College Admission: Read, See, Discuss (…and Be Thankful)

In my 11 years (and all of the months of 2020) serving as director of admission at Georgia Tech, I’ve had three assistants. Their individual personalities vary widely, but they have all been incredibly talented and deeply committed to helping our entire team succeed.

In addition to the hundreds of other roles they play, one key part of the job description (not listed on the official HR site) is keeping me in the loop on what’s really happening with our staff.

What do they need and want? What is bothering them? What do they need to know? And in general, how can we make their day to day life better?

Over the years, feedback has ranged from family leave policies to microwaves and from office sharing challenges to invaluable suggestions. At some time or another, each of them has started that portion of our meeting with: “I don’t know how you’re going to feel about this…” Or “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” That’s when I know something specific to me is coming.

A few years ago, my assistant gently (but very clearly) said that while our team really appreciates all of the articles and podcasts and other collateral I send them each week, it can also be overwhelming to get so many emails about varying issues and topics, especially during the busiest times of our cycle.

Noted and valid. So, we came up with the idea for a Friday Newsletter specifically for staff entitled “Progress and Service,” in honor of Tech’s motto. Broken down into four sections: READ, WATCH, LISTEN, BUZZ (something related to GT), this allows me to share timely higher education- related information without totally spamming their inboxes.


Since next week is Thanksgiving and we won’t be publishing a blog, here are a few of the real gems I’ve heard, read, and seen lately in a consolidated (and relatively concise) format:

SEEN: One of my best friend’s just moved back to Atlanta. It’s been such a gift, especially during Covid-19, to get consistent time together. One thing I appreciate about him, and something I’ve seen up close lately, is how quickly he will reach out to his friends and network when he needs a recommendation for an electrician or a place to buy good produce.

While those are mundane examples, this also translates to his work as well, and it is illustrative of his overall humility and desire to improve.

As you go through your college admission experience, I hope you will emulate this by continually asking: “Who do I know that can help me? Who knows more than me about x or y?”

Who can provide you honest feedback and help you edit (not re-write) your essay?

Who has been through interviews or interviews people regularly?

Who has experience in financial planning or explaining debt, loans, long term implications of return on investment?

Bottom line: USE YOUR NETWORK. If you are considering visiting, applying to, or ultimately attending a certain college and don’t reach out to an alum of  your high school, former teammate, or neighbor who is already there, you are missing a big opportunity.

People want to help you. Friends, family, current college students, want to use their experience and knowledge to see you succeed, find your best match, and ultimately be confident in your college admission experience.  It’s on you to reach out.

DISCUSSED: Todd Rinehart is the VP-Enrollment at the University of Denver and the President of NACAC. On a panel recently, he beautifully outlined a truth that most high school students forget when they think about college admission. You control most of this experience.

  • Of the thousands of schools in this country, you decide which ones you want to apply to. In other words, if you apply to seven colleges, you eliminated 99% of possible places. You select where you apply.

So, if you’re about to hit submit on an app (or you have recently), you should celebrate that decision. I hope you will literally say out loud when you hit submit, “Of all the colleges and universities in the nation, I’m choosing to apply to you.” Does that sound corny or cheesy (and more importantly why these midwestern foods associated with that concept)? Trust me. If your mentality when you apply is one of excitement about each college you apply to, then you are preparing yourself well for the rest of this experience.

  • Now, you do not control whether or not you are admitted, or the level of financial aid you receive. That part is out of your hands. Don’t sit around worrying about it. Don’t drive yourself nuts constantly hitting refresh on portals or emailing admission counselors asking them if decisions may be out earlier. Wait well.
  • You choose from your options. Ball is back in your court. If you listened to your counselor, did your research, and were honest with yourself about the set of schools you applied to, you are going to have choices.

People who have never been through the college admission experience often think the goal of this is to get into a certain place. Admission professionals, whether they are on the high school or university side, know the real truth- your goal is to have choice and options.

In the spring of your senior year, you will be able to sit down with the schools who have admitted you, look over your financial aid packages, revisit your goals, hopes, and dreams, listen to your parents insight, advice, and encouragement, and make a choice. That is what this is all about, friends. Don’t let some hack tell you otherwise.

  • At this point, you own and control 66% of this exchange. But I think this pandemic has taught us there is a fourth piece- also one you control. You decide how you show up at the place you ultimately pick. Bam- 75%! (With grade inflation in some schools that is an A.)

This fall has stretched and challenged us all, but I’ve been deeply encouraged by the resilience and spirit of the students I work with on a weekly basis on campus (so I wrote to them to say THANK YOU).

They regularly say, “You know. It’s not perfect, but I am so glad I’m here.” Or “I love being  with my friends and we are finding ways to have fun and enjoy our semester.” Even when the pandemic ends, you are going to find situations or elements of your college that are not perfect.  Your job is to arrive ready to embrace the new community you choose, build a new network, and take advantage of opportunities. That mentality and approach is all up to you.

READ: My friend and co-author Brennan Barnard wrote a great piece in Forbes recently. Per usual he tackles some of the most pressing and relevant conversations happening in college admission with balance, empathy, and (see #1) by leaning on the wisdom of experts. His piece covers the truth about: test score optional; high school quotas; the “magic formula” of getting in; gap year impact on the Class of 2021; how COVID-19 is impacting the college admission world. In some ways, it’s his version of “Progress and Service.” No wonder we get along.

BONUS- On a hike this week, my son asked, “Dad. You know how there is a yellow sun and an orange sun, and also a blue moon?”

Yeah…

“Well, is there a blue sun?”

Hmm…I’m not sure. Let’s look that up (turns out the answer is … kind of).

I get these kinds of questions from my kids constantly. Con-stant-ly. About former first ladies, minor powers of super-heroes, whether penguins are mammals, and the list goes on. But it’s great and I do my best when I don’t know the answer to look things up with them.

I’m imploring you not to lose that child-like curiosity and willingness to ask questions in your college admission experience. All of the points, Brennan makes in his article, you can ask individual colleges. What is on your mind? What do you want to know or ask? Do it. That’s why colleges employ admission counselors—to be available to you and help you get answers to your important, specific, and critical questions. Ask YOUR questions. Whether that is about majors or residence halls or admission policies or origins of mascots or vegan options in the dining hall. Part of being a good college student is being curious, being proactive, and constantly asking questions. Start now!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Thank you reading our blog and listening to our podcast. This year in particular I’m hopeful  you will pause, reflect, and embrace life’s simple moments and joys in the week ahead.

The Future of College Admission?

Listen to “Episode 22: The Future of College Admission? – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Let me start by saying this: I’m no futurist. My family is quick to point out I’m wrong multiple times a day on a variety of subjects (game outcomes, how long to bake chicken, etc.) My co-workers can also enumerate many occasions when I’ve been dead wrong about direction, strategy, and approach.

But recently, whether it’s a virtual panel or webinar, a television, radio, or podcast interview, or even last week’s (virtual) fireside chat, the big question seems to be, “What’s the future of admission and enrollment?”

So, while I’m painfully aware that I don’t have all of the answers (and I’m not booking a flight to Vegas  to put cash on these predictions), I do see some distinct writing on the higher education wall for the year ahead.Perspective

(1) Most colleges will see fewer, or the same, rather than more applications this year.

Covid-19 hit colleges across the country extremely hard. Last week the National Clearinghouse published its most recent numbers. Overall enrollment is down 4%. Enrollment of first-year students is down 16.1% from 2019 (even more disturbing is that community colleges saw a 22.7% dip in enrollment).

As much as we’re all fatigued by this pandemic, it is not over. The financial impact on families, businesses, and communities is yet to be fully felt. As a result, I foresee 2021 seniors casting a narrower net when applying to college resulting in a lower application: student ratio.

Say what you will about testing, but those scores did provide a way for students to nod to schools and colleges to send them recruitment and application information. The mass cancellations and ensuing test-optional landslide has severely limited a big part of how colleges solicit applications through what we call “search.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not crying about the The College Board or ACT coffers taking a financial hit. However, this traditional source of names and leads did generate thousands of applications nationally in the past, and nothing to this point has proven to directly replace it.

Talk to any admission person and they’ll tout how they’ve stood up more virtual visits and reached higher numbers of students through online programming, tours, or sessions. This is a great silver lining of Covid for both the short- and long-term. However, student Zoom fatigue combined with colleges’ inability to host families on campus and travel to high schools and communities will further deflate applications overall.

Going test score optional (TSO) normally serves to increase applications. But we’ve never seen this many schools go TSO at the same time. My guess is some will see a bump due to this change in policy, but the majority will not.

(2) Admit rates at most schools will go up this year.

Sure. This will in part be a function of flat (or less) applications, but it’s also a response to what we’ve experienced over the last two semesters in higher education. As Clearinghouse data shows, many schools lost undergraduates this year. Translation: they took a major financial hit and need to find ways to recover.

Public universities are going to be under pressure to grow. Those with big brands will be counted on by their state to buoy their overall system. With the tail of Covid coming like Smaug’s in Lord of the Rings, state appropriations to public schools will inevitably be hit hard. Growth expectations, reduced appropriations, and family financial uncertainty as a result of the pandemic all point to more offers of admission to make (and especially to attempt to grow) enrollment.

At privates, especially non-research institutions, tuition is the life blood. Given Covid’s impact on retention and finances last spring and into this fall (not to mention growing trepidation about Spring 2021) I expect these colleges to admit more students in hopes of remedying recent enrollment/net tuition revenue loss.

Let me be clear. There are going to be exceptions to this. Ivy League and Ivy-like schools with multibillion-dollar endowments will likely not be affected as much, so please don’t email me in six months saying I predicted Princeton’s admit rate was going to double. But here again we’re reminded those places are outliers and anomalies, not the signposts, in American Higher Education.

(3) Yield in general declines nationally.

The number or percentage of students who accept an offer of admission and pay an enrollment deposit is known as yield. In recent years, NACAC reported the average yield rate is approximately 33% (College Transitions provides a helpful yield breakdown by institution). Oregon State’s Jon Boeckenstedt produced this visualization earlier this week, which provides Roundabouteven more insight on the challenges and trends with yield and “draw rates.”

Given financial, medical/ health, and travel (distance from home) concerns, as well as the likelihood of most colleges admitting more students, I project yield will again decrease at most schools around the country.

(4) International applications decrease.

In recent years, I’ve had the opportunity through the State Department’s Office of Overseas Schools to travel to consulates and embassies abroad speaking to Americans and their contacts about higher education in the U.S.

During this time, I’ve seen a palpable shift in the conversations about college in America. Other nations, including Canada, Australia, Spain, and the Netherlands, among others, have become far more competitive and aggressive in their recruitment of students around the world.

Add political rhetoric, less than glowing media coverage about the pandemic in the United States, and the fragility of this demographic (which has been a boon for American colleges and universities, particularly since the 2008 recession) only increases. College admission officers’ inability to travel abroad this year further exacerbates the issue– and strengthens predictions 1-3.

(5) Bigger waitlists = longer cycle.

Selective colleges are going to hedge their bets on yield rates. This means they will likely put even more students on waitlists and start pulling students earlier in the cycle (in other words, expect to see more mid-April admits as healthy colleges see deposits roll come in).

Higher education is an ecosystem. As schools continue build their classes Admission Listthrough waitlist offers in May and June, they will be pulling those students away from other colleges. This activity and domino effect will extend deep into the summer, just as it did in 2020. We anticipated a more extended cycle as a result of NACAC’s CEPP adjustments and Covid has served to further elongate that timeline.

(Bonus) Gap year concern… not a thing.

I’m a Presbyterian and we normally stick to three or five points in a speech or article. But since so many have asked about gap years, I’ll include a bonus piece here. 

Harvard made news with 20% of their first-year students opting to take a gap year. This article lists a few other examples, such as Williams, Bates, and MIT, with big increases in gap year students. Understandably, since the press loves to cover schools like “Stanvard,” this has understandably raised concerns among 2021 high school graduates.

As I said earlier, I’ve been on a lot of panels with friends and colleagues from around the country lately. All of them (literally all of them) from schools with 7% to 77% admit rates, are saying the same thing: 2020 gap years are not “taking seats” from 2021 graduates.

Hopefully, everything I’ve laid out in this blog serves to reinforce one point—COLLEGES NEED STUDENTS! Now more than ever.

If the financial argument or the international argument or the health argument doesn’t convince you, here are Tech’s numbers. We granted about 130 gap years deferments. 49 of those will start this spring, 10 in the summer, and the rest next fall. We are not counting these students into our predictive model, but rather adding them to our new classes each term. In other words, they’re “extra seats” not “taking seats.”

Final Thoughts

If you are a junior, sophomore, ninth grader… all of this basically applies to you too. Higher education had its eye squarely on 2025 before the pandemic. Known as the “demographic cliff” we were all planning and preparing our administrations for a decrease in high school graduates, and therefore even more competition and enrollment instability. Covid has fast forwarded us toward the cliff. All of that to say, the future of higher education is trending towards higher admit rates and more options for students.

If you are a senior… I hope this gives you a bit of solace. If your goal in applying to college is to have choices and options (and it should be), I see that coming to fruition this year, assuming you choose a balanced list.

I know that high school is not wrapping up the way you’d hoped or envisioned (if you did envision this, please call me, as we’re working on predictive future models and I could use your help. Plus, we could make a killing in Vegas). However, if you can keep your head up, keep working hard in school and in your community, and maintain a long-term vision during a challenging time, I earnestly believe you’re going to come out of this better, stronger, and more prepared for wherever you end up in college next year.

If you are college counselor or college admission professional… Thank you! You’re probably not hearing that enough lately. We work under severe deadlines, many levels of scrutiny, and increasing pressure. If you’ve not heard it from anyone else this week, please slowly read this: THANK YOU! Thanks for all you are doing for your institution, students, and surrounding community. This is not easy work, but it is ineffably meaningful. Take care of yourself so you can keep taking care of those around you.

Covid is pushing and stretching us all. Throw in a contentious election season and divisive rhetoric on all mediums and it’s no wonder we are all exhausted. I hope in the days ahead you’ll find creative ways to renew, refresh, and share small moments of joy with those around you. Be well, friends.

Beyond the Numbers: Digging Deeper in Your College Search

Listen to “Episode 23: Beyond the Numbers: Digging Deeper in Your College Search – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

My parents are foils of one another. Introvert vs. extrovert, mountains vs. beach, butter on everything vs. butter only in coffee (I never said they were normal). Their preferences vary in weather, food, colors, sports—and that is just scratching the surface.

Perhaps the area in which they are most diametrically opposed is politics. My mom is an unabashed liberal and my dad is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative.  As a kid, my sister and I were acutely aware (and frequently entertained) by these divergent political leanings and opinions. In fact, we found great humor in listening to them comment and quibble about every story covered on the evening news (a thing people used to do in the 80s).

An advantage to growing up in a home like mine is it taught me not to accept any one opinion as absolute truth, but rather to think for myself and seek additional information and perspectives. It also reinforces the need to question any number, percentage, or statistic, because while one of my parents would criticize a candidate’s 43% approval rating as “suppressed due to skewed polling,” the other and would complain it was “laughably generous.”

So, with both the election and admission season upon us, I hope you’ll embrace these critical lessons from the Clark household.

Never take any number at face value.    Numbers

Admission people aren’t dishonest, but I admit we’ll always put a rosy spin on numbers. We omit the ones that don’t make our school look good and find various ways to frame those that, if displayed differently, may not look as favorable. You should read our numbers the way we read your application: holistically. Dig deeper and seek context.

College Costs. You would think this would be a number you could take at face value… and if you think that, you’re wrong. In many cases, the price is not really the price. Remember, you can’t trust the numbers, so lean instead into the letters. Say what?

Take the time to understand how your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) is calculated. That will  lead you to the learn more about the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid), and potentially CSS Profile. The truth is many people do not ultimately pay the price you see on the college brochure or university website. In fact, it’s common that your COA (cost of attendance, which includes tuition, housing, meal plan, other fees) will not be the same amount to attend the same college during the same timeframe as a classmate/teammate/roommate. What the…?! Told you not to trust the numbers.

Dig Deeper. I just gave you a bunch of acronyms and links above, so start there. Then look into Net Price Calculators (NPC). Before you apply to any college, you and your family should plug in your most accurate financial information to determine the approximate cost you will pay based on your specific circumstances. Doing this will facilitate a robust and honest conversation about affordability, loans, working during college, or financial conditions and expectations.

  • Don’t rule out a school based on their published price.
  • Do talk to your counselor, contact college financial aid representatives, speak with current college students, and even venture into some dark recesses of the interwebs to piece together a more complete picture of financial aid packages at the schools you’re considering.
  • Don’t expect to receive a financial aid package and exclaim, “That’s incredibly generous. What are we going to do with all of our unspent savings?” Could happen but you’d definitely be the exception rather than the rule.

Beyond the Numbers: Evaluating Rankings.  

Not a fan (But again you need to think for yourself here). I’ve written about the questionable methodology of these before. Just like you would expect a college to view your GPA broadly, accounting for your high school, grade trends, rigor of curriculum, and other circumstances, I am imploring you not to draw firm lines in the sand (or in an Excel document as it were).

Every year we hear stories from students who say they were discouraged from applying to schools ranked below number 25; or decided only to apply to schools within the Top 10 in a particular field; or were pressured to ultimately choose the highest ranked school from which they received on offer of admission. No!

Dig Deeper. Do your homework. Understand the methodology and ask yourself if you agree with how these rankings are determined. Consider questions like:

  • Does it matter to me that a President from one college looks favorably upon another (especially accounting for what we know about competition)? The fact that these rely at all upon surveys is preposterous. Surveys?!
  • Is a school’s ability to pay a faculty member $2,000 more annually ($244/month or $8/day) of consequence to my college search and decision?
  • Knowing that the rankings makers (think Seneca Crane) are under pressure to sell more ad space for vitamins and Audis, am I really going to choose to apply or attend a school based on this year’s number?

Others numbers I want to strongly encourage you to to dig into and not accept at face value: graduation rates, retention rates, test score bands, admit rates.

Perspective Comment
Perspective is critical. Ask lots of different people YOUR questions to gain confidence in your decisions.

Seek multiple perspectives.

Think about your own high school or hometown. If you only talk to the science department, the mayor, the basketball coach, or someone who moved away 10 years ago, you will get a very narrow take on what makes your school or town interesting, terrible, unique, or completely broken. Ask all of them and you can begin to see a fuller and more balanced picture.

The same is true for the colleges you are considering. Don’t take any one person’s opinion as gospel truth. I am the Director of Admission at Georgia Tech, but I am not the expert on all things Georgia Tech. And the same is true for any alum, tour guide, advisor, or current student. They have their perspective and lived experience, which is valuable, informative, and instructive on some level. But what is really relevant for you?

Your job is to listen closely to a variety of opinions and perspectives, so you can identify themes, trends, and the real culture or community. Be honest about what you really want or need to know, and then be proactive and diligent about asking YOUR specific questions.

Think for yourself. Dare to think for yourself

If you remember nothing else from this blog, please keep in mind this fundamental truth about the college search and admission experience—it is YOURS.  YOU are ultimately the one who will be going, regardless of how many times you may hear a parent say, “We are looking at UC-Davis,” or “Our ACT was canceled last month.”

The next time you hear a friend or teacher say, “You should go to X College” or “You need to consider Y University (Go Y’ers!),” thank them for their suggestions. Continually value and solicit the advice, opinions, excitement, and concern of parents, teachers, friends, counselors, coaches, and others. However, don’t lose sight of your real goal and true success, which is not getting into a particular college (something completely outside of your control), but rather feeling confident about why you are applying to and ultimately choosing to attend a particular university.

Moving Forward

I hope you’ll apply these critical lessons in your college admission experience (and life in general): 1) never take any one number at face value, 2) seek multiple perspectives, and 3) think for yourself. As I’ve gotten older, and particularly in an election season, I’ve come to appreciate another lesson my parents always modeled—you can vehemently disagree with someone and still love and respect them.

The college admission experience is a pre-cursor to the actual college experience. I hope you’ll consider that last lesson as a key part of your preparation for your next four years and the years well beyond.

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Five Important Lessons from Covid-19

Listen to “Episode 21: Important Lessons from Covid-19 – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Stay at home orders in March, and the phased re-entry we have experienced since, has given us plenty of time to be with family members. If you are like me, this has been both beautiful and challenging. I’ve frequently found myself simultaneously thinking, “I love you,” and “Wow. I need some space.”

In our house, proximity and time have led to some healthy conversations and important debates on issues ranging from politics to healthcare to fashion to sports. Most of these exchanges have led to either a greater understanding of one another or a willingness to respectfully disagree.

Six months into quarantine, one major topic remains unresolved: PG-13 movies. We have a 12-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. In my mind, it’s easy to round up for our son. My thinking is I’d rather be there for exposure to references, specific words, or other content. While my wife does not totally disagree with that mentality, our daughter is her sticking point.

“How are you possibly rounding up from nine? You can’t even do that by decades.”

Point taken. Honestly, my problem is more with the lack of consistency in the ratings system. First, 80’s movies rated PG would definitely be Rated R today (although I’m not broaching that because it would reduce our options by about 25%). Second, The Hunger Games is PG-13. Who is in charge here?

Ferris BuellerThankfully, she has relented on a few must see PG-13 films, including Blind Side, Black Panther, Hamilton, and The Avengers.  One I came across the other night was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Colorful language, stealing a car, lying to parents, skipping school, and tormenting the principal? No point even watching the trailer.

However, I did share a key quote from the opening scene with my kids: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Covid has pushed pause on an increasingly frenetic world. If you are a high school student, I hope you will take a page out of Ferris’ book—STOP. Look around. And don’t miss these five important lessons:

Consider what you do and don’t miss.

If summer baseball was canceled and you have been having dreams about curveballs and sacrifice flies, pay attention to that. When the things we truly love are taken away, we ache for them. Is there a class this fall not meeting in person and you are bummed about it? That is likely a sign of a subject you have a true affinity for versus one you’ve been told is important or one you should like/take.

Conversely, what are you relieved to get out of? Our daughter was over half way to her black belt in Taekwondo when Covid hit. Last Sunday I was helping her clean out her closet. I stepped away for a few minutes and when I came back she had discreetly wedged her uniform in the Goodwill bag between some dresses and pants.

What is your taekwondo? What have you been on the hamster wheel with and are now realizing is not really your thing? Pay attention to both sides of the coin academically, extra-curricularly, and relationally, because these are critical signposts as you consider which colleges and cultures best fit your personality, goals, and interests.

Control what you can control.

You can order from your favorite restaurant, you just can’t eat inside. You can go to the park but you won’t be able to sit on the benches. While experiencing limitations or being reminded we don’t control everything in life is never a fun lesson, it is good preparation for your admission experience. Students often feel like the admission process “happens to them.” Much is made in the press and school communities about who doesn’t get in or didn’t receive a specific scholarship.

As a result, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that three-fourths of the experience is up to you. You choose where to apply. Then we choose whom to admit. After that, the ball is back in your court as you receive multiple offers and choose where you attend. And the one often left out, but arguably most important: You choose to maximize the resources and network your college offers. In this regard, I think Covid has been a good primer for college admission (and life well beyond). I am hopeful that perspective, relative importance, self-confidence, and personal agency will triumph over the fleeting disappointment of one or two closed doors.

Things change. You adapt.

Before you get up from reading this blog, take some time to appreciate all you have adjusted to over the last six months (six months!). You have demonstrated phenomenal resilience. Nobody would have chosen this situation. Any adult will tell you how sorry they are that your high school experience has been truncated or altered because of the pandemic.

And yet…and yet… you are here. You haven’t lost sight of your goals. You are undeterred. You are resolute. You are building powerful, lifelong muscles of adaptability, resilience, and vision of the future that will provide critical strength and skills as a college applicant, a college student, and well into life after graduation.

Money Matters.

This spring and summer colleges received more appeals and petitions for re-evaluation of financial aid packages than ever before. Covid has served as a harsh reminder of just how fast stocks can drop, markets can shift, and entire sectors can take brutal economic hits. The bottom line is your college list should not only have a range of academic profiles and selectivity levels, but also account for affordability.  While this is not a perfect proxy, I encourage you to strongly consider applying to at least one in-state public university and/or community college.

Before you submit an application be sure to initiate a conversation with your family about: a) their ability/willingness to pay for your college education, b) any limitations or conditions they have about the type of school they will or won’t pay for, c) their expectations of your contributions financially, including loans, jobs during college, etc.  This blog expounds on those topics and important questions.

It’s Not Over.

At the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the credits begin to roll after he again says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” But then there are actually two more brief scenes. If history is any indicator, we will not see another global pandemic in our lifetime. This time pause was hit for you. I hope you won’t miss the critical lessons above. But most importantly, I hope you will make a practice out of stopping and looking around. If Covid has taught us nothing else, it is that life is precious. Don’t miss it!

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Seniors, Talk to Your Parents!

Listen to “Episode 17: Seniors, Talk to Your Parents – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

My son turned 12 in May. He’s a red-shirted sixth grader now, and I’m seeing all the signs of a middle school boy. His feet are growing at a preposterous rate, he’s sleeping later, and his body movements are shifting from little kid to some bizarre combination of convulsion and human worm.

I get it. I lived it. Still moderately disconcerting to witness, but I understand and recall (with cringe-worthy detail) those tween years.

My wife on the other hand…not so much.  As a physical therapist, she cognitively understands the shifting circadian rhythms and physiological alterations resulting from accelerated growth. It’s the communication piece that has her all twisted up.

Over the last year, our son’s spike in one-word answers has only been rivaled by his decline in sharing both inconsequential and critically important information. Every brute utterance or omitted perfunctory anecdote is my wife’s death by a thousand cuts. Admittedly, this dialogue vacuum is juxtaposed with our 9-year-old daughter who is an open book (actually, more like an open book series). One question and she’s rolling from topic to topic with inflection, head flips, and body language any thespian would laud.

Is this starting to feel painful, awkward, or extremely personal? Mission accomplished. Welcome to middle school. Welcome to my world. (If you need a primer/refresher before moving on, check out this Trey Kennedy clip.)

You, on the other hand, are no longer 12 (if you are 12 and reading this, go back to flipping cups or playing Fortnite because it is far too early to think about college). You are a rising senior now. You are thinking about when you’ll go to college. And if you are going to do that well, it’s critical that you talk to your parents openly, honestly, and consistently in the year ahead. Why? I have three reasons for you.

Hopes and Dreams. Hopes and Dreams

If you could wiretap a few admission counselors from different schools at the back-corner table of an establishment close to an annual conference (let’s hope these scenes return one day), you’d hear some priceless yarns about the handful of “self-sabotaged” applications that come through each year. Essay phrases like…

“I may look good on paper, but I’m really terrible in person. Please give my spot to someone else.”

In an essay titled, “The 12 reasons not to admit (applicant name here)” a fitting concluding line, “I hope I’ve proven that I’m unworthy of attending your institution. If not, please let me know who I need to insult to be denied.”

“Please don’t admit me. My mom went here and insisted I apply. No disrespect – it’s just not for me.”

The list goes on, and on, and on. Every year. Every college. Granted, these bring some humor and usually get printed/posted on the back of a door somewhere in the office (along with a myriad of other gems, including the occasional celebrity headshot from an unsolicited recommendation letter or a certificate of winning the 4th grade spelling bee), but the root issue is problematic.

Ultimately, when students intentionally flub an essay or interview, it is because there has been a breakdown in family dialogue. While this may seem like an extreme conclusion, the communication wedge is prevalent (and highly avoidable) in the admission experience.

At the end of the day, it is your job to honestly articulate where you want to go/apply and why. If you are being told you must/have to/need to apply somewhere you absolutely do not want to go (or conversely that you cannot apply somewhere you really do want to go), it is incumbent upon you to be confident in expressing how you feel now. Trust me here. Don’t take the easy way out. Don’t take your ball and go home (seeing that a lot in middle school world). Hopes and dreams, goals and motivations are big things. They are lifelong things. They demand conversation and confidence. Talk to your parents.

Money Matters

Similar to the self-sabotage essays/interviews, the “Awkward April Aid Appointment (AAAA)” is an annual event. Here’s how it transpires:

Student applies. Student is admitted. Everyone celebrates.

Financial aid package arrives in mail. Family arrives in admission/financial aid office. Nobody is celebrating.

The conversation that should have happened privately and months (possibly years) before is playing out in front of an admission dean. While you are wearing the college hoodie and looking down at your Insta profile pic you just took posing in front of the most iconic building on campus, your parents are either burning through tissues, exchanging passive aggressive quips between each other, or launching purely aggressive ultimatums at the dean (we don’t call it the Awkward April Aid Appointment for nothing).

Before you ever submit an application this year, it is your job to make sure you are on the same page with your parents about what paying for college is going to look like. Ask them about their conditions, limitations, and expectations. “Opening the books” and discussing loan tolerance, willingness/ability to pay, and their expectations for your financial contribution will help shift conversation around money from tense and private to an open partnership and a collective investment (and it will keep you out of the AAAA).

Should broaching this topic be your responsibility? Maybe not. But if Coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that life’s not fair. Wear a mask, wash your hands, stay 6 feet apart, and talk to your parents.  

40 > 4

Recently a parent contacted our office. Their student, who was scheduled to enroll this fall, had inadvertently closed their application and canceled their admission deposit. This year, with all of the stresses of Coronavirus and the unpredictable world around us, our general modus operandi has been grace and flexibility, so the initial inclination was to reinstate her. Mistakes happen, right?

However, upon further examination it became clear this student had also closed their application earlier this summer and we had reinstated them then. In other words, it was not a mistake. It was a breakdown in communication at home- a tug of war- that we were not going to get in the middle of… again (unless of course they read this blog).  Granted, this is another extreme example, but it’s also instructive to you, as a high school senior.

While most people don’t think about it this way, the college admission experience is just a precursor to college itself. The lessons you can learn this year have the ability to launch you into a successful college experience. This is true in terms of your academic foundation, but it’s also true relationally.

First day of school
editorial cartoon

I do not believe it’s an overreach to say the admission experience offers a unique opportunity to lay a firm foundation for the future of your relationship with your family. Do not miss this chance to be honest about your needs, wants, hopes and dreams. Do not miss this chance to really listen and try to understand your parent’s point of view. Be proactive and initiate conversations. Establish a pattern in your relationship now by being open and clear. The next four months and four years have bearing on the next forty. Talk to your parents.

Listen, I don’t have all the answers, but I know this: most of the crazy stuff parents do and say is really just love in disguise. Sure, it comes across a little wacky and can seem like they don’t get you. But believe me, they are trying. They may not be able to pick you up physically anymore, but they are doing their best to hold you up, and provide you as many opportunities as they can. Show them as much grace as you can this year. Be patient. Be kind. Be a senior. Talk to your parents.

And, as always, hug your mama.

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