Nuance in the Numbers

One of my 2021 resolutions is to run, ride, hike, walk, or swim over 2021 miles this year. This means I am tracking everything, because to meet that goal it will require averaging about 5.5 miles a day. In order to do this, I use a Garmin watch, which I have connected to the Strava app.  

Recently, I’ve been running with a friend once a week. He also uses Strava, but instead of using a watch, he runs with his cell phone and records directly into the app.   

Here is a run we did a few weeks ago. 

A few things to note. Same day/same route, but the pace and distance are different. If someone was looking at our two logs, they would assume he not only dusted me, but also decided to put in an extra half mile just to rub it in.  I’m not ok with that, and you should not be either. Here’s why.

Admission Application 

When it comes to college admission this kind of thing happens all of the time. People latch on to surface level numbers and assign them undue merit without really examining their credence. They assume they can compare apples to apples.  Rankings are a good example, which I’ve covered extensively.  Another place this commonly occurs is with application numbers and acceptance rates. In recent weeks, there have been a ridiculous number of articles talking about EA/ED application volume and corresponding admit rates. Notice the same schools keep coming up in those pieces, so while they draw plenty of press, they only comprise about 1%-2% of American higher education, i.e. not representative of the accurate/bigger story.   

So just to level-set, acceptance rate, aka. admit rate= number of students admitted divided by number of applicants. Example: 3500 admits/ 10,000 apps = 35% admit rate. Here is where we run into a Stravaesque situation (see what I did there?).  

Problem 1: Colleges do not count applications the same way. Here’s the thing. Some schools separate parts of their application. A student may complete the biographical information, activities, essay, etc., but never sends transcripts or test scores. One college counts that app, and another does not because it is not complete or actionable. I remember applying to a college as a high school senior that had a seven-part application. In hindsight, I see that was likely a yield strategy. As a student it just felt burdensome and annoying. I only got to the fourth part (but I’m sure they counted my application)There are other derivations and variations in counting apps, but we won’t enumerate them all. Suffice it to say, counting apps is not uniform.  

Problem 2: Colleges do not count admits the same way (for those scoring at home that means neither the numerator nor the denominator is apples: apples or apples/apples. So how do you like them apples? The fact that there are hundreds of apple varieties is an entirely different conversation altogether).

Some colleges admit the number of students they actually think will say yes to their offer based on historical models. They shoot to fill 100% on their initial round of offers knowing they will likely need to admit more students from their waitlist, due to melt in the summer 

Others will shoot closer to 90%-95%. They know they will come in well short of target, but this strategy allows them to work progressively up to 100+% to account for melt and limit admits. 

Problem 3: Colleges do not count their waitlist admits the same. At Tech for example, when we make waitlist offers, we count them all as admits. So, if we are looking for 100 students from the waitlist, we may make 200 offers knowing that typically 45%-50% will deposit. 

Some colleges, however, will first ask you if you want to accept their offer. If you say yes, and commit to depositing, only then do they count you as an admit. In other words, some colleges are basically yielding at 100% from their waitlist, thus limiting admit numbers.  

100% yield is often true for recruited/scholarship athletes, special skills or talents like musicians, and other cohorts depending on the school’s mission, i.e., military academies, etc.

So, take a college that brings in 20% of their class as athletes/special talents, 10% of their class from waitlist, and 50-60% of their class from Early Decision… well… admit rate protected, suppressed, controlled, you pick whatever adjective that makes you feel better.  

Look, I’m not throwing shade here. I’m just saying you cannot take a number like admit rate and attach too much meaning to it, because of the Seneca Crane level games-making going on out there.  

Advice from Experience

If you are a junior making a list of schools to research or possibly apply to next year, please do not correlate admit rate to quality. Please do not exclude colleges from your list because they are below a certain number of apps or above a specific admit rate…because, you know, the whole Garmin to Strava effect. 

If you are a senior, please do not unwisely stretch financially or let your ego get in the way this spring when you are deciding on a college. So have the confidence to be honest with yourself about your best match academically, socially, and financially, rather than attaching too much importance to stats that are at best not equivalent, or at worst highly manipulated.  

Instead, before applying to college or choosing one, I’d urge you to stick with the running theme and consider, “What are you Strava-ing for?”  

    

College Admission Word Association

Listen to “College Word Association – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

“It’s 7:20! Why are you still asleep?!” I say flipping on the lights and opening the blinds.

“My alarm didn’t go off,” mumbled my daughter from under three sheets and four stuffed animals.

“What?! I can see your clock says, ‘snooze!’”

Stuffed Animals

“I didn’t do that…”

“Whatever! Now you aren’t just lying in bed. You’re just straight up lying. You’re sleeping outside tonight, and the sun can be your alarm. Get up!” (You know. The way you talk to a child.)

I’m not saying I am proud of the threat to sleep outside, but I thought the lying pun was pretty good.

Word Association 

You, on the other hand, are not 10. And unless you are a ridiculous multi-tasker, you are not asleep. You are a high school student thinking about college, so don’t hit snooze here. Instead, flip on the lights, open the blinds, and let’s play a quick word association game.

(Do not skip this or skim down the page.) Write down, voice record, or type out the first three to five words or phrases that come to mind when you read or hear the word “college.” 

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

Now (again, no skimming, skipping, or snoozing), ask one or two people you know who are either in college or who have graduated from college to give you five words and write those down.

OK. I’m going to trust you to stop reading here and complete the assignment.  Come back when you have your answers and those from the folks you talked to.

—————————

And We are back…

What did you get?

Having asked this question around the country in various cities and school communities, particularly when parents are in the room, the responses are usually extremely hopeful, relational, open, and life-giving. I see a lot of smiles and hear answers centering around friends, fun, travel, sports, and learning. 

Ok. Now I want you to write down or think quickly about the first three to five words or phrases that come to mind when you read or hear the words “college admission.”

1-

2-

3-

4-

5-

How do your answers compare?

The students and families I’ve spoken with typically come up with words like tests, stress, tuition, pressure, and deadlines.

Boo!! Who popped the balloon?! What happened to the fun, friends, growth, learning, freedom, and opportunity of college itself? My challenge to you (especially if you are a junior or sophomore just really starting to think about college) is to keep your answers as closely connected as possible. Here is how.

Change One Word.   

Traditionally, when journalists and college reps talk about admission, they describe it as a process. I want to push back on that concept. Take a minute and search Google Images for the word “process.” (Yes. I seriously want you to take out your phone and do this.)

So, what did you find?

Probably a lot of flow charts, cogs grinding together, and mechanical, sterile, linear graphics. Notice that almost none of them include other people– unless there is some lonely dude in a lab coat closely examining some colored liquid in a test tube.

If you think of all of this as a process, you begin to believe there is a specific and right way to go about it. Your mindset becomes linear or binary or zero sum. Process tightens you up and restricts you to a narrow path that you feel like you must follow perfectly in order to avoid disaster.

Process dictates each piece must fit perfectly and flow precisely from one thing to the next. And then life happens. You make a B+ instead of an A in that history class sophomore year; you don’t get elected president of the French Club; you tear your ACL and can’t play soccer on the travel team; the research project gets canceled; or I don’t know, let’s pick something arbitrary… say a global pandemic.

If this is a process, then you absolutely should or should not “do this the way your older sister did.” Process is filled with don’ts. Process is a tightrope. Process means if you miss a certain ingredient the recipe is a bust. There is absolutely no room for risk, variance, or divergence.

Now take a minute to search Google Images for “experiences.”

The College Admission Experience

What do you find? And how does it compare to “process?”

These images are more open, fluid, and relational. In these pictures you find people looking out over high places considering their options. They have vision, variety, perspective, and freedom. The people in these pictures are not trying to control each and every moment. In fact, they seem to be excited about the unknown as opportunity to explore, learn, and discover. There is no forgone conclusion, precise end result, perfect formula, or exact combination.

Experiences images are filled with boats in the water or bikes on the trail. Experiences facilitate relationships, inspire dreams, and account for a breadth of decisions, routes, choices, results, and destinations. It sure sounds like we are back to where we started with the answers to association with college.

The truth is that done well the college experience and the college admission experience should be more similar than different. Whether you are a junior, sophomore, or a parent supporting a high school student considering college, my hope is that you take time regularly to pause and check in to see if your five words associated with college and college admission are aligned or divergent. If stress, tests, control, and pressure creep in too much, it is a good sign you need to recalibrate and regain perspective.

How to do that? Might I suggest sleeping outside!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light in the Darkness

Listen to “Episode 29: Light in the Darkness – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In the days following the attack on the U.S. Capitol, we have been inundated with social media posts, interviews, opinions, podcasts, and articles riddled with frustration, finger pointing, and fallout. News stories have aired everything from caustic political rhetoric to disconcerting details related to injuries, deaths, and arrests. At this point, hundreds of CEOs, presidents of boards, chancellors of universities and systems, and others in top positions of leadership have released statements condemning these events and expressing their outrage, sadness, and shock.

Simultaneously, we are watching the escalation of  diagnosed cases and hospitalizations related to Covid-19, and learning more about the threat of a new Covid strain. While the 24-hour news cycle would never tolerate succinctly summarizing the beginning of 2021, I think a fair and accurate word to use would be darkness.

Martin Luther King, Jr quoteIn stark contrast, admission officers are spending their days during this time reading essays, conducting interviews, and hearing stories each day from incredible high school students who are investing in their schools, families, and communities. While you would never know it, your descriptions of hopes, dreams, resolve, and purpose, and the indisputable evidence of your growth, resilience, and vision serve as precious gift. Sources of deep encouragement and optimism—or in a word: light.

My goal is to return the favor and provide you with some hope and encouragement.

As a high school student:

As 2021 kicks off and you head back to class, I hope you continue to pour yourself into your sports, clubs, activities, and work. If there were ever a time to dig in and contribute, it’s now. Make something around you fundamentally better this semester.

On college admission panels and during presentations people inevitably ask what we are “looking for.” In most cases, I think they expect us to rattle off some kind of formula that includes five AP classes, at least one award in the junior year, and sustained volunteer work. The truth is admission officers are looking for applicants who have been good students inside and outside the classroom in high school.  Simply put they want to admit and enroll people who will be deeply missed by their school and community when they graduate.

Take some time in the week ahead to thank those who have helped you and supported you along the way. Email your fourth-grade teacher, go for a walk with your little sister, send a note to your ninth-grade science teacher, and as always, hug your mama. Everyone could use some more light in their life right now. Embrace that opportunity.

I also hope you: practice listening; worry less about what people think about you; break out of any cliques or relationships you know are not healthy; be disciplined enough to intentionally put your phone away for specified times each day and week; and start each morning contemplating at least one thing you are grateful for in your life.

As a college applicant:

I hope you are confident enough to consider the opinions of others but think for yourself.

I hope you figure out why you are going to college and ask the questions that really matter to you along the way.

I hope you wait well. Concern yourself more with preparing for college in general than obsessing about the internal machinations and committee deliberations of any particular college.

I hope you will not use the term “top” or “first choice.”  Don’t take an offer of admission for granted, and instead enthusiastically celebrate each one as an exciting option and opportunity.

I hope you remember college admission decisions are not character judgments or predictions of future potential. Getting in, or not getting in, to a particular school does not change who you are, the feasibility of your goals, or define you in a substantive way.

I hope you will be humble and selfless enough to celebrate your friends in their successes and comfort them in their disappointment.

I hope you are proactive in initiating critical conversations with your family about uncomfortable topics like paying for college, loans, distance from home, your major of choice, and colleges you do and do not want to apply to or attend. I hope as a result of those courageous dialogues you and your family will be able to make a unified decision devoid of ego and rooted in authenticity.

I hope you are cognizant of what and how you post on social media related to your college applications and decisions.

I hope your ultimate college choice will be based on an authentic internal compass, rather than on external pressures or commercialized rankings.

Continue to Be A Light 

For some reason people tend to think of the actual college experience and the college admission experience as separate entities. The truth is the two are closely linked.

They are both about developing critical thinking skills, seeing a bigger picture, seeking diverse voices, researching information, being comfortable with some gray and unknowns, weighing options, questioning data, understanding historical context, and keeping a broad (ideally global) perspective.

In a time of division, disruption, and disillusionment, thank you for helping those of us working in college counseling and admission, to see evidence of unity, progress, and hope. Ultimately, as a high school student, a college applicant, and both into and beyond your college years, I hope you will continue to be a light.

Finding REST

This fall we are designating one “quiet day” each month for our staff. Essentially, this means we won’t schedule meetings on those days, and we’re encouraging our team to protect their schedule as much as possible.  While we are not being overly prescriptive, our hope is this will help create margins for people to refresh, plan, catch up, spark creativity, or do something that brings them joy.

Covid-19 is testing everyone physically and emotionally. Between ad nauseam Zoom calls, work/school responsibilities, family obligations, and the underlying stress of navigating life amid a global pandemic, it is critical to not only take good care of ourselves, but also to look for opportunities to serve those around us—family, friends, teammates, colleagues, classmates, and neighbors.

As you head into the school year, and especially if you are also applying to college, you know plenty of work is coming.  You’ll need to be intentional about finding REST.

Read (or watch… or listen)

One of my 2020 resolutions was to read books or magazines on the train ride home each day (no Kindle or other digital content). This daily, scheduled time gave me a chance to avoid screens, decompress, and check out topics that interested me. It was life-giving.

Initially the pandemic sidetracked me because my train time was gone. However, I quickly realized since I was basically homeschooling my kids, I could assign them an hour of reading each day. Bam. Win-win. Solace regained!Reading is fundamental

Soon you will return to the land of assigned readings. Before school starts and the deadlines and assignments roll in, I encourage you to schedule time each week to check out an author, genre, or topic simply for enjoyment. Whether it be a fiction novel, an article about the controversy surrounding your favorite professional team, a children’s picture book (yes, I’m serious), a research piece only true wonks could appreciate, or a mindless paperback you skipped this summer when the beach trip got canceled, don’t let reading purely for fun/entertainment/curiosity get squeezed out.

Simply cannot bring yourself to read more? Okay, I get it. Find a new podcast, check out a documentary, watch a classic movie, or discover a foreign film. Go off the beaten path. Ask friends, family members, Siri, or random pedestrians for recommendations. Do something different. As a high school student, much of what you are exposed to will be dictated by your classes. Frankly, this is true in college as well. Set a pattern now for exploring beyond the curriculum.

Escape.

Most of us could tell you exactly where we were last Thursday at 2:45 p.m. by glancing at our phone. Routines, calendars, schedules, agendas, and deadlines effectively rule our lives. Understandably, for most of the week this is necessary… but not for all of it.

This fall, especially since it is likely many of your activities will modified, limited, or canceled, I implore you to escape both physically and mentally. Find something that will stimulate your mind and spirit. Do something you’ve long wanted to—or try something random on a whim. Get outside. Learn Irish dancing. Try Frisbee golf. Start photographing scenes in your hometown. Embrace spontaneity.

It is far too easy to fall into patterns and ruts. Fight against the trap of status quo and explore something new and unfamiliar. Find adventure this fall—and regularly in life. You will gain perspective, meet new people, and grow. Aren’t those a few of the reasons you want to go to college in the first place?

Socialize.

Covid-19 is teaching us lessons and forcing us to consider how we have been living, and how we want to live in the future. While going to high school during a global pandemic has plenty of negatives, I’m hopeful it will serve as a focusing point for you too. Do something newDon’t miss this opportunity to seriously consider (and perhaps even write down) the activities and classes you are bummed are off/altered, and conversely, those you have not particularly minded being limited or canceled.

Similarly, pay attention to the friends, classmates, co-workers, teammates, and others in your “normal” life that you miss seeing regularly. From a culture standpoint, understanding the role these specific folks play in your life, as well as the type of people who bring out your best, is instructive as you consider where you want to go to college.

More importantly, I hope you will consistently reach out and be proactive in your relationships this fall. Instagram will tell you one story, but reality is always much different. Whether it be your grandmother or your best friend since kindergarten, there has never been a more critical time for people to hear your voice. That’s right. I am asking you to go visit them (socially distanced, of course) or call them, rather than merely send a text.

We all have a role to play in taking care of one another during this time. If you are reading and escaping, your cup will be full, allowing you to pour that good stuff out into the lives of others. What do colleges want? Obviously, in part the answer is successful students. But their long game is to enroll good community members, graduates who will extend the school’s reach by being a positive influence in their company, city, and community. Check in on your people.

Technology.

Last Sunday I gave my wife my phone and told her not to give it back to me until that evening. A day free from texts, emails, social media, and basically anything happening in the bigger world.

It. Was. Glorious.

Find RestThere is simply too much coming at us on a daily basis right now. Between death counts, family drama, hospitalization rates, neighborhood gossip, political grandstanding, senseless tweets, civil unrest, and the inane comments on social media, we are barraged each day with information, opinions, and indirect or direct pressure.  I encourage you to go on a digital diet. Just like an actual diet, I’m not telling you to cut all carbs or completely eliminate sugar.

However, I know you need to cut back. I know you are going to feel better if you will find even a few waking hours each week to shut off your laptop, phone, Xbox, iPad, or whatever USB rechargeable device you have in your pocket or bag. Black out the Bluetooth. Give Alexa some time off. Unplug and power down consistently each week, so you can power back up and recharge yourself and those around you.

I can guarantee you will have plenty of work this fall. Will you make it a priority to find REST?

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Better

At home I have a firm “one in = two out” policy—for every one item that enters the house, two others have to go. My kids don’t always appreciate this approach because it can come off as a bit abrupt, especially on birthdays. “Oh, that’s a pretty sweater, sweetheart. What are you getting rid of?” or “Oh man. Look at all these great presents. You are so lucky. While you fill a bin with old things you no longer use, I’ll get the truck and we can head to Goodwill.” Marie Condo sparks joy. I burn it to the ground.

Coronavirus quarantine (and perhaps a few threats from my wife) has made me realize I can’t be quite so draconian on a daily basis with things like clearing and cleaning up dishes, picking up idly strewn clothes, or hanging up towels or bags. Do I deny threatening to “take everything left downstairs at the end of the night and torch it all in the fire pit?” No. But, in general, I’ve taken a more progressive and repetitive approach.

In fact, for a solid week I just had one word written on our kitchen chalkboard: Better. I told them my challenge is to leave every room better than they found it. Three months into Covid cloistering, I have to say… they’re not doing terrible. I’m seeing progress. I’m seeing better.

Better – As an applicant

I have written about this before but I sincerely hope you will ask, “Why do I want to go to college?” as often as you ask, “Where do I want to go to college?” Write your answers down or record them on a phone or iPad. While you are working on your application (and definitely before you pay and hit submit), honestly assess whether or not that school truly aligns with your why.

Too often students are admitted and later say, “Yeah, but I can’t really see going there.” Or “I only applied to College X because (insert adult name here) told me to.” Worse, they actually choose to attend a college based on pressure or expectations of others, or because they are trying to fit an image.

This pandemic may have robbed you of many experiences and a sense of normalcy but it has also afforded you the rare opportunity to really reflect and be honest with yourself in a way most students unfortunately are not. If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that we should be genuinely excited about what we actually “get to do.”

Because of your hard work in high school; because of your family’s support and commitment to your education; because of coaches and teachers and other community members who have built into your life, you get to go to college. Better means having the courage, self-awareness, and confidence to honor that investment in how and where you apply.

Challenge: Before you “leave the room” and hit submit on an application, be sure that school aligns with your why. Better is knowing and embracing your goals, hopes, dreams, aspirations, and motivations. Better means every college you apply to is your first choice.

Better – As a family member and community member

Let’s be honest, no one knows what the next few months or year are going to look like. From daily news stories to your neighbor’s sidewalk musings, the level of uncertainty is absurdly high. Making it through 10 minutes of a conversation or a meeting without hearing at least one “if,” “we’ll see,” or “assuming that” is as likely as finding the toilet paper aisle fully stocked or people creating human pyramids in your local park. Between major macro concerns (unemployment, protests, and elections), as well as micro consternations (haircuts, pool restrictions, limited professional sports) people are stressed. Now is the time for better.

Whether they are saying it or not, your parents, siblings, friends, and neighbors are carrying more anxiety than normal. They are wrestling with their fears, doubts, and unsettled moments. In the weeks and months ahead, I hope you will bring better into your house, your relationships, your job, your clubs, teams, and your group of friends.

Challenge: Before you “leave the room” and head to bed each night make sure you’ve taken some time that day to send a text, make a call, give a hug, or offer up a virtual or a socially distanced high-five to someone in your life. Will this help you get into college? No. Will this help you be a much better friend and community member? Absolutely.

Tell your family “Thank you” and “I love you” every day. Don’t be fooled by the Coronavirus trance. You are not going to be at home forever. Hug your mama every day.

Better – As a high school student and future college student

In her recent Chronicle article, Sarah Brown describes the compacts and pledges students will be asked to sign on many campuses this fall in order to comply with health guidance and safety protocols. Many of the current college students and faculty she interviews are skeptical about their campus community upholding those agreements. In other words, they are expecting student conduct to make things worse rather than better.

My hope is you will run as hard as you can in the opposite direction. As you return to high school this year (in person or virtually), I hope you will constantly ask: How can I improve and contribute to this class, discussion, campus, community, and school? Who can I lift up? How can I invest my time and unique talents to improve the people and place around me?   

Challenge: Before you “leave the room” and graduate, be sure you have made someone or something in your high school irrefutably better. Students love to ask admission officers, “What are you looking for?” They expect to get a GPA average or a specific number of AP classes.

What are we looking for? We are looking for students who will be deeply missed when they graduate from high school. We are looking for students who are unmistakably and unabashedly committed to better.

Better

A few weeks ago, our family went to see the Space X shuttle launch. As we were leaving the beach, I sent my kids to throw away the remains of our lunch and snacks. While I was collecting our blanket and chairs, my wife tapped me on the back and nodded toward the trashcan. My daughter was picking up the garbage that someone else had left. Sand must have blown just then because my eyes legitimately started welling up.

Better is possible. Better is inspiring. Better is in you. Bring it into every room you enter this year, and you will be sure to leave it when you go.

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