well as I do that college is a zero-sum game. Winners and losers. If your kid does not go to X College, not only will their life be over, yours (which thankfully will be much shorter anyway) will be too.

Final Advice  

  • Rankings are the gospel truth. Follow them blindly as you do all other things you read online. Don’t question their methodology or buy the false narrative purporting that they are really only about clicks and marketing dollars. Think about it- if a school went up five spots or dropped three this year, it is because they are fundamentally different places than they were last year. Draw hard lines. This is war.
  • Trust YouTube, TikTok, Reddit implicitly. If a kid says she got into Yale because of the essay she wrote, that’s exactly what happened. Listen closely to her advice and subscribe to that channel for sure. Also, share it with your friends and encourage them to like it- they really will.
  • There is a direct correlation between your chances of getting into a school that admits 10% or fewer of its applicants and the number of those colleges you apply to. I mean that’s just math, folks.
  • Holistic Admission is BS. You need to make a higher score on the SAT, even if they say they’re test blind/free/optional. Go pay a lot of money, spend an exorbitant number of hours practicing, wake up each Saturday at 6 a.m. just to acclimate, and tattoo your necessary score on your wrist. We all know standardized tests are going to help you immensely as a college student. The highest scorers in the NFL combines always pan out to be the best players in the league. Same same.
  • Schools in the same athletic conference are identical. Apply to all of them.

Do all of this and you will Win in College Admission. Do it not and…