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The Rules They Keep On a-Changin’

I travel a lot. I don’t have TSA Pre or Clear or Global Entry or Jedi mind powers, or any special clearance allowing me to bypass some of the issues I’m about to describe. I’ve had friends literally scoff in my face, and others, including close relatives, utter statements like, “What the @x>~?!” (Valid question, mom.) What can I say? I like being with the people. Maybe I don’t want to pay the fee. And frankly I simply haven’t taken the time to fill out the application and bring my passport to the airport to go through the process. If you know anything from reading this blog it’s that I’ve got some issues.

Atlanta Airport Security: “Remove your belt, shoes, and everything from your pockets, and place them in the bin. Laptops need to be in their own bin.” As I begin undressing in front of my fellow travelers, I hear, “Sir, sir. You do not need to take your iPad out of your bag.” With belt in mouth and one shoe off, I’m simultaneously hopping and fumbling to put my iPad back in my backpack. The TSA officer rolls her eyes. It’s shift change and I hear her replacement say something slightly more R-rated than “Same stuff. Different day.” They both look at me askance with an expression which can only be interpreted as, “Idiot.” And, truthfully, as I’m holding my pants up and chugging water from the bottle I forgot I had in my bag, it’s hard to disagree with them.

But not that hard, really.

Washington D.C. Security: “You do not need to remove your belt, sir. Please keep your belt on.” Eye roll, eye roll. Is this person the Atlanta officer’s cousin? Because I’ve definitely seen that expression recently. I re-buckle and remove my laptop. “Do you have an iPad also, sir?” Yes, I reply. “Well, you need to put it in the bin too.” I comply. “Not in the same bin as your laptop.” Oh. Ok.

“And shoes need to be placed on the belt directly.” 

This command confuses me. I slowly move my shoes toward my mid-section, “I thought you said I didn’t need to take off my belt,” I replied.

“The belt!” And he points at the conveyor belt leading into the security scan. I may not be hopping around like I was in Atlanta, but I still get the “Idiot” glance again. No shift change this time but he has really mastered the look, so it is equally condemning.

In Tampa they insisted I take off my hat. In New York they scolded me for getting out of line to put my hat in the bin. The Vermont officer was clear that you ALWAYS have to take food out of your bag. Umm…. I beg to differ, my friend, because your comrade in Houston was singing a different tune. Of course, it does no good to get into a debate about it. So I pull out the pretzels and Kind bar from my bag. Oh, crap. I realize as I pull them out one was half-opened. Crumbs, crumpling of wrappers. I know its coming and then, yep, there’s that look again.

As you can see, I cannot explain why security measures vary from one city to the next—and sometimes the same city from one week to the next. It’s confusing. It’s frustrating. It’s moderately disconcerting. Why can’t they all be the same? And if they’re all different, how am I supposed to know the rules?

What the @x>~?!  

The rules they keep on a-changin.’ And if you are junior just starting your college search experience, you probably feel the same way.

At one campus, you’re told how critical teacher recommendations are and all test scores must be officially sent from the testing agency. Two hours south and a quick stop at Wendy’s later you’re informed, “We are test score optional. So we don’t need the score report I see in your hand, but you will need to have an on-campus interview.” Got it. Bathroom break, drool-laden nap against the passenger seat window, two state boarders crossed, espresso shot: “Our College deeply values demonstrated interest. And please don’t send us rec letters, because we are not going to read them.”

And on it goes: We are exclusively Coalition App… We don’t accept the Common Application, but rather have our own school specific app…. We have Early Action, so it’s not binding…. We have Restrictive EA, which means, well, it’s restrictive… We don’t have ED1 but we do have EA and ED2, so consult your doctor if you experience any side effects in the application process…. We’re really thinking about implementing ED 2.1 next year or just skipping right to The X. It is confusing. Undoubtedly part of the anxiety and stress of applying to college arises because it’s not a uniform process from one place to another.

Admission is not Airport Security.  

I can see how the differences may be confusing and potentially frustrating, but unlike TSA, it’s logical for colleges to have different processes and requirements…BECAUSE they’re different. I realize it’s not always clear from our brochures, websites, and emails that are misleadingly and often embarrassingly similar, but it is true. We value and prioritize different things, and ultimately each school is trying to create a distinct class and community.

Over 1000 schools across our nation have determined their best match students do not need to send test scores because they can demonstrate their talents and ability to succeed on campus through different elements of an application. Georgetown University requires interviews, and many colleges highly recommend you interview with an admission representative or an alum. These places are setting aside significant time to get to know you, to let you ask your questions, and sometimes (through alumni interviews) to see a bigger part of their community and network.

Inside Tip: View the requirements of a school as an indicator of their culture. Allow those front facing webpages to lead you to ask questions and do your homework—to dig. I wanted so badly to ask the guy in Miami why I can’t put my business cards in my shoe, or why the laptop and iPad can’t share the same bin. Of course I didn’t ask for fear of ending up in some back room answering questions about that run in with the cops on Halloween of my junior year in high school. But you should ask questions when it comes to college admission. In doing so, you’ll quickly learn the school asking you to write four essays on their application is doing so because their students write a lot in class. Don’t like completing the application? Well… four years somewhere else might be a better choice. Hate interviews or personal exchanges in general? Universities requiring or recommending interviews typically deeply value classroom discussion, debate, and dialogue as a cornerstone of their curriculum and pedagogy. It’s what makes them distinct—not just in the application but in the student experience too.

Advance information. Technically, TSA has a Security Screening site but it does not provide helpful information about expectations upon arrival. This is my favorite line: “…you may notice changes in our procedures from time to time.” Yeah, I have. In contrast, colleges go to great lengths on websites, in publications and in presentations to lay out exactly what they are asking for from applicants. I wrote this on an empty stomach and decided to go with the cheese theme to pick three schools and find their requirements: Colby College, University of Wisconsin, and American University (I got all three links in less than three minutes with a total of 11 clicks).

Inside Tip: Create a spreadsheet with your college choices. Initially include basic information you can build on: school name, admission website, admission contact info, application deadlines, financial aid deadlines, requirements. You may find additional columns or sub-headings to add to this base. Once you apply, each school will give you a way to track your submitted documents, but as you’re searching for schools, and before you apply, a spreadsheet is a great way to keep up with colleges’ nuances.

Bonus: Be sure to add the admission email address to your safe-sender list, and adjust your Junk, Promotions, Updates and other folder settings throughout the process. “I didn’t get that the email” or its cousin “I didn’t see the email” are not going to be valid excuses for missing deadlines or not sending critical information (yes, we’ve seen this happen).

Double Bonus: Kudos if you got the hat-tip to Bob Dylan in the title. His song remains relevant today and even applicable in the admission experience. More on that next week.

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The Secret Sauce Behind Scholarship Selection (part 2 of 2)

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, is back for the second in a 2-part series about scholarship selection. Chaffee has worked for prestigious merit scholarship programs at Duke University, NC State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also a past president of the Undergraduate Scholars Program Administrators Association. Welcome back, Chaffee!

As I mentioned last week, in my experience as a scholarship director, there are three issues affecting your chances of receiving a major (and sometimes even minor) scholarship: Fit, Numbers, and Composition.

This week we’ll talk about the third issue on the list that affects your chances of receiving scholarships: Composition.

Two Types of Major Scholarships

Before we get into composition, let me define what I mean by a “major” scholarship. There are two key types I am focusing on. The first is the kind that offers more than just money. These scholarships also include personalized mentoring, enrichment experiences, leadership development, research opportunities, shared experiences with a cohort of fellow scholars, and/or admission to an honors program. All or some of these experiences might be offered in addition to a full (or near full) ride to college. There might be anywhere from 5 to 50 scholarships to go around for each incoming class at various schools in the United States (the Stamps President’s Scholarship at Georgia Tech falls into this category).

The second kind of scholarship is the most expensive or most prestigious scholarship at a particular school. It’s not unusual to find 5 or 10 of these scholarships sitting there for the students deemed “the best of the best” in the incoming class. Criteria for selection is often very academically focused, but not exclusively. Incentives beyond funding for the cost of attendance are hit or miss, usually miss (though sometimes they come with admission to an honors program). Regardless, there are probably still anywhere from a handful up to 25 or more per incoming class.

Back to Composition…

Now, what do I mean by composition? I’m talking about what type of backgrounds will be sought in a full cohort of incoming scholars. What will they look like with regards to gender, geography, ethnicity, major, and so on? It might have to do with secondary factors like organizations they represent. Each school and scholarship program will have a desired composition or enrollment priority.

This is usually where someone gets worried that their demographics will work against them.

For example, a few years ago in a public forum someone asked me whether or not we reserved a certain number of spots for students of color in our scholarship program. I asked him if he meant qualified or unqualified students of color. He indicated qualified students. I replied, “If they’re qualified, why would I have to reserve any spots? Did you actually mean unqualified students of color? Because we don’t reserve any spots for unqualified students of any type.”

Judging from my conversations with families in the past, some people seem to fear that our aim to build a diverse cohort means we are selecting unqualified students over qualified students in the name of diversity. While I have no doubt such a thing has happened somewhere at some point in time, I have not encountered that situation in my career anywhere I have worked (or seen it happen among my colleagues at other scholarship programs at other schools).

Each scholarship program you might be considering will want to build a full cohort representing our society, not just one or two predominant segments of it. They will aim to pick scholars from various walks of life. The overall composition of the group of incoming scholars is important because in the programs that offer more than money, they usually want the scholars to work together on various projects, where success is enhanced by having a multitude of different perspectives and backgrounds involved.

It’s about the numbers.

It’s about the fit.

It’s about the composition.

Fake News (or something like it)

Hollywood, the media, and broader American culture often provide a distorted picture of the availability of scholarships and what it takes to get them. Popular myths, including having straight A’s, being involved in 10 different clubs, or having relatively good grades and being a great athlete and student body president, send the message that a scholarship is an easy thing to come by. These are all generally fiction. Not exactly what would qualify as fake news, but it’s pretty darn close. So are alarmist stories of how certain students can’t win scholarships based on their demographics.

Here’s the bottom line: if you don’t win a scholarship (or the particular scholarship that you wanted) that is normal, even for gold stars. Don’t take it personally, don’t believe you have been rejected (an awful word in my experience), and don’t be resentful. Above all, don’t let not receiving a scholarship keep you from attending a college if it’s the right fit for you. Attend the  best college for you and pursue a career and life full of meaning … even if it didn’t come for free. The best things in life, despite the old adage, are not necessarily free.

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The Secret Sauce Behind Scholarship Selection (part 1 of 2)

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, joins us for the first in a 2-part series about scholarship selection. Chaffee has worked for prestigious merit scholarship programs at Duke University, NC State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also a past president of the Undergraduate Scholars Program Administrators Association. Welcome, Chaffee!

Imagine you are a child playing with a blocks and cutouts set. You have stars, triangles, squares, circles, and rectangles. Each block is made of pure gold. You place all of them until you get to the last set. In your hand is a gold star, but the remaining cutout is a square. So the game is over – you just can’t fit a star into a square.

This scenario is a good way to think about your chances of winning a major full-ride scholarship to a college or university. Even if you are made of pure gold, among the best students out there, it doesn’t change your shape. It doesn’t change who you are fundamentally. What can change, however, are your expectations for financing college education.

In my experience as a scholarship director, there are three issues affecting your chances of receiving a major (and sometimes even minor) scholarship: Fit, Numbers, and Composition.

Fit

I’ll start with the concept of Fit. Many students think if they aren’t selected for a scholarship it’s because they weren’t good enough—that something is wrong with them, or something is wrong with the selection process. Both of those scenarios are rarely the case when we are talk about truly competitive students (the gold stars). Instead, it is usually about a lack of fit.

For example: the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship at Georgia Tech is the Stamps President’s Scholarship. Our program focuses on four pillars: scholarship, leadership, progress and service. Let’s say we see a student who is solid gold in all their pursuits, but they’ve spent only a little time in service. While the student’s overall quality is high, their fit for our program is not, as service is a fundamental trait we value. On the other hand, that same student might be an amazing leader with a very strong background in athletics. Another well-known, prestigious scholarship program at another school may focus on physical vigor among other qualities. So the same student who may not fit in our program very well may fit into another.  When quality is high and fit is high, the chances of receiving that scholarship increase. (For the record, we do have athletes in our program. Other scholarship programs that do not focus on service still have students with great records of helping others. These are just general examples being used to illustrate a point.)

Now, notice I used the word chances. It’s a chance because fit isn’t a check box—there’s more than one aspect of quality being sought in the same student, not just service, or just physical vigor. It’s more than a yes or no. Many different aspects of a student and their background are held up against the desired characteristics of any particular scholarship program. Students are complex and so are scholarship programs.

My Advice:  when it comes to fit, be sure to apply for scholarships that fit you and your accomplishments, rather than chasing awards a well-meaning parent, alum, or counselor told you would look good on your resume.

Numbers

What do I mean by numbers? On one level, it’s about the quantity of scholarships, and on another, it’s about statistics. We’ll start with quantity of scholarships. If a student is admitted at Tech in early action, that student is in the running for one of our 40 Stamps President’s Scholarships. That’s right –not 1,000, not 100. Only 40. The numbers are similar at many other schools with prestigious, merit-based, full ride scholarship programs-. At Tech, this translates to a less than 1% chance of receiving the scholarship because we admit only about 4,500 students in the early action round.

Why are the numbers so low? The reality is every full ride scholarship a university offers to undergraduates is usually thanks to generous private donors who wish to help fund the education and professional development of a single scholar. Many, if not most, scholars must be funded from the income generated by permanent endowments, especially at public universities. Multiply that by dozens of scholars per year, then by four years’ worth of scholar cohorts. You quickly get a very large amount of money each school must raise from private donors.

The bottom line? There are many more gold star students than there are funds for a prestigious full ride merit scholarships.

What about statistics? Some schools have SAT/ACT minimums or GPAs that must be met, while others do not (for the record, Tech does not have a minimum threshold for our program). Chances for scholarships can, and do, depend on which school and scholarship program you’re targeting. Sometimes scholarship programs make such eligibility factors public, but not always. Even if there are no minimums, the truth is that for students seeking academic scholarships, GPAs, course selection, and test scores still factor into the equation. And even if a program doesn’t have a minimum requirement for academic scholarships, your GPA, course selection, and test scores will still factor into the equation—how can they not? The good news is several scholarship programs use a holistic review just like many admissions offices. Regardless, unless a student with lower academic performance has incredible leadership or extracurricular activities, it is hard to ignore the intellectual superstars in favor of better-than-average students.

One other thought:  To be a valedictorian or in the top 5-10% at your high school is an incredible accomplishment. But when all the top students at high schools across the nation start competing for colleges, only a portion become the top 5-10% of all applicants. It’s mathematically impossible for all of them remain in the top 5-10% at the college level. Yet that is often the mentality of a valedictorian or salutatorian – being the big fish in a small pond in high school often ends with being among the average when it comes to selection for major scholarships. I can’t tell you how many parents have called me over the years to say “but my child was valedictorian, so that means a scholarship.” Sadly, the numbers don’t make that a possibility. Besides, valedictorian is only one measure of strength.

My advice: apply for scholarships and always hope for the best, but get comfortable with the idea that you will pay for college with student loans, work-study, and other sources, even if you are a solid gold performer. Most students going to college have to pay, and they do so knowing they’re investing in themselves and their future salary will pay off those loans. If you’re still concerned about cost, take a look at the schools ranked high for best value, as these are also excellent choices.

Next week we’ll talk about the final piece of the puzzle: composition.

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What’s Your Bus?

This week we welcome Communications Officer (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

Last month a piece of Atlanta history came crashing down. In case you missed it, the city imploded the Georgia Dome. As with most demos, news crews from all over the city were there to cover the action. After all, who doesn’t love to see a good building implosion? But The Weather Channel’s coverage easily won the internet that morning.

I’ll be honest—when this video came out, I couldn’t get enough of it. I laughed until I cried… over and over. Never in a million years could you have timed this better– a MARTA bus rolls in and completely blocks the biggest moment of the day (which only lasted around 30 seconds at most). The frustration, disappointment, and angst in the videographer’s voice is priceless!

In full disclosure, much of my fascination with this video has to do with my background in local TV news. Before I started in education, I worked as a television news producer. My experience gives me a little bit of insight into what likely happened behind the scenes that day:

1 – The videographer scouted out the ideal spot to capture the action weeks ahead of time.

2 –  He arrived at said location in the early, early morning hours on a very cold day, probably around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., testing his equipment and making sure he had a clear connection back to the news station.

3 – Meanwhile, back in the newsroom, a whole host of staffers—including producers, reporters, and anchors—were all waiting for this video and had created their newscast around it. (Note: the bus part was not part of the plan or script).

What should have been an easy live shot turned into a completely botched effort, and the outcome wasn’t anywhere close to what they expected. And as for the videographer, I’m sure in that moment, he’s thinking, “You have to be joking? This bus literally ruined everything. Why me?!”

MARTA Buses and Admission Decisions

Last week a host of EA/ED colleges and universities across the nation released their admission decisions. While I don’t know all of the details on percentages, it’s likely that many of you got more bad (or uncertain) news than good. A lot more of you received a decision beginning with the letter D (defer or deny) rather than A (admitted).  You could say you had a MARTA experience, as the bus came rolling into your frame at a crucial moment, completely blocking what you’ve worked so hard to attain.

It’s easy to feel defeated—and that is totally understandable. Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like being put off for another few months, or flat out rejected.

So how can you handle it when a bus rolls into your live shot? Take a couple of lessons from the MARTA bus incident:

Trust. There’s two ways to look at the bus: you can fight it, get mad, shout, yell, and throw in the towel. Or, you can fight it, get mad, shout, yell, and… wait. The bus in front of you will eventually move, and you’ll be left with a completely new perspective. Once the bus moves, you’ll have some great choices—so get ready.

Reassess. While you can’t go back in time and change your application, you can look back over the process and see if there’s anything you can do differently going forward. If you were deferred, is there a piece of information you can add into your deferred applicant form? Will their admission office accept an updated transcript with fall grades? If you have other open applications at other schools, have you ensured you’re working towards your deadlines and getting what they need to make a decision? If you were denied, do you have applications in at other schools that fit what you’re looking for in a college? There are still schools whose applications haven’t closed yet—get those apps in!

Accept. Sounds a little harsh on the outset, but bear with me. You’re probably asking yourself “what does she know? She doesn’t know how it feels to get shot down by your dream school.” But actually, I do. When I was a senior one of the Southern Ivy’s was at THE top of my list. I was smitten with this school in every way coming and going. I applied ED and was deferred to Regular Decision. Then, a few months later, I was denied. I remember getting the letter (ahem, because back in those days you actually had to wait on the mail to arrive to get a decision—so think about how much anxiety that created!), and sitting down with my parents and crying for three solid hours. So yes, I actually do know how you feel, and I remember how disappointed, sad, and betrayed I felt. I allowed myself time to mourn what I wasn’t going to experience, and the end of a dream. A couple of weeks later I chose to attend another school and never looked back. I’m sure the videographer allowed himself a pity party as well. But then, he picked up his equipment, jumped in the truck and headed to the next shoot. One step at a time, my friends.

Turning Abject Failure into a Big Win

Here’s the key: at the end of the day, what felt like abject failure to the guy behind the camera actually turned into a huge win for him, and The Weather Channel. The station posted the video on YouTube and as of today it has more than 1.2 million views. No way would it have gotten so much mileage if everything had gone right that morning. The video trended on social media all day. National news outlets picked it up, and before long spoofs were made of the incident (my personal favorite was this one created by Sports Illustrated).

I’m not telling you to broadcast your defer or deny all over social media (in fact—please don’t). What I am telling you is what looks like, feels like, and is one of the hardest moments of your life to this point will eventually turn into something good. You will find a college to call home… you will find a school that wants you on their campus… and when you ultimately get there in the fall, the sting of this decision will fade away as you make new friends, pursue new dreams, and make new memories.

Hang in there… easy to say, hard to do, but please try. The holidays are here, and you have a couple of weeks to rest, recover, and breathe. Be with family and friends, do something fun, read a good book, and invest in your well-being. You’ve got one more semester to tackle before your life changes… clear your head, and get ready! Great things are ahead!

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Sneaky Teachings from the Bench Lady

One of the first people I met when I came to Georgia Tech as an admission counselor was Robin Wilburn, or “Ms. Robin” as we all call her. Back then we did not read applications by geographic territory but rather by alphabet. So while I traveled to recruit students in various parts of Georgia and other states, Ms. Robin and I were responsible for ensuring all applicants with last names of A-C were complete, reviewed and ready for a decision. We agreed early on we would be the best team—the most efficient, the most accurate, and the most accessible to families and students with questions.  She took our pact seriously. Depending on the situation, Ms. Robin would call me “Mr. Clark” or “Boo” or just “you,” as in “You better get in here!”

I call Ms. Robin a “sneaky teacher,” because you have to really listen, watch, and wait on her wisdom. I sat down to chat with her this week and reflect as she just completed her 25th year at Tech. In our 30 minute conversation, I was again reminded of how much she has to teach. Outside of admission, many know Ms. Robin as “The Bench Lady.” Whether it be first thing in the morning, while taking a break around lunch, or waiting for her son, Andre, to pick her up in the evening, you can count on seeing her on one of the benches around our building.

So what are you doing while you’re sitting there?

“Mainly praying. Just getting my head together so I can be a blessing. I always say, ‘let your light so shine!’ And I just sit on the bench sometimes to say good morning or ask people about their day.”

I told you she’s special. Here are a few excerpts from our conversation, and a few gems for you to learn from as well.

What brought you to Tech and why have you stayed here?

“I began as a Tech Temp. For seven months I basically just filled envelopes. Then I was sent to Tech Tower (the most quintessential building on campus).” (It’s important to note she still has a sense of awe and reverence when she reminisces about this. While Robin grew up less than three miles from Tech, she shared that people in her neighborhood did not feel they belonged. Tech was perceived as elitist, pretentious, and “not for us.” She said the 1996 Olympics changed that perception. Somehow by opening our campus and city to the world, we also opened it to our own city as well.)  “I worked calculating GPAs—200 a day. Most days we’d either skip lunch or work through it. The philosophy was ‘Get ‘er done,’ which you still hear me say today. But I’ve stayed because I love the vision. I love we are reaching more students and diversifying.  Every year we get better, and you know, we never stay still.”

How is the work different today than it was when you started? 

“We gather information faster and there is less human error. But there is less contact with students too because of the technology—and I miss that. I used to see a lot more walk-ins, take more calls from students, and speak with counselors on the phone more often. I love the freshmen. Love seeing them come in young and then grow and learn and get their degree. I just love watching them grow.” (Note: that was three “loves” in three sentences. She’s beaming at this point.) “You know I love the students who work for us. I get to become mama or auntie. Just the pride of seeing them grow up… and plus, they keep me young and lively.”

You’ve seen so many students come as first-years and then graduate. What advice would you give a student about to go to college?

“If you have the drive, you can do it! But you’re going to have to do the work. Our students are always shooting for that A.  But they need a lot of encouraging. They may act like they’ve got it all together but they can really hurt too. I’ve seen it happen. We work here because we love them. But they don’t always tell us how we can help. So we have to really get to know them, to stop and listen, so they trust us.”

What have you most enjoyed about the people you’ve worked with on campus?

“No matter who it’s been, “(and she rattles off about ten folks, including several former VPs and Directors) “they always pushed me to my potential. It’s never been about title here or what degree you have. They entrusted me with important work and exposed me to people around our division and around campus. Basically pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me to feel like part of a team. That’s what I love—being part of a team. I love being around people who make me better. And that’s always been what I’ve found here. The top of the top. These people don’t play, Mr. Clark. You know that.”

So how can you take these thoughts and apply them to your journey as a student, and as a person?

“Let your light so shine.”

We lead busy lives. You take tough classes requiring you to study at night and on the weekends. You put significant time in with your team or club or job (or in some cases all three)—in addition to the basics like friends, family, eating, sleeping. You know…life. And I’m here to tell you: it never slows down. It won’t slow down in college or grad school or in your first job or once you have a family. You have to slow it down. It requires being intentional, and being mindful of what makes life full—not what fills your life. Slowing down is so much easier said than done (and for me, so much easier written than lived). Ms. Robin gets it. She sits. She prays. She “gets her head right.” And doing those things allows her to meet new people, to invite them to sit, share and be encouraged. She’s available—and her availability brings joy not only to her life but to the lives of those who know her. The holidays are here. Rather than spinning through them, I hope you’ll sit through them.

“Get er done.”

200 transcripts a day! If you’ve ever tried to locate grades on the variety of transcripts a school like Tech receives, you’ll know that is fast! And besides fast, Ms. Robin has always been incredibly accurate. She takes ineffable pride in her work being excellent, even if it means working through lunch, taking files home, or being the first in the office. It’s how she’s made, and it’s the very nature of who she is. Never, and I mean that literally, has Robin boasted about working harder than anyone else. Being a part of the team, buying into the vision, reaching more students—those goals are what drive her. Not recognition. In fact, it took me a few weeks to get her to agree to be interviewed! Only after her pastor encouraged her did she agree to collaborate on this project. She’s humble, consistent, faithful, and selfless. When you encounter someone who embodies that type of integrity, it’s inspiring and challenging.

I have no doubt you are bound for success. And with your success may come a platform and an amplified voice. When you achieve and excel; when you reach your goals in high school, college, or beyond, I hope you’ll remember our Bench Lady. Quiet confidence, relentless pursuit of excellence, and always the perspective that others helped you get there—you are a small part of something much bigger. I think fundamentally we all find fulfillment and immeasurable satisfaction when we realize these moments in life.

You belong here.

Ms. Robin has always been conscious of not having a college degree. She brought it up in our discussion, and many times through the years she’s expressed some regret and concern about this fact. She said she’s thankful that at Tech the focus has not been on title or pedigree, but consistently, “Can you do the work?” She commented our office has always modeled that title does not matter (which is why, even though I’m the Director now, she’ll still yell down the hallway, “Hey, you. Get in here!”). The imposter syndrome is a real thing on college campuses.

Ironically, the day after I interviewed Ms. Robin I flew to Houston to talk to Computer Science deans and professors from Top 10 programs about enrolling more under-represented students in CS PhD programs. These people not only hold doctorates, they create more doctorates. They are expanding the base human knowledge. Me? I went to public high school and college. I slept on the couch the night before. “Who am I to give them advice?” went through my head multiple times on the plane and even during the talk.

Every year our first-year students say they have a moment in class or in the middle of a conversation when they ask themselves, “Am I good enough, and smart enough to be here?” Our seniors constantly say, “I would not get in if I applied these days.” Inevitably, you’ll have some doubts. Maybe it will be because of where you are from, or what your parents do, or what you know you made on the SAT/ACT. But don’t let these thoughts keep you from applying to a certain college. Don’t let these thoughts diminish your confidence at a college visit, or during orientation, or in your first semester at college.

You were admitted. We did not make a mistake. Character, work ethic, how you treat others, and your determination—these are the traits that helped you stand out in an admission process, and will differentiate you in the future as well.

Ms. Robin got me through my talk. Before I walked in the room, I sat down, took a deep breath, pictured her on the bench and “got my head right.”

“Get ‘er done!”

“Let your light so shine!”

“You belong here.”

Told you she was a sneaky teacher.

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