Plan the Work and Work the Plan

I’m not going to lie to you. In recent weeks, I’ve been a little down. Powerful, potential presidents acting like middle-schoolers, the horror of the Orlando shootings, humidity that qualifies Georgia as a living sauna. And to top it off… we moved. The good news is I’m still married (Or I at least have not received the documents at this point, but it was a severe test). Days without sitting down, straight sweat for 72 hours, countless trips (literally and figuratively) up and down stairs. You know the scene: kids eating numerous Chick-Fil-A meals and drinking Capri Suns because you can’t find a pan or spatula; random men taking all of  your possessions and driving off in a truck. Sure, I had some paperwork but there’s still that conspiracy theorist in me that wonders if they aren’t headed for the coast with my pint glass collection…

But things turned around three days later when I rose early, dodged all the boxes, boarded a plane and flew to Oregon (You know–the way caring, devoted husbands do.)

So now I’m in Eugene at the University of Oregon. If you have never been to visit, put it on your list. Amazing town with lots of running trails, excellent restaurants, and incredible pride around their college (as evidenced by more green and yellow than anywhere above the ocean’s surface).

Colleagues from public universities from around the U.S.

I am here for a conference. Each year the Directors/VPs from major public universities gather to discuss major issues in our field. These are some of the finest folks in our country and thankfully some of my best friends. Our time was spent talking about legislative issues like the Fisher vs. Texas case and Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as the Fair Chance Pledge. These are practitioners. People who are charged with seeing their campus, American higher education, and the lives of the students and families they work with improve.

There are always little jabs about missed field goals or a coach or president who just left one school for another. But that is typically over dinner where the majority of the conversation surrounds how to continue to serve our schools by bringing in a class that is diverse in every sense of the word, or the rising cost of tuition, or the increased media focus on ROI or “product” versus the collegiate educational learning and growth experience. Deep concern was expressed about how best to reach and engage under-served communities where counselor:student ratios are well over 500:1, or where many single parent homes, first generation families, or low socioeconomic conditions greatly impact a young person’s educational experience, and yet talent and potential exist.

I always walk away from these meetings encouraged– not just because my understanding of the higher education landscape has been broadened– but because I know that literally tens of thousands of students that I will never meet or work with are in the hands of these tremendously talented, bright, and passionate folks.

PLAN THE WORK

It also serves as a touchstone for me. Because we meet at the same time each year, I am able to reflect back over the last year:  What we have accomplished? What are my peers doing better or more creatively that we need to build on? What have we failed to implement or accomplish? And what do I want to achieve in the year ahead?

It’s easy to ask these questions and consider solutions while running on trails along the Willamette River or enjoying a local beverage thousands of miles from home. But taking these ideas back and putting them into action requires a solid plan.

So to borrow from the great track tradition here at U of O, I encourage you (as a high school junior or senior, or as an entering college freshman), to look at this as a race.

WORK THE PLAN

1- ASK: Where is the finish line? What is the one thing you want to accomplish in the year ahead? Maybe that is to earn a certain GPA, or to score a 4 or higher on an AP test, or earn a spot on specific team. WRITE IT DOWN.

2- WRITE: What needs to happen in the next 3 months to accomplish this? Within 6 months? By 9 months?

3- CONSIDER:  Continuing the racing analogy, what are the hurdles that could keep your goal from coming to fruition? We all know the race to the tape won’t be smooth. Distractions, other priorities, bad weather, ruts on the track, variables you can never predict.

4- STAY FOCUSED: At your 3, 6, 9 month hurdle ASK: Am I  still on the track?  If yes, what needs to happen before the next one to clear the bar? If not, why did I crash into that last hurdle? How can I correct this and still finish strong?

oregon rainbow

5- TEAM UP: Even in track, individuals succeed because their team and coach surrounds them and pushes them in practice. If you are going to win, you will need encouragement and accountability. And this goes back to my time at Oregon with my friends and peers. They ask great questions about my work and care about my success, even if technically they are competitors. They remember what I am working on and check in with me. So WHO IS YOUR PERSON? Share your goal with them. Tell them you need them to check in with you along the way.

On my last night in Eugene, as the sun was setting, a rainbow emerged on the horizon. It was a reminder that despite the last few weeks of turbulence, better days are ahead. You just have to commit and plan to bring them about.

Ice Cream is the answer!

If you’ve been reading much surrounding the world of college admission this year, you’ve heard about the report out of Harvard called Turning the Tide. In this report, there is a call for colleges to attempt to minimize the stress in the process by not putting as much emphasis on test scores, redefining achievement and promoting meaningful contributions to the public good, rather than perpetuating the resume padding and gamesmanship that draws such angst and frustration. I am a signee on this report, so I’m not contesting or detracting from its noble intentions or merits. However, I also firmly believe that as long as American universities have single digit admit rates, there will always be frenzy that cannot be solved by asking different essay questions or telling students not to spend thousands of dollars to go on a mission trip. We can “turn the tide” slightly. Colleges can make efforts, many of which are outlined in the report, so that after riding the proverbial waves of the admission cycle you can still see your umbrella and beach blanket, but we’re not talking about bringing six feet waves down to a still pool by any means.  The only place that can happen is at home.

Let me tell you a story. A few weeks ago, I was walking across campus and bumped into Derrick Moore. “D. Mo” as he’s known on campus is the chaplain to our football team, a former NFL player, and one of the most passionate, inspirational, gracious people you will ever meet. If you’ve not seen one of his pre-game speeches on YouTube, you have unknowingly been leading an incomplete life. His messages typically surround the concept of being “all in” and fully committed to the team, believing in yourself, and family. When you hear these, you know he believes them with every fiber of his being.

d moAnd what I’ve come to appreciate about Derrick is he lives these messages every day at home with his wife and daughters. Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of watching him navigate the admission process twice now with his girls. His older is in college and another is a high school senior.

On the day we saw each other recently, he said it was ironic because that night his daughter would be finding out if she’d been admitted to her top choice school. He told me she’d been deferred in EA and had been understandably dismayed, but thankfully he explained, she also had a few other acceptances to some great universities. I asked him how he was doing and how she was feeling about everything.

He kind of shook his head and looked down, shuffled his feet a little and said, “Man, Rick. I’m nervous. I’m really nervous. She really wants to get into this school. It’s her first choice, and we are really hoping it’s going to work out.”

Then he looked up and said with striking confidence and conviction, “But here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going down to practice now to be with the team. Then I’ll leave a little early and stop by the store. I’m picking up some of my favorite ice cream and some of hers. Then we’ll sit down around our table, open up her laptop, and check her admission decision as a family. And I’ll tell you what– if she gets in, we’re going high five, hug, dig into that ice cream and enjoy every spoonful. But if she doesn’t get admitted, there are going to be some tears. Some tears from her and some from me and my wife too because we just love her so much. Then we’re going to eat our ice cream, give each other some big hugs, and then cry a little more. But tomorrow morning we’ll get up and we’ll get really excited about her going to X College, because it’s a great school and she loved her visit there.”

Behold the power of ice cream. It’s like the duct tape of foods. It repairs, it reinforces, it supports, it covers up, and it endures. Big break up– ice cream. Stressed about an exam– ice cream. Pregnant (not in high school. This is an illustration of ice cream’s longevity as a cure all) — ice cream. Celebrating a raise or a new house or a retirement— ice cream is the answer! In fact, when people tell me they don’t believe in God, I lean not on theology but rather on– ice cream. They quickly point to our current political climate to refute the existence of a higher loving deity. I pause, eat ice cream, and renew my faith. And frankly, in that moment with D. Mo, I also realized it’s also the way to best navigate the admission process. From searching for a college to applying to dealing with admission decisions to ultimately choosing a college– ice cream. Because ultimately it’s just love in a frozen state.

ice creamDo colleges have a responsibility to attempt to de-stress the process, to be more transparent, to think deeply about how to make applying to school more simple? Yes, of course. But the way students will feel good about their options at the point of application; the way they’ll process and deal with denials and admits with a healthy perspective; and the way they’ll best make a final decision does not hinge on semantics in an application or on a college’s website, but rather on a family sitting together around their kitchen table with spoons enjoying the same tub of ice cream. Unified, confident, committed to support and excitement, regardless of the outcome. That doesn’t turn the tide, it eradicates it altogether.

May 1 is nearly upon us. I’m sure there are still a lot of you who are coming down to the wire on deciding the best school for you and your family. What makes financial sense? Where will I thrive, grow, enjoy, be challenged and succeed? Before you make that decision, I point you to ice cream. When you grab your spoon remember this– you are not walking on a tight rope. This choice is like strolling on a very wide, smooth promenade. At the end of the day, the decision you make on where to go to college is not going to determine the rest of your life, contrary to what someone has inevitably told you or what the press will often purport. Instead, it will be the decisions you make in college: the grades you make, the internships you pursue, the network of friends, professors, advisors you create. Those will dictate your trajectory, your success, and your options, and ultimately your contentment in college and life beyond.

Whether you are a parent or a student reading this, it’s time to commit. It’s time to be all in. It’s time for family. And that means it’s time for ice cream! So donate or burn the other schools’ t-shirts, recycle all the literature colleges have sent you, go grab a few spoons and crack open a tub of your favorite ice cream with your family this week—and notice how smooth the waters are around you.

Keep Studying. And other life lessons.

Recently, I was sitting at dinner with my family. Now you need to understand that a meal with young kids is actually more like circuit training. It’s a series of deep squats where you rarely remain in place for more than a minute or two, followed by the inevitable bend or stretch to pick up a rolling grape or a bouncing fork. There are periodically laps to the kitchen to retrieve additional napkins, and shuttle run sprints to the bathroom at unexpected moments to insure a kid “made it on time” or didn’t come up bloody after crashing down from the stool while washing hands.

They say you burn more calories than you consume when you eat celery. Due to the CrossFit workout that is dinner at my house, I’m pretty sure I’m doing that even over a meal of steak, potatoes, and a substantial side of avocados. Anyway, we’re eating and my daughter keeps saying she’s cold. Mind you—she’s wearing only underwear at the time… that’s how we roll. Finally, after the third time, I looked up and said, “If you’re cold, put on some more clothes. That’s a life lesson.” You know. The way you talk to little kids.

So consider today’s blog life advice/ admission advice (and a side of thoughtful family planning thrown in for good measure). You’ve been admitted to your dream school. Or you’ve been admitted to your second or third choice school, and you’re getting excited now to go there soon. Congratulations! That is great. Like your parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, and community, I’m very proud of you and excited for you. Now… Don’t Screw It Up! There are a few basic ways that students go off the rails in the spring of the senior year, and either have their admission decision revoked, or end up meeting with the Dean of Students prior to matriculating.

For today we’ll focus on Academics. Life Lesson: Keep working.

Schedule Changes. If you were admitted in EA/ED or you applied before your senior spring schedule was firm, and you drop classes in the spring, it is incumbent upon you to reach out to the college to inform them. Ideally, you would actually consult the admission office ahead of time to see how this may impact your admission decision or their consideration of your file. Generally speaking, if you are dropping a course that does not have graduation implications, is of similar rigor, and is not directly related to your intended major, it should not be an issue. For instance, if you plan to major in English and are proposing switching out of AP Psychology and into AP Environmental Science, we should be good. However, if you are dropping Multivariable Calculus and picking up Advanced Weight Training B, we should talk. Schedule alternations that indicate a decline in commitment to your preparation may have an impact on your admission decision, especially at schools with very low admit rates.

keep studying

Grade Decline. Check your offer of admission. After the congratulations and before the offer to visit campus or connect with a staff member, there is likely a paragraph that discusses your established pattern of excellence in grades. They may directly say they “reserve the right to revoke admission” if your final grades are not on par, or they’ll at least instruct you to contact them for consultation. The best thing you can do here is keep your grades up! Don’t take your foot off the gas. I’m sure Nike makes a lightweight, water-wicking shirt that has a pithy phrase that applies here: “Finish Strong” or “Lock In.” Put that on and wear it every day. “Keep Studying” would likely not be a big seller but that’s what I’m telling you.

Every year we have a handful of deposited students who submit final spring grades with straight Cs, or all As and two Ds. We’ve certainly had some Fs thrown in for good measure. Typically, this does not impede a student’s graduation, or it would be a non-issue (no graduation= no college). If this is the case for you, or if you “have a friend” in this situation, the best thing to do is get out in front of this. Call the admission office once those grades are official, or if you see this as inevitable, let them know the situation. If there are extenuating circumstances surrounding the precipitous drop, those are important to discuss. It will then be in their hands to evaluate the courses, speak with your counselors and teachers, and determine if that trend may continue into college, or if they believe you turn it around on their campus.

Our office has gone in multiple directions here. Sometimes we’ve rescinded admission because of the egregious grades and lack of reasonable rationale for the drop. Sometimes we’ve assigned academic counselors and RAs to monitor students in the first semester or first year to insure necessary support is in place immediately. But don’t let us find this out by reviewing your final transcript. And definitely DON’T intentionally hold sending your transcript until late summer because you know this is going to be an issue. I’ll never forget talking to a student several years ago from New Jersey who had failed two courses in the spring of his senior year. These courses were not required for graduation, but they were important to his foundation for success at Tech. I literally called him while he was packing his car to drive down to Atlanta and had to tell him to “unpack.” Not fun for anyone, especially because he had not shared any of this with his parents to that point.

Later this week we’ll delve into social media, discipline issues, character questions, etc. Life Lesson: Don’t be an idiot.

“It’s Not You… it’s me.” Denied Admission– A Path to Recovery

“This is not working out.” My high school girlfriend and I were working on math homework at her house. We were trying to solve equations I hadn’t seen before (I’m sure most of you reading this would scoff at their simplicity, but it was difficult at the time). I said, “I know. But we will figure it out.” She paused, then put her pencil down and said kindly, but definitively, “No.” Then “this,” pointing her finger back and forth between my chest and hers. “Us. It’s not working out.” I remember so clearly how those words sounded at the time.

I know this has become a predictable Hollywood storytelling technique, but it was one of only three times in my life when the noise around me seemed to fade into the background. I watched her continue to tilt her head, stroke her hair and occasionally look down, somewhat painfully, as she explained why “we” needed to break up.

I had known this girl since Kindergarten, but it had only been in the last year that I realized she was truly beautiful. And funny, and smart, and kind. We liked the same music, she watched sports (although cheered for the wrong team…Bulldogs), and we laughed together a lot. Basically, I thought she was perfect. And it was sinking in that she was taking that perfection and moving on.

I really can’t tell you what I said to her… maybe I actually said nothing. All I remember was getting my books, getting my bag, and getting the (deleted) out of there. I drove the four miles home and on the way I rolled down the window, turned up the music, and yelled out the window a mixture of questions, anger, and tears. I was a mess.

I walked into my house and my mom was doing dishes in the kitchen. She could see I was upset and asked me what was wrong. I remember sitting next to her on the couch and listening to her tell me everything was okay… there would be other girls… and maybe I was better off anyway.  In fact, now I wonder if she did not have a hand in writing The Avett Brothers song I Would Be Sad: “One day son, this girl will think of what she’s done and hurting you will be the first of many more regrets to come.”  It was one of those moments that I’m sure she could see my thought bubble of “Yeah, easy for you to say.” At the time, I didn’t understand that at one point in her life, she was a teenager too. I thought she’d always been married to my dad and that her life started when I was born. So how could she know what I was going through?

Road to Recovery

At this time of year, a good number of colleges have already released admission decisions. I’ve heard a number of these conversations in our community, and have started to read the advice and speculation online or on social media as well. If you have been denied from a school that seemed perfect and you had your heart set on, I’ve got three tips for you:

  1. You’re Not Okay. Go ahead and scream, cry, talk to your parents… beat your pillow, or cook something (you can even try all of those at once if you’re really upset). Do whatever it takes for you to begin to move on and clear you head. But don’t drive while you’re healing… be stationary (or on a treadmill) and then let it rip.
  2. You will be Okay. Here’s what I see every year. Some students whose first choice was not Georgia Tech end up coming here and loving it. Then again, every now and then I’ll run into a sibling or parent or counselor of a student we denied admission to who tells me that student was devestated about not getting in here, but is now at X College and doing great. One of the schools you’ve applied to, or are waiting to hear back from is IT. Take a moment to believe that—and be encouraged and get excited about it.
  3. Refocus. When I had to refocus, I dove into school and soccer. Immediately after that break up, I wasn’t a lot of fun to be around for a few weeks. But I threw myself into academics and practicing with incredible focus, resolve, and motivation to get better and succeed. I remember long nights of studying and going early and staying late for practice. What is that focus for you? Maybe it’s another college. Or perhaps it’s proving the school that denied you wrong by thriving through your senior year and into college elsewhere.

I understand that it seems unlikely you could completely distill moving on after being denied admission into three easy steps. Or maybe it’s not. After all The Avett Brothers song continues, “‘If she doesn’t call, then it’s her fault and it’s her loss.’ I say, It’s not that simple see, but then again it just may be.”

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address above, or click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.

The “D” Word

I don’t swear a lot. Occasionally, but not that often. Partly that’s because I’m not apt to losing my temper, and I also remember being told that cursing lacks creativity. That always stuck with me, and I think it’s had a lasting impact.

THE ‘S’ WORD

Recently, my seven year old son came home extremely upset because a neighbor kid had used “THE ‘S’ WORD!” Despite being the Holidays I was pretty sure we weren’t talking about Santa, so I immediately started considering how I’d respond. I asked him to tell me more and as he began I started thinking about my advice. Something surrounding how “THE ‘S’ WORD” is not appropriate and you can get in trouble for using it and…. then I heard something that made me pause. “Yea. He was like, ‘that is just plain Ssssssss’… and then you know… and then, ‘Pid.'” Ok. Totally different “S word.” Totally different lecture. Totally different approach. Now we are moving into how that word is insulting, and lazy, and all the other synonyms that are more interesting.

THE ‘D’ WORD

But it got me thinking about college admission. Logically. At this time of year a lot of schools are releasing their EA and ED decisions. I’m already seeing posts on social media and hearing more from friends in our neighborhood talk about their son or daughter. One of the biggest questions surrounds…. “THE D WORD!” Nope… not deny. I suppose that’s kind of like the actual “S WORD.” Pretty clear. If you are denied, it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting, it’s a tough blow. But at least you have a decision and you can move on. I’ll write more about this in a future post, but it’s a lot like breaking up. You know where you stand… and who you won’t be standing next to. Unfortunately, defer and deny both start with the same letter. But their implications are extremely divergent.

If you are deferred admission from a school, it’s important for you to remember three things:

1. You are not denied. If a school did not think you were competitive or a good fit, they would have denied you. This sounds harsh but it’s true. There is a reason you got a different “D Word,” so pay attention because the message is as different as the two “S Words” above.

2. Finish the drill. Getting deferred is not fun. It means being in limbo a while longer. Now you are going to need to send in fall grades, you may need to write an additional essay or tell more about your personal activities. But you are not denied. The school that deferred you wants to see more. They need to understand perhaps 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 within. And they likely also want to see how you stack up with the entire applicant pool. So defer is a “hold on” or a “maybe” or even a “tell me more.” So do that. If you liked a school enough to apply, you should finish the drill. After all, it’s called an admission process. Sometimes that means more than just one round. See it through by submitting what they request and put your absolute best foot forward. OR cancel your application and be done. But don’t go halfway and stop giving your best effort.

3. Check your ego.  The truth is that you should do this when you are admitted, denied, or deferred. After all, an admission decision is not a value or character decision. Don’t blur the lines. If you are deferred from a college you really want to attend, you need to give them every confidence that you should be admitted in the next round, or even from the wait list. If a school asks for a mid- spring report, or they call your counselor, or they ask you to come in for an interview, you have solid grades and interesting new information to share. Your job as a senior is to finish well.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address above, or click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.