Juniors, College Admission is a Stereogram

On Saturday night I was at a party. In these settings, when I am talking to people I don’t know very well, I find they generally broach a few central topics with me- sports/running, my kids/their school, and college/college admission- not always in that order.  

While it may surprise you based on this blog or our podcast, my goal is always to move as quickly away from the college admission discussion as possible, especially when people start breaking out their daughter’s transcript. I’m still working on my segways to different subjects, and admittedly, some are smoother than others. To this point, I’ve only had to resort to my nuclear options (pretend like my phone is ringing or fake a coughing fit) twice.  

Saturday night I pulled an amazing transition that took us from a spiraling commentary on standardized test scores to reminiscing about the prevalence of “stereogram” posters in college dorm rooms in the 90s. For those of you born after I graduated college, a stereogram is an image that gives a three-dimensional representation of another object. While I do not have the sales data for my time at UNC, I’d put stereogram posters just below Air Jordan, but decidedly ahead of album covers or motivational quotes on landscapes.  

The trick to seeing the hidden 3D objects is not to focus on the poster itself, but instead to allow your eyes to see “into” the colors and let the real image take shape. In some cases, you need to close your eyes and reset, change positions, or step away momentarily to see beyond what your eyes are naturally trained to recognize. Try a few for yourself here. 

Admission as Stereogram 

January and February are extremely common times for high schools to host programs for juniors.  “College Kick Off,” “Starting the College Conversation,” and “Admission 101” are a few of the panel titles I’ve seen recently. Often, the moderator will ask, “What is one thing you would like to leave folks with before we conclude?” Over the years, I’ve had a variety of responses, but one of the most important is- focus on what really matters to you, rather than being distracted by many of the initial or obvious components of the college admission search. Like a stereogram, look into what you see. And more importantly, look beyond what you see.  

Applications are not the REAL picture. Many colleges around the country had final deadlines in early January. Invariably, they will produce a myriad of press releases, infographics, and social media posts about “record numbers” of applications or comparisons to prior years; journalists write articles about application increases and decreases by sector or geographic region; educational companies create tables to compare app numbers across universities; and university boards will either tout or bemoan this specific metric. As a student considering colleges, I’m encouraging you not to focus on application numbers- and definitely not to use this as a comparative tool between schools.   

Why? Because application counts are not apples: apples. Many people will equate the number of applications a school receives as some barometer for popularity or value. The truth is colleges often count and publicize their total applications even if they are not “actionable.” As an example, this year Georgia Tech received over 52,000 applications. That is a lot. And it’s a lot more than last year or five years ago. It’s also more than some schools and less than others (I know. You are here for the mind-blowing data). Georgia Tech, however, at the direction of our state system, requires test scores. Currently, 4500 of our applicants have not submitted a test score. Still, when asked about app totals we will report over 52,000 received, because some portion of that 4500 will ultimately become “complete.” Other schools have multiple steps and stages in their application process. If you only complete Part One of four, the odds are they are counting you in their reports, even though you were not ultimately a viable candidate for admission.  

Admit rates are blurry. I get it. They seem straightforward. You see an admit rate in a column on some online table or presentation and think, “Got it.” Nope. See, that’s exactly how people felt back in the day walking into college dorm rooms. “Nice poster, man. I like all the random colors and swirling lines.”  

Look closer. Step away if you need to. Admit rates vary within the same institution. Where you are applying from, when you are applying, and sometimes what you are applying to study all enhance the swirl and blur of the stereogram. For instance, if you are applying to a school with Early Decision, it’s important to ask questions and do your homework to determine any gaps or variance between applying under that plan vs. Early Action or Regular Decision or some other acronym, date, or plan they may offer. If you are applying to a public school, ask about admit rates for students from in-state or out-of-state, or even students from “my state” or region of the country.  

For far too long colleges have boasted about (and people have assigned disproportionate value to) the number of students a school turns away. My hope is you will be more interested in determining the type of people who are actually on campus, rather than who or how many did not end up there. 

The Real Image 

Rankings, number of benches on campus, student: squirrel/deer ratio…. I could list many other numbers that people tout or hold up as signs of quality or importance. As this new year begins, I am hopeful you will treat your college admission experience like a stereogram. Numbers, percentages, and many of the other statistics are where people too often start and focus. I’m not saying you should completely ignore all admission data, but beginning by quantifying, especially now knowing how jacked up some of this data really is, can prevent you from seeing all of your choices and options. And they often create a blurry, swirling, initial picture that distracts you from focusing on the true image—YOU.  

As a junior, start by asking yourself questions that have nothing to do with numbers. Why do I want to go to college? What type of people bring out my best? What environments bring out my best as a person and a learner? What are my short- and long-term goals? If you will invest your time honestly considering what you really care about and what you want; if you will periodically step back, close your eyes, and re-focus, then you’ll find plenty of colleges that align with your answers. College admission is a stereogram– have the patience and perspective to allow it to emerge and take shape like a 3D image.  

Choices and Options- A Blueprint for College Admission

Would you rather eat a bowl of worms or drink a gallon of sour milk? 

Would you rather walk to school naked one day or walk to school backwards every day? 

Would you rather sit on a nail or stand on a push pin? 

These are just a few of the queries I overheard recently at a sixth-grade girls spend the night party. Hold on. Let me clarify- I have a sixth-grade daughter and I was washing dishes while they were playing this game in the adjoining room. (Just didn’t want you canceling this blog based on the wrong idea.) Anyway… none of these or the other options sounded great to me. And I thought about them. Really, I’m still thinking about them. I mean worms or sour milk? Just not sure. It’s the gallon that gets me. If it were a pint, I’d go milk without question. The quantity was a brilliant add. 

 I actually find would you rather instructive for college admission, because ultimately, (just like the colleges I wrote about last time) having choices and options is the goal for students and applicants. Unless you get into a college under an Early Decision plan, the ideal situation is to be able to sit down in the spring of your senior year with multiple offers of admission- and financial aid packages from those places that make it affordable and enticing for you to attend. Unlike sixth-grade girls who clearly only incorporate embarrassing or painful options, you want to have to make a tough decision because the options are so good. And in my experience, the college students who are the most satisfied with their choice are the ones who know they intentionally picked that school over other viable options.  

So how do you end up with choices and options?  

As a freshman and sophomore this starts with doing well in high school classes, and doing good outside of them. In other words, challenge yourself academically to the point where you can learn, enjoy, and still have capacity to contribute to your school, family, and community beyond school hours. At the end of the day, colleges want good high school students. They want kids who are well prepared academically and ones who will add to their campus life and ethos too. Your goal in 9th and 10th grade is simply to set a foundation. Work hard academically, learn to study, focus on time management, advocate for yourself, and get involved in things where you can really have an impact or influence.  

When colleges review transcripts, they start with the ninth grade and work from there. They are asking questions around what you could have taken, what you chose to take, and how you did in each class during each grade. On the Common Application, you’ll also be asked to indicate which years in high school you participated in various activities.  Your goal is to be kind to your current self by getting sleep and not overloading and be kind to your future self by investing now inside and outside the classroom. Having choices and options for college as a senior, comes from making good choices throughout high school. 

As a junior starting to explore colleges (and likely starting to receive lots of mail and email from schools), you should be thinking honestly and earnestly about what you really want and need in an academic environment, and the type of setting in which you can thrive. Does 30,000 students sound exciting and dynamic or terrifying? Does snow from October to March bring about visions of skiing or crying? Does the college you root for or know best have the major you really want?  

Honing in on places that focus on what you are focused on will help you eliminate colleges that don’t match your interests and invest time, money, or other resources visiting and exploring the places that do. This is not easy. It demands keeping an open mind when brochures from places you have never heard from land on your desk or kitchen table. This means being confident enough to tune out unhelpful voices (sometimes the loudest and closest in proximity) and humble enough to seek out information, perspectives, and details that may be less familiar or easy to attain. 

Ask your high school senior self this: Would you rather end up at your state’s flagship or your parents’ alma mater or the closest college to your house or know that you eliminated other options, thought seriously about what you really wanted in a college experience, and intentionally chose your state’s flagship or your parents’ alma mater or the closest college to your house?

To have choices and options as a senior, you have to do your college homework as a junior.

As a senior in the fall, please do not apply anywhere you don’t actually want to go. That’s just dumb. And please do not let anyone convince you that you need to apply to “a few more places” justso you have some arbitrary number they have conceived for you. Instead, be realistic about your grades, your profile outside the classroom, and the competition you will be facing. Again, don’t forget that the end goal is to be able to afford to go. Do your homework by talking to your school counselor, using net price calculators, and consulting sites such as MyIntuition or BigFuture. Be reminded that your chances of being admitted to a school with an admit rate below 20% do not go up 20% by applying to 20% more of those schools. Trade out “dream school” for IRL colleges. Apply to a group of schools (you figure out the number but generally more than 2 and less than 10) where you know you will be thrilled to get in and excited to go. People, there are 4000 higher education options in America and many more around the world. When you eliminate 99.9% of them, it should only leave you with places you are fired up to attend.

 

As a senior in the winter, if you are deferred, please do not write these places off if you are still legitimately interested. Julie Andrews lists raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens/ Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens/ Brown paper packages tied up with strings/ but I note she doesn’t include being deferred and having to wait during college admission as one of her favorite things. Still, if we agree your goal is choices and options, then be reminded a deferral is not a closed door. Ego bruise? Perhaps. Annoying? Sure. But you applied in their admission process not for one round. Stay the course. Send in fall grades, complete the essay, fill out the form, do the interview, or whatever else they may ask. Don’t lose sight of the end goal. Ask yourself if you would rather see it through or wonder later what might have happened?

To recap- how do you end up with Choices and Options? 

  • Do well – and do good. 
  • Do your college homework. 
  • Only apply to places that excite you.  
  •  Stay on Target.  

Spring of senior year. Voila- CHOICES & OPTIONS. You got this! 

 

What do colleges want?

My wife has celiac disease. While many people do not know exactly what that is, they have at least heard of “gluten” and are familiar with the GF or grain symbol on food labels in the grocery store or at restaurants. 20 years ago, however, when she was first diagnosed, that was definitely not the case. In fact, going out to eat was an incredible hassle. “Can you tell me if this is gluten free?” inevitably resulted in a bemused and moderately annoyed manager emerging from the back. Most of the time, despite our best efforts to provide examples, there was more head scratching (disturbing around food) and eyebrow furrowing than recognition or appreciation of the issue. In many cases, to be safe, Amy would just order a salad- sometimes bringing her own dressing to be sure.

One Saturday a month we went to a “Gluten-sensitive support group,” aka GSSG, which was 20 miles from our house in Atlanta. In a city of several million people, there was only one group- giving you an idea of how little known the issue was at that time. During those meetings, people shared advice on which doctors to see, where they had been able to find gluten free products in health food stores (never regular grocery stores), and also exchanged recipes. At the end of each meeting, people shared their latest baked good product or casserole. I looked forward to those meetings the way you look forward to taking an SAT- that is to say- not at all. At best the food tasted like salty cardboard and at worst… well, let’s just say twice in my recollection I had to quickly walk to the bathroom sink to spit out whatever half masticated delicacy I’d partially ingested.

Bottom line is if you had celiac disease, or a significant gluten allergy at that time, there were extremely few choices and options. Even as a spouse, it felt limiting.

Choice and Options

Along with my staff, we have written extensively in the past about “what colleges are looking for.” We’ve covered GPA, rigor of curriculum, activities and involvement, essays, more about essays, plenty of ink spilled and callouses grown writing about writing, teacher recs, interviews, etc. And all of that is accurate, helpful, and worth checking out. But what do colleges really want? Regardless of their size, geographic location, or athletic conference, they want the same thing– Choices and Options. They don’t want to have to “just have a salad” and bring their own dressing. They want a full menu. And their desire- or hunger as it were (really just wrote this entire blog to use that phrase)- for choices and options explains a lot about your college admission experience.

College Search (mail, email, etc.) – If you are a sophomore or junior, you have started to receive more and more email, postcards, and other glossy, shiny solicitations from colleges. Maybe this sounds familiar:

“Dear <<insert name here>>” check out our campus.” Notice all these kids of different ethnicities hanging out together snacking while studying on our super green grass. It just so happens when we took this picture that there were three benches in the background occupied by students engrossed in important discussions about today’s issues.

They say they want you to visit, check out their website, fill out this card, or ultimately apply for admission. Does this mean you will get in? Absolutely not. Does it mean you are competitive for admission at their school? No. So why did they buy your name, spend money on bulk rate postage, or invest copious time debating whether to include a picture of the kid studying abroad in Spain or the one of the students looking closely at a colored liquid in a campus laboratory? Two words (ok, technically three): Choices and Options.

Colleges cast a very wide net to encourage students to check out their school, but they have limited information about you when doing that. Perhaps they have your test score or a sense of what classes you have taken. Maybe they are trying to attract more students from your state or city, or they saw you (or your mom) indicated an interest in Chemistry on a survey or test registration form (hence the lab pic).

Post- Covid (I’m just going to keep saying that ‘til it’s truly a thing) it is tougher to visit high schools during the school day. Traveling is also time intensive and expensive. Sending hundreds of thousands of emails and mailing broadly prospective students- what schools refer to as “student search”- is a big part of their enrollment strategy. Build a big funnel of students, see who is really interested, see who applies, admit those they want, and voila- a class.

What does this mean for you? The good news is contact from a variety of schools helps you see a bigger picture. At times, we all have a tendency to be too narrowly focused. Receiving information from places you have never heard of challenges you to ask bigger questions about what you really want or need- not just default to what you recognize.  On the flipside, too many students believe that the number of times a college contacts them correlates to their odds of being admitted. Nope. Just because a school sends you pithy emails or a lovely fold out poster of their gothic campus nestled just south of the city does not mean the wind is ultimately going to blow you into the admit pool. Take these mailings with a big grain of salt (or a sodium laced circa 2003 gluten-free experiment).

Admission DecisionsIf you are a senior, unless you applied to a college who explicitly stated they are using a formula to make admission decisions, they are not using a formula to make admission decisions. Holistic admission means they draw circles more than lines. When you hear admission reps say, “We are looking for a well-rounded class…” they mean they want choices and options. It’s not just going to be about your test score or number of AP classes. This means a few things.

First, it means you are likely to see a student with lower grades or fewer activities get into a school that denies you. Their decisions are based on goals and mission. They want choices and options. They are trying to “build a class” not just hit ENTER on an Excel sheet to figure out who gets in. Is this fair? NO. But they don’t call it Fair Admissions. They call it Holistic Admission- probably because “Choices and Options Admission” rolls off the tongue like Debbie’s gluten free casserole in the GSSG bathroom.

Second, it means if you are deferred admission, they are not saying you are not smart, or they don’t like you, or that you should have joined the French Club back in sophomore year and that would have done the trick. Instead, they are saying we’d like to see our full set of choices and options. Send us your fall grades or maybe write another supplemental essay (good times!) about why you really want to come.

Fun to wait? Absolutely not. I polled 100 humans recently about their five favorite things to do in life and surprisingly nobody listed “Waiting.” But understanding the WHY matters. Too many students take a deferral as an ego hit. Or they are mad, confused, and feel wronged. Deferrals- and ultimately waitlist decisions- are part of the process. What do colleges want? Choices and Options, people. Choices AND Options.

Lastly, it means you may get into a school with a higher ranking or a lower admit rate than another school that denies or defers you. Each year after we release admission decisions, we get calls or notes starting, “With all due respect… (Note: This is the southern equivalent of “Bless your heart…” and basically should be interpreted as “I’m about to tell you why you are wrong or clueless.”) I think you have made a mistake. See, I was admitted to/ got a scholarship from (insert supposedly better college here), so I’d like you to re-review my application.” First, that’s not a valid appeal. Second, what led to the decision was that particular school’s choices and options based fulfilling their distinct institutional priorities.

As I said earlier, colleges often look the same on their websites or brochures. A picture is worth 1000 words, but when all the pictures are the same, it can seem like all colleges are too. Thankfully, they are not. At the end of the day, they all have different goals, different priorities, and different processes for enrolling our students. What they are “looking for” varies widely, but the one thing all colleges want is Choices and Options.

The good news is you can learn a lot about how to approach your college search and selection experience from understanding how colleges approach building their class. And we’ll cover that next time. Until then, have a great Thanksgiving Break. Eat well, take a nap, read something that’s not been assigned, and as always- Hug your mama.

Tell Yourself a Different (College Admission) Story

Learn more and listen to Q&A about this blog on the College Admission Brief podcast: Spreaker | Apple Podcasts | Spotify

Last week I received an email entitled “Admission Fears.” The title struck me immediately, but what saddened me was it was sent from an 8th grader.  Her note was only three sentences and did include a very sweet P.S., but it left me asking a host of questions about how we got here as a society, my role in tweens sending “Admission Fears” emails, whether now might be a good time to open a bike shop/ bar on the beach, and many more. Ultimately, her question was, “I was wondering what you were looking for in a student, so that I may know what I have to offer to your prestigious school.”  If you’d rather not read my reply, here’s the original Twitter thread.

Dear Liza,  

Thanks so much for your email. I am sorry for not replying earlier and hope your year is going well. It sounds like you are a very diligent and focused student who is already thinking about college after high school. That’s awesome!   

I was thinking a lot about your email this weekend. Based on your title and question I’m assuming you have heard it is really hard to get into college, or that you are concerned you will not be/have what colleges “are looking for in a student.” Because this narrative and anxiety is so prevalent, we write a blog and produce a podcast about these topics at Georgia Tech.  I even wrote an entire book geared toward helping students and families keep perspective during the admission experience. But you don’t need to worry about any of that right now.

The truth is our country is in a negative loop when it comes to its view on and discussion around college and college admission. There is too much misinformation, disinformation, and limited information in this space, which often emanates from people with loud megaphones or big platforms who often make/charge lots of money to incite the type of fear you referenced in your note. 

So, as you move into and through high school, I want to encourage you to tell yourself a different story about college and college admission. This starts by replacing fear with hope. 

First, a confession. Your note struck me because my son is your age. So while I’m emailing you back, I’m also thinking about him, and other kids in high school (Oh… and I also turned this into a blog. Don’t worry- I changed your name). 

Admission Hopes 

My biggest hope is during most of high school you will not think about college too often. Instead, just focus on being a good high school student. Go to class. Learn how to take notes and study efficiently. Listen and ask good questions. Participate in your classroom discussions and do personal research on some of the topics you cover in school on your own, so you can dig deeper and get as big and broad of an understanding on issues and information as possible. Outside the classroom, get involved in the things you enjoy and find fun, interesting, or broadening. Invest in your school and local community and seek to positively impact the people around you.  

Ultimately, that is what colleges are looking for. We want to build a community of people who are interested in learning and challenging themselves academically, and who are committed to impacting and influencing people around them-both inside & outside the classroom.  

In other words, don’t worry about college admission committee rooms you will never enter. Instead, focus on the rooms and spaces you walk into every day. Your living room, classroom, place of worship, or job. Be a good classmate, friend, daughter, sibling. Ultimately, nobody can promise you that if you take certain classes, make particular grades, or participate in specific activities you will “get in” to a certain college. If anyone does try to tell you that—let them know they sit on a throne of lies-or just run. Here’s what I can promise you—if you will simply focus on being a good high school student, you are going to have lots of college choices and options when you are finishing high school, because the bottom line is that’s what colleges are looking for—good high school students.  

And that leads me to my next hope. Too many students and parents talk about and think about college and college admission from a scarcity standpoint. I’m not going to delve too much into an economics lesson at this point, but I hope you will look at this from an abundance perspective.  

Particularly, around this time of year, there are many articles published, news reports broadcast, or social media posts leading people to believe it’s impossible to get into college, and that the competition is increasing every year. This is fundamentally false– and increasingly so. The average admit rate for four-year universities in our country is 67%. In other words, most colleges admit most applicants. The pandemic has increased your options not reduced them. Colleges need students- now more than ever! As a result, good students (as we just discussed) who apply to a wide range of schools (listen to your counselor and keep an open mind) will not only have a variety of admission offers but will also find financially affordable options in the years ahead. So, I’m imploring you to not listen to anyone who uses words of scarcity and attempts to breed fear or desperation into your view of college or college admission.  Tell yourself the abundance story.

Third Hope- I understand you may be tired of hearing words like “pivot,” “resilient,” or “disrupted.” Over the last two years, it’s been hard to go a week without hearing each of these repeated multiple times. However, one blessing of the pandemic is it forced students to flex these muscles of adaptability, flexibility, and resilience in unprecedented (another Covid bingo word) ways. As a result, you have figured out at an early age how to learn in different environments, build or maintain relationships despite time/space obstacles, and adjust to constantly shifting information.  

What does that have to do with college and college admission? Absolutely everything. College people (yes, like me) often talk about finding a good college fit, as if students are square (pick your favorite shape) pegs (pick your favorite object), and your job is to carefully search and find a school where you seamlessly enter. Total BS.  

Don’t listen to anyone (even if they live in your house) who leads you to believe there is only one college, one type of college, one particular setting, or one major/academic area in which you can thrive. YOU are adaptable, dynamic, and capable of excelling in a wide variety of places. You are more like a Swiss Army Knife than a singular key. Tell yourself that story and you will breathe, enjoy, and see a very big path to college, rather than one that feels limited, confining, burdensome, or fear filled. 

You asked me what you have to offer a college. Here’s my answer…  

What do you have to offer?  

The truth is college admission should not be about what you can offer. I’m earnestly hopeful you won’t spend your high school years trying to figure that out. Don’t attempt to play some box-checking, soul-crushing game. Instead, when the time comes, the real question will be: what do they have to offer you? And the only way you are going to know that is if you invest time getting to know yourself honestly and authentically. My hope is your high school years will be about learning, growing, thinking, exploring, and most of all enjoying.  

Please write me back in a few years. I would love to hear from you.  

Sincerely, 

Rick  

Learn more and listen to Q&A about this blog on the College Admission Brief podcast: Spreaker | Apple Podcasts | Spotify

 

How the Olympics Explain College Admission– Part 2

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

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

1) Train For Event – Not The Result. 

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

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

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

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

Work hard each day in the classroom.  

Push and challenge yourself academically.  

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

Contribute to your school, family, and community.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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