Archives for May 2016

What Admission Folks Think But Don’t Say

A few months ago, the New York Times published an article entitled “Advice College Admissions Officers Give Their Own Kids.” There were some helpful points, as well as honest and practical advice. But what would have been far more intriguing is an article called “What Admission Folks Think But Don’t Say.”

This is the blessing and curse of our work. Each year we meet amazing students around the country who are incredibly accomplished. They’ve mastered multiple coding languages, started their own companies, written plays and books, and achieved ranks in martial arts and piloting that many twice their age would envy. They humble us, they inspire us, and honestly they give me hope for the future of our country. But on the flip side it also makes us hyper- aware of the competition that exists on a macro scale.

Fallout

It impacts our marriages: Spouse 1: “Look honey, isn’t she amazing. She’s four months and already pulling up. What core strength?! Maybe she’ll be an Olympic gymnast.” Admission Spouse: “Probably not. I’ve read essays from kids who at her age were already doing Yurchenko Loops.” (Not the recipe for amorous relations.)

It offends our mother-in-law: “Oh my goodness! He’s so smart. He knew how much change we would get when I bought him that ice cream after kindergarten today.” Admission Son-in-law: “Pssshhtt… some kids his age are doing differential equations while they eat their cheese sticks.” (Somehow you’re at the kids table at the following Thanksgiving.)

We quickly learn that to preserve our marriages and our friendships/sanity, we have to adapt. It reminds me of the childrens book Being Frank. Frank has to learn from his Grandpa Earnest that while “honesty is the best policy” sometimes it’s best served with “more sugar and less pepper.”

kids table

Spouse 1: “I think he should have him tryout for the pre-Academy team.” Admission Spouse thinks, “He’s going to get smoked. He’s not even the best player on his team. But maybe this will motivate him to practice more.” And so we say, “I don’t mind taking him.”

A friend says, “We are going to send her to X private school. Last year they sent students to Stanford, Dartmouth, and U. Chicago.” Admission Friend thinks admit rates: “4.7, 10.9, 7.8…” and then says “Well, that’s a great school. I know she’ll enjoy their class on ‘Evil in the Guilded Age.’”

If you watch closely though, you’ll see these folks utilizing some physical crutches as they utter these statements. They’ll scratch their bottom lip with their teeth before responding, or they’ll empahatically close and then re-open their eyes as if a bug just flew directly in. We do it out of love…and survival.

Consider These Stats

  • 3.3 million high school students graduating in USA on annual basis
  • 65% of high school grads go on to 4 year colleges/universities
  • Under 14,000 or .6 % of students entering a four year school will go to an Ivy League school.

OR

The Truth

We’re still typical parents. Just look back at the pictures from that NYT article. We hike, hug, drive mini-vans, and occasionally go to Chili’s due to a lack of good options at an out of town baseball tournament. We love our kids and we support them and encourage them and want them to thrive. We highly encourage them to take tough classes– to compete at a high level in athletics– and to broaden their interests and skills in the arts.

I am an optimist. A cup half fuller. Several of my family members went to Princeton and several also worked there. My wife and I both went to UNC- Chapel Hill for college. Our DNA is solid. But statistically I realize that it’s unlikely either of my kids will get into those schools. Hell, it’s unlikely that any of my close friends in Atlanta will have kids that get in or go to either.  I’m ok with that.  We still cheer for them. We buy the sweatshirts in the campus bookstore and tell stories of mid-fall strolls through the quad with fondness. But, like you, the majority of our days and years are spent reminding them that we love them; that we are proud of them; that we enjoy watching them sing on stage or swimming in meets; or just walking up the drive way after being gone. What we think is that we are just glad to be parents. What we think is that they’ll ultimately go somewhere for college- and that will be just fine, even if it’s not an Ivy or our alma mater. What we think is that we are thankful to have had our college experience, even if ultimately our kids don’t have the same one.

Perspective

where you go

Frank Bruni recently wrote Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. He enumerates endless examples of Pullitzer Prize winners, Rhodes Scholars, CEOs, etc. who went to schools on pages two and three of US News rankings or with 50%+ admit rates. These are the numbers. These are the facts. And thousands of very intelligent parents who love their kids around the country have read the book and processed the information. But in the “summer calm” I can clearly see that we are again on the cusp of another fall filled with high pressure and anxiety among parents who will push and pay and travel and angst about their kids being in that .6%.

I get why the NYT wrote the piece they did. Perhaps the broader public is not yet ready for “What Admission Folks Think But Don’t Say.” But if you are, then the next time you see an admission counselor with a band aid on her lower lip, just say, “It’s OK. I know the code. You can tell me what you’re really thinking. Should I send Jimmy to flute camp?”

 

 

 

Steph Curry and The Road Not Taken

CURRY-PROFIf you have been watching TV lately, or listening to the radio, or interacting with other humans, you know the NBA Playoffs are heating up. We’re not going to talk about the Hawks here, so don’t fear. (As an Atlanta native and longtime resident I’ve come to peace with the fact that all of our pro franchises are good enough to make the playoffs but lack the talent to advance from the first round. Literally all of them…for decades.) These days the hottest name in the NBA is Steph Curry. Curry is a uber-talented point guard for the Golden State Warriors, and he was recently unanimously named MVP of the league, which he also won along with the NBA Championship last year. To look at him now you’d think he has always lived a charmed life– beautiful wife and daughters, worldwide star, commercials with President Obama (himself a transfer student from Occidental to Columbia), and the list goes on. But interestingly when he was graduating from high school the big time college programs around the nation were not interested. He was crushed and ultimately decided to stay close to home in North Carolina and attend Davidson College.

Curry’s experience got me thinking about Robert Frost’s  poem “The Road Not Taken,” and the fact that our national consciousness is still largely focused on the traditional freshman entry process. Often news media and families do not look at the transfer route “as just as fair/ And having perhaps the better claim,” even though 1/3 of students graduating from a four year college began elsewhere, or that 1/2 of all undergraduates nationally are enrolled at a community college. At Georgia Tech, we annually enroll 850 transfer students (approx. 1/4 of our new undergraduate students). Thankfully, the press and perceived value of transfer options are improving, due to increasing political discussion surrounding college cost, value, and access, and Mrs. Obama’s Reach Higher initiative.

National Student Clearinghouse data shows that in 13 states over 50% of four-year university graduates began at a two-year school. Much of this is because public universities have established articulation agreements with colleges in their state or region geared toward enrolling transfer students. Florida is certainly a state with a strong history in this arena. The University of California system, which boasts five of the top 10 public universities also has a deep commitment to the transfers. In fact, UC-Berkeley brought in well over 2000 transfer students last year. As Tech has become more selective on the freshman side, we see more students going to another college or university for a year or two and then re-applying to earn a Tech degree. This year 1/3 of admitted transfer students applied as freshman. Five years ago that number was 1/5.   In an effort to provide students with a variety of avenues to all academic programs, we have developed a transfer pathways, including Dual Degree Engineering Program and our Arts and Sciences Pathway Program, which complement our regular transfer admission process. 

A Turning Tide?

On the private side, and particularly among elite institutions, transferring is less prevalent. Princeton recently announced they will begin enrolling transfer students for the first time since 1990 (a year when Wilson Phillips topped the charts) and Stanford and MIT enrolled a combined 30 via this route last year. While not all schools are as invested in this space, frankly that’s the beauty of a diverse system– and the importance of understanding particular institutional missions and philosophies on education. However, I do speculate that in the decade ahead, due to the increasing access to and promotion of college courses in high school; the proliferation of accredited, non-profit, credit-bearing online options; and the desire of colleges to augment geographic, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity, we’ll see more private school players in this space.

An Affordable Pathway

Type of College Average Published Yearly Tuition and Fees
Public Two-Year College (in-district students) $3,347
Public Four-Year College (in-state students) $9,139
Public Four-Year College (out-of-state students) $22,958
Private Four-Year College $31,231

This table is from BigFuture (an excellent resource for students researching colleges and looking into financial aid).

It is important to note that these figures are based on published tuition costs vs. ultimate net price. Financial aid and family need largely impact ultimate cost, but it’s clear that pursuing schools locally for the first year or two of college is often a viable financial route. We often hear from transfer students that will select a college close to home following high school, so that they can work, attend class, and live at home to save money and avoid debt. Increasingly, we are seeing  students who are offered freshman admission making these decisions in order to reduce debt upon graduation.

An Alternative Avenue

Each year we read recommendation letters and review student transcripts that describe “late bloomers” or students who did not get excited about academics until late in high school. It is also common to learn of students who had tough life circumstances: parent divorces, multiple school moves in high school, and serious health issues that diminished academic success inside and outside the classroom. If you are graduating high school and this has been your experience, I sincerely hope that you’ve been admitted to a college that you’re excited about attending. If you’re an underclassmen and this is your current experience, you should always be sure to include “special circumstances” into your applications, so that schools utilizing holistic admission processes can get a full picture of your background. Either way this is the beauty of the transfer option. It is a clean slate when you start college, because typically universities do not look back at test scores, course selection, or grades from high school when they are enrolling their transfer classes.

road less traveled

A Final Word

Whether transferring is an affordability strategy; a necessary path to your ultimate goal due to circumstances; or you wake up in a cold dorm room next November wondering “Why did I pick this place? I gotta get out of here!” think of Frost’s roads–“both that morning equally lay.” Unlike the poet who bemoans a permanent separation, the roads of transfer and freshman students converge and ultimately cross the same stage– same school name and credentials on your resume and diploma. Steph Curry held on to his  dream of playing in the NBA. He harnessed the initial setback to be his motivation at Davidson. It fueled him. It drove him to push harder and to prove himself. And ultimately, like many students who transfer colleges, it is that road “that has made all the difference.”

Key Resources: NACAC’s Transfer Knowledge Hub, College Affordability Guide, National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, Kid President on Robert Frost (notably Frost did not graduate from college but holds 40 honorary degrees).

 

Make it a summer!

In the world of college admission, March and April are a busy time as campuses host prospective underclassmen, admitted seniors, and their families. Those heavy visit months come right on the heels of an isolated and compressed winter hibernation (also known as application reading season). And that period was immediately preceded by a fall of heavy recruitment travel, which is guaranteed to garner lots of hotel and airline points but ruin some otherwise promising millennial romantic relationships. Personally, I love that this work is highly cyclical, and you’ll notice that career admission folks will schedule weddings, vacations, tax submissions, and house closings around this schedule (attempts to schedule births are noble but less predictable, and often met with mixed reactions from spouses).

So each year as May arrives, I’ve started telling myself and our staff to “make it a summer!” Summer is our time to think, reflect, plan, and just relax a little. We encourage staff to work remotely more consistently; put the suits, ties, and dresses in the closet for a while; take vacation; get out to professional development conferences and workshops; and build campus relationships when everyone has more capacity. Make it a summer: go to the beach; don’t stay longer at the office than you need to; build that deck; and hang out with your friends and family. Admittedly, at times it can feel a bit neurotic. It’s how I imagine Manitobans treat the month of August: “Go!! Do everything this month before the snows return and your flip flops are buried until this time next year.”

If you are wrapping up your junior year, I suggest you “make it a summer,” because even though you are excited about exams being over and the pool opening, sometimes as the weather warms up, so to can the pressure from parents and others about your upcoming senior year and the college application process.

So stay calm and check out these seven tips for making the most of your summer

One: Write

Writing your essays in the summer allows you to spend your senior fall focusing on school and life outside the classroom, rather than agonizing over your introductory paragraph. My guess is when it comes to completing the application, you’ll nail your name and birthday pretty easily. It’s the essays that take time. And let’s be honest, writing by the pool is a lot more appealing than on October 15 at 11:38 p.m. in your room with mom looking over your shoulder yelling, “Submit! Submit! Submit!” Just a heads up, the Common Application and Coalition Application essay prompts are now posted for your writing enjoyment.

Two: Visit

Summer visits often get a bad rap because fewer students are on campus. While this may be true at some schools, summer visits are a great way to rule places in or out of consideration.

If you visit and discover that you don’t like the town/city, or the campus has too much green grass, or the gothic architecture freaks you out, that’s not going to change if students are walking around and leaves are falling. Often advisors and faculty (if you give them advance notice) have more time in the summer to meet and talk– as do admission officers. You can revisit schools you’re interested in  after you are admitted, or in the fall to confirm you want to apply.

Three: Homework

Normally, when I say that word my second-grade son falls over and starts rolling around on the ground. In hopes you won’t have the same response, let’s call it “poolwork.” Regardless, this is the season for narrowing your college list and determining exactly where you want to apply. Use resources like BigFuture or CollegeView as well as less conventional tools such as Reddit or College Confidential. We’ve also found this to be one of the most helpful, creative, and comprehensive websites in the college admission space. Keep in mind (minus the last site) these are only one part of the equation, but the more pieces you compile, the better cumulative picture you will have of a place.

Four: Relax

It’s summer. Enjoy it. The truth is, you don’t need to put your summer calendar into an optimized spreadsheet to enjoy your senior year or have a good plan for applying to colleges. Ultimately, there is no perfect formula. A certain enrichment program, mission trip, or particular internship isn’t going to “get you in” to a specific school. So, this summer don’t think too much about a high GPA — do think about a high SPF.

Five: Work

Gotta love “work” coming right after “relax.” Sheesh! You have an opportunity every summer, but particularly right before your final year in high school, to get a sense of the type of job you might ultimately want.

Even if you don’t land a paying job, maybe you can work out a deal to get in 10 to 15 hours a week volunteering at a local business or organization. Being in a professional environment will give you a sense of what you may or may not want to pursue. And to be honest, working in any setting is a good thing, even if it’s at the local yogurt shop (just keep your job by not giving away too much away for free), or waiting tables or selling camping equipment at REI. My favorite high school job was delivering Chinese food. Good money, quality time listening to music, and I now have no need for the Waze app because I still have all streets in my hometown in my head. Downside is I consumed more fortune cookies in those two years than most humans could in two lifetimes.

Six: Learn

What do you love? What is the most interesting topic or subject for you? Look around and see if a local university or community college is offering a course in that field. Not only could you earn college credit, but you’ll get a good sense of the rigor and pace of a college course.

Schedule too tight or not too concerned about earning credit? How about a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)? Learning in this environment will serve you well as you head to college, and certainly in your career as this medium will be increasingly vital to business and relationship cultivation. What better way to stretch your knowledge of a field and also grow as a learner than taking a course in this format?

Seven: Network

Reach out to an older student you know who just finished senior year. Ask them fresh off their admission search and decision making process about lessons learned, tips, and so on. Extra Credit: Find someone coming home after freshman year in college. There is often no better resource for insight into a college — especially one farther from home — than a student who once sat in your high school and adjusted to that living and learning environment from your hometown. (If you end up getting a date out of this, give a shout out @gtadmission)

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