What’s Next for College Admission?

While there’s never a slow time for college admissions, the cycle is about to pick up as a new crop of high school seniors work on their applications and think about where they’ll be next fall.  There are several changes that will affect the class of 2021 and beyond. Here are a few trends I’m keeping a close eye on.

Prior-Prior Year FAFSA

Starting this fall the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be available earlier, now in October as opposed to January. And the forms will now use tax information from two years ago, known as Prior-Prior Year, as opposed to just the previous year.

Why does this matter? The change will enable students and families to file FAFSA earlier and receive federal aid eligibility information sooner in the college application process. Currently, financial aid information doesn’t become available until students and their families are nearing college decision deadline dates. While the schedule for Georgia Tech’s financial packages will not alter this year, the new rules will allow families applying to many schools nationally to receive their financial aid information earlier in the process, which will allow for more thorough and informed discussions about where to attend college. Even though the changes start this year, it will take a couple of years before we see the full impact across the higher education landscape.

Every individual family handles things differently, but I think that for the majority of people this is a very good thing. You will have more complete information on the table earlier and be able to rule in and rule out some places. I’m for anything we can do to eliminate some of the stress and anxiety over deciding where to go to college.

Turning the Tide

Turning the Tide, a report, released by Harvard University, calls on colleges to attempt to reduce application angst by not putting as much emphasis on test scores, redefining achievement and promoting meaningful contributions to the public good.

It is forcing people in admission to think differently and strongly consider what’s on their applications and how they are training their staff to review applications. These outside reports put colleges in the healthy position where we are asking good questions about how we can refine and improve the process.

For example, we’ve changed one of our supplemental questions on the Common Application to line up with the Institute’s motto of progress and service as it relates to how applicants are within their families. The new prompt is: Tech’s motto is Progress and Service. We find that students who ultimately have a broad impact first had a significant one at home. What is your role in your immediate or extended family? And have you seen evidence of your impact on them?

The idea is to communicate to students that impact is not only achieved through playing sports or involvement in clubs, etc. We care about your relationships, character, and who you are in your family. These are indicators of your fit for Georgia Tech.

Changes to the ACT and SAT

The two major college entrance exams – the ACT and SAT – have both gone through major changes, and students who are the first to take the revamped exams are stressed over how these new tests will impact admission decisions. Students, and their families, need to remember that colleges aren’t changing how they use these scores. The scores are just one of many factors considered during the holistic review of applications.

I know people don’t like change, and being the first to do something is scary. But I’m looking forward to getting an admission cycle under our belt with these changes so students will see they are being admitted and that this is not something they have to be worried about. Once colleges start releasing admission decisions in December, the tension and anxiety surrounding both entrance exams will begin to subside.

Statewide Tour

Part of Georgia Tech’s mission as a public university is to serve the state and help produce a more educated workforce and a stronger economy. Later this month, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University and University of Georgia will kick off the annual Peach State Tour information sessions to meet with high school counselors, students and parents.

This year’s program is bigger than ever. Georgia State was added to the tour, and the three colleges will hold information sessions in 23 different towns and cities, nearly double what was done last year. This means Georgia Tech’s admission team will be within 50 miles of every Georgian.

I’m excited to travel across the state and meet with counselors, principals, students and families in communities to develop relationships that will last years. We want the best students in our state to strongly consider some of Georgia’s research institutions. We will not only talk about the opportunities at our three premier universities, but we will also answer questions in general about the college admission process.

The Welcome Manual, Step 2: Don’t Sit!

The Welcome Manual, Step 2

At Georgia Tech we’ve made a real effort to clarify holistic review , de-stress the admission process, and use a variety of mediums to try to help you do a great job on your application.

Still, when I ask current freshmen to reflect on their admission process, I’m surprised by their misconceptions of the basic elements. Either these were not well communicated, not really heard (despite a lot of nodding heads when I look out into audiences), or perhaps not believed. I’m still working on my “trust me” hand sign, but I have to admit: it’s frustrating to know there is still so much misinformation and misunderstanding. And to be honest, often these conversations are with kids whose parents attended college, and who have access to college counselors in their high schools. That being said, it worries me to think about students who are in schools with student:counselor ratios of nearly 500:1 (the– disturbing– national average).

In Part 1 of The Welcome Manual, we talked about separating yourself in your writing– being you, conveying your passions, and looking at your essays and supplements like an interview. Today we are going to hit on another “lesson learned” or “wish I’d known” from college freshmen who have just gone through the admission process.

Since The Common Application opens August 1, let’s walk through this together (cue the dream sequence).Step2_Banner

The Schedule

August 1-3: You create a username and login. You quickly knock out your name, address, date of birth, and overall biographical information. Maybe you get slightly delayed for an evening or two while finding out mom or dad’s work address or details on length of citizenship in your state– but this section is pretty straightforward (note: if you find questions such as address or middle name difficult, please see your school counselor immediately).

August 8 (being generous): You come to the extra- curricular portion. Let’s allow some time to consider and deliberate over the order to list these activities. “Will they think it’s more impressive that I played cul-de-sac whiffleball or was awarded ‘Bee of the Month’ for April as Applebee’s hostess?” Again, however, that section is pretty straight forward. Couple nights and DONE– because effectively it is what it is.

August 12: Understandably, when you get to the essays and supplements, you are going to need some time (although, many college freshmen say they actually wrote those over the summer, which we advise.) You write, revise, edit, solicit an editor or two, remind the editor to do their job, consider those edits, revise. This process should take a month, max.

Mid- September: Students I talked to said they hit some delays in making a few college visits or determining exactly which schools to apply to. Or, they had a big test or project that kept them from immediately submitting, so we will account for that.

Oct 1: Submit. Done.

Sit-Less-Walk-with-Attitude-BlogThe Reality

Does reality follow the schedule above? Nope. Students said they just just sat on their applications… and admitted they sat on them way too long. They sat and sat. They ate and slept and went on an occasional date, and then they sat some more. If the application were an egg, it would have long since hatched and then been crushed by mama for not moving.

My question: “WHY?” Most said they were nervous– anxious about being judged. I also heard, “I thought I might realize something was missing” or “that I might want to add something to improve it.”

My Advice

ME: “Ok. So did you?”

They said: “No.” And similarly they unanimously said how relieved they were once they finished and could move on with their senior year. Now they had time to focus more on their senior grades, or on Homecoming, or simply on not sitting.

I’m just reporting what I’ve heard (and adding a few occasionally cheesy parentheticals). But here’s the bottom line: Knock it out and send it in! And tell your friends. “See Sitting, Say Something.” #ssss — it’s a thing.

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Becoming Part of the Solution

I know I said we’d be delving into Part Two of the Welcome Manual this week, but that will have to wait for now.

The tragic deaths in our country over the last few weeks demand that our conversation change; that we all pay attention; that we all ask questions about how we can live and love differently; and about how, regardless of our age, race, job, or state of citizenship, we raise our voices to achieve the society described upon the founding of our nation.

declarationThe words of the Declaration of Independence could not be more clear: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

A Wake-Up Call

When the shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas took place, I was in Boston and Plymouth. These pivotal places in American history, which represent hope and freedom, only made it more painfully obvious that nearly two and a half centuries since we declared independence, we have yet to live up to the beautiful ideals of “life, liberty, safety and happiness” for all our citizens. These deaths have been a poignant reminder of this fundamental failing, and they’ve rattled me, as I’m guessing they have many of you.  Police being targeted and killed while serving their cities is horrifying and unacceptable. Protests, sit-ins, viral videos, and daily unrest make it clear our racial divide is not narrowing. We are living in a crucial moment in history. Real change will demand collective grace, understanding, risk, patience, and many other qualities that require tremendous selflessness and self-awareness. It’s also going to take people in positions of power and privilege using their platform to bring this change about.

Until recently, I have not thought much about my role or opportunity when it comes to providing a forum for discussing and improving race relations locally or broadly. I have simply lived my life as my parents and my faith have taught me– to treat everyone with respect. As a native of Atlanta, I’ve associated with of our identity as “the city too busy to hate.” As an employee of Georgia Tech, I’m proud that we were the first public university in the south to voluntarily integrate. As an American, I stand behind Martin Luther King Jr.’s words to judge not “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  But I have begun to appreciate that not being part of the problem is also not being part of the solution.

“What can I do?”

At Georgia Tech we proudly recruit, cultivate, and graduate students who passionately seek solutions to complex problems. They are insistent upon collaborating to refute the status quo. It’s my responsibility,  as a citizen, a staff member, and someone who holds a position in national organizations for higher education, to bring that  mentality to our nation’s current racial climate. This is uncomfortable and I feel unqualified; yet I also feel compelled.

“What can I do?” This is a question that I’m thankful to hear many asking right now. As for me, I attended a conversation in a colleague’s home on Saturday. About 25 friends old and new. The group as effectively half black and half white, and fairly similarly balanced from a gender standpoint. We talked about big and small issues regarding barriers to racial equality. We listened to stories, we shared our own trepidation, as well as our hopes. This week our staff gathered to listen to black co-workers talk about their last few weeks, their families’ struggles, and their desire to see change in this country they dearly love. Next week well over 100 admission staff from our area, including Agnes Scott College, Emory University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Morehouse College, Oglethorpe University, Spelman College, and The University of Georgia, will gather for an annual day of professional development. We have changed our agenda to include a facilitated discussion on this topic of augmenting race relations in America. And in the months ahead, I’ll be discussing the need for discussion, understanding, and appropriate action at both the local and national level through my professional roles, positions, and network.

What Can You Do?

  • You can listen: There are many great recent and archived perspectives, but I was struck by this poem “White Boy Privilege” by an 8th grader here in Atlanta (Be advised he uses some profanity in this video). And then you can ask: “What am I doing to challenge those around me? How am I using my voice, my position, my influence to make racial equality a reality in America in my lifetime?” And then you can REALLY LISTEN as Pastor Greg Allen- Pickett demonstrates in “Reflections on the train: Racism and being an ally.”
  • bbYou can read “My hopes, dreams, fears for my future black son.” And then you can think about the literal and proverbial fences that still stand between races in America; about how critical it is for freedom to mean the same thing to all Americans; and how crucial it is for all citizens to trust and support our policemen so they can do their job well.
  • You can watch: “Color Blind or Color Brave” And consider Mellody Hobson’s words: “Then I realized, the first step to solving any problem is to not hide from it, and the first step to any form of action is awareness. And so I decided to actually talk about race.”

While the overall solution in our nation is nuanced and complex, part of the equation is recognizing that education is a privilege. AND SO YOU CAN TAKE ACTION: If you are headed to college next year, I urge you to listen and lead—and to challenge others to do the same. Create opportunities to have these hard conversations.  If you are continuing in high school next year, be a part of the solution: use your voice and position to build a school community that is equitable, that respects all races, and that gives opportunity regardless of skin color. If you are parenting a student in school at any level, keep coaching your kids to step in and step up. And the same in your own home, your community, your place of worship or work. Be reminded of Hobson’s words, “You can be color brave. If you are trying to solve a really hard problem, you can speak up and be color brave. Now I know people will say, but that doesn’t add up to a lot, but I’m actually asking you to do something really simple: observe your environment, at work, at school, at home.”

We have the opportunity to ensure that 21st century America is  known as the time in which we finally made life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness a universal reality in our society. Perhaps someone much smarter than me will come up with a grand plan to bring this about.  But for now, I’m looking at myself and my sphere of influence. I encourage you to do the same.

The Welcome Manual: Part 1 of 3

I woke up to the sound of rain on the windows and roof. Not a completely uncommon noise but somehow this seemed different. Then the water started hitting my arm and face and I forced my eyes open.

I was sleeping on a porch at the beach. My family took a vacation last week to Cape Cod, MA. Beautiful area and great to escape the Georgia heat at this time of year. But after a long night of stories by the fire, I had decided to sleep on a porch bed to enjoy the cool evening.  Looking around me at the wet sill and blanket it was clear that it had been raining a while. I went back into the house and began closing the windows in my wife and kids’ rooms. Then I went into the bathroom. Oddly, it was here that it felt like rain was falling directly on my head… and it was.

I looked up and realized there was an open sunroof that I had not noticed during the beautiful, clear days before.  Not wanting to turn on the light or wake anyone else up I stared up at the skylight. Rain was coming directly into my face at this point.

This house was built in 1920. The ceiling was a good 12 feet high and there was a precariously archaic looking crank to close this hatch. I searched the wall hoping perhaps it has been modernized and one of the switches would control it. Flip, lights. Flip, fan. Flip, not sure what that does but it does not control the sunroof.

Finding The Solution

Do I put down towels and go back to sleep? Appealing but irresponsible. Do I wake my wife up and ask for help? No. It’s 3 a.m. and she was buried under 2 pillows and taking up the entire bed at this point. Plus, she’d much prefer a wet bathroom than being woken up with questions I should be able to answer.

So… the only solution: climb. I’m not saying I’m Spiderman or anything, but having young kids has renewed my playground acumen, which as this point was looking to prove necessary. I step up onto to toilet. Put a foot into the wall and my hand on the window sill and pulled myself onto that and the top of the door frame.  I was 6-7 feet off the ground and could reach to 11 or so. Almost there. I stretched further and could almost touch the crank now. But it was slick and rain was picking up. I jammed my back into wall and reluctantly reached to the crank and closed the sunroof. At this point I was dripping from both sweat and rain.  I eased back down to the top of the toilet careful not to make the final step the one that sent me to the Cape Cod hospital. And that’s when I saw it. Sitting in the corner, right next to the plunger was a 2 foot silver rod.  I picked it up. What the…?!  Expanding it out to a good 6 feet like a tent pole, there was a perfect aperture for the crank.

That would have been good to know! I’m so glad the welcome manual for the house included directions to the beach and restaurant recommendations, instead of helpful nuggets like this one. Yelp and Google Maps have got me covered in 2016, but so far there is no “crank” app that I’m aware of.

The Admission Welcome Manual

Part of what creates anxiety in the admission process is what brings about stress in all of life: uncertainty.  When we don’t feel like we have all of the details or good information on something, it shakes us. And then questions start swirling: Should I apply or is this school too far out of reach? Will they like my essay and find it compelling? Have I done enough outside the classroom to complement my good grades? How much will they look at test scores, and will that be the only factor they care about? Will the fact that 10 other students are applying from my high school hurt my chances?

As we head toward August and the opening of applications around the country, it’s clear we need to go back to the basics. Today, we’ll cover the first step in our three-part series, the“welcome manual” to college admission.

Step 1 – Separate yourself

The other day I was talking with a student who just finished his freshman year at Tech. Crazy talented when it comes to film and media. He’s going to have a very successful career, and he’s majoring in business to complement his creative skills. We started talking about the admission process, and I fired off a few questions I love to ask: where else did you apply? Why did you choose Tech? What would you tell a high school student now that you wish you would have known?

And his answer to that surprised me– he said he did not highlight his passion for film because he thought Tech admissions would question if he were a good fit. He didn’t want to “look too different from others I knew were applying.” He actually wrote different supplemental essays for Tech than he did for University of Chicago and Stanford. At this point, my mouth was agape. “What?! Wait… what?!”   I know we talk about “voice” in every presentation. We write about “conveying individualism” in blogs and in publications. We have made videos speaking to this very point. It’s one of those moments that makes me want to throw up my hands.

The entire purpose of the supplemental essay is to separate you from other applicants. This is your interview. This is the one time in the app that you get to convey your voice. That voice is precious to us because it does not come out in test scores, course choice or performance, or even in the activities you choose to participate in. We need your authentic, passionate, individual voice and content there. His desire to combine business and film is PRECISELY what makes him an attractive candidate for us. We saw that he had his own film company when reading his activities and noted he had worked in that capacity within school and the community.

Like many applicants, we Googled him and checked out some of his work during file review. We want to know these things you care about. Shaping and building a class means finding many distinct pieces and combining them to create a beautiful puzzle.

So repeat after me, “Step 1: Write to separate yourself.”  When we read essays and make comments, we use a rubric. On our scale the mid-range is “dime a dozen” or “not a separator.” Basically this means that the essay does not hurt but does not help. It’s neutral. It’s effectively mediocre. Reaching the higher end of the rubric is achieved by augmenting your application with writing that helps us hear you, helps us remember you, understand you. Think about going out on a first date. You want your answers and conversation to be interesting, elaborative, insightful, creative. One word answers that you give your parents about where you went, who you were with, and how your day was are mediocre. (Try stepping that up too– they love you.) You know the difference. Now show us that!

We’ll hit Step 2 next week. In the meantime, don’t go climbing up wet walls in the night groping for a rusty crank.

Fisher vs. Texas… It’s all about the data

I just returned from a 3-day hiking trip in the Pacific Northwest with a couple friends that I’ve known for 30 years. It was an amazing time to catch up and unplug. Before we left we downloaded a GPS app, purchased a topographic map of the area, and checked multiple trail and weather reports. As we gathered our gear at the trail head, we talked to people coming out about the downed trees, river crossings, and overall conditions. We did all of this to try to understand what to expect, how to prepare, and what to bring in order to have a fun and safe trip. We all do this when we buy a car or are thinking about asking someone out on a date, right? We read reviews, we talk to friends, we “shop around.” For any important decision we always want moIMG_1607re information, not less. And so it goes too for the college admission process.

Fisher v. Texas 

If you have been reading or watching the news lately, you know the Supreme Court is adjourning for the summer. In advance of that, they released a bevy of rulings last week, including the Fisher v. Texas decision, in which they ruled 4-3 (with Justice Kagan recusing herself) to uphold the University of Texas at Austin race-conscious admission policy.  For those of utilizing holistic admission processes, this is important because it protects the current precedent (established in Bakke, Grutter, Gratz and Fisher 1), which allows for race to be one of many factors in the admission process.

One of Many Data Elements

In my opinion, however, upholding the ability to utilize race in admission is symbolic of the larger win. To be honest, it’s more about the data. Maybe someone should write a song called, “It’s all about the data, ’bout the data.” Not sure that quite has the same punch as “the bass,” but the concept is absolutely accurate. If you start to take away data points, you begin to deteriorate the effectiveness of a holistic file review process. The entire reason you go beyond a formulaic process (only looking at classes, grades, and test scores) is to get a full picture of each student while reading an application. Take away data elements and you begin eroding the complete picture. It’s like removing critical pixels in a larger graphic. First, you remove race, then gender, then parents’ marital status, and the list goes on.

In fact right now the White House is pushing a “Beyond the Box” initiative and is encouraging schools to sign the Fair Chance Pledge. This calls for “colleges and universities to help remove barriers… that prevent citizens with criminal records from pursuing higher education.”  One of the factors that they cite is that students are less apt to apply if these questions are on the form. I’d like to see the research on that because certainly if that is deemed to be prevalent, it’s a reasonable argument. However, in general, I like to see those questions and the responses. Questions we ask in committee are: “What did the student do… and when? What has happened as a result? Is there evidence of grit or lessons learned?  Did they write about that?” Most of the questions we ask are in hopes of finding evidence that the student has grown and will contribute and flourish on campus.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

Applications are built to form a picture, to tell a story, and to provide context. This is why we want to know what extra-curricular activities a student has chosen to pursue; it’s why we read the essays; it’s why admission officers or alumni take the time to interview students. We are constantly looking for history, background, and context.

Undeniably, race is a sensitive subject. And the court points to this stating, “it remains an enduring challenge to our Nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.” The race/ethnicity of students, however, is only one facet of a much broader diversity goal that schools have—and what’s crucial to remember is why diversity in all of its forms (geographic, gender, extra-curricular, etc.) matters.

When students live and study alongside classmates from a wide variety of backgrounds, their experience is ameliorated. Rich dialogue and enhanced learning stems from differences. And those differences serve to improve classroom discussion and the overall campus ethos. Being respectfully asked “Why are you wearing that? Why do you believe that? Why did you jdiversityust say that?” in a college setting produces graduates who enter the workplace capable of being challenged and excited about being stretched to broaden their perspective. Ultimately, these graduates go on to bolster communities and enrich their workplace, because they are more aware of people’s differences, needs, challenges, and desires. They create better products, better policies, better communities, and a fundamentally better world.

So while many will take a myopic view of the Fisher result as being about race- it’s really about the data—and colleges need that to improve not only the learning environment on campus but, more importantly, our nation and workforce in the future.