Top 5 HS Graduation Messages for Class of ’22, ICYMI…

Over the last two weeks, I’ve attended graduation parties, met with a few seniors about their summer and fall plans, and both attended and spoken at high school graduation ceremonies.

I also know, or have heard from, a few seniors who missed their graduation due to Covid, family obligations, or other commitments.

So, this is for the Class of 2022! Especially those who missed graduation, slept through it, were too hot or scratchy in your cap and gown to focus, were discreetly attempting to solve that day’s NYT Wordle puzzle, or immediately tuned out when the speaker opened a PowerPoint presentation or began with a Chicken Soup for the Soul quote like, “You miss 100% of the shots you do not take.”

As someone who works with lots of high school seniors and first-year college students, here are a few messages I want to be sure you did not miss as you turn the page and start your next chapter.

#1. Congratulations! You did it! I realize some of you may be reading this and thinking, “Well… it’s not that big of a deal. I mean, I always expected to graduate from high school.” But even if it is just momentarily- take it in. We spend too much time and energy in life focusing on what doesn’t go our way, which only serves to bog us down and slow progress. My hope is you’ll be in the practice of celebrating your big and small wins. Now is a good time to start.

So, if you haven’t already, take some time to really reflect on what it took to get here: late nights, hard work, sacrifices, and resilience- particularly navigating most of high school during a pandemic. All of that is going to serve you well in college and beyond.

There is a reason lots of people around you are super proud. Enjoy, embrace, and don’t simply gloss over this milestone achievement.

ICYMI- Congratulations!  

#2. You did not do this alone.

Don’t delete those graduation day pictures (and maybe even frame one for your desk at college). You will want to look back often on the smiling faces of the people who surround you. Parents, guardians, extended family, neighbors, coaches, teachers, and other supporting adults or community members. They also sacrificed, put in hard work, and had tough choices to help you get to this point. Perfect? No. Along the way, I’m sure they made mistakes, second guessed themselves, and have a few regrets. But they love you. They are proud of you. And they are excited to launch you into this next chapter.

This is fist bump, hug, handshake, note- writing season, friends. So, if you have not done all of these things a lot (A LOT) lately, make sure that support system around you knows how invaluable their presence and encouragement has been- and will continue to be.

ICYMI- You did not do this alone.

#3. You ARE ready.

Many students in the summer prior to college, or in their first year on campus, question themselves. Can I do the work? Will I be able to make new friends and re-establish a community away from home? Did someone in the admission office put in the wrong code and accidentally admit me?

If you are reading this blog, I have no doubt you are ready for college. Again, you adapted and demonstrated amazing resilience by handling high school during a global pandemic. Adaptability and resilience are two of the most important characteristics of a successful college student. You got this!

You are up for the social and emotional challenges. You can do the work academically. You have that tremendous support system (see point #2) around you. You are prepared. You are ready for the adventure the next four years will bring.

I’m sincerely hoping your graduation speaker did not say that college is the best four years of your life, because that’s both sad and wrong. They are, however, extremely unique. Freedom, friends, exploration, discovery, and time to enjoy all of that. Amazing! My hope is you will look at this next chapter in that way. Take a class that sounds interesting just because you want to. Learn to unicycle, try an instrument, eat some food you can’t spell or pronounce. Go on a 10- hour road trip to a state you’ve never been in before. Enjoy. Use your skills and talents and all the ways you’ve been equipped to learn and have fun!

ICYMI- You. ARE. Ready!

#4. You ARE NOT Ready.

Don’t get too cocky, my friend. There is no way you can be fully prepared for everything the next few years will throw at you. Some of you will see letters on your first semester transcript (B, C…) that you’ve only seen on an eye chart in the past. You may not make the team or be selected to the organization or club you are hoping for. Big break-ups, failed internships, best-friend betrayals… and that’s just first semester.

Even worse you will inevitably have a night or two when you are scrolling through posts from friends with big smiles, good food, and obnoxious hashtags like #bestdayever or #livingmybestlife.

Everyone. EVERY ONE. EVERYONE has those days and moments. It’s not just you. We all question ourselves, doubt our choices, and wish we could just…

This will happen. And when it does, my hope again is you go back to #2. Keep those graduation pictures close. Reach out to the people who love you and know you the best when you need them the most.

One of the biggest mistakes first-year students make is not reaching out to campus support as quickly as they should. Students languish academically or socially, when all the resources they need are just a building or two over, or a text/phone call away.

You have not made it this far by yourself, and there is no way to enjoy or succeed in college or life beyond with that mentality either. Reaching out for help is a strength not a weakness. Don’t try to do it all by yourself. You don’t need to. It doesn’t work—and it’s no fun anyway.

ICYMI- You ARE NOT ready.

#5. Remember Graduation Day

My hope is you will make an effort to build a college career (and a life in general) that looks a lot like graduation day/season.

  • Put yourself in situations that make you smile, and regularly celebrate your accomplishments.
  • Reflect regularly on what habits, patterns, traits have helped you achieve, enjoy, and thrive
  • Real, honest, authentic friendships are hard to come by. Make an effort to keep up the ones you have established.
  • Congratulate others on their successes and achievements (even when they have more stoles or sashes around their neck than you)
  • Look ahead to the next chapter/week/month with anticipation, confidence, and excitement
  • Surround yourself with people who know you, love you, and support you.

ICYMI- Remember Graduation Day!

Congratulations, Class of 2022! Proud of you.

Applying to College Isn’t Like The Movies

Listen to the Podcast: Spreaker | Spotify | Apple Podcasts

This week we welcome current Admission Digital Media Student Assistant Sarah Engel to the blog. Welcome, Sarah!

This admission blog has long been written by experts in application evaluation, the admission counselors themselves. But they’ve always hoped you would seek out additional voices in your college admission experience as well—students who can share the culture and community of their colleges as they experience it every day, who can provide been-there-done-that support and encouragement as you navigate the college admission experience. And truly, as a current college student, and the first to write on this blog (no pressure!) I can echo the importance of those lived perspectives. I know first hand that when you’re actually in the midst of gathering your materials, writing your essays, and sending them off to colleges with the click of a button, it can all seem a little…surreal and disconnected. Not only do you have academic and social pressures from your friends and family, you likely have your own, internal expectations and media driven perceptions that hover over you like a dark storm cloud. 

Press Play

Growing up, I recall seeing countless teen rom coms and dramas in which the protagonist is somehow accepted into a prestigious university. Serena van der Woodsen from Gossip Girl being admitted to Brown University despite never attending class? Aaron Samuels from Mean Girls getting into Northwestern despite not understanding calculus? And, of course, the entire cast of High School Musical committing to Ivy Leagues, Juilliard, Stanford, and UC Berkeley? Not once did I see them studying between musical numbers in the gymnasium!

Disney family singalong: Zac Efron joins 'High School Musical' reunion

Now, in the age of social media, we are constantly exposed to “Reacting to my College Decisions” videos of shrieking students surrounded by family members, deserving student stories on Good Morning America being posted across Twitter, and congratulatory Instagram posts for friends committing to universities. As exciting as these seem, I know from experience how they can affect one’s mental health. The neverending stream of collegiate content across the internet, film, and television puts an invisible weight on the shoulders of students to perform well. Audiences (myself included) love the satisfaction of a loveable character embarking on a new, happy journey. But how realistic is the journey really? And what does this fascination with college in the media mean for real students applying to real schools?

Take a Pause

Spoiler alert: life isn’t always like it is in the movies (seriously, how do characters have so much time to hang out before they go to work and school in the morning?) and social media isn’t all that realistic either. When your admission experience looks different from everyone’s social media highlight reel, and Disney’s happily-ever-afters, that can feel a little lonely. But you’re not alone. My hope for you is that you’ll be kind to yourself. Check in on your friends, check in on yourself, have honest conversations with each other, and set boundaries. Hey, I work with digital media in our office, and while we hope to provide helpful content to students, I know that muting and stepping away from the screen can absolutely be an act of self-care. Taking breaks isn’t just healthy, it’s necessary.

Fast Forward 

Let’s look beyond the admission decisions: a fast forward through time for you, a rewind in time for me. Though it feels recent, I applied to college over three years ago (how is that possible?!). I remember dreading meetings with my college counselor, stressing over standardized test scores, reading my essays over and over, asking for recommendation letters, and that agonizing waiting period after applying. But then came the spring of 2019, and I was perfectly calm. Excited for the future, researching classes and clubs, planning out my dorm room decorations, and connecting with future classmates on social media. So much has changed for me since then! What hasn’t changed, however, is this truth: that, after the dust settles and the whirlwind of admission hype and headlines is behind you, what’s in front of you is an opportunity that’s yours to embrace. The keyword here is embrace. You may receive many admission decisions in the months ahead, ranging from exciting and surprising, to disappointing and… “you mean to tell me I have to send them more information?!”  The admission decisions themselves may not be yours to make, but choosing how you move forward, is. 

When I was a freshman in high school, I dreamed of going to a liberal arts college in the northeast. Perhaps Yale University, like Rory Gilmore (Gilmore Girls), or NYU, like Lara Jean Covey (To All The Boys I Loved Before). I thought, with my grades and extracurriculars, I’d be able to get in anywhere and everywhere, that I would live out the dark academia aesthetic of my dreams (a la Harry Potter). But by the time I was touring and applying to colleges, that fantasy seemed so far away. I had to face a reality check somewhere around junior year. I realized I wasn’t getting many scholarships at private, out-of-state schools. I also came to understand that I didn’t want to be all that far from my family. That I could always revisit the liberal arts school dream for graduate school. 

As colleges prepare to release decisions in the coming weeks and months, I hope you take away at least this message: it works out. Everything will be okay. Your admission decisions might not be the fairytale ending you first imagined, but that’s because they were never really an ending at all…just the opportunity to embrace a new storyline, whatever it may be. Don’t be discouraged if your fictional hero or heroine is accepted to every school they apply to, or if your best friend got a better scholarship than you. Remember that you are the protagonist of your own story on your own path. It might not be easy, but try your best, and believe me, #ItWorksOut.

Sarah Engel is a third-year LMC major from Dunwoody, Georgia. Her involvements have included the North Avenue Review Magazine, LMC CoLab, Excel Program, German National Honor Society, and FASET. Now, she works as the digital media assistant for the Office of Undergraduate Admission. 

 

 

How the Olympics Explain College Admission– Part 2

Listen to “How the Olympics Explain Admission – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In Part 1, we looked at the two fundamental ways American colleges make admission decisions. Now that you know how colleges review applications, it’s time to look at three important ways you should approach your college admission experience like an Olympian.   

1) Train For Event – Not The Result. 

Don’t get me wrong. I love watching the actual Olympic competitions: games, races, individual feats of strength, speed, and skill. But I am also a sucker for human-interest stories. It is incredible to see the athletes’ families, hometowns, the stringent training regimens, immense sacrifices, and longevity of focus which led to their Olympic moment. 

Whether it be in emails, phone calls, or during information sessions and presentations, students constantly ask “What do I need to do to get in?” Hey, it’s a valid question, and I understand where it comes from. Too often in our culture this is the mentality. What do I need to do to get: the grade? the date? the raise? the car? and so on. As Americans in particular, we are results oriented.  

However, I would assert Olympic athletes do not think this way. Sure. They want to win. They understand scores, times, or skills will come into play, but during the majority of training, their focus is on making the Olympic team and putting forth their best personal effort. In fact, sports psychologists constantly talk about envisioning actions, rather than obsessing about results. In other words, it’s not helpful to say, “picture yourself wearing a gold medal.” Instead, the message is, “Focus on executing. Imagine yourself running your best race or performing your best routine/dive/shot, etc. The results will take care of themselves.”  

And that is my hope for you. Your job is to “train” for being a successful college student. Don’t picture yourself being a student at a certain place, which you absolutely cannot control. Instead, “practice” what will make you great regardless of where you end up. Simply put- BE A GOOD HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT. 

Work hard each day in the classroom.  

Push and challenge yourself academically.  

Learn to create a functional base of knowledge– and be curious about what you don’t know.  

Contribute to your school, family, and community.  

College admission reps will use a lot of words – A LOT – to say all of this, but essentially a good college applicant is a good high school student. Colleges are looking for students who will be desperately missed by the people they leave behind in their school, community, neighborhood.  

Applying an Olympic mentality means worrying less about the medal, the podium, the anthem, and instead committing to your day- to-day training. YOU GOT THIS!  

2) Respect The Competition. TV coverage only brought us a fraction of the action. This year there were 33  sports, 46 disciplines, and 339 total medal events with over 11,500 athletes competing. In the Paralympic Games, which just started this week, another 4,400 athletes will take part. However, unless you had some super- secret Gold Combo #4 cable package you only saw a tiny percentage of those athletes or competitions.  

As a high school student, this is one of the biggest challenges in the college admission experience- understanding the skills, strength, and potential of other applicants you never get to see or know. Colleges do a good job (often in a pretentious and boasting fashion) of describing how many applicants they received in the prior year, or their overall admit rate.  

However, since you are not in the room where files are received and reviewed, it’s impossible to appreciate the talent of this set of students. If you are applying to a college or university with “Olympic” level admit rates, no GPA or test average will adequately convey the depth of their applicant pool. Sure, they will have some percentage of Eddie the Eagle applicants who are not competitive or “in profile,” but those are the outliers.  

Talk to most college admission deans or counselors and they will marvel at the ability of students (hundreds or thousands) who do not end up “on their podium.” If you choose to apply to schools who are denying more students than they admit (sometimes by a wide margin), there is no guarantee. Yes, you have great grades, test scores, letters of rec, essays, and all the things. But so too do the other Olympians showing up at the Games. Again, this is why you need to build a college list with a range of selectivity.  

I expound on the value of seeing or visualizing other applicants in Lessons and Hopes for High School Seniors, but if you are trying to decrease screen time or save your thumbs from scrolling, the take home message is basically covered in the conclusion of our last blog: “Before you ever submit an application to a college using holistic review, take the time to write down or say out loud that you are intentionally competing in gymnastics, rather than the high jump. You are choosing a nuanced, gray, and subjective competition and evaluation, and you are comfortable with the fact that numbers alone will not dictate your results. Promise yourself now that you will not waste time or energy (or precious weeks of your senior year) trying to predict the outcome. And, if you don’t end up on the “podium,” commit to handling your disappointment with class and grace.”     

3) Check Your Ego and Be Patient. Dang. Even writing this sounds like some sick combination of harsh and unrealistic. Welcome to the Olympics! Clearly, you cannot talk about the Tokyo Games without mentioning Simone Biles. The truth is an entire blog would not cover the lessons learned from the GOAT. But I think the 2021 Olympic experience of MyKayla Skinner and Jade Carey are more relevant to you anyway. Jade came to Tokyo as an individual, rather than part of the four-person team. MyKayla was literally about to fly back to the US when she got the text to come back to compete. Both left Tokyo with medals and unpredictable opportunities.  

Olympians are used to the emotional roller coaster. If you listened to many of the interviews from Tokyo, you heard athletes from every sport and nation relay stories of “almost quitting” or “wanting to walk away,” because of the physical or mental toll of competing.  

Good news- your admission experience is not going to be so physically taxing (unless you’re trying to type your essay while on the Peloton). However, you can expect some ups and downs, possible setbacks, and a timeline you will not dictate. You may get deferred, denied, or waitlisted. You may be an alternate for a scholarship or just miss being named valedictorian, NHS, Top 10%, or some other distinction you have been working for and focused on achieving. When this happens (and it will happen), remember Jade and MyKayla- get up, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward. There will always be another opportunity, an open door, or an expected route to your goals.  

Whether you are a senior about to apply to college or an underclassman just starting to explore possible options, I hope you will learn these critical lessons from the Olympics: Train for the event- not the result; respect the competition; and check your ego and be patient.  

How the Olympics Explain College Admission– Part I

Like much of the world, our family was hooked on the Olympics for the last two weeks. So many incredible stories of perseverance and life-long dreams, not to mention many memorable performances. We were distraught by the early losses of US Women’s soccer and Men’s basketball teams, elated by the heart and spirit of Suni Lee and Caleb Dressel, and torn as to which was the more surprising sport included at these Games: walking, trampoline, or sport climbing. 

While Olympic coverage and commercials may fade away in the months ahead, don’t forget the important lesson they’ve taught us—evaluation is made in one of two primary ways: purely quantifiable numbers/times (track, swimming, etc.); or with a certain degree of human judgment and subjectivity (diving, gymnastics, etc.).  

The college admission process is really no different. As we have established in prior blogs, there are nearly 4,000 colleges in America. While they vary as widely as Olympic sports, they essentially make determinations in one of these two ways: formulaic/quantifiable or holistic/ less quantifiable. 

Formulaic Admission Process (aka The High Jump)  

If you apply to a school using this framework for selecting students, you will be asked to sprint down a thin lane carrying a long stick and miraculously catapult yourself above a bar. What?! Nobody told you about that part? I hope you’ve been stretching.  

Formulaic review is typically found at public universities who have determined that academic factors alone (high school GPA and often test scores) are sufficient to evaluate and enroll students who will be successful at their institution. Formulaic admission is based on just that—formulas or regression models derived from evaluating the performance of current students (college GPA, retention rates, graduation rates) and then back mapping that information to establish that college’s admission standards.  

If you watched the high jump in the Olympics, the height of the bar was  immediately evident, and it was obvious who ultimately cleared it and who did not. Colleges with formulaic processes operate the same way. The “bar” is set and simple to understand because it is completely transparent. You’ll find these published on schools’ websites, often with an accompanying calculator for you to plug in your academic credentials.  

A good example of formulaic admission is found in Iowa  where students can plug their GPA and test scores into an online calculator, in order to determine their admissibility to the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa. The admission standards for most of Georgia’s public universities are dictated by the Freshman Index, and the California State System outlines its standards here. In these examples, just as with the Olympic high jump, anyone who clears the bar advances/ is admitted.  

The truth is there are lots of incredible colleges around the country operating this way. As you are making your college list for visits or applications, I  encourage you to check out your options in this space. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Does my state university system have a publicly available admission formula? If so, does it apply to all universities in my state or only some?  
  • Can I find a college or university in my city/state/region (or one that has mailed me material lately) that uses a formulaic admission review process? 

I’m confident that if you took the time to read and consider your personal rankings after our recent blog (Hint: hyperlinks =  suggested reading), you will be able to find at least one college using formulaic admission that: offers a major that is of interest to you; is located in a town or area you would enjoy going to college; matches with your outside interests; and would offer you admission based on your current grades and scores.   

Holistic Admission Review (aka Gymnastics All-Around) 

In stark contrast to the objective, “clear the bar” process for advancing, you have gymnastics, specifically, the all-around competition. Gymnasts perform vastly different routines with varying levels of rigor and style on multiple elements (just learned that term) — and ultimately receive scores from human judges.  

Through history there have been constant claims of a lack of fairness, evidence of bribing, and consistent complaints from participants, their coaches, and fans about slight differentiations that have made the difference between standing on the podium or not. In the rules book for judges (I skimmed it), you will find references to metrics and guidelines, but also the undeniable presence of nuance and subjectivity. 

I’m guessing this all sounds pretty similar to how you have heard the holistic admission described. The good news, if you apply to colleges using this style of review, is you will not be evaluated solely on your high school grades or test scores. More good news– admission reviewers are trained to use empathy, judgment, trends, and context. Translation: If your vault is not perfect, you can still impress on the beam.  

On the flip side (pun intended), this type of review is gray, and they will be utilizing a variety of qualitative factors that don’t fit neatly into a rubric or published/standardized criteria spreadsheet. Additionally, holistic review signals that in addition to assessing your ability to succeed in the classroom, they also want to enroll students who will enhance their campus community and help fulfill their mission (e.g., institutional priorities). Therefore, it will be difficult, and in some cases impossible, to predict whether you will end up on their particular podium or not.  

If you are like me, you may have felt this way as a spectator of gymnastics this summer. “Oh, WOW!! That was great. Impressive.” Next gymnast performs. “Okay. Also, amazing. Hmmm… I’m not sure. Can we give out more medals?” Answer: NO. Just like the medal podium, holistic review exists because of a supply and demand challenge. In other words, there are more incredible applicants than there are seats/beds/space available. 

Context is everything for colleges using a holistic admission review process. This means when they analyze your transcript, they are not simply going to take the weighted or unweighted GPA at face value. Instead, those humans are going to ask specific, detailed questions to understand your academic and environmental context: What clubs/organizations did you have access to in your high school? What courses did you take and how did you perform in each class, grade, subject area? How did you invest your time outside the classroom? And what impact and influence did you have on your family, community, school, and so on?  What barriers and challenges did you face academically and beyond the classroom? 

Before you ever submit an application to a college using holistic review, take the time to write down or say out loud that you are intentionally competing in gymnastics, rather than the high jump. You are choosing a nuanced, gray, and subjective competition and evaluation, and you are comfortable with the fact that numbers alone will not dictate your results. Promise yourself now that you will not waste time or energy (or precious weeks of your senior year) trying to predict the outcome. And, if you don’t end up on the “podium,” commit to handling your disappointment with class and grace. Is any of that easy? No. But this is Olympic gymnastics! What did you expect?  

Honestly, there are too many parallels…and unevens (Sorry- couldn’t resist) between the Olympics and college admissions to fit into one blog, so look for Part II later this month.

 

The Basics of College Admission 2.0

Listen to “We’re Going Back to Basics! | Basics of College Admission 2.0” on Spreaker.

Is this a blog about a podcast? Yes.  

Do you realize this is not the first time you have done this? Yes. But hold on let’s acknowledge that the first time I did that was on March 5, 2020.  A year plus is always a long time ago in the life of a teenager, but a friggin’ eternity ago for humankind in general given the pandemic blur. 

How do you feel about using the term “friggin’” in writing? I’m more comfortable with that than I am the fact that I’m interviewing myself in writing. Let’s get to it, shall we? 

The brief on The College Admission Brief  

65 produced episodes 

53,600 total listens 

Top Countries outside the US for listeners: India, Taiwan, Japan, United Kingdom.  

No commercials, minimal product placement, and generally PG-13.  

Each month we dive into the analytics on our website, social media channels, blog, podcast, etc. Recently, as we did an annual review of the podcast, it was clear that the topics students most listened to surrounded a series we launched last year entitled: “The Basics of College Admission.” That series provided tips and insight about the college application, including how admission readers consider your GPA, rigor of curriculum, activities & leadership, essays/supplemental questions, as well as test scores (particularly in a test optional environment).  

FYI- another very popular podcast and blog from last year that is particularly timely right now was “Five Practical Tips for Writing for Colleges.” After seeing those analytics, I both re-read and re-listened. Other than giving me a bit of PTSD and reminding me of the “BRU-TAL!” experience, that is one that I’d definitely recommend to seniors getting started with their essays or short-answer responses this fall.  

With all of that said, since we are headed back into application season, our plan is to re-boot the application breakdown series this fall with new episodes and new voices. We thought long and hard about a good title. We brainstormed, white-boarded, design thought, post-it noted, and even brainboarddesignposted. Fueled by Sour Patch Kids, pour over coffee, and Lance crackers (this is the minimal product placement section), we came up with an incredibly fresh title…. “The Basics of College Admission 2.0” Thank you. Thank you very much.  

So, in the upcoming weeks/months, you can expect us to both write and talk about all of the key elements of the application, including tips, pitfalls, and inside the admission office perspective on the how/if to write about “community disruption” on the Common Application, why the “Additional Information” section is there and how to differentiate that from the “Covid-19” prompt, and much more.  

Additionally, over the last year we have been on numerous virtual sessions with students and are beginning to see more visitors back on campus. Our goal is to help you ask more clear, helpful questions in your college admission experience. So in each episode we’ll ask our guests a bit about how you should be framing your questions to get usable and important information. My last blog was about helping you ask and answer “Do I Care?” These podcasts will help you reverse that so you can hone in on the things you do care about and learn more.  

We genuinely appreciate you both reading and listening. As the new year begins, we are excited to continue bringing you helpful, timely, and hopefully succinct and uplifting content. Speaking of- our staff has been using resources from Action for Happiness. Consider downloading August’s calendar and putting this into practice this month. 

Our goal is always to be a resource to you. If you have questions, suggestions, or topics you would like to see covered, please reach out on social media @gtadmission.