Run YOUR Race

I went for a run in the woods the other day. I do that a lot this time of year. Last weekend it was a 15-mile trail race in North Georgia. In early December, I’ll go 19 miles through the rolling pines near Warm Springs, GA, where FDR famously spent time.  Late fall and winter is a busy time in college admission, so multi-hour runs are a catharsis of sorts.

On a particularly long and isolated stretch of forest last week, I began thinking about a conversation I’d just had with a friend whose daughter is a high school senior. He called me because they were arguing about her applications- mainly where she should apply and if she’d applied to “enough” colleges. “So, what would you tell her?”

I said I would think about it. And so somewhere around mile eight, that’s exactly what I was doing. Ironically, the more I ran, the more I realized how much trail running and college admission have in common. I also realized there was not much to “tell” – but definitely a lot to hope for.

So, seniors, as you run YOUR race this year– as you work on applications, await and receive admission decisions, and head into your final holiday breaks before heading to college, here are my TOP 5 hopes for you:

1-      That you will not be overly influenced by the opinions or experiences of others. Remain true to yourself and your unique and deeply personal college admission experience. Listen. In races you see some runners go out quickly. They charge up the hill or around the corner. That is not wrong, but it may not be your style or best approach. Maybe you did not have an Early Decision school that you felt 100% sure about and now you are questioning if you did something wrong by not applying under that plan. Maybe a few friends have already been admitted to college and you are still waiting on decisions or working on essays for other applications. Maybe you look around and believe everyone else knows where they want to go and you are still unsure and open. My friend, that is absolutely fine. Perfectly normal. You are not alone. Ultimately, your goal is to find a college campus where you can thrive both academically and socially. Pace of getting there will naturally vary. Keep the end in mind.

Cheering someone onPeople will use the word “process” when they talk about college admission. This makes it seem like it’s a one-size-fits-all equation or formula, or that there is a specific way that leads to a predictable conclusion. That is a bunch of crap. Reject that. This is an experience. You have choices, options, and there will be inevitable turns and twists along the way. Run YOUR race. The beauty of trail running, in my opinion, is that you have to make decisions and keep your head up to look for blazes on the trees or signs in the woods. Unlike a road race where everything is cleanly marked, train running requires more thought and decision-making. The same is true for college admission. If you are doing this right, you won’t do it the same as your brother or best friend or the way you read it online in some guide. Keep your head clear and be confident. Run YOUR race.

2-      Enjoy your one and only senior year. Anytime you only have one of something it’s precious and should be treated and cared for as such. Enjoy your year. Don’t rush it or wish it away, because it will go fast enough on its own. Look around you in class or in the hallways or in the cafeteria next week. These people you have grown to know and love- and who also know and love you– will not be with you on a daily basis next year. Don’t take that for granted. Be proactive and give them a hug and tell them you appreciate them. Be specific about why they’re awesome. Make time for these people. You’ll never just have it.

3-      Be a light. Encourage people around you and help them. This is not going to help you get into college, but it is exactly the kind of person colleges are looking for. One thing I love about trail running is when someone misses a blaze and goes off track, other runners call to them. If a front runner sees a rock or a root or a branch, they call out or point to those obstacles and possible hazards. No matter what anyone tells you college admission it is not a zero-sum game. On almost every admissions panel I’m on someone in the audience will raise their hand and ask, “So if you have two applicants with the same GPA and same test scores, which one do you take?” In reality that’s not how it works.

I’ve often heard from high school teachers or counselors about students who won’t help others study for tests or share notes from class, because they’re afraid that will give their classmate a leg up. We’ve read essays about top students vying to be valedictorian who compete so ruthlessly academically they sacrifice their friendship. If thoughts like that are going through your head this year, I am imploring you to see the bigger picture. Helping others, sharing what you know, encouraging and facilitating the success of friends, classmates, teammates, colleagues is a life skill that will take you much further than the distinction of being valedictorian or getting into a specific school.

If you’ve been the subject of this type of behavior, I’ll simply quote the prophet Taylor Swift and say, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate…” They may end up with a specific title or offer of acceptance, but long-term that type of behavior, character, and approach ends up empty and often alone.

Percentage of population 25 years and over who completed high school or college4-      Celebrate every offer of admission. I get that some of you go to “college preparatory” schools or take Dual Enrollment classes. I understand that you’ve taken more Advanced Placement classes than I have hairs left on my head. In your family or school or community, it may be a foregone conclusion that you’ll go to college, but that is not really what the world looks like. Did you know that less than 40% of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree, and worldwide that number is less than 10%? Keep this in mind when you receive an offer of admission. It is not “Just the University of X…” No. No!! It is “I was admitted to the University of X!”

This is an opportunity and a choice. This is what you wanted from the beginning- options, choices, and offers. Congratulations! Celebrate every win. Go to dinner, buy yourself something. You do you. But promise me you’ll celebrate—and also thank those around you who have made your achievements possible.

5-      Tell your parents/family/support network THANK YOU and I LOVE YOU! I am always amazed when I get to the end of a long trail race and see how many family members are there with signs, food, smiles, and hugs. People drive long distances and wait patiently for hours (often in crappy weather) for runners to arrive at the finish line.

That teacher who wrote your recs or helped you prep for exams; that coach or club sponsor or boss who gave you opportunities, challenged you, and encouraged your best— that’s who I’m talking about. Write them a note, give them a high five, send them a text. Be sure you let them know you appreciate them, their time, & their part in your success. They don’t expect thanks, but they deserve it. If you are a senior, this is your job.

And for your family- whatever instrument or sport you play well now used to be very painful to watch and listen to. Still, they kept driving you, encouraging you, paying for lessons or practice or competitions, etc.

Thank you

Not convinced? Go open up the cabinets in your kitchen. Pull out any bowl or plate. Then ask your mom, dad, or whomever has raised you how many times they washed that or filled it with food. Think about five years ago when you were twelve or thirteen. Seems like a long time ago, right? Well, for the first five years of your life (time you basically have no recollection of), they fed you, clothed you, rocked you, nursed you, sang to you, woke up in the middle of the night worrying about you. They may not be able to physically still hold you the way they did then, but they are still doing absolutely everything they can to lift you up and support you now. Does that love look kind of crazy at times? Absolutely. Love is weird like that. What can I say? Nothing. What can you say? “THANK YOU and I LOVE YOU!” Make an effort to say that weekly from now until you graduate.

Along the trail in a race, there are all kinds of variables: hills, rocks, roots, creeks, downed limbs, changing temperatures, rain, wind, snow, blazing heat, major elevation changes. You have to adapt and adjust. It’s unpredictable- and college admission is the same. So while I can’t promise or predict exactly where you’ll start in college next year, I can guarantee that if these hopes come true, you’ll finish this year well- and that is a race worth running.

Interviews and Authenticity

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, joins us on the blog. Welcome, Chaffee!

When I was in high school, I was fortunate to be selected to interview for a scholarship at a large university. So was one of my best friends. Since only 30 scholars would be selected in the end, it would seem one or both of us might very well end up without it. After all, we didn’t come from a particularly noteworthy high school and, for all I knew, space was limited.

One of my interviewers asked me which of us was the stronger candidate. Wow! How does one answer THAT?! Without hesitation, I said, “We’re both strong in some different and some similar ways. She’s brilliant in math, kind, caring, and works very hard. I’m the more extroverted of the two of us, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more engaging. We’re very close friends so this is tough to answer. If you are asking who I think is the better overall person, that would be her.”

To our surprise, we would learn later we had each received the scholarship. We also both received a note from the interviewer in the mail (yes, the mail), afterwards stating that each of us had been asked the same question and answered similarly. We spoke of our own strengths but suggested the other one was a slightly better choice.

The Importance of Authenticity

The goal isn’t to be perfect, but to be authentic!I share this story to illustrate the importance of authenticity. Not a word of what I said or she said was anything less than honest. Yet both of us knew it might cost us the scholarship. I think we both intuitively knew that in the end, no matter the result, we would end up at whatever college was right for us, and it would all work out. Being true to ourselves and each other was paramount. Being authentic was a priority and it was natural to both of us.

In full disclosure, I was authentic in other scholarship interviews and they didn’t pan out. Pretty sure she had a similar story. What I want to share with you are some practical tips for what to do after you’ve applied to colleges and might end up interviewing for a spot at a college or in a scholarship program where interviews are a part of the process.

What I share is not solely about interview preparation, but how to present yourself as a self-aware, authentic person in other areas of life.

Prepare a resume

Yes, that’s right. Even if you have already done so, keep reading. I am going to suggest a framework that focuses on quality rather than quantity.

  • Start by keeping it to one page. Doing so focuses you on what’s most significant in your life. You may ask, “But how can I possibly fit my life onto one page?!” The answer: by considering where you are the most talented, most happy, most deeply involved. “But what if those things don’t align with my dream school?” Answer: why do you want to go to a college that doesn’t think who you are is pretty amazing? How do you know they won’t like your involvements? I hear from students all the time that they pick STEM-type activities to focus on when submitting their application to Georgia Tech because they think that’s all our institution cares about. Totally a false assumption.
  • When you are done with your first draft, you will no doubt be over a page. Don’t shrink the font and choose 0.05” margins to fit it all on. Drop the stuff that means little to you. You’ll get it down to one page and it will still be robust. Trust me! Furthermore, if someone asks you questions about your resume, you want it to be about the things that matter to you, because your answers will be more honest and authentic.
  • Pull a relevant story from each major part of your resume and think about how to tell it to someone who was interested in that part of your life. No, I am not suggesting you put that in writing on your resume. This part is a mental exercise alone. For example:
    • Did you list a sport? Talk about a lesson you learned playing on a team or competing.
    • Were you a leader in a club (whether or not you had a title)? Think about a clear time you as a leader influenced others for a positive impact.
    • Did you win an award? Why and/or how did you obtain it – and how can you say that confidently but humbly.

Prepare for an interview

Notice I didn’t say rehearse for an interview. Rehearsing has its place, but it can be the death knell of your interview hopes if you focus on it too much.

  • Consider different kinds of interviews.
    • Standard: anything goes. Tell us about yourself. What’s your favorite book? Who do you idolize? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What books/articles have you read recently that impacted your way of thinking?
    • Behavioral – they’ll ask you what you have done in specific situations, e.g. tell us about a time you experienced a challenge to your leadership – what did you do and how did you handle it?
    • Group exercise: sometimes there may be something unique, like you and other interviewees will be given a task that you must work on together – hard to prepare for, but think about how you would want to approach that and work well with the other members.
  • Consider the setting of an interview.
    • Several will be on the campus or at a local business – not much to prepare for there.
    • Some may be by video chat or telephone, especially at preliminary phases. Make sure what the interviewer sees on the other end is a neat and tidy space. If it’s your own room, make sure the space says, “this is who I am” without saying “TMI” (that may be the one caveat to being too authentic!). If your interview is by phone, stand in front of a mirror. You will convey in your voice the expression on your face and over the phone that is especially helpful.
    • Note that college interviews, as opposed to scholarship program ones, often involve an alum of that college chatting with you at your home, or at a coffee shop, etc. Dress appropriately and if you must err between too formal and too casual, always choose too formal. Think about how to have a neat suit or pants and shirt/tie or blouse that will work. They need not be expensive, but they should be clean and neat.
  • Consider your answers.
    • Regardless of the type of interview, review and be familiar with what you put in your application for the particular university or scholarship program – you will often be asked about it.
    • Be you! Rehearse enough that your answer flows easily but don’t memorize what you are going to say – if something is truly meaningful to you, you shouldn’t have to rehearse that much – that’s a sign you might not be a good fit with whatever you perceive the opportunity is evaluating you on.

Additional considerations

  • Chat with older friends from the schools/programs you are targeting during winter break if you can – find out what their campus experiences have been – and get more than one opinion for each school if possible.
  • Visit some schools if convenient, but remember if you end up interviewing you might be invited to campus – find that out and visit the schools that don’t do campus interviews to get the most bang for your travel time buck.

Finally, don’t stress – enjoy winter break, keep focusing on your grades and transitioning your activities, if you are a leader in them, effectively to those who will remain after you leave for college.

Am I saying that if you do all these things you will end up admitted to a prestigious school or winning a major merit scholarship? No. But you will better position yourself to be where you want to be. Louis Pasteur once said “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” I could also add “prepared heart.” After all, I could never have predicted the question about my best friend in high school, much less prepared for it. My answer was as authentic and spontaneous as it could get.

And if you end up somewhere you never expected to be – because you were authentic – that’s a win in and of itself that will hopefully carry you through a life of happiness.

Chaffee Viets has worked in higher education for more than 20 years. He joined Georgia Tech in 2011 where he oversees a team that selects the Institute’s top merit scholars and then develops them along the lines of scholarship, leadership, progress, and service. His experience with various prestigious scholarship programs at four universities drives his passion for selecting and mentoring student scholars.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

“Cracking” The College Admission Code

Much of the media, gossip, and general conversation surrounding the college admission process includes words like “dates, deadlines, decisions,” or perhaps “stress” and “anxiety.” It does not have to be that way. The admission experience can be just that: an adventure- an opportunity to grow and a time to explore and discover. You just have to be willing to travel, twist, and trust.

Recently, I had the opportunity to go to China. In the period of 10 days, we covered a few thousand miles and seven different cities.  On my last day in Shanghai, before boarding a 14-hour flight home, a friend who lives 60 miles outside the city invited me to come for the day promising, “Good food, good conversation, and the best massage in China.” Sure. It would have been easier to stay in Shanghai, but I was intrigued, so I followed his directions through the busy train stations and met him in Suzhou (Go check out the incredible gardens there, if you ever have the chance).

He delivered on his promise. Great food, a low key day touring the city, an opportunity to meet his wife and mother-in-law, and to cap it off a 90- minute massage that cost a grand total of $20. After sipping tea (literally- not the term), soaking our feet, and enjoying/enduring some much needed work on my neck and lower back, he looked over at me on the table and said, “Do you trust me?” In my stupor, and with a masseuse’s elbow squarely in my shoulder blade, I managed to nod and almost inaudibly reply, “Yes.” (Leaving my lips it sounded more like a question than an answer.)

He said something in Mandarin and within the minute two extremely muscular guys walked into the room. Understanding the international hand motion for “sit up,” I complied. Before I knew it, one of them had my hands interlaced behind my head and my arms up in a butterfly position. Quickly and expertly he grabbed and twisted my elbows. Every vertebrate in my spine cracked. I gulped hard. Instantly, he raised my arms again, repositioned me, and twisted the other direction. I threw my head back, simultaneously opened my eyes and mouth wide, and borderline yelled, “Whao! Holy cow! (Possibly the PG-13 version),” which caused my friend and the other masseuse to erupt in laughter. Once I realized I was not paralyzed, it felt amazing– refreshed, rejuvenated, and relaxed all at the same time. I would never have signed up for that in the States. In fact, if he’d explained all of this to me in English ahead of time, I’d have passed on it for sure.

I’m not sending professional “back crackers” to your house or school (although that would be both weird and kind of awesome if I could), but I am hoping your admission experience will be like my day in Suzhou.Maxims

Travel– Go visit as many schools as you can. If you have not already read this on our blog or heard it from a school counselor, consider yourself told (or “done told”). These don’t have to be 12 day blitzkriegs where you see 37 different places. Pull off the highway when you see a college’s sign or tag on an extra day or two to a trip this summer. The college admission experience offers you the opportunity to see new places, experience new cities or states, and consider who you really are and what you want from college and beyond.

Don’t just stick to the “Shanghais.” In other words, don’t limit the colleges you visit only to the big or popular or best known schools in your state or region. Don’t let someone else’s list or ranking dictate your decisions or thought process.

Go to Suzhou. When you are driving between the University of Tennessee and the University of Kentucky, swing over to see Centre College. When you are on your way to U Penn stop by Muhlenberg College (Insert your regionally appropriate example here).

Be willing to “go there” figuratively as well. If the list of schools you’ve visited or are researching doesn’t have one or two “surprises” on it, I’d argue you’re limiting yourself and the potential for discovery, adventure, and growth. Look beyond the colleges you constantly see around you on t-shirts and window decals, or playing sports on TV. If you will do that, it’s fine to end up at your state’s flagship or a university that has a Shanghai-like brand or name. But don’t throw away brochures that arrive in your mailbox or inbox just because you’ve never heard of them. Be confident enough to think through what you want and need from a college experience (and how those two differ), and then honestly match those to individual school cultures.

I could not tell you what I did last Wednesday. Probably took the train to work, wrote some emails, and washed dishes. But I can tell you in detail about my day in Suzhou- and I expect I’ll be able to years from now as well. Take some detours. Inconvenience yourself. Be willing to take the path less traveled. Don’t shortchange yourself in this unique time and experience. Travel!

Twist– When you apply to college, you’re definitely putting yourself out there. It’s kind of like sitting up on a massage table and allowing a man three times your size to crack your back. I hope you’ll keep that image in your mind as you apply to college and receive admission decisions and financial aid packages. Well… maybe not that image exactly, but the concept. There can be moments of pain or discomfort but that is not necessarily a bad thing, if you commit to keeping a long- term, big picture perspective.

TwistAs an example, this year we pulled over 300 students into our class from the waitlist. Many of those kids applied in October, were deferred in January, and then were waitlisted in March, before ultimately getting an offer in May. Is that a bit painful? Absolutely. Just typing that makes me wince a little. But I’ve met some of those students over the last week, since our summer term began. I’m seeing a lot of smiles (and good posture).

Still not convinced? This fall we are enrolling 600 transfer students. Well over half of those students applied for first year admission. Some were denied initially and went elsewhere. Others were admitted and could not afford to attend, but are now coming after attending a more affordable option for the first year or two.

I hope you will be willing to raise your arms, interlace your fingers behind your head, and endure some proverbial back cracking. Twisting is not breaking. The truth is that too many students get their feelings hurt when they are deferred admission or waitlisted. Too many families become angry or insulted when they don’t get that invitation to the honors program or other perceived merit- based option at a particular school. Getting denied admission or “passed over” for a scholarship is not a dead end, it’s just rerouting you to a different adventure. Twist!

Trust- A few years ago I was helping students move into residence halls. As I entered the building I saw a father out of the corner of my eye who I had met before. I remembered him clearly because a few years earlier he had been in the office yelling at me for denying his son’s admission (you seem not to forget those types of interactions).

TrustI put the box down in the room of the student I was helping, wished her a good year, and then wiped the sweat from my brow. While the box was heavy and I had just basically sprinted up two flights of stairs, the perspiration was from that memory. Heading back out the front door (side door was locked) I scanned the lawn. Whew! He was gone.

Then… a hand on my shoulder. “Oh… Hi. How are you?” I managed to say in feigned surprise. After talking for a few minutes, his wife came up with their two sons. Unbeknownst to me, the younger brother had been admitted to Tech and was starting his first year. The older son explained he had chosen a smaller school and was now a rising senior majoring in business.

“Could not have been a better choice,” the father added, and then went on to proudly describe his son’s summer internship and added he already had a job offer waiting upon graduation.”

It’s understandable to be a little nervous or anxious about this whole college thing. You’re not crazy and there is nothing I can say, write or sing to make you totally trust me. Plus, I’ve learned folks don’t like hearing, “this is all going to work out.” But it’s kind of like standing in line for a big roller coaster. If you only see the drops and hear the screams, it’s natural to be scared. But watch the people coming off the ride. They’re “high-fiveing” and talking about how great it was. Trust them. Go to your high school’s graduation. Talk to graduates at the pool or a game this summer. Did their admission experience go exactly as they’d expected? Are they going to the school they thought they would be a year or two ago? Occasionally, perhaps. But I’d assert the most confident and excited traveled and twisted a bit along the way. Trust!

 

 

 

 

An Inconvenient Opportunity

This week we welcome Communications Manager for Strategy and Enrollment Planning (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley back to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

It was a rainy Mother’s Day in Georgia last week. Still a lovely day, but weather-wise it was dreary with showers that came and went throughout the day. In mid-afternoon my daughters, ages 3 and 7, went outside with our puppy to play outside. Even though it was wet, they needed to get some energy out so I put some old shoes and play clothes on them and told them to go for it.

Playing in the rain
This picture popped up in my Facebook memories today. Clearly, even years ago, I’ve always been okay with my kids playing in the rain!

While they were outside it started to mist… which turned to a sprinkle… which turned into a light, gentle rain. No wind, no storm, just soft rain falling from the sky. As I watched them (from the dry area underneath the edge of the house), it occurred to me that maybe I should bring them inside. At this point they, and the dog, were soaking wet—there was no turning back. I decided to ride it out. A little rain (and dirt!) is good for kids. And dogs, too, I guess.

The rain was an inconvenience. The wetness of these little people was definitely an inconvenience. But running laps through the house was slowly driving us all crazy (okay, maybe it was just me). It wasn’t what I planned or wanted. In truth, letting the kids play in the rain actually caused more work for all of us, as now I had to wrangle two wet kids (and one wet dog), with wet clothes, and get them from the backdoor to the bathtub without getting mud all over the house.

The easy thing would have been to bring them in immediately when the rain began. To let them stay outside, getting their feet muddy and their hair wet while pretending to fly on the swings, certainly created more work for me. But, it was time they spent together, outside, being free, and not in front of a screen. The inconvenience was absolutely worth it.

Inconvenience, or Opportunity?

Later that night, I had just finished my shower and brushed my teeth. I was pretty excited, as it appeared as though I might actually get to sleep at a decent hour (and on Mother’s Day, no less!). Just as I was wrapping up, my 7-year old walked in to tell us she was having scary thoughts. So I did what most moms would do—I went to her room, laid down with her, and stayed there until she was asleep. Getting to bed early (who am I kidding—on time, even!) wasn’t going to happen. It was an inconvenience.

An inconvenience is an unrecognized opportunity.But again, that inconvenience was an opportunity. An opportunity to be present, to comfort her, and to get some sweet snuggles. I know that as she grows up the opportunities to simply be with her and snuggle her will be fewer and farther between until they eventually disappear. As she gets older she will seek reassurance from someone other than me. So while this incident may have “cost me” a little sleep, it also presented me with a beautiful opportunity.

The month of May, by all counts, is crazy. End of year school parties, field days, art days, awards days… and that’s just elementary school! At the high school level you’re adding prom, end of year ceremonies, AP tests, and a little thing called graduation. You’re either getting ready to go to college, or preparing to apply to college. Let’s be honest: May is crazy. And sometimes, well, inconvenient.

If you’re a graduating senior….

This is your last summer at home. Even if you’re not going far away to school, life will still change in many significant ways. So this summer when your mom asks you to drive your little brother or sister to summer camp, try not to scoff at the inconvenience. Your time with them is limited. Next year you’re going to change a lot, and so will they. Instead of getting upset that this takes time out of your day, try to be present and have a conversation. Appreciate the time you have. Realize that next year when you’re asked to do the same thing, you’ll be spending time with a different person, who has grown and changed in the time that you’ve been gone. And that little brother or sister, while perhaps annoying at times, will miss you greatly when you’re gone. They’ve never known a life without you! So take the opportunity to connect, and make some memories along the way. (Note: you may not have a younger sibling—or you may BE the younger sibling. Replace the sibling in this scenario with a parent, grandparent, neighbor, or other person who may need your help in this season—same theory applies!)

If you’re a rising senior…

You’re moving into what we in the admissions world call “visit season.” Your summer is likely booked up with activities, maybe a job, and oh, a list of colleges to visit in hopes of finding “the one” that you’re looking for. Hitting the road with your family and visiting college after college may start to feel inconvenient at a certain point. Remember: this is an opportunity. An opportunity to set foot on campus and see what it’s really like (not just what we tell you in our glossy brochures and mailers); an opportunity to engage the process with your family and have a voice in the conversation; an opportunity to ask good questions; and an opportunity to visit a new town. The summer college visit road trip will be tiring, but I promise it will be worth it if you keep a positive mindset. If you need some ideas for what you should be doing during these visits (hint: it’s more than going to an information session and tour), check out these tips.

If you’re rising into 9-11 grades…

This may be your first summer with a job, or a research opportunity, or in a leadership position. Likely this summer you will experience some type of “first.” As you get older, the days of freedom with no responsibilities will become harder to come by. You’re going to learn how to juggle more things throughout your day as new tasks are added on to the ones you already have. Being asked to do your chores may be inconvenient. Let’s be honest here—no one wants to unload the dishwasher or fold clothes. (Psst! Not even your mom—trust me!). Before you heavy sigh and/or roll your eyes, take a deep breath and look for the opportunity. It’s in there! Maybe it’s a chance to have a conversation with a parent or friend while you complete the task. Maybe it’s a chance for some much needed quiet in your day. Maybe it’s a chance to let your brain just rest for a bit while you do something mindless.

Welcome the Unexpected

Opportunities often lurk in unexpected places. When we get bogged down in the “I have to” perspective, rather than embracing an “I get to” perspective, we often lose sight of what we could gain from the situation. As you move into the summer and discover wrinkles in your well laid plans, look for the opportunity that is quietly presenting itself. Once you find it and embrace it, you will be amazed at what you gain.

Becky Tankersley has worked in higher education for more than 10 years. She joined Georgia Tech in 2012 after working at a small, private college in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. Prior to working in higher education, she worked as a television news producer. Her current role blends her skills in college recruitment and communication. Becky is the editor of  the GT Admission Blog, and also serves as a Content Coordinator for the American Association of Collegiate Registrar and Admission Officers.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

I Have a Brother

Listen to the audio version here.

Chapter 1 

I have a brother.

Like many little boys he grew up playing sports. His favorite was basketball. He practiced and worked hard and dreamed of making the school team. But it didn’t happen.

He wanted to be a leader. He ran for student government several times. Along the way he both won and lost. Ultimately, he became president of our high school.Your story

He studied, did his homework, crammed for tests, and did not cheat, even when those around him took shortcuts. He wanted to be the valedictorian or the salutatorian. But it didn’t happen.

If you are a sophomore or junior reading this: be encouraged that you are still in Chapter 1. Heartbreak, setbacks, and challenges. Every year we read regularly about losses of siblings; parents getting divorces; difficult uprooting moves to different schools, cities or states; breakups; substance abuse problems; discipline issues; severe illnesses, and the list goes on.

These events or periods will always be part of your story. But they do not define you. Rather, they help give you a deeper sense of empathy. They make you a better listener. And they simply demonstrate a fundamental truth — we were made to be in community. We were made to have deep friendships and relationships. My hope is these early experiences, while incredibly tough in the moment, will help you learn now what many struggle with well into adulthood: we must be able to trust others in our weakness and be available to them in theirs.

Chapter 2

I have a brother.

He wanted so badly to attend a particular Ivy League school. It was his dream. It was his top choice. He applied with high hopes and a strong record. But it didn’t happen.

He was admitted to a public school—an incredible campus and community. A place he was excited about. He interviewed for their top merit scholarship, a prestigious award and an elite group. He spent the weekend there, and felt confident about his chances.

He did not receive the scholarship, but chose the school anyway and made the most of it. He wrote for the school paper, joined a number of groups, plugged into the community, and studied abroad. He blazed a path of a new major and befriended professors and students alike. He ran for student office— and lost. He wanted so badly in his final year to receive the honor of living in a special part of campus. But it didn’t happen.

If you are senior reading this: Some of you have been admitted to your first choice university and are excited to get started this fall. Others were denied admission to your top choice. A few have realized your dream college is ultimately not affordable, and you’ve reluctantly put down your deposit to another place. Then there are those of you who ultimately won’t come off the waitlist at your number #1 school.

My hope is regardless of where you are going, you get excited about that place—that community and experience. People will describe college as “some of the best years of your life.” I think hearing that before you go puts unnecessary pressure on you. Instead, I’d say they are unique years. You get the chance to be around a bunch of young, interesting, fun, creative, (insert your preferred adjective here) people who all live close, have free time to be together, and are not juggling as many responsibilities as life typically brings later down the road. And that is amazing! Arrive on campus excited about the uncertainty and committed to exploring.

Great things never come from comfort zonesRegardless of where you are today in your college journey, I have good news— failure awaits, and disappointment and heartbreak are coming. Congratulations! In college you are going to receive some grades that you did not even know existed (read Bs or Cs); someone is going to turn you down for a date, an internship, a research opportunity, or a summer program (hopefully those are separate people for each because that would be weird otherwise). You may learn the major or profession you’ve always wanted to pursue is really not for you. You may end up transferring to a different college. Don’t be dejected. Instead, be thankful. The truth is you don’t learn lessons, or grow or improve, or develop deep friendships and trust when things are totally smooth, comfortable or easy—in fact, the opposite is true.

Chapter 3

I have a brother.

He graduated and moved overseas so he could master the language he’d taken as an undergraduate. Eventually he went to law school and added a second language while there.

He took a position at a prestigious law firm. He worked 100 hour weeks, impressed clients, married a smart, beautiful woman and started a family.

He did not make partner. He was “out-counseled.” He started a company that ultimately failed.

He moved back overseas, practiced law, and eventually started a different company. This one made it.

Anyone reading this who meets my brother today would be impressed. They would see, respect, and admire the accomplishments. They have not heard the pain, seen the tears, or experienced the disappointment. They would not know that along the way he’s also lost a father and a child.Success

Anyone student reading this should take time to seek out and really listen to a few people you admire. Forget about who they appear to be. Ask them about their almosts, their low points, and their losses. One of the worst things about social media is it allows people to showcase wins and hide their struggles. One of the best things you can do is take time in the months ahead to find someone twice your age and ask them to share it all. They’ll be honored and you’ll be encouraged.

Like all of us, my brother is both perfect and deeply flawed. He’s a failed athlete, an Ivy League reject, a fired employee and an unsuccessful entrepreneur. He’s a tri-lingual attorney turned successful small business owner who lives abroad with his incredible wife and amazing children.

Chapter 4

I have a brother.

We don’t share the same parents. We did not grow up in the same house. Our bond is not blood but rather a lifetime of sharing joy and sorrow—hopes, dreams, setbacks, and progress.

If you are reading this, my hope is you will come to understand and appreciate that success is not a point-to-point trip. A life fully and well-lived is not a straight road. So when you feel like things are falling apart; when you look around and believe “everyone else is happy;” when you question what you did wrong or why something did not work out, my hope is you will remember you are not at a dead-end, or even a U-turn that is forcing you to double back. These are inevitable turns, re-routes, and natural bends in the road you should expect on any journey.

Part of your story is already written. Beginnings are interesting, but incomplete. They are often filled with challenges, setbacks, and difficulty. The beauty is you get to keep writing. No matter where you are today or where you plan to be next year, I hope you will not dwell on what has been but instead commit to explore, attempt, edit, and continually learn.  Get excited about writing your next chapter!

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.