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.

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I Have a Brother

Listen to “Episode 26: I Have A Brother (Growing Through Disappointment) – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

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!

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The Waitlist STILL Sucks!

Listen to the audio version here.

  • Pink eye.
  • A car hitting a puddle and soaking you from the waist down.
  • Someone eats the last Girl Scout cookie but leaves the box in the pantry.
  • Back pain.
  • Your car needs need a new timing belt.

Feel free to add on to this list of Things That Suck, but I figured I’d get you started. Surprisingly, it can be a bit cathartic to just toss them out there. I find it enjoyable to say these with gusto while leaning in slightly, gritting my teeth, narrowing my eyes, clenching my fist, and adding the disdain only rivaled by Jerry in Seinfeld episodes when he’d curse the name Newman! (Yes, I expect you to click on that link if you don’t know that reference. This is a life-enriching blog.)

In college admission, I’d argue the most Newman-worthy word is waitlist. A few years ago I wrote a three-part series called “The Waitlist Sucks.” Since that time, we have seen political change, population growth, and new world champions crowned. But The Waitlist Still Sucks! Here’s why.

Reason #1: I’m Not That Smart

Why does this admission purgatory exist at all? Well, it depends who you ask. Deans, directors, and other enrollment managers will say it is because predicting 17 and 18 year-old behavior is not an exact science. After all, if we could precisely determine the number of students who would accept our offer of admission and deposit (yield) by the May 1 National Candidate Reply Deadline, waitlists would not be necessary.  So in addition to reading applications all year from students who make A’s in classes I can’t even spell or accomplish things in under 20 years I’ll never achieve in my lifetime, the waitlist is an annual reminder that I’m just not that smart.

Waitlists are basically a cushion. Colleges build and utilize historical yield models in order to predict the number of students we think will say yes to their offer of admission. However, because the number of beds in residence halls, the number of seats in classrooms, and the faculty:student and advisor:student ratios are very specific, they intentionally plan to come in slightly below their target. In many cases, they do this in order to account for years when the model changes and students “over-yield.” If you are applying to a school that over-enrolled the year prior (cough… Georgia Tech), you can be sure they will be extremely conservative, e.g. filling an even higher number of spaces from the waitlist.

The waitlist also exists to allow schools to meet institutional priorities. After the May 1 deadline, colleges evaluate their deposited class and use their waitlist to increase desired demographics that were not met in the initial round of admission offers. This could mean more students from a particular state or geographic region to proliferate their college’s brand. Perhaps they just hired a new dean in business who is clamoring to grow the program. Or maybe they are trying to increase male enrollment in their education department. The bottom line is college waitlists are not restaurant waitlists. You are not ranked or assigned a number. Instead, they hand-pick applicants to fill a specific purpose. Cushion, institutional priorities, unpredictable teenager thought process. Call it what you will. Bottom line: I’m just not that smart. Newman!

Reason #2: Waiting sucks (add this, and losing to your rival in the final seconds of a game, to the list at the top.)

You applied. You waited. You waited some more. You took up curling and counted the number of Cheerios in your bowl each morning. You watched the rain fall. Finally, decision day arrives. You take a deep breath, say whatever type of prayer, hex, good luck incantation seems most fitting, enter your password, and… What?! No! Oh no you didn’t.

I wish I had a good tip for you. All I can say is what you already know—waiting is hard. Uncertainty is frustrating and unsettling. Feeling better? Yeah, I get it. I’m guessing you’re also not going to like to hear that life is full of situations just like this one. Will I get a new job, and when? Will the results of this test come back from the doctor with life-changing implications? For many of you this is the first of many big situations that mean waiting, hoping, praying, and learning to be content and joyful in the present, regardless of your circumstances. That is a challenge at any age—you are just getting some early practice. Congratulations??

**Special note/apology: Some of you were deferred and will now receive a waitlist offer. Welcome to the 9th level of admission hell. We don’t like doing it and we know you hate dealing with it. This year UNC-Chapel Hill moved away from that progression by no longer deferring anyone in EA and rather pushing students straight into waitlist. Is that kinder, gentler admission or just Newman showing up earlier in the episode? You decide.

Reason #3: It’s an ego hit.

“What’s wrong with me?” “Why did that other kid get in and not me?” “How is my 3.8 and 1520 not good enough?” Please, hear me adamantly reminding you: This is not a value judgment! Again, as my colleague Pam Ambler from Pace Academy here in Atlanta so astutely put it, “How admission decisions feel is not how they are made.” YOU are amazing! YOU are talented. Yes. I am talking to you. YOU—with the iPad out or scanning your phone, or reading this while you’re pretending to listen in class or to a friend. That doesn’t mean it does not sting, burn, or make you want to scream, “Newman!” (Feels good, right?)

Keep your head up. Don’t let a school’s decision (based on factors well outside your control) shake your confidence. Your goal is to have the confidence to embrace uncertainty as an adventure rather than a burden. Great days ahead, my friends. Where exactly? I don’t know. But walk confidently and keep your head up. You got this.

Being in limbo is tough enough on its own. But adding to the angst, frustration, and ego hit is that everyone else seems to be set and living a smooth, stress-free life as they finish high school. Seems is the key word here. Trust me—they still have their own issues and doubts. They are only posting their (occasional) fancy meals and best hair days on Instagram. And you better believe those pics are highly photo-shopped and multi-filtered.

I understand lots of your friends already know or soon will know where they are going to college next year. I hope you’ll have the vision and character not to spend your energy envying them but rather celebrating with them. This will come back around. This is all going to work out. Love on them now and they’ll be thrilled when you’ve made your final decision too. Trust.

So, what can you do?

  1. Accept your spot. At most schools the waitlist decision is actually an offer, rather than an automatic secured spot. Typically, you need to take action of some kind to accept or claim your waitlist spot. If you do claim your spot, be sure you also complete anything additional they ask you to submit. Is there a supplementary short answer question to complete? Do they want mid-semester grades sent, or another recommendation letter or an interview? All places vary. Admission 101 = read what they send and do what it says.
  2. Deposit elsewhere. The college that has offered you a spot on their waitlist should be instructing you to take this step, as it is absolutely critical. Because most schools won’t have a firm sense of deposits until late April, the majority of waitlist activity occurs in May and June. Since May 1 is the National Candidate Reply Date, you need to put your money down at another college in order to secure your spot in their class. Just like the college, you are hedging your bets.
    I sort of hate to be the one to tell you this, but just in case no one else will do it… the statistics/odds say you are likely not coming off the waitlist. Yes, there is always a chance. Dark horses win races. It somehow did rain for the 83rd straight day in Atlanta. Don’t hear me say it’s impossible. But if I were you I’d get excited about the school that accepted you and where you chose to deposit in March or April.
  3. Don’t stalk the admission office. Claim your spot, send in what they ask for, and wait. That’s it. If you really feel compelled to send an email to an admission counselor that you’ve met or corresponded with previously, that could be your other action item. If you do that, it’s a one and done deal. We have seen students send a painted shoe with a message on the bottom reading: “just trying to get my foot in the door.” Memorable, but ultimately ineffective. Admission offices regularly receive chocolates, cookies, and treats along with poems or notes. It is safe to say that a couple hundred grams of sugar and a few couplets are not going to outweigh institutional priorities. There is a distinct line between demonstrating interest and stalking. Stay in your lane.
  4. Grrrr….Newman!

Finish Well

At the end of the day, my hope is you will not let being on a waitlist keep you from enjoying the last part of your senior year. Have fun on spring break. Go to prom. Take the opportunity to thank your teachers or read something outside of school in which you are genuinely interested.

Maybe one day we’ll live in a world where the admission experience is perfect. Students apply to their one and only dream school (likely without having to write an essay or pay an application fee); the college admits them all with full scholarships; students arrive on campus singing, smiling, and holding hands; they all earn (not get) 4.0 GPAs, retain at 100%, graduate in four years, get high paying and highly fulfilling jobs after graduation, name their babies after the admission director… you get the picture.

Until then… we have the waitlist (and it still sucks!).

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Admission Mystery: Follow the Clues

Listen to the audio version here.

My friend and colleague Brennan Barnard recently wrote an incredibly insightful, heartfelt, and encouraging letter to students in Forbes. I hope you will read it. His conclusion really stuck with me: “I hope you are ready because you are bound for an amazing college experience filled with opportunities to learn, connect, and grow. Where all of that will happen is a mystery—and like all good mysteries, it should be filled with twists, turns, discovery, new places, and interesting people. My hope is that you will find joy in uncovering the clues that lead you, and that ultimately you will arrive on a college campus confident and excited to embrace the opportunity. Enjoy the journey.”

A Game of Clue

Those words reminded me of last Saturday night after dinner at our house. My kids insisted we play the classic board game Clue. If you are not familiar with the game, the goal is to use the process of elimination to determine the character who did the deed, the weapon they used, and the room where the crime occurred. Clue cast

First, you choose a card from each category to put in an envelope in the middle of the board. Then, by looking at your cards, asking questions of the other players (as well as closely watching the interactions of other players), and moving around the board to different rooms, you attempt to solve the mystery. (Rules are here, if that brief description is not adequate. I recommend the movie too.)

By the time our kids took their baths, put on pajamas, and got everything set up, it was about 8 p.m. It didn’t take long to realize this was not going to end well. Within a 10 minute period, Elizabeth, our eight year old, fell off the bench, knocked over her milk, and started crying because she thought we had skipped her turn (and she had just gone).

Stuffed Animals
Elizabeth (Ozzie in stripes) in an entirely different mood.

My wife (far more patient and generous than me) had just poured her another glass of milk when Elizabeth inadvertently dropped two of her cards face up on the table. This led our son to say, “Ahh… okay. So it’s not Mr. Green…” and then he feigned making a note. Game over. Tears, flailing on the ground, and of course, more spilled milk— this time on her teddy bear Ozzie, aka her teammate.

“That’s it!” I pronounced. “We’re done. We can finish this tomorrow.”

HOLY COW! You would have thought I said we were going to burn Ozzie and throw his remains in the sewer. It was like scene from the Book of Revelation. Writhing, gnashing of teeth, and an alternation between screams and whimpers that left me questioning our decision to have a second child.

Once she pulled herself together and blew her nose about seven times, she insisted on looking at the cards in the envelope to learn the answers.

“No, sweetheart,” I told her. “We will finish the game tomorrow.” I picked her up and carried her to bed. She was snoring within 46 seconds.

Second verse, same as the first

I was working at the dining room table the following morning and heard her come down the stairs. Not realizing I was watching, she went into the room where the board was set up in order to peek inside the envelope.

It felt like Groundhog Day as I walked in and reprimanded her. Bam! She hit the floor, casting Ozzie aside in her grief. As I watched her moan and roll around (essentially serving as a human Swiffer), I thought about… well, first about being on the beach alone. But then I considered just how natural her desire was to check the envelope and uncover the resolution.

A Desire for “The Answers”

We have all been there…

  • Is this date going to lead to anything significant?
  • How did I do on that test?
  • Is this job interview going to result in an offer?
  • Is my health exam going to come back positive or negative?

The desire to know how it’s all going to work out is true in the college admission experience as well.

If you are a junior

Emails flood your inbox. Every brochure presents you with another beautifully manicured quad, incredible brick or stone architecture, and a perfectly balanced array of students from different ethnicities, majors, and states. They seem to say (without overtly saying), “no matter who you are, there is a place for you here.” The big machine of college admission marketing is in full gear and your name is up.

  1. Look at those letters, emails, and brochures as clues. Ask yourself, like you would in the game, what am I holding in my hand— in other words, who am I? And who am I not? Take the time to consider, refine, and record distinctions between what you want (would be nice) and what you need (must have) in your college experience. Think about your school, community, and the teams, clubs, jobs, and other places you are involved and plugged in. What do you love about those opportunities or environments and want more of in college? What do you not see, have, or enjoy that you are hoping to gain, learn, or be exposed to after high school? These are fairly deep but incredibly important questions. They will take work and effort to answer. But like anything into which you invest time and effort, they will provide you with invaluable ownership and confidence.
  2. “Like all good mysteries, your college search should be filled with twists, turns, discovery, new places, and interesting people.” Get online and poke around on schools’ virtual tours. Snoop around on social media accounts of the student groups from campuses you are interested in. Go see the places that match your needs and wants and investigate for yourself. When you are there, interrogate everyone you meet as a potential suspect. Wait…no, don’t do that.
    When you are there, don’t just settle for the canned tour and spiel. Work a little harder. Eavesdrop in the dining hall or student center. Listen to the conversations students are having. Go find the buildings that house your major if you don’t get there on the tour. Observe the interactions of faculty and students. Are these your people? Like any good detective, pay close attention. Take notes. Ask the same questions to as many people as possible on each campus and continually compare those answers.

ClueYes, there were a lot of underlined verbs in those paragraphs. Again, a college search done right is supposed to require time and effort. At times it might seem easier to simply pull the envelope from the middle. Remember, that information will come last.

Just because everyone in your family has gone to a particular school or these are the five colleges with the highest ranking in the major you want to pursue does not mean they are the answers in your envelope. Don’t cheat yourself of the opportunity to discover more about who you are, how you are made, and the best environment to help you move toward your goals by taking short cuts.

If you are a senior (or the parent of a senior)…

You may have one or two admission decisions back and are potentially waiting for a few more. Maybe you have been admitted to your first choice school and just need to receive the financial package. Either way, you have some information but need more clues before you open the envelope and solve the mystery. Be comfortable in the waiting. In the weeks and months ahead, you have some great stuff to look forward to— prom, spring break, final games or meets or performances. Don’t be so concerned with what is in the envelope that you dilute the enjoyment of those unique, important, and fleeting experiences.

  1. Just like in the game of Clue you need to pay attention and look around at the other players— your friends, family, coaches, teachers, and other important people in your life. Where you will be next year may be a mystery but one thing is certain— you will not be where you are right now. Don’t waste this time of uncertainty stewing or shrinking inward. Proactively pursue the relationships around you. Go back to the teacher who inspired your love of Biology and tell her that. Let your coach know how much you appreciate their time and effort and how it impacted you. These folks invest countless hours every year. They may not be looking for acknowledgement, but I guarantee they’ll appreciate it. Don’t look at your younger brother’s incessant requests for a ride or pleas to borrow a sweatshirt as annoying, but rather as a chance to connect that you simply won’t have on a daily basis eight months from now. And, I have said it before but this won’t be the last time— hug your mama!
  2. Don’t pay too much attention to the other players. Huh?! Listen, if John or Madison or Ryan or Lauren or some other person you know whose name ends in “n” gets into a particular school, or gets a scholarship, don’t spend your time or energy thinking about it. Honestly, it means nothing for you. They had their questions and you have yours. That is their envelope and yours is coming. Keep focused on your cards and the board in front of you. “Find joy in uncovering the clues that lead you, and ultimately you will arrive on a college campus confident and excited to embrace the opportunity.” That is not a hope or a utopian thought— it’s a promise rooted in experience.

Eventually, even the best metaphors eventually break down, and we’ve reached that point here. College admission is not a game (cue Allen Iverson); and contrary to common vernacular it is not a process; instead, it is an experience. “Enjoy the journey!”

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Beyond Admission

Listen to the audio version here!

Recently, our family took holiday pictures. The photo shoot was scheduled for a Saturday morning and neither of our kids wanted to go. To be honest, I was not looking forward to it either. Thankfully, the session was only scheduled to last 45 minutes and it was at a local park. How bad could it be?

Actually, it was terrible. It was exhausting, frustrating, and maddening all at the same time. Our son was super-hyper (thanks in no small part to my rookie mistake of making pancakes that morning) and he kept running or falling down during the staged walking pictures or trying to climb on top of me from behind during the posed seated shots. Meanwhile, our daughter could not muster anything close to a natural smile, which was driving my wife crazy. I guess on some level this sounds reminiscent or uncomfortably familiar. Happy Holidays, right?

In the end, of the hundreds of pictures the photographer took that day, we were able to find 3-4 usable images for the requisite collage holiday card (granted, one of them is my daughter literally grabbing and pulling my cheek, but we are selling it as playful not annoying).Director of Undergraduate Admissions

Ultimately, what message goes out to our friends and family? The Clarks are doing great! They look really happy and unified.

This is also the story you see every time you go to social media. People post their best pictures (or edit and filter them until they are close to perfect). And we all post comments, quotes, articles, and stories that make us look smart, cute, funny, popular, (insert adjective you are trying to be known for here).

Almost comically, colleges do the same thing in our brochures and websites. When was the last time you saw a student crying in a viewbook? You won’t find a shot of a grungy dumpster or a dead squirrel or roommates arguing. The message is always, “come here and your life will be amazing!”

What is so unfortunate, especially this time of year, is when you feel lonely, unconfident, insecure, or depressed, it is easy to look around and believe you are the only one struggling. It is easy to think everyone else has it all figured out and their life is perfect. Here’s the truth: they don’t, and they’re not. At any age, we need to be reminded of that fact.

So before the holidays get even more rushed, consumed, and complicated by travel plans, shopping, and obligations, I want to close 2018 with two very simple messages—not  about college or admission–we’ll get back to that in January.

You are loved. Look around you today and this week. Take note of the people who text you, want to spend time with you, give you cards or gifts, go out of their way to help you, or simply offer a kind word in this season. Too often we brush these gestures off and become desensitized to what a gift it is to be part of a community. At times we mentally or physically isolate ourselves as we question if we are truly accepted, known, understood, or loved. YOU ARE!

Check out this article featuring a graduating senior who initially left Tech due to substance abuse, depression, and apathy. You’ll read about his detachment and isolation, as well as an unwillingness to seek help. This is not a unique story. It occurs every year, at every high school and college, all over the world.

If you are going through a tough time right now, I hope you will be reminded people are all around you who want to help—and they can relate, even if they’ve never acknowledged it before. Your friends are not too busy. Your parents love you more than you could possibly know. If you are struggling right now, don’t do so alone. Reach out because you are loved.

You are called to love. I have been a part of interventions for friends who were deeply depressed. I have been through QPR training. Even with those experiences, training, and knowledge, I still feel ill-equipped to initiate conversations with friends and family I know are hurting, isolated, or depressed. It is never easy. It is never comfortable. The good news is we are not supposed to feel “ready.” We are just supposed to feel love.

I’ve talked to several Georgia Tech seniors in the last week who, on the surface, have it all together. They lead clubs, held prestigious internships, and excel in school. Yet each of them has talked about rough and lonely times. Importantly, each has also talked about one or two people who have been their rocks and their solace in those moments.

If you know someone who is hurting, reach out to them. You don’t have to have all the answers. All you need is the time and desire to be available. This is not complicated. We are called to love.

Happy Imperfect Holidays, friends. See you in 2019!

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