Archives for October 2016

The Admission Guide to… Soup Making ?

I love the fall. It’s hands down my favorite season. Football, holidays, changing leaves, crisp days, and… soup. You can’t really eat soup in the summer in the South (the human body is just not built to tolerate that much heat). Every fall, I feel like I rediscover this simple delicacy. Chowder, French Onion, chicken noodle, vegetable… anyone else getting hungry? At this time of year, I could live off it. And with young kids, soup is easy to make and a good “project.” They have fun grating cheese, counting out the carrot sticks, and finding the right measuring spoons for spices. So unless someone slices a finger or gets onion in their eye, it’s a win-win. Dinner is prepared and we did a mini math lesson in the process.

Now what does this have to do with college admission? EVERYTHING. In fact, when I meet someone on a plane or at a random social gathering and I don’t feel like talking college admission, I say I make soup for a living. And it’s true. On a college campus, everyone has their own ingredients they want in the mix. Deans from each academic unit may want more or less students in their program, depending on faculty: student ratios or the health of job prospects in their industry. This year at Tech, we’ve added a major in Music Technology. That means students who may not have been a good fit last year are very much on our radar this year. On the other hand, if a college eliminates a major, that vegetable is out of the soup.  While there was plenty of oregano in last year’s bowl, this year that container is left in the cabinet untouched.

Institutional priorities such as academic profile or net tuition revenue dictate ingredients and the recipe for that year. If last year’s out of state enrollment was too high they may try to curb that back (so not a good year to be a radish). Or, they did not get enough in Business, so the directive may be to double up (and increase the amount of pepper) this year.

This article from Money magazine sheds some light into admit rate variance by admission plan (i.e. Early vs. Regular). It has some compelling points and stats, but I don’t think it delved into the real drivers of why students “have the same chance.” It implies both in title and content that the rationale for why some students are admitted and others are not is “hidden” from view.

Here’s how the soup is made

When applications roll in and reading season begins, it’s like walking through a really great farmers market. Almost every application has sound merits. We just started file review in our office and each day there are conversations about an amazing applicant who has done X or Y, or wrote a great essay, or had an incredible life circumstance. Each of our prep cooks is reading and saying, “Oh, yes. We definitely want this celery,” AND “Throw a couple of these potatoes in,” AND “Cabbage? Yep.” Each school/state (like a stand or stall at the farmers market) has fresh, beautiful, tantalizing options that would all be great.

BUT… the trick of soup making is the size of the bowl. Last year at Princeton that was around 1300. At The University of Washington, it was about 6800.

Admit rates are partly a function of applicant pool size but also of the other vegetables. (Note: This is Soup Making 101. We’re not going to get into the melting off of “yield rates” or the post-boil adding back of waitlist. Advanced Soup Making is a spring workshop.)

Public schools in North Carolina are legislated to enroll at least 82% of their class from their state. When the vast majority of your bowl is filled, your ability to add lots of celery or onions is going to be diminished. So the state you are from, major you want to study, or the background and interests you bring to the table, dictate admission prospects. You are not necessarily competing against all the other applicants—often it’s those like you by some academic, demographic or institutional goal measure. Is this fair? No. This is soup making. You may be a completely unbruised and symmetrically perfect tomato, but that does not mean you are going to be in this year’s “Brown University Bisque.” Because guess what? They may only needed a fourth of a tomato this year. You may be grass fed, organically raised, and free range but you are not included if UCLA decides they only need 22 from outside their borders.

What does this mean for you?

When you visit the campuses you’re interested in, ask them about students like you. “How many students were from Massachusetts in your class last year?” “Are you trying to grow in our area of the country, or in my major at your school?”  In asking specific question like this, you will more likely get specific answers. Schools are also happy to share their admit rates, but you need to ask the details behind those rates. At Tech our EA admit rate is higher than our RD rate often by 15 percentage points. Part of that is driven by the fact that Georgia students apply early, and our total undergraduate population is 60% Georgia. Historically our most talented in-state students apply in the first round.

Some schools won’t know some of these admit rates or demographics off the top of their head. Are they hiding something? Usually not. A chef (admission rep) walking around your school in the fall has his mind on telling the story of the restaurant (university), rather than all the details of the soup. That’s not cagey. It’s human. So they offer to get back to you, which is great, as you can continue the conversation and they know you are interested.

At the most elite schools nationally (>20% admit rate), you’ll often get a confounding answer that sounds a lot like a Jedi mind trick or political stump speech. But go back to the Princeton statistics. 29,000+ applicants to admit less than 2,000. Lot of super fine slicing & pinches of spices that leave amazing produce that would be the highlight of another soup sitting on the cutting board.  It’s not an evasive answer. They simply can’t answer that because they aren’t taking entire stalks of celery or broccoli.

Kitchen notes: At the end of the day, you may not end up in the recipe you have in mind right now. But the beauty of soup is that each ingredient is ultimately complimented and improved by what it’s surrounded by and interacts with over time. You will find the right place to add your flavor to others and be improved by their presence in the years ahead.

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.

College Admission Essays: I’ve heard that one before…

Last week I talked to a high school senior as a favor to a friend. The student is not applying to Georgia Tech, so I was giving him general application advice.

We talked about prioritizing extra-curricular activities, such as putting the things you care about most and have the most involvement with, first. While an application may have eight, 10 or 30 lines for involvement, busy admission officers who speed read this section may only get to third on the list. Make them want to keep learning about you by telling them clearly and thoroughly what’s most important to you.

Then we talked about his supplemental responses. Since I don’t work for the schools he’s applying to, I told him to research their websites, social media, and literature and pay attention to themes and key messages. At Tech we focus on our motto of Progress and Service and improving the human condition. Students applying to us will see questions along those lines, or should be astute enough to find opportunities to provide connections to those concepts. Every school has these, you just have to dig deeper at some places. Inside Tip: if you can’t identify what’s important to a school, then they haven’t done a good job articulating it, or they can’t differentiate themselves, or they’re just not resonating with you. Any of these is a red flag.

The Essay

Finally, we talked about his essay. I’ll be honest, the topic was trite (something about learning through basketball about overcoming odds). Admittedly, at that point, I was also packing for a trip so I was a bit distracted (and I was not being paid for this time or advice). But here’s the bottom line: the topic doesn’t really matter anyway. I’ve been reading essays for over 15 years. I’ve read for several institutions, two testing agencies, and various scholarship competitions. Conservatively, I’d say I’ve looked at more than 10,000 essays by now. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more, and I know plenty of people on my staff and around the country who put that number to shame.

But as somewhat of an expert, here’s what I firmly believe: there is no completely unique topic: sports analogy about life, failure, and triumph? Heard it. Mission trip to a third world country, including multiple transportation modes, animal crossings, and flat tires? Check. Family drama where you displayed tremendous patience, empathy, and wisdom beyond your years? Sure. The list goes on: difficult coach/teacher turned advocate… stuck out a horrible summer job that provided valuable lessons and renewed focus and direction … beloved grandparent who moved in, built close friendship, died, but taught a lot of valuable lessons in life and death (this one often doubles as an excuse for late app submission as well)… second verse, same as the first.

As Ecclesiastes says, “When it comes to college admission, there is nothing new under the sun” RCV (Rick Clark Version). Does that mean the essay does not matter? That you should resign yourself to mediocrity? Not at all. My point is that your energy should not be spent on selecting the topic. Once you figure out which question you want to answer, meaning you really have something to say or you’re somewhat excited to respond, start writing.

Find Your Voice

Knowing the topic won’t differentiate you, it has to be something else, right? This is where your voice has to be evident. And like the list of extra-curricular activities, it needs to be clear in the first sentence or two. I know many readers who read the first and last paragraphs and only go back if those are compelling. Otherwise, it’s a dime a dozen and the ratings are accordingly average. Some schools will tell you that two separate readers evaluate every essay in its entirety. Given volume, staff sizes, and compressed timelines between application deadlines and decision release, that seems at worst a blatant lie, and at best an incredibly inefficient process.

So how do you find your unique voice? I’m going to give you a few steps, but first check out the picture below. The woman on my right either thinks I’m insane or that something disgusting is on my hand. The woman to my left could not care less and simply can’t believe I’m still talking. The guy on the end may be interested in the woman to my right and is likely mad at me for making her mad at life. So continue to read knowing that if you disagree or think these tips are weak, you’ll not be the first– and certainly won’t be the last.

Step 1: Read it aloud. There is something magical about reading out loud. As adults we don’t do this enough. In reading aloud to kids, colleagues, or friends we hear things differently, and find room for improvement when the writing is flat. So start by voice recording your essay.

Step 2: Do it again and Listen. REALLY listen. Is there emotion in it? Does your humor come out? Can the reader feel your sadness?  Does it sound like you? If you can’t tell, play it for someone you know and trust. What do they say?

Step 3: Do the Math. (What?! I was told there would be no math on the essay section.) If 5,000 other applicants chose the same essay prompt, and 100 of those choose the same topic, will your essay be noticed? Does it provide specifics and descriptions of you or others, as well as setting and moment?

Step 4: Keep it simple. Three steps is enough. Once you’ve gone through those, hit submit and move on. Sitting on your essay until deadline day is only going to drive you nuts. So pray over it, do a dance, catch a falling leaf, or whatever else you think will help, and then be done.

Your essay topic may not be entirely different or unique, but your senior year can be. Go enjoy it!

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.

Navigating College Admissions: An UN-romantic Solution

I distinctly remember growing up and watching my parents have “Sunday night meetings.” They would bring their calendars (yep, hard copy with pencils) to the kitchen after we’d cleared the table to discuss the week ahead. When we were little, my sister and I really didn’t understand what they were doing. We were just glad they were occupied so we could pick whatever TV show we wanted to watch. In high school, I distinctly recall coming into the kitchen for a snack during study break, witnessing these logistical negotiations, and thinking, “If this is marriage, count me out.”

twain-quoteNow, however, I’m willing to concede the beauty and brilliance of the “Sunday night meeting,” because allocating that time allowed freedom. See, once they’d nailed down their own work schedules for the week and decided who was going to drive me and my sister to the games or performances or events, they didn’t have to talk about the details again. Listen, it still doesn’t sound romantic, but it gave them the rest of their week to talk about other things (presumably some of that was romantic, but these are my parents, and this is a family blog).

Application (no pun intended) to the Admission Process

As I watch more of my neighbors and friends with kids in high school (particularly during junior and senior year), it is clear that dispersed conversations and questions about scholarships, deadlines, essays, or plans to visit colleges often become a swirling, all-consuming mess. More importantly, they create unnecessary tension and division. Students feel like every time they come downstairs for a meal the “college talk” begins. Parents feel like their intelligent offspring has somehow lost the ability to string consecutive words together or convey ideas in multi-syllabic words.

Quick Quiz

Parents: Are you bringing up college options, deadlines, or test dates at a variety of unchecked times and days throughout the week?

Students: Test yourself: Do you frequently answer your parents’ sequential questions about college with: “Good,” “Okay,” “No,” “Huh?” Do you pretend like your phone is ringing and head for the car when mom asks, “Have you asked Mrs. Johnson for that rec yet?”

If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” I want to strongly encourage the implementation of the “Sunday Night Meeting.” Not necessarily on Sunday, but one consolidated time each week when college is on the proverbial– and perhaps literal– table.

 ground-rulesParents: You GET TO BRING brochures you’ve noticed in the mail. This is YOUR TIME to say, “Hey, look honey, the leaves are turning in South Bend. Isn’t it pretty?” You GET TO ASK, “Have you written your supplemental essays for SMU?” Or “Do you still want to take that trip to Maine to look at schools in November?” THIS IS YOUR TIME FOR: “Did you get your ACT results back?” Or “Is the University of Wisconsin psychology program highly ranked?” It’s all free game.

Students: You DON’T GET TO BRING your cell phone or really crunchy snacks. You DON’T GET to look at your shoes more than three times or for beyond six seconds. You have to FULLY ENGAGE in this conversation. I’m not going to be super obnoxious and give you a link to the definition of conversation or discussion in the dictionary, because you know what that looks like. ONE time a week… for only two hours (1/12 of that day!). You got this!

Outside of the “Sunday night meeting,” however, college talk is banned. Mom, dad: You drive past a car with a Princeton or Michigan State sticker. Not a peep. Sean next door gets accepted to Auburn or Colorado College, send a text in congratulations or post something online. Mute button is on at home.

Now, I get that it’s college football season. I have no problem with passionate support of your alma mater or understandable vitriol for your opponent. But that can’t transition to, “You’re not really going to apply there are you?” Or “Look at their fans. They just don’t look smart…”

Two Important Truths

  1. The reason your parents are bringing up college, asking you questions, and expressing their opinions is partly because they’re not convinced you are on it. If you answer their questions, show you have a plan, and demonstrate that you are making progress on applications and working towards deadlines, you’ll dramatically diminish the seemingly incessant nagging.
    truth
  2. It’s not nagging! It’s love. “Sunday night meetings” are not romantic. They weren’t then, and still aren’t now. But they are rooted in love. The time your parents take, the questions they ask, their desire to see things taken care of  is absolutely grounded in deep affection. They know you’re going to head off to college in the next year or two. There is some fear in that, and a lot of excitement. Every now and then they can’t believe you’re taking AP Biology or standing at over 6 feet tall. Somehow carpool lines and tricycles don’t seem like that long ago. Give ’em a break. Fear, excitement, love– these all warrant you being fully engaged. Two hours a week (1.1% of your week!): Answer the questions; look them in the eye; put down your phone—and every now and then, how about a hug?

Long live the #SNM!

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.

College Admission: Same as it Ever Was?

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission, Mid-Atlantic, Kathleen Voss to the blog!

In the college admission world, I am considered a dinosaur – which is a polite way of saying I am a fossil.  To put things into perspective, the summer after college, the president walked into my office and said, “We’re implementing a revolutionary new platform called EMAIL.”  When I started on this journey, way back in nineteen hundred and ninety-three, I was 5 years older than most of the high school students that I was working with!  

I remember talking to the kids and completely relating to them.  After those students enrolled, they became like my younger sisters and friends.  We had much in common, I listened to the same music they did, watched Days of Our Lives in the dining hall during the lunch hour, and understood their struggles with school work and social pressures.

These days, I tend to relate more to the parents, many of them graduates of the class of 1993. We commiserate about our kids and share our worries.  I am still musically savvy and can tell the difference between the Justins (Timberlake and Bieber) but I no longer have the time or brainpower for Days of Our Lives, and the memories of youthful struggles are fleeting.

Sometimes, while standing behind my table at a college fair (over 500 of them in my career!), I look around at all of those young faces, and I hear that Talking Heads song… “And you may ask yourself, how did I get here?”

While I am not sure where time has gone, here is what I DO know after 23 years of working with high school kids.

They Are Socially and Culturally Aware.
By the nature of their generation they have been developing skills since early childhood that have aided them in better understanding and “acknowledging the importance of harmonious social interaction.”  Today’s young people are more open to diversity than we were 20 years ago. I like that kids today have more sensitivity to people who are different, and more confidence in sharing those differences.  There is no doubt in my mind that young people are evolving by being exposed to all types of diversity.

They Work REALLY HARD!
According to Business Insider, kids today are taking 27.2 credits, compared to the 23.6 that high school kids took in 1990. At Georgia Tech, the average number of AP/IB courses our admitted students have taken is 10, and that’s on top of logging hours of service learning outside of the classroom. We see first-hand the volume and personal benefit of service learning. These hours, in addition to sports, work, and all of those other activities found in high school, make for very busy teenagers!

Often I am asked, “Should Johnny take AP Chemistry or stay in band?  His schedule won’t allow for both.”  My response is, “What does Johnny love?”  I tell my own children, “too much of anything isn’t good for you,” and that includes AP’s.  For many kids, they need the freedom that band, art or sports provide to help recharge their brains for those higher level courses.

They Face Pressures That Would Have Given Me Nightmares.
YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat.  Your entire life captured for the world to see! That Facebook meme that says something about being glad that there was no Facebook when you were in high school… it’s the truth!

Many of the young people I meet are burned out. They suffer from chronic stress.  While I do meet kids who thrive on the pressure, I have to be honest folks, if my parents were like some of the parents I’ve met out there, I would be stressed out too!  Asking about the college profile for your 1st grader because you want to make sure they are in the “right” classes, calling the admissions office to tattle about the disciplinary infractions of your child’s classmates, writing your daughter’s application essay because “I can just do it better,” berating guidance counselors when your child doesn’t get into the school that only accepts 5% of its applicants… where does it end?

One of my colleagues at an exclusive private school in the Washington DC area begins his college night presentation for parents with the following statement; “think about your alma mater…. over 50% of you would be denied admission if you applied there today… can you give your kid a break?”

They Are Going to Be Okay.
I have answered the same questions for 23 years: “What is your average GPA? SAT? ACT? How hard is it to get in? My friend said you don’t accept grades under a B, is that true? My counselor said that I don’t have enough safety schools on my list, what do you think? ”  I’ve seen some kids come in on fire and burn out in a semester… others needed a few months to acclimate and then take off. But in the end, most made the right college decision, especially if they were true to themselves.  In his book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, Frank Bruni does a great job explaining why it’s what the student does in college, not where they go, that determines success.

I’ve told parents and students at all of those college fairs and visits to high schools is that it IS going to be okay.  A year from now you will have landed, and if you stay true to yourself, it will be enough.

Finally, there really will come a time when all of this will be a blip on the radar. Your college journey will be a story that you tell your own kids when you, too, are a dinosaur.

“Same as it ever was… Same as it ever was…”

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