Campus Visit
Coalition Application
College Admission
College Visit
Common Application
Early Action
Georgia Tech

Ask Good 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, whether you are a sophomore or junior who is just starting to understand how one school varies from another, or a 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 20:1, but that doesn’t mean you and 20 buddies will be sitting around a table in Calculus I your first 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. 85 percent of classes at Tech have fewer than 50 students. 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 first year to fourth 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 around the 60% 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. I have more questions…and so should you.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in February 2017. Links have been updated.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address above, or click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.

The Long Game

This week we welcome Senior Assistant Director of Admission Katie Mattli to the blog. Welcome, Katie!

I like quirky historical novelties and the Livermore Light Bulb, or known to its friends as the Centennial Bulb, is one of my favorites.  Never heard of it?  Let me explain.  Yes, there is indeed a light bulb in Livermore, California so famous it has a name and actual caretakers.  Why? Because the Livermore Light Bulb has been softly glowing in the Pleasanton Fire Department for 117 years! In fact, it just had a birthday in June. The Centennial Bulb has a website, a festival, a children’s book, and –this is my favorite part – its own Bulb Cam. You can literally watch a light bulb glow in real-time, which I find humorously whimsical.

What does a light bulb have to do with college admission?  A few things actually.

Don’t second guess your interests. 

I mean it.  Live them loud and proud.  I’m writing about a light bulb I like and you are still here, so that proves authenticity is interesting.  The applicants who get my attention in the admission process are those who, for lack of a better phrase, really like stuff.  All kinds of stuff.  They hear about a cause, read about a historical event, or learn about a theory and they dive in for the pure pleasure of learning more about it.  You can sense joy in their application—joy in sharing something that really engages them. Students always ask, “How can I make my application stand out?” Follow your true-North passions and your application will naturally have a strong voice in the crowd.

Care Instructions

The Centennial has been glowing for so long because no one remembered to turn it off – for a long time. It turns out that switching lights on and off all the time actually reduces their shelf life.  It makes me wonder how often we, students and adults alike, take stock of what is healthy for us. We don’t have care instructions attached to our lives, but if asked we could probably name the basics.  We are the opposite of lightbulbs.  We can, and should, turn off to recharge. You should sleep.  You should eat.  You should spend time with friends.  Do you live by your calendar? Then put your self-care appointments on the docket with reminders such as “lunch,” “snack,” “aspirational bedtime,” and “breathing room/free time.”  A healthy student will thrive in high school and in college. I haven’t made any clichéd references to lightbulbs and burn out here, but you get the picture. Don’t get so caught up in the everyday noise that you forget to be healthy.

Who is on your maintenance team?

The Centennial Lightbulb has three different organizations devoted to keeping that little four-watt light bulb softly glowing.  Before you start the college admission process, take stock of who is in your corner.  Who are the folks in your inner circle?  Choose carefully.  Do they see your value? Do they give you honest feedback?  Do they encourage you? Do they keep you anchored? The vast majority of students headed to college had help along the way.  Family members are not the only people who hopefully have your back. Don’t forget you can create a supportive network staring with a favorite teacher, a retired neighbor, a high school guidance counselor, your coach, a friend who graduated last year.  Reach out, ask for some time, make an appointment, start a conversation. It takes a village.

Keep your eye on the long game.

Physicists have studied the Centennial and have discovered its filament is thicker than today’s commercial lightbulbs.  It is made of sterner stuff. The college admission process can rattle high school students. I think students believe they are focusing on their future (hence the anxiety), but I think they have lost sight of the long game.  After years of watching students and their families navigate applying to college, here are my thoughts on the admission long game and students who are made of “sterner stuff”:

  • Finding a good fit is the ultimate goal.  Your best-fit school may not be your best friend’s best-fit school.  Get comfortable with that. Put institutions on your list where you will thrive. That is the long game.
  • Ignore the myth of “the one.” A college will not be the making of you but your decisions in college will. That is the long game.
  • Be happy for others.  Time will prove to you that what feels like competition now dissipates with age.  If your buddy gets that coveted acceptance or the Val or Sal spot, cheer for them. It shows character and you will be happier for it. That is the long game.
  • Enjoy senior year.  This is your last homecoming, last high school debate competition, last playoff, senior night… Enjoy them!  That is the long game.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address (above) and click “subscribe.” We also welcome comments and feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.

Do All You Can

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

I came home yesterday to find two very sad, wilted tomato plants. If you haven’t been to Atlanta in July, let me assure you—the southern humidity is no joke. I grew up in the mountains, so every year when we hit July and August I lament the stickiness of the heat. When I was growing up my family always raised a big garden. Still today I love the entire process of gardening, from planting to caring and of course the ultimate harvest of the plant. This year I hoped to build raised beds for my garden, but instead we prioritized building a new deck (after all, life all comes down to priorities in the end). The raised beds are now on the to-do list for next year. All that to say, that’s how I ended up with tomato plants living in five-gallon buckets.

The great thing about a tomato plant in a bucket is it’s pretty easy to care for—no weeding, no plowing the ground, no building of beds. You put it in there, stick a cage around it, and boom! You’re done.

The not-so-great thing about a tomato plant in a bucket (aside from the not-so-pretty appearance) is it dries out in the summer sun quickly. Because it’s contained, it has no way to pull moisture from anything beyond the bit of dirt it’s confined to. So if you miss a watering, things can go downhill pretty fast.

When I arrived home yesterday and looked out the backdoor, my stomach sank—one plant was wilted to the point that every single leaf and limb drooped down at least a couple of inches. I raced outside, grabbed the watering can, and filled each bucket with plenty of water. I shook my head in frustration at myself, then shrugged, hoping for the best. Aside from giving the plants water, there wasn’t much more I could do besides wait and see how they fared.

Life Unattended

Life, tasks, and relationships, gone unattended, can wither quickly before you realize it. No matter your season of life, there are lots of important things to think about…. Family, friends, school, activities, and, for you rising seniors, those pesky college applications looming right around the corner.

I can hear the collective sigh from here, “its summer! I have plenty of time to work on those. I’ll think about it later.” You’re right. But for students in Georgia (and other southern states), “summer” will end in the next 2-3 weeks as school gets back in session (for those of you in other parts of the country who don’t start school until after Labor Day—enjoy the summer! But know the start of school is coming for you soon).

We’ve written before about getting your college application ready—the most important thing to dotips to keep make your life easierhow to write an essay… and insight into how a holistic application review works at selective schools.

Application deadlines will be here before long. So after you’ve done a little research on the links above (hint, hint), worked on your application, and hit submit, you can sit back and wait, right?

Kind of… but no. Like the tomato plants, if you just put it out there and pay no more attention to it, things can go downhill fast. I know much of the college admission process is out of your control. But there are a few action items you can put on your list to care for your application as it moves through the review process.

Read your emails from any colleges to which you applied. Notice I didn’t say check your emails, or skim your emails—READ your emails! We’re all guilty of checking emails on a mobile device. While it’s great to quickly access your inbox, it can come back to bite you if you glance at a message, it moves to “read” in your inbox, and then totally falls off your radar. Take the time to read all emails you receive from colleges where you have an active application. Once you become an applicant, colleges reach out to you more regularly with all kinds of updates and next steps.  If you don’t have time to read an email at the moment, mark it as unread and come back to it later. But by all means, don’t let it just sit there! Otherwise you could be making a panicked phone call near another impending deadline, pleading for more time.

Check your admission portal. Many schools have a way for you to check on your application status. This is a tool at your disposal to access whenever you like, but on average a weekly check is adequate. When you’re checking your portal, I again implore you to READ any notes that are in there—don’t panic at the first red “x” you see on a checklist, but instead read to learn what’s missing and what kind of timeline you have to get the task completed.

Be patient, and don’t panic! Every year we receive the vast majority of our applications within 48 hours of the actual application deadline. When this happens, it takes longer than usual for processing staff to import your application and find any matching documents that may already be in hand (insider tip: don’t submit any documents until AFTER you submit your actual application—everything comes together much more quickly that way). Also, keep in mind that at some schools the application deadline for you is different from the document deadline for your counselor and recommenders. If that’s the case and your counselor assures you they’ll send it in, please give them time to do it!  Once something is sent in, if the college website says “allow 3-5 days for processing,” then allow 3-5 days—we’re not kidding!

Take care of yourself. As you complete all the steps above, don’t forget to take those small moments to take care of yourself. Hang out with your friends, find some form of exercise, get some sleep, go outside, and give your parents plenty of hugs (trust me, it will make you all feel better!). Self-care is important, so don’t shrug it off.

Once application season ends, you will harvest the fruits of your labor. I’m not saying you will magically get in to every school you’ve applied to… but if you have a strong, diverse list of schools (both competitive and not as competitive) you will be getting in somewhere (most likely several somewhere’s). In the end, you can look back and know that you put forth your best effort.

Back to the Tomatoes…

Sometimes my plants don’t yield what I hope they will (case in point, my blackberry vines, which merely survived the winter in buckets and are now planted in the ground but are still overcoming the shock of change… a blog topic for another day). Sometimes the tomatoes become unhealthy for no reason other than something was floating in the air on a particular day. But my goal, always, is to look back and know that I did all I could. I pruned, I watered, I cared, and I waited.

The good news: this morning my tomatoes looked good as new. And this time, before I came to work, I didn’t forget to give them a good drink before another 90+ degree day.

So do all you can, in college applications and in life in general, so you can look back and know you did all you could, and everything will work out just as its meant to be.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address (above) and click “subscribe.” We also welcome comments and feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.

Transitions

This week we welcome Admission Counselor KatieRuth Tucker to the blog. Welcome, KatieRuth!

Cue the pomp and circumstance. Begin the slide show. Start the waterworks. You made it through graduation! Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? How many comments have you received on how you’ve grown and how every moment has led to this one point where everything changes? Are you sick of the never-ending clichés and graduation presents reiterating advice on balancing freedom and responsibility?

I remember thinking if I heard the words “exciting new adventure” one more time, I’d storm off, determined to have as bland and boring a transition as I could muster. Maybe you feel suffocated by the same mantras and well-wishes. But know this: all of the advice-giving, gift showering show of support is because we old people want you to launch in adulthood well. What we already know, and try desperately to communicate, is this transition is of the utmost importance. For 18-year-old ears it sounds like the teacher on the old Peanut cartoons. The truth is adults make such a big deal of going to college because it is the first major transition of your life, and it’s incredibly significant.

College is the time you will start to build your lifelong habits. You start making friends more intentionally, and your choices are truly your own. The series of changes that define your adulthood begin when you step out the door of your parents’ house. The advice is to help you avoid the pitfalls of bad habits and dangerous choices, but also to take risks that pay off. It’s a whole new kind of decision-making and discipline. It takes practice, and college is the perfect training ground. Your parents, mentors, and teachers have all tried their best to give you the tools you need because once you are in college, those direct supports are gone. Sure, there are career centers, counseling, advising and tutoring available, but no one is going to make you go. If this sounds like freedom, you’re right—it is! But freedom also includes learning to take initiative, responsibility, and learning out when it’s time to ask for help.

Guarantees

There are a few guarantees with going to college:

  • It will be hard.
  • You will fail.
  • It will be terrifyingly awesome.

There are a few guarantees with all your future transitions too:

  • They will be hard.
  • You will fail.
  • They will be terrifyingly awesome.

My Hardest Transition

My hardest transition was not college. After graduating from college I moved to a foreign country for work. For a variety reasons I became lonely, frightened and felt disillusioned by what I had imagined for the experience. But I pulled through thanks to the lessons I learned in college. I learned to be bold and make new friends even though I was scared, and years later those habits helped me reach out and make new friends again when I needed them most.  College taught me to ask for help, so I got a tutor to help me learn the language. As I worked through that season, I learned new lessons about when it’s okay to move on, when to stand up for yourself, and when to dream something new. This stacking of life lessons and experiences needs a solid foundation, and for many of us, that foundation is built in college.

Change never stops invading your life and taking you by surprise. You will change jobs. You may get married, and if you don’t, some of your friends will. You may decide to change career fields, go back to school, or move to a new city. The lives of graduates today are not like those of previous generations—they fluctuate far more, and learning to adapt is one of the most important skills you learn. Some changes are scarier and more painful than others, but when you face what seems like an insurmountable challenge you can rely on the times you had to change and grow before. You’ll know you’ve done it before and you can do it again, even as those changes become more complex and frightening. There will be times you will look back at the end and think, “Wow, that was terrifying and awesome, and I’m glad I did it.” I know I do.

One of the best parts of changing is realizing you can do it. You will face decisions throughout your life and there are times when “better safe than sorry” is absolutely the best choice (Please, wear a seatbelt, don’t text and drive, and make wise financial decisions!) There will also be times you should take that calculated risk. From asking someone out to moving to a new city to choosing to take the high road and not bend to peer pressure, scary choices come in all forms. College is the time to start creating and practicing new habits so you become the bravest, most adaptable, wisest grown-up version of you that you can be.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address (above) and click “subscribe.” We also welcome comments and feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.

The Power in the Process

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor Samantha Rose Sinclair to the blog. Welcome, Sammy!

One of the first places I visited after my move to Atlanta was the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It’s now become part of my standard rotation of weekend activities. The grounds are expansive and you instantly forget you’re in the middle of metro Atlanta. Some weekends I sit and reflect while I enjoy the calm, other times I enjoy two-hour “forgot to hit the gym this week” walks around the area. Variety is the spice of life, right?

The gardens recently debuted their exhibit for this year: Imaginary Worlds. A Pegasus, a phoenix, a peacock, and about a dozen more giant creatures made of plants are dotted around the park. And all of them are incredible. The sculptures are examples of the art of Mosaiculture (think half mosaic, half horticulture). I may be biased, but I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area before the exhibit ends in late October.

I visited the new exhibit as soon as it opened, and surprisingly one of the most impactful parts of my experience was a stop in an unassuming little hall in the middle of the gardens. The room was nearly bare, with the exception of four posters that storyboarded the logistical and creative processes behind the mosaiculture exhibit. I learned that many months of work go into the creation of these sculptures, starting in Montreal with the design, then the framework, then the plantings. Only then are the sculptures finally revealed for display to guests in the gardens.

This process—the length, the planning, and the final reveal—are strikingly similar to what college applicants go through year after year. In August we will open up our first-year application to a whole new class of students. However, the application is really one of the last steps in the process. By the time you start your application, most of the hard work is already behind you. Your long-term efforts ultimately make you successful. You’ve done the exploration, the preparation, and the polish-all that’s left is to showcase your work. Here are a few tips for how to make the most of each year of high school.

Draft your design

Sketches for the mosaiculture pieces started taking shape about six months before the installation of the exhibit. The design process is challenging, exciting, and lays the groundwork for everything to come. My favorite note from the posters was the mermaid sculpture was originally going to be sitting off to the side of a fountain, hanging out on a wall. That idea was scrapped, and the mermaid was redesigned for where she sits today–in the middle of the water, proudly atop the fountain. You can’t always get it right the first time, and that’s okay. Turns out, mermaids love being in the water!

Your freshman year: what do you want to create? Challenge yourself, explore your interests, and start over if you need to! Let yourself be vulnerable and sign up for a class or activity that falls outside that trusty comfort zone. You might discover something that reshapes your long-term pursuits. Maybe you try out for theatre after your English teacher comments that you have a flair for the dramatic. (No? Just me?) Take this time to be authentic and consider what you want to explore—then create a blueprint for your next few years. Don’t worry if you need to start over or change directions. Growth in design is a lifelong process, and there is value in the lessons along the way.

Build your foundation

Underneath the flowery façade of the sculptures is a carefully crafted foundation. Each structure is made of a variety of materials such as internal irrigation systems, steel, soil and mesh. All of these work together to eventually house the plantings.  I dare say this is the most substantial part of the process–after all, what good is a strong design without strong bones to support it?

Your sophomore and junior year: You’ve laid the groundwork, now it’s time to build. Lean into a passion you’ve identified. Explore a leadership role that allows you to have impact, take a deep dive, and contribute to your community. Like the sculptures, the strongest foundations are constructed with a variety of materials. Maybe you develop your skill set with independent projects, build teamwork and solid personal relationships in an organization of your peers, or structure your time with a job, internship, or research. Applying yourself in several settings will present plenty of opportunity to discover your own strengths.

Plant your flowers

The design is laid out, the structure is built, but it does not look like much until the plants are actually in place. The frames were shipped to Atlanta from Montréal in January, and at that point, more than 200,000 flowers were tucked into soil-filled mesh. In the days leading up to the exhibit the sculptures were transported to the gardens (often they’re transported in pieces, which is wise, as I can’t imagine a 21-foot dragon would do so well in Atlanta traffic) and prepared for display.

Senior Year: You’re nearing the finish line, but you have a serious task ahead of you: it’s time to let years of work take the shape of an application. Add color here, dimension there, and always include your personality. Does your application show off who you are and what you value? Maybe you’re the Pegasus, the peacock, or the giant Rip Van Winkle caught taking a snooze under the tree (I can relate). You have a voice with a story to tell, one of growth and exploration and personal investment. How will you paint that picture—better yet, how will you plant those flowers?

Bonus: Just add water

There is a caravan of three camel statues off to the side of the garden lawn, and as I walked by, a staff member was hosing them down. No, the irony wasn’t lost on me—Atlanta is hot in the summer and even camels need a little H2O. Staff will continue to monitor and tinker away throughout the summer to keep the topiary art in tip-top shape. The exhibit may have already started, but there’s plenty of work to be done to keep the camels and their creature friends looking good for months to come.

After you hit send: You’ve spent years crafting a high school experience that brought you personal growth, and that journey doesn’t end when you close the internet browser on your college applications. It doesn’t end when you get those college decisions back, either. There’s no senior slump, no post-application apathy, (that could make a great band name, dibs!) you’re just getting started! This story you’ve built isn’t just a tool to land that college acceptance–it’s a foundation to build on throughout your academic career, your personal life, and the great big beyond. So take care of your hard work, and keep building away.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address (above) and click “subscribe.” We also welcome comments and feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.