Turning a Loss into a Big Win

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

A couple of years ago a piece of Atlanta history came crashing down. A key step to opening Mercedes-Benz Stadium was imploding the Georgia Dome. As with most major demolitions, news crews from all over the city were there to cover the action. After all, who doesn’t love to see a good building implosion?

The Weather Channel’s coverage easily won the internet that day. The timing couldn’t have been worse for a city transit bus to roll in and completely block the biggest moment of the event, which only lasted around 30 seconds at most. The frustration, disappointment, and angst in the videographer’s voice is priceless.

 

Before working in higher education, I was a television news producer. So much of my fascination (and pure enjoyment) of this video has to do with my knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes of live tv. That experience gives me some insight into what likely happened off-camera that day:

1 – No doubt the videographer scouted out the ideal spot to capture the action days, if not weeks, ahead of time. There was a plan in place!

2 –  He arrived at said location in the early, early morning hours on a very cold day, maybe as early as 4 a.m., to test his equipment, set up the angle, and be sure he had a clear connection for his live shot back to the station.

3 – Meanwhile, back in the newsroom, a whole host of staffers—including producers, directors, and anchors—were all waiting for this video and had centered their newscast around it. The bus was not included in any part of the script.

What should have been a straightforward live shot ran off the rails, and the outcome wasn’t anything close to what anyone expected. As for the videographer, in that moment he’s likely thinking a lot of things, including, “This bus ruined everything. Why did this happen?!”

Transit Buses and Admission Decisions

How does any of this remotely relate to college admission, you ask? This month a host of colleges and universities across the nation released their early admission decisions. While I don’t know exact details on percentages, the law of averages tells me many students did not get the news they hoped for. In fact, more students likely received a decision that starts with a D (defer or deny) rather than A (admitted).  If you find yourself in the D group, you could say you’ve had a Georgia Dome experience: a bus rolling into your frame at a critical moment, completely blocking you from the one thing you’ve worked so hard to get.

It’s easy to feel defeated. Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like being put off for another few months, or getting flat out rejected, by your dream school.

So how can you handle it when a bus rolls into your live shot? Take a few lessons from the Georgia Dome incident.

Trust the process. There’s two ways to look at the bus: you can get mad, shout, yell, throw in the towel, and give up. Or, you can get mad, shout, yell, and… wait. The bus in front of you will eventually move, and you’ll be left with a completely new perspective. Once the bus gets out of the way, you’ll have some great choices—so get ready.

Assess where you are now. You can’t go back in time and change your application, but you can look at where you are now and choose your next step. If you were deferred, is there a piece of information you can add into your deferred applicant form? Will their admission office accept an updated transcript with fall grades? If you have open applications at other schools, are you meeting their deadlines and turning everything in that they need to make a decision? If you were denied at one school, do you have applications in at others that fit what you’re looking for in a college experience? There are still colleges that are accepting applications, so get those apps in!

Accept it. Sounds a little harsh, but bear with me. You might ask, “how does she know what it feels like to be turned down by your dream school?” I actually know exactly how it feels. When I was a senior one of the Southern Ivies was at THE top of my list. I was in love with this school in every way. I applied Early Decision and was deferred to Regular Decision. A few months later, I was denied. It’s been 20 years, and I still remember receiving the letter, sitting down with my parents, and crying for three solid hours. I felt disappointed, sad, and betrayed. I had to allow myself time to mourn the end of my dream. Then, I looked at the other colleges where I was admitted, chose the school I felt would be the best fit, paid an enrollment deposit, and never looked back (p.s. I made a good decision, too!).

I bet the videographer also allowed himself time to lament his ruined live shot. But then he picked up his camera, jumped back in the truck, and headed off to the next shoot. Because that’s how news, and life, works–as one story ends, another is beginning.

Turning Abject Failure into a Big Win

Here’s the point: at the end of the day, what may have felt like abject failure to the guy behind the camera actually turned into a huge win for him, and his station. The Weather Channel embraced the video and put it on YouTube. As of today it has more than 1.4 million views! There is no way their coverage would have gotten so much mileage had everything had gone right that day. The video went viral and trended for days. National news outlets picked it up, and in no time spoofs were made of the incident. The internet loved it!

Even the associate science editor at The Weather Channel at the time was able to joke about it.

I’m not telling you to broadcast your defer or deny all over social media (in fact—please don’t). What I am telling you is what looks like, feels like, and is one of the hardest moments of your life will eventually turn into something good. You will find a college to call home… you will find a school that wants you on their campus… and when you get there in the fall, the sting of this decision will fade away as you make new friends, pursue new dreams, and make new memories.

Hang in there… easy to say, hard to do, but please try. The holidays are here, and you have a couple of weeks to rest, recover, and breathe. Be with family and friends, do something fun, read a book for enjoyment (not school!), and invest in your overall well-being. You’ve got one more semester left before your life changes… clear your head, and get ready. Great things are ahead!

Editor’s note: This post first appeared on the GT admission blog in December 2017.

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.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address above, or click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.

Two Sides of the Same Story

This Saturday we will release admission decisions. On Friday, we will gather our entire staff in a room we affectionately call the “collaboratory” or the “collaborodome”—a  big space including about 12 work stations, a few white boards, a flat screen, and more forms of chocolate than you find in most grocery stores.

First, we will walk through the number and percentage of students in each admission decision category, as well as their basic academic and geographic profile, the timeline for pushing the decision into our portal, and the email communications to follow. These are the numbers and the mechanics. But where we will spend most of our time is encouraging and preparing our staff for what’s to come.

Great work, tough decisions, many responsibilities.

We will thank staff for their great work to get us to this point. 18,000 applications reviewed (many having been read two or three times) in less than 12 weeks (that’s 18,000 essays and 18,000 short answer responses, people), not including review with faculty from all six colleges. By all counts it’s a huge challenge and a phenomenal accomplishment. In the midst of reviewing applications, we’ll acknowledge how our staff also spent time hosting families on a daily basis and traveled to high schools to talk to students and families about Tech specifically and the admission experience broadly. We will applaud the sacrifice of time away from family; the toughness to push through fatigue and illness; and the commitment they’ve demonstrated to get us here. Working in college admission is not an easy job—and we try to drive this point home. Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect. And chocolate for everyone!

Not everyone agrees.

Once we have laid all of the accolades on pretty darn thick, we will discuss how tough the decisions really are. There are many difficult choices in order to select the best match students from thousands of incredibly talented applicants. Even in our own committee discussions we have disagreements. So, especially for the staff members who have not been in our office for many years, we prepare them to hear from many students, friends, parents, counselors, principals, neighbors, loving aunts, alumni, and even seemingly unconnected observers who will not agree with our decisions. If, conservatively, you assume every applicant has four people “in their corner,” you’re talking nearly 100,000 people this Saturday who are impacted by these decisions. Expect to receive emails and calls questioning and commenting on almost every element of our process. “Didn’t you see how high her test scores are?” “You clearly have no idea how hard our high school is.” “I thought you had a holistic review. There is nothing else he could have done outside the classroom.” And within minutes you will receive contradictory accusations. “I know you only took her because she’s a legacy.” Followed by “Apparently, you could care less we are a third-generation Tech family.” “And why didn’t you fold the laundry?” (Wait…. That was a text from my wife.) Bottom line: there will be a lot of people poking holes, second guessing, and generally frustrated about things not going the way they think they should have gone.

Miles to Go

Miles to go before we sleep.

In many ways putting these decisions on the proverbial streets is only the beginning of our work. As soon as we admit students, the hard work of convincing them to come begins. Known as “yield season” in our world, it’s a time filled with calling campaigns, open house programs, and even more travel. Not to mention another 18,000 regular decision applications to review by early March. Tight timeframes… lots of work to be done. Keep the coffee pot full, re-stock the Emergen-C, and keep your head up. We got this.

A Commonality

As I was making my notes on what to say to staff on Friday, I could not help but notice that as an applicant, all of these things can be said for you too. Most of you will receive some combination of admission decisions from different schools this year. When they roll in, regardless of the outcome (admitted, deferred, denied, waitlisted) keep these three things in mind:

Great work, tough decisions, many responsibilities.

You have juggled a lot to get here: classwork, practice, job, family. It has taken sacrifice, commitment, desire, and a willingness to trade some comfort and ease for a more difficult path. If you are admitted, great. Kudos. Well done. You took the classes, made the grades, put in the work and deserve to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing your efforts get rewarded. Keep your celebration classy, my friends. Act like you’ve been there before. If you are not admitted, nothing has changed. An admission decision does not invalidate the character you’ve displayed or knowledge you’ve gained. Hey. Hey! Do you hear me? Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect. Some other school is going to send you chocolate soon (metaphorically speaking, of course) and it will taste doubly sweet when they do. Trust me.

Not everyone agrees.

I’m sorry to tell you this, but you may actually have to be the adult in this situation, even in your disappointment. I’ve seen many grown people absolutely lose their minds over admissions decisions: rants, cursing, threats, accusations, pulled donations, thrown objects, broken friendships. I’ve NEVER seen this kind of behavior from a student (well, maybe a few curses, but basically warranted). You may get in somewhere only to have a friend’s parent assert it is “just because ___________.” Just because of… gender, major, your parents’ jobs, one of your feet is slightly longer than the other, or you’re left-handed. You may not get in and have your own parent cite one or all of these same reasons. Bottom line: there will be a lot of poking holes, Ifsecond guessing, and general frustration around things not going the way others think they should have gone, and when it does, remember most of it stems from a place of love. It may not feel like it at the time, but love is the root of the behavior. Two pieces of advice: 1 – read the poem “if” by Rudyard Kipling soon. 2 – Hug them. If you keep your composure, maintain your confidence, focus on the big picture, and express love in the moment, there’s nothing you can’t handle (actually a rough paraphrase of “if”).

Miles to go before we sleep.

I understand how in January it feels like getting in is what it’s all about. But the truth is some of the toughest work is still ahead of you. The likelihood is you’re going to get in several places. You still need to compare those options, visit campus, receive and evaluate financial aid packages. Oh—and not to mention next week’s Calculus exam and the paper you still need to write.

Miles to go, my friends. But that’s the adventure, isn’t it? Enjoy every step!

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address above, or click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.

Be Cool.

Listen to the audio version here.

I am not a big fan of having internet access on flights because it is a huge temptation for me to do work in the air. So one of my new year’s resolutions is  to stop getting Wi-Fi on the plane. Instead, I read, write, listen to a podcast, or, depending on the length of the flight, watch a movie. With young kids and a wife who is the romantic comedy queen, it’s a rare thing to get to watch whatever I want to watch.

Chaos Around You…

Last week I was flying to Virginia and watched 13 Hours. It’s a super violent, super intense movie about an attack in Libya on two US compounds/outposts. The movie starts with a US special ops contractor flying into Benghazi.  Upon leaving the airport they immediately run into a road block and are boxed in by heavily armed and aggressive rebel fighters. It’s heated and confrontational. Guns are drawn and everyone is yelling at them in Arabic. But the two Americans are unflappable. They’ve been in situations like this before. They don’t raise their voices. They don’t panic. They stay calm and reason with the commander of the opposition force in a firm but balanced manner.  Not easy, right? Chaos around you. Lots of voices. Lots of emotions. Lots on the line.

At Georgia Tech, we are about to release admission decisions and over the course of the next month, most schools will also be putting their decisions on the streets. So, when you log in to a portal, or receive an email or letter from a school with an admission decision, keep two words in mind: Be Cool.  This is on you, because you can’t count on anyone else. Your parents may lose their minds. Your teachers or principal or neighbors or friends may as well. Again, lots of voices, lots of emotions, lots on the line. Two words: Be cool. Allow me to explain.

If you are admitted…

First of all, congratulations! Celebrate. Buy the t-shirt, go out to dinner, treat yourself to something you’ve been wanting to get, or just go get a double scoop of ice cream. Whatever makes you happy. Celebrate your win. Be proud. But keep in mind two things: 1- That could have easily broken the other way for you, especially if it was a highly selective college (30% admit rate or lower). Not saying you’re not the (wo)man, but holistic admission is unpredictable, as we’ve discussed. 2- Some crazy qualified and talented students did not get in, and they are disappointed and hurting.

What should you do? Act like you’ve been there before. Keep it classy, my friend. It’s okay to post your excitement on social media, but a little humility goes a long way. Big difference between: “Got into Northwestern today. They would have been crazy not to take me” vs. “Accepted to UCLA. Honored to have the chance to go there.”Be cool everybody

What should you NOT do? Walk into school and make a big show by pronouncing your victory to the masses.  Not necessary. AND, trust me, definitely not what the school who admitted you would want from you in representing them. (This is also known as the opposite of being cool.)

If you are denied…

Well…it sucks. And you can be honest about being upset. But keep it all in perspective. Nobody died. Nobody was even physically hurt. Look in the mirror. You’re the same person you were the day before. Same talents, same passions, same goals. Just a different path to get to them. Nothing has changed. Say it with me, “Nothing has changed.” Be Cool.

What should you do? You’ll need to figure out how to work it out. Go for a long bike ride or drive. Burn the hoodie (safely, please). Play some cathartic video games. Build something. Go see a movie, or just cry. By now you know how to take care of yourself in times of disappointment. If you don’t, consider this the first lesson in that very necessary, and all too frequent, life skill.

What should you NOT do? Blame someone else. “If Mr. Pruitt had given me an A in that history class…,” “If my parents hadn’t made us move in sophomore year…,” “If Coach Williams had let me play Varsity as a freshman…” No finger pointing. No regrets or should haves. It’s time to move on. You have other options. Look at this closed door as a way to push you toward the next one. Does that sound cheesy or trite? Sometimes the truth is like that.Just be Cool

If you are wait listed…

I’ve literally NEVER heard someone say they like to wait. “Hey, what are you doing this weekend?” “I don’t know. Was thinking I may just go wait somewhere.” Nobody loves “maybes.” But if you are wait listed, that’s what you’re being asked to do. So, again, Be Cool.

What should you do? First, accept your spot on the wait list. Yes, you have to do that. It may be as simple as completing a form or replying to an email. That is step 1; to read what they send, and do what it says. Secondly, well…wait. Easier said than done. Expect that you are not going to hear either way on admission until after May 1. Some schools, and often the extremely selective, will go to their wait list in late April, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Most start working the wait list in early May and it can continue well into the summer. So set your expectations on that time frame. It’s not going to be late March and likely not mid-April. Grab a snack. Text a friend. You have time here.

What should you NOT do? Stalk the admission office. Showing up unannounced, calling every day, sending more than one letter or postcard… it’s not effective.

Next week I’ll be writing more on the wait list.  For now, just two words: BE COOL.  You got this.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address above, or click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.