Here Comes the Sun: A Parent’s Perspective on Deny

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This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission for the Mid Atlantic, Kathleen Voss, to the blog. Welcome, Kathleen!

Rick Clark, I actively AVOIDED your previous two blogs about messages for parents of students applying to college.  This was very hard for me to do, as I am huge fan of your blog and a huge fan of you.  This morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee and, even with 200 applications sitting in my queue, braced myself and sat down to read all about the mistakes I have made.

You see, recently this whole “parent with a child in the college search” thing has become a real drag… and I want to send it and your blog to a place where the sun doesn’t shine!  I say this with the greatest admiration, respect, and love for you Rick, but on Friday my daughter received her first “deny” from a college.  Now I find myself in uncharted waters. The gate was closed on the gatekeeper’s kid…. and it stinks!

Becoming “That Parent”

As much as I hate to admit it, in that instant I became THAT parent.  I am 100% more disappointed than she is. Before you ask, of course I did not let her see my disappointment. I checked my emotions, took a breath, and said, “It’s their loss.”

While we both anticipated this result (my enrollment manager brain crunched the numbers weeks ago), I could not get it out of my head that this college was a great fit for her. The proximity to home was perfect. She could realistically start on day one as an Admission Office tour guide because she knows so much about the history of the institution.  We have a close relative who is recent graduate and has so much in common with my daughter. I LOVED THAT SCHOOL!

We are in the last lap of this search. DANG IT! Remember your PRONOUNS!!!!  My DAUGHTER is in the last lap of the college search process. SHE is waiting to hear from a few more schools. She seems to be dealing with everything well…. even the deny. She is calm and reasonable. After living with a college admission counselor for 18 years, she seems to have absorbed my trade craft.  She recognizes what she can and cannot control in the process. She feels confident that she put forth the best applications that she could. She spent time on her essays and only asked me to look over her final draft.  She has and continues to work hard in high school, though senioritis is starting to creep in. Sounds like a dream, right?

So why do I feel like I have been hit by a Mack truck?

I’ve had hundreds of conversations with students and parents about the reasons behind Tech’s admission decisions.  I have comforted, counseled, and moved on. I get it…  at least, I should get it. “It’s not you, it’s me.” Rick’s blogs make perfect, reasonable sense. This feels personal– but it’s not.

I hurt for my daughter and this first taste of rejection. And selfishly, it stings for me and my ego.  No, I am not planning to follow anyone into a parking lot to ask “why?” and I won’t be calling our Governor (he clearly has his hands full right now).

But there is value in seeing both sides of the same coin.

Another Challenging Year 

It has been an incredibly challenging year for our admission staff.  A fair number of us in the office have kids who are juniors and seniors in high school.  We all read applications from students who remind us of our own: a shared birthday or hobby, similar family dynamics, the same senior schedule, a common class that was especially difficult. When we open these files, we can’t help but think, “I sure hope the admission counselor at XYZ University is REALLY looking at all of my child’s amazing qualities.  I hope they aren’t too tired, and they really READ her essay, recommendations, and activities.”

While we face every year with professionalism and rapt attention, this year, we senior parents have been laser focused on ALL those holistic points, searching for answers, double checking our work, and willing our colleagues at other schools to do the same for our kids.

Add to this seeing so many young people being put through the absolute wringer during Covid.  I have read more essays about trauma, grief, depression, and anxiety in the past four months than I have in my entire 29-year career.  It has been heart breaking. The respect I have always had for my colleagues in school and college counseling offices across the nation has increased 1,000-fold. If we are seeing this volume of stress in applications, I can only imagine how it must impact their daily lives.  Then we add having to deny applicants during an already really challenging time.

But we do it. We must. We have over 50,000 applications. We will deny more than half of them. And by the way, that half is amazing, like my daughter, which makes it all the harder. Supply and demand. Mission driving admission. All valid and logical, but this year especially, it is a part of the job that just sucks.

It WILL Be Okay

If you know me, you know I am a positive person, and there is no way that I can write a blog that starts with me being insubordinate to my incredible boss and ends with me almost swearing. So, let me end on a high note: to the parents reading this, it will be okay.  Whether your child was denied at YOUR first-choice college, or THEIR first choice, it will be okay.  It has been a joyful, emotional, and eye-opening ride and I have newfound perspective and patience.

As the end of this amazing college search is in sight for my family, I’d like to recognize and give gratitude to the following.

West Virginia University, you were the first school to admit my daughter.  I can still see the excitement on her face when she opened that email. We sang “Country Roads” at the top of our lungs. I am so impressed by your communications. They are warm, welcoming, and positive!  You seem to intuitively know the questions that we have at any given time.

Providence College, you hosted a FANTASTIC open house. I know how much work went into that event and you did it with grace and style…. and SNACKS!  You made my daughter feel welcomed and comfortable from the start.

Barry at Pitt, in the middle of a record-breaking season, you took the time to reach out to me and answer my questions. I am grateful to you and can’t wait to sit on a panel together IN PERSON once again.

University of Rhode Island, thank you for recognizing my child’s talent and success.  I whole heartedly agree with your assessment of her!

Eli Clarke I am grateful to you for your wisdom, friendship, and support and for your amazing Tik Tok @mr.c_collegecounselor, which offered my daughter and so many others exceptional advice throughout the process.

WHS Counseling Staff, I don’t know how you do it. This has been such a wild and intense year for you. Somehow you have managed to balance crisis management, mask wars, and 1,000 other things you do in a day and still make yourselves available to help students with their college search questions. I SEE YOU!

Rick Clark, for your great insight, which, even in the throes of disappointment, is calming and rational and brings us back to earth.  Maybe we could just forget that I wanted to stick your blog in a sunless place?

Kathleen Voss has worked in college admission for over 25 years. She joined the Georgia Tech Office of Undergraduate Admission in 2013 as the Institute’s first Regional Director of Admission. Prior to Tech, Kathleen worked regionally for Manhattan College and as the Associate Director of Admission for Regis College in Massachusetts. She is a member of PCACAC and serves on the Admission Practices Committee. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters and volunteering in her community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Lessons From SNL and College Admissions

There are pros and cons to your kids getting older.  

Pro- No changing diapers or using a snot sucker during the winter (the diaper part was year-round, fyi. Don’t think I was just a seasonal diaper changer). 

Con- No more kids rates/deals on food, flights, or theme parks. 

Pro- Travel is much easier. No stroller or car seats to tote around. And they can carry their own stuff (even if a blanket or stuffed animal may be dragged idly across airport terminals). 

Con- Fewer hugs (So while I usually reserve this line for the end of blogs, if you are student reading this, hug your mama!) 

But perhaps the biggest pro is less animated cartoons and more opportunity to re-watch classic TV shows and movies. Over the Thanksgiving Break we went deep into the SNL Treasure Trove for gems from Eddie Murphy, Chris Farley, Chris Rock, Will Ferrell, and many more.

At some point in our turkey-induced stupor, we ran across Hans and Franz clips. I could not recall many lines verbatim, but one I distinctly remembered was, “Listen to me now and hear me later.” When those skits originally aired, I did not grasp the deep truth of that statement, but as a parent it’s becoming my biggest hope for my kids, so I’ve begun using my best faux Austrian accent when I’m doling out life lessons, “Listen to me now and hear me later.”  

Listen to me now

I’m actually hoping you will take that phrase literally- listen to me now (on the blog) and hear me later (on the podcast), because we have covered some great content recently on The College Admission Brief.

Not aware we had a podcast? Yep. Check it out on Apple, Spotify, or Google. With 82 Episodes ranging from admission tips and insight to guests discussing their own college admission journey, we are confident you will find the content timely, relevant, and shareable. AND perhaps best of all, no episode is longer than 20 minutes. Thank you- and you’re welcome! 

Hear me later 

We have had some great conversations recently, so we hope you’ll take some time in the weeks ahead to catch up and share with friends, family, or your school community.

  1. Admission Insights from a Different Perspective, November 22 

Briefly- Tara Miller, Assistant Director of Admissions at St. Mary’s University discusses her pathway from community college to the University of Texas at Austin; lessons learned from working with public high school students for 16 years; and how to uniquely approach and own your college admission experience.  

Key Quote- “Go where you feel supported and appreciated.” As you are weighing your college options in the months ahead, my sincere hope is that sentiment will be a much bigger driver for you than rankings or outside  influences/ expectations.    

Listen For- Tara’s empowering reminder to high school students that they are in charge of their college admission experience- and, of course, “the all you can eat buffet.”  

2. Navigating Admission and Finding Community as a First-Generation College Student, November 8 

Briefly– Dr. Charmaine Troy, First-Generation and Limited Income Program and Operations Manager at Georgia Tech talks about her journey from rural North Carolina to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; how to advocate for yourself and conquer imposter syndrome;  and a message we all need to hear and tell ourselves regularly about so many things in life,  “Don’t let fear stop you!”  

Key Quote- “Don’t let that pride get in your way.” Great advice for all of us, and particularly relevant in the admission experience. Don’t let pride drive where you apply (or don’t apply), where you choose to attend, or your willingness to reach out for help once you arrive on campus.  

Listen For- The importance of being organized, knowing financial aid and scholarship deadlines, and proactively reaching out to members of the university communities you are considering, in order to learn about support programs. 

3. Basics of College Admission 2.0, various dates in August through October 

Briefly- Members of the Tech team tackle popular application topics to provide tips and insight from inside the admission office: Financial Aid; Campus and Virtual Visits; Community Involvement; Essays; and Community Disruption.  

4. Honorable Mention- Is That a Good School? October 29 

Listen For– Approach college admission like a college student: Research (read student newspapers, check out online alumni magazines- plus a great TikTok hack); don’t accept information at face value;  seek multiple perspectives and opinions about the schools you are considering; and change the question to “Is that a good school…for me?” 

5. Best Title of the Year Award- What the Funnel? October 5 

Briefly- A deep dive into the numbers- all the numbers: Admit rates, yield rates, melt rates, BS rates, and many more. Admittedly, a little wonky but if you are looking for a thorough understanding of the machinations colleges go through to enroll a class, this one’s for you. Otherwise, you can wait for this blog/podcast’s distant cousin (WTH), arriving sometime in 2022.  

And in case you listened to me earlier but are just hearing me now—HUG YOUR MAMA!  

Is That a Good School?

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On Sunday after lunch, I was watching college football highlights, when the back-and-forth battle in Happy Valley between the University of Illinois and Penn State came on. At the time, my 10-year-old daughter was stretching on the living room floor next to me (something I often see but rarely participate in).  

With her head literally touching the ground next to her foot, she asked, “Penn State? Is that a good school?”  

Without hesitation- “Yes.”  

Now standing with foot pulled behind her and toward her shoulder, “How about the University of Ilinois?” 

“Absolutely.” 

Over the next 15 minutes, we saw about six games recapped. Private colleges, land-grant public schools, military academies, and teams covering every geographic region of the country.   Each time the announcer moved on to a new game’s highlights, Elizabeth, after a few questions about mascots or comments on helmets, would ask the same question, “Is that a good school?” And each time (including one where my wife scrunched her nose and tightly closed her left eye), I’d respond definitively, “Yes!”  Ole Miss? Brown? University of New Mexico? Gonzaga? 

Yes is both accurate and appropriate to tell a double-jointed, 10-year-old who is too busy touching the bottom of her foot to the back of her head (what?!) to listen much beyond that anyway… but it is not a satisfactory or complete answer for you 

Is that a good school?  

Whether you are a parent, counselor, high school student, or an adult supporting a student, this is likely a question you’ve either heard or asked recently.    

While the question is simple, it is no longer acceptable to settle for simple answers (or make telling facial expressions) like “No,” “Yes,” “It’s ok,” “It didn’t used to be,” or “it is ranked X (variable not Roman numeral 10),” because doing so absolutely ruins the opportunity to learn, research, grow, continue the conversation, and promote exploration.  

Instead, the answer to, “Is that a good school?” is not an answer at all, but instead an invitation to ask many questions in return.  

Adult Warning: Asking a high school student, particularly one who is hungry, to pause, reflect, and ask some deep and weighty questions may initially be met with grimaces, grunts, or departures from the room.   

Student Warning: Not accepting one-word summaries of colleges or reducing schools to numerical rankings or admit rates will lead to a deeper understanding of yourself. Small print: People bold and thoughtful enough to take this route have experienced clarification of their goals, an underscoring of their values, and an enhanced sense of control, excitement, and purpose. Do not take this path if you are more concerned with the opinions of others than your authentic self, are scared to diverge from the status quo.  

 Is it good school… for you? 

Adding these two words changes everything. First, it invites the ever-important question, “Why do you want to go to college?” Too few students take the time to actually consider and write down at least a two-sentence answer to this question, but it is imperative to do so. Don’t skip this step. Crawl before you walk. Here are a few prompts to get you started.  

  • Who do I hope to meet, connect with, and learn from in college? 
  • What opportunities do I want this experience to provide in the future? 
  • What type of people and learning environments bring out my best? 
  • What do you want the time and space to do, discuss, explore? 

Defining why, and making decisions to surround it will quickly lead to other big questions, but let’s take it slowly. 

Once you have your why written, revised, and clear, take some time to list the aspects of a college that are necessities, desires, and bonuses, or as you can see in the grid below, your: needs, wants, and would- be- nices.  

NEEDS WANTS WOULD BE NICE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is that a good school… for ME?  

Do you want to be able to get home quickly to celebrate holidays and birthdays, or access health care and other services?  

Do you know you would flourish by going to college with a few people you know from home? And conversely, when you are honest, do you know the best thing to do is break away from certain people or the image/reputation you have had in high school? 

Are you going to have to take loans beyond what you and your family are comfortable with? 

Asking the question this way, and checking it through your filters of WHY, as well as your Needs, Wants, Would-Be-Nices grid provides a valuable litmus test. And this is not just valuable for considering where you might visit or apply, but it will be essential to re-visit once you have been admitted and are weighing your options as a senior in the spring.  

Well, I see you listed “cold weather” and “mountains” in your want column. That place is known for heat and humidity, and most folks would not define 806 feet above sea level as a “mountain.” So, are those aspects really wants or are they needs? 

Is that a good school for me? You listed small, discussion-based classes as important. Let’s research if that is the norm there, specifically in the majors you are considering.  

Adding two additional words helps get past rankings. If you are someone who struggles with Seasonal Affect Disorder and would not be emotionally or mentally healthy when it gets dark around 4 p.m. for several months, then regardless of the world-class faculty, impressive list of alumni, and the fact that you look good in their colors, the clear answer is NO- that school is not good for you.  

Is that a GOOD school? 

I find it surprising and disconcerting that on average people talk about restaurants with more nuance than they do colleges.   

“Is that a good restaurant?” is almost never met with a simple Yes/No. Instead, people are far more apt to make statements like, “Well, their pizza is great, but I am not a big fan of their burgers.” OR “If you are in a hurry and don’t want to spend much, it’s a good spot. But don’t expect a five-course experience.” OR “It didn’t used to be, but they’re under new management now and things have changed.” I’m sure you can add a few others to this list. “Good” for certain things. “Good” at a certain price. “Good” depending on what you are looking for.  

As an aspiring college student, you should start acting like one when you seek to answer this question.   

Research: Check out the programs certain colleges are known for, rather than simply their overall ranking or historical stereotype.  

Explore: Look into the faculty who are teaching in the majors you are interested in studying. What are they curious about and researching currently? What have they published, and which companies/board/organizations do they consult with or advise? 

Run the Numbers: Plug in your family’s financial data to an online calculator to understand likely costs and gauge affordability. What is the likelihood you would need to take loans to attend a particular college? Check out their financial aid site to understand how students off-set costs, juggle jobs and school, and so on. 

Network: Who has graduated from that institution and what are they doing now? Don’t just Google famous alumni, but also read their online alumni magazine and look at profiles and the opportunities graduates are receiving.  

Value Your Values: Read their mission and vision statement or even their strategic plan (executive summary is fine). Does it resonate? Does what you fine align with who you are and what you want to be a part of? Ultimately, Do YOU CARE?  

Culture Check: Read the online student newspaper to understand what current students are excited about, mad about, pushing to change, or snarky about in general. Check out the social media accounts of clubs, academic majors, and others on campus. While it’s fine to look at the admission or main handle for the university, your goal is to get the unvarnished look at what’s really happening at each place you consider.  

Is that a good school? Is that a good school for you? Is that a GOOD school? 

My sincere hope is going forward you wont allow yourself or anyone around you to answer this question with one number, one word, or one facial expression. Are we good? GOOD! 

Launching Your College Application

This week we welcome the Director of Communications for Enrollment Management, Becky Tankersley, to the blog. 

In early September, you may have noticed a change in Georgia Tech’s Undergraduate Admission website. After (many!) months of talking, planning, building, and testing, the new admission website was ready for action!

From a user’s perspective, the new website simply appeared one day. But from a development perspective, the site came to fruition after more than a year of research, planning, testing, and development.

As the launch date approached, Rick noted, “You know, I bet there’s a blog you could write about that.” As I reflected on the process and the outcome, I can see the parallels between launching a website and launching a college application. Neither process happens quickly… yet each ultimately comes to life with a quick click of a button.

As you work to prepare to launch your college applications, here are a few tips on how to plan ahead for success.

Build your team.

Website creation involves a lot of communication, and a tight-knit team to make it happen. Our team includes a Web Developer (with knowledge in coding, servers, and security); a Marketing Specialist (who researched analytics and organized content based on user navigation and data); and a Graphic Designer (who creates imagery and ensures we’re in line with brand standards). My job was to keep us all organized, creating timelines and paving the path forward through conversations with all the other people invested in the project (including admission leadership, Institute Communications, and web hosting).

Each role is different, yet each is critical to the ultimate outcome of the project.

Your action item:

Who is on your team? This is likely your first (and perhaps only) time going through the college application process. It’s critical to have a close team around you to help along the way. Your team may include a parent/guardian, high school counselor, and another trusted adult like a teacher or coach.

Talk with your team, listen to their guidance, and lean on their experience as you go through the process. Most important, be sure this is a team you can trust. There will be moments when you can’t lean on your own knowledge to find a solution, so be sure you have a good team to support you through the process.

Do your research.

Building a website isn’t as simple as creating content and hitting “upload.” We first did our research. We talked with admission leadership about what they wanted in their new website. We talked with Tech’s web team to learn about differences in platforms and servers. We did a deep dive into data, using analytics to learn which pages were used often and which ones weren’t. This data also enabled us see user paths, revealing areas where users were getting lost when trying to navigate from one point on the site to another. We completed a competitor review to determine the best practices in our industry and see what else we could implement (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?).

Your action item:

We’ve said it many times, but it’s worth saying again: do your research before submitting a college application! Here are a few places to begin:

  • Dive into data. Explore the Common Data Set (CDS) for the schools on your list. The CDS allows you to look at public historical information, providing insight, perspective, and trends by looking at multiple years. Check out our previous blog on how to analyze this data on your own.
  • Review mission statements. University mission statements aren’t just flowery verbiage to put on the “about us” page. Mission statements (and strategic plans), drive institutions toward their enrollment goals. Institutional missions matter, so review these statements to ensure your values align with the values of the colleges where you apply.
  • Understand application plans. Early action? Early decision? Regular decision? Rolling admission? Application plans vary from college to college. Check out our podcast for insight into how these plans work.
  • Know the outcomes. Some admission decisions are simply “admit” or “deny.” But in many cases, it isn’t that clear cut. Understand the variety of admission decisions you may receive from each school on your list. For example, Tech admits first-year students to both the fall and the summer terms, yet each year we talk to students are caught off guard. Doing your research now can save confusion down the road.

Create a plan.

When you’re on the cusp of a huge project, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and wonder how you’ll get from Point A to Point B (much less Points C, D, or E). Before starting the work, first create a plan—and begin with the end in mind.

We knew the admission site needed to launch the first week of September. Once we identified the completion date, we created deadlines for our tasks and goals. We then shared that timeline with other groups who would play a role in the site launch. Creating a plan made it simpler to stay on target and keep everyone on the same page.

Your action item:

Look at your research (you didn’t skip that step, right?) and write down all of your application deadlines and due dates. You may need to add in additional dates, such as when to take the SAT or ACT, or when a recommendation is due. Put these dates on your calendar, and just as important, make sure your team has those dates as well!

Don’t allow a lack of planning on your part to create stress and panic for someone else in your circle. Mistakes do happen, but if you fail to meet a deadline because you a) didn’t plan for it, or b) didn’t tell someone else about it, then that responsibility falls on you.

Check Your Progress

Once the plan was in motion, our team met on a weekly basis to check in on our progress. Each week we had new action items to complete in order to keep the project on track. Inevitably, we came across unexpected (and unplanned!) challenges. Weekly meetings enabled us to address problems and/or issues quickly, as well as keep each other accountable on our progress.

Your action item:

Schedule regular check-ins with your team to make sure you’re all on track. There may be times you need to meet more, or less, often, so adjust accordingly.

Inside tip: As you get ready to hit “submit,” be sure you aren’t doing so at the last possible minute! As application deadlines approach, we see a tremendous increase in website traffic along with phone call and email volume from panicked students. Even if you do everything right on your end, expect the unexpected! Real-life examples (that, yes, I have actually seen happen!) include power outages, Common App glitches, internet issues, natural disasters (e.g. hurricanes or wildfires), and unexpected sinus infections that keep you stuck in bed for a day or two.

Take our advice: don’t wait until the last minute!

Follow up.

The morning of the site launch, our web developer did some coding magic and poof! The new admission website was live. But, was the project really complete? No!

Once the site was live there was a list of follow up items to complete, such as addressing 404 errors, helping people find new links, updating email templates, and notifying our division, campus partners, and campus communicators that the site launched and to update their information accordingly.

When a project is nearing completion, I can hear the voice of one of my mentors in my head: “What does ‘done’ really mean, Becky?” It makes me think twice before declaring a project complete, as there are always a handful of follow up items to address.

Your action item:

“What does ‘done’ really mean, (insert your name here)?” Although you may have hit “submit,” you’re not really done!

Access your applicant portals once you have access to do so. Check your email for any messages regarding your application (and READ them)! Allow time for all of your documents to find their way to your application, and monitor your applicant portal for updates. In some cases, an application that is marked as “complete” is later marked “incomplete” if an application reviewer determines more information is needed. Check out my previous blog for tips on what to do while you wait for your admission decision.

Lastly, once you’ve hit submit, celebrate! It sounds cheesy, but take a moment to reflect upon the goal you just accomplished. Applying to college is no small feat—well done! And be sure you to let your team know you’ve submitted your applications, too. Better yet, let them know by saying THANK YOU.

After all, it’s a team effort!

College Admission: Give Your Full 75%!

Listen to “College Admission: Give Your Full 75%! – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In many ways it appears we are nearing the end of the pandemic. While the most uttered term in 2020 was “pivot,” in 2021 “return to normal” is making a strong campaign.

I am urging you not to do that! Do NOT return to normal. Normal is overrated. DO NOT rush back to what was, but instead be very intentional about what you add back to your daily life and commitment list.

If you have not already done so, take some time this week to write down, voice record, or make notes in a document the things that you:

  • Really missed
  • Did not miss at all
  • Can’t wait to get back to
  • Hope will never full return
  • Lessons learned
  • Covid Silver Linings

If you are a junior/sophomore, doing this will be incredibly helpful as you begin your college search. Your answers will point you to identify your needs versus your wants and will help you figure out- and ultimately ask- very specific and pointed questions to admission officers, current students, and faculty members at the colleges you consider.

Maybe what you really missed was the opportunity to discuss what you were reading in smaller settings and receive more personalized interaction with your teachers. Yes, that is important! Yes, that is something to pay attention to and something that actually separates these colleges that, if you simply look at the brochures and online ads seem to all run together with sunny days and kids in pastoral settings earnestly debating issues.

If you are a senior, you are not done. Did someone tell you that? The things you missed really matter as you prepare for your first year. This summer you need to give thought to what those things were and come up with a plan for how you can immediately incorporate them into your life on campus.

Too many students get out of balance in their first semester one way or the other—either they lean too much into academics or allocate too much time and energy into social/community. If you really missed playing soccer or practicing taekwondo when things were shut down, plan to plug into those outlets early and consistently in the fall. First-years often underestimate how important the patterns they set are for mental health, building community, and being successful on all levels in college. This may sound obvious but it’s important- you only get one chance to start right. Make a plan now!

Conversely, if there were certain people (types of people) or habits that you realized during the great pandemic pause that are not healthy and don’t bring you joy/energy, well… don’t go back to them in college. Period.

Control What You Can Control

One of my big lessons from 2020 was: “Control what you can control.” I have now written that on a chalkboard, used it as a screen saver, and am giving some serious thought to ordering a mousepad or trucker hat with that statement soon. (My colleague, Ashley Brookshire, also wrote a great blog on this subject in 2019).

Try This: Before you go to bed tonight use a sharpie to write “CWC” on your hand. This will serve as a reminder for tomorrow morning when you wake up. From the very beginning of your day until  you go to sleep, take mental note of what you do and do not control throughout the day.

  • How quickly the shower water gets (or stays) hot
  • What you eat for breakfast
  • The weather/traffic
  • The mood of others
  • The texts, emails, calls you receive

Take note of what pops up in your day that derails you from getting something done or forces you to put in more time than you originally expected at school, work, practice, and so on. Pay attention to the noises, smells, voices around you.

What do you and do you not really control in your day?

What percentage of your day’s experience did you control?

Do you think if you looked over the course of a month or a year your percentage would be higher or lower than today?  

Maybe your control barometer will end up way above mine, but most days (especially during the pandemic) I was not breaking 50%, and often it was way less than that.

Controlling YOUR College Admission Experience

Juniors/Sophomores: How much of your college admission experience do you think you will be able to control? And for seniors, as you look back, how much would you say you controlled?

Do you think that percentage would be higher or lower than your average day? If you trust most of what is written about admit rates, the cost of college, waitlists, and so on, your guess may be in the single digits. BUT after watching this cycle repeat itself for 20 years now, I am here with a very different message. At this point, I am convinced that you control 75%.

25% – Where you apply. There are nearly 4000 colleges and universities in the United States alone. Many of them are already sending you emails, letters, or big brothering their way into your screen and feed. They are courting you, soliciting you, marketing to you, but ultimately it is your choice to apply or not. In other words, you decide the five, seven, eleven (please don’t go much higher than that) colleges you are interested in attending. Where you apply is totally in your control. Think about it this way- YOU are eliminating 99% of possible colleges. Talk about highly selective!

25%- Who offers you admission. So… this would be the part that you DO NOT control. If you or your parents are trying to manipulate or game exactly where you are admitted or how much financial aid you receive, please go watch The College Admission Scandal on Netflix. And if some agent or consultant tells you they “know” how this is going to play out…again, Netflix. Who offers you admission is not up to you, but again that’s only a fourth of this equation.

25%- Which college you select to attend. If you do your research, apply to a balanced list of schools (academically, financially, and selectivity), and remain open to several “top choices,” you are going to have great options. The ball will be back in your court in the spring of your senior year, and you will get to choose from your options.

Unfortunately, most of the conversation, press coverage, and general angst surrounding the college admission experience centers around where students do or do not “get in.” They make it feel like a zero-sum game that ends with either an offer or denial of admission.

In contrast, the people who really know and do this work (admission professionals/ school counselors) are always pointing to options and speaking broadly rather than narrowly. They knowthat true success is putting yourself in a position to make your own decisions. Your goal is to have choice and options. Which college you attend is up to you.

25%- How you show up. Seniors, I am looking at you!

This is the Tom Brady, Steph Curry (insert your favorite athlete, actress, CEO here) portion of college admission. This is about showing up on Day 1 with a mentality of being all in. In my opinion, is the most important part of the pie.

Plenty of kids who “get into their dream school” end up miserable there. Conversely, I’ve spoken to dozens of students in my career who did not end up at their “first choice” (a term I’m campaigning to eradicate) and ended up Kool-Aid drinking tour guides and the college’s biggest cheerleaders (sometimes literally). These are stories and experiences dictated by a mentality, rather than any particular campus.

If you are a senior, this is where your focus needs to be. Regardless of whether the college to which you have committed was your number one in January or not, it needs to be now. Your job is to get your head right this summer. Check your posture and be ready to walk onto campus head up, arms out (this is figurative, my friends), and ready to embrace your new community, and to make the most of the opportunities it presents.

I have said before and will not quit reiterating that the college admission experience, if done correctly, can teach you a ton about your actual college experience and life well beyond. The truth is that being committed, making the best of every day, situation or relationship, and choosing joy, community, and engagement is going to serve you well as a friend, partner, employee, and family member throughout your life.

I always thought it was dumb when people would say, “Give 110%!” because that is not really a thing. But 75%! Now that’s a thing. That is a lot of control. That’s an entirely different story—and it is a good one. Have fun living it out!