Five Important Lessons from Covid-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider what you do and don’t miss.

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

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

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

Control what you can control.

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

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

Things change. You adapt.

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

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

Money Matters.

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

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

It’s Not Over.

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

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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!

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. Don’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.

There 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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Seniors, Talk to Your Parents!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopes and Dreams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money Matters

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

Student applies. Student is admitted. Everyone celebrates.

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

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

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

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

40 > 4

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

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

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

editorial cartoon

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

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

And, as always, hug your mama.

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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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Hang Your Picture

Listen to “Episode 13: Hang Your Picture – Ashley Brookshire” on Spreaker.

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission (West Coast) Ashley Brookshire to the blog. Welcome, Ashley!

At the risk of making myself vulnerable in front of our applicant pool (which, in my experience, is filled with ambitious, intrinsically motivated, mindful, and steadfast students), I want to confess something: I continuously put off doing the things I want to do. The things I should do. The things that are in my best interest to do.

I’m reminded of it every time I walk through my office and stare at the six panels of wall organizers propped up against the wall. They’ve been there for weeks. Every time I walk past them, I’m reminded that I haven’t taken the time to cross this “to-do” off my list. It also reminds me of other “unhung” pictures in my world right now. The habits I’ve wanted to form, but haven’t. The things I’ve wanted to learn, but put off.

At some point, I have to stop telling myself I’d do these things if only “I had more time.” Since my state’s stay-at-home order was issued in mid-March, I’ve been gifted more spare time than I ever wanted.

Don’t get me wrong, the whirlwind of my day is just as busy as ever. Juggling my roles as a spouse, mother, and employee, while managing a house that’s more lived-in than ever, occupies my day exceptionally well. But in the evening hours when I stop trying to spin plates, I have more time than I’ve had in a while. There are no dinners with friends to attend, trips to prepare for, or date nights to go on.

I don’t want to confuse busyness for progress. And as I look at spending my time more intentionally in the upcoming weeks, I first have to stop and assess the hurdles that have kept me stuck-in-place. Hopefully these will give you some questions to ask yourself as you look for ways to hang your own pictures.

Why wait?

There always seemed to be a good (or at least, not bad) excuse for pushing the task to another day. I’d have to find all of the tools that I need. Do I really want to commit to this space? There’s no harm in waiting another day…

For me, the hardest step has always been the first. I’ve found myself asking, “if not now, then when?” In the absence of a valid argument for “not now,” it’s time to get started.

Time to find a friend?

Hanging a group of pictures correctly can be a feat. You have to hold against them against the wall AND step back to gauge spacing. You’ll need to move pieces around WHILE keep everything level. You can’t do this by yourself unless you have an incredible wingspan. You need help. Not to get started, but to do it well and do it right. So why not bring someone along?

I’ve tried (more than once) to regain the Spanish skills I’ve lost in the years since being in a classroom. Duolingo has been my companion (and, at times, nemesis) in this endeavor. The app’s friendly, gentle reminders help me to stay on pace as I progress through the curriculum. When I miss a day, it’s quick to remind me. When I miss several days, it gets snarky (“These reminders don’t seem to be working…”). But still, I’m thankful Duolingo tries to keep me accountable. After all, not all assistance needs to come from human friends – just ask Jill Watson.

Maybe you need help. Maybe you need to be held accountable. Maybe things are just more fun to do together. Create a system for success by including others – human or otherwise – in your plans for moving forward.

What happens if you don’t?

When I fall short of the goals I set for myself, I’m the main victim. Others aren’t impacted when I push a nagging task to another day, hold off on learning about a new topic, or delay creating a habit. But I certainly have constant reminders that I haven’t taken action. My increasingly mobile child lets me know the wall organizers are on the ground are ready to be destroyed every time she crawls into the room.

One of the biggest losses is the positive impact I could have had if I moved forward. The skills I could share. The people I could help. The clutter and chaos I could remove from my family’s home.

Be kind to yourself, especially given the new-normal we’re all still adjusting to. But sometimes (and more often than sometimes, in my case), being kind includes giving yourself a kick in the rear to get going. Make a move. Use your new found time in this different reality to develop a skill. Dive into a new topic. And hang your picture.

Ashley Brookshire is an Atlanta native and Georgia Tech alumna who has worked in college admission for nearly a decade. Ashley serves as Georgia Tech’s Regional Director of Admission for the West Coast, making her home in Southern California. She’s been a California resident for more than 5 years and is a member of the Regional Admission Counselors of California.

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