Mindset and Approach- A Rising Senior’s Guide to College Admission

Last year I wrote this blog criticizing February, and man did the Feb fans have some words. Wow. Well, now I’m taking the other side of that coin to say that I’m a big fan of May.

First, the weather. Now, maybe you live somewhere I’m not thinking of or unfamiliar with and you have some terrible May situation, but in the South, the pollen is gone, the flowers are out, the bugs and humidity haven’t arrived, and most mornings and evenings are cool.

Also, it’s graduation month (though from this seemingly comprehensive list that is not official). Admittedly, between working at a college, speaking at graduations, and having a disproportionate number of friends and neighbors with graduating students, I have attended my fair share of these. I love the experience because graduations bring together family, present an opportunity for shared celebration of accomplishments, up our nation’s smile: frown ratio, and simultaneously facilitate both healthy reflection and warranted optimism about the future. Generally good times despite uncomfortable garb and predictably unmemorable speeches. Yep, I love a good tassel turn.

Graduation also means the seniors are done. Before you dismiss that one as “sentences that need never to have been written,” hang on. When those caps get picked up and the last selfie has been taken, the juniors take on a unique and important transient identity—RISING SENIORS.

If that’s you—this one’s for you.

Rising connotes you are not there yet. You are in transition. You have left the on-deck circle and are walking to the plate. Basically, this is your walk-up song summer (or playlist). And while your teachers may have already sent you things to do (summer assignments/reading list), when it comes to college admission, I want to focus on your mindset and approach.

RISING INTO COLLEGE ADMISSION

True Success

The longer I do this work and the more students and families I talk to, the more convinced I am that the real goal of college admission is not getting into a particular school. Instead, it is having choices and options. As a rising senior, you inevitably saw this play out with the graduating class. The students most satisfied with their college admission experience are those who felt like they had agency. Ultimately, they picked a college. Does that mean all doors were open? Of course not. But in the end, they got to select a college from several they were excited about. THAT is my hope for you—and not only for college but life well beyond. Freedom is having options. As you rise this summer, spend time thinking about what (not where) you want in a college– and why! Build a list of schools where you would be excited to go. Practice recognizing the difference between “a good school” and a good school for you.

Your walk-up song is playing. Phrases like “dream school,” “top choice,” limit your view of success/happiness and foster zero sum thinking. Keep your head up and your gaze is broad.

Mindset and approach are a choice.

Expect the Unexpected

College Admission is not Fair. Yikes. How’s that for orange juice right after brushing your teeth. Fair is a place they sell cotton candy, cobble together super rickety rides, and judge pigs. (h/t Tim Fields, Emory University). This ain’t that. In the year ahead, you are going to see admission decisions come out that will not make sense to you. Students in your high school will get into colleges you don’t think “they should have.” Worse still- you may see people get into a college you really wanted to go to or get selected for a scholarship you were hoping to receive, while you are dealing with the disappointment of being deferred or denied or waitlisted.

Rising Senior, I’m challenging you in those moments to actually show up for your friends, classmates, and teammates. Celebrating others is a life skill.  Don’t let someone else’s outcomes impact your outlook.

Mindset and approach are a choice.

THE admit rate is not YOUR admit rate.

The published admit rate for a school you are considering is 33%. So one of every three applicants is offered admission, and two of three are either denied, waitlisted (and never pulled into the class), or those who fall out of the process along the way (incomplete, cancel application, etc.) As a smart rising senior, you likely did not need me to translate a percentage into multiple sentences, but hey, it’s a blog. It’s what I do.

ANYHOO, it would be easy/reasonable/and normal math to stop there. You’re thinking- I’m cool with a 1/3 shot.  Sorry, friends. This isn’t the column or dozen groupings of a roulette wheel in Vegas. This is college admission. This is the willing suspension of regular math.

If you’re applying to a public university, question one is where are you from? Resident and non-resident admission review are completely different committee and consideration conversations. As an example, the University of Florida’s overall admit rate in 2023 was 23%. However, Sunshine State residents were admitted at nearly 60%, while Gator nation admitted Cloudy State residents at less than 20%.

Colleges will provide this data on their sites, but another good reference point is the Common Data Sets, primarily in Section C (Search: College Name and Common Data Site). Alternatively, you can check out this blog, which delves into both the CDS and CFD (Clark Family Dynamics).

Does every in-state resident, have the same chance of being admitted to their state’s flagship, even with the same grades, course rigor, or scores?  If your answer starts with an N, keep reading. Otherwise, go back to the beginning. (And by beginning I meant the entire blog, circa 2015. Now you do have some summer reading assignments.)

Ultimately, mission drives admission. Or in wonky admission speak decisions come down to Institutional Priorities– and that leads us far beyond your zip code or state’s initials. As you’ll quickly see in Section C of the CDS, when you apply matters for many schools, particularly for those with Early Decision plans. The “same student” could apply two months earlier and have radically different odds for admission. Major, gender, first-generation status, and other factors will also play in. They will effectively “weight” the roulette ball. Translation: the rural North Dakotan (repetitive?) valedictorian who aces BC Calculus and applies for a Philosophy degree is going to read differently than you. Pack your bags and buy some thermals as you feel compelled.

Knowledge is power. Expectations matter. Mindset and approach are a choice.

Control What You Can Control

Journalists and social media over indexes on the Ivy League and can lead you to believe getting into college is extremely challenging for a talented and motivated rising senior. The truth is that colleges with admit rates under 15% are outposts not signposts in the real landscape of admission world. So contrary to the click bait headlines and hack coverage that dominates college admission beat writing, you are the one in control. *Note in a spirit of May optimism this blog is presuming next year the Fubar FAFSA debacle is behind us.

Where you apply. There are nearly 4000 colleges and universities in the United States alone. Many of them are already 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!

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.

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 choosesee True Success above.

How you show up. A little over a year from now you won’t be focused on your approach to college admission, but to the college where you are planning to attend. This is about showing up on Day 1 with a mentality of being all in. In my opinion, is the most important part. You don’t have to look far to find examples of students who ended up miserable at their “dream school.” Conversely, there are countless students who didn’t get in to their “top choice” and wound up tour guides elsewhere, i.e. not only drinking the Kool-Aid but selling it.

Mindset and approach are a choice (as a rising senior, senior, college applicant, college student, and in life well beyond).

Love and Admission

Rising Senior means you are not a kid- not a child. It means you are getting seriously close to leaving home. It means you are going to be away from home way more than you are at home. Many students read those lines and smile. Many parents read those lines…and cry. Then students don’t understand the tears. Parents are conflicted about the smiles. Round and round we go.

Bottom line is college admission is not all about applications or test scores or college decision letters. It’s also about a new chapter in your family’s life. And at 17 or 18, the emotion, gravity, and uncertainty wrapped up in that page flip is impossible to fully grasp. I’m asking you to try.

Listen, I don’t have all the answers, but I know this: most of the crazy stuff parents do and say is really just love in disguise. It sounds like nagging. It sounds like they don’t trust you or are not listening. They know. Right now they’re a little freaked out about the term “rising senior.” To them your high school career has been a blink of the eye. So even when you’re tired, even when it’s the fourth time, even when you have somewhere to be or someone to meet, I’m asking you to be a rising senior, rather than a child. And that means patience, kindness, grace.

Mindset and approach are a choice. Hugging your mama is not. May may be the month we observe Mother’s Day, but every day is a good one to hug your mama!

The summer is here. Your walk-up music is playing. In fact, like you, it is RISING. So Rise!

Value (Capture) in College Admissions

A few weeks ago, a friend told me about the concept of “Value Capture” – a phrase coined by Dr. Thi Nguyen, a philosophy professor at the University of Utah. Essentially, value capture occurs when a metric becomes the motivation for a certain behavior (Abstract and paper here.) 

For example, instead of posting pictures on social media to simply share with family and friends, we become focused on and consumed by the number of likes or impressions we receive. I appreciate Dr. Nguyen providing well- researched phrasing to what I tried to articulate with fewer citations (but more puns) in my blog: “What are you Strava-ing for?”, which served as a confession that my running had been hijacked by the stats of a fitness app.  

Before I had this app, I rarely brought my phone with me on a run unless I needed the flashlight or wanted to listen to a podcast. Before I had the app, I’d come home with new ideas or perspective, or just feeling lighter (minus my legs) because I’d tuned out and refilled my proverbial cup. Lately, I’ve been coming back and checking to see my pace, achievements, and who else I know has run those segments. Even in the middle of runs, I’ve found myself thinking, “I need to PR (personal record—it tracks those too) this mile or loop.” 

Not up for Dr. Nguyen’s 50+ page paper? In this 8-minute interview with best-selling author (Scarcity Brain and Comfort Crisis) and UNLV journalism professor, Michael Easter, they discuss the recognition of value capture as an invitation to continually check our motivations.  

Why am I doing this?  

What is driving me? 

And have I lost sight of “my why” in exchange for chasing numbers- or the comparison to others?

As a high school student, now is a common time to be selecting classes for next year. Beware of value capture. What are you chasing—the grade or the preparation? They are not the same.  

Why am I re-taking the SAT/ACT? Because a school I’m applying to has a merit scholarship connected to a particular score range—value. Because if I get 20 points higher I’ll be able to beat my brother’s score to rub it in his face—capture! 

Again: Why am I doing this? What is driving me? And have I lost sight of “my why” in exchange for chasing numbers- or the comparison to others? 

Value Capture Meet College Admission 

The more I read, listened, and thought about this framework, the more I realized the college admission experience (for everyone involved) is tailor- made to be value captured…and it has been—ohhh, how it has been. 

“In value capture, we take a central component of our autonomy — our ongoing deliberation over the exact articulation of our values — and we outsource it. And the metrics to which we outsource are usually engineered for the interests of some external force, like a large-scale institution’s interest in cross-contextual comprehensibility and quick aggregability. That outsourcing cuts off one of the key benefits to personal deliberation. In value capture, we no longer adjust our values and their articulations in light of our own rich experience of the world. Our values should often be carefully tailored to our particular selves or our small-scale communities, but in value capture, we buy our values off the rack.” 

Well, damn. There you have it. Let’s look at a few ways that students and colleges can be value captured- and how to keep this in check.  

Rankings 

And the metrics to which we outsource usually engineered for the interests of some external force, like a large-scale institution’s interest in cross-contextual comprehensibility and quick aggregability.” 

Sheesh! Can you say, “US News and World Report?!” Students and families value going to a good school. They want a place where faculty care, students learn, and graduates get jobs (If this language is too technical, please let me know). All reasonable and commendable desires/ values. But if not checked we can effectively outsource critical and independent thinking for a simplified ordering of colleges.  

Every year we hear stories from students who say they were discouraged from applying to schools ranked below number X; or decided only to apply to schools within the Top 10 in a particular field; or were pressured to ultimately choose the highest ranked school from which they received on offer of admission. No! 

Instead of considering individual needs and wants; instead of asking big questions about the types of settings in which we best learn or thrive; instead of being confident enough to do our own research and ask the questions that most matter to us, “we buy our values off the rack.”  

They call it the “College Search.” But that is not meant to be literal- as in  one-click on Google to serve up prescribed list. SEARCH means within yourself. It means asking big questions not drawing little lines between numbers on a contrived list. 

And what is particularly ironic about the “rackings” (definitely calling them that from here on out) dictating where you visit, apply, or ultimately attend, is the biggest factor in the US News rackings (Told you. See, I’m not even using quotes anymore) are not even numbers at all.  

What? YEP, 20% of the methodology is generated from the opinions of people who work at other colleges.  

What?! And to show you how little effort people put into these, only about 30% responded. 

What!! In the end, 1500~ (1000 fewer than 30% of this blog’s subscribers) highly biased and self-serving people dictated numbers that generate millions of dollars annually. Disturbing. Deeply, deeply disturbing.

Value capture, people. Unshackle yourselves from the rackings by continually asking: Why am I doing this? What is driving me? And have I lost sight of “my why” in exchange for chasing numbers- or the comparison to others? 

If you are a sophomore or a junior, try this map, rather than a list, to help you think differently.  

If you are a senior, wanting to make a personalized versus prescribed decisions on where to ultimately attend, how about this quote from Steve Jobs’ 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.

Admit rates = College Quality 

“We are vulnerable to value capture because of the competitive advantage that such pre-packaged value expressions have in our reasoning and our communications. But when we internalize such metrics, we damage our own autonomy. In value capture, we outsource the process of deliberating on our values. And that outsourcing cuts off one of the key benefits of personal deliberation.” 

Too many students and parents look at admit rates as a proxy for quality and take these numbers in isolation to make decisions and assumptions. Literally, this week I talked to a friend who cannot understand why his daughter is leaning toward one college to which she’s been admitted when she also got into a school that has an admit rate 2x lower. (Cough… value capture.)  

Now I didn’t get all Nguyen-y about it, but I did ask him to consider why his daughter is more interested in one over the other– and why he’s having trouble reconciling this. 

I also thought it was helpful to point out a few things about “admissions math:” 

a. Denominator. Colleges don’t all count apps the same way, and can easily up their n. Some schools require a transcript, test scores, and a completed application with supplements to count as an app. Others? Well, you hit submit on a pre-populated form and then unsubscribe to all follow up comms… yea, we’ll go ahead and count that.

b. Numerator. Through binding Early Decision plans or other layered application deadlines, schools can radically depress their admit count  because of the guaranteed enrollment of those admits. Sound like some dark Bayou magic math? Wave if you are following.

c. Still Numerator. Number of admits can be further decreased by intentionally waitlisting to gauge interest, deferring to watch engagement, or implementing other levers in the process.

Translation. You can’t trust the math. It’s not apples: apples. It’s fruity. But it’s not fruit. 

The big question to be asking is: What do you value?  

Perhaps the answer is: I want to go to a college that denies at least 3x more students than it admits because I value exclusion.  

Or I am deeply committed to single digits. I’ve never had a uniform number above 9; I was born in a month prior to October; and I always measure people in feet rather than inches.  

Sound ridiculous? Go online and buy a shirt that says, “I’ve been Value Freed!” If not, go here and sort by “Admission Rate.” Then find a shirt reading, “Olin = RISD” or “Berea > Bryn Mawr.”  

Flipping the Mirror 

Suffice it to say, when it comes to both the rankings and admit rate, colleges should be asking themselves the same questions.  

Why are we doing this?  

What is driving us?  

And have we lost sight of “our why” in exchange for chasing numbers- or the comparison to others? 

However, I’m not holding my breath to find the answers to those questions on any college’s mission statement, list of values, or strategic plan soon. 

Values 

“Value capture occurs when an agent enters a social environment which presents external expressions of value — which are often simplified, standardized, and quantified — and those external versions come to dominate our reasoning and motivations.” 

I believe you are more than an agent. I believe you have agency. And as a talented high school student and a future college student, there is no better time than now to embrace that distinction.  

 

3 Ways to Spread Cheer in College Admission

With a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter, we have many things in our house. Family consensus, however, is rarely one.

The variety of opinions between the four of us is comical at times. At times. Mostly it’s maddening. From seemingly simple decisions of what/where to eat to the conservatorship of Britney Spears, on nearly a daily basis, there are adamant divergent perspectives about music, sports, and what constitutes important or urgent.

The subject that garners the most consternation, however, is movies. Typically, two of us agree, and we can coerce one other to concede. But getting the fourth? Oh baby! It’s like the backroom machinations or public theater of moving Congressional legislation: name calling, bribery, blackmail, horse trading, posturing, grandstanding… and that’s all just from my wife.

Thankfully, at this time of year, there is a movie that we not only all agree on but are actually jointly excited to watch…ELF. You knew that was coming, right?! Who doesn’t love ELF? If that’s you, feel free to unsubscribe. If you haven’t seen this modern classic, do yourself a favor and check it out today.

Naturally, we still have some disagreement surrounding this movie, but it’s more about when to watch. My daughter contends it should be the first movie of the holiday season, while I advocate for it to be last. Typically, this means it is the one movie we watch twice in December. We also each have different favorite scenes: “Mailroom,” “Snowball fight,” “Unmasking Santa,” and the bathroom rendition of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” are our four.

The movie also contains fantastic lines that each of us quote during December and periodically throughout the year:

“Santa!! I know him.”

“He’s an angry elf!”

“Congratulations! The world’s best cup of coffee!”

“Make work your favorite. Work’s your new favorite.” (You can probably guess who says that one and when in our house).

Regardless of your favorite scene/line in ELF, I think we can all agree that “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” The truth is we could all use more cheer in our lives in general, and in college admission, particularly this year, cheer sounds pretty good right about now.

So, if you are a high school senior, here are three easy ways to spread admissions cheer:

  1. Make Celebrating Your New Favorite. When you into a college, whether or not it is your absolute top choice, your job is to celebrate. If you find yourself saying, “Yea. Well, I figured I’d get in there,” or “I’m in. But it’s my backup,” or it’s “just the University of X,” then you are doing this wrong. Wrong I say! Naughty list. C’mon, man. You put in the time, effort, thought, and money to apply to each college. When they come back with an admit, you are obligated to smile. What?! You don’t remember signing that agreement on the Common App? Trust me. It was there.

People call these offers of admission. Forget that. It’s an invitation- an amazing opportunity- and another choice you get to make! Amazing. What human doesn’t want invitations, options, and choices? Congratulations! Celebrate every win. Go to dinner, buy yourself something. You do you. But promise me you’ll celebrate. Spread that cheer, people.

2. Move the “Clausometer.” As we discussed recently, the college admission experience, if done right, is a chance to learn, grow, discover, and mature. But did you know it can also make you a better friend? That’s correct. For no additional charge, college admission can actually improve your relationships with classmates, teammates, and peers. I don’t know what’s happening with you right now. Maybe you have been admitted Early Decision and are excited, happy, and at peace. Maybe you were deferred or denied by a school where you were really hoping to be admitted—or likely somewhere in between. Not to get all Papa Elf on you, but… that’s life.

When things are going well and you are excited about your momentum and successes, it’s easy to forget to celebrate the wins and successes of others. Conversely, whether it be disappointment or lack of contentment with your job, relationships, finances, influence, etc., we can miss the opportunity to lift our friends up and come around them in their winning moments. “The best way to spread admission cheer, is to sing loud for all to hear.” Who in your life is fired up about an admit they recently received? What can you do to celebrate that? Be a good friend. Sing it with me—Loud for all to hear!

3. Celebrate that “Someone Special!” It is hard work being a teacher, a counselor, a coach, etc. Getting into college is an excuse to give them some love. My hope is that every time you get admitted you will be reminded that you did not get there alone. Somebody drove you to school and practice. Somebody taught and coached you. Somebody paid for stuff (technical term) and made big sacrifices along the way on your behalf. You are great! Of course. But you have been made great by a collective effort and consistent investment. The support that amplified your talent and potential.

Take the time this month to look around and “sing” thank you. A sibling, parent, teacher, coach, relative, or a manager…or all of the above. This is not text time, friends. I’m going to challenge you to step it up here and go to them in person. Imagine the joy and excitement you’ll be able to share together if you walk in, high five/fist bump/hug them and acknowledge that they are a big reason for the opportunities you have now. Let’s get ELF-ish here and sing this one with some real gusto.

Happy Holidays!

Fittingly, this makes the 23rd blog of 2023! I am deeply appreciative for you taking the time to read, consider, share… and SING! Enjoy time with your friends and family this season. I sincerely hope you will rest, relax, and be reminded of what is really important. You are bound for amazing things in 2024. Looking forward to being part of that. Much love and Happy Holidays, friends.

5th Annual College Admissions Preparation Day

Re-upping this blog based on a few recent conversations with college and neighborhood friends who have kids in the admission process right now. Instead of texting or calling individually, I’ll just be forwarding this. You may call it impersonal– I call it efficient. Po-tay-toe, Po-taa-toe! 

Regardless, if you are a senior, or you are currently supporting one, I hope you will READ ON!

Text: “My daughter was deferred. We were SHOCKED! What does that really mean?” (FYI this was another school’s decision. If you are waiting on EA decisions from Tech, you have not missed anything.)

My first thought was, “Really? You were shocked? You know their profile and admit rate.” My second thought was, “I’ll deal with this on Monday,” and I put my phone on do not disturb (because that’s the kind of friend I am).

About 30 minutes later I was talking to another friend. He has one kid in college and two still in high school. He told me that after watching his older son go through the admission process he has been telling his current high school senior who is applying to colleges to be prepared to hear “no.” The dichotomy between these two approaches was both striking and instructive. More importantly, it made me realize we need to add another key date to the admission calendar.

August 1- Many colleges open their application.

October 1- FAFSA opens.

November 1- EA/ED Deadlines at lots of colleges and universities.

May 1- National Deposit Deadline.

PreparationSo, by the power vested in me (which is none, by the way) I pronounce December 1 as National Preparation Day!

By or on this day, henceforth, any high school senior applying Early Action or Early Decision to a college with an admit rate of less than 50 percent must put their hand on a large, preferably leather-bound book of some kind and take this pledge:

“I, (state your name), being of sound (though overly caffeinated) mind and (sleep-deprived) body, do hereby swear that I will not presume anything in the admission process. Upon advice of my wizened counselor sages, I acknowledge that I will not look at middle 50 percent ranges and expect that my scores, though in the top quartile, guarantee my admittance.

I will not look at middle 50 percent ranges of hitherto admitted classes and expect my scores, though in the bottom quartile, will be overlooked based on my amazing essay, parents’ connections, pictures of me in a onesie from that college, or the 12 letters of recommendation that have been sent on my behalf.

I understand the heretofore explicated concept of holistic admission is neither fair nor perfect, wherein I will likely not agree with, nor be capable of predicting all results, despite the complex algorithms I employ or the kingdom fortune tellers I visit.

Furthermore, I agree that I will not view an admission decision as an indictment of my character, a judgment on my hitherto demonstrated preparation, nor a prediction of my future success.”

Note: Slightly misused Olde English conjunctions does not negate the spirit nor effectiveness of this pledge.

So What Does Defer Mean?

Back to my friend who’s daughter was deferred… what does defer actually mean, and what do you do with that decision?

It means you have some work to do.

You need to send in your fall grades. You may need to write an additional essay or tell the admission committee more about your senior year extracurricular activities. Defer is a “hold on.” It is a “maybe.” Don’t like those characterizations? Fine—call it “tell us more.” They will be looking at how you’ve done in a challenging senior schedule, or if your upward grade trend will continue, or if you can juggle more responsibility outside the classroom with your course load. Bottom line is you have work to do. Are you going to get admitted in the next round? No promises. But if getting deferred is what helps keep you focused and motivated, you should look at their decision as a good thing. Finish well.

It means you may need to submit another application or two. 

If you’ve already got this covered, that’s great. You were ahead of Preparation Day. If not, then good news—many great schools have deadlines in January. The bottom line is you need applications in at a few schools with higher admit rates and lower academic profiles than the one that deferred you.

It means holistic review is a real thing.

If your scores and grades are above their profile and they defer you, they only proved what they said in their publications and presentations—admission is about more than numbers. At Georgia Tech we are knee-deep in application review. We have not released decisions, but day in and day out we are slating students for defer who have ACT scores of 35 or 36 and great grades. Is that “shocking?” It shouldn’t be. Institutional priorities, shaping a class, and supply and demand drive admission decisions. Similarly, if your scores are in the middle or below their profile, a defer also proves decisions are made using more than just numbers.

It means you need to check your ego and wait.

Does that sound harsh? Sorry—but sometimes, life is harsh. This is why you should take the pledge. It’s why have formally added Preparation Day to the admission calendar. Take the Pledge(Someone update the NACAC website!) If you are prepared for “no,” then a defer will not rock you as bad. Admission decisions feel personal. How could they not? Nobody loves spending a few more months in limbo. But this is not about you. This is about schools who are hedging their bets and wanting to evaluate you in context of their overall pool. Kind of sucks. I get it. But too many students do not send in fall grades, complete the deferred form, or send other information schools ask for because they’ve never heard of a “maybe” ( perhaps the first they’ve ever heard). Think of the admission experience as your first foray into your college years and start looking at maybes as good things. If you liked a school enough to apply, finish the drill. Give them reasons to admit you in the next round. It is called an admission process. There are rounds for a reason. Don’t go halfway and stop.

It means you need to look forward, not backward.

I was not going to text my friend back and say defer means to “put off or delay,” but technically that is the definition. For you it means to look forward to something in the future. DO NOT look back! DO NOT second guess whether you should have taken AP Geography in the ninth grade instead of band, or blame Mr. Thompson for giving you an 89 instead of a 93 that would have bumped your GPA by .00083. This is your MARTA bus moment.

It means control what you can control. 

People want so desperately to predict and analyze admission decisions that are influenced by macro institutional goals and made in rooms they will never enter. Defer means stay focused on the micro. This is your one and only senior year.  Do well—but more importantly do good. Don’t worry about those rooms hundreds of miles away, but rather the ones you walk into every day. Be a good friend. Be a good sibling. Be a good teammate. Go thank a teacher that wrote a recommendation for you. Hug your mama.

December 1 is here. Preparation Day. Take the pledge.

Listen to Preparation Day on the College Admission Brief podcast!: Spreaker | Spotify | Apple Podcasts

College Application Submission, 3 Final Checks

I fly a lot. Not “consultant a lot” or “pilot a lot,” but monthly or multi-monthly for sure. Over time I’ve gotten pretty good about tuning out the safety video that precedes take off. Recently, however, I saw one that caught my attention. Instead of a flight attendant walking down the aisle of a plane or vested and scarved employees’ predictably demonstrating seat belt tightening techniques, this one took place in a theater with ushers, a stage, and an entirely different context for how to discuss the same topics. It caught my attention. I watched the entire production. And, for the first time ever, confirmed I actually had a flotation device below my seat.   

It’s October. You may have picked up on that based on the cooler weather, the preponderance of pumpkins, and possibly… just possibly Christmas music playing in a shop. Do I think they should be fined? YES. Is that what this blog is about? NO. Do I think Christmas is the global warming of Holidays? YES. Do I understand even mentioning global warming may be a way to lose readership/followers/applicants? YES. Do I care? NO. 

Anyhoo… it’s October. This is a huge application submission month, since many colleges have EA (Early Action) and ED (Early Decision) deadlines on or around October 15 and November 1. Over the years, I have come to understand and appreciate through writing books and blogs that we all want some security, comfort, and peace in knowing that we are done and ready to hit submit, aka to “take off.”

So, if you are a senior who is logging in multiple times to your Common Application to be sure everything is saved; if you find yourself going down YouTube rabbit holes about “essays that worked;” or if you find yourself obsessively re-ordering your Activities list, here is your pre-flight safety video, aka pre-submission final checklist, designed to give you some solace and confirmation that you are set and clear.

Final Checks

  1. Look over your entire application. Flight attendants walk the whole plane checking to be sure seats are in their upright position, tray tables are locked, and all bags are stowed securely under the seat in front of you (Told you… multi-monthly). You should be disturbed and disconcerted if they only check first class or shrug their shoulders disinterestedly if an overhead bin is open with a 30 lb. dumbbell teetering on the edge.  

My point? Too many students obsess about their essay, but they do not have anyone read their entire application for them. Do this! Have a parent, a friend, or another supporting adult you trust “walk the entire plane.” The question they should be asking is “What is missing?” We established last time that while super form-y, the application is actually YOUR STORY. So have them look for what details or interesting parts of the plot, or instrumental character development is either absent, buried, or needs to be revisited.  

After you receive feedback and make your edits, convert your entire application to a .pdf. and both save it and print it out. First, this is how colleges see your application- in .pdf format. And it does look different from how you see it on the screen. Second, you will inevitably see something in that different view which will help you make final adjustments. And third, having a saved .pdf on file will provide you additional solace, and possible back up, if there are issues or questions later. I’ve seen this be a huge benefit to students for a variety of reasons in the past.

2. Sleep on it. I’m guessing you have sent hurried texts, snaps, or emails in the past to the wrong person, or having left out word (see what I did there?), or with an illogical .gif (not going to debate pronunciation).  

Before you submit your app, I want you to take at least 1 day-and ideally two- away from working on it. A final look with fresh eyes and hopefully some good rest in between will help you catch mistakes, make valuable edits, or be confident that you’ve said what you want to. You want a well- rested, fresh- eyed pilot flying your plane, right?

Don’t be “that guy” who calls asking about time zones on November 1. Technology fails, credit cards don’t go through, and sending anything in around 11:59 p.m. just sounds like an all around bad idea. We’re trying to fly a plane here, people. Let’s be professional.

3. Confirm your destination. Recently, I was on a plane that was still parked at the gate. The pilot announced over the PA, “We are set for an on-time departure. The weather looks good the entire way up to Detroit. If you don’t want to go to Detroit, now is the time to deboard.” It was humorous, and seemingly ridiculous given all the ID and boarding pass checks it now takes to get onto a plane, but apparently those mistakes still happen.  

Before you hit submit, ask yourself if you would go to each of the schools you are applying to. Does that sound as dumb to read as it does to write? Do it anyway! Every year kids with high grades, tough classes, and good test scores, apply to schools where when they get in, they ultimately say, “They admitted me, but I was never really interested in going there.” So, look your list over. If you are on the plane to Detroit and you do not want to go there, please get off. Don’t waste their time or your money. You should be excited and sincerely interested in every school on your list! 

This is your captain speaking… 

After you have gone through these final checks, my hope is you will feel confident and excited, rather than nervous or anxious about getting airborne (i.e., hitting submit). And once you do, sit back, relax, and enjoy your senior year. You only get one, and it’s not worth wasting unnecessarily by expending energy worrying about things you cannot control that may or may not be happening in committee rooms hundreds of miles away. Instead, commit yourself to being a positive influence and a meaningful contributor in the rooms you walk into each day- your living room, classroom, etc.   

Fly well, my friends!