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But… what do colleges prefer?

This week we welcome our Regional Director of Admission for the West Coast, Ashley Brookshire, to the blog. Welcome, Ashley!

It’s a question I hear often – mostly from families at college fairs who are frantically trying to absorb every available nugget of information available to them in the tight time frame of the event: “But… what do colleges prefer?”

“My daughter has the opportunity to take classes at our local community college this summer or do an internship – which one do colleges prefer?”

“My son is thinking about going on a mission trip or finding a job for the summer – which one is better?”

“I can either stay with band or debate for my senior year, but not both. What should I do?”

Students, and parents, are hoping for a concrete answer – a guaranteed road map to get in to the college of their choice. If an admission counselor says it, then it must be truth, and should be followed to a “t” (trust me, we wish we had that kind of all-knowing power!). But if you’re reading this in hopes of gaining a paint-by-numbers insight into the college admission process, I’m afraid you’re going to be terribly disappointed.

The better question to ask is “why do we ask students to supply an activity record with their application?” Is it to count the number of hours you spent volunteering at a local hospital? Do we tally the number of times you were elected into an officer position for a club at school? No, on both counts. We are looking at three things: your experiences, the talents you possess, and the skill sets that you’ve developed throughout your high school career. These three items help us gauge your fit and potential impact on our campus.

Experiences

Your experiences inform your beliefs, passions, and ambitions, and ultimately, this is what we want you to bring to our community. What types of opportunities did you opt into (or in some cases, stumble into by chance) and how did they differ from your initial expectations? Have you stepped into a club, trip, or commitment that was outside of your comfort zone?

The beauty of a college campus is its ability to offer a more robust list of experiences than most high schools can provide. What experiences are you bringing to the table? I’m not just talking about the stamps in your passport. When we look at your application, we want to see the behaviors that make you open to experience life with new people, places, and activities.

Talents

A talent is an innate ability to do something, whereas a skill set is learned and developed. Many of the families I speak with seem to focus on talents, but in the admission process, skills sets are equally as insightful (more on that in a moment).

I haven’t been a powerful force in a music classroom since learning to play the recorder in 5th grade. I can appreciate that some people have inherent abilities that I do not. If you have talent in art, music, dance, athletics, or public speaking, then you’re likely drawn to these types of activities.

What students usually overlook is that you determine how your talents are utilized and ultimately captured on your application. Are you part of a club, company, or team that allows you to hone your craft? Have you created opportunities for others to engage in this activity? From an admission perspective, we’re not looking to fill a class of individuals who were born with special talents. We are looking for students who are motivated to share their unique talents in impactful ways.

Skill Sets

Skills, on the other hand, are developed. They are practiced, trained, and learned. These can be hard skills (programming, marketing, or painting) or soft skills (networking, time management, perseverance). Sometimes students apply so much effort to developing a skill set that it appears as a natural talent to others, leaving them unaware of the work going on behind the scenes.

The skills you’ve cultivated by balancing your time outside of the classroom and working with others will make you a powerful member during the many group projects you’ll work on in college. Enrolling in a summer academic program or college course will sharpen your academic prowess and allow you to accelerate your coursework in college. The leadership skills you’ve gained as a club officer at your high school will embolden you to step into pivotal roles in one of the hundreds of organizations that contribute to our campus culture. As a volunteer, you’ve stayed mindful of those around you and connected more personally to your community.

All of these experiences, talents, and skills bring positive value to a college campus, yet all cannot be pursued at the same time. Even in the summer, there are a limited number of hours in the day.

The Answer

So, back to the original question: “which (insert activity here) do colleges prefer?” We prefer that you use your time intentionally in whichever way you feel best engages your interests, utilizes your talents, and allows you to grow as an individual. These are the types of students who will join a college community and thrive both inside and outside the classroom.

At the end of the day, we want to enroll a well-rounded freshman class. This is quite different than every student in our class being well-rounded. It means that, as a whole, our class is filled with philanthropists and athletes, musicians and researchers, leaders and employees, and their collective experiences, talents, and skills create dynamic, thought-provoking interactions on our campus.

But before you schedule every free moment of your summer, remember: summer should bring reprieve with it. Enjoy the additional time in your day – days are longer and summer doesn’t normally hold the same time commitments as the school year. Take a deep breath, celebrate your achievements over the course of the last year, and catch up on that book or tv series that you set aside during the school year. After all, senior year and college application season is just around the corner.

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Make It A Summer… again!

Memorial Day is one of my favorite holiday weekends because it’s low key. Memorial Day is like that quiet, smart, and deceptively good-looking person we all know who just goes about their business doing their thing without looking for praise or the spotlight. Every now and then you take a look and they’ve just aced a test or scored a goal or are dating some amazing person. This is the infectious and admirable quality of contentment and self-awareness. 

Memorial Day isn’t going to bring fireworks or presents or greeting cards (which is truly something in the world of holidays). It just goes about its business every year, gently and encouragingly shepherding us into summer. It confidently holds open the door where sunshine glints through and kindly warms the room. You can hear laughing and music and the smells of barbecues as you approach and enter the season.

Summer is here, my friends. It’s a time to breathe. It’s a time to rest. It’s a time to slow down and enjoy people and books and being outside. I guess The Fresh Prince said it best– it’s a “time to lay back and unwind.” Memorial Day is an usher (no capitals, no link… the role not the artist) to Summertime. So embrace it– summer is your friend.

Last year I wrote a blog for rising seniors on how to “Make it a summer.” In recent conversations with friends, colleagues, and family, I felt like it was worth sharing that post with you again this year. Drums please!  Bonus: Looking for some other song suggestions? You’re in luck.

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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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