Archives for July 2019

You Wanna Bet?

Warning 1- This blog acknowledges (neither endorsing nor condemning) the existence of gambling/wagering money- often the loss of it.

Warning 2- This blog uses analogies that are imperfect.

Warning 3- Our editor is on vacation, which means decreased quality of format and increased use of ellipses and parenthetical statements.

Warning 4- Actually, that’s it. Here we go.

I’m not a big fan of large, indoor spaces, especially those without windows. This has never been formally diagnosed and in Google searches I can’t seem to find an exact match of symptoms or causation, so I refer to it as “Clagora”– an odd combination of Claustrophobia and Agoraphobia. In general this aversion has served me well, as it severely limits my time in malls, conference halls, and casinos.

But a few weeks before my wedding, I was in New Orleans with some good friends. I told them I wanted to do one thing- place $50 on black in roulette. No food or drinks. No sitting down. This was a get in and get out mission. One spin of the wheel. So we headed to Harrah’s Casino in the French Quarter.

As we approached the table, one of my friends (none of whom were married at the time themselves) grabbed my shoulder. “We were talking and have an option for you. We can all get you some crappy, forgettable wedding gift like a toaster or some candlesticks…or we can each give you $50 right now. One bet. All in.”

I paused and considered for… about three seconds (OK. Two.)… “Give me the money.”

“$400 cash on the table,” I heard the dealer say calmly. He deftly put the shiny, silver ball onto the roulette wheel and sent it spinning.

Students- Know Your Odds

The odds of hitting black on a single roll in roulette are 47.4%. Now, this may blow your mind but that means the odds of not hitting black are 52.6%. Put differently that’s less than ½ or more likely you’ll lose than win. Need more examples? Sometimes flipping statistics and changing your perspective in general can be helpful. Walk a route you normally drive. Take a helicopter tour of your town. Consider that while you “only have to put down 20%,” you still owe 80%.

Listen, I’m not saying that admission is roulette (see Warning 2). Applying to college is not a game. Admission decisions are not arbitrary. But it is helpful to “consider your odds” as you are building a list of schools to apply to.

A number of years ago, I suggested the Common App insert an acknowledgement button on the application of any university with an admit rate below 25%: “I understand this is not a fair process. Being of sound mind I agree not to assign self-worth to admission decisions. Further, I agree to apply to at least two additional schools with admit rates above 50%.” I never got a reply.

Well, I’m working on another petition now to US News and World Report and several other publications who commonly list schools by admit rates (typically starting with lowest as an implied metric of quality/value).  The ask—publish deny rates instead.

How would it change the make-up of your list of colleges if you thought about your odds or percentage chances in reverse? How would it alter the way you feel when you receive an admission decision, if you had looked at your odds differently from the start?

Applying to Stanford and Harvard is essentially like putting a chip between the 0/00 on the roulette table (95%~ chance of not hitting). I could see placing one bet like that, if you are a truly outstanding student. But more than that? High school counselors are always advising students to create a “balanced list” of colleges to consider. This is why.

So the next time you are listening to a college admission presentation or looking at admit rate information online, reverse their numbers. As an example, Georgia Tech’s deny rate for international students last year was nearly 90%, 82% for US non-residents, and 55% for Georgia applicants. Do the math and know your odds. It may help you spread your chips/apps in a more strategic and logical manner.

Parents- Consider All The Angles

$50 on black. In and out. Nobody gets hurt. That was the plan.

But the game changed. The stakes went up. The emotions of the moment were palpable and it was not “just me” involved anymore. All of a sudden the dollars multiplied eight fold. The “offer” of cash for wedding gifts now involved my wife and our future (Again, see Warning 2).

It is still July. Before your son or daughter starts filling in their name and asking you about employment history or your driver’s license number, you need to talk money. I wrote more extensively about this in March, but my strong recommendation is you establish and discuss three key elements of paying for college and finances: limitations, conditions, and expectations.

Limitations

How much are you willing to invest in your son or daughter’s college education? Particularly in states with strong public university systems, we often hear parents say, “I am willing to pay for any of our state schools or the equivalent price, if my daughter chooses to go to an out-of-state public or private school.”  Consider and honestly discuss what limitations you want to establish. These should not necessarily keep your student from applying to a particular school that looks like it will cost more than your determined threshold, but setting clear limitations early changes the dynamics, frames the emotions, and helps prevent feeling “gut punched” in the spring when financial aid packages arrive.

Conditions 

“We will not pay for a school south of Virginia,” or “No child of mine is looking at schools west of Colorado,” or “We will pay for $40,000 a year for College X, but we are simply not paying that for Y University.”

What are your financial conditions- and why? College is an investment. Your family’s goal is to be confident in the dollars you spend. If you talk about why you are putting conditions in place, they will not come across as irrational or arbitrary, but rather instructive and rooted in love.

Expectations

What role will/should your student have in paying for their own college education? Is there a flat amount or percentage you expect them to contribute? Setting clear expectations before applying to college allows them to consider if they need to work and save money during and high school, consider a gap year, or what questions they ask colleges about opportunities for on-campus jobs, the prospects for (and salaries associated with) internships or co-ops, etc. Instead of being divisive, setting expectations can unify your family because “the problem” of paying for college becomes a joint effort—one to solve together.

If there is one common thread that connects all parents in the college admission experience, it’s this—you love your kids. You want the best for them. You want them to be happy. You want to provide for them and say yes. As a parent of two, I totally get that.

However, here’s what I can tell you about the seductive roulette wheel of admission (for issues with that wording see Warnings 1-3)—it gets emotional. The offers start coming in, the dollar figures start going up, and it’s not just you at the table. You love your kids. Consider all the angles now because when that ball lands there will be some cheers, some disappointments, and often a crazy mix of both.

Back at the casino

The ball spun, slowed, and started bouncing. Red, black, red, black. Finally, it landed. Red 28.

Slowly, I let my head fall backward. I felt my friend’s hand on my shoulder again. “Well, at least we won’t be giving you some crappy hand towels or doilies from Target.”

Know your odds and consider all the angles. I’m betting that takes you a long way in your college admission experience.

Formal end of blog

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Feeling lucky?

A few years ago, there was a school in our state who had a relatively new head football coach, a lot of swagger, and fans that probably love roulette for the colors alone. Mid-season I told a friend that if they made the national championship, I’d donate $100 to his university’s need-based scholarship fund.

Well…I’m $100 dollars lighter now but at least I know my money went to helping some kid offset costs. When I unsubscribed from the Foundation solicitations, I chose “Other” as the reason and inserted this: “I LOST A BET. I’m the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech. Congratulations on coming within inches of winning the national championship. Now, please, never email me again!” I actually got a response saying it was the “best opt-out they’ve ever received.”

So before you bet a friend $20 or $50 or dinner on a game this fall, consider instead wagering a donation to the need based financial aid fund of the winner’s alma mater.  Can’t fathom “ever contributing one dime to that school?” No problem. Donate to the NACAC Imagine Fund and help high school counselors who send kids to many different amazing colleges.

 

Strange(r) Things About College Admission

This week we welcome Communications Manager of Strategy and Enrollment Planning (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley back to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

I am not a scary movie person. I like happy endings and clean resolutions. When it comes to entertainment, I mainly stick to light-hearted comedies, a few documentaries, and any and all movies in the Marvel Universe.

stranger things poster

Photo Credit: Netflix

That being said, I, along with millions of other viewers in the world, have been sucked into season three of Netflix’s Stranger Things (don’t worry—no spoilers lie ahead!). For those unfamiliar, the series focuses on a group of kids who experience…. unusual… events in their small town in the 1980s. As a Gen X-er, it’s fun to see that era, along with the products and fads that were prevalent in my childhood, come back to life. (Bonus: much of the show was filmed in and around Atlanta.)

While I enjoy the element of nostalgia, there’s also some pretty dark things that happen in the show. When a particularly intense scene comes up (as you can always tell from the ominous lighting and music), I cover my ears, close my eyes, and ask my husband to tell me 1) when it’s over, and 2) what happened.

Yep—I’m in my late 30s and acknowledge that I have the same reaction to scary things as my 8-year-old daughter.

If you’re a rising high school senior, you should be aware that when it comes to the college admission process, there are some strange(r ) things ahead of you. Don’t worry, there are no evil monsters or government conspiracies lurking around the corner! But there are a few things to consider as you start your journey.

The Upside Down

Okay, maybe one sneak peek (but it’s not a spoiler!). In the first season a character is pulled into the “upside down,” an alternate dimension that looks like the one we’re in but is very different. I won’t go into details on what happens down there, but just know that things in the upside down are nothing like they are here.

Things will happen on your college admission journey that will seem upside down. You may visit your number one college choice and, after taking a closer look, decide it’s not a great fit after all. Then again, a college you had little to no interest in (and to be honest, may be visiting only to pacify your parents) may be far more incredible than you thought, and it’s now in the top spot. Your list has essentially turned upside down.

When it comes to decision release day, things can turn upside down again. You may not get into a school you thought was a sure bet. You may hear of someone else who got in that you believe was a lesser candidate than you. It seems upside down, and it won’t make any sense. When you find yourself in that spot (and I say “when,” not “if,” because it has happened to most everyone I know, including me), remember there are things going on behind the scenes that you cannot control. College acceptances are often based around strategic priorities—it’s not a value judgement of you or your character. Colleges are working to find the right mix of students when making the soup each year… and sometimes it will seem upside down.

Be Open to All Possibilities

In season three, a character notices the magnets fell off her refrigerator, and she puts them back up… or at least she tries to. The magnets keep falling and refuse to stick. She talks to a scientist to learn how this is possible. After he runs through all the likely, and most logical, scenarios, she asks “yes, but what else? Is there anything else it could be?” He then shares a very remote, and what most would call illogical, possibility. She looks beyond the obvious answers and digs deeper for an answer that makes sense to her.

As you go through the college visit and application process, dig deep for what you’re seeking. While advice is always well-intended, there are times you should ask yourself a few questions first. Who is recommending this information? Do they have your best interests at heart, or are they advising through their own limited experiences?

When you’re on a campus tour, don’t just listen to the questions asked by those around you. Ask good questions (then ask them again).  Be willing to step outside your comfort zone and consider new possibilities.

Last but not least, when reading through publications and emails, remember that colleges are also marketers—we will always show you the our very best side. Grab a student newspaper or alumni magazine to learn more about what’s happening on campus now, and what graduates are doing with their degrees down the road.

Don’t let yourself be spoon-fed information. Investigate on your own and be open to the possibilities that may lead you to reset the destination on your “college GPS.”

It’s About the People

As previously mentioned, I’m not into scary things. So why do I spend valuable time watching something that, in truth, sometimes stresses me out? It’s not the plot that keeps me coming back, but the people in it. I’m invested in the characters and the relationships in the show. The kids at the center of all three seasons have an unshakable bond, despite the turmoil surrounding them. They don’t always agree and get along, but in the end, they have each other’s back.

As you go through your college search, don’t forget: it’s the people around you that matter. You’re surrounded by people who love and care about you: parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, counselors, coaches… the list goes on.

You will forge new relationships as you go through this process, and the ones you already have will shift in certain ways. It’s easy to get pulled into the plot of college admission—the essays, the activities, the grades, the applications, the deadlines. Yes, the plot certainly matters. But if, in the process of resolving the plot, you lose sight of the people within it, you’ve missed the point.

Schedule regular timeouts to simply enjoy being with your family (no college talk allowed)! Take a moment to thank a teacher for the impact they’ve had in your life. Treat your little brother or sister to a movie. Hang out with your friends and just have fun.

The plot of your life will continually shift, complete with twists and turns and unexpected story lines. But at the end of the day, the plot is situational—and means nothing without the connections between the characters within it.

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Will saying I’m a blueberry get me into college? Supplemental Essays 101

This week we welcome Senior Assistant Director of Admission Katie Mattli to the blog. Welcome back, Katie!

I considered titling this post “Secrets to the Supplemental Essay,” but doing that goes against all I believe in. In my experience, the phrase “Secrets to…” in an admission post is almost always a blatant example of click bait and philosophically, I just don’t buy it.

There is no secret that will guarantee admission in a holistic review process. But there are ways to make your application stronger, so keep reading! You can still make good decisions, dare I say better decisions, as you craft your answers to your short essays, which will be beneficial both to you and to the admission committee.

So that we are all on the same page, I am not talking about the personal statement or main essay many colleges require.  I am speaking to the additional short answer or supplemental essay questions that often ask you to talk about why you are applying to the specific college or to give your thoughts on a prompt (one that is separate from the main, long essay).  Not all colleges or universities have supplemental questions, but if they do, you should take them seriously.

Supplemental essay questions can seem like the red-headed stepchild of the college application.  Seminars, camps, coaches, teachers, counselors, and peers spend A LOT of time talking about the activities section and main essay prompts on the college application.  Very little time is spent speaking about a short answer or supplemental essay response.  This small but mighty paragraph plays a stronger role than you might expect in the holistic admission process. I want to give it the respect and time it deserves—as should you!

See it for what it is—an opportunity to keep talking!

If I asked a group of students to raise their hand if they wanted to have a cup of coffee with me and just talk, all the hands in the room would shoot up.  If I ask the same group if they want to write another essay, most hands would go down.  I might even hear crickets.  I get it.  Seniors are busy and tired.  They are certainly tired of writing college essays.  But a supplemental essay is another way to talk to the admission committee.  Instead of rolling your eyes that, yes, you need to write something else, think about it like this:

  • What have I not had a chance to say?
  • If I don’t write this, what won’t they know about me?
  • Wow, thank goodness I have a few more lines to talk!

Does it really matter what type of fruit I am?

You may get a really out-there supplemental question, and yes, you should still answer it well.  I have seen all sorts of “creative” questions ranging from How are you like a chocolate chip cookie? to What three items would you want on a deserted island? and, the notorious, If you were a fruit, what would you be and why?

If you are tempted to not spend time on the answer or to get a little snarky in your response, don’t.  Remember, this is an opportunity! Someone on the admission committee will read your response, so enjoy creating the answer.  The purpose of this question is to understand how you think and give the committee a glimpse into your personality.  Whether you think you are blueberry, you would die without sunscreen, water bottle and your cat, or–like a cookie in the oven–you turn out well under pressure, the answer itself does not really matter.  At the end of the paragraph, they will know you better, and you don’t want to miss that opportunity.

Sorry to break this to you—you can’t cram for the “Why Our College?” question.

Many of these short answer questions will ask why you want to attend their college. It is understandable. A college doesn’t want to give up a seat in their class without discerning if a student actually wants to be there, or if they are just trying to collect acceptances. Scanning the college website to glean some key words or phrases to include in your answer is not enough.  Any admission counselor worth their salt knows immediately if you are just regurgitating the first paragraph from the “about” section of the website.

To answer this question well, you need to research, and real research starts with curiosity.

  • What intrigues you about this college?
  • What made you search and click and dive deeper?
  • What about this college piqued your interest to begin with and what have you learned that kept this college on your list?
  • What research specialty, unique program or offering makes you want to know more?

Those thoughtful reflections are the “secret” to answering a question focused on the college itself.

Low Hanging Fruit

CHECK THE NAME!  If you use the name of the college, university or institute in the supplemental essay, get the name right.  Will “college” vs. “university” seal your decision fate? No. Will it reflect the time and care you put into your application?  Yes!  I have seen brilliant, perfect-test-scoring, straight-A students not spell or even come close to typing the correct name on a short answer question.

This gives me pause. Again, it doesn’t sink an application because most admission officers are not cruel people. We realize many seniors are worn thin and have many priorities on their plates.  But it does plant the seed of doubt—are they genuinely interested? Since many times, supplemental essays are the last piece of an application reviewed, is that the impression you want to leave with the committee?  Probably not. That being said,  proof this writing piece as thoroughly as your main essay!

Parting Thoughts

I tell every student who will listen, “Write your supplemental essay.  Go to bed.  Read it again the next day.”  Students spend an inordinate amount of time stressing, dissecting and proofing their activities and main essays.  Then at the end of the process, when they are exhausted, they throw something down for the supplementals and hit submit. Give that puppy a once over in the light of day to see if it is well written.

This advice really aligns with my over-arching guidance for all high schoolers—take a beat!  Yes, there is work you must do, but when you can, as frequently as you can, schedule a breather.  I believe student work, and especially college application work, is better if you have a chance to review it with a clear head. So, if completing your college application just involved a Google search for “all the different kinds of fruit”, smile, take a deep breath and enjoy the process.  We can’t wait to read what you have to say!

Katie Mattli has worked in college admission for over 10 years. She joined Georgia Tech in 2014 where she works with underrepresented minority recruitment focusing on female, first generation, African American and Hispanic recruitment efforts. Her previous years at a private liberal arts college for women fueled her love of student leadership and advocacy.

 

 

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(A College) Search of Greatness

A few weeks ago I watched In Search of Greatness, a documentary featuring some of history’s best known and most accomplished athletes, including Serena Williams, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, and Pele. It covers their backgrounds, motivations, challenges, unconventional styles, and inimitable spirit.

I’ve engaged in some vehement debates with friends about who was the “greatest of the greats,” but we all agreed on one thing: seeing true greatness in action is a rare privilege. Over the course of the last decade, that’s exactly the position I have been in serving under our now outgoing president, G.P. “Bud” Peterson.

Anyone who saw MJ at the height of his game or watched Pele play loves to tell stories about “that day” or “that game” because indelible moments leave lasting impressions. As Peterson prepares to retire from Georgia Tech, here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned from his leadership.

Engage Fully

Move-in day in August is one of my favorites of the year. It’s gratifying (and frankly relieving) to see students arrive on campus. When numbers on spreadsheets and essays on applications manifest themselves in actual people with cars filled with boxes of shoes, bedding, and neatly packed toiletries, I may say, “Welcome to campus!” but I’m really thinking, “Phew. Thank God. I get to do this for at least one more year.”

The incoming class in 2009 was the first I brought in as director and happened to be Peterson’s first fall on campus as well. I was invited to join a group of administrators who were helping students unload cars at the residence halls.

Along with student volunteers, we greeted cars as they pulled up on the street outside residence halls and helped them unload from the curb. Doors would open, trunks would lift, and a swarm of movers would descend upon the wide-eyed family’s vehicle. It was hot and there was a steady stream of cars.

Many leaders would see move-in day merely as a photo opp. Grab a shoe box or some hanging clothes, shake a few hands, and wait for the article to be written up. But invariably, President Peterson would grab the mini fridge in the back of the car or the largest and heaviest box he could find and bound through the doors of the dorm and up two flights of stairs before the student’s younger brother even got out of the car.  Peterson has never been about appearance. He approached that minor activity the same way he consistently operates—fully engaged and invested.

Your Takeaway

The admission process will Jedi-mind trick you with dates, deadlines, applications, decisions, seemingly dry or mechanical components, and an endless deluge of emails and brochures in your mailbox. It’s easy and understandable to look at the 16th  college tour of the summer or another supplemental essay you have to write merely as a task to be done or an inconvenience in the midst of your busy life.

Peterson’s was formally recognized last week in the form of a $17 million endowment in his honor to help students with financial need.

My hope is you will follow Peterson’s lead and fully engage. Approach this not as a process, but rather as an experience—an opportunity to grow and learn. Instead of simply listing and describing what you’ve done on the extra-curricular section of applications, give real thought as to why you participated and what you learned. What did you get out of being on the swim team? Why did you join the Spanish club? How did it shape and change you? And do you want to broaden, deepen, or discontinue that involvement in college?

Don’t just ask teachers for recommendations. Take the opportunity to thank them for their time and effort. Share what you learned in the course and how it’s helped or impacted you. College applications should not be treated only as a vehicle for delivering information to schools. If you fully engage, they actually have the potential to be an exercise in reflecting on your high school career and assessing how your experience directs you in the future, regardless of where you end up going to college.  Engage Fully!

Ask Simple Questions

While there are many anecdotes I could recount, one of the most poignant occurred when President Peterson learned I was considering a position at another university. The title was higher, the portfolio was bigger, and the salary was larger.

He invited me to sit down and discuss the opportunity. After he shared a similar story from his career he said, “Really, there is just one thing to consider.” I waited expectantly, convinced this would be my answer, and he had the pearl of wisdom I needed to make a decision. “You need to ask yourself, ‘Do I want that job?’” He did not try to convince me one way or another. He did not encourage me to build a big spreadsheet of pros and cons or attempt to strategically analyze how this may impact my long-term career. Instead, he asked me to consider the perfect question—one that triggered a series of others I needed to reflect upon: Is this a fit? Where will I thrive? His question helped me tune out external pressures, opinions, and perceived factors and to be honest about what I really wanted…and why.

Your take-away

Too many students follow the crowd in the admission process. They apply to the same schools their siblings or friends applied to. They only consider local options or the most popular colleges in their region. They want to please their parents or feel like they must go to the most selective or highly ranked school to which they are admitted.

In the past we’ve written about asking better questions and even asking the same questions again and again. I stand by that advice, but to take a page out of Peterson’s book, my hope is throughout your admission experience you will continually ask the most important question: “Is this for me?”

When you are on a college campus listening to an admission officer or tour guide or academic advisor, ask, “Is this for me?” When you put together the list of colleges to apply to, ask, “Am I applying here for someone else or is this for me?”  When you are selecting a major or deciding what topic to choose for your essay or making a final college choice, ask, “What are the outside pressures I am feeling? Is this being pushed on me, or is this really for me?”

Around November of the first year (sometimes earlier) many students begin to question their college choice. They spend consecutive nights endlessly scrolling Instagram or visiting friends at other schools and returning to a dark dorm room believing they made a mistake. Sometimes this happens because they limited their admission experience to a process and simply went through the motions. They “ended up” somewhere rather than choosing it. Outside factors and pressures corrupted an honest, intentional, introspective experience. I hope you’ll have both the courage and confidence to ask, “Is this for me?”  Ask Simple Questions!

Family First

President Peterson has four (now adult) children of his own. He and his wife, Val, have fostered nine others. If you are around him long enough, you’ll hear him recount stories about conversations with President Obama, Fortune 100 CEO’s, and some of our nation’s highest-ranking military officials. He will passionately discuss thermodynamics or complex engineering concepts. But I’ve seen his greatest joy come as he’s shared simple stories about his kids and their families.

One day, early in Peterson’s tenure at Tech, we were informed of an admitted student who died in an automobile accident while driving his sister to school. We learned these were the only two children in this particular family. He invited me to his office to learn more and discuss the situation, as this was an admitted, not an enrolled or current, student.

I explained that traditionally I took care of writing to families during the admitted stage. He leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath, then slightly shook his head and said, “You know, Rick. I’ve had a lot of titles in my life: professor, dean, provost, Chancellor, but by far the one I cherish the most is ‘father.’ I simply cannot imagine how these parents are feeling tonight.”

He wrote the letter that day. I went home, hugged my wife, and slept on the floor next to our son’s crib.

Your take-away

After sitting at the intersection between high school and college for the last 20 years, I’m convinced that at its core the admission experience is fundamentally about family. Admission officers rattle off factors and stats and dates that appear quantifiable.  Students and parents focus on elements like grades and test scores and decisions and money and other elements that appear to be sterile. The truth is the admission experience is not defined numbers but is instead deeply relational. It is rooted in both individual and collective hopes and dreams.

Visiting and applying to colleges, handling decisions, weighing options, and ultimately arriving on a campus provides an opportunity to connect rather than divide; to trust each other rather than be paranoid and skeptical about how decisions will turn out; to control what you can control—how you treat and love one another. Family First!

In Search of Greatness

Georgia Tech’s motto is “Progress and Service.” I like to modify it when talking to students and our team to “Progress (not perfection) and Service.” If you watch the documentary, you’ll notice each of the stars talks at length about losses, setbacks, challenges and difficult moments. Clearly, the refusal to accept the status quo and the desire to continually refine and improve is a commonality among the greats.

I hope you’ll take a similar approach to your next year of high school and keep that mentality as you enter college. Nobody expects perfection from you, even though at times it may feel that way. They simply see your greatness and want you to strive for it. Similarly, I cannot offer you a perfect way to go through your college experience, because it’s your experience. I can only encourage you to Engage Fully, Ask Simple Questions, and keep Family First.

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