Remember The Important Things

What am I forgetting?

Sunday, December 1

7:13 a.m. – I awake to the faint sound of singing. This is not typical. Groggily, I open my eyes and look over at my wife. Dead asleep.

7:15 a.m. – I drag myself out of bed, pull on a shirt, and shuffle to the bathroom exhausted. After a week of traveling, spending time with extended family, and consuming more food in a day than I normally do in a week, we had returned home just in time to host eight 3rd graders for my daughter’s ninth birthday. We’d gone to bed around 1 a.m. after a night of ice skating, pizza, cake, popcorn, and a late nighNo Coffee No Workeet movie.

7:19 a.m. – I open our bedroom door and walk down the stairs to the unmistakable tune (though in a very high key) of “Jingle Bells” echoing from the living room.

“Good morning, ladies,” I croak. I received a few casual glances and then witnessed a truly incredible, seamless transition to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Turning on the coffee machine and leaning against the counter I ponder just how much money it would take to convince my son and his friends to sit in a circle wearing their pajamas, hold hands, and sing Christmas Carols.

7:23 a.m. – I pour a full cup of dark roast coffee. You may have seen the mug or sign “No Coffee No Workee.” For me it is more “No Coffee No Thinkee.” The synapses in my brain are powered by caffeine. I am simply a better human post- coffee. All of that.

7:25 a.m. – I begin mixing pancake batter and begin to have that strange feeling that I’m forgetting something important…

  • Accounted for all children in my charge.
  • Recounted number of cracked eggs.
  • Wearing pants.

*All of those would have been bad on some level. Jail time would vary.

8:03 a.m. Girls have now torn through 26 pancakes and are bouncing on the trampoline (still singing).  Amy comes downstairs and heads straight for the coffee. Sympatico.

Me: Hey. Was there something I was supposed to do today?

Her: Pretty sure you were going to rub my feet and wash my car. (Clearly, coffee is just a habit as her synapses seem to fire just fine on their own).

Me: I don’t know what it is, but there’s something significant about December 1.

Her facial expression is equal parts concern, bemusement, and disgust. Tilting her head down and to the left while simultaneously raising her right eyebrow, she sasks (partly saying/ partly asking) “It’s our daughter’s birthday.” Translation: “Are you kidding me right now?”

Me: Flipping my head in direction of the caroling trampoline… No. No. I do know that. Something else.

Her: Sips coffee. 

10:21 a.m. – The girls have been picked up and the house is quiet, but my mind is racing. Granted, I’m three cups of coffee in, but it is something else. Something about today. What am I forgetting? I check my phone calendar, my Ipad calendar, my laptop calendar (sometimes I have syncing issues). Nothing.

11:34 a.m. – I go for a run. This will clear my mind and help me remember. Nada.

12:08 p.m. – Stretching. Still tormented. Not quite Edgar Allen Poe The Raven level but definitely something rapping, tapping in my mind for sure.

3:13 p.m. – We are at the symphony watching Home Alone. Side note: If you’ve not gone to see a movie played with live music accompaniment, do it sometime. If you’ve not seen Home Alone, you’ve lived an incomplete life.  That is your holiday assignment for sure. Home Alone Picture

Mrs. McCallister is having the same type of day I am. She knows she has forgotten something important but cannot seem to remember what it is. Finally, she sits bold upright in the plane and yells, “Kevin!”

BAM!! That’s what it took to jar my memory. I looked over at my wife, tapped her shoulder, and whispered, “It’s Preparation Day! That’s what I could not remember.”

Her: (Again, with that vicious concoction of concern, bemusement, and disgust.) What is Preparation Day?

Me: Do you remember that blog from last year about students being deferred admission?

Her eyes gently close. She takes a long, deep breath, rocks her head back, and then slowly rotates it in a complete circle. I’ve learned this to be her non-verbal sign for, “When I open my eyes again, I’m going to pretend like you’re not here.”

Anyway…

As you may recall, last year I pronounced December 1 “National Preparation Day” and challenged seniors who had applied Early Action or Early Decision to colleges with less than a 50% admit rate to take the “PDP”—Preparation Day Pledge. (So I’m a few days late but thankfully was able to pull some strings and get you a deadline extension this year!)

While there is nothing magic about these words (although I worked some pretty cool ones in), my hope is by actually saying this pledge, you will: prepare yourself for the possibility of being deferred or denied, keep perspective, and move forward in your admission experience in a balanced, grounded, healthy way.

Take the Pledge!

“I, (state your name), being of sound (though overly caffeinated) mind and (sleep-deprived) body, do hereby swear that I will not presume anything in the admission process. I acknowledge that I will not look at middle 50 percent ranges and expect that my scores, though in the top quartile, guarantee my admittance.

I will not look at middle 50 percent ranges of hitherto admitted classes and expect my scores, though in the bottom quartile, will be overlooked based on my amazing essay, parents’ connections, pictures of me in a onesie from that college, or the 12 letters of recommendation that have been sent on my behalf.

I understand the heretofore explicated concept of holistic admission is neither fair nor perfect, wherein I will likely not agree with, nor be capable of predicting all results, despite the complex algorithms I employ or the kingdom fortunetellers I visit.

Furthermore, I agree that I will not view an admission decision as an indictment of my character, a judgment on my hitherto demonstrated preparation, nor a prediction of my future success.”

I got deferred…

Since many colleges will be releasing admission decisions in the next few weeks and being deferred is a very real possibility, I wanted to be sure that you had a few tips on how to understand and handle that decision.  What does being deferred really mean?

It means you have some work to do.

You need to send in your fall grades. You may need to write an additional essay or tell the admission committee more about your senior year extracurricular activities. Defer is a “hold on.” It is a “maybe.” Don’t like those characterizations? Fine—call it “tell us more.” They will be looking at how you’ve done in a challenging senior schedule, or if your upward grade trend will continue, or if you can juggle more responsibility outside the classroom with your course load. Bottom line is you have work to do. Are you going to get admitted in the next round? No promises. But if getting deferred is what helps keep you focused and motivated, you should look at their decision as a good thing. Finish well.

It means you may need to submit another application or two. 

If you’ve already got this covered, that’s great. You were ahead of Preparation Day. If not, then good news—many great schools have deadlines in January. The bottom line is you need applications in at a few schools with higher admit rates and lower academic profiles than the one that deferred you.

It means holistic review is a real thing.

If your scores and grades are above their profile and they defer you, they only proved what they said in their publications and presentations—admission is about more than numbers. At Georgia Tech we are knee-deep in application review. We have not released decisions, but day in and day out we are slating students for defer who have ACT scores of 35 or 36 and great grades. Is that “shocking?” It shouldn’t be. Institutional priorities, shaping a class, and supply and demand drive admission decisions. Similarly, if your scores are in the middle or below their profile, a defer also proves decisions are made using more than just numbers.

It means you need to check your ego and wait.

Does that sound harsh? Sorry—but sometimes, life is harsh. This is why you should take the pledge. If you are prepared for “no,” then a defer will not rock you as bad. Admission decisions feel personal. How could they not? Nobody loves spending a few more months in limbo. But this is not about you. This is about schools who are hedging their bets and wanting to evaluate you in context of their overall pool. Kind of sucks. I get it. But too many students do not send in fall grades, complete the deferred form, or send other information schools ask for because they’ve never heard of a “maybe” (perhaps the first they’ve ever heard). Think of the admission experience as your first foray into your college years and start looking at maybes as good things. If you liked a school enough to appUndergraduate Admissions Director’s family picturely, finish the drill. Give them reasons to admit you in the next round. It is called an admission process. There are rounds for a reason. Don’t go halfway and stop.

It means you need to look forward, not backward.

Technically, defer does mean “to put off or delay,” but my hope is you’ll re-frame that as to look forward to something in the future. DO NOT look back! DO NOT second guess whether you should have taken AP Geography in the ninth grade instead of band, or blame Mr. Thompson for giving you an 89 instead of a 93 that would have bumped your GPA by .00083.

It means control what you can control.

People want so desperately to predict and analyze admission decisions that are influenced by macro institutional goals and made in rooms they will never enter. I hope you’ll focus more on the rooms you enter every day. Your classroom, living room, etc. Defer means stay focused on the micro. This is your one and only senior year.  Do well—but more importantly do good. Don’t worry about those rooms hundreds of miles away. Be a good friend. Be a good sibling. Be a good teammate. Go thank a teacher that wrote a recommendation for you. Hug your mama.

It means remember the important things. Don’t be like me or Mrs. McCallister. Take the Pledge!  (And seriously, go watch Home Alone for the first or fifteenth time. So good!)

Communicating Thanksgiving

Each Monday morning our Communications Team meets. Our agenda is broken into four basic parts:

Immediate outbound: We discuss mass communications via email and address what applicants need to know about the admission cycle. What expectations do we need to set on timing? What are we communicating to prospective students to help them better understand campus culture, highlight interesting students, faculty, alumni, etc.?

Urgent/Fires: Our website is down. There has been a natural disaster somewhere in the world and we need to consider and communicate a deadline extension. My parents are coming tonight and you did not finish folding the laundry. (Wait… sorry, that was just a text from my wife.)

Our team member from the Communications Center (aka “the Calm Center”) reports on inbound calls and emails. What do we need to clarify or address immediately? “We’ve had 100 calls this week about X.” We then examine the source of confusion and look to communicate X more clearly on our site, publications, or in presentations.

Visual display of communicationOn application deadline day, we inevitably get hundreds of calls asking, “Is today really the deadline?” “Is that midnight my time or yours?” “It says on my portal that I’ve been admitted. Is that really true?” You think I’m kidding. That is a very common one, actually. While it does make us question the decision, we don’t view skepticism as a reason for rescinding admission. Instead, we have come to appreciate there are some questions people simply want another human to answer. This is not an admissions fire. This is human nature (an entirely different type of fire).

If you are not receiving these types of emails from schools you are interested in, you can visit their website to subscribe. If you are receiving too many of these emails from colleges around the country, I can only apologize and urge you to a: unsubscribe to those you are no longer legitimately considering; b: create a separate email address just for your college search; c: blame the internet (that’s kind of my go to for all that is awry in the world).

Future focus/Strategic: What is coming up? These are the bigger communication projects we are working on, such as the production of videos, publications, events, or campaigns. We check in on needs/ status/necessary iterations or alterations.

Social Media/ Timely: We try to provide an authentic, day- to- day sense of campus life. Pictures, stories, events… a “sense of face and place” is our fundamental goal. What have we or should we be saying and showing on social media to engage, educate, entertain, and at least one more word starting with the letter “E.” Following (or at least trolling) social media from official admission accounts is worthwhile. I would also highly recommend doing the same for campus clubs or orgs at the schools you are interested in, because this is student-to-student communication that is organic, authentic, unvarnished and unfiltered, i.e. the real deal. Great way to get a sense of true culture and student life.

Back when only my mom and a few of her friends were reading this blog, we’d sort of hit that at the end. And by “the end,” I basically mean as people were walking out someone would idly mumble, “So, Rick. Are you going to write another bizarre story about your kids and then loosely correlate it to college admission?”

Once they realized that there was an endless supply of said anecdotes and debatable correlations, more team members volunteered to write. Now, we actually discuss the blog more intentionally: Who is writing this week and next week? What topics are most relevant/timely/helpful during this part of the cycle? What have we learned from feedback via comment or email?

This week the basic consensus was, No blog needed. Students are checked out, counselors/teachers are burned out, and parents are wishing they could just eat out. I get it. Thanksgiving is a time to relax, watch football, hang out with family, sleep, and travel. “Light reading” is the score ticker at the bottom of the TV, rather than a blog about college admission.  Still, because we all have so many challenges and rough situations to deal with throughout the year, I thought a brief and simple message was important.

Give Thanks

The admission process- like our communications meetings and life in general- is filled with a lot of looking forward. It is clogged and clouded with impending deadlines, calendared dates, planning, wishing, expectation and anticipation. While it is important, it is so rare and hard to celebrate your wins. As humans it seems we are always on to the next thing. But this week… this week is an oasis–a respite. It  is a rare time to reflect and to actually sit still for a minute or two, or take a long walk and ruminate.

Thanksgiving Offerings

I’ve heard a number of politicians use the quote, “If you see a turtle on a fence post, you can be sure it did not get there by itself.” On some level, however, we all fool ourselves into thinking we have achieved, succeeded, or climbed on our own, because we know that it has taken a lot of work. Today, however, I am asking you to reflect on who it is that has helped facilitate your success. Who gave you that job? Who selected you to be on the team or named you captain? Who took time to also write your recommendation letters after a long day teaching, coaching, and grading papers? Who sponsored the club you have grown to care about so deeply?

Take the time right now to send them a text or give them a call. Simple but powerful. Give thanks for these folks. This is not homework. This is an opportunity.

A Note to Seniors
Your parents need some love this week. Fall of your senior year is not easy on them. They’re excited for you, but they’re also nervous. They’re starting to realize this is the last Thanksgiving you will be living full-time at home. They may pretend it’s just dusty in the house or blame their emotions on a turkey- induced stupor, but it’s actually reality sinking in. Don’t let their plans to convert your room to an office or guest room fool you. Their hearts are breaking a little right now. They could use a hug and a note too.

Despite what the commercials might say Thanksgiving is not really about the food or football or pre-Christmas sales. The true heartbeat of Thanksgiving is slowing down, reaching out, and choosing family. At its core, so too is the college admission experience. “Getting in” is what people talk about but staying together is what they should be focused on.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

 

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.

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“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!