Waiting Well in Uncertainty

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome back, Sammy!

Listen to “Waiting Well For Decisions-Sammy Rose-Sinclair” on Spreaker.

If you applied to colleges for regular decision, it’s been a few long weeks now that you’ve been waiting on your decision. For the many Early Action applicants deferred from schools this year, it’s been even longer—we’re talking months. Long enough to have watched The Office 26 times back to back.

Still waiting…

While you’re suspended in the discomfort of uncertainty for so long, it’s easy to fixate, to try and find insights that fill in the gaps of what you don’t know. First-year profiles and stats? “How I Got In” YouTube videos? Common Data Sets? Checked them. A thousand times. You may find yourself hunting for signs, trying to decipher anything, anything, as an indicator of what’s to come. An email from Financial Aid? A new button on the admission portal? That could mean something, right? And then there’s daydreaming about life after the admission decision, and how much better things will be.

This is not me passing judgment. This is me speaking from experience. Let me level with you for a moment:

While I was halfway across the country waiting on a potential job offer from Georgia Tech, I jumped into a bottomless pit of internet tabs and YouTube videos about Atlanta and Georgia Tech every night. Every. Night. While I was waiting to hear if my offer was accepted on my home, I scrolled through the pictures on Zillow over… and over… and over. Before long, I had mapped out every grocery store, restaurant, and retail store within a 5-mile radius.

To bring us back a little bit closer to home, I applied to graduate school two summers ago. Slightly different than undergraduate admission, but the application bones were the same: transcripts, test scores, essays, recommendations, the whole deal. I obsessed. I tried to find all I could about how likely I was to get admitted. (You know when you’ve hit the third page of Google results you’re in way too deep.) In my interview, the recruiter quite literally told me I was going to be admitted a few weeks later, and I STILL kept at it.

Feel familiar? Truly, my hope for you is to be better than me. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Getting excited about a new adventure is a good thing.

Researching and virtually visiting schools so that you’re well prepared to make a decision in a few months is a good thing. But doing all the things I just described above? That doesn’t feel good. If you stop to think about how you feel when you’re doing these things, you’ll likely agree.

My hope for you is that you can recognize that moment, and act on it. Reclaim your time, and see this period of time between submitting applications and making a college decision as an opportunity. There are people you care about and things you can do in your last year of high school that deserve your attention now, so much more than the college admission fixation. I promise you, investing your energy in them will feel a million times better.

Trying to peg your likelihood of admission with “chance-me’s,” or thinking up various calculations of where you fall/versus application numbers/versus admit rates, can only provide a fleeting and false sense of certainty where there isn’t any.

It won’t help. I understand the instinct to want to know the unknown. Unfortunately, while you’re waiting for an admission decision, I’ve learned there’s not much you can research that will truly help you “know.”

Here’s a bit of tough love for you:

  • “How I Got In” videos provide singular anecdotal evidence of an admission decision, without insight on what actually lead to that decision in application review. Yet, they’re often presented as a guide or formula to admission, which is terribly misleading. Don’t put any stock into them.
  • “Chance me’s” lack context of the high school, the full student experience, application, academic history, or the applicant pool—all things that factor into admission review.
  • First-year profiles, stats, and data sets, though they’re more data driven, are a guideline of historical numbers. They are not an absolute guarantee of admission results, especially in selective, holistic environments where the important qualitative elements of a class are difficult to summarize. Last year’s first-year profiles also are missing another critical factor: for the most part, those students applied pre-Covid-19. The context of their class profile is completely different than yours.

Boom. There’s the tough love. I don’t want to leave you feeling defeated and without a compass.  However, I believe it’s helpful to realize the compass wasn’t reliable in the first place.

Here’s the good news: wait well, and know that certainty is coming. You’ve worked hard! You’ve done your part to submit your application. The ball will be back in your court soon, but for right now, you’re not going to be in the room while your application is being read.

With all else that you have on your plate, refocus your time and energy on controlling what you can control. Take time for yourself. Take time for your friends. Hug your mama.

A college admission decision does not define you—it is not a judgement of your character, abilities, or a predictor of future success.

Let’s add on to that: a college in and of itself will not define you either. So, if you feel stuck, fixated on daydreaming about how great life will be at this one college if you could just get admitted… rethink that perspective. Don’t give any one school that kind of weight—put that power back in yourself. You’ll explore new opportunities, invest in your own personal development, challenge yourself, and create new relationships in the coming years. That’s not dependent on one college—that’s all you.

The truth is, you will be great no matter where you go, as long as you take that excitement with you, and really show up wherever you end up this fall.

My hope is that you can take the pressure off of any given admission decision in the coming months, and can get excited for the bigger picture. Trust us, it works out.

On behalf of college admission officers everywhere, thank you for waiting with us, and allowing us the opportunity and time to dive into your accomplishments. We’re in the home stretch now!

Sammy Rose-Sinclair has worked in college admission for five years. She moved to Atlanta and joined Georgia Tech three years ago as a senior admission counselor on the first-year admission team. She uses that same love of engaging with students, families, and counselors to interact with the Tech Admission community as the coordinator of our social media channels (@gtadmission).

Same Kind of Different

Listen to “Episode 30: Same Kind of Different (Preparing For Decisions) – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

This Saturday we will release Early Action II admission decisions. Later today our team will gather online (I guess that’s a thing) to walk through the number and percentage of students in each admission decision category (admit, defer, deny), their basic academic and geographic profile, the timeline for pushing the decision into our portal, and the communications plan to follow.  

These are the numbers and the mechanics. But where we will spend most of our time is encouraging and preparing our staff for what is to come. 

Great work, tough decisions, many responsibilities. 

We will thank the team for their great work to get us to this point. Over 21,000 applications reviewed (many having been read two or three times) since the November 2 deadline. For those scoring at home that’s 21,000+ different stories, writing samples, and letters of recommendation.  

In a normal year that is a heavy workload for a staff of 27, but particularly when we’ve been nearly 100% remote and many on our team have been caring for parents or pseudo-homeschooling their kids as well. Bottom line–  it’s been a lot, so we will take some time to celebrate this significant challenge and phenomenal accomplishment. 

We will applaud how flexible folks have been with one another and the grace they have extended  as dogs bark in the background, babies crawl over laptops, and internet service lapses or drops entirely. Good times! This work is always compressed and stressful, but this year has stretched us all- we will try to drive this point home. Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect.

Not everyone agrees. 

Once we have laid all of the accolades on pretty darn thick, we will discuss how tough the decisions really are. There are many difficult choices that go into selecting the best match students and meeting the goals of the Institute. Thousands and thousands of incredibly talented applicants that we simply do not have the capacity to admit 

The truth is even in our own committee discussions we have frequent disagreements and disappointments. So, especially for the staff members who have not been in our office for many years, we prepare them to hear from many students, friends, parents, counselors, principals, neighbors, loving aunts, alumni, and even seemingly unconnected observers who will not agree with our decisions.  

If you assume every applicant has four additional people “in their corner” (personally I think that is conservative) you’re talking over 100,000 people who are impacted by these decisions. That gravity is not lost on us.  

We prepare staff to expect email and calls questioning and commenting on almost every element of our process. “Didn’t you see how high her test scores are?” “You clearly have no idea how hard our high school is.” “I thought you had a holistic review. There is nothing else he could have done outside the classroom.” Covid-19 will put its own spin on this, inevitably, as courses and opportunities have been impacted and disrupted. 

Ironically, within minutes you will receive contradictory accusations. “I know you only took her because she’s a legacy.” Followed by “Apparently, you could care less we are a third-generation family.” You left without doing the dishes!” (Wait…. that was a text from my wife.) Bottom line: there will be a lot of people poking holes, second guessing, and generally frustrated about things not going the way they think they should have gone. 

Miles to go before we sleep. 

In many ways putting decisions on the proverbial streets is only the beginning of our work. As soon as we admit students, the hard work of convincing students to choose us begins. Known as “yield season” in our world, that will entail creative efforts such as calling campaigns, virtual open house programs, and late nights/ early mornings to account for a wide variety of time zones— not to mention another 20,000+ applications to review by mid March. Tight timeframes, bleary eyes, and all of the continued underlying concerns and uncertainties Covid continues to bring. So we’ll preach a steady diet of caffeine, Emergen-C, exercise, and prayer. WE got this 

Same Kind of Different 

As I was making my notes on what to say to staff today, I could not help but notice that as an applicant, all these things can be said for you too. Most of you will receive some combination of admission decisions from different colleges this year. When they roll in, regardless of the outcome (admitted, deferred, denied, waitlisted) keep these three things in mind: 

Great work, tough decisions, many responsibilities. 

You have juggled a lot to get here: classwork, practice, job, family, and all of the complications, stresses, and challenges of a global pandemicYou have demonstrated sacrifice, commitment, desire, and a willingness to trade some comfort and ease for a more difficult path.  Well done. Seriously, you likely do not want to hear this, but what you have persevered through is great preparation for college. Period.

If you have been admitted to college already, CONGRATULATIONS! Well done. You took the classes, made the grades, put in the work and deserve to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing your efforts get rewarded. Keep your celebration classy, my friends. Act like you’ve been there before.  

If you are denied, nothing has changed. An admission decision does not invalidate the character you’ve displayed or knowledge you have gained. Hey. Hey! Do you hear me? Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect. Your day is coming. Some other schoollikely several, are sitting in committee right now impressed and excited to offer you admission. Trust.  

If you are deferred or waitlisted by a college, hang in there. This year in particular those are going to be common results. Take whatever comfort you can in knowing you are not alone. Check your ego. Do not write a school off because they said maybe or hang on, especially since the pandemic has upended traditional yield models and deans and directors are more unsure than ever about how the spring will play out on deposits. Be patient. Keep things in perspective. Be willing to wait. Not easy by any means, but absolutely critical, my friends.  YOU got this!

Not everyone agrees. 

I’m sorry to tell you this, but you may actually have to be the adult in this situation, even in your disappointment. I have seen many grown people absolutely lose their minds over admissions decisions: rants, cursing, threats, accusations, pulled donations, thrown objects, broken friendships. I’ve NEVER seen this kind of behavior from a student (well, maybe a few curses, but basically warranted).  

You may get in somewhere only to have a friend’s parent assert it is “just because ___________.” Just because of… gender, major, your parents’ jobs, one of your feet is slightly longer than the other, or you are left-handed. You may not get in and have your own parent cite one or all of these same reasons.

Bottom line: there will be a lot of poking holes, second guessing, and general frustration around things not going the way others think they should have gone, and when it does, remember most of it stems from a place of love. It may not feel like it at the time, but love is the root of the behavior. Two pieces of advice: 1 – read the poem “if” by Rudyard Kipling soon. 2 – Hug them. If you keep your composure, maintain your confidence, focus on the big picture, and express love in the moment, there is nothing you can’t handle (actually a rough paraphrase of “if”). 

Miles to go before we sleep.

I understand how in January it feels like getting in is what it’s all about. But the truth is some of the toughest work is still ahead of you. The likelihood is you are going to get in several places. You will need to compare those options, receive and evaluate financial aid packages… Oh—and don’t forget about next week’s exam and the paper you still need to write. 

Miles to go! But that’s the adventure, isn’t it? Embrace the journey!   

What does being deferred mean?  

Listen to “Episode 27: What Does Being Deferred Really Mean? – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Recently we modified the final portion of our podcast to field listener questions from Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit. If you have something you want us to tackle, feel free to tag @gtadmission.

A few recent inquiries surrounded how to prepare for the various admission decisions that will be coming out from colleges and universities in the next few weeks, and how/if we think anything will be different this year due to the pandemic.

Since we know you are busy with classes and your time is limited right now, we will hit the highlights of each possible EA/ED decision (deferred, denied, admitted) over the next few weeks and put a few podcasts out on these topics as well.

Deferred

Prediction: I think more students will be deferred this year by selective schools than they have in the past. Keep in mind enrollment managers are doing exactly what their job title says: managing enrollment (you come here for the deep stuff, I know).

Colleges are closely, and quite nervously, watching their spring enrollment numbers. What will retention look like if students were disappointed with their fall experience on campus, online, or in some hybrid delivery mode? If they take an additional financial hit, they will likely be looking to build an even bigger first-year class for the summer or fall of 2021.

Additionally, they have lots of questions about how to predict this year’s admitted student behavior:

  • Will yield go down as a result of test score optional policies?
  • Will international students be able to receive visas at pre-pandemic rates?
  • Will the financial fallout of Covid-19 deteriorate yield of domestic students?

All of this means they will likely defer a higher percentage of early applicants in order to wait and see what they can learn about vaccines, infection rates, economic recovery… you know, little stuff like that.

What does being deferred mean?  

It means maybe, hold onwe’re not surewe’d like to see more. Better than No? Yes. Ideal? Nope.

Being deferred means you have more waiting to do, and that is not easy or fun. This year more than ever before, though, I want to urge you to finish the drill. More defers does not necessarily mean more admits in the spring, but in many cases I think it will. And that is likely true from the waitlist too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  

You are likely going to need to submit another application or two. If you’ve already got this covered, that’s great. If not, then good news—many great schools have deadlines in January. Look for colleges that interest you who have higher admit rates and lower academic profiles than the one(s) that deferred you.

What should you do?  

First, read the letter, subsequent emails, and portal instructions closely. Then do what they say.

You are going to have some more work to do. Inevitably, you will need to send in fall grades, so finish this semester strong. Colleges that defer you will want to see how you’ve done in a challenging senior schedule (especially an abnormal junior spring term), or if your upward grade trend will continue, or how you are adjusting based on responsibilities outside the classroom. You may need to write an additional essay, have an online interview, or complete a form indicating continued interest or discussing updates on your fall activities.

What does being deferred NOT mean?  

It does not mean they are questioning your ability, talent, intelligence or potential match for their school. I understand we all desire instant gratification, but don’t miss the fact that the admission process can teach you some lifelong lessons (for example, some things are worth waiting for; some things do not happen your first time out; sometimes getting put on hold gives you a chance to reflect).

While both words start with “De,” being deferred does not mean you are denied. If a school did not think you were competitive or a good fit, they would have denied you. This sounds harsh but it’s true. Disappointed? Understood. 2020 has been a clinic in disappointment, so I feel you. But 2020 has also reminded us about patience, seeing the positives, and keeping perspective. You got this.

What should you AVOID doing? 

Please do not take being deferred as code for “try harder” by sending 18 additional letters of recommendation, stalking admission counselors on social media, going to see a fortune teller, or getting a tattoo of four-leaf clovers + college logo on your back.

In my opinion, particularly based on the enrollment uncertainty I described above, you should not write off a school you have strong interest in at this point in the cycle. Hold on, send us some stuff, tell us more– you can do that. Unless you have gotten into another college that is a better match for you, then I strongly encourage you to see this through.

Want to know more about being deferred? Read on. And on. And on.

Next week we will delve into what it means to be denied admission. 

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.

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.)ORGT

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!