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Spring Cleaning

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission (West Coast) Ashley Brookshire to the blog. Welcome, Ashley!

It’s a time to close the door on winter and set your sights on the sunny days to come. Spring cleaning allows me to catch my breath, get re-organized, and look forward to the excitement of warm weather and summer travel. It’s not without its burden – I don’t particularly enjoy scrubbing baseboards and emptying closets – but I do love the relief of having the work done and updated systems set to keep my home a place of rest and relaxation.

When I think about spring cleaning, I often think of my house. In reality, there are many aspects of my life that could use this kind of attention. My finances, work, and personal inbox – amongst many other areas – can use the renewed TLC this time of year brings.

As rising seniors looking ahead to the college application process next year, make time to conduct some spring cleaning of your own. Here are some good places to start:

New You

If you haven’t already noticed, colleges send a lot of emails. A LOT. One way to keep your personal or school email inbox manageable over the course of the upcoming year is to create a separate email address for your college communications. Something simple (and appropriate) like myname@gmail.com allows you to segment this portion of your life for the next few months and isolate the emails you’ll receive daily (okay, probably hourly) from the rest of the messages you’re balancing for school, work, clubs, etc.

Unsubscribe

There are tons of ways you can start receiving communication from colleges. Outside of actually signing up on a college’s website to receive more information, if you’ve taken the SAT or ACT, visited a college campus, attended a college rep presentation at your high school, are related to a passionate alumnus who knows your email address and birthdate, or breathed in the vicinity of a college fair table, you could find yourself on a college’s contact list.

As you begin to explore your college options, you’ll likely discover some of the 4,000+ colleges in the US are not a great fit for you (that’s a good thing!). As you discover what you’re most passionate about in a college experience, you’ll begin to identify schools that don’t quite match what you’re looking for. Your best friend should become the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of each email you receive. As you begin to narrow the list of schools in which you are most interested, it’s time to triage your inbox. You don’t want the one really important email from a university you’d love to attend to be accidentally missed in an inbox full of messages from colleges you are no longer considering.

Compile Your Thoughts and Research

As you start to look at different colleges and programs, there are an infinite number of data points to consider. Take time this summer to turn messy notes and thoughts into a useful resource. A Google Doc, Excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint can be key in helping you capture all of the information from your college search and turn it into a handy tool. Helpful items to represent on your document include important deadlines (both for admission and financial aid), programs aligning with your personal and professional interests, qualities about the school that excite you, any red flags for you, and the contact information of your admission representative. Remember, this is a resource for you, so make sure it’s set up in a way that best captures what matters most to you! You’ll have enough on your plate as a senior in the fall – use this time to set up a system that keeps you organized and all of the information you’ve gathered in an accessible format.

As the school year winds down and you head into summer, make sure you’re taking on a few tasks to set you up for success this fall. Not all spring cleaning takes place in cobb-webbed corners or under beds, so take some time to de-clutter and get organized.

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Feel The Burn

Last week I visited Jekyll Island, Georgia as part of a leadership program. If you have never been to the Golden Isles of our state, I hope you will make an effort to visit sometime. Not far from Jekyll you also have some incredibly preserved treasures like Cumberland Island and Sapelo Island. The entire region provides a rare and amazing combination of beaches, wildlife, restaurants, and recreation. Truly something for everyone in this beautiful part of Georgia.

One afternoon we went on tour with Joseph Colbert, Yank Moore and other members of the Jekyll Island Authority Conservation team—a group charged with everything from protecting nesting loggerhead turtles and dune systems to preserving the integrity of tidal marshes. They showed us how they tag and track alligators, rattlesnakes, armadillos, turtles, bobcats and more in order to understand patterns, threats, and ecosystems. The diversity of wildlife was fascinating, but I have to say the most intriguing part to me was the discussion around prescribed/controlled burning.

Feel the Burn

Fire and burning is part of the natural cycle and ecosystem. Our modern human tendency to suppress fire actually increases the presence of invasive, homogeneous plants and weeds, effectively killing native grasses and flowers, and in turn reducing plant and animal diversity. Prescribed burns not only limit the damage of future fires caused by lightning or other sources that could severely damage the habitat and animals, but they also eliminate intrusive and dominant plants and brush that actually hinder the emergence of the far more diverse, vibrant, beautiful growth underneath. Ironically, the dominant, invasive, homogeneous plants and brush that grow in fire-suppressed areas are more flammable, so when fires do occur the damage is far worse. (These are the Clark Notes. Apologies to all students of ecology, agriculture, or members of the fire service world who may be cringing at my very rough summary.)

Listening to Joseph describe the process and rationale of controlled burns was convicting. It made me realize we often allow the known and visible to limit our vibrant, full, beautiful life and the possibilities that exist deeper in all of us. Pain (burning/fire) is inevitable, but short-term discomfort or perceived danger is a necessary part of a rich, diverse, flourishing future. Too frequently we inaccurately associate homogeneity with safety.

If you are a graduating senior

You are almost done. Congratulations! Seriously, congratulations. You may have always expected to graduate high school and move on to college, but in reality tens of thousands of American students do not. You’ve worked hard and accomplished a great milestone in your life. Well done! But… (you knew that was coming, right?) now the hard work lies ahead. You can see it as hard, or see it as an opportunity.

Sure, it would be easy to go off to college and keep doing what you have done. On some level, you have a recipe for success. Good grades, achievement, leadership, contribution. All good things. But what lies beneath? What do you know is within you that is going to require some burning to bring forth? What scares you but excites you? What do you want to be, to accomplish, to achieve, to explore? College is an opportunity for finding those things.

I am not saying you have to completely reinvent yourself, but I implore you to spend time this summer, before you leave home, to reflect on why you are going to college and how you are going to intentionally grow, thrive and develop there. Be bold enough to burn. Be courageous enough to peel back the top layer (as impressive or pretty as it may appear on the outside) to expose those parts of you perhaps only you know or believe have been suppressed, so they can rise and flourish. The process is not easy or painless. But Joseph would tell you, and I’m telling you, most people twice or three times your age know suppressing the fire is far more damaging in the long run.

If you are a junior/sophomore

In terms of college, it is easy to only see the top layer. You know where mom and dad went to school. You’re surrounded by the big schools or popular schools in your state and region. You read the list of highly ranked schools that are commonly cited in articles. You’ve been told about the “acceptable” or “expected” schools for a student from your school, community, or neighborhood. Burn them down (the ideas—not the schools!). The landscape of higher education, like the biodiversity under the visible, dominant intrusive top-layer is rich, vibrant and beautiful. But it will take some work to lift it up and see it.

So when schools email you or send you invitations to visit; when you receive brochures in the mail or someone from a school you’ve never heard of calls you; when colleges visit your city or school next fall, I urge you to pause and consider. If you do not at least dig down, burn through, and explore the variety of options you have, you will continue to see your choices as limited and suppressed. And that is not what the admission process is supposed to be. Instead it should be dynamic and life-giving. In the end, you should only go to a highly visible school after you have recognized and considered all your options and then chose it.

Regardless of where you are in this process, I challenge you to not accept what is in front of you because it appears safe, comfortable, or acceptable. And that does not only apply to colleges, my friends—that applies to life in general.  Safe, comfortable, acceptable, homogenous… if too many of those adjectives are your rationale for anything, you have some burning to do. You will be glad you did.

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Time to Level Up

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

When you think about stressful experiences, taking a test in front of a crowd probably ranks pretty high on the list. Last year Rick shared a story about his son’s Taekwondo belt test. My 6-year old daughter has been in Taekwondo for a few months now and is getting ready for her third belt test. Now that we’ve been through a couple of tests we know what to expect… but that wasn’t initially the case.

Her first test to move from a white belt (beginner) to a yellow belt (slightly more advanced) was a nerve-racking experience for her—as well as for me as a parent. She had no idea what to expect, and candidly neither did I.

The white belts and yellow belts tested together in the same room. Clearly the instructors know what they’re doing, because the yellow belts were tested first, giving the white belts a chance to watch and get an idea of what’s going on. When their time came, all the white belts stood in a group, and 12-15 kids were tested on their basic form, kicking motion, and board breaking simultaneously. Meanwhile a crowd of parents (and newly minted orange belts) watched.

Focus… Concentration…

Everything went according to plan until the board breaking portion. Older students (or junior instructors) each paired up with younger students to hold their boards for breaking. The kids got ready as the Master led the chant: “Focus…. Concentration… kyah!” A series of boards around the room shattered… except for one.

One boy did not break his board. The rest of the students celebrated with smiles on their faces and sat down in their spots. The Master continued the chant for the boy: “Focus… concentration….” The boy tried again. And again. And again. At least six tries went by before he quietly whispered to the junior instructor “can you crack the board for me a little?” She whispered back, “no, but I know you can do it.” Every eye in the room was on this kid, and I started to feel uncomfortable to the point I felt bad for watching, so I intentionally averted my eyes to look out the window. When I glanced back, the board suddenly cracked and the room erupted in cheers. He sat down with a smile, belt testing continued, and each student received their yellow belt.

On the drive home we talked about the experience. My daughter asked, “Why did you cheer for him? You don’t know who he is…” An understandable question for a 6-year old involved in a sport for the first time. I replied, “We cheered because that was tough. Everyone was watching as he failed over and over again. It would’ve been easy for him to quit—but he didn’t. He kept going, even with people watching, and that takes courage. And when you see someone have courage like that it’s worth cheering for.”

Belt Tests and Graduations

Belt tests and graduations have some things in common. As you work up to the big event, you go to class, you practice, you study, and you prepare. You work for the goal, and lots of people—some you know, many of whom you don’t—show up to watch and cheer.

As a high school senior on the cusp of graduation, here are three takeaways to keep in mind as you finish out your year.

You don’t know someone else’s story. In our case we saw the boy struggle to break his board and, after many tries, ultimately achieve success. But most of the time in life that’s not the case. Now that May 1 has passed, you’ll see peers recognized for acceptances, scholarships, and other achievements. It’s easy to look at another person’s end result and think about how lucky they are. But behind that “luck” is a lot of hard work, time invested, and sacrifice. You may not see the number of times they failed. You may not know the physical or emotional challenges they overcame to achieve their goal. Cheer them on, and remember…

Someone else’s win isn’t your loss. This is the time to celebrate! You did it! You’ve worked hard for years to graduate from high school. You may have a friend who got into their (or your) dream school and you didn’t. You may still be sitting on someone’s waitlist. Of course that stings. But remember, you’ve gotten accepted (and hopefully have deposited!) to a great place too. And guess what? There are people at that school making plans right now to welcome you to campus next fall, and they want to make your first year an amazing experience. So enjoy these last few weeks of high school and summer with your friends. Then…

Get Ready to Level Up. After my daughter got her yellow belt, we celebrated and told her how proud we were to see her work for a goal and achieve it. Then we reminded her: it will get harder from here. Each level you go up in life, things become more challenging. More is expected of you—if you want to succeed you have to continue to work hard. It’s the same for you as you head to college. You’re moving up a level. More will be expected of you—not only in the classroom, but also in life. No longer will your family be there to make sure you get places on time, to feed you healthy meals, to do your laundry, or give you a curfew to make sure you’re in bed at a decent hour to sleep. These life choices are now up to you.  You can take your new-found freedom and run wild—or you can make the best choices for you as you take the next step into adulthood. Life won’t be as easy as it has been—but as you already know, nothing rewarding comes easily.

Make time for work, but also make time for fun. Your moment of truth is here, Class of 2018. Celebrate each other and get ready for your next adventure. After all, life moves pretty fast—if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

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That’s Not How It Works, Part 2 (#TNHIW)

Attempting round two or part two of anything comes with risks. Clearly there are some shining examples of building on a story that went exceedingly well–Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, to name a few. Sci-fi and superheroes seem to have the advantage in the film space (pun moderately intended). Just look at Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Dark Knight, The Empire Strikes Back, and Spiderman 2.

Kids’ movies are spottier. For every Home Alone 2 you have Chipmunks 2- The Squeakquel. Feel free to Google for best and worst in this category—I’m sure you can add some of these to your Netflix queue (or Nutflix Squeakque as the case may be).

After last week’s post I had some good suggestions from both my staff and colleagues at other schools. So, at the risk of an epic fail like Dumb and Dumber To, here are a few more #TNHIW:

Deposits and Canceling

 “I was admitted to several schools but I can’t decide, so I’m going to deposit at ALL of them.” No!!! #TNHIW. If you can’t decide on a college, don’t put down multiple deposits at $200-$1,000 a pop while you make up your mind. If you want to spend money, send me half that amount—I’ll put it towards a new dartboard and a popcorn machine (the way we make admission decisions) and mail you a quarter to flip.

Colleges and universities are part of a national organization, the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC). NACAC has established a specific timeline to help you through the college admission process—that’s why you don’t see application deadlines before October 15; it’s why you can wait on financial aid and housing details before committing to a school; and it’s why May 1 is the established national deposit deadline. (NACAC is also why schools at college fairs are not doing raffles or cheap parlor tricks, but that’s a post for a different day.)

We often hear of students “sitting on admits” without canceling because it makes them (or their parents) feel proud. If you need an ego boost, DM us on Twitter—we’ll show you some love. Look–if you decided a school is too far away, too expensive, too cold (or the opposite of any of those), or there’s another reason why it’s not a good match for you, cancel your application. At Tech, in all of our emails to admitted students and in our admission portal, we include a cancel link. If schools you’ve been admitted to are not making this process obvious, email or call them and find out how to do it.

Canceling allows colleges to re-distribute financial aid dollars and to take students off their waitlist. Good for the goose and good for the gander. Not big into the common good? Then think of canceling like breaking up with someone. It doesn’t take long and eliminates irrelevant calls, texts, and letters.

In-State Tuition

“We used to live in Georgia.” “Her grandparents have a lake house in state.” “The Falcons loss in the Super Bowls still burns…” This one may fall under the “it never hurts to ask” category, but ultimately the bigger umbrella is #TNHIW. Each state has its own rules on in-state tuition rates, but as a rule you’ll find it necessary to have lived in the state for a year prior to starting classes, and claimed it as your primary residence on your tax records. It’s helpful to know public universities operate as a part of a state system, and must adhere to the policies they set forth. So when you’re on the phone with an admission or financial aid representative and they’re saying you do not qualify for in-state tuition, it’s not because you’re the unlucky fifteenth caller of the day. They are simply conveying their state’s law, and they have to uphold it. (See policy 4.3.2)

Comparative Decisions

“My classmate/neighbor/cousin got in and I’m a better student.” “We both know my son’s smarter than…” “Last year you took a girl who is exactly like her.” Again, #TNHIW. First, we will never discuss another student with you. When applicants submit their application, they do so under the assurance their information will be used solely for the purpose of admission review and continued individual communication. A student’s application is not to be used to influence elections or talk to their “friend’s” uncle (who happens to be an alum) about how they compare to other students from their school–specifically said uncle’s nephew.  So if your lead question in an email or phone call is comparative, we will politely but consistently redirect the conversation.

And be honest—do you really know all the details about the other student? Grades, classes, testing, life circumstances, content of essay and short answer questions, major, interview dynamics, recommendation letters? In a holistic, selective review where institutional priorities and goals for the class are at play, there are infinite nuances making applicants unique and decisions less predictable and consistent from one year to the next.

Scholarships and Financial Aid Awards

“Awesome University gave my son a merit scholarship worth $10,000, and Congratulations College named him a Dean’s Disciple, which is worth $22,000 over four years. You must not really want him or you would do the same.” Well…#TNHIW. Every school has its own overall cost, endowment level, and enrollment strategy. Some colleges keep their rates as low as possible from the outset, while others publish prices and then discount tuition using terms like “scholarship” as a tool for enrolling students. Some put all of their discretionary funds into need-based aid, while others grant merit aid based on clear and defined parameters like GPA or testing.

Tuition at public schools is set by their governing system, and in many states colleges are prohibited from using tuition funds toward meeting the need of other students—a fundamental practice in the case of many schools nationally. I won’t belabor this point. You’ve seen enough variance in the admission process to know schools have extremely different missions, cultures, and recruitment approaches—the same is true with financial aid awards and packages. Money is emotional and it’s not easy to keep your emotions in check when analyzing costs of this significance. Plus, we all want a deal, right? There is great satisfaction in feeling like you’ve gotten something exclusive or special. Hey, I like catching the t-shirt tossed from courtside too. But don’t let pride or frustration or the ability to brag about a scholarship be the sole reason you make a college choice.

Don’t misunderstand me—cost matters. But ironically, each year students will select one university over another because of the difference in aid awarded, rather than the difference in actual cost. At the end of the day, if relative costs are similar and you have either the financial means to pay or the confidence in your financial investment in a particular college, I’d urge you to not let another university’s award keep you from choosing your best fit.

There won’t be a three-peat or trilogy for #TNHIW, but if you want to peel back more admission myths and misconceptions, check out this layered Onion piece.

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Would You Rather…?

Would You Rather…? Yep. This question was a big part of the Olympic viewing experience at our house.

  1.  Would you rather have no training and compete in the Skeleton OR Ski Jump? Personally, I’m going Skeleton all the way here. Sure, it would be moderately terrifying to go that fast, but worst case you roll off (careful for those blades on the dismount) and walk to the finish line. Meanwhile, with Ski Jump, I just see no way I’m walking away with less than two broken bones.
  2.  Would you rather be in Ice Dancing OR Curling? Our kids are split here. Our son is adamant that he’d never wear that costume and dance with a girl. (In this case, I am translating “never” as “check back when I am 16.”) Our daughter adamantly argues that Curling is the most boring thing she’s ever seen. “Is this still on?” “Sweeping is not for fun,” and my personal favorite, “He looks like our neighbor.” Hard to argue.

I didn’t pose this one but it did go through my head (because this is the kind of thing that does): Would you rather participate in a sport that has a score/time to win OR one that is judged? I can see both sides here. You’ve trained for four years (some would argue a lifetime). You’ve risen early, worked, sweated, and bled. You’ve sacrificed your time and sleep and diet and even personal relationships to get to this point.  It makes sense that you might want a very objective, neutral, quantifiable measure to differentiate you from the other competitors. And if you compete in one of those sports, that’s exactly what you get. Granted, it must have been heart-breaking for the US Luge Team not to medal when they finished .57 seconds from Gold and .103 from stepping onto the podium for a Bronze, but they signed up for it.  And clearly the German bobsledders who finished upside down were not concerned about impressing any judges on route to their Gold medal. They were the fastest. Period.

In Freestyle Skiing or Figure Skating it is all about the difficulty of your program, the execution of your routine, and your style (could argue personality) that you exhibit to the judges. Frankly, as a native southerner, I was just impressed when someone made it down the hill, landed a jump, or managed not to fall during a routine.  As I watched some of these events, the eventual medalists were not always the athletes I thought were the best from the outside looking in. Of course, I was not privy to all of the metrics or aspects they were looking for to make those determinations. Still, I could see how after all of those practice sessions and injuries that having a group of judges deduct or reward points based on the slightest angle of a skate or hand position on a snowboard would be maddening. And yet, it’s not like they were racing. They were not expecting their results or medal to come from time or speed. They knew that there would be a level of subjectivity leading to or from the medal stand.

So many lessons to be drawn from Olympians about perseverance, dedication, sportsmanship, teamwork, etc. but I am going to stay in my lane and focus on how this applies to college admission.

Let’s start with this.  Most schools make decisions based on quantifiable metrics. Of the four thousand post-secondary options in our country (with over 2000 four-year colleges), the average admit rate is 65% (See page 3). In the vast majority of schools nationally, they have space available for talented students like you, and they are going to use your GPA and test scores to make those decisions.  These are publicly available formulas that are clearly outlined on their sites, in publications, and in presentations. In most cases, these schools have admit rates over 50% and they have determined that if you are performing a certain level in high school, you will be academically successful on their campus. At least one of these schools should be on your list. The good news is that you will absolutely find more than a few where: you will be admitted; you will find a lifelong friend; you will find a professor who will mentor you and set you up for success in graduate school or as you launch into a career; you could take advantage of phenomenal internships, study abroad opportunities; you can afford and may even provide you with scholarships as well.

Like an Olympic athlete competing in a sport that is evaluated by people, here are some things you should know if you are applying to a highly selective college that has very few spaces and yet a pool of incredibly accomplished students.

  • Numbers are not going to be the deciding factor. Yes, we ask for test scores. We look at them and consider them, but at Georgia Tech this year two of every three applicants had a 1400+ SAT/ 30+ ACT. The College Board and ACT research clearly demonstrates that using “cut scores” (i.e. drawing an arbitrary line between say a 1360 and a 1370 is a misuse or abuse of tests). Our own campus specific research verifies this as well. Testing is far less indicative of academic success on our campus than rigor of curriculum and performance in classes. This is why students appealing a denial at a highly selective institution because they have a 1500 SAT has no merit. This is not short track racing. We never said it was going to be about your testing- and our decision only demonstrates that we were transparent here.
  •  Strength of program matters. If you watched any of the Snowboarding or Aerial or Figure Skating, you heard the announcers talking at length about difficulty of program. An athlete who attempts and converts a quadruple salchow or double lutz or a Triple Lindy is rewarded for that accomplishment, skill, and ability at a higher level than a competitor who hedges their difficulty in order to avoid a fall or mistake. In admission committee and file review, we do the same thing. This is why colleges that have a difficult curriculum (not always directly correlative to admit rate or rankings) also value your course choice in high school. The bottom line is that a student from the same high school, i.e. has similar access to courses, who takes AB Calculus and Physics II and does well is a better fit for our Civil Engineering program than a student who has opts instead for Pre-Calculus and AP Psychology.  You don’t see the Olympic judges walking out of the arena questioning their decision to place value on this element, and we do not either. Rigor matters. 

 

 

 

 

  • Paper vs. Practice. “How could you deny my son? He has all A’s.” I understand, sir. However, since his school adds extra points for rigorous courses, an A can range from 90 to well over 100. A 91 and a 103 are not the same… and we are going to differentiate. This year we have a school that sent us nearly 200 applications. Of those 160 had above a 90, i.e. an A average. Now we can go round and round all day about the chicken and the egg here on grade inflation just like we can try to grapple with how Russia’s Alexander Krushelnitsky failed a doping test for Curling, but that seems counterproductive. Highly selective schools, just like Olympic committees, are going to differentiate great from outstanding.
  •  Style matters. Yes, we look at the technical as well as the full program. Review includes essays, interviews, and opportunities for you to tell us what you do outside the classroom. Why? Because you will not just be a student on campus, you will be a contributing citizen. Ultimately, once you enroll and graduate, you will be an ambassador. Judges give style points. Admission committees do as well. We care where you are from. We are listening for your voice. We want to know how you have impacted and influenced your community. We are counting on your counselors and teachers in their recommendations to build context around a GPA or a test score or an IB diploma. And because all of this is plays out in a holistic admission decision, the student with the highest test score or most APs or who sits at the top of a spreadsheet on a sorted GPA column is not necessarily the gold medal winner. Nobody is holding a stopwatch in admissions committee.
  • It cuts both ways. The hard truth of selective college admission is that it is a very human process. The upside? You’re not being sorted out based on GPA or test score alone. We are looking in depth at school curriculum, grade trends, course choice, performance, as well as who you are, who you want to be, how you impact others, and how you will match with our culture and mission. The downside? We are human. Read: judgment calls, conversations in committee, subjective decisions based on institutional priorities. Not gold, silver or bronze… grey.

Ultimately, if you are choosing to apply to a highly-selective university, you have to submit your application with the mentality of an Olympian. The competition will be stiff and there is no guarantee that you “end up on the podium.” Trust your training. You have prepared well. You have worked hard. Watch the closing ceremonies this weekend. Whether an athlete has a medal around their neck or not, they will walk through that stadium with incredible pride in their accomplishments, as well as confidence and hope for the future. If you are a senior this spring, regardless of admission outcomes, this is how you should be walking the halls each day and ultimately across the stage at graduation. Confidence and hope, my friends. Your future is bright.