Archives for March 2020

Navigating the Waitlist

Listen to “Episode 10: Navigating the Waitlist – Alex Thackston” on Spreaker.

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor, Alex Thackston, to the blog. Welcome, Alex!

We live in unknown times. The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the effects it will have on us, our families, our society, and the world, leaves us feeling uneasy and unsure about our future. I’m not sure about you, but I wish I had a definitive answer on how this will all turn out. But this is not the first time I have dealt with this feeling of uncertainty, knowing I had no control over a situation.

When I was pregnant with my son, my fellow mom-friends advised me to start looking for daycare programs early in the game. I thought it was a little overboard to research and tour daycares before even telling anyone I was expecting. Once I learned about the competitiveness of getting into these schools, I started my preparations. After combing through 40 different early childhood institutions in the Atlanta Metro area, I narrowed my search down to six schools that met what my husband and I were looking for in a school.

We factored in location (to home and our jobs), types of curriculum (I know… curriculum for a baby?), certifications of the centers and teachers, affordability, and good reviews. Starting to sound familiar? Out of those six schools, there were two that came to the top of our list. Our top option was really out of our price range, but offered every aspect we wanted! The second option was also a wonderful choice, but a little farther than we wanted to travel. We applied to both, paid our application fees, and we were placed on… the waitlist. Yep, you read that right: a waitlist for daycare!

Hurry Up and Wait

During this holding period, we continued to hold onto hope that we would be accepted into our top choice. We figured we could find a way to save and budget for the high costs, dreamed about the educational opportunities it presented, and loved the idea that we could walk from our home to pick up our little guy.

However, fate had another plan. As we waited (and waited…), the due date of sweet boy quickly approached. We found ourselves without the news we wanted or expected. Jack was born in early August, six months after we had placed ourselves on these schools’ waitlists. We ended up receiving a spot off of the waitlist for our second choice. But we were frustrated and upset about the prospect that our first choice was not going to work out when we needed it.

picture of happy baby

Jack loving his new daycare.

We spent a couple of months bonding with our little man at home, but once January hit, it was time to send him on his way. While Jack could have cared less about where he was going, we put on a brave face and sent him to our second choice: an amazing school that still offered everything we were looking for, despite not being the perfect location. And while it wasn’t our number one choice at the time, in the long run we’ve been very pleased with the teachers, curriculum and experiences that our little guy was, and has, been having there.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want…”

So why bring up the “you can’t always get what you want” message at a time like now? Because I know many students across the country will be receiving admission decisions in the coming weeks, and it may not be the news they hoped for.

In my experience, the hardest part is not being denied or told “no,” but being told “maybe” and placed on a waitlist. While this type of decision gives hope, it also brings about uncertainty. So, what can you do? My lesson learned is to continue making plans and look at your other options. There are bound to be other colleges on your list that have already admitted you to their first-year class. If you haven’t been admitted elsewhere, there’s good news—many institutions are still accepting applications for their first-year class!

While these schools may not be your top choice, consider how they suit you and your needs. Make a list of all of the positive attributes you discovered in your top choice school, and look at the other schools to see how they too may possess these factors. You may find that some of these institutions aren’t all that different.

Make the Most of What You Have

I highly recommend that once you get to your new school, make the best of your experience there. You may come to find that the institution you chose was the perfect fit for you after all—a place where you can grow holistically and develop academically.

As a parent, I am always looking for opportunities to create the best experiences for my child. For me that meant stressing over the perfect daycare for a 5-month-old. When our first choice didn’t work out, I looked to my husband for comfort. I mean, how was this other daycare supposed to compete with one that has a curriculum created by PhD’s, an app that let you peek into your kiddo’s typical day, and brand-new facilities for our little one to grow into?

He reassured me that our second option had a curriculum created by former Atlanta teachers who had a combined total of 30+ years of teaching experience, an app where our teachers would post videos, pictures, and updates of our son based on his personal development, and state-of-the-art facilities that were recently renovated when they expanded their building due to the high demand of their program.

It turns out my second choice had everything we wanted and more! Ultimately, we made the best decision for our son and for our family, and along the way learned the lesson the Rolling Stones said best: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you just might find, you get what you need”.

Senior Admission CounselorAlex Thackston has worked in college admission for nine years. Prior to joining Georgia Tech in 2014, she worked for the Office of Admission at Florida State University. She currently serves as a Senior Admission Counselor working with first-year and pathway students, and also serves as the athletic admission liaison.

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.

It Works Out

Listen to “It Works Out: Episode 4- Andrew Cohen, Becky Tankersley, Chaffee Viets, Kathleen Voss, Evan Simmons, Sammy Rose-Sinclair” on Spreaker.

Each year, right before we release admission decisions, I speak with our tour guides. I love talking to this group because they are smart, excited, and always have really good snacks (shout out to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels). They amaze me because they voluntarily give up valuable hours each week to walk families across campus (often in the blazing sun or pouring rain or right after two exams and a bad break-up) and share all of the incredible opportunities available both inside and outside the classroom.

They love Tech. They believe in this place. They have drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid.  At their Monday night meeting I asked them a few questions:

Q: Was Tech your first choice when you applied to colleges?

A: 62% responded NO.

Q: How many of you are happy here now and are thankful for the way it has worked out?

A: All but two responded YES, which I thought was pretty good. (Plus “here” and “it” were vague… they may have been thinking about that particular meeting and whether or not they got the right ratio of pretzel dogs: pretzel nuggets).

Q: How many of you think if you were at another college you would have no chance for success or happiness in the short or long-term?

A: Only one of the 71 said they would have no chance of happiness or success elsewhere. Now you could call this contrarian, but I call it “ALL IN!” Give that kid the TGOTY (Tour Guide of Year) Award.

If you are a senior…

Whether you are waiting on an admission decision or trying to choose from your college options in the weeks ahead, I hope you will find comfort and confidence in these responses. The take home message is #ItWorksOut. Since lot of selective colleges will put decisions out in the weeks ahead, I don’t want you to lose sight of this fact.

Over the years I’ve written extensively about my own personal “re-routes,” as well as the experiences of students, family, and friends in hopes of providing solace when something you hope for doesn’t go as planned. Some of these include:

Again, the resounding commonality in all of these stories: #ItWorksOut.

Further Evidence 

Tweet describing college rejection and decision making

Good Day Philly co-host, Alex Holley.

While perspective always comes with time, it is accelerated by hearing the stories of others. I recently started reading Paul Tough’s book, The Years That Matter Most. I highly recommend it (it’s unquestionably the second best book about college admission to come out within the past year).  In chapter one he tells the story of Shannen, a senior from New York City, who is denied admission to her top choice. She’s crushed. She’s inconsolable. A few days later she receives admission to two other great schools (with better climates) who both offer excellent financial packages. Ultimately, she has achieved the real goal of the college admission experience: not just a single offer from a particular college, but multiple offers from different schools. She has options.

These stories are all around you, but you have to be intentional about being still and quiet and really listening. When you do, you’ll hear about the job someone did not get, the house purchase that fell through, the relationship that did not work out, or the deal that didn’t happen.

A Few Noteworthy Examples

Beyonce. Before she figured out that one name/one person was adequate, she was in a group called Girl’s Tyme (there’s a reason you’ve never heard of it).

Harrison Ford, and Henry Ford (only related by their similarly circuitous paths to fame and success).

Stephon Curry. From not being recruited by major college basketball programs to becoming, well… Steph Curry.

Albert Einstein. Failed his Swiss entrance exam, barely graduated from college, sold insurance door to door. So many great Einstein quotes to choose from. Perhaps the most apropos in this situation is, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

When things don’t go the way we hope, our tendency is to withdraw from others or go into our shell or gravitate toward people who are equally upset and in the exact same situation (see ad nauseam Reddit threads). Ironically, it’s in these precise moments we need to do the opposite—open up, listen to really hear, and seek perspective from people two, five, or 25 years older.

Common Threads

  • You are not alone. EVERYONE. EVERY. ONE. has stories of re-routes and disappointments. If someone cannot share at least one anecdote like this, do not trust them because THEY. ARE. LYING. Need more evidence? Go look at the admit rate of some of the schools you’ve applied to. Now flip that percentage (deny rate) and multiply it with the total number of applications received. That is a big number. That number is a lot higher than one, right? I know, I know. You come here for the math.
  • Re-routes and the things we do not get teach valuable lessons. Whether you are denied admission or you get in but ultimately don’t receive the financial aid package necessary for you to attend your top choice college, you will grow. My hope is you’ll be able to see these situations as opportunities rather than as disappointments. Use them as motivation. Anyone who is truly content, successful, and happy will not describe their life and journey as a predictable point-to-point path. Instead they’ll discuss bumps, turns, and moments of uncertainty along the way.
  • The real decision belongs to you. The common thread between the answers of our tour guides and the famous people listed above is that ultimately, we all need to choose how we handle re-directions, decide where our identity comes from, and determine how we are going to move forward.

To Parents, Counselors, and Teachers

March and April are critical times to give examples of how people students know, respect, and trust have weathered disappointments and emerged thankful on the other side.

Tweet explaining that college decisions work out

No. I don’t know Mark personally. I just ran across this when making sure #itworksout was populated with relatively clean, relevant and appropriate content.

So I have three favors to ask:

  1. Make a concerted effort in the weeks ahead to share your personal stories with the students around you. Extra Credit: join the movement by sharing your experience on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)  Need some guidelines? Tell us:
  • What happened and when?
  • How did things ultimately work out?
  • Link to the blog, @gtadmission and #ItWorksOut.
  1. Talk to the parents of college students or recent college graduates about how things worked out for their kids. You’ll hear them tell encouraging stories of how #ItWorksOut. Maybe not the way they thought or scripted, but inevitably their anecdotes will be filled with examples of what we all hope for our kids: friends, happiness, and opportunities.
  2. Keep lifting up the students around you. They will need an appropriate amount of time and space to express their frustration or sit in the disappointment. Totally natural, normal, and necessary. But if you sense they are bumping up against the “wallow” line, use it as an opportunity to help them hone and develop a critical life skill– the ability to look down on a situation from 30,000 feet. It’s only from that vantage point we are able to absorb and handle disappointment, but also make big life decisions.

I’m not saying any of this is easy. But I am saying with absolute confidence #ItWorksOut. I’m excited to hear the stories of how it has (and will) in your life!

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College Admission Brief Podcast

We started the GT Admission Blog in 2015. At the time, I had a regular Thursday afternoon “running meeting” with our former director of enrollment communications, Matt McLendon. We’d set off with a full agenda to cover, but inevitably somewhere along the Beltline I’d start rambling about a particular challenge or admission issue. One day (mid-run/ mid-rant), Matt gently suggested I “write this stuff down.” He asserted that families needed to hear more honesty and openness from admission deans and directors, and my random analogies and anecdotes may actually be a refreshing way to present subjects that often stir anxiety. (Is it likely he was just trying to enjoy the run and stay on task? Absolutely. Nevertheless, here we are.).

In the early days of the blog, I was the sole/soul author. And for the first month, it was basically just my wife, mom, and aunt reading (using several email accounts to up our subscriber number). Since that time, we’ve found ways to bring in a variety of different voices from our admission team, enrollment division, as well as campus partners. The goal remains to provide perspective, insight, and helpful tips in a relatable and accessible tone–and hopefully to also bring some levity and solace along the way.

At the time of this writing, we have over 3,550 subscribers. We know that parents and counselors regularly share our blogs in their communities and friend sets. Thank you! And while we occasionally hear from applicants who have read an entry or two, we understand high school students may not always be up for reading another 1,200-1,400 words in an already word-filled day/week of going class, studying, taking notes, etc.

Still, we know from questions in and after presentations, as well as from emails, calls, and online posts, students want to get perspective about college admission. They want to know how decisions are really made, what they mean (and don’t mean), and often simply need to be reminded that the people reading their apps are just that—people.

College Admission Brief Podcast

College Admission Brief Header

To that end we just launched a new podcast, The College Admission Brief. Just like our blog, we hope to personalize the admission process by sharing timely tips and encouraging advice from colleagues and campus partners. While we’ll sometimes use Georgia Tech as an example, the goal is to include general information, advice, and broadly applicable admission insight for students to use in their college admission experience.

A great example of why we launched this podcast is my obnoxiously long (2,160 words to be exact) blog from last week. If you read it, thank you. Grit is a valued trait and you have it in spades, my friend. (Plus you now have a sense of what Matt was dealing with on those runs). The actual title was “What’s Taking So Long?” and anyone who is honest would admit they asked themselves that precise question several times during the reading.

If you skimmed a few paragraphs and clicked back over to Instagram or scrolled down twice hard with your thumb only to realize you were only to the second picture, I understand why you bowed out. Seriously, I get it. Good news- our latest podcast episode with our Senior Associate Director, Mary Tipton Woolley, covers the same content in under 10 minutes. Bonus- you can listen while walking, driving, or waiting around for a practice or rehearsal to start. (Multitasking is a skill and we’re here for you.)

Listen to “How Are College Admission Applications Reviewed? Episode 3: Mary Tipton Woolley” on Spreaker.

We are still tweaking the audio and working out some behind the scenes kinks, so just like: the world; my laundry folding skills; the admission experience; or any one of us, it is not perfect. Still, we hope you’ll find these interviews and recordings encouraging, relatively light, shareable, and at times humorous. But if nothing else we guarantee this—they’ll be brief! Each episode is less than 10 minutes. How bad can it be? Download and listen on iTunes, Spotify, or Spreaker to check it out. Happy listening!

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.