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.
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.
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?”
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.
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!
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!