Campus Visit
College Admission
College Visit
Georgia Tech
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Campus Visit Planning 101

Even though we just entered March, spring has sprung here in Atlanta. As we approach Georgia Tech’s RD decision release, Rick is taking a week off from blogging (and very much “on” when it comes to reviewing applications and all-day committee review sessions). This week we wrap up our series on campus visits with guest blogger Elyse Lawson, who works directly with campus visits on a daily basis. Elyse joins us to share her tips on how to make the most of your time on campus, from the scheduling process until the time you get home. Welcome, Elyse!

 Why Visit?

Studies consistently show the campus visit is the most influential source in deciding not only where to apply, but ultimately where to attend school, so take advantage of the opportunity to visit college campuses that interest you! But before you step on campus, be sure you properly prepare and use the appropriate channels to make the most of your visit.

Here are my tips to planning an effective college visit:

Plan Ahead

Visit the college or university’s website and learn how to sign-up for a visit that provides you with general admission information & a tour of campus. For example, at Georgia Tech you would register for our daily info session and tour, which takes place Monday- Friday at 10:15 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.

Do Your Research

Once you’ve registered for a visit, find a way to learn more about the academic area that interests you while you are on campus. Academic advisors and faculty are great resources, and speaking with them helps you to understand what types of classes you would take in that major and what career options await you after graduation. If you can’t find an online option to add this to your visit, call the main admission office and ask to speak with a staff member for help in scheduling this part of your tour.

Be Prepared

It may sound obvious, but make sure you check your email for updates about the events for which you have scheduled. Be extra sure you verify the following details: event start/ end time, weather, directions to campus (including parking and building locations), what to wear and what the event(s) entail. At Tech, our walking tour of campus is about 1.8 miles long, so we email families to be sure they know to wear comfortable walking shoes and appropriate clothing to tour campus (no judgement for sneakers here!).

Also, if you have any special needs or disability service requests, be sure reach out to the admission office and request any necessary items or discuss any concerns you may have.

Take Time to Explore

Take advantage of the resources available and ask tons of questions (not sure what to ask? We can help you with that). Understand the admission process, deadlines and requirements. Walk throughout campus and get a feel for the traditions, social experience and student population and ask yourself if you could see yourself attending school there! It is not only important that you understand the academic offerings, but also what the university has to offer you personally, socially and professionally.

Reflect and Stay Connected

After the campus visit concludes, reflect on how you felt while visiting campus and stay connected with your admission counselor and tour guide. Admissions staff are available to assist you as you begin applying to schools, so be sure to ask any questions that may not have been answered during your visit. Connect with your tour guide at the end of the tour and see if you can get their email address. Tour guides are current students who love to share their experience and serve as a great resource for prospective students, so take advantage of the first-hand knowledge and information they have to share!

71% of students say that the campus visit is the most trusted source of information when researching schools. So don’t miss out on this very effective resource!

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Ask The Same Questions, again and again…

If you have ever been to Chick-Fil-A, you know their staff will always respond to your thanks with “My pleasure.” 

Customer: “Thank you for the ketchup.”

Staffer: “My pleasure.”

Customer: “Thank you for the lemonade.”

Staffer: “My pleasure.”

Customer: “Thanks for the sandwich.”

Staffer: “My pleasure.”

I once tried saying, “Thanks for saying ‘my pleasure,'” and received a sideways look. My current record is four “My pleasures” before they simply nodded to the next customer to approach the counter… I may go for five at the next drive thru. But you have to give it to them: they’ve clearly been trained on exactly how to respond, and they don’t deviate from that script.

Here’s the good news about colleges: they’re not Chick-Fil-A. You talk to a student, a tour guide, a professor and an alum and you will get different answers to most questions. This is a good thing.

Ask… then Ask Again

Last week we talked about asking better questions and follow up questions (and we established U2 as the best rock band of all time). This week we look at the questions you should ask over and over again to as many people as you can.

What makes this campus different or unique than other schools? This question is ESSENTIAL. If the student or tour guide or admission counselor or faculty member cannot answer that question, RUN! One of the most challenging parts about the college admission process is discerning how one school stands out from the other 4,000 in our country. This is a CRITICAL question, and you need as many different voices to respond as possible. Look for the answers online, and ask the question in information sessions. Talk to alumni about it. If you find some uniformity, you have likely found the school’s real identity. If you find great variance, you may be excited by the possibility of literally doing anything you want there. But if you find an inability to articulate a unique culture, you have a problem.

What is the most exciting thing happening on campus? If this is all about sports and you are not a fan, who cares? If this is all about some new building in a major you won’t be pursuing, who cares? If this is about political activism or the new vegan options or the 16 screen movie theater and you are an apolitical carnivore who has a fear of loud noises and big crowds, none of this will matter to you. But if their answers are all about the incredible start-up culture or the ways students work together to solve problems or the decision for all students to have an international experience and those are your passions, you have broken through the noise and found a real fit. Congrats!

What question has not been asked today that should be asked? Good one to work in at the end of a tour or an information session. This gives them an opportunity to hit on something that really matters to them. It will not be scripted, so you can count on it as being authentic and honest.

What do you wish you had known before deciding to come here? I’d ask this to students, tour guides, and, frankly, professors or admission staff who may not even be alums. There’s no way you’ll get a consensus “My pleasure “on this one. And the responses you get will give you more information to consider as you make your decision to apply or attend. Are all of those “pleasant surprises” about how nice folks are, or how good the weather is, or all the things to do near campus? Or are they predominantly negative about how expensive it is to live in that area, or that there are not direct flights to most places, or the food is terrible, or the girls are all mean? Again, this is simply information for you to digest and contemplate.

What has this college provided you to set you up for success and fulfillment in the future? Here again you can ask this of freshmen, seniors, recent graduates, or alumni well into their careers. This is also pertinent to faculty and upper level administrators. Are you hearing answers like, “The incredible network” or “the phenomenal reach and reputation” or “the ability to think critically and work collaboratively toward solutions,” and do those answers resonate with your goals?

Bonus questions (for overachievers or those who want five but did not like one or two of the above): What has disappointed you? What do you wish were different?  What is the most frustrating thing you’ve run into? Where do you see this school in five years or ten years?

The Gospel Truth…?

Here is the bottom line: Don’t take any one person’s opinion as gospel truth. I am the Director of Admission at Georgia Tech. But I am not the expert on all things Georgia Tech. To be honest, I’m not the expert on much at all on campus. And the same is true for any alum, or any tour guide or someone in the Chemistry department. Neither your sister nor the school President have a corner on the market of THE REAL STORY. It is the combination of all answers, all experts, and all perspectives that will serve you the best.  So use message boards and social media and read the school paper. But most of all ASK YOUR QUESTIONS. And ask them to as many people involved with each school as possible.

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Ask Better Questions

In the world of college admission there is always debate about the “best school” in the nation. As quickly as someone holds up Stanford or Harvard, someone else will poke holes in the methodology, or challenge that they may not be tops for  every major, and so on and so forth.  There are so many varying “sources” online these days that almost every school can tout a high-ranking or review in one area or another. “We’re among the nation’s best in ROI, or in STEM fields,” “We are the nation’s Greenest college” or “We have the best ice cream.” There is almost never a consensus or agreement on who really is “the best.” Perhaps that’s the beauty of this field– lots of great options and a desire to be the best in one thing or another, but clearly there is not a unanimous #1.

But in the world of music  a definitive leader is apparent; a band that rises above the rest and leaves no room for debate:  U2. From their lyrics to their history to their longevity, they simply define greatness. Glad we’ve established that.

A lesser known but important U2 song is 11 O’Clock Tick Tock. And in typical fashion, they always bring a lyric that is profound and broadly applicable to life:

“We thought we had the answers. It was the questions we had wrong.”

Asking the right questions, and being persistent in the asking, is a fundamental life lesson. And it’s absolutely vital as you go through the college admission process. So as you head out to college campuses this spring, whether you are a sophomore or junior who is just starting to understand how one school varies from another, or an admitted senior who is trying to figure out the best fit for the next few years, commit to being a relentless questioner. If you leave the question asking to the colleges, you can bet you’re  going to hear the same answers over and over again. “Oh, yes. Our biology program is great.” “Sure. You can double major in English and Sound Design. That’s actually extremely common.”

The emails and the brochures paint the same Pollyanna pictures, mixing appropriate diversity with studious learners closely inspecting a beaker or electrical circuit.. Don’t accept the Charlie Brown speeches. As you talk to people at different colleges,  turn off the switch that has them rambling about studying abroad or the number of applications they received and ask them something better.

1) You ask: “What is your faculty: student ratio?” This number may not include faculty who are doing research and teach only one class, or those who are on sabbatical, and so on. For example, Tech’s ratio is 18:1, but that doesn’t mean you and 17 buddies will be sitting around a table in Calculus I your freshman year. These stats are compiled for publications to be comparative. So while helpful in that regard, they don’t tell the whole story.

You SHOULD ask: “What is your most common class size?” This question gets you right into the classroom. Schools rarely publish average SATs or GPAs but rather bands or ranges. Likewise, you want to look at their ranges and variances within class size. Our most common class size is between 26-33, and around 7% of our courses have over 100 students in them. That type of information will be far more helpful to you in framing expectations and determining what kind of experience you will likely have.

And THEN ask: How does that vary from freshman year to senior year? Is that true for all majors? What does that look like for my major? I had an intro Econ class at UNC-Chapel Hill that had 500 students in it. But that was not my undergraduate experience. In fact, that was the only course I took all four years that was over 100. Similarly, one of my favorite student workers at Tech was a senior Physics major whose classes had seven, 12, and 16 students in them. But rest assured that during her freshman year she sat in a large lecture hall for Physics I.

Your job is to probe. Your job is to dig and to clarify.

2) You ask: “What’s your graduation rate?” Schools do not answer this the same. Some will give you  their four-year grad rate, some five, and some  six. The variance is not an effort to be misleading or nefarious; they have been trained to respond with an answer that is  most representative of their students’ experience. Most four-year, private, selective liberal arts schools would likely not even think to respond with a five or six-year rate because there is no significant differentiation and their goal is to have all students graduate in four years. That’s how they structure curriculum and it is their culture.

You SHOULD ask: What is your four and six-year graduation rate? And at those two intervals what  percentage have either a job offer or grad school acceptance letter? Who cares if you have a high graduation rate if your job placement rate is low?

And THEN ask: How does grad rate vary by major? What percentage of students who double major or study abroad or have an internship finish in four years? My opinion is too much emphasis is put on this clock. Unfortunately, much of this is antiquated and driven by US News and World Report rankings (we won’t delve into this too much, but you can read about here). If you are taking advantage of opportunities on a campus like picking up a minor, or participating in a co-op, or working to offset costs, or going abroad to enhance your language skills, and all of those things are translating into lower loan debt and more job or grad school opportunities when you are done, then who cares about the clock?

3) You ask: “What is your retention rate?” Great question.. and an important one. Most put the national average somewhere in the 60-65% range.  But as you can see from that link, it varies by school type and student type. So when a school says their first-year retention rate is 85%, that’s great, right?

You SHOULD ask: Why are those other 15% leaving? Is it financial? Is it because the football team lost too many games? Is it academic and they’re not prepared for the rigor of the school? Is it because the school is too remote or too urban or too big? Follow up. Ask them to articulate who is leaving. Tech has a retention rate of 97.3%, which  is among the top 25 schools nationally and top five for publics (these are statistics here, friends, not rankings). But we are constantly looking at who is leaving. Surprisingly, for many alumni and others who know the rigor of Tech, it’s not exclusively academic. It’s a balanced mix that also includes distance from home, seeking a different major, financial reasons, and, increasingly, because students are starting companies or exploring entrepreneurial options.

Some schools have retention rates below the national average, but they’re losing  students who are successfully transferring to state public flagships or into specialized programs in the area. If that’s your goal, then you can be okay with a lower retention rate, right?

Don’t be too shy to ask questions. This is your job… Not your mom’s job…. Not your counselor’s job. Your job. DO YOUR JOB!

And THEN ask: What that’s it? Nope. We’ll continue this next week because I have more questions…and so should you.

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Do Something New

Keeping it simple. Sort of…

My wife and I had a one-present Christmas, as in, one gift only to exchange. “Let’s keep it simple.” But while one present should be easy, it also adds some pressure. Do you go functional? Something she’s asked for to show I am listening? Or is that predictable and boring? Should I give her an experience (show tickets or a night away)?

In the end, I gave her a jacket. On the surface, that may sound lame. But this is not just any jacket. It’s the Patagonia Houdini, the best low weight, versatile jacket on the market. I’ll not delve into all of the virtues and attributes of the jacket, but message me if you want more testimony.

On Christmas Day, after our kids ripped through their gifts like small, wild animals, I looked for her gift in anticipation. What would she choose? And what would that say about our relationship? This was particularly intriguing because rather than a big box or a new bike in the driveway (shoot!), there was a small envelope. “Tell me this is not a gift card!” was all that was going through my head. I know she’s got more creativity than that. I mean, gift cards are an uncle’s gift, c’mon.

I opened the envelope and read curiously. I was definitely surprised. Does this mean she loves me or hates me?  It was in fact a gift card… from her Yoga studio, a class called “Yoga for the stiff guy.” Six weeks to cover the basics of positions, poses, props, etc.

A Humbling Experience

I’m not going to lie to you. The first class was humbling. I think the instructor was pretty easy on us. I hung in there overall, but just when I started feeling more confident, she’d say something I could not even reconcile, like “Now, move your belly towards your thigh.” Wait, what? Balance, breathing, Bhakti. I was just trying to comprehend the language and instructions. At times I could sense her eyes scanning the room, and inevitably they’d land on me.  I’ve learned that “You may want to modify that”  is Yoga-speak for “you’re not ready for this.” And even when I thought I had mastered some poses, I’d hear “Oh no. Much, much wider.” Okay. Watch your much’s–one will do.

I was challenged.  I was humbled. But it has also helped me think more about my posture, my breathing, my core strength, and a general awareness of my body. I still don’t know how to bring my belly to my thigh, but I figure that comes in the latter part of the six weeks.

Incredibly Different

So as we launch into 2017, I’ve decided she gave me the perfect gift, because it’s such a divergence. So incredibly different. A nudge to grow and stretch (literally in this case).  Here are three reasons I hope you’ll also get out there and do something different in 2017.

1- You will see new places.

No matter where you live, your community focuses on a few colleges or universities. As a culture we get very myopic, especially among the most academically talented students, and focus on an incredibly small set of schools. I want to challenge you to at least visit, apply, and strongly consider attending a college nobody in your family went to, or a place nobody in last year’s senior class decided to attend. Not saying you need to actually attend, but do go see it. I guarantee you will learn, grow, and benefit from the experience.  The courage to explore…the desire to try something completely new and different, will lead you to places you’d otherwise never experience.

2- You will need to process. 

At some point in the college admission process, you will likely be deferred, denied, waitlisted, or receive a financial aid package that makes it impractical for you to attend a certain school. You will likely see someone “get in” or even get a scholarship when you do not believe it is right or fair.  This is called a “process.” But you need to remember it’s a verb too. Process things. Grow from your thoughts and your experiences. To do that you will need to clear your head and get perspective. Do something different. New music, new road trip, different type of podcast or book or movie. If you do this, you will grow. You will change. You will be preparing yourself in ways no AP or IB course ever could for what it means to really be ready for college.

3- You will challenge and ultimately make others around you better. Do you know someone who is always picking up a new hobby or listening to a new artist or reading something you’ve never heard of? If you don’t, go find someone like that. I have a friend who is a DJ, a Taekwondo master, and an airplane pilot. Another friend is a pediatrician who in the last few years has built box gardens, picked up the guitar, BMX racing, and is emerging as an accomplished storyteller in Portland. When I listen to these guys talk about their curiosity, lessons learned, and the people they meet and know, it’s inspiring. It makes me want to expand my knowledge, my skills, and my worldview.

Push, Stretch, and Be Challenged

At the end of the day, that’s what college should be about, right? To be surrounded by people who will push you, stretch you, and challenge you to be better, to be smarter, to explore and experiment and consider things that you have not to this point. It’s easy to list school size or location or cost or other highly quantifiable traits. But as you pick schools to visit, apply to, and ultimately attend, these are the types of communities that you should be listening for in talking to students, faculty, and alumni.

I’m currently reading Grandma Gatewood’s Walk. It’s the story of a 66-year old mother of 11 and grandmother to 23 who in 1955 left her Ohio farm with a pair of Keds and a hand-sewn bag to become the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. It’s remarkable because after a lifetime of intensely hard work, a marriage riddled with physical and mental abuse, and years of pouring her life into raising a family, she walks into the woods. Her experiences inspired our nation. And many say her reports from the trail “saved the Appalachian Trail.” We all need those outlets that give us vision beyond the immediate. I’m urging you to try something new and different this spring. Namaste.

By the Way…

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Breaking Down The Admission Team. Week 5: Quarterbacks

This year we moved our Regular Decision Deadline from January 10 to January 1. When we initially made the call to change the date, one of my boss’s biggest concerns was that “we would ruin New Year’s Eve” by “making them” stay in to apply to Tech.

My counter was two-fold. First, the application opens on August 1, so we’ve “given” them five months to apply. How long do you need to write a few paragraphs and ask mom and dad some questions about their jobs, degrees, and residency?

Second, let’s not forget about January 1. Even if they stay out to celebrate NYE, they still have ALL DAY January 1. And, predictably, 3,500 students did wait to apply for 2017 in 2017.

I can relate. I started this series on The Admission Team in early November and committed to finishing before we went back to work January 3, and here I am writing this on January 2 (with all the time in the world to meet that deadline). Takes one to know one.

QB1

We’ve worked through The Communications Team (Defense), The Operations Team (Offensive Line), The Initial Review (The Bench), and The Recruitment and Holistic Review Team, (WRs and RBs). And that leaves us with just one position left to cover: The Director/Dean/AVP (or some other fancy title) of Admission. You can basically throw in folks with titles like Associate and Senior Associate to this group as well.

These are the Quarterbacks of the team. They call the plays, scan the entire field, read defenses, and align their team’s talent in the right positions to be successful. They make strategy and personnel adjustments as the game progresses in order to lead their team to victory.  Consequently, they are typically the names on recruitment and decision letters, the spokespeople providing quotes to journalists, and they’re also the ones who take the heat when goals are not met.

Signal Callers

These folks are part demographer, part pitch-man, part cheerleader, part bridge-builder, and of course, part soup maker. 

Directors and Deans are over-“meetinged.” They spend time looking at historical trends of applications by state or major or some other category; they are concerned about demographic shifts; they are constantly refining predictive models in order to be sure they bring in the right class size and make-up.  They field way too many calls from vendors wanting to sell them services. They meet with and listen to alumni, presidents, provosts, deans, donors, board members, legislators, and other key constituents, and attempt to translate sweeping five-part mission statements and aspirational future casting about the university into succinct, engaging messages that can be easily understood and attractive to students and parents.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit we don’t always get this right. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of glossy, shiny brochures with phrases like “Invent your future” or “Be Bold” or “Find it here.” Trite? Cheesy? Sure. But next time you scoff at one of these short verb-led challenges on a mailing, imagine if instead it read “Engaging students in co-curricular and inspiring world-class education in order to create global citizens committed to endeavoring into passionate, meaningful dialogue for life-long learning and the cultivation of future impact.” (The reason you know I made that up is there are nearly ten mono-syllabic words).

These folks are multi-taskers (and often caffeine junkies) who have become masters of slipping out of meetings with influential alumni in order to quickly welcome a group of visiting sophomores to campus.

Quarter Backgrounds (see what I did there?)

If you look at quarterbacks around the NFL, you’ll find their backgrounds and personalities vary widely. Eli Manning comes from a family that’s basically football royalty. He attended a prestigious private school in New Orleans, and played big time college ball at Ole Miss in the nation’s biggest powerhouse conference. Joe Flacco went to the University of Delaware (Go Blue Hens!) out of the Colonial Conference– far more known for basketball than football– and attended  public high school in New Jersey. Cam Newton has a gregarious and sometimes flamboyant personality. Drew Brees… not so much.

And so it goes with admission directors and deans. There is no template or mold. Accountants have CPAs. Lawyers have JDs. Look at some of these biographies online. Music majors, MBAs, PhDs in History and Fine Arts. Some have parents who were long time deans with a deep lineage in higher education, while others are converts from corporate America or have migrated from other parts of academia.

But there is one trait I’ve found applies to all of the folks: they are extremely genuine. They deeply want to see young people thrive and succeed. They believe in and love the school they represent.

What’s it to you? 

Like quarterbacks in football, these are typically very goal oriented, driven people. They spend a great deal of time analyzing, tweaking, refining. They like to win, they like to compete, and they want their team to be the best. But they are also committed collaborators. They share ideas and best practices, even with direct competitors, because they want to see others become better. They are humble people who know that even with all the skill in the world, there’s no way that they can individually recruit or enroll a great class. They need the full investment of their campus community, alumni community, and the team around them. No quarterback throws a pass to himself. And without support from the team, they’d be on their back every play.

So What?

Knowing this about the people who are recruiting you or reviewing your application is not going to give you any kind of edge when it comes to “getting in.” The truth is that most applicants never meet the dean or director of the colleges to which they apply or ultimately attend. But it is important to know what type of person is behind the emails, or the marketing materials, or the counselors and other admission representatives that you do meet. Their values and personality and priorities drive and transcend a great deal of what you see and experience.  These are people who  strive to create access to higher education for all students, and are fully committed to enrolling thoughtful, dynamic, diverse classes.

Post-Game Press Conference

If you have taken away nothing else from the parallels between positions on a team and the roles people play in the admission office at universities around the country, please remember this: the work of recruiting students and making admission decisions is deeply human. Unfortunately the vocabulary of this field (application, process, deadline) dilutes that very important truth. But it is critical that you know this, because ultimately you’re not applying to an institution. An institution does not teach nor inspire; a community does these things.

Now that you know the people of college admission, make your experience about the people. Don’t let the list of schools you apply to or ultimately choose be about where they are ranked, or what that name might look like on a bumper sticker. Don’t let the claim that you “got in” dictate your decision. Instead, make it about finding a distinct community where your talents, your goals, your skills, your vision, and your aspirations align with that team.

Tune in next week when we’ll be talking about something other than football.

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