I Have a Brother

Listen to the audio version here.

Chapter 1 

I have a brother.

Like many little boys he grew up playing sports. His favorite was basketball. He practiced and worked hard and dreamed of making the school team. But it didn’t happen.

He wanted to be a leader. He ran for student government several times. Along the way he both won and lost. Ultimately, he became president of our high school.Your story

He studied, did his homework, crammed for tests, and did not cheat, even when those around him took shortcuts. He wanted to be the valedictorian or the salutatorian. But it didn’t happen.

If you are a sophomore or junior reading this: be encouraged that you are still in Chapter 1. Heartbreak, setbacks, and challenges. Every year we read regularly about losses of siblings; parents getting divorces; difficult uprooting moves to different schools, cities or states; breakups; substance abuse problems; discipline issues; severe illnesses, and the list goes on.

These events or periods will always be part of your story. But they do not define you. Rather, they help give you a deeper sense of empathy. They make you a better listener. And they simply demonstrate a fundamental truth — we were made to be in community. We were made to have deep friendships and relationships. My hope is these early experiences, while incredibly tough in the moment, will help you learn now what many struggle with well into adulthood: we must be able to trust others in our weakness and be available to them in theirs.

Chapter 2

I have a brother.

He wanted so badly to attend a particular Ivy League school. It was his dream. It was his top choice. He applied with high hopes and a strong record. But it didn’t happen.

He was admitted to a public school—an incredible campus and community. A place he was excited about. He interviewed for their top merit scholarship, a prestigious award and an elite group. He spent the weekend there, and felt confident about his chances.

He did not receive the scholarship, but chose the school anyway and made the most of it. He wrote for the school paper, joined a number of groups, plugged into the community, and studied abroad. He blazed a path of a new major and befriended professors and students alike. He ran for student office— and lost. He wanted so badly in his final year to receive the honor of living in a special part of campus. But it didn’t happen.

If you are senior reading this: Some of you have been admitted to your first choice university and are excited to get started this fall. Others were denied admission to your top choice. A few have realized your dream college is ultimately not affordable, and you’ve reluctantly put down your deposit to another place. Then there are those of you who ultimately won’t come off the waitlist at your number #1 school.

My hope is regardless of where you are going, you get excited about that place—that community and experience. People will describe college as “some of the best years of your life.” I think hearing that before you go puts unnecessary pressure on you. Instead, I’d say they are unique years. You get the chance to be around a bunch of young, interesting, fun, creative, (insert your preferred adjective here) people who all live close, have free time to be together, and are not juggling as many responsibilities as life typically brings later down the road. And that is amazing! Arrive on campus excited about the uncertainty and committed to exploring.

Great things never come from comfort zonesRegardless of where you are today in your college journey, I have good news— failure awaits, and disappointment and heartbreak are coming. Congratulations! In college you are going to receive some grades that you did not even know existed (read Bs or Cs); someone is going to turn you down for a date, an internship, a research opportunity, or a summer program (hopefully those are separate people for each because that would be weird otherwise). You may learn the major or profession you’ve always wanted to pursue is really not for you. You may end up transferring to a different college. Don’t be dejected. Instead, be thankful. The truth is you don’t learn lessons, or grow or improve, or develop deep friendships and trust when things are totally smooth, comfortable or easy—in fact, the opposite is true.

Chapter 3

I have a brother.

He graduated and moved overseas so he could master the language he’d taken as an undergraduate. Eventually he went to law school and added a second language while there.

He took a position at a prestigious law firm. He worked 100 hour weeks, impressed clients, married a smart, beautiful woman and started a family.

He did not make partner. He was “out-counseled.” He started a company that ultimately failed.

He moved back overseas, practiced law, and eventually started a different company. This one made it.

Anyone reading this who meets my brother today would be impressed. They would see, respect, and admire the accomplishments. They have not heard the pain, seen the tears, or experienced the disappointment. They would not know that along the way he’s also lost a father and a child.Success

Anyone student reading this should take time to seek out and really listen to a few people you admire. Forget about who they appear to be. Ask them about their almosts, their low points, and their losses. One of the worst things about social media is it allows people to showcase wins and hide their struggles. One of the best things you can do is take time in the months ahead to find someone twice your age and ask them to share it all. They’ll be honored and you’ll be encouraged.

Like all of us, my brother is both perfect and deeply flawed. He’s a failed athlete, an Ivy League reject, a fired employee and an unsuccessful entrepreneur. He’s a tri-lingual attorney turned successful small business owner who lives abroad with his incredible wife and amazing children.

Chapter 4

I have a brother.

We don’t share the same parents. We did not grow up in the same house. Our bond is not blood but rather a lifetime of sharing joy and sorrow—hopes, dreams, setbacks, and progress.

If you are reading this, my hope is you will come to understand and appreciate that success is not a point-to-point trip. A life fully and well-lived is not a straight road. So when you feel like things are falling apart; when you look around and believe “everyone else is happy;” when you question what you did wrong or why something did not work out, my hope is you will remember you are not at a dead-end, or even a U-turn that is forcing you to double back. These are inevitable turns, re-routes, and natural bends in the road you should expect on any journey.

Part of your story is already written. Beginnings are interesting, but incomplete. They are often filled with challenges, setbacks, and difficulty. The beauty is you get to keep writing. No matter where you are today or where you plan to be next year, I hope you will not dwell on what has been but instead commit to explore, attempt, edit, and continually learn.  Get excited about writing your next chapter!

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Feel The Burn

Last week I visited Jekyll Island, Georgia as part of a leadership program. If you have never been to the Golden Isles of our state, I hope you will make an effort to visit sometime. Not far from Jekyll you also have some incredibly preserved treasures like Cumberland Island and Sapelo Island. The entire region provides a rare and amazing combination of beaches, wildlife, restaurants, and recreation. Truly something for everyone in this beautiful part of Georgia.Jekyll Island

One afternoon we went on tour with Joseph Colbert, Yank Moore and other members of the Jekyll Island Authority Conservation team—a group charged with everything from protecting nesting loggerhead turtles and dune systems to preserving the integrity of tidal marshes. They showed us how they tag and track alligators, rattlesnakes, armadillos, turtles, bobcats and more in order to understand patterns, threats, and ecosystems. The diversity of wildlife was fascinating, but I have to say the most intriguing part to me was the discussion around prescribed/controlled burning.

Feel the Burn

Fire and burning is part of the natural cycle and ecosystem. Our modern human tendency to suppress fire actually increases the presence of invasive, homogeneous plants and weeds, effectively killing native grasses and flowers, and in turn reducing plant and animal diversity. Prescribed burns not only limit the damage of future fires caused by lightning or other sources that could severely damage the habitat and animals, but they also eliminate intrusive and dominant plants and brush that actually hinder the emergence of the far more diverse, vibrant, beautiful growth underneath. Ironically, the dominant, invasive, homogeneous plants and brush that grow in fire-suppressed areas are more flammable, so when fires do occur the damage is far worse. (These are the Clark Notes. Apologies to all students of ecology, agriculture, or members of the fire service world who may be cringing at my very rough summary.)Fire and Pine Forests

Listening to Joseph describe the process and rationale of controlled burns was convicting. It made me realize we often allow the known and visible to limit our vibrant, full, beautiful life and the possibilities that exist deeper in all of us. Pain (burning/fire) is inevitable, but short-term discomfort or perceived danger is a necessary part of a rich, diverse, flourishing future. Too frequently we inaccurately associate homogeneity with safety.

If you are a graduating senior

You are almost done. Congratulations! Seriously, congratulations. You may have always expected to graduate high school and move on to college, but in reality tens of thousands of American students do not. You’ve worked hard and accomplished a great milestone in your life. Well done! But… (you knew that was coming, right?) now the hard work lies ahead. You can see it as hard, or see it as an opportunity.

Sure, it would be easy to go off to college and keep doing what you have done. On some level, you have a recipe for success. Good grades, achievement, leadership, contribution. All good things. But what lies beneath? What do you know is within you that is going to require some burning to bring forth? What scares you but excites you? What do you want to be, to accomplish, to achieve, to explore? College is an opportunity for finding those things.

I am not saying you have to completely reinvent yourself, but I implore you to spend time this summer, before you leave home, to reflect on why you are going to college and how you are going to intentionally grow, thrive and develop there. Be bold enough to burn. Be courageous enough to peel back the top layer (as impressive or pretty as it may appear on the outside) to expose those parts of you perhaps only you know or believe have been suppressed, so they can rise and flourish. The process is not easy or painless. But Joseph would tell you, and I’m telling you, most people twice or three times your age know suppressing the fire is far more damaging in the long run.

If you are a junior/sophomore

In terms of college, it is easy to only see the top layer. You know where mom and dad went to school. You’re surrounded by the big schools or popular schools in your state and region. You read the list of highly ranked schools that are commonly cited in articles. You’ve been told about the “acceptable” or “expected” schools for a student from your school, community, or neighborhood. Burn them down (the ideas—not the schools!). The landscape of higher education, like the biodiversity under the visible, dominant intrusive top-layer is rich, vibrant and beautiful. But it will take some work to lift it up and see it.

So when schools email you or send you invitations to visit; when you receive brochures in the mail or someone from a school you’ve never heard of calls you; when colleges visit your city or school next fall, I urge you to pause and consider. If you do not at least dig down, burn through, and explore the variety of options you have, you will continue to see your choices as limited and suppressed. And that is not what the admission process is supposed to be. Instead it should be dynamic and life-giving. In the end, you should only go to a highly visible school after you have recognized and considered all your options and then chose it.

Regardless of where you are in this process, I challenge you to not accept what is in front of you because it appears safe, comfortable, or acceptable. And that does not only apply to colleges, my friends—that applies to life in general.  Safe, comfortable, acceptable, homogenous… if too many of those adjectives are your rationale for anything, you have some burning to do. You will be glad you did.

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Love… and Admission

I’m not usually too big on celebrating February 14, to be honest with you. I have nothing against chocolate or flowers or cards, but there’s something about this fabricated, highly marketed, contrived “holiday” that feels forced, disingenuous, and insincere. Ironically, Valentine’s Day is everything love is not supposed to be.Valentines Day Buzz

But you didn’t come here to listen to my love advice, right? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what you are going to get this week, because guess what–love and college admission have a lot in common. In hopes of setting the mood, our staff, some of their kids and spouses, as well as a few Georgia Tech students put this Valentine’s Playlist together for your listening pleasure. I’m guessing that, like me, you have not heard of some of these. I even question if a couple are actually love songs at all. But these are folks I love and trust–eclectic but thoughtful. If you think about it, your college considerations and visits should be this way too. Just because you have not heard of a song (university), don’t discount it. Just because it’s not your normal genre, region, type does not mean you won’t find a new favorite– with both songs and schools.

1- You Have Lots of Options.  If you are a junior or sophomore you are starting to get some appreciation for this right now thanks to all of those glossy, shiny brochures and letters showing up in the mail. Think about it. They are putting their best foot forward: sunny days; beautiful, sweeping shots of their grand, manicured grounds; picturesque moments under captivating trees as the sun fades warmly in the distance. What are they actually saying? “We think you are great. Come check us out. We’d love you to move in for four or five years.”  Love letters, my friends.

2- Love Yourself First. I never said it wouldn’t get cheesy, but there is enough room on the heart-shaped cracker for some truth too. If you are going to find the right romantic match–and the right college match–you have to look within first. Who are you? How do you best learn? How far away from home will you feel comfortable? What type of people bring out your best? How much can you, and should you, pay for this opportunity? (Parallel may break down a little on that last one). Anyone who has been married more than a few years–and certainly anyone who has been married more than once–will say you have to love yourself, know yourself, and understand yourself before you can possibly love another person. College is no different. You can’t answer “Where you are going to college?” until you first answer “Why are you going?” Same is true for dating. Maybe you should take yourself out for V-Day tonight or later this week. Don’t go to a movie. Don’t go somewhere you know a lot of people. How about a slow, quiet stroll? We all probably spend too little time alone anyway. Don’t get in so much of a hurry with dating or college that you forget to listen to your own dreams, needs, hopes, and goals.

3- Be Realistic. I’m sure you are thinking, “First the cheese and now the dream dies.” Bear with me. Here’s the thing: some people like to flirt—and colleges will too. Your heart may flutter when you get some very flattering letters from schools. You could see pictures of the suitor standing by her Gothic castle, or in some far away land wearing a shirt with an inspiring seal on it compelling you to write a love letter back (aka an application). I’m not trying to kill the romance, but I am urging you to keep one foot on the ground. You want to take a shot at the supermodel? For the low price of $75 and another essay, you can. Time, love, and money are always connected. ALWAYS. I’m just saying if your SAT and GPA are in the school’s bottom quartile (or if both are in their top quartile but the admit rate is less than 20% a year) you better send a few love letters to equally interesting places which do not show up on the cover of every publication in the nation.

4- Say What? Love, and by extension admission, can be confusing. Sometimes you need a friend to translate what a potential boyfriend/girlfriend/ suitor is saying. I’m here for you. “Maybe” (also known as defer or waitlist) does not mean “No.” Keep your head up, man. She just said “hold on.” Of course your feelings are hurt—you wanted an outright “Yes.” Does it sting? Sure. But shake it off and keep the big picture in mind. You professed your love on your application. You said four years together (followed by a lifetime of donation solicitations) sounded magical. Now they want your fall grades and a quick statement about why you are still interested, and you have your arms folded, nose scrunched and back turned. Love hurts. (Apparently, “Admission Hurts” ended up on the cutting room floor.)Dr. Suess

If someone else said “Yes” and you are fired up about that relationship, great. You found your match! Awesome. But don’t let your ego get in the way of seeing this through because of a maybe. You won’t learn anything about yourself, or love for that matter, by quitting.

5- No Happens. Denied, rejected, and turned down. Harsh words, for sure. But you can’t view them as anything more than re-directions. The same is true of failed dates, break-ups, or declined promposals. Re-directions. New opportunities are coming. Better days are ahead. Need to cry? Fine. Need to scream out the window at high speeds? Buckle up and watch for mailboxes, but okay. Burn the hoodie, rip off the bumper sticker, shred the poster. You do you. But then get your head up so you can get excited about the other options you have. And don’t look back. A: You shouldn’t give them the satisfaction, B: You owe it to yourself and the one you end up with to be all in.

6- Right for them does not equal right for you. So there was this girl in college… Short story is she was pretty, smart, funny, athletic, and generally a good person. Lots of guys wanted to date her. She had guys buying her meals, walking her home, and constantly asking her out.  She had guys sitting in on classes they weren’t even enrolled in to try to talk to her. Uhhh…well, that’s what I heard anyway. In the end, who did she like? My roommate. And his response? “Not interested. I don’t see it.” I never said he was smart. Just said I knew him. But here’s the point– it’s easy to believe a college is right for you or is a place you should apply or attend because a bunch of your friends, family, and classmates are into it. Have the confidence to make your own decisions.

I realize six points is random but I’m going to stop there because getting into parallels about double depositing or transferring seem dicey. At the end of the day, my best love and college advice is follow your heart and choose wisely. Have a great Valentine’s Day. I hope at least one of our songs brings you a smile or a new artist to follow.

Want to read more on love… and admission? My good friend and colleague, Brennan Barnard, also wrote on this topic earlier this week. Check out his take. 

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Embrace Your Inner Kindergartner

I am having a great week, largely because I’ve spent a lot of time with my daughter’s kindergarten class. On my birthday I had “lunch” with her, which starts at 10:45 a.m.! At that hour, I just opted for the chocolate milk (maybe it’s just me, but school chocolate milk is always better than other places… kind of like a Coke at a baseball game, or a hot pretzel on the street in New York).

Earlier in the week I got to be Mystery Reader, which is always a good time. You show up at a certain time and stand in the hallway while the teacher gives the kids clues about who is waiting outside. All 20 kids start with their hands up.

“Ok. He has brown hair.” A few hands go down.

“He likes to run.” A decent number go down on this.

“He loves Bojangles chicken biscuits.” I’m watching this one closely because no kid of mine is going to be friends with someone who’s not being raised properly. It’s down to just two kids now.

“He works at Georgia Tech.” I hear a scream and my daughter comes running out to get me. Who wouldn’t love that?!

King Hugo’s Huge Ego

I go in, say hi, high five a few kids I know, throw out some fist bumps or nods to the kids in the back of the room, and sit down to read. The book I brought was King Hugo’s Huge Ego. I’m only on the cover page when the first question comes up. “What’s an ego?” Now trying to break that down for this age group ain’t easy. Words like “id” and “conscious” are going through my head but I settled on something a lot less Psych 101.

King Hugo

“What does haughty mean?” He didn’t say “haughty” he said “naughty.” “Do you mean ‘hottie?’” We navigate all of this too.

In the story, King Hugo is an incredibly pretentious ruler. He brags all the time, asks his denizens to bow down as he passes, and delivers self-aggrandizing speeches from his tower every day. Finally, a sorceress puts a spell on him so that his head enlarges with every boastful statement. Still, he does not realize the error of his ways, and eventually his head gets so big that he floats away like a balloon in the wind. The sorceress then plugs up his ears and he finally listens and understands the implications of his incessant boasts. Ultimately, he repents, his head shrinks back to a normal size, and he becomes a fair, wise, and beloved monarch.

Thinking of Yourself a Lot

In the admission process, there is an important distinction between thinking A LOT OF YOURSELF and thinking of YOURSELF A LOT. The former can lead to some ill-advised choices in your application choices, some obnoxious lines in essays, and ultimately set you up for disappointment when receiving admission decisions. The latter, however, is one of the keys to having options, growing along the way, and ending up at a school that’s a great fit for you.

Since I’ve been hanging out with elementary school kids, I’m going to keep this pretty basic. If you are a junior or a sophomore in high school right now, I encourage you to draw on the adage of “STOP. DROP. ROLL,” and “LOOK. WATCH. STARE.”

LOOK.

As a sophomore or junior, you are starting to get a lot of college brochures. The first thing to remember (we’ve covered this before, but again, this is in the spirit of lower school “repetition for comprehension”) is RECYCLE. But before that, you should be LOOKing, at all of it. Never heard of the school? That’s okay. Nobody ever heard of Justin Bieber until he posted a few covers on YouTube about a decade ago. I would LOOK with one eyebrow raised at pictures. Helpful but maybe not in the “1000 words” kind of way. Many are photoshopped and some use models rather than real students. “How did they get three kids from different ethnicities reading books from three different genres while wearing three different styles?” It’s simple–they staged it. But LOOK closely at the words and statements. Who does the school say they are? Does that resonate with you? At Georgia Tech we talk a lot about innovation, entrepreneurship, and creating the next “fill-in-the-blank-here.” What is the school’s key message? Then, take a LOOK at yourself. Is that you? Is that who you want to be, or who you want to be around, or how you want your college experience to be defined? Finding the right college is a process, and it takes some work, not to mention honesty. REALLY LOOK.Kindergarten

WATCH.

It’s spring break time for high schools right now (like I needed to tell you). I know this not because I’m headed out on a cruise or putting a playlist together, but because we are literally receiving thousands of guests each week who want to tour Tech. When you go to a school for a college visit, I hope you will take some time before or after the tour and information session to just sit and WATCH. WATCH the other visitors. Do they look and sound like the kind of students you would want to go to college with? Find a good bench outside, or a table in the dining hall or food court, near a bunch of students. Go to a coffee shop right off campus and pretend to read, but really just listen and WATCH (do be careful not to make this creepy). What are they saying, reading, and listening to? Don’t rush on and off a college campus. Don’t just go on the tour, listen to the info session, and take the photoshopped brochure and leave. WATCHing takes time…. So make time for it.

STARE.

If you are a junior, I’m imploring you to get awkward and STARE. STARE intently at your senior (as in 12th graders) friends, neighbors, and teammates who are weighing their college options. They have gotten in at some places, been waitlisted or denied at other places, and perhaps they’re still waiting to hear from some final colleges and universities. STARE. And listen to how they’re processing these choices. What do you hear them saying? How are they going about making their final decision? Is it about the cost? Is it about the athletics, or the academics, or the location, or the opportunities? Again, you have to be willing to really assess who YOU are and who YOU want to be. What factor(s) do you want to make your college choice based upon, and which ones are most important to you? Write these down. How will what you see and hear impact where you will apply, and where do you want to be in a year from now with your choices?

BonusASK.

If you really want to be bold and embrace this process, then straight up ASK them. ASK what they would have done differently…. what they wish they had known… who they wish they’d talked to… and who they should have just ignored.

Like I said, I’ve been hanging with Kindergartners this week. I’m telling you: to do this college process right you need take a lesson from them–the master-askers of how, what and why; the unabashed kings of LOOKing, WATCHing, and STARE (bear with me) ing. So embrace your inner six-year old today. And never let go.

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