Change is the Only Constant

Listen to “Change is the Only Constant. Episode 5- Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In the last few weeks, as the Coronavirus has become more of a reality in America, we have seen unprecedented change. Schools, professional sports, places of worship, and annual events have been postponed, closed, or canceled. Each day the headlines, number of known cases, press releases, and economic implications seem to multiply at head-spinning rates. To be honest I’m not sure what has been more disconcerting and harder for me to grasp, the fact that The Master’s won’t be in early April or that I’m now essentially co-teaching my kids’ (nine and eleven).

If you are a high school junior, I know you have a lot of questions about how this interruption to your normal life and academic career might impact your college admission experience. In a time when so much is shifting on a daily and weekly basis, I am not going to purport to know exactly how this is all going to play out. If someone has told you they have all the answers, you should run. They are either delusional or lying. Dangerous either way.

However, in times of uncertainty, I think it’s important to ground ourselves in what we do know. As it relates to your college admission experience, I’d argue that nothing has changed.

Nothing has changed

Colleges Need Students. (I figured I start with a mind-blowing revelation). Check your email inbox. I know you are getting a ton of messages right now. How did they find you? Traditionally, colleges buy names from the College Board (PSAT/SAT) and ACT. If you took one of tests, they’ve pulled you into their communication flow and are now attempting to recruit you.

If you were scheduled to take a now canceled exam, you should still expect to receive plenty of mail and email. How? Many vendors already existed who gather lists of students in high school via surveys or other methods. And while the actual sport of fencing may not be in line with current social distancing standards, you can be assured that other vendors are coming out of the virtual woodwork right now soliciting their latest, greatest algorithm for geo-fencing, digital marketing, and a variety of other multi-syllabic, often- hyphenated opportunities.Visual depiction of continuity amidst change

Sure. Currently the subject lines are not “Come visit us” or “See you soon on campus,” but the message is still the same:  We want you. We need you. We want to tell you all of the reasons why we are great, you are great, and we can be great together!

Colleges Expect Variance. I don’t know how your high school is currently teaching your courses. I DO know it varies widely across our nation and the world. We’ve heard some schools may only issue pass/fail grades for this spring. Others are saying they plan to simplify their grading scales for this term or may compress certain subjects into summer courses (assuming they are back in school by June).

Undoubtedly, a lot of nuance and diversity. This should not concern you, or make you fearful that you’ll be at a disadvantage. First, everyone is dealing with this unprecedented new reality and continually adjusting to unfamiliar territory. Second, admission folks are used to seeing varying curriculum, grading scales, and delivery methods. They are trained to ask questions and dig deeply into your transcript. Holistic review means they are not putting your GPA into a spreadsheet and multiplying by some quotient. They don’t expect uniformity. And given the global impact of Coronavirus, you should expect a lot of grace from colleges in the weeks, months, and year to come.

Colleges train readers and committees to consider your course choice and progression. Their assessment of your academic career in high school is never purely numerical or black and white.  Their biggest question is always what could you have taken and what you chose to take during high school. In that sense, nothing has changed.

You have a lot of options. There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in our country alone. Let’s be honest- the brochures they send are pretty standard, similar, and predictable.

Page 1: a picture of the football team winning. Sunny day, fans in the stands, cheering and hugging. Life is good.

Page 2: Three students of different ethnicities wearing that college’s shirt, hoodie, or hat sitting under a tree with a professor. The professor effortlessly strikes that delicate balance between youthful energy with sage wisdom and sits casually yet controlled at that perfect distance that says, “I care about you… but not in a creepy way.”

Page 3: A student standing on something high- perhaps near a statue, or on a mountain, or on a bluff overlooking the ocean, pondering life’s limitless possibilities. You get the picture. Literally.

The truth is that although these brochures may look the same, American colleges and universities vary widely. One upside of the many articles covering how Coronavirus is impacting higher education is that they shine a spotlight on this impressive, beautiful, vast landscape. In fact, I’d contest the diversity of our higher education system is one of our greatest strengths as a nation.

Good news for you is that right now schools are working extremely hard to create and publish all kinds of ways for you to interact with them online via social media, webinars, individualized appointments, and more. In the days, weeks, and months ahead, you are going to see great, new content from students, faculty, alumni, and campus organizations in a way that students before you simply did not.

Bottom line: You have a lot of options, just like always. But this disruption is going to be a catalyst for colleges to demonstrate their variety and incredible communities in even more accessible, unique, and compelling ways than ever before.

Everything Has Changed

I get it. In many ways, it feels like everything has changed: You’re not in school and it’s Wednesday at 1:32 p.m.; people around you are genuinely excited when they score a 18- count package of toilet paper; Waze timeVisual depiction of changing times estimates have been moving to an “earlier arrival time;” “Quarantine” bingo cards are popping up on your social media feed. What the…?!! Crazy, crazy days, my friends.

My hope is you’ll see this disruption to normal life as an opportunity. Things have slowed down dramatically. Eventually and progressively they’ll boot back up. As they do, you will have the choice to re-enter relationships, organizations, and daily life in a different way.

Take some time (since you should have more of it now) to ask yourself what you want to see change in yourself, your relationships, the way you interact on social media, and how you treat and communicate with family, friends, and “your neighbors.” I hope you’ll be an encouragement to others during this time of uncertainty. I hope your relationships with your family will be strengthened.

Spend some time reflecting on how you currently invest your time and what that indicates about your priorities and character. Now that you are not in your normal patterns or rhythms think about where your identity comes from and if that is authentic and accurate.

My hope is you’ll not see the weeks ahead as isolating or something to fear, but rather as opportunity to embrace and lead change. Ultimately, you may find avenues or passions for bringing that about on a larger, broader, more societal or global level, but the courage to do that starts by honestly examining your own mind, heart, and life.

What does all of that have to do with college admission? Absolutely nothing… and everything.

Lice (and admission) Lessons

Three years ago, I wrote a blog about my family getting lice.

Here is how it went down.

Cue dream sequence…

My wife called to tell me some horrible news.

“Our daughter has lice.”

“Oh, crap.”

“No. Lice. She has to leave school.”

“Okay. Got it.”

Since my wife works at a hospital she can’t leave at a moment’s notice, so I started packing my bag and canceling meetings. Five minutes later, she called back.

“Our son also has it.”

“Oh, CRAP!”

“No. Lice.”

“Yeah, I’m on it.”

I put down my phone and started scratching my head. Power of suggestion, I suppose. 45 minutes later I picked the kids up from school and we immediately went to a local shop that specializes in debugging (my term, not theirs).

I had not seen the signs. I needed someone else to identify the situation, alert me to the problem, and ultimately deal with it for me.

Then, And Now

Not this time….

Fast forward to two weeks ago. I arrived home from a five-day trip well after midnight, slept on the couch, and awoke a few hours later to my son dropping a spoon on the tile floor in the kitchen (his coordination improves as the day goes on).

I stumbled over to start making coffee, gave him a hug, and asked, “How’s it going, bud?”

“Alright.”

“Had a good week?”

“Yep.”

Man itching over his current stressful situationThen I noticed it. In less than 90 seconds, he had already scratched his head twice. My Spidey senses (and frankly my own scalp) were tingling.

“Does your head itch?”

“Uh. Huh.”

“Has it been itching before today?”

“Yeah. Mom said it’s probably just dry scalp.”

Right at that moment my daughter came down the stairs. I’d always found her shuffling feet, wrinkled nightgown, and disheveled, tangled mess of hair to be endearing. I saw her rub her eyes, yawn, and then (seemingly in slow motion) move her hands to her hair to scratch the back of her head.

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

She looked hurt and confused. I did not care.

Meanwhile, my son had gone back to filling his bowl. I had to double take. Was that cereal previously regular shredded wheat? Because it definitely looked frosted now.

Not going to lie. I put on a toboggan hat (we were fresh out of shower caps and hair nets) and told them to get in the bathroom.

“But dad I’m hungry,” my daughter protested.

“Girl, right now you are the meal. Get in the bathroom.”

Still confused (and scratching) she followed my son down the hall.

I found a pencil and started examining. Unlike the last time when I needed the “lice lady” to tell me about their condition, this time I was positive within 30 seconds.

“Okay. I’m going to email your teachers and cancel my meetings today. We have to deal with this. And don’t sit on the couch, put on a hat, or move at all until I come back.”

I went upstairs, threw all of my clothes in the hamper, and took a shower. And yes, I may have cried just a bit.

Unlike the last time, I did not need anyone else to tell me about the problem. I knew what to look for and how to deal with it- right down to drying all towels, sheets, and blankets on high and bagging up the stuffed animal zoo my daughter has created in her bedroom. Moreover, even though I was confident they were infected, I knew I was lice-free. I had not had head-to-head contact with them recently due to travel, and I was able to do quick self-examination.

Paranoia, the power of suggestion, and the possibility of a problem

Just saying the word, “lice” causes most people to start itching. Inevitably they move back a little and wince, or shift in their chair and alternate twitching their shoulder blades, or simultaneously shake their head and crinkle their nose, while firmly closing their eyes and shaking their hands.

Let’s be honest. The college admission process is eerily similar. We hear stories about smart kids not getting into certain schools, or read articles about the growing competitiveness of a school that “used to be so easy to get into,” or see social media posts touting the newest rankings, admit rates, or ROI statistics—and we start to “crtich” (equal parts cringe and itch).

Are you infected?Analyzing a situation to discover the root problem

In our labs at Georgia Tech, we are currently working on an “anti-admission itch cream.” Since it is patent pending and not immediately available for over the counter sales, let’s conduct a quick online exam and virtual treatment procedure:

  • You are a senior who was recently deferred admission in EA/ED.

Bugs: You are thinking about “demonstrating interest” to help your chances of being admitted in the next round by writing a letter a day to the admission office, or calling/emailing every member of the admission team to plead your case and articulate your love of the school (happens every year), or sending flavored, scented, or sweetened gifts to the admission director (no way I’m opening, let alone eating, any of that), or popping in, tweeting at, or just showing up… YES! You are infected.

De-Bug:  Do what they have told you to do. Most likely that will just be sending in your fall grades, filling out a quick form, or writing a supplementary essay. Want to go one step (ONE- not 100) further? I get it. Send a quick email to the admission officer who reads/recruits your school/state letting them know you appreciate their time and continued review of your application. That’s it. Stop scratching. There are no bugs. You are good. Repeat: YOU.ARE.GOOD! 

  • You are a parent considering using an independent counselor or consultant to help your family navigate the college admission experience.

Bugs: Their sales pitch (and basically only “credential”) centers around their own kid getting into an Ivy League school two years ago. They are not an expert. YES. You need to be examined. Someone in your neighborhood, school community, or workplace has leaned over and created a bug bridge from their infected head to yours. And if anyone “guarantees” you admission to a college (especially those considered selective or highly selective) you should both check your head and the headlines. Googling Rick Singer.

De-Bug: If you already have a high quality, well-trained, deeply experienced counselor in your school, you most likely do not need additional assistance. However, if after examining your situation, i.e. penciling your head closely, you believe outside or more individualized assistance is critical, find someone who is a member of HECA, IECA, NACAC, or another reputable professional organization.

  • You are a junior who is unhappy with your initial standardized test scores.

Bugs: Life is over. I’m not going to college. No college will admit me. I’m not smart. If any of those thoughts have gone through your head, then YES, you are buggy. The itch is real, my friend.

De-Bug:  There are 4,000+ colleges in America. Most of them admit far more students than they deny.  SPOILER ALERT: If you are reading this blog, you are not only going to college, you are going to absolutely kill it when you do. That is a guarantee! So, don’t avoid human contact. Instead, start by checking out the more than 1,000 colleges in our country who do not require or consider test scores as part of their admission process. A full list is found at FairTest.org.

Talk to the admission reps from schools you are thinking about applying to, and ask them if they are splitting hairs (couldn’t help myself) over 80 points on an SAT or two points on an ACT. Then, after they give you their scripted answer, say, “Really though? Is that just what you say publicly, because I’m kind of itching here and I need you to level with me.”

Go see your school counselor and keep working to create an academically and financially balanced list. And before you decide to spend your incredibly valuable time in test prep courses or paying hundreds/ thousands of dollars to a company who is having company retreats in the islands, look into low- cost, free, or online sources like Khan Academy.

  • You are the parent of a student who was denied admission.

 Bugs: “That’s my alma mater and I’m writing them out of my will and never going to another football game on campus.”

“I’m going down there myself and demanding someone tell me exactly why my son was not admitted.”

“They did not take my daughter because the only kind of kid they admit now is (fill in the blank).”

 De- Bug: What your daughter or son needs most is for you to just listen and reassure them with your presence and perspective. Sometimes that may mean saying absolutely nothing for a little while and just being able to sit with them in the disappointment.

Ultimately, however, they’ll look to you for important reminders: you love them, you are proud of them, and you’re there for them and with them every step of the way. They need you to remind them that they are the same talented, cool, interesting, and bound-for-a-great-future kid they were before submitting that application.

Reassure them that admit letters are coming (or have already arrived). And give them even better news– they’re going to end up on a campus filled with other talented, cool, interesting, and bound-for-a-great-future kids as well.

Enjoy these precious final months of their senior year. They go far too fast to spend them itching, scratching, and infecting others. You’ve got this!

Diagnosis

I understand you may feel a little unsettled at times. The admission experience can do that. Whether you are a parent or a student, you are going to see some serious “critching” around you, especially at this time of year.

Remember, others “condition” does not mean you have a problem. Stay calm. Get the facts. Don’t gossip, speculate, or presume. Talk to the experts. And for the love of all things holy, don’t go down internet or social media rabbit holes about this stuff. That’s the exact type of head-to-head contact you need to avoid!

Feel free to go upstairs, throw your clothes in the hamper, and take a shower. But there is no need to cry.  Now that you’ve read this blog, I’m officially declaring you “bug free.” You have my anti-itch guarantee on that.

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The Other Side

Listen to the audio version here!

Rewind

Sunday we were on our way home from the mountains and the song “The Other Side” from The Greatest Showman came on our playlist. Before I knew it, my wife and kids were singing every word. If you have not seen the movie, I highly, highly recommend it. Inspired by the story of P.T. Barnum’s creation of the Barnum and Bailey Circus in the late 1800s, it is a musical with several big stars (including Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron). We saw it in the theater, twice, and immediately bought it on Amazon when it became available.The Other Side

What I love and appreciate about the movie is Barnum’s (Jackman) incredible imagination to dream up a circus; his creativity and perseverance in bringing his vision to life; and his ability to disregard his naysayers who told him it would not be successful. In addition to finding and recruiting interesting acts and attractions and securing extensive funding for the show, one of his biggest challenges was bringing credibility to the circus. Barnum was obsessed with convincing the upper class in New York, who normally spent their money on theatre or opera, that this too was worthy of their attention and investment.

“The Other Side” is a fast-paced negotiation between Barnum and Phillip Carlyle (Efron), a wealthy New York aristocrat and playwright. In the song, Barnum is attempting to convince the young, popular, conventionally established Carlyle to take a risk and become his business partner. The song, like the movie itself, is about having the vision to see something new and different, but also the faith and courage to act on it.

Pause

Many colleges open their applications on August 1. If you are a senior, I am guessing you already created at least one application account and may have also started writing your college essays. It is also likely you are scheduled to take or re-take the SAT or ACT in the fall. I would not doubt you took time this summer to visit a college… or 18, and questions from family, friends, coaches, and neighbors like “where are you applying to college?” have become ubiquitous. I have bad news for you: it gets worse. Thanks for reading and have a great day. Kidding!

Understandably, there are some elements of the college admission process many students do not find enjoyable: keeping track of the dates and deadlines for applications, scholarships and financial aid; looking deep into your soul to introspectively articulate your passion (in 300 words or less!); taking seemingly endless standardized tests in sterile environments (some beginning at a God-forsaken hour on Saturday); reading blogs that simply won’t come to the point… the list goes on.  Lest (no longer a word on the SAT) we forget, all of that is just getting to the point of submitting your applications. We have not even delved into some of the stress around waiting endless months for decisions, or the frustration of being deferred admission, or the dismay of being denied by your dream school. And don’t even get me started on the vortex that is the waitlist. Feeling better yet?

I get it. There is nothing I can say, write, or sing that is going to eradicate moments of uncertainty or consternation in the year ahead. What I can offer you is perspective. I can offer you a vision. I can help you see “The Other Side.”

Right here, right now 
I put the offer out
I don’t want to chase you down 

I know you see it
You run with me
And I can cut you free
Out of the treachery and walls you keep in
So trade that typical for something colorful
And if it’s crazy, live a little crazy
You can play it sensible, a king of conventional
Or you can risk it all and see

Track 1- The Other Side

Monday, in an effort to memorize the lyrics, I was listening to “The Other Side” as I walked from the train station. It was a perfectly clear day with low humidity and temperatures around 70. In late July in Atlanta, you cannot ask for better conditions. Just as I got onto campus, I saw a couple of first-year summer students walking into the dining hall together. They were laughing and smiling.  I recognized one of the guys in the group because I met with him at an admitted student program in the spring. At the time he told me Tech was not his first choice, but he would come here if he did not get admitted to…. names aren’t important, right? In late April, he emailed me to say he had not been offered admission to the other place and had decided to become a Yellow Jacket. Three months later (basically to the day) here he was on campus with a smile on his face, a few new friends around him, and enjoying a perfect summer morning.

Don’t you wanna get away from the same old part you gotta play
‘Cause I got what you need
So come with me and take the ride
It’ll take you to the other side

Track 2- The Other Side, Remix

A few years ago I was helping students move into residence halls. As I entered the building I saw a father out of the corner of my eye I had met before. I remembered him clearly because a few years earlier he had been in the office yelling at me for denying his son’s admission. I put the box down in the room of the student I was helping, wished her a good year, and then wiped the sweat from my brow. While the box was heavy and I had just basically sprinted up two flights of stairs, the perspiration was from that memory. Heading back out the front door (side door was locked) I scanned the lawn. Whew! He was gone. Then… a hand on my shoulder. “Oh… Hi. How are you?” I managed to say in feigned surprise. After talking for a few minutes, his wife came up with their two sons. Unbeknownst (also no longer on SAT) to me, the younger brother had been admitted to Tech and was starting his first year. The older son explained he had chosen a smaller school and was now a rising senior majoring in business. “Could not have been a better choice,” the father added, and then went on to proudly describe his son’s summer internship and added he already had a job offer waiting upon graduation.

‘Cause you can do like you do
Or you can do like me
Stay in the cage, or you’ll finally take the key
Oh, damn! Suddenly you’re free to fly
It’ll take you to the other side

Track 3- The Other Side, Re-remix

Each summer we have orientation for new students. This year we’ve already held six and still have two more to go. I love these days on campus because they are filled with balloons, loud music, skits, banners, cheering orientation leaders, smiling students, and proud parents. Go check out the social media accounts of a few college and university orientations or new student programs. You’ll love seeing the pictures, images, and videos that demonstrate a real sense of community, belonging, and excitement.FASET

In all that happiness, remember that three, six, and nine months prior, none of that excitement was there. Those same smiling faces were grimaces as they attempted to “craft an essay” or remember which password they had selected for the Common Application. Was it “12^gold!!”or “emojisRpasswords2~@?”

You would finally live a little, finally laugh a little
Just let me give you the freedom to dream and it’ll
Wake you up and cure your aching
Take your walls and start ’em breaking
Now that’s a deal that seems worth taking
But I guess I’ll leave that up to you

Play

So here you sit. Senior year is about to start. After nearly 20 years of watching this cycle repeat itself, here is what I know: there are no guarantees in college admission and financial aid.  Where you will end up is absolutely uncertain. Unsettling? It shouldn’t be. The mystery of where is the adventure of the college admission experience (and some would say it’s the adventure of life in general).

Bottom line: there is no “dream” college. Instead, there is just a dream…a vision. It is one of smiles, balloons, friends, celebration, a new home, excitement, aka “The Other Side.” Don’t forget that as you are applying to colleges. When you get deferred admission, remember the students I described walking into the dining hall. When you don’t get a scholarship, envision the older son who went elsewhere and ended up exactly where he was meant to be. When you don’t get into your first choice school, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just the first step to The Other Side.  Balloons, smiles, exuberance. That is what awaits you. A year from now you’ll be there. Trust me.

Forget the cage, ’cause we know how to make the key
Oh, damn! Suddenly we’re free to fly
We’re going to the other side

Bonus Track

I still may not know all the lyrics but I do know the truth. There are many times in life that we need to be reminded to slow down, remain calm, and dream of The Other Side.  I hope you’ll strive to recognize those moments not only in your own life but in those of your friends and family members too. Take the time to encourage them; to come around them; to describe with optimism and confidence the better days that lie ahead.  Like Barnum and Carlyle, it will make the celebration when you arrive there together that much sweeter.

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