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Four Letter Words & College Admission

“That is not a four letter word, Elizabeth,” I said to my six-year-old. “Only four letter words, remember?” Let me back up.

I’ve been on vacation in Vermont the last week. It’s been amazing. Cool weather, sunny skies, incredible views of the lakes and mountains.

One thing I’ve learned as a parent is that when you go on vacation and are eating out after a long day of travel,  you better be prepared while  waiting on food. A pack of cards, crayons, books, and worst case, games on the phone. I’d rather exceed the day’s allotment of screen time than verbally lambaste my kid in public. Life (and college admission) are all about decisions, right?

So we are playing hangman as we wait for our pizza and we’d agreed to use four letter words. The only issue is that a kindergartener can’t exactly spell them all correctly, and after a day of travel and a lack of food, I forgot to put on my phonics hat, which is how we arrived at: L-E-R-N.

“That is not a four letter word, Elizabeth. Only four letter words, remember?” which I followed with, “That doesn’t fit. It doesn’t make sense.”

My wife’s calm but firm response, “It makes sense to her.” And a simultaneous eyebrow raise and upward chin flick, which can mean only one thing… yep, the waitress was standing right there. I can’t be sure but I’m fairly confident she spit in my next drink order. And, you know what, deservedly so.

“It makes sense to her.”Image result for lern

I thought about that later in the evening, as I listened to the other three sleep contentedly in our hotel room. Don’t worry. I’m not going to preach on how everyone shouldn’t get a trophy or why “A’s” aren’t that important.

Instead, I’m just going to remind you of something very elementary but somehow easily forgotten about your college search process… it’s YOURS. YOU get to fill in the blanks. Ultimately, it’s YOUR word. YOUR solution. Sure, read the guide books; consider where older peers or club members or teammates have gone; go visit that obscure school your crazy uncle advice keeps mentioning. Listen to the advice and opinions and excitement and concern of parents, teachers, friends, counselors, coaches, etc. Remember– the landscape if vast.

But more than anything, as you visit schools this summer and fall, as you apply to schools, and ultimately when you decide where to attend, the most important thing is: What makes sense to YOU?

Spoiler alert: The categories below are very basic. Probably the things you have already heard or read or are already considering. I’m just hoping that you’ll think differently about the same buckets by constantly reminding yourself that they are YOUR blanks to fill in.

LOCATION- Over the last week, I had the chance to visit both University of Vermont and Middlebury College. Separated by only 35 miles, they’re worlds apart in ethos and environment. Burlington is the largest city in Vermont at about 43,000. Middlebury is a quaint town of 8400. I know people who proudly graduated from each and would not trade their experience for anything or anywhere else.

What is important to you? Do you want access to more restaurants and an airport? Do you want to share the town with tourists and business people and conventions and the other things that bigger cities typically bring? Or do you like the idea of a college town where the students are the lifeblood and the faculty live right in the community? Distinct experiences, distinct dynamics, distinct student bodies. What makes sense to YOU?

WEATHER/CLIMATE-  I showed my id to a cashier in a store in Stowe, VT this week. “Georgia, huh?”

Image result for middlebury college

Middlebury College

“Yep. Have you ever been there?”

“Sure. I’m from Tennessee.”

“Ok. Cool.” “What brought you up to Vermont?”

“Well, I’m a junior at Tufts in Boston and just spending the summer here.”

“Interesting. So what would you say to someone from the South who is looking to go to school in the Northeast (I know. I know. I can’t turn it off)?”

“Visit in January…and buy a good coat. It takes a year to adjust but I’m glad I’ve come to experience a different part of the country. It’s made me appreciate the South and I also love New England.” She’s thinking of pharmacy school when she graduates.

Are you ready for a complete change of scenery (and wardrobe)? Florida feels great in February, but you will not see much of a change of season. Cool (no pun intended)? One of the best things about our country is its diversity in higher education options. You are seeing that with all of the brochures that keep showing up in your mailbox (and writing from Vermont I am contractually bound to remind you to recycle). Consider places you’ve never heard of: check out their Instagram feed; take the exit off the highway on your road trip; Google famous alumni. You have to rule places in and out. That’s part of the process. But be open and be honest with yourself. Lots of voices and opinions will continue to swirl and sometimes amplify, but don’t stop listening to your voice, your gut, your dreams and hopes and goals. What makes sense to YOU?

Image result for university of vermont and burlington, vt

University of Vermont at top of hill in Burlington

SIZE OF SCHOOL- Do you want to know most of your classmates by the time you graduate? Or are you someone who relishes some anonymity? Do you appreciate close-knit culture and the loyalty and bonds it brings? Or are you excited by a big alumni base? Do you envision graduating on a lawn or in a stadium? Big schools will talk about how they can feel small. Sometimes small schools talk about how they can provide a big school network and experience. But at the end of the day: What makes sense to YOU?

Final Tip- use your network. This summer talk to seniors who are about to go off to college. Where did they start out looking? Which schools were at the top of their list last year? Where do they wish they’d visited? And why are they excited about where are they ultimately going. No one person’s opinion is gospel truth, which is why you need to ask and seek opinions from as many people and sources as  you can. Use. Your. Network (it’s a life lesson).

YOUR college EXPERIENCE. YOUR college CHOICE. YOUR college VISIT. Now– go “L-E-R-N” what makes sense to YOU!

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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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Kitchen Bars and Common Data Sets

The Kitchen Bar

I am sure that there is a moment in every kid’s life when they regret the fact that their parent has a particular profession. Lots of child-sized thought bubbles like, “Oh. Crap. Why is my mom a doctor? Or in sales? Or a personal trainer?” I can imagine them reading in their room after a conversation or walking to school after a lecture telling their buddies, “Man, I wish my dad was not in consulting. You should have heard what he said last night.”

Well, that moment came to the Clark house recently. My son (a second grader) wanted to apply to be part of “Principal’s Council.” This is a group of student representatives who meet periodically to consider ways to improve the school, communicate important messages more effectively, or provide student insight into current topics, issues, etc. Great concept and I fully support it.

So I asked him, “How many will they pick from each grade?”

“Two,” he replied.

“And how many people are going to apply?”

“I don’t know,” (I thought that answer was not supposed to start so frequently until age 14 or so).

So my head immediately goes to his odds. First, you have to believe that they’re going to select a boy and a girl (figuring that was a fair assumption).

“And how are they going to decide who gets picked?”

He showed me the application. A few short answer questions on ideas you have and why you would be a good representative for your class. Thankfully (for him), it noted that handwriting was not a factor for selection.

I knew that there were 60 students in his grade. Then I checked the roster to find, interestingly, that they’re basically dead split on boys and girls. We lined up 30 items on the kitchen bar to represent each boy in the class, which took a while. We used salt and pepper shakers, fruits and vegetables, spice jars, and a few pistachios. I had to keep him from assigning specific people to the lemons or broccoli (which he calls “the vegetable that shall not be named”).

Then I asked him how many of the boys he thought would apply. Same question from earlier but now with props. (Turns out it was effective, so consider that tactic for future reference.) “Well,” he said, “I know Michael is. And Ryan. And Matthew…” He went on to rattle off another four or five more.

“So, do you think it’s fair to say at least 15 boys will apply?” I asked. Ultimately, we agreed on 14. Not sure why he was unwilling to concede that last tomato but for the point of the exercise, I was good with it.

“Okay. So, why should they pick you?” I asked. Told you there was a point in every kid’s life when they wish their mom or dad did something else. And, while he did not say it, I figured we had to be flirting with it here. I came to this conclusion not based on incredible parental intuition but more so on the audible sigh and pseudo-violent backward thrust of his head.

After he recovered (by eating two of his classmates… I mean jelly beans), it was pretty interesting to hear his responses, as well as to hear him acknowledge how great the other kids in his grade are too. Every time he’d say something about being honest or a good listener, he’d often follow it with, “but so is Jonathan” (or another of this classmates).

In the end, I said, “Listen, I think it’s awesome that you want to do this- — and I think if you’re picked that you would do a great job. But you need to understand that the chances of not getting picked are pretty high.”

He took a long, hard look at the other 13 items still on the bar and got out his pencil sharpener to start his application. The next morning, as we were walking up to the school, I told him I was proud of him for applying. I told him even if he did not get picked there would be tons of other opportunities to contribute and make things around him better. Yes, I know, I was laying it on thick.

“Okay. Dad. Got it.” And he ran off with one of the “apples” from the kitchen bar.

Analyzing Common Data Sets (CDS)

When you are applying to schools you are not going to know absolutely everything about their process or priorities. And you’re not going to know exactly who else is in that year’s applicant pool. But you’re not completely in the dark either. You have the ranges a school provides on their profile; you have last year’s admit rate; you have their mission and purpose,; but you also have the ability to look at public historical information that will provide you additional insight, perspective, and trends if you look at multiple years.

Let’s stick with the 7% number or 1/14 applicants selected. At that rate, we’re talking Princeton or Yale. (See selective admit rates here.) Note: It’s possible both are really somewhere in the 6.x range, but no need to split hairs (or vegetables if you’re using your kitchen bar for this exercise). You can quickly find most school’s CDS online (here is Georgia Tech’s) and use it to provide additional context beyond what’s listed in their marketing materials. Here are the ones for Yale and Princeton. Since these are standardized, you can always go right to Section C for information on freshman admission.Common Data Set Initiative

Section C1: Provides applicant breakdown by gender. Is the distribution equal in applicants or admits at the school you’re applying to? Generally, there is some variance. I’d encourage you to look over several years of data to see if there is consistency or a trend. Does the school currently have gender equity in their class? Does it appear from the data or from their messaging or from looking at multiple years that they’re increasing the number of men or women in their class overall?

Section C7:  This section outlines what each school places priority on in their admission and decision making process. You’ll find highly selective schools will incorporate far more factors beyond academics here (extra-curricular involvement, geographic origin, first generation students, etc.) and they also convey the level of importance they place on each factor. So expect schools below 20% in admit rate to check off plenty of additional boxes and assign relative importance. This is a somewhat quantitative illustration of a very nuanced holistic review that schools should be discussing on their websites and presentations. Good news: Yale makes this incredibly easy to find, as they have a site entitled: “What Yale Looks For.” (For the record, I think all schools should standardize that naming convention.)

Section C9:  This section provides test score information by band. Note: admitted averages are typically higher than enrolling averages (which is what the CDS displays). So it’s safe to assume that the representation for admitted students in the higher bands is greater than these tables display. In other words, if 75+% of enrolling students scored above 700 on each section, it’s likely that the admitted pool was some number above that. And therefore a lower percentage in lower bands.

Section C10: Class Rank. So at Princeton 94% of students finished in the top 10% of their class. At Yale that number was 97%. At Tech it was 87%. While many high schools do not rank, this is still a good frame of reference for understanding the quality of a school’s class. And, let’s be honest, the school may not rank per se, and some may not even provide percentile bands, but you still know where you relatively stand in the class in terms of performance- and how you’ll “read” in an application versus a classmate or someone who may have applied from your high school last year.

Feel free to delve deeper into the CDS of any school you plan to apply to. Other sections will give insight on number of students from in and out of state, detailed information on financial aid, size of classes, and faculty degree attainment information. All of these are more data and information that provide context for the admission process, but they also give you a clearer understanding of who is at each institution. But, we’re going to stop with Section C in an effort to keep this blog under 2000 words.

So What?

Unlike my son, you are not going to know 1/3 of the applicants personally. You won’t be able to put their “trustworthiness” or “entrepreneurial acumen” on a Likert Scale. But you can dig a bit deeper than simple ranges or profiles universities often put on home pages. And doing that is critical to help you better understand the competition and review.

  • If 92% of the students enrolling at a school were in the top 10% (and a higher percentage still in their admitted pool) and you are not, what will help make you part of that other 8%?
  • If a school’s CDS, in addition to their site and materials, is saying they don’t put much value or importance on testing and that is your strongest point within your application, you should be factoring that into “your admit rate” vs. the school’s published number.
  • If they report in their CDS that “demonstrated interest” is not part of their process…it’s not. No need to call or email incessantly, or ask others to do so on your behalf.
  • And lastly, if you are a valedictorian with a perfect test score are you guaranteed admission to all schools? NO. These numbers are helpful, but they don’t tell the entire story. The CDS provides data that reinforces what these schools will be saying in information sessions and outlining on their publications and websites– far more than academics are taken into account at our nation’s most elite schools.

Soooooo….What?!

  1. Do your homework. Read and research past the first page of a brochure or website. Read about a school’s mission. Check out their CDS. Ask good questions when you are on campus that really help you get to the answers that you need to make a good decision on where to apply, and ultimately where to attend.
  2. Acknowledge that at highly selective schools the kitchen bar is filled with lots of talent. Lots of far more perfectly ripe vegetables than they can possibly admit. And further, that many factors will be used to make admission decisions, so 100% predictability is impossible.
  3. Diversify your school set. I’m telling you the same thing I told my son. Go for it. Apply where you really want to go. But understand that you need to have schools on your list with a range of admit rates (7%-16% is not “a range”); schools that put priority on your strengths; and schools where their data and your interests align.

Made the sub-2000 word mark, but barely. Thanks for reading about data over the summer. Now go enjoy the pool.

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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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Ad(mission): It’s not fair.

I suppose I could have gone with “An Admission: It’s not fair!” What can I say, catchy titles are not my thing. Working on it. But at this time of year, “fairness” is a resounding theme.

“How can you waitlist my son? He has 30 points higher and two more APs than your average. And we know someone down the street who got in that….”

“Something is wrong with your process if my daughter who has been through as many medical issues as she has and still has a 3.8 is not getting in. Talk about not being fair….”

“And don’t get me started on financial aid… or lack thereof.”

These are actual quotes from real people. Granted, they’re being used without acknowledgment (I didn’t think asking for permission to use them would be part of the healing process). Undeniably, there is something hardwired in us that longs for right, equal, just, fair, and perfect results. And these are noble aspirations.

Kids are among the most vocal about longing for fairness. Spend the same amount of money on presents? “Well, he got more gifts.” Buy the exact same number of gifts? “That one of her’s is bigger!” “Okay, tell you what, I’m going to take all of these out to the fire pit then and you can play with this cardboard box.” Now they’re both screaming in unison, writhing on the ground and flailing, with great gnashing of teeth. It’s like a scene from Revelation followed by a simultaneous and guttural reaction: “That’s not fair!”

Well, my friends, neither is college admission. If you applied to a college that has a selective (meaning below 33% admit rate) process, or if you are a counselor, principal, parent, friend of someone who has gone through this lately, you know this to be true. Inevitably, you know someone who was denied or waitlisted that was “better” or “more qualified” or “should have gotten in.”

I try not to specifically speak for my colleagues, but I feel confident saying this for anyone that works at a highly selective college that has just denied a ton of the students you are thinking about/calling about/inquiring about: We know. It’s NOT fair. You’re not crazy. In fact, we’d be the first to concur that there are many denied students with higher SAT/ACT scores or more community service or more APs or who wrote a better essay or participated in more clubs and sports than some who were admitted.  But here is what is critical for you to understand– ultimately, the admission process for schools denying twice or three times or sometimes ten times more students than they admit– is not about fairness. It’s about mission.

Mission Drives Admission.

Selective colleges publish mid-50% ranges or averages on our freshman profiles to serve as guides, not guarantees. These are the quantifiable factors that provide an overall sense of the admitted or enrolling class. Yes, we look at test scores, rigor of curriculum, course performance, impact on a community, essays, interviews, and so on. But what drives a holistic review process and serves as a guide for admitting students is a school’s mission. Counselors in high schools talk a great deal about “fit.” Where are you going to thrive? Where are you going to create a network or be challenged? Where do you see students that will push and challenge and stretch you to grow as a person and as a learner? These questions come from the fact that they’re savvy and educated not just about our admission processes and stats, but more importantly about our distinct missions. Ultimately, choosing the right school should not just be about “can I get in?” from a statistical or quantifiable standpoint, but “do I align with their mission?” It takes more work to figure that out, but that’s your job as an applicant or prospective student.

If you look at the academic profiles of Caltech and Amherst, they are very similar. But take a look at their missions.

Amherst (abbreviated) “Amherst College educates men and women of exceptional potential from all backgrounds so that they may seek, value, and advance knowledge, engage the world around them, and lead principled lives of consequence… and is committed to learning through close colloquy and to expanding the realm of knowledge through scholarly research and artistic creation at the highest level. Its graduates link learning with leadership—in service to the College, to their communities, and to the world beyond.”

Caltech “…to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”

The difference in missions is why an individual student sometimes gets in to a higher ranked or more selective school and is denied at another. The student applying to Amherst has the same profile, involvement, writing ability, scores, and grades. but is a totally different fit in their process than for Caltech. This is, at least in part, what counselors are talking about when they say “fit.” It’s fit with mission. You’ll hear schools talk about “institutional priorities.” These are simply components of the macro vision and mission of a university.

A quick look at Georgia Tech

Founded: 1885. Classes begin 1888. One major- Mechanical Engineering. All male. It was a trade school responding to the needs of 19th century and early 20th century Georgia and US South.  The focus was on training and preparation for product creation and being prepared to lead and create the next in an industrializing state, region, and nation. Were there more “qualified” or “smarter” students at the time who had aspirations of becoming ministers or lawyers or physicians? Unquestionably. And had they applied with those intentions, they likely would not have been admitted. It was not our mission to educate students for those roles.

1912: Tech establishes a “School of Commerce” which is essentially a business program. 1952: Tech begins enrolling women. 1961: Georgia Tech becomes the first school in the South to integrate classes without a court order. It’s not hard for me to envision a younger brother in 1954 who is by all counts smarter than his older brother not being admitted to Tech due to this change in mission. Supply and demand drive admit rates. If your supply shrinks due to a shift in your mission, then admission decisions also change based upon factors besides grades, scores, or performance.

The University of North Carolina system is mandated by their legislature to enroll no more than 18% of students from outside of the state. This is why the admit rate for Chapel Hill is more than three times higher for in-state students vs. non-residents.  There are valedictorians from around the country not admitted to UNC (mission here) who get into Ivy League schools. Does this sound controversial or unfair? Not if you understand that mission drives admission.  Schools end academic programs. They add majors. They create new co-curricular programs or add or terminate sports teams. Mission changes and with it admission decisions are impacted to support those goals.

At Tech, our mission is “to define the technological university of the 21st century.” Our motto is “Progress and Service.” Our commitment is to “improve the human condition.” So while we are going to provide stats and averages and profiles like all other schools, these are the conversations in admission committee that contribute to decisions. Fair? No. Perfect? No. Reality? Yes.

What does this mean for you?

If you are a senior (or a parent of a senior) who has been denied or waitlisted: You are most likely just as smart, capable, and talented as other students admitted to that school. Move past the numbers and the comparison. You’re absolutely right: it’s not fair in a comparative sense. But that school has made its decisions in light of advancing their mission. Inevitably, you’ve also been admitted to a school where, if you looked hard enough, you could find someone denied with higher scores or more APs or better grades than you. But you fit their mission. Embrace that!

If you are an underclassmen (or parent of one): Selective schools will say, “We are looking to shape a class.” Counselors will talk to you about “fit.” As you try to digest and comprehend what that really means- or where that comes from- look to the school’s mission. Use the academic ranges they provide as a guide. Check out the profiles and other historical data to see how “students like you” have done in the past. But keep in mind those graphs don’t show the qualitative elements. When you are writing or interviewing at schools, do your homework in advance by researching. The essay you write for Caltech should not be the same one you write for Amherst. Your mission, should you choose to accept it (see what I did there?), is to find a school that aligns your academic ability with your vision of the future. Data is helpful. Stats are important. But fit, ethos, campus community, and your ability to be honest with who you are and want to be– that’s the best way to approach the process.

The other day my son was inconsolable. “She got presents on my birthday, and I never get anything on hers. It’s just not fair!” Finally, I just grabbed him, held him, and kept saying, “I know, son. I know.” So listen, you may not feel any better after reading this blog. Still angry. Still frustrated. I get it. I just wanted to save you that part of any email you send schools or the first part of a phone call. You can go right into other grievances and skip the “it’s not fair” part. We know, we know.

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