Campus Visit
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Respect is a Two Way Street

Working in the Communication Center (where my student team and I field all incoming emails and phone calls to the admission office) is an education in stopping blame and rudeness at the door, and re-framing the underlying feelings with words that are still kind. Whether it’s trying to dodge finger pointing, diffuse a dicey situation, or keeping ourselves calm and kind after being asked the same question for the hundredth time, you learn a lot about how we as a society choose to  communicate with each other.

One afternoon I was speaking with a frustrated, and angry, parent. The family was trying to schedule a campus visit on a day that we were at our maximum capacity (per fire code regulations). We could not overload the tour for extra guests, which is I understand is frustrating for families who are trying to make travel plans. I explained to the parent that we get many calls every day asking to overload the tours (which we can’t), so an exception in one person’s case would be really unfair to others. After what I thought was a successful navigation, though disappointing conclusion for the caller, the parent threw a pointed jab at me and the school and hung up. After a sigh, I had to go back to work and answer more calls. I tried not to over analyze the conversation, but in reality, it’s hard to let everything roll off.

The Snowball Effect

When someone is rude or unkind, it has an effect not only on our staff, but on other parents, students, and families who call our office. It makes my students and I less motivated to work, and less chipper on the next call. We regularly have calls where we need to “take a lap” afterwards. Usually during those breaks, I remind myself that the person on the other end of the line may be having a bad day, or things are overwhelming and stressful with trying to get into college and pay for it. While I know that I’m probably not the reason for the outburst, our team, including our student workers, still get our feelings hurt in the blast.

Even if we aren’t upset at the end of a hard call, the calls themselves are exhausting as we try to calmly, kindly and firmly give the correct responses. Calls often start with an issue… that’s usually the reason people call in the first place. The majority of problems are easy to solve and we move on. However, when the situation is dicey, it’s an intricate balance to give the caller options and resources while the ultimate conclusion is not what the caller came for. That’s why the parent’s comment in the situation I just described was hurtful. I tried to balance the situation and provide a well-informed and genuine response. The remark invalidated my work. But then… the parent called back.

A Surprising Outcome

One of our student workers waved me down. “It’s that parent. They’re asking for you.” No part of me wanted to take the call. After a quick glance for emergency exits, I mustered some fake enthusiasm, “Hi! Was there anything else I can help you with?” To my utter amazement, the parent genuinely apologized for the unkind words and tone. No one have ever done that before!

It was the first and only time anyone has ever called back to apologize for their rude behavior. In their apology, the parent recognized that while it was a frustrating situation, I was doing my job, and their annoyance had little to do with me personally.

It takes a lot to separate the message from the messenger, but we appreciate it when the caller can do that. Of course I would prefer for people to be kind in the first place, but sometimes things get away from all of us, and an apology speaks volumes to our willingness to see each other as people and not just nameless voices on the other end of a phone line.

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Embrace Your Inner Kindergartner

I am having a great week, largely because I’ve spent a lot of time with my daughter’s kindergarten class. On my birthday I had “lunch” with her, which starts at 10:45 a.m.! At that hour, I just opted for the chocolate milk (maybe it’s just me, but school chocolate milk is always better than other places… kind of like a Coke at a baseball game, or a hot pretzel on the street in New York).

Earlier in the week I got to be Mystery Reader, which is always a good time. You show up at a certain time and stand in the hallway while the teacher gives the kids clues about who is waiting outside. All 20 kids start with their hands up.

“Ok. He has brown hair.” A few hands go down.

“He likes to run.” A decent number go down on this.

“He loves Bojangles chicken biscuits.” I’m watching this one closely because no kid of mine is going to be friends with someone who’s not being raised properly. It’s down to just two kids now.

“He works at Georgia Tech.” I hear a scream and my daughter comes running out to get me. Who wouldn’t love that?!

King Hugo’s Huge Ego

I go in, say hi, high five a few kids I know, throw out some fist bumps or nods to the kids in the back of the room, and sit down to read. The book I brought was King Hugo’s Huge Ego. I’m only on the cover page when the first question comes up. “What’s an ego?” Now trying to break that down for this age group ain’t easy. Words like “id” and “conscious” are going through my head but I settled on something a lot less Psych 101.

“What does haughty mean?” He didn’t say “haughty” he said “naughty.” “Do you mean ‘hottie?’” We navigate all of this too.

In the story, King Hugo is an incredibly pretentious ruler. He brags all the time, asks his denizens to bow down as he passes, and delivers self-aggrandizing speeches from his tower every day. Finally, a sorceress puts a spell on him so that his head enlarges with every boastful statement. Still, he does not realize the error of his ways, and eventually his head gets so big that he floats away like a balloon in the wind. The sorceress then plugs up his ears and he finally listens and understands the implications of his incessant boasts. Ultimately, he repents, his head shrinks back to a normal size, and he becomes a fair, wise, and beloved monarch.

Thinking of Yourself a Lot

In the admission process, there is an important distinction between thinking A LOT OF YOURSELF and thinking of YOURSELF A LOT. The former can lead to some ill-advised choices in your application choices, some obnoxious lines in essays, and ultimately set you up for disappointment when receiving admission decisions. The latter, however, is one of the keys to having options, growing along the way, and ending up at a school that’s a great fit for you.

Since I’ve been hanging out with elementary school kids, I’m going to keep this pretty basic. If you are a junior or a sophomore in high school right now, I encourage you to draw on the adage of “STOP. DROP. ROLL,” and “LOOK. WATCH. STARE.”

LOOK.

As a sophomore or junior, you are starting to get a lot of college brochures. The first thing to remember (we’ve covered this before, but again, this is in the spirit of lower school “repetition for comprehension”) is RECYCLE. But before that, you should be LOOKing, at all of it. Never heard of the school? That’s okay. Nobody ever heard of Justin Bieber until he posted a few covers on YouTube about a decade ago. I would LOOK with one eyebrow raised at pictures. Helpful but maybe not in the “1000 words” kind of way. Many are photoshopped and some use models rather than real students. “How did they get three kids from different ethnicities reading books from three different genres while wearing three different styles?” It’s simple–they staged it. But LOOK closely at the words and statements. Who does the school say they are? Does that resonate with you? At Georgia Tech we talk a lot about innovation, entrepreneurship, and creating the next “fill-in-the-blank-here.” What is the school’s key message? Then, take a LOOK at yourself. Is that you? Is that who you want to be, or who you want to be around, or how you want your college experience to be defined? Finding the right college is a process, and it takes some work, not to mention honesty. REALLY LOOK.

WATCH.

It’s spring break time for high schools right now (like I needed to tell you). I know this not because I’m headed out on a cruise or putting a playlist together, but because we are literally receiving thousands of guests each week who want to tour Tech. When you go to a school for a college visit, I hope you will take some time before or after the tour and information session to just sit and WATCH. WATCH the other visitors. Do they look and sound like the kind of students you would want to go to college with? Find a good bench outside, or a table in the dining hall or food court, near a bunch of students. Go to a coffee shop right off campus and pretend to read, but really just listen and WATCH (do be careful not to make this creepy). What are they saying, reading, and listening to? Don’t rush on and off a college campus. Don’t just go on the tour, listen to the info session, and take the photoshopped brochure and leave. WATCHing takes time…. So make time for it.

STARE.

If you are a junior, I’m imploring you to get awkward and STARE. STARE intently at your senior (as in 12th graders) friends, neighbors, and teammates who are weighing their college options. They have gotten in at some places, been waitlisted or denied at other places, and perhaps they’re still waiting to hear from some final colleges and universities. STARE. And listen to how they’re processing these choices. What do you hear them saying? How are they going about making their final decision? Is it about the cost? Is it about the athletics, or the academics, or the location, or the opportunities? Again, you have to be willing to really assess who YOU are and who YOU want to be. What factor(s) do you want to make your college choice based upon, and which ones are most important to you? Write these down. How will what you see and hear impact where you will apply, and where do you want to be in a year from now with your choices?

BonusASK.

If you really want to be bold and embrace this process, then straight up ASK them. ASK what they would have done differently…. what they wish they had known… who they wish they’d talked to… and who they should have just ignored.

Like I said, I’ve been hanging with Kindergartners this week. I’m telling you: to do this college process right you need take a lesson from them–the master-askers of how, what and why; the unabashed kings of LOOKing, WATCHing, and STARE (bear with me) ing. So embrace your inner six-year old today. And never let go.

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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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