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Breaking Down The Admission Team. Week 5: Quarterbacks

This year we moved our Regular Decision Deadline from January 10 to January 1. When we initially made the call to change the date, one of my boss’s biggest concerns was that “we would ruin New Year’s Eve” by “making them” stay in to apply to Tech.

My counter was two-fold. First, the application opens on August 1, so we’ve “given” them five months to apply. How long do you need to write a few paragraphs and ask mom and dad some questions about their jobs, degrees, and residency?

Second, let’s not forget about January 1. Even if they stay out to celebrate NYE, they still have ALL DAY January 1. And, predictably, 3,500 students did wait to apply for 2017 in 2017.

I can relate. I started this series on The Admission Team in early November and committed to finishing before we went back to work January 3, and here I am writing this on January 2 (with all the time in the world to meet that deadline). Takes one to know one.

QB1

We’ve worked through The Communications Team (Defense), The Operations Team (Offensive Line), The Initial Review (The Bench), and The Recruitment and Holistic Review Team, (WRs and RBs). And that leaves us with just one position left to cover: The Director/Dean/AVP (or some other fancy title) of Admission. You can basically throw in folks with titles like Associate and Senior Associate to this group as well.

These are the Quarterbacks of the team. They call the plays, scan the entire field, read defenses, and align their team’s talent in the right positions to be successful. They make strategy and personnel adjustments as the game progresses in order to lead their team to victory.  Consequently, they are typically the names on recruitment and decision letters, the spokespeople providing quotes to journalists, and they’re also the ones who take the heat when goals are not met.

Signal Callers

These folks are part demographer, part pitch-man, part cheerleader, part bridge-builder, and of course, part soup maker. 

Directors and Deans are over-“meetinged.” They spend time looking at historical trends of applications by state or major or some other category; they are concerned about demographic shifts; they are constantly refining predictive models in order to be sure they bring in the right class size and make-up.  They field way too many calls from vendors wanting to sell them services. They meet with and listen to alumni, presidents, provosts, deans, donors, board members, legislators, and other key constituents, and attempt to translate sweeping five-part mission statements and aspirational future casting about the university into succinct, engaging messages that can be easily understood and attractive to students and parents.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit we don’t always get this right. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of glossy, shiny brochures with phrases like “Invent your future” or “Be Bold” or “Find it here.” Trite? Cheesy? Sure. But next time you scoff at one of these short verb-led challenges on a mailing, imagine if instead it read “Engaging students in co-curricular and inspiring world-class education in order to create global citizens committed to endeavoring into passionate, meaningful dialogue for life-long learning and the cultivation of future impact.” (The reason you know I made that up is there are nearly ten mono-syllabic words).

These folks are multi-taskers (and often caffeine junkies) who have become masters of slipping out of meetings with influential alumni in order to quickly welcome a group of visiting sophomores to campus.

Quarter Backgrounds (see what I did there?)

If you look at quarterbacks around the NFL, you’ll find their backgrounds and personalities vary widely. Eli Manning comes from a family that’s basically football royalty. He attended a prestigious private school in New Orleans, and played big time college ball at Ole Miss in the nation’s biggest powerhouse conference. Joe Flacco went to the University of Delaware (Go Blue Hens!) out of the Colonial Conference– far more known for basketball than football– and attended  public high school in New Jersey. Cam Newton has a gregarious and sometimes flamboyant personality. Drew Brees… not so much.

And so it goes with admission directors and deans. There is no template or mold. Accountants have CPAs. Lawyers have JDs. Look at some of these biographies online. Music majors, MBAs, PhDs in History and Fine Arts. Some have parents who were long time deans with a deep lineage in higher education, while others are converts from corporate America or have migrated from other parts of academia.

But there is one trait I’ve found applies to all of the folks: they are extremely genuine. They deeply want to see young people thrive and succeed. They believe in and love the school they represent.

What’s it to you? 

Like quarterbacks in football, these are typically very goal oriented, driven people. They spend a great deal of time analyzing, tweaking, refining. They like to win, they like to compete, and they want their team to be the best. But they are also committed collaborators. They share ideas and best practices, even with direct competitors, because they want to see others become better. They are humble people who know that even with all the skill in the world, there’s no way that they can individually recruit or enroll a great class. They need the full investment of their campus community, alumni community, and the team around them. No quarterback throws a pass to himself. And without support from the team, they’d be on their back every play.

So What?

Knowing this about the people who are recruiting you or reviewing your application is not going to give you any kind of edge when it comes to “getting in.” The truth is that most applicants never meet the dean or director of the colleges to which they apply or ultimately attend. But it is important to know what type of person is behind the emails, or the marketing materials, or the counselors and other admission representatives that you do meet. Their values and personality and priorities drive and transcend a great deal of what you see and experience.  These are people who  strive to create access to higher education for all students, and are fully committed to enrolling thoughtful, dynamic, diverse classes.

Post-Game Press Conference

If you have taken away nothing else from the parallels between positions on a team and the roles people play in the admission office at universities around the country, please remember this: the work of recruiting students and making admission decisions is deeply human. Unfortunately the vocabulary of this field (application, process, deadline) dilutes that very important truth. But it is critical that you know this, because ultimately you’re not applying to an institution. An institution does not teach nor inspire; a community does these things.

Now that you know the people of college admission, make your experience about the people. Don’t let the list of schools you apply to or ultimately choose be about where they are ranked, or what that name might look like on a bumper sticker. Don’t let the claim that you “got in” dictate your decision. Instead, make it about finding a distinct community where your talents, your goals, your skills, your vision, and your aspirations align with that team.

Tune in next week when we’ll be talking about something other than football.

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Breaking Down The Admission Team: Week 4: Wide Receivers and Running Backs

One hot August night during college, a friend of mine (who happened to be the starting center on our football team) and I got pulled over by a cop who immediately started berating us about the speed limit and asking why we were out so late and if we had been drinking (we had not). My friend handed over his license and registration to the officer who grabbed it and headed back to the patrol car.

Through the rearview mirror I saw him stop, turn, and come back to the driver side door. “Listen. Going to let you off without a ticket tonight. But be safe, slow down… and good luck this season.” I was pumped! Win, right? But my friend had a different reaction, “Man. If I were a running back or wide receiver, he would have recognized me right away. #linemanproblems

Yep. That’s how running backs and wide receivers roll. They are the face of the organization. It’s their name and picture on websites and cards. And so it goes for Fantasy Football. Along with the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers have the big names, the featured press conferences, and the long interviews– but with better celebration dances, bigger personalities, and generally warmer demeanor.

Well, my friends, I’ve just described admission counselors (though typically with fewer tattoos and less ability to evade speeding tickets, especially in places like Waldo, Florida. Ughh… still bitter). Counselors are the faces of the college. They are the ones who travel around the country and meet thousands of people each year at schools, programs, and coffee shops. If you visit campus, they are the ones who give the presentation or meet with you and your family.

Who are they?

1- Like many of the star running backs and wide receivers in the NFL, most admission reps who are recruiting and doing first/second read on college applications are in their 20s or early 30s.

2- They generally get into admission because they love their alma mater, so they typically start out working there. Others may simply be intrigued by Higher Education or love working in a college environment. Others may be buying time before grad school– and more so lately they are doing both simultaneously.

3- They are affable and generally extroverts who have good public speaking, communication, and relational skills. Those who don’t have those skills get a ton of practice refining and improving all of these within the first six months on the job.

4- Like RBs/WRs who are asked to be versatile and flexible in their routes and game plans, the same is essential for admission counselors. They walk into schools around the country not knowing exactly what to expect. “Today you’ll be speaking with four kids for 10 minutes.” Next school: “We are putting you in the auditorium. Thought you could speak to our 10-12 graders for an hour about college admission and maybe your school for max five of those.” Next: “We don’t have any students for you to see today, but we are short-handed in the cafeteria. How are you with prepping veggies?”

Admission counselors get into this field because they love students. They want to have a positive impact and believe they can in this role. They enjoy meeting new people, and love experiencing new places and opportunities. They are curious, open-minded, positive, genuine, bright, and passionate. They see the best in others. An added bonus is they want to have fun while accomplishing all of that.

counselor-picThere is no shortage of jokes, laughs, dance moves, and big personalities in admission offices around the country. I realize this may be slightly self-serving, but I believe these are some of the very best people you’ll ever meet.

Why Should You Care?

Unfortunately, in recent years, the stress surrounding the admission process has increased. Much of this is due to more students applying to more colleges, but it’s also correlated to financial costs, family pressures, and competitive, achievement-centered high school environments. As a result, “getting into college” has become more transactional and less relational. But that does not have to be your experience. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind when interacting with an admission counselor:

When meeting in person…
When an admission counselor shows up at your school or you meet them on campus, remember that they simply want to talk to you and help you. These are not judgmental folks. They’re not perfect and they don’t expect that from you. So ask your questions and listen, but also relax. Talk about the things you love in school and in life. Share your personality. Allow them to make connections with you and for you by being genuine. You’ll learn a lot more from that than from asking them to quote the library’s book sharing policy or what percentage of kids study abroad. Sure. A running back can answer questions about offensive schemes, but what you remember from interviews are the stories. Ask good questions.

On your application….
An admission counselor is the kind of person you want reading your essays and reviewing your application. Remember what you know about them: they are positive, and they naturally see and are trained to look for upside. On your application, they are listening for your voice. They want to know you and want to be in your corner. I’ve asked high school students to close their eyes and describe who they think is reading their essay. The typical response is a white, middle-aged male who has spectacles, patches on his tweed coat, and snarls as he opens his red pen. Look at a few of the staff websites or office social media accounts of the universities you are interested in (not the actual counselor’s Instagram, mind you— that’s weird). Check out Google images for “admission counselor.” Mean people? Nope. Running Backs and Wide Receivers.

So whether you are working on an application right now or planning a visit to campus soon, keep these admission counselor traits, motivations, and personalities in mind. While this won’t change the low admit rates at UPenn or Pomona or University of Michigan, it hopefully puts in perspective that these folks see themselves as being on your side. And that makes all the difference.

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The Admission Guide to… Soup Making ?

I love the fall. It’s hands down my favorite season. Football, holidays, changing leaves, crisp days, and… soup. You can’t really eat soup in the summer in the South (the human body is just not built to tolerate that much heat). Every fall, I feel like I rediscover this simple delicacy. Chowder, French Onion, chicken noodle, vegetable… anyone else getting hungry? At this time of year, I could live off it. And with young kids, soup is easy to make and a good “project.” They have fun grating cheese, counting out the carrot sticks, and finding the right measuring spoons for spices. So unless someone slices a finger or gets onion in their eye, it’s a win-win. Dinner is prepared and we did a mini math lesson in the process.

Now what does this have to do with college admission? EVERYTHING. In fact, when I meet someone on a plane or at a random social gathering and I don’t feel like talking college admission, I say I make soup for a living. And it’s true. On a college campus, everyone has their own ingredients they want in the mix. Deans from each academic unit may want more or less students in their program, depending on faculty: student ratios or the health of job prospects in their industry. This year at Tech, we’ve added a major in Music Technology. That means students who may not have been a good fit last year are very much on our radar this year. On the other hand, if a college eliminates a major, that vegetable is out of the soup.  While there was plenty of oregano in last year’s bowl, this year that container is left in the cabinet untouched.

Institutional priorities such as academic profile or net tuition revenue dictate ingredients and the recipe for that year. If last year’s out of state enrollment was too high they may try to curb that back (so not a good year to be a radish). Or, they did not get enough in Business, so the directive may be to double up (and increase the amount of pepper) this year.

This article from Money magazine sheds some light into admit rate variance by admission plan (i.e. Early vs. Regular). It has some compelling points and stats, but I don’t think it delved into the real drivers of why students “have the same chance.” It implies both in title and content that the rationale for why some students are admitted and others are not is “hidden” from view.

Here’s how the soup is made

When applications roll in and reading season begins, it’s like walking through a really great farmers market. Almost every application has sound merits. We just started file review in our office and each day there are conversations about an amazing applicant who has done X or Y, or wrote a great essay, or had an incredible life circumstance. Each of our prep cooks is reading and saying, “Oh, yes. We definitely want this celery,” AND “Throw a couple of these potatoes in,” AND “Cabbage? Yep.” Each school/state (like a stand or stall at the farmers market) has fresh, beautiful, tantalizing options that would all be great.

BUT… the trick of soup making is the size of the bowl. Last year at Princeton that was around 1300. At The University of Washington, it was about 6800.

Admit rates are partly a function of applicant pool size but also of the other vegetables. (Note: This is Soup Making 101. We’re not going to get into the melting off of “yield rates” or the post-boil adding back of waitlist. Advanced Soup Making is a spring workshop.)

Public schools in North Carolina are legislated to enroll at least 82% of their class from their state. When the vast majority of your bowl is filled, your ability to add lots of celery or onions is going to be diminished. So the state you are from, major you want to study, or the background and interests you bring to the table, dictate admission prospects. You are not necessarily competing against all the other applicants—often it’s those like you by some academic, demographic or institutional goal measure. Is this fair? No. This is soup making. You may be a completely unbruised and symmetrically perfect tomato, but that does not mean you are going to be in this year’s “Brown University Bisque.” Because guess what? They may only needed a fourth of a tomato this year. You may be grass fed, organically raised, and free range but you are not included if UCLA decides they only need 22 from outside their borders.

What does this mean for you?

When you visit the campuses you’re interested in, ask them about students like you. “How many students were from Massachusetts in your class last year?” “Are you trying to grow in our area of the country, or in my major at your school?”  In asking specific question like this, you will more likely get specific answers. Schools are also happy to share their admit rates, but you need to ask the details behind those rates. At Tech our EA admit rate is higher than our RD rate often by 15 percentage points. Part of that is driven by the fact that Georgia students apply early, and our total undergraduate population is 60% Georgia. Historically our most talented in-state students apply in the first round.

Some schools won’t know some of these admit rates or demographics off the top of their head. Are they hiding something? Usually not. A chef (admission rep) walking around your school in the fall has his mind on telling the story of the restaurant (university), rather than all the details of the soup. That’s not cagey. It’s human. So they offer to get back to you, which is great, as you can continue the conversation and they know you are interested.

At the most elite schools nationally (>20% admit rate), you’ll often get a confounding answer that sounds a lot like a Jedi mind trick or political stump speech. But go back to the Princeton statistics. 29,000+ applicants to admit less than 2,000. Lot of super fine slicing & pinches of spices that leave amazing produce that would be the highlight of another soup sitting on the cutting board.  It’s not an evasive answer. They simply can’t answer that because they aren’t taking entire stalks of celery or broccoli.

Kitchen notes: At the end of the day, you may not end up in the recipe you have in mind right now. But the beauty of soup is that each ingredient is ultimately complimented and improved by what it’s surrounded by and interacts with over time. You will find the right place to add your flavor to others and be improved by their presence in the years ahead.

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Navigating College Admissions: An UN-romantic Solution

I distinctly remember growing up and watching my parents have “Sunday night meetings.” They would bring their calendars (yep, hard copy with pencils) to the kitchen after we’d cleared the table to discuss the week ahead. When we were little, my sister and I really didn’t understand what they were doing. We were just glad they were occupied so we could pick whatever TV show we wanted to watch. In high school, I distinctly recall coming into the kitchen for a snack during study break, witnessing these logistical negotiations, and thinking, “If this is marriage, count me out.”

twain-quoteNow, however, I’m willing to concede the beauty and brilliance of the “Sunday night meeting,” because allocating that time allowed freedom. See, once they’d nailed down their own work schedules for the week and decided who was going to drive me and my sister to the games or performances or events, they didn’t have to talk about the details again. Listen, it still doesn’t sound romantic, but it gave them the rest of their week to talk about other things (presumably some of that was romantic, but these are my parents, and this is a family blog).

Application (no pun intended) to the Admission Process

As I watch more of my neighbors and friends with kids in high school (particularly during junior and senior year), it is clear that dispersed conversations and questions about scholarships, deadlines, essays, or plans to visit colleges often become a swirling, all-consuming mess. More importantly, they create unnecessary tension and division. Students feel like every time they come downstairs for a meal the “college talk” begins. Parents feel like their intelligent offspring has somehow lost the ability to string consecutive words together or convey ideas in multi-syllabic words.

Quick Quiz

Parents: Are you bringing up college options, deadlines, or test dates at a variety of unchecked times and days throughout the week?

Students: Test yourself: Do you frequently answer your parents’ sequential questions about college with: “Good,” “Okay,” “No,” “Huh?” Do you pretend like your phone is ringing and head for the car when mom asks, “Have you asked Mrs. Johnson for that rec yet?”

If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” I want to strongly encourage the implementation of the “Sunday Night Meeting.” Not necessarily on Sunday, but one consolidated time each week when college is on the proverbial– and perhaps literal– table.

 ground-rulesParents: You GET TO BRING brochures you’ve noticed in the mail. This is YOUR TIME to say, “Hey, look honey, the leaves are turning in South Bend. Isn’t it pretty?” You GET TO ASK, “Have you written your supplemental essays for SMU?” Or “Do you still want to take that trip to Maine to look at schools in November?” THIS IS YOUR TIME FOR: “Did you get your ACT results back?” Or “Is the University of Wisconsin psychology program highly ranked?” It’s all free game.

Students: You DON’T GET TO BRING your cell phone or really crunchy snacks. You DON’T GET to look at your shoes more than three times or for beyond six seconds. You have to FULLY ENGAGE in this conversation. I’m not going to be super obnoxious and give you a link to the definition of conversation or discussion in the dictionary, because you know what that looks like. ONE time a week… for only two hours (1/12 of that day!). You got this!

Outside of the “Sunday night meeting,” however, college talk is banned. Mom, dad: You drive past a car with a Princeton or Michigan State sticker. Not a peep. Sean next door gets accepted to Auburn or Colorado College, send a text in congratulations or post something online. Mute button is on at home.

Now, I get that it’s college football season. I have no problem with passionate support of your alma mater or understandable vitriol for your opponent. But that can’t transition to, “You’re not really going to apply there are you?” Or “Look at their fans. They just don’t look smart…”

Two Important Truths

  1. The reason your parents are bringing up college, asking you questions, and expressing their opinions is partly because they’re not convinced you are on it. If you answer their questions, show you have a plan, and demonstrate that you are making progress on applications and working towards deadlines, you’ll dramatically diminish the seemingly incessant nagging.
    truth
  2. It’s not nagging! It’s love. “Sunday night meetings” are not romantic. They weren’t then, and still aren’t now. But they are rooted in love. The time your parents take, the questions they ask, their desire to see things taken care of  is absolutely grounded in deep affection. They know you’re going to head off to college in the next year or two. There is some fear in that, and a lot of excitement. Every now and then they can’t believe you’re taking AP Biology or standing at over 6 feet tall. Somehow carpool lines and tricycles don’t seem like that long ago. Give ’em a break. Fear, excitement, love– these all warrant you being fully engaged. Two hours a week (1.1% of your week!): Answer the questions; look them in the eye; put down your phone—and every now and then, how about a hug?

Long live the #SNM!

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The Definitive College Admission Field Guide

Last week my kids had Fall Break. I’m not going to lie…. I went into it feeling pretty cynical. A: it’s not fall, and B: they really don’t need a break. Six weeks and then a week off. Come on, man. Soft.

But my wife wanted to be sure “we did something fun ‘FOR THEM.'” (She’s crafty like that.) So while I worked at the beginning of the week, I took the latter part off and headed to the lake to meet up with them and some friends. I drove alone late one night and got there in the pitch black dark. The whole way I was thinking about all the things I could be getting done at home. But when I woke up the next morning to the sun shining off the water, a good cup of coffee in my hand, and some built in entertainment for our kids, the switch flipped immediately. Just the latest in a long line of “You were right” moments in my life and marriage.

“You’re hungry? Grab some pretzels. I know it’s 9 a.m. Don’t care. I’m on vacation.” We took the boat out. The boys wake boarded and knee boarded and jumped between dueling tubes. Me? Snacked. Put my hat over my eyes and lounged. Finally, I got on the mega inflatable couch with the two 5-year old girls and then basked in the sun as they sang and danced to “Shut up and Dance with Me!” Didn’t question the lyrics or think about this same pair 10 years from now in bathing suits with boys next to them. Nope. I leaned back… and breathed.

Take a Breath

We all need that, right? Just a good, long, selfish breath. We get into patterns that are necessary but also tiresome: Wake up, head to school, go to practice, study. Rinse and repeat.

And in the admission process you need that breath, too. Same brochures coming each day with taglines only varying by verb tense, school colors, and font. Campus tours like death marches with polo clad, flip flop wearing guides citing the number of volumes in a library or the myriad flavors of ice cream available in the dining hall. College reps at fairs and at your school touting that they’re #23 for number benches on campus. And the beat drones on…

We feel your pain. And in a “lake moment” we decided to create the definitive “Admission Field Guide.” I hope you will find it different. And refreshing.

It’s created to help you navigate this year smoothly: to give you helpful tips for your application, essays, and interactions in the college admission process; to remind you to laugh and breath along the way; and ultimately to enable you to find the college that will help you thrive and achieve your goals.

Even if you don’t click on these links or watch the videos, I earnestly encourage you take breaks this year. Go to the lake (even if it’s figuratively). Dance and sing. Surround yourself with the people who know how to help YOU take care of YOU. At the end of the day I’ll be singing this: “Shut up and breathe with me!”

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