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.

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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!

College Essay Greatest Hits

I don’t post on Facebook consistently, but since most of my family is on it, it’s become my go-to medium for adding pictures to chronicle our summer travels.

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of Facebook memories from previous trips. Since everything is different this year and we are not really going anywhere, my reaction to these pictures varies based on my mood.

Rick, we care about you and the memories you share here.

Oregon/Washington Summer Trip, 2016

I tilt my head slowly upward, gently close my eyes, breathe in deeply and smile, “Man. That was a great trip!”

The next day: Rick, we care about you and the memories you share here.

I tilt my head slowly upward, gently close my eyes, breathe in deeply… and then slam my clenched fist on the table and scry (scream/cry), “Oh yeah, if you really cared about me, you’d transport me back there, Facebook!”

I’m guessing you can relate. Camps are off, travel is limited, summer jobs probably do not look the way you anticipated, and live concerts and sports are either canceled completely or highly modified. I’m trying to make lemonade out of lemons too, but sugar is tough to come by these days (Metaphorically, of course. It’s not like we are talking about toilet paper. Sheesh! What a weird world we are living in.)

Time to think about that essay…

My point is this: while this summer is different in many ways, the college admission cycle is not. Last year at this time (and the year before that, and the year before that) rising seniors were also considering what they were going to write their essays about or researching the topics and options they’ll have for short answer questions.

In July of 2019, 2018, and so on, the Common Application and Coalition Application had posted their essay and short answer questions online for students to view and work on, and individual colleges were beginning to open their applications for submission. In that sense, this year is no different.

(Insert your name here), we care about you and the essays you write.

So, we dug into the blog archives to give you our best advice about how to use your time, gather your thoughts, provide insight about what colleges are looking for in your writing, and put your best foot forward once you submit your essays and short answer questions.

Cue flashback music…

What: TYP0S, REPEATED WORDS WORDS, AND OTHER SIGNS OF HUMANITY ON YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION

When: February 2020 (Man, that seems like forever ago. #amirite?!)

Who: The brilliance behind our social media, @gtadmission, Sammy Rose-Sinclair

Why: Because as hard as you work on your essays and short answer questions, they’re never going to be absolutely perfect. Mistakes happen. Or you will submit it and later wish you’d added this or that or said something a bit differently. We get it, and hopefully this will help you reframe and breathe a bit. It is a reminder that, “Admission Officers aren’t cynics looking for that one mistake, a missed point on a final grade, or that one letter that’s out of place in order to cross you off the list and move on. Actually, I don’t mind the occasional light reminder that at its core, this process is human, our applicants are human, and the function that the application serves is often more important than the form it takes.”

What: WILL SAYING I’M A BLUEBERRY GET ME INTO COLLEGE? SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAYS 101

When: July 2019

Who: The inimitable Katie Mattli

Why: Because in about 1,000 words Katie manages to provide concrete action steps and tangible tips, Zen you with equal parts rationale and philosophy, zoom into the committee room and the mind of admission readers, and yet still work in lines like, “Give that puppy a once over in the light of day to see if it is well written.” Plus, if for no other reason… the title. C’mon on. What? You think I just throw “inimitable” around flippantly?

What: BE BATMAN!

When: October 2017

Who: Rick Clark

Why: Because we were looking for five blogs on this topic and apparently, we did not write much about writing in 2018. And because sometimes we all need to be reminded: “Don’t try to be something or someone you are not. Your power is your identity– not an extra, nothing “super” or foreign or imaginary. Be distinct. Be different. Be yourself. Be Batman!”

What: DON’T PROCRASTINATE…GET STARTED!

When: June 2017

Who: Rick Clark

Why: Because now is the time to get started on your essays and short answer questions. This piece gives you a concrete timeline and measurable steps to get started and to keep moving. Don’t get stuck in the Covid trance where you think days, hours, and calendars mean nothing. Again, the admission cycle has not changed. I understand you may not have been driving or watching R rated movies in 2017, but this advice still holds up. Still not sold? How many admission articles have you read that start with, “Man. It really smells like pee in here!”

What: COLLEGE ADMISSION ESSAYS: I’VE HEARD THAT ONE BEFORE…

When: October 2016

Who: Rick Clark (only one writing back then)

Why: Because as brilliant as your concept is for a topic or a response, there is nothing new under the sun. There is no completely unique topic: sports analogy about life, failure, and triumph? Heard it. Mission trip to a third world country, including multiple transportation modes, animal crossings, and flat tires? Check. Family drama where you displayed tremendous patience, empathy, and wisdom beyond your years? Sure. The list goes on: difficult coach/teacher turned advocate… stuck out a horrible summer job that provided valuable lessons and renewed focus and direction … beloved grandparent who moved in, built close friendship, died, but taught a lot of valuable lessons in life and death (this one often doubles as an excuse for late app submission as well) … second verse, same as the first.” This post helps you understand the volume, experience, and perspective of admission readers, and then consider how you can write to distinguish yourself in an applicant pool of 4,000 or 40,000.

That blog ends with this line, “Your essay topic may not be entirely different or unique, but your senior year can be. Go enjoy it!”

Given the unknowns of the year ahead, I’d say unique is an understatement. Still, that advice may actually be more helpful and relevant this summer than it was then. The truth is you cannot control all outcomes– in life or in college admission. So as you work on your essay and write for colleges, my biggest tip is to enjoy the experience. Be sure your words and choices are uniquely yours.

Enough reading. Go write. Go enjoy it!

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Better

At home I have a firm “one in = two out” policy—for every one item that enters the house, two others have to go. My kids don’t always appreciate this approach because it can come off as a bit abrupt, especially on birthdays. “Oh, that’s a pretty sweater, sweetheart. What are you getting rid of?” or “Oh man. Look at all these great presents. You are so lucky. While you fill a bin with old things you no longer use, I’ll get the truck and we can head to Goodwill.” Marie Condo sparks joy. I burn it to the ground.

Coronavirus quarantine (and perhaps a few threats from my wife) has made me realize I can’t be quite so draconian on a daily basis with things like clearing and cleaning up dishes, picking up idly strewn clothes, or hanging up towels or bags. Do I deny threatening to “take everything left downstairs at the end of the night and torch it all in the fire pit?” No. But, in general, I’ve taken a more progressive and repetitive approach.

In fact, for a solid week I just had one word written on our kitchen chalkboard: Better. I told them my challenge is to leave every room better than they found it. Three months into Covid cloistering, I have to say… they’re not doing terrible. I’m seeing progress. I’m seeing better.

Better – As an applicant

I have written about this before but I sincerely hope you will ask, “Why do I want to go to college?” as often as you ask, “Where do I want to go to college?” Write your answers down or record them on a phone or iPad. While you are working on your application (and definitely before you pay and hit submit), honestly assess whether or not that school truly aligns with your why.

Too often students are admitted and later say, “Yeah, but I can’t really see going there.” Or “I only applied to College X because (insert adult name here) told me to.” Worse, they actually choose to attend a college based on pressure or expectations of others, or because they are trying to fit an image.

This pandemic may have robbed you of many experiences and a sense of normalcy but it has also afforded you the rare opportunity to really reflect and be honest with yourself in a way most students unfortunately are not. If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that we should be genuinely excited about what we actually “get to do.”

Because of your hard work in high school; because of your family’s support and commitment to your education; because of coaches and teachers and other community members who have built into your life, you get to go to college. Better means having the courage, self-awareness, and confidence to honor that investment in how and where you apply.

Challenge: Before you “leave the room” and hit submit on an application, be sure that school aligns with your why. Better is knowing and embracing your goals, hopes, dreams, aspirations, and motivations. Better means every college you apply to is your first choice.

Better – As a family member and community member

Let’s be honest, no one knows what the next few months or year are going to look like. From daily news stories to your neighbor’s sidewalk musings, the level of uncertainty is absurdly high. Making it through 10 minutes of a conversation or a meeting without hearing at least one “if,” “we’ll see,” or “assuming that” is as likely as finding the toilet paper aisle fully stocked or people creating human pyramids in your local park. Between major macro concerns (unemployment, protests, and elections), as well as micro consternations (haircuts, pool restrictions, limited professional sports) people are stressed. Now is the time for better.

Whether they are saying it or not, your parents, siblings, friends, and neighbors are carrying more anxiety than normal. They are wrestling with their fears, doubts, and unsettled moments. In the weeks and months ahead, I hope you will bring better into your house, your relationships, your job, your clubs, teams, and your group of friends.

Challenge: Before you “leave the room” and head to bed each night make sure you’ve taken some time that day to send a text, make a call, give a hug, or offer up a virtual or a socially distanced high-five to someone in your life. Will this help you get into college? No. Will this help you be a much better friend and community member? Absolutely.

Tell your family “Thank you” and “I love you” every day. Don’t be fooled by the Coronavirus trance. You are not going to be at home forever. Hug your mama every day.

Better – As a high school student and future college student

In her recent Chronicle article, Sarah Brown describes the compacts and pledges students will be asked to sign on many campuses this fall in order to comply with health guidance and safety protocols. Many of the current college students and faculty she interviews are skeptical about their campus community upholding those agreements. In other words, they are expecting student conduct to make things worse rather than better.

My hope is you will run as hard as you can in the opposite direction. As you return to high school this year (in person or virtually), I hope you will constantly ask: How can I improve and contribute to this class, discussion, campus, community, and school? Who can I lift up? How can I invest my time and unique talents to improve the people and place around me?   

Challenge: Before you “leave the room” and graduate, be sure you have made someone or something in your high school irrefutably better. Students love to ask admission officers, “What are you looking for?” They expect to get a GPA average or a specific number of AP classes.

What are we looking for? We are looking for students who will be deeply missed when they graduate from high school. We are looking for students who are unmistakably and unabashedly committed to better.

Better

A few weeks ago, our family went to see the Space X shuttle launch. As we were leaving the beach, I sent my kids to throw away the remains of our lunch and snacks. While I was collecting our blanket and chairs, my wife tapped me on the back and nodded toward the trashcan. My daughter was picking up the garbage that someone else had left. Sand must have blown just then because my eyes legitimately started welling up.

Better is possible. Better is inspiring. Better is in you. Bring it into every room you enter this year, and you will be sure to leave it when you go.

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