Navigating College Admissions: An UN-romantic Solution

I distinctly remember growing up and watching my parents have “Sunday night meetings.” They would bring their calendars (yep, hard copy with pencils) to the kitchen after we’d cleared the table to discuss the week ahead. When we were little, my sister and I really didn’t understand what they were doing. We were just glad they were occupied so we could pick whatever TV show we wanted to watch. In high school, I distinctly recall coming into the kitchen for a snack during study break, witnessing these logistical negotiations, and thinking, “If this is marriage, count me out.”

twain-quoteNow, however, I’m willing to concede the beauty and brilliance of the “Sunday night meeting,” because allocating that time allowed freedom. See, once they’d nailed down their own work schedules for the week and decided who was going to drive me and my sister to the games or performances or events, they didn’t have to talk about the details again. Listen, it still doesn’t sound romantic, but it gave them the rest of their week to talk about other things (presumably some of that was romantic, but these are my parents, and this is a family blog).

Application (no pun intended) to the Admission Process

As I watch more of my neighbors and friends with kids in high school (particularly during junior and senior year), it is clear that dispersed conversations and questions about scholarships, deadlines, essays, or plans to visit colleges often become a swirling, all-consuming mess. More importantly, they create unnecessary tension and division. Students feel like every time they come downstairs for a meal the “college talk” begins. Parents feel like their intelligent offspring has somehow lost the ability to string consecutive words together or convey ideas in multi-syllabic words.

Quick Quiz

Parents: Are you bringing up college options, deadlines, or test dates at a variety of unchecked times and days throughout the week?

Students: Test yourself: Do you frequently answer your parents’ sequential questions about college with: “Good,” “Okay,” “No,” “Huh?” Do you pretend like your phone is ringing and head for the car when mom asks, “Have you asked Mrs. Johnson for that rec yet?”

If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” I want to strongly encourage the implementation of the “Sunday Night Meeting.” Not necessarily on Sunday, but one consolidated time each week when college is on the proverbial– and perhaps literal– table.

 ground-rulesParents: You GET TO BRING brochures you’ve noticed in the mail. This is YOUR TIME to say, “Hey, look honey, the leaves are turning in South Bend. Isn’t it pretty?” You GET TO ASK, “Have you written your supplemental essays for SMU?” Or “Do you still want to take that trip to Maine to look at schools in November?” THIS IS YOUR TIME FOR: “Did you get your ACT results back?” Or “Is the University of Wisconsin psychology program highly ranked?” It’s all free game.

Students: You DON’T GET TO BRING your cell phone or really crunchy snacks. You DON’T GET to look at your shoes more than three times or for beyond six seconds. You have to FULLY ENGAGE in this conversation. I’m not going to be super obnoxious and give you a link to the definition of conversation or discussion in the dictionary, because you know what that looks like. ONE time a week… for only two hours (1/12 of that day!). You got this!

Outside of the “Sunday night meeting,” however, college talk is banned. Mom, dad: You drive past a car with a Princeton or Michigan State sticker. Not a peep. Sean next door gets accepted to Auburn or Colorado College, send a text in congratulations or post something online. Mute button is on at home.

Now, I get that it’s college football season. I have no problem with passionate support of your alma mater or understandable vitriol for your opponent. But that can’t transition to, “You’re not really going to apply there are you?” Or “Look at their fans. They just don’t look smart…”

Two Important Truths

  1. The reason your parents are bringing up college, asking you questions, and expressing their opinions is partly because they’re not convinced you are on it. If you answer their questions, show you have a plan, and demonstrate that you are making progress on applications and working towards deadlines, you’ll dramatically diminish the seemingly incessant nagging.
    truth
  2. It’s not nagging! It’s love. “Sunday night meetings” are not romantic. They weren’t then, and still aren’t now. But they are rooted in love. The time your parents take, the questions they ask, their desire to see things taken care of  is absolutely grounded in deep affection. They know you’re going to head off to college in the next year or two. There is some fear in that, and a lot of excitement. Every now and then they can’t believe you’re taking AP Biology or standing at over 6 feet tall. Somehow carpool lines and tricycles don’t seem like that long ago. Give ’em a break. Fear, excitement, love– these all warrant you being fully engaged. Two hours a week (1.1% of your week!): Answer the questions; look them in the eye; put down your phone—and every now and then, how about a hug?

Long live the #SNM!

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The Definitive College Admission Field Guide

Last week my kids had Fall Break. I’m not going to lie…. I went into it feeling pretty cynical. A: it’s not fall, and B: they really don’t need a break. Six weeks and then a week off. Come on, man. Soft.

But my wife wanted to be sure “we did something fun ‘FOR THEM.'” (She’s crafty like that.) So while I worked at the beginning of the week, I took the latter part off and headed to the lake to meet up with them and some friends. I drove alone late one night and got there in the pitch black dark. The whole way I was thinking about all the things I could be getting done at home. But when I woke up the next morning to the sun shining off the water, a good cup of coffee in my hand, and some built in entertainment for our kids, the switch flipped immediately. Just the latest in a long line of “You were right” moments in my life and marriage.

“You’re hungry? Grab some pretzels. I know it’s 9 a.m. Don’t care. I’m on vacation.” We took the boat out. The boys wake boarded and knee boarded and jumped between dueling tubes. Me? Snacked. Put my hat over my eyes and lounged. Finally, I got on the mega inflatable couch with the two 5-year old girls and then basked in the sun as they sang and danced to “Shut up and Dance with Me!” Didn’t question the lyrics or think about this same pair 10 years from now in bathing suits with boys next to them. Nope. I leaned back… and breathed.

Take a Breath

We all need that, right? Just a good, long, selfish breath. We get into patterns that are necessary but also tiresome: Wake up, head to school, go to practice, study. Rinse and repeat.

And in the admission process you need that breath, too. Same brochures coming each day with taglines only varying by verb tense, school colors, and font. Campus tours like death marches with polo clad, flip flop wearing guides citing the number of volumes in a library or the myriad flavors of ice cream available in the dining hall. College reps at fairs and at your school touting that they’re #23 for number benches on campus. And the beat drones on…

We feel your pain. And in a “lake moment” we decided to create the definitive “Admission Field Guide.” I hope you will find it different. And refreshing.

It’s created to help you navigate this year smoothly: to give you helpful tips for your application, essays, and interactions in the college admission process; to remind you to laugh and breath along the way; and ultimately to enable you to find the college that will help you thrive and achieve your goals.

Even if you don’t click on these links or watch the videos, I earnestly encourage you take breaks this year. Go to the lake (even if it’s figuratively). Dance and sing. Surround yourself with the people who know how to help YOU take care of YOU. At the end of the day I’ll be singing this: “Shut up and breathe with me!”

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The Welcome Manual, Step 2: Don’t Sit!

The Welcome Manual, Step 2

At Georgia Tech we’ve made a real effort to clarify holistic review , de-stress the admission process, and use a variety of mediums to try to help you do a great job on your application.

Still, when I ask current freshmen to reflect on their admission process, I’m surprised by their misconceptions of the basic elements. Either these were not well communicated, not really heard (despite a lot of nodding heads when I look out into audiences), or perhaps not believed. I’m still working on my “trust me” hand sign, but I have to admit: it’s frustrating to know there is still so much misinformation and misunderstanding. And to be honest, often these conversations are with kids whose parents attended college, and who have access to college counselors in their high schools. That being said, it worries me to think about students who are in schools with student:counselor ratios of nearly 500:1 (the– disturbing– national average).

In Part 1 of The Welcome Manual, we talked about separating yourself in your writing– being you, conveying your passions, and looking at your essays and supplements like an interview. Today we are going to hit on another “lesson learned” or “wish I’d known” from college freshmen who have just gone through the admission process.

Since The Common Application opens August 1, let’s walk through this together (cue the dream sequence).Step2_Banner

The Schedule

August 1-3: You create a username and login. You quickly knock out your name, address, date of birth, and overall biographical information. Maybe you get slightly delayed for an evening or two while finding out mom or dad’s work address or details on length of citizenship in your state– but this section is pretty straightforward (note: if you find questions such as address or middle name difficult, please see your school counselor immediately).

August 8 (being generous): You come to the extra- curricular portion. Let’s allow some time to consider and deliberate over the order to list these activities. “Will they think it’s more impressive that I played cul-de-sac whiffleball or was awarded ‘Bee of the Month’ for April as Applebee’s hostess?” Again, however, that section is pretty straight forward. Couple nights and DONE– because effectively it is what it is.

August 12: Understandably, when you get to the essays and supplements, you are going to need some time (although, many college freshmen say they actually wrote those over the summer, which we advise.) You write, revise, edit, solicit an editor or two, remind the editor to do their job, consider those edits, revise. This process should take a month, max.

Mid- September: Students I talked to said they hit some delays in making a few college visits or determining exactly which schools to apply to. Or, they had a big test or project that kept them from immediately submitting, so we will account for that.

Oct 1: Submit. Done.

Sit-Less-Walk-with-Attitude-BlogThe Reality

Does reality follow the schedule above? Nope. Students said they just just sat on their applications… and admitted they sat on them way too long. They sat and sat. They ate and slept and went on an occasional date, and then they sat some more. If the application were an egg, it would have long since hatched and then been crushed by mama for not moving.

My question: “WHY?” Most said they were nervous– anxious about being judged. I also heard, “I thought I might realize something was missing” or “that I might want to add something to improve it.”

My Advice

ME: “Ok. So did you?”

They said: “No.” And similarly they unanimously said how relieved they were once they finished and could move on with their senior year. Now they had time to focus more on their senior grades, or on Homecoming, or simply on not sitting.

I’m just reporting what I’ve heard (and adding a few occasionally cheesy parentheticals). But here’s the bottom line: Knock it out and send it in! And tell your friends. “See Sitting, Say Something.” #ssss — it’s a thing.

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Plan the Work and Work the Plan

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

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

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

Colleagues from public universities from around the U.S.

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

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

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

PLAN THE WORK

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

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

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

WORK THE PLAN

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

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

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

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

oregon rainbow

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

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

Make it a summer!

In the world of college admission, March and April are a busy time as campuses host prospective underclassmen, admitted seniors, and their families. Those heavy visit months come right on the heels of an isolated and compressed winter hibernation (also known as application reading season). And that period was immediately preceded by a fall of heavy recruitment travel, which is guaranteed to garner lots of hotel and airline points but ruin some otherwise promising millennial romantic relationships. Personally, I love that this work is highly cyclical, and you’ll notice that career admission folks will schedule weddings, vacations, tax submissions, and house closings around this schedule (attempts to schedule births are noble but less predictable, and often met with mixed reactions from spouses).

So each year as May arrives, I’ve started telling myself and our staff to “make it a summer!” Summer is our time to think, reflect, plan, and just relax a little. We encourage staff to work remotely more consistently; put the suits, ties, and dresses in the closet for a while; take vacation; get out to professional development conferences and workshops; and build campus relationships when everyone has more capacity. Make it a summer: go to the beach; don’t stay longer at the office than you need to; build that deck; and hang out with your friends and family. Admittedly, at times it can feel a bit neurotic. It’s how I imagine Manitobans treat the month of August: “Go!! Do everything this month before the snows return and your flip flops are buried until this time next year.”

If you are wrapping up your junior year, I suggest you “make it a summer,” because even though you are excited about exams being over and the pool opening, sometimes as the weather warms up, so to can the pressure from parents and others about your upcoming senior year and the college application process.

So stay calm and check out these seven tips for making the most of your summer

One: Write

Writing your essays in the summer allows you to spend your senior fall focusing on school and life outside the classroom, rather than agonizing over your introductory paragraph. My guess is when it comes to completing the application, you’ll nail your name and birthday pretty easily. It’s the essays that take time. And let’s be honest, writing by the pool is a lot more appealing than on October 15 at 11:38 p.m. in your room with mom looking over your shoulder yelling, “Submit! Submit! Submit!” Just a heads up, the Common Application and Coalition Application essay prompts are now posted for your writing enjoyment.

Two: Visit

Summer visits often get a bad rap because fewer students are on campus. While this may be true at some schools, summer visits are a great way to rule places in or out of consideration.

If you visit and discover that you don’t like the town/city, or the campus has too much green grass, or the gothic architecture freaks you out, that’s not going to change if students are walking around and leaves are falling. Often advisors and faculty (if you give them advance notice) have more time in the summer to meet and talk– as do admission officers. You can revisit schools you’re interested in  after you are admitted, or in the fall to confirm you want to apply.

Three: Homework

Normally, when I say that word my second-grade son falls over and starts rolling around on the ground. In hopes you won’t have the same response, let’s call it “poolwork.” Regardless, this is the season for narrowing your college list and determining exactly where you want to apply. Use resources like BigFuture or CollegeView as well as less conventional tools such as Reddit or College Confidential. We’ve also found this to be one of the most helpful, creative, and comprehensive websites in the college admission space. Keep in mind (minus the last site) these are only one part of the equation, but the more pieces you compile, the better cumulative picture you will have of a place.

Four: Relax

It’s summer. Enjoy it. The truth is, you don’t need to put your summer calendar into an optimized spreadsheet to enjoy your senior year or have a good plan for applying to colleges. Ultimately, there is no perfect formula. A certain enrichment program, mission trip, or particular internship isn’t going to “get you in” to a specific school. So, this summer don’t think too much about a high GPA — do think about a high SPF.

Five: Work

Gotta love “work” coming right after “relax.” Sheesh! You have an opportunity every summer, but particularly right before your final year in high school, to get a sense of the type of job you might ultimately want.

Even if you don’t land a paying job, maybe you can work out a deal to get in 10 to 15 hours a week volunteering at a local business or organization. Being in a professional environment will give you a sense of what you may or may not want to pursue. And to be honest, working in any setting is a good thing, even if it’s at the local yogurt shop (just keep your job by not giving away too much away for free), or waiting tables or selling camping equipment at REI. My favorite high school job was delivering Chinese food. Good money, quality time listening to music, and I now have no need for the Waze app because I still have all streets in my hometown in my head. Downside is I consumed more fortune cookies in those two years than most humans could in two lifetimes.

Six: Learn

What do you love? What is the most interesting topic or subject for you? Look around and see if a local university or community college is offering a course in that field. Not only could you earn college credit, but you’ll get a good sense of the rigor and pace of a college course.

Schedule too tight or not too concerned about earning credit? How about a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)? Learning in this environment will serve you well as you head to college, and certainly in your career as this medium will be increasingly vital to business and relationship cultivation. What better way to stretch your knowledge of a field and also grow as a learner than taking a course in this format?

Seven: Network

Reach out to an older student you know who just finished senior year. Ask them fresh off their admission search and decision making process about lessons learned, tips, and so on. Extra Credit: Find someone coming home after freshman year in college. There is often no better resource for insight into a college — especially one farther from home — than a student who once sat in your high school and adjusted to that living and learning environment from your hometown. (If you end up getting a date out of this, give a shout out @gtadmission)

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