The College Admission Climb

A few years ago, I took 10 first-year students on a hiking trip to Scotland. It rained almost every day, and the Scottish Midges were brutal. During the trip, we carried 40-pound backpacks (45-pounds when waterlogged) up and down ancient rocky trails, eating freeze-dried meals for nine days straight. Not everyone thought it was awesome.

The goal of the trip, led by Georgia Tech’s ORGT, was to put students in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable environment without access to 100 percent of the information they needed, encouraging them to collaborate, dig deep physically and mentally, and find solutions for the challenges that inevitably arose.

In my mind, I’ve been back in Scotland lately, because while the Covid-19 trail is metaphorical, the severe lack of information, the mental and physical exhaustion, as well as the need to get up each day and simply put one foot in front of the other to keep climbing is eerily familiar.

On our trip, the leaders were the only ones who knew what the day ahead would hold. They had the trail map, understood the topography, and could advise us on what to wear, keep accessible, etc. Now, I don’t know precisely what the days, weeks, or months ahead are going to look like for you and your family. I don’t know all of the lessons you are going to learn from this “trek.” But I do know a little about the terrain and climate you are heading into, so hopefully these tips will give you a sense for how to prepare.

(Note: The original blog includes the full story plus specific tips and insight on curriculum choice, admission committee mentality, or holistic admission practices.)

Preparing for the Trail Ahead

Expect False Summits. If you have ever encountered a false summit while hiking, you know how deflating it can be. You fix your eyes on that point, dig deep mentally, and convince yourself that once you reach that peak the pain and discomfort will end.

And then…you realize there is still further to go. You are not done. You have to keep climbing to reach your goal.

Now. If you know there will be false summits, it does not mean your legs won’t burn and your climb will be easy. However, it does give you a mental edge.

My friends, we are headed into a range full of false summits. I expect at some point or another very soon each of us will experience one. It could be that your high school opens and then has to close again due to Covid cases. It could be that you practice this summer for a season that never takes place. It could be that a college calls, emails, texts and woos you to apply, only to ultimately defer or deny you later.  The list of examples goes on and on.

I’m not saying this is going to be easy. I’m not saying it’s going to be fun. But when you talk to experts about what it takes to be successful in college and life beyond, they quickly mention grit, resilience, and resolve. Arguably, there is no better preparation and simulation for life’s challenges than what we are currently facing. Disappointments are inevitable but losing sight of your goals or stopping short is not an option. Lace ‘em up, friends. Expect false summits.

Don’t Hike Alone. If you are a senior applying to college this year, don’t try to attempt this summit on your own. I’ve written a lot about not sharing your college admission experience too broadly or publicly, especially on social media, but you do need a few key partners.

Find one classmate or friend who you trust implicitly. Keep where you apply, where you get in or don’t get in, and your thought process along the way reserved to the two of you. Pick someone who: will give you constructive, honest feedback on your essays; knows you well enough to ask good questions about your motives and rationale; will hold you accountable; and who will encourage, console, and celebrate with you along the way.

Before we left to catch the plane to Scotland, one of the leaders said, “This is not going to be easy. You are going to be challenged and uncomfortable at times, but together we will learn, grow, connect, and have fun doing it.”

Your family, counselors, teachers, and coaches are in your corner. Let them know when you need help, share your wins with them when they come, and thank them regularly for their support. The college admission experience is not meant to be a solo summit. Don’t hike alone.

Celebrate Wins! Our team talks about this all of the time at Georgia Tech and tries to build in natural points along the way to pause and appreciate what we’ve accomplished. Otherwise, we all end up on an endless hamster wheel that can rob us of both joy and meaning.

I’m urging you to commit now to celebrating wins this year. Every time you submit an application, celebrate. Every time you get into a college, celebrate. Consider the work it has taken to get there and the people who have been encouraging and supporting you on your climb. Look back at your hard work and stop to appreciate the view.  Equally as important is that you commit to celebrating the wins of others.

The Covid climb is going to test us all. Smiles and high fives (not just due to social distancing) are in short supply these days. Go overboard on emojis. Overuse exclamation points. Text, IM, Skype, GroupMe, Slack, call, drive by cheering, whatever it takes. Regardless of what is happening on your climb, celebrate the wins of others.

I don’t know precisely what the days, weeks, or months ahead are going to look like for you and your family. I don’t know all of the lessons you are going to learn from this “trek.” But I do know that as much as colleges are looking for academically talented students, they are also looking for students who exemplify character. And character is frequently developed, tested, and honed in times of uncertainty.

Expect false summits, don’t hike alone, and celebrate wins. Welcome to the trail!

Navigating the Waitlist

Listen to “Episode 10: Navigating the Waitlist – Alex Thackston” on Spreaker.

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor, Alex Thackston, to the blog. Welcome, Alex!

We live in unknown times. The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the effects it will have on us, our families, our society, and the world, leaves us feeling uneasy and unsure about our future. I’m not sure about you, but I wish I had a definitive answer on how this will all turn out. But this is not the first time I have dealt with this feeling of uncertainty, knowing I had no control over a situation.

When I was pregnant with my son, my fellow mom-friends advised me to start looking for daycare programs early in the game. I thought it was a little overboard to research and tour daycares before even telling anyone I was expecting. Once I learned about the competitiveness of getting into these schools, I started my preparations. After combing through 40 different early childhood institutions in the Atlanta Metro area, I narrowed my search down to six schools that met what my husband and I were looking for in a school.

We factored in location (to home and our jobs), types of curriculum (I know… curriculum for a baby?), certifications of the centers and teachers, affordability, and good reviews. Starting to sound familiar? Out of those six schools, there were two that came to the top of our list. Our top option was really out of our price range, but offered every aspect we wanted! The second option was also a wonderful choice, but a little farther than we wanted to travel. We applied to both, paid our application fees, and we were placed on… the waitlist. Yep, you read that right: a waitlist for daycare!

Hurry Up and Wait

During this holding period, we continued to hold onto hope that we would be accepted into our top choice. We figured we could find a way to save and budget for the high costs, dreamed about the educational opportunities it presented, and loved the idea that we could walk from our home to pick up our little guy.

However, fate had another plan. As we waited (and waited…), the due date of sweet boy quickly approached. We found ourselves without the news we wanted or expected. Jack was born in early August, six months after we had placed ourselves on these schools’ waitlists. We ended up receiving a spot off of the waitlist for our second choice. But we were frustrated and upset about the prospect that our first choice was not going to work out when we needed it.

picture of happy baby
Jack loving his new daycare.

We spent a couple of months bonding with our little man at home, but once January hit, it was time to send him on his way. While Jack could have cared less about where he was going, we put on a brave face and sent him to our second choice: an amazing school that still offered everything we were looking for, despite not being the perfect location. And while it wasn’t our number one choice at the time, in the long run we’ve been very pleased with the teachers, curriculum and experiences that our little guy was, and has, been having there.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want…”

So why bring up the “you can’t always get what you want” message at a time like now? Because I know many students across the country will be receiving admission decisions in the coming weeks, and it may not be the news they hoped for.

In my experience, the hardest part is not being denied or told “no,” but being told “maybe” and placed on a waitlist. While this type of decision gives hope, it also brings about uncertainty. So, what can you do? My lesson learned is to continue making plans and look at your other options. There are bound to be other colleges on your list that have already admitted you to their first-year class. If you haven’t been admitted elsewhere, there’s good news—many institutions are still accepting applications for their first-year class!

While these schools may not be your top choice, consider how they suit you and your needs. Make a list of all of the positive attributes you discovered in your top choice school, and look at the other schools to see how they too may possess these factors. You may find that some of these institutions aren’t all that different.

Make the Most of What You Have

I highly recommend that once you get to your new school, make the best of your experience there. You may come to find that the institution you chose was the perfect fit for you after all—a place where you can grow holistically and develop academically.

As a parent, I am always looking for opportunities to create the best experiences for my child. For me that meant stressing over the perfect daycare for a 5-month-old. When our first choice didn’t work out, I looked to my husband for comfort. I mean, how was this other daycare supposed to compete with one that has a curriculum created by PhD’s, an app that let you peek into your kiddo’s typical day, and brand-new facilities for our little one to grow into?

He reassured me that our second option had a curriculum created by former Atlanta teachers who had a combined total of 30+ years of teaching experience, an app where our teachers would post videos, pictures, and updates of our son based on his personal development, and state-of-the-art facilities that were recently renovated when they expanded their building due to the high demand of their program.

It turns out my second choice had everything we wanted and more! Ultimately, we made the best decision for our son and for our family, and along the way learned the lesson the Rolling Stones said best: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you just might find, you get what you need”.

Senior Admission CounselorAlex Thackston has worked in college admission for nine years. Prior to joining Georgia Tech in 2014, she worked for the Office of Admission at Florida State University. She currently serves as a Senior Admission Counselor working with first-year and pathway students, and also serves as the athletic admission liaison.

It Works Out

Listen to “It Works Out: Episode 4- Andrew Cohen, Becky Tankersley, Chaffee Viets, Kathleen Voss, Evan Simmons, Sammy Rose-Sinclair” on Spreaker.

Each year, right before we release admission decisions, I speak with our tour guides. I love talking to this group because they are smart, excited, and always have really good snacks (shout out to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels). They amaze me because they voluntarily give up valuable hours each week to walk families across campus (often in the blazing sun or pouring rain or right after two exams and a bad break-up) and share all of the incredible opportunities available both inside and outside the classroom.

They love Tech. They believe in this place. They have drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid.  At their Monday night meeting I asked them a few questions:

Q: Was Tech your first choice when you applied to colleges?

A: 62% responded NO.

Q: How many of you are happy here now and are thankful for the way it has worked out?

A: All but two responded YES, which I thought was pretty good. (Plus “here” and “it” were vague… they may have been thinking about that particular meeting and whether or not they got the right ratio of pretzel dogs: pretzel nuggets).

Q: How many of you think if you were at another college you would have no chance for success or happiness in the short or long-term?

A: Only one of the 71 said they would have no chance of happiness or success elsewhere. Now you could call this contrarian, but I call it “ALL IN!” Give that kid the TGOTY (Tour Guide of Year) Award.

If you are a senior…

Whether you are waiting on an admission decision or trying to choose from your college options in the weeks ahead, I hope you will find comfort and confidence in these responses. The take home message is #ItWorksOut. Since lot of selective colleges will put decisions out in the weeks ahead, I don’t want you to lose sight of this fact.

Over the years I’ve written extensively about my own personal “re-routes,” as well as the experiences of students, family, and friends in hopes of providing solace when something you hope for doesn’t go as planned. Some of these include:

Again, the resounding commonality in all of these stories: #ItWorksOut.

Further Evidence 

Tweet describing college rejection and decision making
Good Day Philly co-host, Alex Holley.

While perspective always comes with time, it is accelerated by hearing the stories of others. I recently started reading Paul Tough’s book, The Years That Matter Most. I highly recommend it (it’s unquestionably the second best book about college admission to come out within the past year).  In chapter one he tells the story of Shannen, a senior from New York City, who is denied admission to her top choice. She’s crushed. She’s inconsolable. A few days later she receives admission to two other great schools (with better climates) who both offer excellent financial packages. Ultimately, she has achieved the real goal of the college admission experience: not just a single offer from a particular college, but multiple offers from different schools. She has options.

These stories are all around you, but you have to be intentional about being still and quiet and really listening. When you do, you’ll hear about the job someone did not get, the house purchase that fell through, the relationship that did not work out, or the deal that didn’t happen.

A Few Noteworthy Examples

Beyonce. Before she figured out that one name/one person was adequate, she was in a group called Girl’s Tyme (there’s a reason you’ve never heard of it).

Harrison Ford, and Henry Ford (only related by their similarly circuitous paths to fame and success).

Stephon Curry. From not being recruited by major college basketball programs to becoming, well… Steph Curry.

Albert Einstein. Failed his Swiss entrance exam, barely graduated from college, sold insurance door to door. So many great Einstein quotes to choose from. Perhaps the most apropos in this situation is, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

When things don’t go the way we hope, our tendency is to withdraw from others or go into our shell or gravitate toward people who are equally upset and in the exact same situation (see ad nauseam Reddit threads). Ironically, it’s in these precise moments we need to do the opposite—open up, listen to really hear, and seek perspective from people two, five, or 25 years older.

Common Threads

  • You are not alone. EVERYONE. EVERY. ONE. has stories of re-routes and disappointments. If someone cannot share at least one anecdote like this, do not trust them because THEY. ARE. LYING. Need more evidence? Go look at the admit rate of some of the schools you’ve applied to. Now flip that percentage (deny rate) and multiply it with the total number of applications received. That is a big number. That number is a lot higher than one, right? I know, I know. You come here for the math.
  • Re-routes and the things we do not get teach valuable lessons. Whether you are denied admission or you get in but ultimately don’t receive the financial aid package necessary for you to attend your top choice college, you will grow. My hope is you’ll be able to see these situations as opportunities rather than as disappointments. Use them as motivation. Anyone who is truly content, successful, and happy will not describe their life and journey as a predictable point-to-point path. Instead they’ll discuss bumps, turns, and moments of uncertainty along the way.
  • The real decision belongs to you. The common thread between the answers of our tour guides and the famous people listed above is that ultimately, we all need to choose how we handle re-directions, decide where our identity comes from, and determine how we are going to move forward.

To Parents, Counselors, and Teachers

March and April are critical times to give examples of how people students know, respect, and trust have weathered disappointments and emerged thankful on the other side.

Tweet explaining that college decisions work out
No. I don’t know Mark personally. I just ran across this when making sure #itworksout was populated with relatively clean, relevant and appropriate content.

So I have three favors to ask:

  1. Make a concerted effort in the weeks ahead to share your personal stories with the students around you. Extra Credit: join the movement by sharing your experience on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)  Need some guidelines? Tell us:
  • What happened and when?
  • How did things ultimately work out?
  • Link to the blog, @gtadmission and #ItWorksOut.
  1. Talk to the parents of college students or recent college graduates about how things worked out for their kids. You’ll hear them tell encouraging stories of how #ItWorksOut. Maybe not the way they thought or scripted, but inevitably their anecdotes will be filled with examples of what we all hope for our kids: friends, happiness, and opportunities.
  2. Keep lifting up the students around you. They will need an appropriate amount of time and space to express their frustration or sit in the disappointment. Totally natural, normal, and necessary. But if you sense they are bumping up against the “wallow” line, use it as an opportunity to help them hone and develop a critical life skill– the ability to look down on a situation from 30,000 feet. It’s only from that vantage point we are able to absorb and handle disappointment, but also make big life decisions.

I’m not saying any of this is easy. But I am saying with absolute confidence #ItWorksOut. I’m excited to hear the stories of how it has (and will) in your life!

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What is taking so long?

Listen to “How Are College Admission Applications Reviewed? Episode 3: Mary Tipton Woolley” on Spreaker.
Every parent develops their own strategy for how to fend off the inevitable question kids ask on road trips: “When will we get there?”

Early on, I decided the best way to help a toddler understand distance was to use the rear view mirror.

“Okay, if this is our house,” I’d say while pointing to the far-left corner of the mirror, “and this is grandma’s house,” moving my hand to the far-right side of the glass, “then we are here.” Inevitably, “here” was about an inch away from where we had started- and that was being generous.

Last week my kids had Winter Break. On Tuesday, we headed to North Carolina to see my wife’s family. Inevitably, about an hour into the drive, Elizabeth (9) asks, “Where are we, dad?”

I started to explain the county we were in and what it was known for. She was uninterested and interrupted me to ask more clearly, “No, I mean on the mirror.” Wow. What started as an age- appropriate tactic seems to have turned into a barrier to gaining knowledge about geography and state history. Since I had worked all day and did not have it in me to protest, I simply pointed about quarter of the way down the mirror.

“That’s it? What is taking so long?!” About 40 responses went through my head in under three seconds, including trucks, construction, idiotic drivers, Atlanta rush hour traffic, and a number of expletive-laden opinions about population growth, city planning, urban sprawl, and more. Rather than utter these, I simply took a deep breath, shook my head quickly back and forth, and turned up the music. My wife was unimpressed.

I’m not sure what Elizabeth did after that, because I left the music up for the next half hour. But I started to think about her question: “What is taking so long?” Our culture has created an expectation of immediacy. We order a coffee, pay, slide down the counter and pick it up. Drive thru lanes are optimized, pictures can be printed at home or are ready for pick up immediately. We expect same day pick up for car repair, dry cleaning, or prescription refills. Actually, all of that requires actual effort. How about 1-click online Amazon orders that appear at our door often within hours?

A Road Trip Through the Admission Process   

When you apply to college, especially one that receives far more applications than they have seats available and uses a holistic and layered admission review, waiting is inevitable. If I were you, I’d definitely be asking, “What is taking so long?!” Don’t worry. I’m not just going to sigh and tune you out. Read on.

The application leaves home:

You hit submit. Now what?

Merging lanes:

At this point, the college matches supporting documents to your application in their database. Supporting documents includes everything from transcripts to letters of recommendation to test scores. The take home message is they’re ensuring your file is complete so they can begin their review.

If it is incomplete, your admission portal will show exactly what you are missing and you will start getting emails/texts/calls/owls about that. (By the way, if you are a senior reading this blog and not checking your email, stop reading this blog and go check your email!)

Carpool:

At this point, it depends on the system or style of application review a school has decided to use, but generally speaking the person who visits your school or is in charge of recruiting your city or state will be the one initially responsible for reading your application. At many colleges, file review begins once it’s complete, while others wait until all applications for that round have been received. Seeing all applications from a particular high school allows counselors to understand how your grades, rigor, trends compare to your peers in the applicant pool.

For example, one student receives a 91 in AP World History. That school adds 7 points of “weight” to all AP grades. While an admission officer would already know the A range extends from 90-107 based on the school profile and transcript, reading all applicants from a particular high school in the same day allows them to also see applicants who may have 102s or 104s. What does this mean for you?

  • Holistic review is both individual and comparative, rather than simply formulaic.
  • In a weighted system, two students can both have “4.0s” that look very different (in this example, 17 points).
  • This does not mean the student with the 104 is automatically getting in. Again, holistic means holistic. The entire goal of these processes is to gain and keep perspective, rather than to draw hard lines or apply a purely academic formula.

In some cases, initial review is conducted by a single individual. That counselor reads your application in its entirety, makes an admission decision recommendation and passes it along to another team member (often one slightly more experienced/senior on the team). Think about this as checks and balances. Schools want to be sure multiple people read your file and have a chance to offer their opinion on your candidacy for admission.

In other cases, schools employ Committee Based Evaluation or Team Based Review. The concept here is a simultaneous and synchronous review. Two team members read your application at the same time. One will evaluate you from a purely academic standpoint by reviewing transcripts, testing, and teacher and counselor recommendations. They take a deep dive into your course choice, grade trends, and how you have performed within your school’s context. The second reader tries to understand how you’ve used your time outside the classroom, as well as the impact and influence you’ve had on others through working, clubs, sports, or other pursuits. That staffer also reads your essays, short answer responses, and, depending on the college, may also read recommendations.  Each staff member makes individual recommendations based on their evaluation. They could both agree to admit or deny, or there could be a split decision.

Traffic Jam:

“Are we there yet?”

No! We are still only mid-mirror.

“But the driver and passenger both agree to head a certain direction.”

True. However, there are other cars on the highway, so now most files sit for a while.

“What does a while mean?”

You know how your Waze App has varying levels of red for traffic? Yea. Kind of like that. Sometimes it’s a dark pink, and often the time just keeps adding up.

“Why?”

Because admission decisions at selective institutions (those invariably using holistic review) are both individual and collective. Students are evaluated based not only on their performance in their school setting, and the other students in their high school (see example above), but also in comparison to the entire applicant pool.

Now counselors move on to that work. They begin reading other applications from schools, cities, or states they are responsible for, and they also help the rest of the team complete their first round of review.

As an example, if a college receives 20,000 applications in their Regular Decision round and has on average 10 pairs of people reading 50 applications a day, five days a week, it would take eight weeks to complete the first round of review. But you know life (and road trips) are never going to be that simple. There are holidays, sick days (for staff or their own children), as well as other recruitment responsibilities. Throw in some technology challenges, a fire alarm triggered by someone microwaving fish in tinfoil, and a good old snow day or two and you’re easily pushing 10 weeks.

“Why don’t you just hire more staff?”

Please call me on a secure line.

Recalculating….recalculating….

Next, schools move into “committee review,” or “cohort review,” or “class shaping.” Deans, directors, and VPs provide additional direction about institutional priorities and empower larger groups of staff to review applications on both an individual and comparative basis. Typically, in this phase discussions are informed by specific targets. Do we have enough admits from certain counties, states, or nations? How are particular majors doing in terms of their specific enrollment targets? Geography, academic major, ROTC, special talents, first generation, financial need, demonstrated interest may all come into play. Some or all of these student attributes, and potentially many more, are discussed as applications move through the committee review stage.  If faculty engage in the admission process, this is a logical time frame in which they’ll be consulted or asked to weigh in on student fit to their programs or the institution overall.

At some colleges, all files are reviewed again in committee, while at others only those who had a split decision in the first round enter this phase of review. Many colleges make admission offers to applicants about starting their academic career on a different campus, abroad, or in an earlier or later semester than the one for which they initially applied, which means committees are also attempting to hit targets for those institutional needs.

How long does this take? Well, that depends on the number of applications, the number of staff, and how bad flu is that year, but it usually takes several weeks. These are often tough and complex decisions that involve more people in the room weighing a series of macro factors and goals.

Re-routing:

We are almost to the far-right side of the mirror. Decision release day is approaching. Your calendar is marked and so is ours. Everyone is nervous. At this point, deans and directors are consulting with their data analysts to gauge their mathematical models for “yield” (the number of admitted students who actually choose to enroll).

Let’s say a college has a yield rate of 34% (this is actually quite common nationally). The dean knows her president, board, and faculty are counting on a class of 1,400. The current number of admits after committee is 5,000, which would result in a class of 1,700 students. The dean knows about 100 of the students who deposit do not ultimately enroll (this is known as “melt”). With residence halls and dining halls built for 1,400 new students, she is over by 200.

Accounting for yield and melt, a small group of senior-level admission folks take on the unenviable task of further reducing the number of admits (in our example by about 600+ students). This pushes previously slated admits to the waitlist, and as a result has a cascading effect on both the number and percentage of students who end up with that particular decision.

Owner’s Manual:

Every road trip and car system varies. I’ve tried to provide a general overview of how colleges review applications. If you want the full details of the operating system from a school you’re considering, check their website or consult one of their admission counselors. As an example, Georgia Tech made a video to illustrate our process.

Buckle Up! Inspirational picture describing the open road

I’m sorry this process takes so long (I’m also sorry this blog is so long). I don’t like to wait either. In fact, I don’t think I’ve never heard anyone say, “You know what I really love… waiting.”

If you are a junior just entering the college admission experience, I hope this gives you some insight and questions to ask as you consider specific colleges. When you visit or talk to one of their representatives, listen for their explanation of the process. Speak up and ask questions if it is not clear. You are going to put a lot of time and effort into applying. It is your right and responsibility to understand how they make decisions, as well as a clear timeline in which they do that.

If you are an applicant still waiting for the car to pull into the driveway, I hope you will take a holistic approach to waiting. Like admission officers, your goal is to keep perspective. You only have one senior year. Enjoy it. Go to games, hang out with friends, take trips, and have fun! Nobody ever looks back and says, “I wish I stressed out more and wished away the spring of my senior year in high school.” (Kind of like nobody says, “I want to marry someone mean,” or “I prefer to overpay for my meals.”)

Look around you this week in school.  I am asking you to fight the temptation to look to far ahead. Slow down. Remember this–  most of the folks you see every day now will not be around (in person) at this time next year. Give them a hug. Grab a meal together. Go see a concert. Just enjoy being together.

Ultimately, it is the things we have to wait for in life are the ones that shape us the most. You will come to the end of the mirror soon enough. Take in the sights. Share the road. Enjoy the ride!

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Lice (and admission) Lessons

Three years ago, I wrote a blog about my family getting lice.

Here is how it went down.

Cue dream sequence…

My wife called to tell me some horrible news.

“Our daughter has lice.”

“Oh, crap.”

“No. Lice. She has to leave school.”

“Okay. Got it.”

Since my wife works at a hospital she can’t leave at a moment’s notice, so I started packing my bag and canceling meetings. Five minutes later, she called back.

“Our son also has it.”

“Oh, CRAP!”

“No. Lice.”

“Yeah, I’m on it.”

I put down my phone and started scratching my head. Power of suggestion, I suppose. 45 minutes later I picked the kids up from school and we immediately went to a local shop that specializes in debugging (my term, not theirs).

I had not seen the signs. I needed someone else to identify the situation, alert me to the problem, and ultimately deal with it for me.

Then, And Now

Not this time….

Fast forward to two weeks ago. I arrived home from a five-day trip well after midnight, slept on the couch, and awoke a few hours later to my son dropping a spoon on the tile floor in the kitchen (his coordination improves as the day goes on).

I stumbled over to start making coffee, gave him a hug, and asked, “How’s it going, bud?”

“Alright.”

“Had a good week?”

“Yep.”

Man itching over his current stressful situationThen I noticed it. In less than 90 seconds, he had already scratched his head twice. My Spidey senses (and frankly my own scalp) were tingling.

“Does your head itch?”

“Uh. Huh.”

“Has it been itching before today?”

“Yeah. Mom said it’s probably just dry scalp.”

Right at that moment my daughter came down the stairs. I’d always found her shuffling feet, wrinkled nightgown, and disheveled, tangled mess of hair to be endearing. I saw her rub her eyes, yawn, and then (seemingly in slow motion) move her hands to her hair to scratch the back of her head.

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

She looked hurt and confused. I did not care.

Meanwhile, my son had gone back to filling his bowl. I had to double take. Was that cereal previously regular shredded wheat? Because it definitely looked frosted now.

Not going to lie. I put on a toboggan hat (we were fresh out of shower caps and hair nets) and told them to get in the bathroom.

“But dad I’m hungry,” my daughter protested.

“Girl, right now you are the meal. Get in the bathroom.”

Still confused (and scratching) she followed my son down the hall.

I found a pencil and started examining. Unlike the last time when I needed the “lice lady” to tell me about their condition, this time I was positive within 30 seconds.

“Okay. I’m going to email your teachers and cancel my meetings today. We have to deal with this. And don’t sit on the couch, put on a hat, or move at all until I come back.”

I went upstairs, threw all of my clothes in the hamper, and took a shower. And yes, I may have cried just a bit.

Unlike the last time, I did not need anyone else to tell me about the problem. I knew what to look for and how to deal with it- right down to drying all towels, sheets, and blankets on high and bagging up the stuffed animal zoo my daughter has created in her bedroom. Moreover, even though I was confident they were infected, I knew I was lice-free. I had not had head-to-head contact with them recently due to travel, and I was able to do quick self-examination.

Paranoia, the power of suggestion, and the possibility of a problem

Just saying the word, “lice” causes most people to start itching. Inevitably they move back a little and wince, or shift in their chair and alternate twitching their shoulder blades, or simultaneously shake their head and crinkle their nose, while firmly closing their eyes and shaking their hands.

Let’s be honest. The college admission process is eerily similar. We hear stories about smart kids not getting into certain schools, or read articles about the growing competitiveness of a school that “used to be so easy to get into,” or see social media posts touting the newest rankings, admit rates, or ROI statistics—and we start to “crtich” (equal parts cringe and itch).

Are you infected?Analyzing a situation to discover the root problem

In our labs at Georgia Tech, we are currently working on an “anti-admission itch cream.” Since it is patent pending and not immediately available for over the counter sales, let’s conduct a quick online exam and virtual treatment procedure:

  • You are a senior who was recently deferred admission in EA/ED.

Bugs: You are thinking about “demonstrating interest” to help your chances of being admitted in the next round by writing a letter a day to the admission office, or calling/emailing every member of the admission team to plead your case and articulate your love of the school (happens every year), or sending flavored, scented, or sweetened gifts to the admission director (no way I’m opening, let alone eating, any of that), or popping in, tweeting at, or just showing up… YES! You are infected.

De-Bug:  Do what they have told you to do. Most likely that will just be sending in your fall grades, filling out a quick form, or writing a supplementary essay. Want to go one step (ONE- not 100) further? I get it. Send a quick email to the admission officer who reads/recruits your school/state letting them know you appreciate their time and continued review of your application. That’s it. Stop scratching. There are no bugs. You are good. Repeat: YOU.ARE.GOOD! 

  • You are a parent considering using an independent counselor or consultant to help your family navigate the college admission experience.

Bugs: Their sales pitch (and basically only “credential”) centers around their own kid getting into an Ivy League school two years ago. They are not an expert. YES. You need to be examined. Someone in your neighborhood, school community, or workplace has leaned over and created a bug bridge from their infected head to yours. And if anyone “guarantees” you admission to a college (especially those considered selective or highly selective) you should both check your head and the headlines. Googling Rick Singer.

De-Bug: If you already have a high quality, well-trained, deeply experienced counselor in your school, you most likely do not need additional assistance. However, if after examining your situation, i.e. penciling your head closely, you believe outside or more individualized assistance is critical, find someone who is a member of HECA, IECA, NACAC, or another reputable professional organization.

  • You are a junior who is unhappy with your initial standardized test scores.

Bugs: Life is over. I’m not going to college. No college will admit me. I’m not smart. If any of those thoughts have gone through your head, then YES, you are buggy. The itch is real, my friend.

De-Bug:  There are 4,000+ colleges in America. Most of them admit far more students than they deny.  SPOILER ALERT: If you are reading this blog, you are not only going to college, you are going to absolutely kill it when you do. That is a guarantee! So, don’t avoid human contact. Instead, start by checking out the more than 1,000 colleges in our country who do not require or consider test scores as part of their admission process. A full list is found at FairTest.org.

Talk to the admission reps from schools you are thinking about applying to, and ask them if they are splitting hairs (couldn’t help myself) over 80 points on an SAT or two points on an ACT. Then, after they give you their scripted answer, say, “Really though? Is that just what you say publicly, because I’m kind of itching here and I need you to level with me.”

Go see your school counselor and keep working to create an academically and financially balanced list. And before you decide to spend your incredibly valuable time in test prep courses or paying hundreds/ thousands of dollars to a company who is having company retreats in the islands, look into low- cost, free, or online sources like Khan Academy.

  • You are the parent of a student who was denied admission.

 Bugs: “That’s my alma mater and I’m writing them out of my will and never going to another football game on campus.”

“I’m going down there myself and demanding someone tell me exactly why my son was not admitted.”

“They did not take my daughter because the only kind of kid they admit now is (fill in the blank).”

 De- Bug: What your daughter or son needs most is for you to just listen and reassure them with your presence and perspective. Sometimes that may mean saying absolutely nothing for a little while and just being able to sit with them in the disappointment.

Ultimately, however, they’ll look to you for important reminders: you love them, you are proud of them, and you’re there for them and with them every step of the way. They need you to remind them that they are the same talented, cool, interesting, and bound-for-a-great-future kid they were before submitting that application.

Reassure them that admit letters are coming (or have already arrived). And give them even better news– they’re going to end up on a campus filled with other talented, cool, interesting, and bound-for-a-great-future kids as well.

Enjoy these precious final months of their senior year. They go far too fast to spend them itching, scratching, and infecting others. You’ve got this!

Diagnosis

I understand you may feel a little unsettled at times. The admission experience can do that. Whether you are a parent or a student, you are going to see some serious “critching” around you, especially at this time of year.

Remember, others “condition” does not mean you have a problem. Stay calm. Get the facts. Don’t gossip, speculate, or presume. Talk to the experts. And for the love of all things holy, don’t go down internet or social media rabbit holes about this stuff. That’s the exact type of head-to-head contact you need to avoid!

Feel free to go upstairs, throw your clothes in the hamper, and take a shower. But there is no need to cry.  Now that you’ve read this blog, I’m officially declaring you “bug free.” You have my anti-itch guarantee on that.

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