An Inconvenient Opportunity

This week we welcome Communications Manager for Strategy and Enrollment Planning (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley back to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

It was a rainy Mother’s Day in Georgia last week. Still a lovely day, but weather-wise it was dreary with showers that came and went throughout the day. In mid-afternoon my daughters, ages 3 and 7, went outside with our puppy to play outside. Even though it was wet, they needed to get some energy out so I put some old shoes and play clothes on them and told them to go for it.

Playing in the rain
This picture popped up in my Facebook memories today. Clearly, even years ago, I’ve always been okay with my kids playing in the rain!

While they were outside it started to mist… which turned to a sprinkle… which turned into a light, gentle rain. No wind, no storm, just soft rain falling from the sky. As I watched them (from the dry area underneath the edge of the house), it occurred to me that maybe I should bring them inside. At this point they, and the dog, were soaking wet—there was no turning back. I decided to ride it out. A little rain (and dirt!) is good for kids. And dogs, too, I guess.

The rain was an inconvenience. The wetness of these little people was definitely an inconvenience. But running laps through the house was slowly driving us all crazy (okay, maybe it was just me). It wasn’t what I planned or wanted. In truth, letting the kids play in the rain actually caused more work for all of us, as now I had to wrangle two wet kids (and one wet dog), with wet clothes, and get them from the backdoor to the bathtub without getting mud all over the house.

The easy thing would have been to bring them in immediately when the rain began. To let them stay outside, getting their feet muddy and their hair wet while pretending to fly on the swings, certainly created more work for me. But, it was time they spent together, outside, being free, and not in front of a screen. The inconvenience was absolutely worth it.

Inconvenience, or Opportunity?

Later that night, I had just finished my shower and brushed my teeth. I was pretty excited, as it appeared as though I might actually get to sleep at a decent hour (and on Mother’s Day, no less!). Just as I was wrapping up, my 7-year old walked in to tell us she was having scary thoughts. So I did what most moms would do—I went to her room, laid down with her, and stayed there until she was asleep. Getting to bed early (who am I kidding—on time, even!) wasn’t going to happen. It was an inconvenience.

An inconvenience is an unrecognized opportunity.But again, that inconvenience was an opportunity. An opportunity to be present, to comfort her, and to get some sweet snuggles. I know that as she grows up the opportunities to simply be with her and snuggle her will be fewer and farther between until they eventually disappear. As she gets older she will seek reassurance from someone other than me. So while this incident may have “cost me” a little sleep, it also presented me with a beautiful opportunity.

The month of May, by all counts, is crazy. End of year school parties, field days, art days, awards days… and that’s just elementary school! At the high school level you’re adding prom, end of year ceremonies, AP tests, and a little thing called graduation. You’re either getting ready to go to college, or preparing to apply to college. Let’s be honest: May is crazy. And sometimes, well, inconvenient.

If you’re a graduating senior….

This is your last summer at home. Even if you’re not going far away to school, life will still change in many significant ways. So this summer when your mom asks you to drive your little brother or sister to summer camp, try not to scoff at the inconvenience. Your time with them is limited. Next year you’re going to change a lot, and so will they. Instead of getting upset that this takes time out of your day, try to be present and have a conversation. Appreciate the time you have. Realize that next year when you’re asked to do the same thing, you’ll be spending time with a different person, who has grown and changed in the time that you’ve been gone. And that little brother or sister, while perhaps annoying at times, will miss you greatly when you’re gone. They’ve never known a life without you! So take the opportunity to connect, and make some memories along the way. (Note: you may not have a younger sibling—or you may BE the younger sibling. Replace the sibling in this scenario with a parent, grandparent, neighbor, or other person who may need your help in this season—same theory applies!)

If you’re a rising senior…

You’re moving into what we in the admissions world call “visit season.” Your summer is likely booked up with activities, maybe a job, and oh, a list of colleges to visit in hopes of finding “the one” that you’re looking for. Hitting the road with your family and visiting college after college may start to feel inconvenient at a certain point. Remember: this is an opportunity. An opportunity to set foot on campus and see what it’s really like (not just what we tell you in our glossy brochures and mailers); an opportunity to engage the process with your family and have a voice in the conversation; an opportunity to ask good questions; and an opportunity to visit a new town. The summer college visit road trip will be tiring, but I promise it will be worth it if you keep a positive mindset. If you need some ideas for what you should be doing during these visits (hint: it’s more than going to an information session and tour), check out these tips.

If you’re rising into 9-11 grades…

This may be your first summer with a job, or a research opportunity, or in a leadership position. Likely this summer you will experience some type of “first.” As you get older, the days of freedom with no responsibilities will become harder to come by. You’re going to learn how to juggle more things throughout your day as new tasks are added on to the ones you already have. Being asked to do your chores may be inconvenient. Let’s be honest here—no one wants to unload the dishwasher or fold clothes. (Psst! Not even your mom—trust me!). Before you heavy sigh and/or roll your eyes, take a deep breath and look for the opportunity. It’s in there! Maybe it’s a chance to have a conversation with a parent or friend while you complete the task. Maybe it’s a chance for some much needed quiet in your day. Maybe it’s a chance to let your brain just rest for a bit while you do something mindless.

Welcome the Unexpected

Opportunities often lurk in unexpected places. When we get bogged down in the “I have to” perspective, rather than embracing an “I get to” perspective, we often lose sight of what we could gain from the situation. As you move into the summer and discover wrinkles in your well laid plans, look for the opportunity that is quietly presenting itself. Once you find it and embrace it, you will be amazed at what you gain.

Becky Tankersley has worked in higher education for more than 10 years. She joined Georgia Tech in 2012 after working at a small, private college in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. Prior to working in higher education, she worked as a television news producer. Her current role blends her skills in college recruitment and communication. Becky is the editor of  the GT Admission Blog, and also serves as a Content Coordinator for the American Association of Collegiate Registrar and Admission Officers.

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The Discipline of College Admission

Listen to the audio version here.

If you are not one for imposed holidays, you’re in the right place. Last Valentine’s Day, I wrote about how love and admission have a lot in common. This V-week we are going full contrarian and talking about school discipline.

Most applications ask students to report discipline/behavior history, including suspension, expulsion, and arrests. In acceptance letters colleges discuss both the need to keep your grades up, as well as your responsibility to inform them if you have some form of school or community discipline incident after you’ve been admitted.

I’ve had several questions about this topic on college panels recently, so this is my attempt to address those and provide broader insight. As always, I’m writing generally and do not claim to speak on behalf of all colleges. If, after reading this, you have specific questions, call or contact the particular school you are interested in (don’t worry–you won’t be the first to disguise your voice or indicate you are “asking for a friend”).

The short answer: schools use the same individualized, holistic process for reviewing a student’s discipline history that they do for reviewing academic or extra-curricular background.

Here’s the long answer.

Context. Typically, the first question admission counselors ask when they open an application is “where does this student live and go to school?” The goal is to understand who you are, where you are from, and what your family, academic, social, and community background looks like. Admission counselors are charged with gaining perspective on your high school setting and experience in order to understand both the options available to you and the choices you made, both inside and outside the classroom.

Context MattersMoved three times in high school? Had a two-hour commute each day? Saw mom and dad go through an ugly divorce? Suffered a concussion or another illness that caused a prolonged absence? In college application review, context matters. Context is critical. Therefore context is always considered.

The same is true of our review of your disciplinary background. I once read the application of a student who was arrested for being in a dumpster behind his school. Why? Because his mother was working a double shift and had not left him a key to their apartment, so he was looking for warmth and shelter. Another student was arrested for being in a dumpster after spray painting the school with graffiti and slurs (the dumpster was simply where the police found him and his friends hiding). As you can see, context matters—and context will always be considered.

Timing. In their academic review, many colleges separate a student’s 9th grade GPA from their 10th-12th grade academic performance. This does not mean grades in Geography or Geometry in freshman year don’t matter, but rather indicates we recognize they’re not as predictive of academic success in college as grades in higher level courses (this is also why committees look at grade trends in a holistic review process).

Timing is also one of the factors admission counselors consider when reviewing a student’s discipline record. No, we don’t love your sophomore year suspension, but if there are not additional infractions, we are likely to exercise grace, consider it an isolated incident, and trust you learned a valuable lesson. The bottom line: holistic review = human review. Admission deans, directors, counselors may look polished or established now, but we’ve all made plenty of mistakes (I likely up the overall average). It is important you know we bring our ability to make judgment calls into our review of transcripts, test scores, family background, non-academic impact, and yes, disciplinary infractions as well.

Process. The admission “process” is not just for students. Colleges also have an entire process, including one for review of all elements of an application. In most admission offices, there are initial guidelines for discipline/behavior/criminal review. Most of the questions relate to severity, timing, the school’s action, and the implications that incident had on other students. If the situation warrants additional review, staff members escalate it to an Associate Director, Dean, Director, or an official review committee. At this point, 99% of cases are cleared without further action. However, if the case requires another layer of review, schools will involve partners from around the university for insight and areas of expertise, e.g. Dean of Students, General Counsel, and perhaps Chief of Police or other security representatives.

Having participated in many of these layers, I am always encouraged by how thoroughly and thoughtfully questions are asked and facts are gathered. One of the most difficult things about living in this beautiful but broken world is coming to the realization that as much as we may desire it, there are few things that are 100% good or bad; 100% right or wrong; 100% black or white.

Ownership.  Answer the questions honestly and thoroughly on your application or reach out personally and immediately to a school who has admitted you, if you have some type of infraction post-admit. Every year we receive emails and calls from other students, principals, counselors, “friends,” or others in the community informing us of discipline/behavior/criminal matters involving an applicant or admitted student. It is much, much better to be honest and proactive than to have an admission counselor receive information from another source and have to contact you to provide an explanation of circumstances.

“My friends made me…” “I didn’t want to but…” “I tried to tell them it was wrong…” and the list goes on. Please. I am begging you, PLEASE be sure none of these phrases are in your application. Whether at home, at school, or at work, disciplinary action is serious. If you have something to report, own it. Drunk at prom? Arrested at 2 a.m. for re-distributing neighbors’ leaves back across their yards after they’d lined and bagged them at the street? “Borrow” the car in the middle of the night by putting it in neutral and coasting out of the driveway with the lights off? We’re listening.

Application evaluation, individualized discipline review, life in general… it’s nuanced, complicated, and grey. Why did you choose to do that? What did you learn from it? How has it changed you as a person, a student, a friend, a family member? Those are the questions at the core of our review. You made a decision and now we have one to make. Help us by not waffling or watering down your explanation.

A Final Note to Seniors

Your final semester is supposed to be fun. You have lots to celebrate and enjoy: games, productions, awards ceremonies, spring break, prom– tradition upon tradition, and last upon last. I get it.

I ask you to please hit pause when you find yourself in certain situations or when a “great idea” gets proposed in these next few months. Each year we see incredibly smart and talented kids do

Class of 2019
FYI- Wow. What a diversity of Google images you get when you search for “seniors.”

indescribably dumb stuff that has lasting implications or consequences. So before you get behind the wheel; before you go to (or throw) that party; before someone brings out another bottle; when “everyone” is going to jump off that bridge naked in the dark into water at an untested depth; when cramming 12 people into a hearse to go blow up the principal’s mailbox gets suggested as a senior prank; before you post pictures or gossip or antagonizing content on social media, I hope you will thoughtfully consider your beliefs, character, and goals. (If all of that sounds too specific to be made up, well…).

I implore you not to rationalize with phrases like “everyone else is” or “she told me to” or “someone said it was okay.” Have the maturity and vision to say no or walk away or stand up or defuse the situation or speak calmly in frenetic moments.

I encourage you to read your offers of admission from colleges closely. They are promises of a future community. They are based on your academic potential but also upon their belief you have and will continue to enrich those around you.

I said there would be no cheesy Valentine’s sap here, and I’m sticking to my promise. True love is not capable of being boxed up and forced into one day. It can’t be captured in a card. Instead, it is both shown and proven over time. My hope is you will look around you this week (and every week between now and graduation). Be reminded of how much your friends, family, class and teammates love and respect you– not for what you do or don’t do (or will or won’t do) in a certain moment on a particular night– but for who you are consistently.

Above all else, my hope is you will have the composure and confidence to lead yourself and others with character in these final months of high school. Finish well.

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