Lessons from the Election

Note: Next week we will get back to talking about fantasy football. But for now we’re calling an audible and saying it’s halftime, because it’s important we deal in reality. And the reality is the last week has been terrible. (How’s that for an intro?)

The dramatic election Tuesday was followed by turbulence and fall out on social media, in personal conversations, and in the press. I have had a lifetime of preparation for this kind of division. See, I grew up in a split household. My mom is about as liberal as they come: raised in the northeast by parents who both worked at Princeton, she took us to help at a homeless shelter as soon as we were old enough to volunteer. She is pro-choice, advocates for gay rights, and will be in Washington for the Women’s March in January. Conversely, my dad was raised by a widowed hairdresser, served in Vietnam, and ran his own small business until he sold it a few years ago. Fiscally conservative and socially conservative, his motto is “keep the government out of my business.”

When we were kids, they’d come to the breakfast table on Election Day, raise their coffee cups and say, “Okay, let’s go cancel each other out.” Their differences extend well past politics. She’s an extrovert, while he’s an introvert. He loves the beach and the sun, and she would be happy if it never warmed up past 75 degrees. They are the first hit when you search Wikipedia for “opposites attract.”

Their marriage has not always been easy. But I always saw effort, forgiveness, and an acknowledgment of their own faults. And that’s what led to reconciliation.

A House Divided…

This election was filled with some of the most divisive rhetoric of any in modern American history.  And those lines have only been reinforced as the pollsters and press dissect how America voted: urban vs. rural, black vs. white, rich vs. poor, educated vs. uneducated. Regardless of who, if anyone, you supported, emotions are swirling: surprise, excitement, bemusement, vindication, fear, or some combination of these and many others.

In 1858 Abraham Lincoln addressed his Republican colleagues in reference to the pressing issue of slavery and said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” In talking and listening to friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and random people on the train, the concern for our nation is palpable. There seems to be a dearth of empathy and a plethora of anxiety; an abundance of fear of the future;  a lack of faith in the inevitability of unity; not to mention a lot of finger pointing and too little hand shaking.

Certainty in Uncertain Times

In uncertain times, there is solace in remembering some things have NOT changed, and recalling the things you can count on in the future.  As election season gives way to admission decision season, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Things are going to happen in life that you did not “vote for,” and that you cannot control. You may be denied or deferred from the college you really wanted to attend. Or you may get in to your dream school but not get a financial package that you can afford. If (or more likely when) one of these things happen, it’s understandable that you may need a week to cry, scream, mope, curse, or question. But ultimately, you have to shake that off. Keep working and have confidence in yourself. And it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t do that alone. Share your frustrations with friends and family, but also lean on them, listen to them, and learn from them as you move forward.

You will see someone get in who you don’t think is the “right” or “most qualified” person. We see and hear this every year in the admission process. “Well, they only got in because they are <<insert group here>>, or from <<insert school or state here>>.” “She got that scholarship because she’s  X (or had a Y) and I didn’t because I’m Z.” Broad generalizations like these are essentially saying  “Well, that’s the way THEY are.” And that, my friends, is divisiveness. I think it’s important to note that Lincoln’s speech was quoting from the Bible. In the original text, the “house” was not a not a nation but a person’s soul and character. Open your laptop, check a few trending hashtags, or go sit on a park bench and listen. You’ll see why those types of broad categorizing statements are toxic. Saying it’s a slippery slope is not even accurate–this is a cliff you tumble off, taking the character and achievements you’ve worked so hard to build and throwing them into an abyss.

I’m coming out of the fog and muck of last week. I have an advantage by working at a college. Walking across campus yesterday, listening to conversations in the dining hall, and sitting down to talk with students from all over the nation and the world has brought me much needed encouragement.

What Awaits You in College

I can’t tell you which campaign promises will be kept or abandoned or adapted. But what is certain, and what I hope provides you great excitement and optimism, is what awaits you in your college experience.

  1. College will continue to be a place that seeks students who want to learn. Students who ask why and how; who want to make the world around them now and in the future better, safer, and more interesting.
  2. College will continue to be a place that draws students with diverse thoughts, passions, and interests. Students who commit to one another; who seek to understand one another; who know that learning from their differences and tapping into everyone’s strengths and talents will allow them to collectively solve problems.
  3. College will continue to be a place that cheers together in athletic victory, cries together in campus tragedies, studies together in the wee hours of the morning, and ultimately embraces each other on graduation stages and in life well beyond its gates.

Wedged between election season and admission decision season is Thanksgiving. I hope you will use this time as a respite; a time to be reminded of and surrounded by the things and people who bring you rest, joy, and assurance.

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Olympic Gymnastics and College Admissions– NOT FAIR!!!

It’s Not Fair!!

I’ve been watching the Olympics a lot lately both at home and in the office (don’t worry tax payers, I’m only viewing at lunch, or when slowly meandering past the lobby TV, or perhaps occasionally on the split screen desktop– what can I say, I’m a multitasker).

The other night Gabby Douglas placed 3rd in the Women’s Gymnastics All-Around qualifying. Third out of 24 (Top 12%). But because she finished behind her two American teammates, she was not able to advance to defend her 2012 Gold medal. She smoked the rest of the field and certainly could have edged out either of her two teammates in the actual medal round, if given the chance– but no dice. She was out.gabby

This is a young woman who grew up blowing away the competition in her home gym and school. She was quickly the best in her state, region, and ultimately climbed to national prominence. But this year, based on the most slight movements and judgments in the Olympics, she would have to watch from the sideline. And that’s when my wife stormed out of the room railing about the crappy Olympic rules and reiterating things like, “it’s not fair” and “that sucks” as she went upstairs to bed.

I just kept sipping my drink. Because, you know what, it all seemed very familiar to me (cough… college admission). She’s right though. It’s not fair. It does suck. World-class athletes get edged out of their pursuit for an Olympic dream all along the way– in trials, in nationals, and yes even right at the very last moment by .04 by her own teammate.

Here’s the thing though– she signed up for it! Gabby knew how good the other Olympians would be. She’s trained with, supported and pushed Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, along with her other US teammates to improve over the last few years. Would she have lost a night’s sleep before competing at her state tournament? Absolutely not. She’d probably have stayed out late the night before eating Cheetos and playing Pokemon Go. Then she would have waltzed in, closed her eyes, and still sailed to first place. But on this stage- at this level- she knew that coming in 3rd and having to cheer on her teammates in the medal round was a possibility.

Admission Perspective

Only about 20 colleges in our nation have admit rates of 12% or less. If you are applying to one of these, and frankly, if you are applying to a school taking 33% or less, you need to understand that getting edged out is a distinct possibility.  Is that fair? Does that suck? If your answer to both is “Yes” right now, you have some work to do:

  1. Consider: You are signing up for that uncertainty and possible disappointment. You may be among the best in your high school, county, or even state, but that does not guarantee admittance when the field is this strong. You may have 18 relatives who have attended or been wearing that schools gear since you were in diapers, but in that year, for that college, and based on where you’re from or what you want to study, or what the school is emphasizing or de-emphasizing (Institutional Priorities)– and most importantly the rest of the competition, you may not get admitted. Can your ego handle that? Can your parents handle that? Gabby was absolutely frustrated, sad, and upset. But she gathered herself, cheered on her teammates and then pulled it together to win other medals in the Rio Games. That choice is on you, too.
  2. Back-up: Every year we read stories of students who “got in to every Ivy League school.” While many marvel and inevitably some TV station broadcasts this “success” in awe, my normal response is they wasted a lot of money, because those place are so different from each other that clearly the student did not do their homework on the college search. OR (and more likely) they or someone around them have an incredibly big ego, so thank goodness they did not apply to Tech. Following that I am thinking, “I know it worked out, but I sure hope they had at least one “foundation” or “in- profile school” on their list. No matter how high your GPA, number of APs, test scores or others opinions of you, you need at least one non-Olympic school on your list.

Georgia Tech Olympics

BRONZE: We often get calls from counselors or parents who says that Tech was the only school a student applied to. Will you re-consider your denial because now it’s late March and all other deadlines have expired? Sip. You signed up for that.

SILVER: We also get calls from parents or counselors or principals/headmasters about a brilliant student who applied only to (insert your five to seven crazy elite schools here) and was denied or waitlisted to all of them. It’s now early April and she’s scrambling for an admit. “This is a great kid. I know you would have taken her if she’d applied in Regular because she’s right in your profile.” Sip. At that point, we’ve already handed out our medals too. “Games” over, friends.6 year snap

GOLD: Take a look at this application and admit rate chart. Imagine two siblings are applying to Tech. One in 2012 and one in 2016. Same classes, same grades, same Model UN coach and same summer job. But in those four years the competition rose significantly and the class size stayed the same. The bar went up drastically based on the other applicants in the pool, or field, or whatever Olympic/Admission analogy you choose to use here.

Listen, I get the desire to compete at the highest level. I applaud that. I also see the attraction to applying to one of the small set of schools in our nation that take basically 1/10. Big reputation. Beautiful campuses. Successful alumni. Parents love the bumper sticker. Not hating on that aspiration, so don’t misunderstand me. I’m just saying you don’t always know what the judges may be looking for in that competition, and that there are a lot of Simones and Alys in those applicant pools. That’s all I have to say about not getting “Gabby Douglased” in the admission process.

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The Waitlist Sucks (part 1 of 3)

There’s just no easy way to say it. There’s no funny intro or creative analogy. And frankly, it sucks for everyone. To understand the student experience (which we’ll delve into next week), you first have to understand the college’s perspective.

The Admission Experience

The waitlist is a reminder that I’m not very smart. If I were better at my job, I could predict exactly how many students each year would accept our offer of admission (a term known as “yield,” which is the percentage of students who say YES to your offer and choose to enroll). In fact, if I were really good, we’d have 100% yield (the national average is 33.6%). In this perfect world, all of our new students would come to campus smiling, earn 4.0 GPAs, retain at 100%, graduate in 4 years, get high paying and highly fulfilling jobs after graduation, name their babies after the admission director… you get the picture.

Georgia Tech’s freshman class size is 2,800. As a public school, our mission is to serve our state and expose all students to a world class education in a global context. Part of that education means enrolling students from states across our nation and countries around the world. Our ideal undergraduate population is approximately 60% from Georgia, 30% from other states, and 10% international students.

Due to finances, proximity, name recognition, rankings, girlfriends, and perceptions that people in the south do not wear shoes or have running water, our yield projections are based on demographics. In recent years, our yield from Georgia has been approximately 63%, 35% from abroad, and 24% from states around the country. We constantly analyze yield by state, gender, major, etc., but at the end of the day, although data, history, and trends are helpful, each student is different, each family is different, and each year is different.

Method Behind the Madness

Maybe I’m going into too much detail here, or belaboring a point you basically got after the first sentence: I’m not that smart. Essentially, the waitlist exists to accommodate for demographics that were not met in the initial round of admission offers. If you have the right number of deposits from the West coast, you go to your waitlist for more East coast students. If you have enough Chemistry majors, you may be going the waitlist for Business students. Ultimately, the job of admission deans and directors is to make and shape the class, as defined by institutional priorities. Meeting target enrollment is critical to bottom line revenue, creating a desired ethos on campus, proliferating the school’s brand, and other factors.

If we come in with too few students, we lose revenue and are unable to fund initiatives and provide opportunities for the students who are here. If we overenroll the class, we run into issues with housing, inflated student-faculty ratios, quality of classroom discussion, space for labs, and long lines at Chick-Fil-A. I hate being blamed for all of these things, but walking into the student center just to get a coke and having someone tell me to stop enrolling so many students because the lines are long is just annoying.

Making the Phone Call

How waitlist offers are made vary by college but it’s not atypical for a school to offer four to six students a spot from the waitlist just to convert one after the May 1 national deposit deadline. It’s logical, as students have mentally committed elsewhere by that point. They’ve deposited, bought the t-shirt, attended an admitted student day, and met future classmates on the Facebook group.

I hate calling a student and hearing simultaneous excitement and pain. Pleased to have the option, but also realizing the option creates a quandary. Conversely, other students quickly dismiss the call quite brashly. “Nope. I’m going to X.” It’s the proverbial finger, and I get it. In fact, I remember Bucknell offering me a spot from their waitlist after I’d already committed elsewhere, and it kind of felt good to turn them down. On our side of it, it doesn’t matter who X is, we lost– And nobody enjoys losing, right?

In part 2 of this series, we delve into the student experience of the waitlist.

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“It’s Not You… it’s me.” Denied Admission– A Path to Recovery

“This is not working out.” My high school girlfriend and I were working on math homework at her house. We were trying to solve equations I hadn’t seen before (I’m sure most of you reading this would scoff at their simplicity, but it was difficult at the time). I said, “I know. But we will figure it out.” She paused, then put her pencil down and said kindly, but definitively, “No.” Then “this,” pointing her finger back and forth between my chest and hers. “Us. It’s not working out.” I remember so clearly how those words sounded at the time.

I know this has become a predictable Hollywood storytelling technique, but it was one of only three times in my life when the noise around me seemed to fade into the background. I watched her continue to tilt her head, stroke her hair and occasionally look down, somewhat painfully, as she explained why “we” needed to break up.

I had known this girl since Kindergarten, but it had only been in the last year that I realized she was truly beautiful. And funny, and smart, and kind. We liked the same music, she watched sports (although cheered for the wrong team…Bulldogs), and we laughed together a lot. Basically, I thought she was perfect. And it was sinking in that she was taking that perfection and moving on.

I really can’t tell you what I said to her… maybe I actually said nothing. All I remember was getting my books, getting my bag, and getting the (deleted) out of there. I drove the four miles home and on the way I rolled down the window, turned up the music, and yelled out the window a mixture of questions, anger, and tears. I was a mess.

I walked into my house and my mom was doing dishes in the kitchen. She could see I was upset and asked me what was wrong. I remember sitting next to her on the couch and listening to her tell me everything was okay… there would be other girls… and maybe I was better off anyway.  In fact, now I wonder if she did not have a hand in writing The Avett Brothers song I Would Be Sad: “One day son, this girl will think of what she’s done and hurting you will be the first of many more regrets to come.”  It was one of those moments that I’m sure she could see my thought bubble of “Yeah, easy for you to say.” At the time, I didn’t understand that at one point in her life, she was a teenager too. I thought she’d always been married to my dad and that her life started when I was born. So how could she know what I was going through?

Road to Recovery

At this time of year, a good number of colleges have already released admission decisions. I’ve heard a number of these conversations in our community, and have started to read the advice and speculation online or on social media as well. If you have been denied from a school that seemed perfect and you had your heart set on, I’ve got three tips for you:

  1. You’re Not Okay. Go ahead and scream, cry, talk to your parents… beat your pillow, or cook something (you can even try all of those at once if you’re really upset). Do whatever it takes for you to begin to move on and clear you head. But don’t drive while you’re healing… be stationary (or on a treadmill) and then let it rip.
  2. You will be Okay. Here’s what I see every year. Some students whose first choice was not Georgia Tech end up coming here and loving it. Then again, every now and then I’ll run into a sibling or parent or counselor of a student we denied admission to who tells me that student was devestated about not getting in here, but is now at X College and doing great. One of the schools you’ve applied to, or are waiting to hear back from is IT. Take a moment to believe that—and be encouraged and get excited about it.
  3. Refocus. When I had to refocus, I dove into school and soccer. Immediately after that break up, I wasn’t a lot of fun to be around for a few weeks. But I threw myself into academics and practicing with incredible focus, resolve, and motivation to get better and succeed. I remember long nights of studying and going early and staying late for practice. What is that focus for you? Maybe it’s another college. Or perhaps it’s proving the school that denied you wrong by thriving through your senior year and into college elsewhere.

I understand that it seems unlikely you could completely distill moving on after being denied admission into three easy steps. Or maybe it’s not. After all The Avett Brothers song continues, “‘If she doesn’t call, then it’s her fault and it’s her loss.’ I say, It’s not that simple see, but then again it just may be.”

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