Class of 2020: Great Minds Think Differently

Listen to “Great Minds Think Differently. Episode 7- Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Each year after we release admission decisions in March, I spend time cleaning up my office. After weeks of committee, reviewing predictive models, and hosting ad nauseum meetings, the room is typically littered with Coke cans, candy wrappers, errant scratch paper with quick calculations or idle doodlings, and a month of unopened mail littering my desk.

In a particularly thorough round of purging and organizing, this year I came across a trove of old marketing materials from Georgia Tech and other colleges around the country (I use an alias to receive these) that I have been collecting for the last decade. As a high school senior, I’m guessing you may have a few of these laying around your house or room right now too.

Invariably, the brochures prominently feature a 3-4 word verb-led challenge like Change the World, Dream Big, Live Bigger, Lead the Way, or Create the Future.

Having been in the room when these taglines are created, I can tell you that countless sticky notes, multiple whiteboards, copious amounts of catered turkey wrap sandwiches, and well-dressed, bespectacled consultants are involved in their formation. Some are cheesy, some fall flat, but occasionally you get it right. And as I leafed through the stack and tossed most into the recycling bin, I came across the one I always thought was our best: Great Minds Think Differently.

I texted a picture of the cover to a friend who was also involved in developing the piece and put the brochure in my bag. That was March 17th–the last day I was on campus this spring.

Since then our world has shifted dramatically. The majority of news, stories, and data are disconcerting, and inevitably many people around you are expressing concern and anxiety about what the short- and long-term future may hold.

I’m not saying this is easy, but as you finish high school, make a final college choice, and prepare to leave home in the coming months, I want to challenge you to think differently.    

In Your Actions

Last week I talked to a friend whose daughter is graduating from high school this spring. “She already knows where she’s going to college and her school just announced pass/fail grades for this spring, so she’s basically checked out. Just prepping for AP tests, but even those are not going to cover the full amount of material.” 

Great Minds Think Differently

I get it. If you are a senior, so much of what you were looking forward to is off. Games, prom, graduation, tradition, and last after last. That sucks. Really, really sucks. I’m not going to sugar coat this, because that’s not the world we’re living in right now. Instead, I am going the exact opposite direction. I ask you not to quit on you.

Wise words thought differently from my friend and colleague, Adrienne Oddi, at Trinity College.

Much of life is lived when no one else is looking. This is a good time to consider why you took that class or spend time preparing for exams. Is it just for a letter or a grade? Are you hoping to just get through it?

Now your test will not cover certain material… so you could basically stop here without any short-term consequences. But scenarios like this are not isolated to the current impact we’re all feeling from COVID-19… scenarios like this occur all through your life.

Right now you have a precious opportunity to pause and ask yourself questions far too few high school students (and too few people in general) ever do: what drives and motivates me? Why am I doing this?

If you are checking out on Chemistry or Biology because the information is not going to be covered on a test, should you really pursue pre-med in college (despite how many people around you may have suggested you become a doctor)?

If you are “done” with Calculus or Physics and not planning to keep pushing and learning in these weeks ahead, then do not pursue engineering in college. I, for one, do not want you building the bridges or planes that might carry my kids in the future.

The truth is we know what really drives someone by the things they make time for and commit to. What are you curious about? What do you care about? When you found out you just got back a ton of time, where did your head go? Those are your real passions. Be honest with yourself and then let your responses guide you as you enter college, select your courses, or pick a major and a career path.

Thinking differently impacts your actions.  

Your Decisions

In webinars, emails, and interviews lately I’ve been asked numerous times: “How should a senior make their final college decision if they cannot visit campus?”

Dr. Beth Cabrera not only with a message of encouragement but also thinking differently about her own situation.

I’ll be honest. I truly hate that you cannot visit college campuses this spring. Anyone in college admission loves showing admitted families around and introducing you to faculty and students. The weather is amazing, students are excited—there is no better place in the world than a college campus in April.

But I will tell you the Covid-19 crisis has pushed colleges to significantly up their game and provide quality online content through live and recorded webinars, student and faculty videos, and helpful and creative information on social media. You should take advantage of all of these new resources.

You should intentionally check out the social media accounts of the student groups or clubs that interest you, and compare them between colleges. If you are thinking about participating in music or club soccer or robotics, go to the Instagram or SnapChat pages of those clubs and organizations. Why? Because they are not intentionally talking to you for recruitment purposes. Read the comments and see who is involved. That will provide you invaluably organic and authentic insight. They’re not trying to “sell” you on attending–they don’t even know you are there.

You should read the online school newspaper and alumni magazine from the universities you’re considering. Using sources that are intended to “talk to each other” is going to help you glean true culture. Do these conversations resonate with you? Are these your people? Do they make you excited to be part of that community?

You should reach out to advisors, faculty and current students. They are remarkably available right now. Ask them your specific and personal questions so you are able to make the best final college choice.

If your family’s financial situation has changed since you were admitted or received your financial aid package, you should contact those institutions to submit new information or ask whether they are able to alter your aid package. You should do this respectfully and with the understanding that many schools may not have additional funding to extend because of the current climate, the flexibility of their funds, the size of their endowment, and the fact that many other families are in similar situations.

Great Minds Think Differently so let’s spin the question: “What can you be doing now?”

The truth is none of those shoulds will matter if you are not honest with yourself about who you really are, what you want, and what type of people, setting, and community bring out your best both inside and outside the classroom.

You can see this time as a rare opportunity to separate yourself from the voices that typically surround and influence you–and actually listen to your own voice.

You can consider Steve Jobs’ comments in his Stanford commencement address, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

You can recognize that whether it be this fall or some months after that, you will be leaving home. You can forgive and ask for forgiveness. You can go out of your way to spend time with your mom doing whatever she really enjoys. If you do nothing else this week, hug your mama!

Thinking differently will impact your decisions.

Your Words

Right now much of the news we see and hear is bleak. Unemployment is at a record high, hospital beds are filling or spilling over in major US cities, and the majority of people at the grocery store are wearing masks and gloves.  You cannot go online, watch TV, or listen to a podcast without hearing phrases like “everything has changed” or “the world has stopped” or “this is crazy.” One thing is abundantly clear right now in every facet of society: we do not have all the answers, but we do have a choice.

Great Minds Think Differently!

A recent GT Admission staff meeting (crazy hat theme). Highly entertaining…and productive.

Find creative ways to encourage your friends, serve your family, and be a source of energy and strength online. Send a positive text message to a teacher, organize a Zoom call to sing happy birthday to a friend, or offer to mow a neighbor’s yard.

If you have not seen John Krasinksi’s “Some Good News” Network on YouTube, stop reading this immediately and click here.

Need more ideas? Check out @goodnews_movement on Instagram. Find reasons to laugh and spread the love, my friends. Or this incredibly uplifting video from our creative and encouraging friends Jeff and Andre Shinabarger of Plywood People.

Thinking differently will impact your words (and your words can go places you never will).

This time is a gift. Consider looking at it that way. Use it to think differently about your actions, your decisions, and your words. In doing that, you’ll finish high school well, make a college choice that is truly yours, and bring signs of light, life, and hope to a world that desperately needs it right now.

Great Minds Think Differently. Thanks for being one of those!

Live Your Story

This week we welcome Assistant Director of International Recruitment, Sara Riggs, to the blog. Welcome, Sara!

The long-awaited fourth season of the 2004 cult classic Veronica Mars finally made its debut on Hulu this past summer.  If you haven’t watched it (or seasons 1-3, along with the Kickstarter-funded VM movie, for that matter) what are you waiting for?  Ten of ten would recommend.

Veronica MarsSpoilers Ahead! But I’m not here to just talk about TV.  All you need to know is season four ends tragically. I found out about the terrible, horrible, no good, very sad ending the same day season four debuted because I did exactly what I’m going to tell you NOT to do—I looked it up.  I put all my marbles in the “how does this end” basket.

(Don’t) Begin with the End in Mind

The thing is, I LoVe to know an ending.  There is a certain immediate, anxiety-reducing thrill when I find out what happens before the storyteller means for me to know what happens. But the other thing, the more important thing, I’ve learned is jumping ahead is always a mistake.  If I’m honest with myself, and with you, every single time I fast forward or (100% of the time) Google it, I begin to feel regret descend after the initial glow.  The even worse consequence is that neither the ending nor the actual story are as sweet because I already know what’s around the corner.

In reality, a good story is about more than an ending.  Though I’ve never watched a single episode of Game of Thrones, I know exactly who died (basically everyone), when (the moment you least expected), and how (in bloody, gruesome torture-death). But any true GOT fan will rightfully shame me for how much of the rich character development, dramatic plot twisting, and overall unparalleled viewing experience I missed out on, even if though they weren’t particularly enthusiastic about the final seasons. I know Khaleesi’s ending without any real emotional understanding of why she was cool for raising dragons in the first place.

A really good story holds magical powers.  It draws you in, lifts you up, devastates you, and brings you joy. The beautiful details are found in the mundane. No matter how it ends, the journey of a good story changes you.  In fact, the good story of a journey *is* your life.

Where YOUR Story is Found

What in the world does this have to do with applying to college?  Everything!  Your story is found in the application process and the waiting to learn a decision.  If you’re going through admission the right way, it’s not about where you end up; it’s about how you get there and what you learn about yourself along the way.

I’m here to tell you: DON’T read the last page first! Instead, try as hard as you can to shift your question from “where will I get in?” and “where will I go?” to “what will I learn about myself along the way?” and “how am I growing through this process?”

Bad things can happen when your primary focus is the ending, especially in your own story.  You run the risk of becoming someone you might not actually like or presenting an inauthentic version of yourself, not only to the colleges reading your applications and the circle of people who support you, but even to yourself.

Instead, take time through this process to focus and reflect. Grab some popcorn and play back your highlight reel. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who am I in this moment?
  • Where am I at this point in my story?
  • How did I get here?
  • Who or what has helped shape me?
  • Where do I want to take my story next?
  • Who do I hope to become, and why?

Don’t try to create your story based on the ending you think you want. Instead, embrace the process of finding your voice and learning to tell your own story.

Maybe your story is dramatic, or maybe it’s entirely unexciting.  Maybe it’s brilliant or tragic or a grand epic of redemption.  It’s possible that you don’t know exactly what you want your story to be yet.  Maybe you’re a natural-born storyteller, and maybe you aren’t.  No matter what, it’s your story, and one of the most valuable elements you can gain from the college application process is learning to tell it.  This is an opportunity not only to find the right university home but also to refine your ability to “know thyself” and begin articulating who you are (a valuable skill which pays dividends in all stages of life). Consider reaching out to some of the people who have been part of your story and thanking them.  Make productive use of the process and try to enjoy the benefits (aside from “getting in”) as much as you can.

If you’re still working on your application, make sure you’re having these conversations with yourself and anyone walking through this journey with you.  If you’ve applied and are waiting to hear back, keep having these conversations.  Ultimately, you’ll get to decide the ending of this story’s chapter, and you’ll choose the best beginning for your next chapter if you’ve taken time to understand your story as much as possible.Everything will be okay int he end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.

Will you get the Disney ending you expected?  Will you end up at your “dream” college?  Maybe.  But just as likely, maybe not.  If you spend time pondering your story rather than your ending, perhaps your ideal ending will be different than you anticipated when the process began.  Even if you don’t immediately like the outcome, give your story a chance to tell itself.

Take it from John Lennon (whether or not he was the first to say it), “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Sara Riggs has been with Georgia Tech since 2015. Prior to her time at Tech, she began her career in admission at a small, liberal arts college. She works primarily with international students and appreciates the truly global impact of a Georgia Tech education.  

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