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Does This Bring Me Joy?

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

Everyone has that one thing they struggle with, whether it’s watching YouTube until 1 a.m. (me), drinking enough water (still me…) or picking their socks up off the floor (also me. I regret making this list!). Months ago, as the world crept into 2019 and forged hopefully into tackling New Year’s resolutions, many people’s to do lists were topped with my #1 kryptonite: organization.

In elementary school, my mom used to get calls from teachers saying the contents of my desk were spilling, literally, out onto the floor. One time, my third grade teacher paired the class up to go through one another’s backpacks and reorganize the contents in hopes we’d stop losing assignments. Boy, did my partner have a daunting task ahead of him (sorry John).

My organizational skills today are no better. My closet is overwhelming—clothes  are unfolded, unorganized, and overstuffed. The problem just might be that when given the option on what to keep, I keep all of it. I can’t be the only one who has a second wardrobe of aspirational clothes. After all, you never know when you might need a floor length black sequined dress for a Halloween-themed masquerade ball. It could happen!

Tidying Up Your College Search

Luckily, but not coincidentally, a unique organizational method took the world by storm around the start of the New Year. Marie Kondo won our hearts, while Goodwill won the contents of our closets. Marie Kondo introduced us to the Konmari method through her Netflix series. Her minimalism-inspired approach encourages people to take stock of what they have, cherish those things that bring joy, and get rid of what does not.

What does this have to do with college admission? Good question. Right now, the college search and application processes are wrapping up for high school seniors, which means it’s time for the next class of students to get started! Juniors, right now you’re probably listening to parents and counselors advise you to build a list of colleges to visit over spring and summer break. With over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States alone, it can be absolutely overwhelming to know where, or how, to start.

Visualize the destination

The Konmari method starts with creating a vision of what you want your life to feel like once you’re done with the process—who  are you, and who would you like to be in the future?

When you start the college search process, it helps to visualize the end, so let’s work backwards. Where do you imagine yourself after high school? I don’t necessarily mean which college, specifically, but when you close your eyes and see yourself walking across a campus, what do you see? What don’t you see? There are categories that are more obvious in the college search process (big school, small school, urban school, suburban school, and so on) but don’t forget about the smaller stuff. For example, I didn’t know how important trees were to me until I moved to an area of the country that had lots of fields, but not so many trees. It mattered—and it didn’t feel like home to me.

Once you have a general vision, your college counselor is an invaluable resource to help you find a few matches. There are also online college search sites to get you started if a counselor isn’t available at your school. Still not sure where to start? Check out our college selection guide, designed to help you find the right match for you.

What fits, and what doesn’t?

A shirt can be a perfectly good shirt. A sequined dress can be a perfectly good sequined dress. And a college could be a perfectly good college. But if these things don’t suit you or your specific needs, then it’s time to move on. Before even opening up a web browser, the most important thing you can do is be thoughtful about what is most important to you (and your family!). Academic offerings, cost of attendance, distance from home, the list goes on. Choose which matter to you, and how much they matter to you. Only then can you know what fits.

A quick note on college rankings: we’ve talked time and time again about where college rankings might (or might not!) fit into the college search process. To sum it up briefly for our purposes here: once you dig a little deeper, there’s a good chance the methodology and values used in the ranking system don’t fit with the things that are most important to you. Rankings might be a good tool to help you discover colleges across the country, but keep the perspective of it being just that: one tool. You don’t have to force fit at a school just because it’s highly ranked. Also, be mindful of schools that might not top a ranking list, but could very well top yours. Keep going beyond the numbers, and keep in mind the things that are genuinely important to you.

What brings you joy?

Here’s the big one! The ultimate goal of the Konmari method is to surround yourself by the things that make you the happiest. A college might look great on paper, your goals might be aligned, but it’s still entirely possible it might not feel right. And that’s okay! Fit is entirely personal.  Much of this comes down to finding your place within the larger culture and community, and that isn’t something that can be reduced to a set of statistics in a glossy brochure or a website of major offerings.

Does the vision of the institution match your values and interests? Look up the school’s mission statement– what are they about? Look at videos and blogs, projects and organizations… who are the students at that school? It’s a magical thing to interact with a community of students and realize, sometimes for the first time, these are my people. Once you start narrowing down your list and eventually visit campuses, only you will know which campuses you see yourself at, and which you genuinely hope to return to as a student down the road.

So while I work on my closet, I wish you all the best as you work on your college search. And if you need a black sequined dress for a masquerade ball, you can now find it among the racks somewhere around Atlanta—I hope it brings you joy.

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Say It Again!

Last November we made a plan for the blog.

We looked out at the spring and created a log.

To various staff we assigned certain weeks.

We wondered how to improve–what are the necessary tweaks?

That’s when we realized we really need you

To tell us how to be helpful, encouraging, and true

We really want to know what you think,

So please help us out and visit this link.  

In our original January blog plan, we were only going to send out the survey this week without any additional message or content surrounding it. But I convinced my sweet, amazing, beautiful editor/communications manager if we put the link in three times, y’all would still do it. Maybe it is from reading so many amazing applications lately, but I decided to go for four. Love you, Becky.

Decisions, Priorities, and Goals

Saturday we released admission decisions. As I write this, I have 164 emails in my inbox. I am going to give you one guess at how many are from students/families who were admitted… right—that would be one less than your number of guesses.

Here are some of the subject lines: “Concerns for admission process” or “Broken system.” Most of these messages include details about a particular student’s statistics and how they either compare to our published middle 50% ranges or to other students they know (or have heard from a second cousin twice removed) who were admitted.

At the heart of these notes (gentle euphemism) is a plea for the numbers to dictate, or a desire for admission officers to point to one particular reason why, the student was not admitted. We are never going to do that. Not because we aren’t willing to be transparent or because we are not good people (despite a few emails with some creative language asserting that opinion).

Ultimately, it is because holistic admission is completely counter to isolating numbers, sorting data in a spreadsheet, or putting all rationale for a decision on one single factor. Ultimately, both application review, and certainly admission decision-making (particularly at the macro level), are driven by an institution’s priorities and goals.

While I was listening to music on the train earlier this week, I came across a song that I had not heard in a while, “Say It Again” by Don Williams. I took particular note of that tune because it was such a stark transition from the songs that preceded it (“With My Own Two Hands” by Ben Harper and “So What’cha Want” by the Beastie Boys). Word to the wise: shuffle your full song history at your own risk. I’m not recommending you download “Say It Again” but the refrain stuck out to me: “Come on. Say it again.”

Since I was not supposed to really write anything this week (because of the survey), I decided to provide you a few greatest hits from the archives, as well as a couple quick listens, that may be helpful.

  • Admission: It’s Not Fair. This post further explains the concept of institutional priorities and mission, as well as how they dictate admission decision. Audio version here.
  • Handling Those Decisions. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with my friend and colleague, Mark Stucker who is a college counselor at KIPP-Atlanta and also has podcast called “Your Collegebound Kid.” In episode 49 and 50, we talk about how decisions are made, as well as how you can respond and take action once you have been admitted, denied, deferred, or waitlisted.
  • Be Cool. Another blog from the archive, particularly for admitted, denied, and waitlisted students, so I went back and recorded an audio version.

Have a great week. (Oh… and did we mention the survey?).

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Still Waiting…

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

My “quarter life commitment” came in the form of my first home purchase this summer, and I quickly learned buying a home doesn’t happen in half an hour as House Hunters will have you believe.

I know. I was just as shocked as you are.

After setting my parameters and keying into the type of home and neighborhood I was looking for, it was time to physically set foot in a few places.  The first one looked nice, but had a lot of candles burning to cover up a suspicious smell; the second one was sold before I even left my showing, but the third one? Now that I could work with (yes, I really only looked at three. Again, I’ve watched too much House Hunters)! Top floor unit, hardwood floors… sure, the bathrooms are painted school bus yellow, but otherwise, it was perfect.

I went home, had a few conversations with my real estate agent, and sent in my offer paperwork that very night. Then came the waiting. It was between me and a few other buyers. I spent several days waiting for the phone call telling me which offer the seller had chosen.  You know that forgot-to-breathe, heart-in-stomach sensation every time the phone lights up while you’re waiting for an important call or email? Let me tell you: I had it bad.

Finally, the phone rang! False alarm. It was my aunt. Thoughts swirled through my mind…

How would the seller judge me? Sure they had every piece of info about me besides my blood type and horoscope, but they didn’t even know me. 

The phone rang! My home security company. I pondered some more…

I thought my agent said they were going to get back to me yesterday. Should I send the seller cookies? A recommendation letter from my mom? (By the way, if you’re reading deep into this metaphor, the answer is no, don’t send colleges cookies).

Then…the phone rang.

How do you wait?

I only had to wait a few days, but college applicants wait a whole season. It gets especially hard this time of year when the answers are less than a few weeks and email clicks away. Many months go into actively searching out colleges and preparing your application, and then once you hit submit… radio silence. So, how do you wait?

Think about it

I will confess, this is how I wait: as soon as I confirm my orders on Amazon, I reread the product reviews and scrub through YouTube demonstration videos, imagining how great my life will be once my food scale arrives in two days. When I bake cookies, I sit in front of the oven, turn on the light and watch… and watch… and watch. And when I put an offer in on a house, I scroll through the property pictures, mentally planning the furniture layout, learning which grocery stores I will shop at, and Yelp all the restaurants nearby.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t cross the line into impatience, but I do use my nerves productively. Why? Because when I use my time wisely and channel my nervous energy towards a positive outcome, I’ll be more prepared for what comes next. And if it doesn’t go well?  I’ll be disappointed, but at least I’ll have an oddly impressive knowledge of all the grocery stores in a random Atlanta neighborhood.

I think, no, I know many college applicants feel the exact same way right about now. There are whirlwind trips for college tours, chats with friends at the schools where you’re applying, and perusals of excellent blogs (wink wink) to learn more. If you take this route, be sure to know & set your limits. Be careful not to let excited interest turn into unhealthy fixation. Ultimately, there’s going to be a lot of big decisions to make come spring, so if there’s something you’re curious about right now, this is the time to dig in and learn about it.

Don’t think about it 

Contradictory, aye? I can understand the continued focus on college causes people more stress, so not thinking about it might be more your style. The decision will come regardless of what you do at this point—the pendulum has to swing back. And while you’ve controlled your application, you can’t control what your admissions officers, or the rest of the applicant pool, will do. I could list a million different “live in the now!” clichés, but the reality is, you know this. You’ve probably played the “last” game all year now (my last year at home… my last first day…). There’s plenty going on right now that deserves your focus.

You might even be like my sister, who took a hands-off approach when she submitted her job applications last year mostly out of fear of “jinxing it.” (Fair enough, she does have her dream job now.) As long as you know that your colleges have everything they need from you, you’ve done your part. You’ve passed the ball, and you’ll get it back soon enough.

Get Busy

Are you holding your breath? Exhale. There’s no reason you can’t invite opportunities for growth right now because of decisions that will come later.

There’s a certain amount of freedom in these few months. You’re not in the college search process. You’re not writing applications, and you’re not making your college decision. You just… are. And if you can find peace with that, then you can see the opportunity. Is there something you want to do before you leave home? Remember this summer when you swore to yourself you were going to learn sign language, right after you learned how to cook? Now’s the time to do it. 

(Added bonus: if by chance any of your early action applications come back as a deferral, you’ll have something new to add to your application)

Wait Well

On behalf of college admission officers everywhere, thank you for waiting with us, and allowing us the opportunity and time to dive into your accomplishments. We’re in the home stretch.

Perhaps it’s the least discussed part of the college application process, but the wait is hard. The angst, the anxiety, the lack of control. We live in an era of instant gratification, a departure from which can be frustrating! There’s a maturity that comes with learning to wait for results, or even the simple passage of time, and it takes knowing yourself to know how to wait well. Find what works for you, and push forward in these last few weeks.

However you wait this season and whatever comes at the end of it, remember you will be okay. There will be triumphs, disappointments, and incredible opportunities.  And if things don’t work out as you’d hoped after the wait? Know there are so many great colleges where you can be a happy, healthy, and successful member of the community.

Turns out there are roughly 100 other condos in my complex with the exact same floor plan. Guess I didn’t have to go with the school bus yellow bathrooms after all. Lesson learned.

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Preparation Day

Listen to the audio version here!

On Sunday my son and I went to the Atlanta United Eastern Conference Championship game against the New York Red Bulls. During the tailgate, I got a text from a friend that read:  “My daughter was deferred. We were SHOCKED! What does that really mean?” (FYI this was another school’s decision. If you are waiting on EA decisions from Tech, you have not missed anything.)

My first thought was, “Really? You were shocked? You know their profile and admit rate.” My second thought was, “I’ll deal with this on Monday,” and I put my phone on do not disturb (because that’s the kind of friend I am).

About 30 minutes later I was talking to another friend. He has one kid in college and two still in high school. He told me that after watching his older son go through the admission process he has been telling his current high school senior who is applying to colleges to be prepared to hear “no.” The dichotomy between these two approaches was both striking and instructive. More importantly, it made me realize we need to add another key date to the admission calendar.

August 1- Many colleges open their application.

October 1- FAFSA opens.

November 1- EA/ED Deadlines at lots of colleges and universities.

May 1- National Deposit Deadline.

So, by the power vested in me (which is none, by the way) I pronounce December 1 as National Preparation Day!

By or on this day, henceforth, any high school senior applying Early Action or Early Decision to a college with an admit rate of less than 50 percent must put their hand on a large, preferably leather-bound book of some kind and take this pledge:

“I, (state your name), being of sound (though overly caffeinated) mind and (sleep-deprived) body, do hereby swear that I will not presume anything in the admission process. Upon advice of my wizened counselor sages, I acknowledge that I will not look at middle 50 percent ranges and expect that my scores, though in the top quartile, guarantee my admittance.

I will not look at middle 50 percent ranges of hitherto admitted classes and expect my scores, though in the bottom quartile, will be overlooked based on my amazing essay, parents’ connections, pictures of me in a onesie from that college, or the 12 letters of recommendation that have been sent on my behalf.

I understand the heretofore explicated concept of holistic admission is neither fair nor perfect, wherein I will likely not agree with, nor be capable of predicting all results, despite the complex algorithms I employ or the kingdom fortune tellers I visit.

Furthermore, I agree that I will not view an admission decision as an indictment of my character, a judgment on my hitherto demonstrated preparation, nor a prediction of my future success.”

Note: Slightly misused Olde English conjunctions does not negate the spirit nor effectiveness of this pledge.

So What Does Defer Mean?

Back to my friend who’s daughter was deferred… what does defer actually mean, and what do you do with that decision?

It means you have some work to do.

You need to send in your fall grades. You may need to write an additional essay or tell the admission committee more about your senior year extracurricular activities. Defer is a “hold on.” It is a “maybe.” Don’t like those characterizations? Fine—call it “tell us more.” They will be looking at how you’ve done in a challenging senior schedule, or if your upward grade trend will continue, or if you can juggle more responsibility outside the classroom with your course load. Bottom line is you have work to do. Are you going to get admitted in the next round? No promises. But if getting deferred is what helps keep you focused and motivated, you should look at their decision as a good thing. Finish well.

It means you may need to submit another application or two. 

If you’ve already got this covered, that’s great. You were ahead of Preparation Day. If not, then good news—many great schools have deadlines in January. The bottom line is you need applications in at a few schools with higher admit rates and lower academic profiles than the one that deferred you.

It means holistic review is a real thing.

If your scores and grades are above their profile and they defer you, they only proved what they said in their publications and presentations—admission is about more than numbers. At Georgia Tech we are knee-deep in application review. We have not released decisions, but day in and day out we are slating students for defer who have ACT scores of 35 or 36 and great grades. Is that “shocking?” It shouldn’t be. Institutional priorities, shaping a class, and supply and demand drive admission decisions. Similarly, if your scores are in the middle or below their profile, a defer also proves decisions are made using more than just numbers.

It means you need to check your ego and wait.

Does that sound harsh? Sorry—but sometimes, life is harsh. This is why you should take the pledge. It’s why have formally added Preparation Day to the admission calendar. (Someone update the NACAC website!) If you are prepared for “no,” then a defer will not rock you as bad. Admission decisions feel personal. How could they not? Nobody loves spending a few more months in limbo. But this is not about you. This is about schools who are hedging their bets and wanting to evaluate you in context of their overall pool. Kind of sucks. I get it. But too many students do not send in fall grades, complete the deferred form, or send other information schools ask for because they’ve never heard of a “maybe” ( perhaps the first they’ve ever heard). Think of the admission experience as your first foray into your college years and start looking at maybes as good things. If you liked a school enough to apply, finish the drill. Give them reasons to admit you in the next round. It is called an admission process. There are rounds for a reason. Don’t go halfway and stop.

It means you need to look forward, not backward.

I was not going to text my friend back and say defer means to “put off or delay,” but technically that is the definition. For you it means to look forward to something in the future. DO NOT look back! DO NOT second guess whether you should have taken AP Geography in the ninth grade instead of band, or blame Mr. Thompson for giving you an 89 instead of a 93 that would have bumped your GPA by .00083. This is your MARTA bus moment.

It means control what you can control. 

People want so desperately to predict and analyze admission decisions that are influenced by macro institutional goals and made in rooms they will never enter. Defer means stay focused on the micro. This is your one and only senior year.  Do well—but more importantly do good. Don’t worry about those rooms hundreds of miles away, but rather the ones you walk into every day. Be a good friend. Be a good sibling. Be a good teammate. Go thank a teacher that wrote a recommendation for you. Hug your mama.

December 1 is coming. Preparation Day. Take the pledge.

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Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

This week we welcome Associate Director for Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen, to the blog. Welcome, Andrew!

Over the summer I made a very big life change – I moved almost 900 miles away from the place I call home.  I was born and raised in Central New Jersey, attended college in upstate New York, and have lived in New York City ever since.  In June, I accepted a position with Georgia Tech and started planning my move to Atlanta.  Of course I was excited about this life change, but it was also a bit terrifying.  I’ve never lived more than a four hour drive away from home, and now I’m a 13 hour drive away from where I grew up.

On the other hand, many aspects of the move were very exciting.  I was excited for a fresh start in a new city with so much to explore.  I was also excited about all of the new opportunities coming along with my new job, not to mention the big life decisions that came with the move, like buying my first car (I always used public transportation in New York City).

The more I think about how my life has changed over the past few months, I am reminded of the many conversations I’ve had with high school students and parents about the location of the colleges they are considering.  Many times families set a limit on the driving radius from their home, whether it’s in miles or hours.  While I understand the comfort of being close to home, it is important to recognize there are opportunities you may be excluding with this kind of limitation.

When I was considering leaving New York City, I took into consideration things like job responsibilities and future opportunities, location, and even the weather.  That’s why I recommend thinking about the following items when you’re building your college list.

Opportunities for Growth

For me, position and career opportunities were very important. Here at Tech, I manage the campus visits team and customer service for our office.  The opportunity was different than what I was used to and that excited me.  Tech has a very unique story to share with its approximately 40,000 visitors annually.  I attended a smaller private college, then worked at a similar type of school for a few years, so working at a larger public institution was a big change.  Professionally, it was a great opportunity.

Just like I considered these opportunities, you as a student should think about the programs offered at each institution on your college list.  Besides thinking about your major, what opportunities are offered outside of the classroom?  What kinds of internships or co-ops are students participating in? If you’re not sure what you want to major in, then look at the variety of majors offered. What kind of support is available to help you choose a major?

For me, new opportunities were the biggest driving factor in making the choice to move to Atlanta.  As a high school student, new opportunities should also be a driving force selecting a college.

Location, Location, Location!

The next thing that I considered was location.  After living in NYC for many years, I knew I still wanted to be close to or in a large city.  I was not ready to make the jump to living in a more rural location.  I like access to the hustle and bustle of a city, so Atlanta was perfect.  While Atlanta is a large city, there is a balance of quieter suburbs and outdoor activities all around (even when I’m on campus I forget I am in the heart of Midtown Atlanta!).

As a student, don’t think of location as a mile/hour distance, but rather the type of place you want to live for four years.  Are you interested in being in a college town, a large city, or a more rural area?

Weather

The last of considerations for me was a bit more minor, but something that should not be overlooked – the weather.  As a native northeasterner, snow and freezing temperatures do not bother me.  Moving to the south was an opportunity to try something different.  I can happily say I survived Atlanta’s heat and humidity in August, and I’ve been loving the warmer fall temperatures.

As a student, weather should certainly be a consideration for you too–but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.  Is it worth giving up an amazing opportunity just because of a few cold winter months?  In the long run, college is only a few years. Looking back, I see how surviving a cold winter can build character (and make you appreciate warm weather!).  If you are thinking of going to school in a place with very different weather than you are accustomed to, be sure to visit the campus during that season.

After being in the south for only a few months, I am constantly reminded of the great decision I made.  It has been an adventure exploring the city and I have quickly adjusted to my new job.  If I was not willing to step out of my comfort zone and look past the 4-hour driving radius around the New York City area, I would have missed out on an amazing opportunity.  Even with being so much farther away from my family, I still have been able to see them quite frequently (thanks to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport!).

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