Thinking (and Re-Thinking) Your Final College Decision

A good friend of mine likes to talk about that time in a meeting when “everything that needs to be said has been said, but not everyone has said it.” This is where you start getting phrases like, “to piggyback on that…,” or “I want to echo that and…”

Well, if you are a senior who is still weighing your options prior to a May 1, June 1, or potentially considering offers from waitlists this summer, that is pretty much where we are. I don’t have anything new or original to add to help you make your final college choice. Instead, I just want to lift up what far wiser and smarter people have offered recently, and perhaps get you thinking and re-thinking about the choice in front of  you.

LISTEN  

The Many Admission Choices in a Changed World. College Admission Decoded Podcast, NACAC.

Why? Because this episode includes a few of my favorite people in this field. Nicole Hurd, founder and CEO of College Advising Corps; Jeff Selingo, education reporter and bestselling author of Who Gets In and Why; Tevera Stith, Vice President for KIPP Through College & Career at KIPP DC; and Angel B. Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Key Quote: “…as I think back on my college experience, and that was a long time ago, but honestly what I remember most is not the content of the coursework. It was really the people, the faculty, the relationships, and the fact that some of my best friends in life right now are people that I went to college with. So, really doing that research around people and relationship development is important, as well.” Angel Perez

Look out for: Great insight into evaluating the financial equation: loans, ROI, and outcomes. “Still always think about where you want to be long term and what are schools doing in this context to make sure their seniors are being recruited by top folks? What does the career process look like?”

WATCH

What frogs in hot water can teach us about thinking again. TED, Adam Grant.

Why? Because right now you need to not only think, but also re-think things.

Key Quote: “Don’t get locked into one narrow path. And stay open to broadening your goals…your goals can give you tunnel vision- blinding you to re-thinking the situation. And it’s not just goals that can cause this kind of short-sightedness, it’s your identity too.” Damn. That’s deep and important. Pay attention.

Look out for: Sheesh. Like 37 great ideas and quotes in 15 mins. Specifically, around the 7 mins check out identity foreclosure. “When you settle pre-maturely on a sense of who you are, and close your mind to alternative selves.” (Listen to minute 7-8 at minimum.) AND the concept around minute 14 of confident humility.

Time to bookmark this url for your college career and beyond, my friends. “Listen to ideas that make you think hard- not just the ones that make you feel good. Surround yourself with people who challenge your thought process, not just the ones who agree with your conclusions.”

READ

College Decisions: Investing, Game Shows, and Mascots. Forbes, Brennan Barnard.

Why? Because Brennan is the master of tapping experts and pulling in a variety of voices to provide perspective, ask good questions, and help think and re-think issues. AND that is exactly what you should be doing right now. Your goal is perspective, questions, thinking and re-thinking.

Key Quote: It can be useful to reflect on other decisions you have made in the past and how effective your approach was. If you have not faced significant decisions, ask those around you about the processes they use.

  • What steps did you take to decide?
  • What information did you need to gather, and how did you do it?
  • Whom did you involve, if anyone, in the decision-making process?
  • Were you pleased with your decision?
  • What, if anything, would you do differently now?

Look out for: Brennan includes some good online resources too, including College Navigator, College Scorecards, Occupational Outlook Handbook, and Third Way Price-to-Earnings Premium.

Bottom Line: Ask the questions that most matter to you. Find that delicate balance between listening to the people around you whom you trust and value, but also having confidence in knowing your decision is YOURS. Trust me- one cold day in November of your first year, you’re going to be scrolling Instagram and looking at pictures from friends at other schools. You are going to wonder, “Did I make the right choice?” First, everyone. EVERYONE has this moment. Second, if you really asked good questions in making the decision; if you know who influenced you and how; and if you know at the end of the day, that place was your choice, you’ll be able to be happy for your friends, but still resolute in your decision and path.

Clark Notes (far less known than my boy, Cliff)

  1. Options and choices can feel overwhelming, but don’t forget that THIS WAS THE GOAL! This decision is not a burden—it is a privilege. It is a blessing. THIS is why you visited schools, researched colleges, and applied to more than just one place. THIS is why you took tough classes, studied, worked hard, and sat through multi-hour standardized tests—to have choices, to have options. You are EXACTLY where you wanted to be! You did this to yourself—and that is a great thing!
  2. If you are still weighing your options this week, next month, or this summer due to multiple offers or waitlist opportunities, you don’t have to decide—you get to decide! You get to think about the place you will thrive and create a lifelong network. You get to talk through your options with your family who loves you, are proud of you, and are excited about this next chapter of your life.
  3. It’s not where you go, but instead how you go and “who you go.” That is going to be dictated by a mentality, rather than a physical location.
  4. Perhaps Steve Jobs said it best in his 2005 Stanford Commencement address, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Your goal is to be confident in and excited about your college decision.
  5.  I pretty much threw everything and the kitchen sink into this Twitter thread, so if you are still stuck, check it out. 

Burn the ships! In 1519, Hernán Cortés sailed to Veracruz, Mexico upon the direction of the King and Queen of Spain, in order to find gold, silver, and a new place to settle. When they arrived, his crew talked incessantly about returning home. They were thinking about home, family, their known life, other places, and an easier path. As they came ashore, Cortes ordered them to “Burn the ships!” Why? So they could not look back, and instead would be fully committed to the expedition. Once you put down your deposit, that is your job as well. Be all in—buy the t-shirt, put the window decal on the car, start following student groups on social media, donate or trade the shirts you have from other school (don’t go all Cortes here and burn them), close/cancel your applications from other colleges, and start planning on  orientation in the summer.

Don’t look back. Too many students second guess themselves and spend their summer in angst. Burn. The. Ships!

Note: It’s April 30. I’m tired. You are tired. My editor is tired, so I did not bother her on this one. If you find typos, hopefully the content is strong enough to keep you focused. If not, please send complaints to GeorgePBurdell@gt.com 

 

 

 

 

The Unbroken Cycle of College Admission

This year it seems that the articles, news stories, and headlines surrounding college admission have focused almost exclusively on how significantly things have changed—the “dramatic increase” in applications (at a small set of schools); the disturbing decrease in undergraduate enrollment, particularly in our community college sector; gap year request; no campus visits or recruitment travel, “obnoxious waitlists,” and so on.

I admit to contributing to the chorus of just how unpredictable many elements of the field have been too, including FUBAR yield models, questions about issuance of travel visas, and the eroded “demographic cliff.”

H/T: UC-Davis

So while it is true that the inputs shifted this year, more people wore hats and pajamas to meetings, and the number of cats and kids in admission committee went up exponentially, the rhythm of the job did not change: the fall was still filled with recruitment programming; the winter with application review; and the spring with releasing decisions and convincing admitted students to confirm or deposit.

Ultimately, the actual work of college admission proved to be predictably cyclical, and the comments, questions, and interactions (as well as their timing) remained constant:

  1.  Student calls weeks after application deadline to see if he can submit late.
  2.  Parent disguises voice to receive portal password day before decision release.
  3.  Alumni friend of denied family writes to complain that the admission process is totally jacked up (PG version).

For those scoring at home: The pandemic shook things up but again did not bring in some of these:

  1. You must have made a mistake. This financial package is way too generous.
  2.  I wanted to come clean. I have been emailing you pretending to be my student all year.
  3.  Please audit your process and reconsider your decisions, because it seems you admitted too many kids from our high school.
  4. YES. I’m expecting you to admit her because of her father’s accomplishments.
  5. I wouldn’t call him a late bloomer- he was just lazy as a freshman.

Back to business…

And right on cue, earlier this month we started receiving emails and calls telling us about admitted or deposited students behaving badly.

These accusations come almost exclusively from one of two sources- current college students who “heard something” from their high school or “saw something” online and wanted to report it to the admission office; or from another student or parent in the high school. They almost never come directly from the student involved writing to admit to wrongdoing, a lapse in judgment, or a blatantly immoral/illegal/indecent act.

When we receive these, we pursue them. Normally, this starts by asking the student to provide their summary and perspective. Depending on the response, we will also reach out to the school counselor, principal, or other school official. Most colleges then involve their dean of students, office of student integrity, and when necessary their police department or legal team.

If all of this sounds uncomfortable, messy, and a long way from the earlier jokes about cats and pajamas, that’s totally understandable. Frankly, it’s uncomfortable to write about and the last 17 years of experience.

However, if you’re feeling all of those emotions because you are currently involved in something that you know falls short of the expectations of the college that admitted you, I am strongly encouraging you to be proactive and reach out to your admission counselor.

Owning your mistakes and initiating the review process is not fun, but it is absolutely the right thing to do. Tip: Don’t start with: “My friends made me…” “I didn’t want to but…” “I tried to tell them it was wrong…”

If you have something to report,  own it. Arrested at 2 a.m. for re-distributing neighbors’ leaves back across their yards after they’d lined and bagged them at the street? “Borrow” the car in the middle of the night by putting it in neutral and coasting out of the driveway with the lights off?

Hard to admit? Embarrassing and regrettable and serious for sure, but trust me- it is much, much better to be honest and proactive than to have an admission counselor receive information from another source and have to contact you to provide an explanation of circumstances.

A Note to Seniors

Your final semester is supposed to be fun. You have lots to celebrate and enjoy. But I am asking you to be mature and thoughtful enough to hit pause when you find yourself in certain situations or when a “great idea” gets proposed in these next few weeks or over the summer. Each year we see incredibly smart and talented kids do indescribably dumb stuff that has lasting implications or consequences. So before you get behind the wheel; before you go to (or throw) that party; before someone brings out another bottle; when “everyone” is going to jump off that bridge naked in the dark into water at an untested depth; when cramming 12 people into a hearse to go blow up the principal’s mailbox gets suggested as a senior prank; before you post pictures or gossip or antagonizing content on social media, I hope you will thoughtfully consider your beliefs, character, and goals. (If all of that sounds too specific to be made up, well…).

I implore you not to rationalize with phrases like “everyone else is” or “she told me to” or “someone said it was okay.” Have the vision to say no or walk away or stand up or defuse the situation by speaking calmly in frenetic moments.

I encourage you to read your offers of admission from colleges closely. They are promises of a future community. They are based on your academic potential but also upon their belief you have and will continue to enrich those around you.

My hope is you will look around you this week (and every week between now and the time you head to college). Be reminded of how much your friends, family, class and teammates love and respect you– not for what you do or don’t do (or will or won’t do) in a certain moment on a particular night– but for who you are.

Above all else, my hope is you will have the composure and confidence to lead yourself and others with the maturity and character that earned you offers of admission. Finish well.

BONUS: Other “never heards” receiving votes:

  • I hear it’s easier to get in from our school than the one down the road.
  • I understand that my child’s admission experience, and likely their actual college experience, will be almost complete different from mine.
  • I got your helpful & carefully worded email on my next steps, and I read the whole thing!
  •  I have objectively concluded that my child’s unfavorable decision is just a reflection of a competitive applicant pool and not a fundamental bias in your process perpetuated in an urban legend.

 

Same Kind of Different, Part 2

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

Listen to “Same Kind of Different, Part Two (Lets Talk Communication!) – Becky Tankersley” on Spreaker.

Let’s do a quick exercise: imagine its admission decision release day. You worked for weeks to prepare. You’ve collaborated with a variety of people to be sure you completed every action item on your list. Now you’re online, eagerly checking Reddit and College Confidential to see what other people are saying. You may be sending frantic texts or emails to others who are also waiting, making sure there isn’t something you overlooked (even though you know for a fact you’ve checked everything at least a dozen times). You wait… you watch… until the clock hits noon and the decision is released.

Sound familiar? What I just described is decision release day from an admission or enrollment communicator’s point of view!

Just as a tremendous amount of work goes into reviewing admission applications, a tremendous amount of work goes into the communications behind those decisions. In Same Kind of Different, Rick talks about the time and energy spent by his staff in reading applications (and I can confirm that YES, he’s being honest when he says EVERY application is read by an actual human, often multiple times).

The Communications Conduit

Our communications team does not read your application, but we do serve as the conduit between the admission team and you. Our staff writes your emails and letters, creates and updates websites, designs mailers and flyers, and generally keeps the communication train moving. Preparing communications for decision release is not unlike you preparing your admission essay: we write the first draft. We review it with admission. They make edits. We make revisions. We send it back and forth anywhere from 2-10 times.

Making a list, checking it twice (or twenty times)…

After it’s final, it THEN goes to our editor in Institute Communications to ensure it makes sense to someone outside of the admission world (after you’ve lived and breathed admission for several years, not to mention read something 100+ times, it takes an outside perspective to ensure admission jargon doesn’t creep in and those pesky typos and/or broken links are caught). They review. We edit. Once that’s complete, we upload the final version into your admission portal. And guess what? Then we review it again!

Letters, portals, emails, forms, websites, FAQ pages, print pieces. I’ve been involved with decision release for almost a decade, and the importance of the moment has not yet diminished.

Watching and Waiting

During the week before decision release, we watch Reddit, College Confidential, and hashtags on social media (I confirm what you suspect—we are watching!). What are you seeing? What are you saying? Every year we see applicants frantically search for any little sign that might indicate a decision. A fourth tab in a portal? A Pay Now button? An email from financial aid? Just as you are constantly checking and digging, we’re constantly listening and reviewing until decisions are out. Your online chatter helps us identify any gaps we may have missed.

It’s not lost on us that every little thing makes a difference. We see the tension and anxiety many of you experience. Your work has all led up to this moment. It turns out we’re not that different. While you anxiously wait for a decision, we anxiously wait for you to receive that decision. We’re aiming for a smooth process for you… one that is clear, transparent, and gives you all the information you need, avoiding confusion along the way.

Nowhere Near the End…

At this point in the year, most admission decisions are out from schools around the nation. While you may not have received all the admission decisions you hoped for, there’s no doubt you’ve gotten in somewhere (likely many somewheres!) amazing.

Getting in is a big accomplishment… but it’s nowhere near the end of your journey. So, what happens now?

Finish the drill.

You’ll find your email inbox incredibly full over the next month, and it’s imperative that you read what we send! Your admission application was just the beginning… now that you’re “in,” there is a litany of next steps to complete. Deposit deadlines, financial aid completion, housing, orientation, learning communities, visit events, meet and greets… these are only a few examples of the communications you will receive. Read the emails from the schools where you’ve been admitted, and regularly check your applicant portal as well.

Pay attention to dates.

As mentioned above, many of the communications you will receive are time sensitive. And, while inconvenient, the deadlines vary from school to school. Not only is there variance from school to school, you’ll see differences at the same school from year to year (for example, last year Tech’s deposit deadline was May 1, and this year it’s May 3).

Don’t assume the deadlines that applied to your sibling or friend who got in a year ago are the same deadlines you have, especially since we’re all still operating amid a pandemic. Read the information, and pay attention to the dates. Inside tip: any school with a CRM (customer relationship management) can see what emails you’ve opened, and which ones you didn’t. If you miss a deadline and say “I didn’t receive/see that email,” well, it’s not going to hold any weight when we see that you 1) received it, and 2) opened it.

Yes, it matters!

After you’ve done the work to apply, be admitted, and pay a deposit to commit, following the steps above still matter. We know your inbox is overloaded. I promise we try not to make it worse! Be assured that the communications we send to you are mission critical. Our job is to be sure you to know what is next, what opportunities are available, and the deadlines looming on the horizon. So, don’t slack off now! You paid attention before you were admitted, and it’s even more important that you pay attention now.

A Tip of the Hat

Communication teams typically don’t receive the same attention that admission and financial aid teams do. After all, those offices are the boots on the ground, talking personally to students and families from year to year, creating relationships and adding the personal touch.

But standing quietly in the background are communicators making sure the information you receive is clear, understandable, useful, and most importantly, correct. From web developers to information technologists, marketing specialists to editors, graphic designers to mail house teams, there are many people working behind the scenes to get the job done.

So, here’s to you, campus communicators! The work you do matters, and admission, recruitment, and enrollment couldn’t happen without the work you do. Thank you!

Becky Tankersley has worked in higher education for more than a decade in a variety of roles in admission and enrollment management. Before starting her career in education, she worked as a television news producer. Her current role blends her skills in communication and love of college recruitment. Becky is the editor of the GT Admission Blog, and also serves as a Content Coordinator for the American Association of Collegiate Registrar and Admission Officers.

Soothing the Sting of College Admission Decisions

Listen to “Soothing the Sting of College Admission Decisions – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

My son has terrible seasonal allergies. Since Atlanta is basically a city in the forest, spring is really rough as everything starts to bloom. This week his throat has been so sore that he’s barely eaten, he’s woken up most nights crying in discomfort, and has spent his days at school suffering under a mask. As a parent, I want so badly to take away his pain, but I’m left helplessly repeating, “It is going to be ok. You are going to feel better soon.”  

All true but he’s the one having to suffer through the pain and frustration (plus pop Claritin and suck on lozenges). I can support and encourage him, but ultimately it’s just going to take time to improve  

Over the last few weeks, and in the days ahead, many colleges are releasing admission decisions. Inevitably, some of you reading this will be (or have been) denied or waitlisted (or supporting those who do)

I can’t totally soothe that sting, but over the years, I’ve written extensively about my own personal “re-routes,” as well as the experiences of students, family, and friends 

Here are a few that may give you some perspective, solace, and hope.  

Lessons and Hopes for High School Seniors. Happened last year – lost an election to the board of my national organization. 

“The truth is we learn more about ourselves when we don’t get something, or when something is taken away, than when everything is smooth, easy, and going our way. Growth comes after discomfort or pain. My hope is you won’t just get through the admission process, but rather embrace it as an opportunity to remember the decisions of others are not what define us. They may change our direction, but character, mentality, and motivation is ours to choose.”

I Have a Brother. Multiple instances of not making a team, being selected, getting a job, getting into his first-choice college, and more. 

“My hope is you will come to understand and appreciate that success is not a point-to-point trip. A life fully and well-lived is not a straight road. So when you feel like things are falling apart; when you look around and believe “everyone else is happy;” when you question what you did wrong or why something did not work out, my hope is you will remember you are not at a dead-end, or even a U-turn that is forcing you to double back. These are inevitable turns, re-routes, and natural bends in the road you should expect on any journey.” 

Handling That MomentJunior year in high school, dumped by my girlfriend.   

If you If you find yourself in that moment, I hope you will have the clarity to know—or the willingness to hear your friends or parents or coaches remind you—of the truth: nobody is perfect. No college is either. 

The Other Side. Stories of current college students who did not end up where they expected. 

“There are many times in life that we need to be reminded to slow down, remain calm, and dream of The Other Side.  I hope you’ll strive to recognize those moments not only in your own life but in those of your friends and family members too. Take the time to encourage them; to come around them; to describe with optimism and confidence the better days that lie ahead.” 

Earlier this week, Melissa Korn, who covers education for the Wall Street Journal, sent out this tweet encouraging followers to share their stories of denial and disappointment. If you are a senior currently awaiting or having just received a waitlist or deny decision, I encourage you to go check out that thread, as admission directors and others from around the country shared their own stories.

I’ve said before and will say again, college admission decisions are not character judgments or predictions of future potential. Getting in, or not getting in, to a particular school does not change who you are, the feasibility of your goals, or define you in a substantive way. 

Just like with my son I know I cannot fully take away your discomfort or pain or frustration with my wordsThat is going to take some timeBut hopefully through these stories and posts will help you begin to believe and see that you are not just going to be ok—you are going to be great. TRUST!    

Light in the Darkness

Listen to “Episode 29: Light in the Darkness – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In the days following the attack on the U.S. Capitol, we have been inundated with social media posts, interviews, opinions, podcasts, and articles riddled with frustration, finger pointing, and fallout. News stories have aired everything from caustic political rhetoric to disconcerting details related to injuries, deaths, and arrests. At this point, hundreds of CEOs, presidents of boards, chancellors of universities and systems, and others in top positions of leadership have released statements condemning these events and expressing their outrage, sadness, and shock.

Simultaneously, we are watching the escalation of  diagnosed cases and hospitalizations related to Covid-19, and learning more about the threat of a new Covid strain. While the 24-hour news cycle would never tolerate succinctly summarizing the beginning of 2021, I think a fair and accurate word to use would be darkness.

Martin Luther King, Jr quoteIn stark contrast, admission officers are spending their days during this time reading essays, conducting interviews, and hearing stories each day from incredible high school students who are investing in their schools, families, and communities. While you would never know it, your descriptions of hopes, dreams, resolve, and purpose, and the indisputable evidence of your growth, resilience, and vision serve as precious gift. Sources of deep encouragement and optimism—or in a word: light.

My goal is to return the favor and provide you with some hope and encouragement.

As a high school student:

As 2021 kicks off and you head back to class, I hope you continue to pour yourself into your sports, clubs, activities, and work. If there were ever a time to dig in and contribute, it’s now. Make something around you fundamentally better this semester.

On college admission panels and during presentations people inevitably ask what we are “looking for.” In most cases, I think they expect us to rattle off some kind of formula that includes five AP classes, at least one award in the junior year, and sustained volunteer work. The truth is admission officers are looking for applicants who have been good students inside and outside the classroom in high school.  Simply put they want to admit and enroll people who will be deeply missed by their school and community when they graduate.

Take some time in the week ahead to thank those who have helped you and supported you along the way. Email your fourth-grade teacher, go for a walk with your little sister, send a note to your ninth-grade science teacher, and as always, hug your mama. Everyone could use some more light in their life right now. Embrace that opportunity.

I also hope you: practice listening; worry less about what people think about you; break out of any cliques or relationships you know are not healthy; be disciplined enough to intentionally put your phone away for specified times each day and week; and start each morning contemplating at least one thing you are grateful for in your life.

As a college applicant:

I hope you are confident enough to consider the opinions of others but think for yourself.

I hope you figure out why you are going to college and ask the questions that really matter to you along the way.

I hope you wait well. Concern yourself more with preparing for college in general than obsessing about the internal machinations and committee deliberations of any particular college.

I hope you will not use the term “top” or “first choice.”  Don’t take an offer of admission for granted, and instead enthusiastically celebrate each one as an exciting option and opportunity.

I hope you remember college admission decisions are not character judgments or predictions of future potential. Getting in, or not getting in, to a particular school does not change who you are, the feasibility of your goals, or define you in a substantive way.

I hope you will be humble and selfless enough to celebrate your friends in their successes and comfort them in their disappointment.

I hope you are proactive in initiating critical conversations with your family about uncomfortable topics like paying for college, loans, distance from home, your major of choice, and colleges you do and do not want to apply to or attend. I hope as a result of those courageous dialogues you and your family will be able to make a unified decision devoid of ego and rooted in authenticity.

I hope you are cognizant of what and how you post on social media related to your college applications and decisions.

I hope your ultimate college choice will be based on an authentic internal compass, rather than on external pressures or commercialized rankings.

Continue to Be A Light 

For some reason people tend to think of the actual college experience and the college admission experience as separate entities. The truth is the two are closely linked.

They are both about developing critical thinking skills, seeing a bigger picture, seeking diverse voices, researching information, being comfortable with some gray and unknowns, weighing options, questioning data, understanding historical context, and keeping a broad (ideally global) perspective.

In a time of division, disruption, and disillusionment, thank you for helping those of us working in college counseling and admission, to see evidence of unity, progress, and hope. Ultimately, as a high school student, a college applicant, and both into and beyond your college years, I hope you will continue to be a light.