Application Tips for Activities and Leadership

Listen to “Episode 16: Application Tips for Activities and Leadership – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Earlier this week, The Common Application sent out an email indicating 166,948 students have created an account to start the process of applying to college this year.

If you are a senior working on your application, you will find the first few sections go pretty fast, and you quickly arrive at the Activities section. On the surface, this is relatively self-explanatory and the directions provided are clear. In other words, completing it should not be hard or confusing.

However, it is always helpful to get some perspective “from the other side.” I believe that’s particularly true during Covid when many colleges will not be using test scores to make admission decisions and some of the activities you usually participate in have been canceled or modified over the last six months.

What method are they using to evaluate? 

Just like individual high school grading scales, the rubrics colleges use to evaluate this section are not uniform. So, if you are applying to five or seven schools, your application will likely be evaluated on a variety of scales. Same application, same activities, same applicant – different systems. While one college may use a scale of 1-5, another could be out of 10 or 100. Alphabetic evaluations, check marks, +/-, or perhaps even emojis and .gifs could be used. Some schools fold their evaluation of this section into an overall admission decision recommendation without even assigning points or a score.

Who is reading?

People– not robots or algorithms. I’m always amazed that students believe we’re just feeding their applications into some kind of a machine that calculates the number of words you’ve used or hours you’ve reported in this section. Nope. These are actual living humans with families and dogs. They have been living through this quarantine just like you. They understand that life looks really weird right now. They get that your drama production was canceled and the internship you had lined up fell through.

The way colleges will read your activities is not going to change this year. They always make assumptions and inferences-and those always (and I use that word intentionally) lean toward providing you the benefit of the doubt. I believe that will be particularly true this year because my prediction is colleges in general will see applications go down and admit rates go up. Translation: They want and need students who are going to contribute on their campus.

…So What are they looking for?

While the training of staff, the number of committee members, and the flow of an application between admission officers will vary from one college to the next, the fundamental questions they are asking as they review your activity section are the same:

  • What was this student involved with outside the classroom?
  • Is there evidence this student made an investment beyond that involvement?
  • What impact is evident through this student’s investment and involvement?
  • Is there evidence that this student’s involvement, investment, and impact influenced others?

In an effort to help you get inside the mind of the admission committee, and also to receive tangible and actionable tips, I dug through the archives of our blog to find helpful advice we’ve provided over the years.

What: The Nuts and Bolts (Part 2)

When: October 2017

Who: Mary Tipton Woolley,  Senior Associate Director of Admission

Why: Because Mary Tipton answers questions students and families always want to know, including how many files do we read a day and how many people are in the room where it happens. But she also provides sage wisdom in her recommendation to “front” your most significant activities by listing them first.

“Then put the remainder in descending order of importance to you. It could be descending order of time spent, or significance of impact – you know best what will work for you. We discussed the review of activities in our staff training, emphasizing the importance of looking at both pages of activities in our review, but we all confessed we’d missed significant activities because they were at the end of the list.”

You can also apply this concept to your essays and admission or scholarship interviews. Make your most important point quickly. “Hook” the admission officer intentionally by prioritizing what matters most to you.

What: Subtle Leadership

When: October 2019

Who: Dr. Paul Kohn, VP for Enrollment Management

Why: Because this blog, written before any of us could have come up with the word “Covid” in a game of Scrabble, demonstrates the continuity of college admission. The way Dr. Kohn articulates leadership and impact proves my point that admission committees’ review of community involvement has not changed due to Coronavirus (Thanks, boss.).

If we were counting hours invested or the number of words on each line of your application, then sure, you would likely have less to include or describe during this pandemic. But check out his instruction to think about the filter in which you consider your influence, and how that comes across in the Activities or Community Involvement section:

Truly examine your experiences and look for the times you inspired others, demonstrated good decisions, set an example of honesty and integrity, or showed commitment and passion for a goal. Look for moments in which you cooperated with others to achieve an outcome, or you displayed empathy for others.”

Importantly, the questions he enumerates are arguably even more helpful this year than when he originally wrote his blog:

  • Have you demonstrated and preached tolerance of divergent ideas and thoughts?
  • Have you helped a classmate accomplish a goal?
  • Have you helped members of your family through a difficult time?
  • When have you helped others know the path without literally ushering them down it?
  • Have you given a speech or written an op-ed piece about the benefits of voting or contributing to certain causes?

What: Which Activities Will Make Me Competitive?

When: April 2019

Who: Katie Mattli, Senior Assistant Director of Admission

Why: Because she keeps it simple. Aaron Burr may have rap sung/ sung rap/ the 10 Duel Commandments in Hamilton, but Katie rocks the Three Extra Curricular Tenants here (apologies in advance for my attempt to lyricize her wisdom).

Number 1 – If you love it, you naturally become more competitive. The challenge demands satisfaction. This is not a reaction. She’s unapologetically repetitive. Simplicity and consistency are her sedative. Don’t write this off as sappy, because it’s true, “’What activities make you happy?’ Do… more of those things!”

Number 2 – If you are interested, I’ll be more interested.  If you are sitting pat, applications fall flat. Don’t concern yourself with what we want to hear. Be sincere. “Nothing engages me more than a student who tells me, “I love XYZ!” See? “Trying to craft a summary of undertakings that you really don’t enjoy.” Oh, boy. No. Want the bottom line? Fine. Don’t let this cause you strife. “Applications have a life and an energy when a student is trying to use every available space to expound on a passion project.”

And if you didn’t know- now you know.

Number 3 – Activities that are difficult can still make you happy.  “I said this was not a softball answer and I meant it.” Hold on a minute. That’s right- “easy and happy are not the same thing.” That line should be on a cover. And that’s why we love her. Because she can cover the basics and make great suggestions. Read her full blog for more insight and guiding questions.

What: Is it OK if I?

When: October 2018

Who: Ashley Brookshire, Regional Director of Admission, West Coast

Why: Because what you do in high school, what you do in college, and what you do throughout life should not be about playing the game or trying to win the approval of others. That box checking, resume padding climb will end up with you looking down/out/over what, exactly?

As we’ve said before, your college admission experience is a foreshadowing of your overall college experience. Don’t miss the important lessons it can teach.

In this piece, Ashley helps you “reverse this idea” and “apply to the colleges that model YOUR interests and values, rather than molding yourself to fit a school.” Now that is a life lesson. You can apply that same thinking to relationships, jobs, and many others decisions. Ashley went to Tech. She worked as a student in our office, and began her career as an admission counselor with us.

She’s since gotten married, moved to California, and had a baby. Lots of changes in her life, but what has not changed is her ability to things down to their essence and help bring out the most salient and important point. In this case:

“Is it ok if I…? Yes. Yes, to however you finish the question, because it is, and will be, okay! You can and should invest your time and energy in the things that feel most beneficial for your personal development and growth, regardless of which college you end up attending.”

What does all of this mean for you? 

Ultimately, your job is to convince the admission committee that you will be missed once you graduate– whether that be by a coach, a club sponsor, a boss, your family, a non-profit in your community, or another group or organization.

I’m confident after reading these excerpts you will have no problem doing that. Enjoy the experience. Take some time after you’ve completed this section to marvel at what you have done—and equally as important what you will inevitably contribute on a college campus.

Bonus Listen: Want more on this topic? Here’s an excellent conversation from CollegeWise to check out.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

Finding REST

This fall we are designating one “quiet day” each month for our staff. Essentially, this means we won’t schedule meetings on those days, and we’re encouraging our team to protect their schedule as much as possible.  While we are not being overly prescriptive, our hope is this will help create margins for people to refresh, plan, catch up, spark creativity, or do something that brings them joy.

Covid-19 is testing everyone physically and emotionally. Between ad nauseam Zoom calls, work/school responsibilities, family obligations, and the underlying stress of navigating life amid a global pandemic, it is critical to not only take good care of ourselves, but also to look for opportunities to serve those around us—family, friends, teammates, colleagues, classmates, and neighbors.

As you head into the school year, and especially if you are also applying to college, you know plenty of work is coming.  You’ll need to be intentional about finding REST.

Read (or watch… or listen)

One of my 2020 resolutions was to read books or magazines on the train ride home each day (no Kindle or other digital content). This daily, scheduled time gave me a chance to avoid screens, decompress, and check out topics that interested me. It was life-giving.

Initially the pandemic sidetracked me because my train time was gone. However, I quickly realized since I was basically homeschooling my kids, I could assign them an hour of reading each day. Bam. Win-win. Solace regained!

Soon you will return to the land of assigned readings. Before school starts and the deadlines and assignments roll in, I encourage you to schedule time each week to check out an author, genre, or topic simply for enjoyment. Whether it be a fiction novel, an article about the controversy surrounding your favorite professional team, a children’s picture book (yes, I’m serious), a research piece only true wonks could appreciate, or a mindless paperback you skipped this summer when the beach trip got canceled, don’t let reading purely for fun/entertainment/curiosity get squeezed out.

Simply cannot bring yourself to read more? Okay, I get it. Find a new podcast, check out a documentary, watch a classic movie, or discover a foreign film. Go off the beaten path. Ask friends, family members, Siri, or random pedestrians for recommendations. Do something different. As a high school student, much of what you are exposed to will be dictated by your classes. Frankly, this is true in college as well. Set a pattern now for exploring beyond the curriculum.

Escape.

Most of us could tell you exactly where we were last Thursday at 2:45 p.m. by glancing at our phone. Routines, calendars, schedules, agendas, and deadlines effectively rule our lives. Understandably, for most of the week this is necessary… but not for all of it.

This fall, especially since it is likely many of your activities will modified, limited, or canceled, I implore you to escape both physically and mentally. Find something that will stimulate your mind and spirit. Do something you’ve long wanted to—or try something random on a whim. Get outside. Learn Irish dancing. Try Frisbee golf. Start photographing scenes in your hometown. Embrace spontaneity.

It is far too easy to fall into patterns and ruts. Fight against the trap of status quo and explore something new and unfamiliar. Find adventure this fall—and regularly in life. You will gain perspective, meet new people, and grow. Aren’t those a few of the reasons you want to go to college in the first place?

Socialize.

Covid-19 is teaching us lessons and forcing us to consider how we have been living, and how we want to live in the future. While going to high school during a global pandemic has plenty of negatives, I’m hopeful it will serve as a focusing point for you too. Don’t miss this opportunity to seriously consider (and perhaps even write down) the activities and classes you are bummed are off/altered, and conversely, those you have not particularly minded being limited or canceled.

Similarly, pay attention to the friends, classmates, co-workers, teammates, and others in your “normal” life that you miss seeing regularly. From a culture standpoint, understanding the role these specific folks play in your life, as well as the type of people who bring out your best, is instructive as you consider where you want to go to college.

More importantly, I hope you will consistently reach out and be proactive in your relationships this fall. Instagram will tell you one story, but reality is always much different. Whether it be your grandmother or your best friend since kindergarten, there has never been a more critical time for people to hear your voice. That’s right. I am asking you to go visit them (socially distanced, of course) or call them, rather than merely send a text.

We all have a role to play in taking care of one another during this time. If you are reading and escaping, your cup will be full, allowing you to pour that good stuff out into the lives of others. What do colleges want? Obviously, in part the answer is successful students. But their long game is to enroll good community members, graduates who will extend the school’s reach by being a positive influence in their company, city, and community. Check in on your people.

Technology.

Last Sunday I gave my wife my phone and told her not to give it back to me until that evening. A day free from texts, emails, social media, and basically anything happening in the bigger world.

It. Was. Glorious.

There is simply too much coming at us on a daily basis right now. Between death counts, family drama, hospitalization rates, neighborhood gossip, political grandstanding, senseless tweets, civil unrest, and the inane comments on social media, we are barraged each day with information, opinions, and indirect or direct pressure.  I encourage you to go on a digital diet. Just like an actual diet, I’m not telling you to cut all carbs or completely eliminate sugar.

However, I know you need to cut back. I know you are going to feel better if you will find even a few waking hours each week to shut off your laptop, phone, Xbox, iPad, or whatever USB rechargeable device you have in your pocket or bag. Black out the Bluetooth. Give Alexa some time off. Unplug and power down consistently each week, so you can power back up and recharge yourself and those around you.

I can guarantee you will have plenty of work this fall. Will you make it a priority to find REST?

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

Seniors, Talk to Your Parents!

Listen to “Episode 17: Seniors, Talk to Your Parents – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

My son turned 12 in May. He’s a red-shirted sixth grader now, and I’m seeing all the signs of a middle school boy. His feet are growing at a preposterous rate, he’s sleeping later, and his body movements are shifting from little kid to some bizarre combination of convulsion and human worm.

I get it. I lived it. Still moderately disconcerting to witness, but I understand and recall (with cringe-worthy detail) those tween years.

My wife on the other hand…not so much.  As a physical therapist, she cognitively understands the shifting circadian rhythms and physiological alterations resulting from accelerated growth. It’s the communication piece that has her all twisted up.

Over the last year, our son’s spike in one-word answers has only been rivaled by his decline in sharing both inconsequential and critically important information. Every brute utterance or omitted perfunctory anecdote is my wife’s death by a thousand cuts. Admittedly, this dialogue vacuum is juxtaposed with our 9-year-old daughter who is an open book (actually, more like an open book series). One question and she’s rolling from topic to topic with inflection, head flips, and body language any thespian would laud.

Is this starting to feel painful, awkward, or extremely personal? Mission accomplished. Welcome to middle school. Welcome to my world. (If you need a primer/refresher before moving on, check out this Trey Kennedy clip.)

You, on the other hand, are no longer 12 (if you are 12 and reading this, go back to flipping cups or playing Fortnite because it is far too early to think about college). You are a rising senior now. You are thinking about when you’ll go to college. And if you are going to do that well, it’s critical that you talk to your parents openly, honestly, and consistently in the year ahead. Why? I have three reasons for you.

Hopes and Dreams.

If you could wiretap a few admission counselors from different schools at the back-corner table of an establishment close to an annual conference (let’s hope these scenes return one day), you’d hear some priceless yarns about the handful of “self-sabotaged” applications that come through each year. Essay phrases like…

“I may look good on paper, but I’m really terrible in person. Please give my spot to someone else.”

In an essay titled, “The 12 reasons not to admit (applicant name here)” a fitting concluding line, “I hope I’ve proven that I’m unworthy of attending your institution. If not, please let me know who I need to insult to be denied.”

“Please don’t admit me. My mom went here and insisted I apply. No disrespect – it’s just not for me.”

The list goes on, and on, and on. Every year. Every college. Granted, these bring some humor and usually get printed/posted on the back of a door somewhere in the office (along with a myriad of other gems, including the occasional celebrity headshot from an unsolicited recommendation letter or a certificate of winning the 4th grade spelling bee), but the root issue is problematic.

Ultimately, when students intentionally flub an essay or interview, it is because there has been a breakdown in family dialogue. While this may seem like an extreme conclusion, the communication wedge is prevalent (and highly avoidable) in the admission experience.

At the end of the day, it is your job to honestly articulate where you want to go/apply and why. If you are being told you must/have to/need to apply somewhere you absolutely do not want to go (or conversely that you cannot apply somewhere you really do want to go), it is incumbent upon you to be confident in expressing how you feel now. Trust me here. Don’t take the easy way out. Don’t take your ball and go home (seeing that a lot in middle school world). Hopes and dreams, goals and motivations are big things. They are lifelong things. They demand conversation and confidence. Talk to your parents.

Money Matters

Similar to the self-sabotage essays/interviews, the “Awkward April Aid Appointment (AAAA)” is an annual event. Here’s how it transpires:

Student applies. Student is admitted. Everyone celebrates.

Financial aid package arrives in mail. Family arrives in admission/financial aid office. Nobody is celebrating.

The conversation that should have happened privately and months (possibly years) before is playing out in front of an admission dean. While you are wearing the college hoodie and looking down at your Insta profile pic you just took posing in front of the most iconic building on campus, your parents are either burning through tissues, exchanging passive aggressive quips between each other, or launching purely aggressive ultimatums at the dean (we don’t call it the Awkward April Aid Appointment for nothing).

Before you ever submit an application this year, it is your job to make sure you are on the same page with your parents about what paying for college is going to look like. Ask them about their conditions, limitations, and expectations. “Opening the books” and discussing loan tolerance, willingness/ability to pay, and their expectations for your financial contribution will help shift conversation around money from tense and private to an open partnership and a collective investment (and it will keep you out of the AAAA).

Should broaching this topic be your responsibility? Maybe not. But if Coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that life’s not fair. Wear a mask, wash your hands, stay 6 feet apart, and talk to your parents.  

40 > 4

Recently a parent contacted our office. Their student, who was scheduled to enroll this fall, had inadvertently closed their application and canceled their admission deposit. This year, with all of the stresses of Coronavirus and the unpredictable world around us, our general modus operandi has been grace and flexibility, so the initial inclination was to reinstate her. Mistakes happen, right?

However, upon further examination it became clear this student had also closed their application earlier this summer and we had reinstated them then. In other words, it was not a mistake. It was a breakdown in communication at home- a tug of war- that we were not going to get in the middle of… again (unless of course they read this blog).  Granted, this is another extreme example, but it’s also instructive to you, as a high school senior.

While most people don’t think about it this way, the college admission experience is just a precursor to college itself. The lessons you can learn this year have the ability to launch you into a successful college experience. This is true in terms of your academic foundation, but it’s also true relationally.

editorial cartoon

I do not believe it’s an overreach to say the admission experience offers a unique opportunity to lay a firm foundation for the future of your relationship with your family. Do not miss this chance to be honest about your needs, wants, hopes and dreams. Do not miss this chance to really listen and try to understand your parent’s point of view. Be proactive and initiate conversations. Establish a pattern in your relationship now by being open and clear. The next four months and four years have bearing on the next forty. Talk to your parents.

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. Sure, it comes across a little wacky and can seem like they don’t get you. But believe me, they are trying. They may not be able to pick you up physically anymore, but they are doing their best to hold you up, and provide you as many opportunities as they can. Show them as much grace as you can this year. Be patient. Be kind. Be a senior. Talk to your parents.

And, as always, hug your mama.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

University Scholarships in the Time of Covid-19

Listen to “Episode 15: University Scholarships in the Time of Covid-19 – Chaffee Viets” on Spreaker.

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, joins us on the blog. Welcome, Chaffee!

“What is going to happen with college application processes this year?” While much is still unknown and will continue to be, I know higher education professionals are working hard to answer that question every day. For my part, that work involves considering how applications for major scholarships at our university will be affected. Part of that work includes talking with scholarship program administrators nationwide to get an idea of best practices in a world affected by Covid-19.

There is a lot of uncertainty right now. I would like to draw upon some wisdom from one of my very favorite movies: Hoosiers. Despite the obvious 1980s-era sound editing, this story set in 1950s Indiana has a number of great lessons. One among them? Focus on the present in urgent situations rather than the future. Coach Dale tells his team – which is about to play in, but unlikely to win, their upcoming playoff game – they should not even ask about going to the next stage until they have won the game in front of them. What does that mean? I will come back to that.

Dates and Application Format

Even in a normal year, I advise students to double check the deadlines when applications for scholarships are due. Why? Every year some universities change the date when their applications are due. Date changes are likelier this year as institutions adapt to the effects of Covid-19. I conducted an informal survey with a few of my scholarship program administrator peers and slightly more than half of them said “yes” or “unsure” when asked if their timeline would change.

A few years ago, Georgia Tech moved its early action due date up by two weeks. Despite notifications going up on our main admission site and our scholarship program page, despite information sessions held across the state and in key parts of the U.S., we still had students, parents, and counselors who submitted materials late. Even though we gave a few days’ grace, there came a point when late was simply late, and we could not accept the applications.

The application format can also change, and I suspect that will be truer this year than in past years. Several schools consider you for all scholarships simply because you apply for admission, but many do not. Regardless, typically one or more applications for financial aid must also be submitted, including the FAFSA, CSS Profile, and institutional applications. For some colleges, early versus regular admission does not matter. At Georgia Tech, you must apply for early action admission to be considered for our most prestigious merit scholarships. We have other institutional scholarships which are available to students who apply via either plan (regular decision and early action).

There are still financial aid applications that must submitted as well. One of our sister institutions requires a separate application for their top scholarship and the due date, at least in past years, did not coincide with either early action or regular decision admissions dates. The take home message is, you must check in early fall for instructions on scholarship applications just like you would for admissions.

A few years back, I received in the mail – yes, on paper – a recommendation form along with a letter for the scholarship program I manage. The recommendation form and instructions were from a decade earlier. Yes, 10 years! Rather than checking the internet for current instructions on how to apply, the individual somehow had a paper form from years before they found and submitted. In 22 years of working with scholarship selection processes, it was one of the most baffling experiences I have had!

Take home point: Whatever schools most interest you … check the dates and procedures for applications. Never assume two schools will handle these processes the same exact way or identically from year to year.

Test Scores

Even before Covid-19, questions about the use of test scores for admission and scholarships were being asked. A strong test score may indicate high aptitude or ability. However, issues such as bias, testing anxiety, and test circumstances reveal high test scores don’t always correlate to educational success. Over the years I have seen scholars who had perfect or near perfect grade point averages in high school and college, but weaker test scores.

I do not bring this up to debate the issue. A quick Internet search will provide hundreds of articles on the subject. Rather, I bring it up because of the debate’s possible effect on you. Some schools have moved to test score optional (TSO) situations in which you can choose to report your scores or not. If you choose not to report them, you will be evaluated on all other data available, including your course selection and availability in conjunction with your grade point average (that is at least true for the academic part of a college or scholarship application).

Take home point: Because there is no national agreement on the issue of test scores, you must do the legwork to determine if a school requires test scores for admission or scholarship consideration and if the due dates have changed due to Covid-19 complications and available testing dates. Right now, many schools have still not decided on this. At least one of my scholarship peers says their university will not require test scores, but their scholarship program will. Nearly two-thirds of my scholarship peers surveyed will be test optional this fall.

Application Questions

It is common for scholarship (and admission) applications to change each year to avoid predictability and issues with candidate authenticity. Certainly, the old standby of “pick a topic of your choice” will be there in many cases, but you need to be prepared to answer a new question, or variant on an old one, for each scholarship application you submit.

I am no soothsayer, but I suspect some applications will include a question on either Covid-19 or race/police issues. Others will probably avoid those types of questions in favor of something more distinct. No matter what you find, it’s going to be important to show your unique voice or perspective. It will be very easy to fade into the background and repeat the same frustration, rage, sadness, trite solutions, etc. Being able to express your thoughts on those topics perhaps and of course others in an authentic and thoughtful way will be very important.

Take home point: Not only should your essays be strong, but also tailor them to each school or scholarship to which you apply. For example, if one question asks how you spent your time during Covid-19 quarantine, and another asks how you felt leadership handled Covid-19 related issues, only a rare essay could realistically answer both questions adequately. Be prepared to vary your responses.

Interview Formats

This may be the easiest element of scholarship evaluation to predict. Let me say up front that many scholarship applications do not require an interview. So, this section is only relevant for scholarships that use an interview as part of their evaluation process.

If the spring is any indicator, and I think it is, we will see more video interviews this year. For large processes that have regional or semifinal interviews, moving to video has not only become technologically easier due to available software, it will save money and time. Once upon a time, a phone call or video interview was thought of as a poor alternative to a handshake and face-to-face interview. Now, multiple people in various cities can conduct an interview by video that achieves nearly the same goals in getting to know you, all with social distancing and reduced cost. To that end, none of my scholarship peers surveyed said they would use entirely in-person interviews, though a few anticipate offering hybrid options. Most said they were unsure; only one said they would use video alone.

Campus interviews or visitation weekends may be a different story. Last year we held our Scholars Weekend the beginning of March. This included not just interviews but campus introduction activities, get-to-know-you panels, and a banquet for finalists. Within a week, almost all of our peer scholarship program weekends cancelled their on-campus events and moved to a video format. What will Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 bring in such cases? There’s no way to predict this, considering the level of variance among how national, state, county, city, and institutional leaders have handled Covid-19 in their regions.

Take home point: Be flexible. Adapt to the circumstances. Be prepared for video interviews but ready if they are on campus. If travelling to a campus puts your or a loved one’s health in jeopardy, ask for an exemption. If you participate virtually, pay attention. Do not grow weary. Scholarship weekends and campus visits are designed to show you the environment you will experience if you join that particular scholarship program or attend that school. Virtual replacements can never fully suffice, but if you tune out, you will be basing your college and scholarship decisions on the shiny bits alone, not the authentic package you are being offered and showcased.

Prepare to Have an Open Mind

Remember the Hoosiers story? I am not going to ruin the film and tell you if they won that game or not. What I will say is many questions which are vital right now regarding your admissions applications must be answered by various universities before the next round of questions can be addressed.

So, reduce your stress and anxiety and focus more on what universities and scholarship offices DO know right now, rather than what they will not know until later in the year. Covid-19 has thrown normal prediction models out the window.

You have already had to adapt to life in a Covid-19 world, and you may be tired of doing so. Sadly, the world isn’t going to stop moving simply because of that. Set your mind to be open to whatever application processes throw at you this year, and do your best to meet those challenges head on.

Remember, you’re not alone—everyone else is being thrown by all this too. That means everyone has adversities to overcome and that should help you feel a little better about your own chance at success.

Chaffee Viets has worked in higher education for more than 20 years. He joined Georgia Tech in 2011 where he oversees a team that selects the Institute’s top merit scholars and then develops them along the lines of scholarship, leadership, progress, and service. His experience with various prestigious scholarship programs at four universities drives his passion for selecting and mentoring student scholars.

The College Admission Climb

A few years ago, I took 10 first-year students on a hiking trip to Scotland. It rained almost every day, and the Scottish Midges were brutal. During the trip, we carried 40-pound backpacks (45-pounds when waterlogged) up and down ancient rocky trails, eating freeze-dried meals for nine days straight. Not everyone thought it was awesome.

The goal of the trip, led by Georgia Tech’s ORGT, was to put students in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable environment without access to 100 percent of the information they needed, encouraging them to collaborate, dig deep physically and mentally, and find solutions for the challenges that inevitably arose.

In my mind, I’ve been back in Scotland lately, because while the Covid-19 trail is metaphorical, the severe lack of information, the mental and physical exhaustion, as well as the need to get up each day and simply put one foot in front of the other to keep climbing is eerily familiar.

On our trip, the leaders were the only ones who knew what the day ahead would hold. They had the trail map, understood the topography, and could advise us on what to wear, keep accessible, etc. Now, I don’t know precisely what the days, weeks, or months ahead are going to look like for you and your family. I don’t know all of the lessons you are going to learn from this “trek.” But I do know a little about the terrain and climate you are heading into, so hopefully these tips will give you a sense for how to prepare.

(Note: The original blog includes the full story plus specific tips and insight on curriculum choice, admission committee mentality, or holistic admission practices.)

Preparing for the Trail Ahead

Expect False Summits. If you have ever encountered a false summit while hiking, you know how deflating it can be. You fix your eyes on that point, dig deep mentally, and convince yourself that once you reach that peak the pain and discomfort will end.

And then…you realize there is still further to go. You are not done. You have to keep climbing to reach your goal.

Now. If you know there will be false summits, it does not mean your legs won’t burn and your climb will be easy. However, it does give you a mental edge.

My friends, we are headed into a range full of false summits. I expect at some point or another very soon each of us will experience one. It could be that your high school opens and then has to close again due to Covid cases. It could be that you practice this summer for a season that never takes place. It could be that a college calls, emails, texts and woos you to apply, only to ultimately defer or deny you later.  The list of examples goes on and on.

I’m not saying this is going to be easy. I’m not saying it’s going to be fun. But when you talk to experts about what it takes to be successful in college and life beyond, they quickly mention grit, resilience, and resolve. Arguably, there is no better preparation and simulation for life’s challenges than what we are currently facing. Disappointments are inevitable but losing sight of your goals or stopping short is not an option. Lace ‘em up, friends. Expect false summits.

Don’t Hike Alone. If you are a senior applying to college this year, don’t try to attempt this summit on your own. I’ve written a lot about not sharing your college admission experience too broadly or publicly, especially on social media, but you do need a few key partners.

Find one classmate or friend who you trust implicitly. Keep where you apply, where you get in or don’t get in, and your thought process along the way reserved to the two of you. Pick someone who: will give you constructive, honest feedback on your essays; knows you well enough to ask good questions about your motives and rationale; will hold you accountable; and who will encourage, console, and celebrate with you along the way.

Before we left to catch the plane to Scotland, one of the leaders said, “This is not going to be easy. You are going to be challenged and uncomfortable at times, but together we will learn, grow, connect, and have fun doing it.”

Your family, counselors, teachers, and coaches are in your corner. Let them know when you need help, share your wins with them when they come, and thank them regularly for their support. The college admission experience is not meant to be a solo summit. Don’t hike alone.

Celebrate Wins! Our team talks about this all of the time at Georgia Tech and tries to build in natural points along the way to pause and appreciate what we’ve accomplished. Otherwise, we all end up on an endless hamster wheel that can rob us of both joy and meaning.

I’m urging you to commit now to celebrating wins this year. Every time you submit an application, celebrate. Every time you get into a college, celebrate. Consider the work it has taken to get there and the people who have been encouraging and supporting you on your climb. Look back at your hard work and stop to appreciate the view.  Equally as important is that you commit to celebrating the wins of others.

The Covid climb is going to test us all. Smiles and high fives (not just due to social distancing) are in short supply these days. Go overboard on emojis. Overuse exclamation points. Text, IM, Skype, GroupMe, Slack, call, drive by cheering, whatever it takes. Regardless of what is happening on your climb, celebrate the wins of others.

I don’t know precisely what the days, weeks, or months ahead are going to look like for you and your family. I don’t know all of the lessons you are going to learn from this “trek.” But I do know that as much as colleges are looking for academically talented students, they are also looking for students who exemplify character. And character is frequently developed, tested, and honed in times of uncertainty.

Expect false summits, don’t hike alone, and celebrate wins. Welcome to the trail!