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On the Road Again…

This week I’ve been on the road traveling to spread the good word about Georgia Tech, or as I say, “Preaching the GT gospel.”

I love this part of my job, even though I don’t get to do it as much as I used to. There are many days when I’m in a meeting with a task force, committee, or commission and people are endlessly using phrases like “at the end of the day” or “synergy.” During those times, I find myself wishing I was waking up to a complimentary hotel breakfast and signing in at a high school to talk to students.

I’ve always thought that high school is one of the most critical times in a person’s life because of the implications it has on where you go, what you do, who you know, and how you ultimately see and experience the world. This is a huge part of why I got into college admission. What can I say? People have to work hard to stay interesting and optimistic as they get older– and most don’t. Conversely, the energy, enthusiasm and hope of teenagers and college students is contagious.

Since lots of college reps are about to come through your doors for visits or college fairs, I wanted to take some time to give you a few tips on how to maximize your time with these counselors.

  1. Do your homework. “What?! School just started and I’m taking 6 APs! You’re telling me I’ve got homework for college admission too?” Yep. Before a college visits your school, check out the programs that interest you about them. What do you want to do outside the classroom? Outdoor recreation, band, etc.? Research these. Then when they ask you what you want to know about, you’ll be ready. (If they’re not asking you that, see Tip 3 below).
  2. Shake their hand and introduce yourself. Pretty basic. You’re not doing this to advantage yourself in the admission process. Most the time they won’t remember your name from your handshake, since they’re also seeing 8 or 20 other students in that session. But it sets you up for questions later in the session and follow up in the future. Remember- this is the college admission PROCESS, and often it starts here.
  3. Interrupt. Yep, I said it. Too many admission counselors basically pull an invisible chain in their back and go into a useless spiel about study abroad, inter-disciplinary curriculum, and statements like “We have 400 clubs and activities. But if we don’t have what you want to do, just grab a friend and a professor and you can start one.” This is when the teacher’s voice from the Charlie Brown starts rattling around in my head. Your job is to throw them off script. They’re only there for 45 minutes. Make it worthwhile. Ask questions like “What are one or two things about your college that only a handful in the nation can also claim?” OR in a different version, “What makes your school unique?” “Why should someone from my city or state pick your school over the many similar in size and culture that are closer, further, less expensive, higher ranked, etc (you insert the appropriate descriptor).”
  4. Stay after or follow up. Sometimes you’ll have to leave immediately following the presentation. If that is the case, send a quick email to the rep thanking them for coming and letting them know if you have plans to visit their campus. Or wait until you apply and then send an email to say, “Hey. I really appreciate you coming to my school in September. Just wanted you to know I am really excited about Charlie Brown U and I have just applied.” (Don’t copy and paste that. I’m far more confident in your writing abilities than mine on this). But if you can stay after, be sure to get your questions in, remind them of your name, and then follow up as described above.
  5. BONUS: These folks are traveling. They’re hitting five schools a day, eating in their car, and trying to follow WAZE while not denting the rental car. Help them out. Give them a tip on a local restaurant for lunch or dinner. Tell them a good place to shop in the area or a park nearby if they want to go for a run. They’re just people. They appreciate that type of stuff. And it breaks both of you out of the normal college admission relationship that too often becomes robotic.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: No one person holds a corner on the market for what a school is really like or really about. You may find the rep hilarious. Doesn’t mean anyone else on that campus is- they may not even be an alum. You may find the rep really cute. That relationship isn’t going anywhere, and it’s definitely not a good way to pick a school. Or, you may find the rep dull and indifferent. Don’t let their personality (or a tour guide’s for that matter) be the reason you rule a school in or out.

Think about it like this: if you are looking at a school of 20,000, it’s basically a small city. Nobody speaks completely for that town. Your job in the process is to get as much info as possible to make a good decision on the best fit school for you. You can start with engaging the representative as we discussed here, but remember, your ultimate goal before you apply or choose any school is to talk to as many people as possible; alumni, current students, professors, and so on.

I hope that you’ll enjoy the college reps that you meet this year. Remember: You can make them better at telling their school’s story if you follow these tips. And ultimately, that is going to help you, your classmates, the other students they visit, as well as them as professionals in the long run too.

25 Reasons YOU SHOULD NOT Apply To Georgia Tech

The admission industry takes a lot of heat for not being forthright. Some claim we only take pictures on sunny days and never show pictures of crying students. We are lambasted for not being transparent and accused of not admitting our weaknesses. Many review our brochures with an eyebrow raised and wonder, “How is it possible that every student has class outside under a tree with a caring professor who is sharing great wisdom yet manages to do so at a distance that connotes ‘caring but not creepy?” We are criticized for telling students who may not be a good academic or ethos fit that they should still apply, “Well…we like to think of our 500 student campus as large… you know. It’s all what you make of it, right?”

brochures

Who We Are… and Who We’re Not

But our goal at Georgia Tech is to break open the black box, to lift the veil, and to be as clear as possible about who we are– and who we’re not. I recently read a college essay from a student begging colleges to differentiate themselves. After all of her tours and receiving these glossy, shiny brochures she’s in fact more stressed and concerned by the choices because they all seem to blur together. And when I’m really honest, I realize we send emails like “Why apply to Georgia Tech?” detailing all of our strengths and points of pride. But sometimes you need the converse too, right? Perhaps we’d appreciate our date saying, “Yea. I may look pretty but I snore a lot and my feet stink.” Or “Yes. I am the captain of the tennis team and hold all state records, but I steal about $20/week from my little brother’s top drawer.”

So while normally I write this blog more broadly on admission, rather than specifically about Georgia Tech, today I’m here to give you the other side. Now, for the record, in some form or another I’ve shared these truths about Atlanta and Georgia Tech before, but this is my attempt to consolidate all of those kernels of insight and give you the key reasons NOT TO APPLY to Georgia Tech. Consider this is your “anti-fit” litmus test: a series of if- then statements (admittedly influenced by Jeff Foxworthy’s You might be a redneck) that will help you understand our campus and city– and whether applying is in your best interest.

THE TOP 25 REASONS NOT TO APPLY TO GEORGIA TECH

  1. If you come to Atlanta and don’t get (or even worse don’t enjoy) a Frosted O from The Varsity, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  2. If you think yellow or gold make you look shorter or bigger or washed out or less likely to get lots of likes on Instagram, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  3. If you can’t deal with “The 3 H’s” (heat, hills, and humidity), don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  4. If you find yourself struggling to remember your birthday, name, or address on the application…well, not sure what to tell you here.
  5. If you don’t want to be around students wearing mathematical formulas on their shirts or are annoyed by impassioned debates about theoretical chemistry, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  6. If you think Georgia Tech is really Georgia Tech University or The University of Georgia Tech, rather than The Georgia Institute of Technology, don’t apply to Georgia Tech. Try Massachusetts Tech University.
  7. If “improve the world around you” sounds like a bumper sticker, rather than your earnest desire, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  8. If when visiting colleges you treat either the person on the phone or the person at the front desk poorly, don’t even apply elsewhere. Go apologize to your mom. If she’s the one doing that, consider applying for emancipation.
  9. If you don’t like to be pushed, stretched, and challenged personally and academically by professors, roommates, sorority sisters, and lab partners, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  10. If you don’t believe in George P. Burdell, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  11. If you enjoy making route connections rather than having access to direct flights, and you prefer airports with street side parking, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  12. If you are afraid of bees (and B’s for that matter), particularly large ones that do push-ups after touchdowns, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.buzz
  13. If you want a school that has hundreds of majors and makes statements like “we are all things to all people,” don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  14. If your tolerance for traffic is two lights and a railroad crossing, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  15. If you’d rather attend a school that has “an Olympic-sized pool,” rather than The Olympic pool, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  16. If status quo, homogeneity, and easy A’s are your goal, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
    WRECK
  17. If you’d rather win a national championship than…wait… not quite willing go there.
  18. If “Ramblin’ Wreck” is how you’d describe your GPA, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  19. If the term “y ‘all” is completely unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and you can’t even see that it’s incredibly efficient, y ‘all should definitely not apply to Georgia Tech.
  20. If you are unwilling to entertain the possibility that drinking Coca-Cola fundamentally makes you a better human being, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  21. If you have severe allergies to tree pollen and are vehemently opposed to shots or meds to combat them, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  22. If whistles give you flashbacks, cold sweats or the “hee bee gee bees,” don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  23. If being part of a place that discovers water on Mars and identifies gravitational waves in the atmosphere within the same year seems uninteresting, don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  24. If you think that the word “DOG” is actually spelled “DAWG,” don’t apply to Georgia Tech.
  25. If references to Jeff Foxworthy seem irrelevant to admission or indicative of pedantic humor that fail to convey great truth, why are you still reading? And definitely don’t apply to Georgia Tech!

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Key Changes to SAT/ACT– A Disturbance in the Force!

Jedi Manual (002)

Several years ago, more American students took the ACT than the SAT for the first time in our nation’s history. Immediately, on the heels of that, The College Board set out to re-design their test. Ahhh… competition. In its wake, the ACT made concrete adjustments too. A palpable disturbance in the testing force- an interstellar battle of epic proportions.

From the outset these announcements have created consternation in the college admission and counseling field for a few reasons. First, simply change. Anytime you alter something, it’s going to cause some skepticism and unrest. Secondly, the very nature of standardized testing, which inherently brings with it some level of anxiety. But fear not, Young Skywalker, because as with anything new and unfamiliar, information is the best weapon for alleviating concern.

You can read more on The College Board and ACT sites, but here’s your abridged Jedi manual:

  • Test Preparation (a new lightsaber)– One of the best results of the redesigned SAT is The College Board’s partnership with Khan Academy. On this site, you are able to receive free tips, practice questions and tests, as well as strategies for improving your scores in all sections. The test prep industry has become exceedingly overpriced for the results it delivers. Providing this service through Khan Academy not only eliminates cost but allows flexibility in scheduling on your own time and access to expert advice as well. If improving your score is a goal, you should take advantage of this incredible partnership.
  • Mechanics: No penalty for wrong answers– Unlike in the past, on the SAT, students won’t be penalized for wrong answers, which aligns with the ACT’s traditional structure and historically has been student preference. Like Jedi training you’ll benefit from strategy, practice, and a healthy dose of the force. Use deductive reasoning, use process of elimination, or always pick C.  “In my experience there is no such thing as luck.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
  • New Scoring Framework— SAT scores are back to a 1600 total scale (think Darth Vader coming back from the dark side of the force—not that this is about choosing sides). Both the Evidence-based Reading & Writing and Math sections will be scored 200-800. The ACT has also changed the writing score scale to be 2-12. The SAT change is probably most helpful to parents, counselors and administrators who never adjusted to the 2400 scale, but it also emphasizes the uncoupling of the writing section from the other sections. The ACT change makes writing scores more clear for students, as they will reflect ACT’s clearly articulated rubric within the four writing domains.
  • Content and Questions— Both ACT and SAT emphasize that the exam is based on information students have learned in the classroom and contains wonted reading passages and less clandestine vocabulary (see what I did there?). This change will better align the tests to what students have studied in school, hopefully making the SAT more palatable for a broader range of students across The Galactic Empire.
  • Test Optional– Keep in mind that over 850 schools in our nation do not use test scores to make admission decisions. Fair Test keeps a list of these here. These are schools who have determined, based on their institutional priorities, campus culture, and historical data that test scores do not need to be reviewed in order to enroll a qualified, successful class. Either that or they are simply trying to drive up application numbers, as some cynics would argue. Jedi mind trick? You decide.

yodaGeorgia Tech (and any school utilizing a holistic admission process) includes testing as only one part of the admission decision. Traditionally standardized tests have helped to predict freshman GPA, and all universities will now be rebuilding correlative data, regression formulas, and analytics to assess test scores’ predictive quality in the coming years as we enroll students who have tested with the new versions of both tests.

Students should be closely reviewing websites and asking very pointed questions to colleges about how they will be using test scores- particularly in the coming year. At Tech, we will identify the date of the test taken to ensure we understand which test we are evaluating but will continue to look for a student’s highest section score from any test date.

Flipping the script

So, again, due to the changes and “being the first” to go through the admission process with these new scores, many seniors and their parents are understandably nervous. But remember, “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)  Instead, consider this: any expert in the testing industry will tell you that there should never be a “cut score” used in the admission process. On the ultra-conservative side, statistics show that there is no predictive variance in student GPA performance on campus within a 50 point band for each SAT section, or a two point spread on the ACT.

Having spent time at conferences this summer with nearly 100 college admission deans and directors from schools using a holistic process, I can say with confidence that they recognize if there were ever a year to de-emphasize test scores and their place in the process, it’s this one.

It all means, what does? (For more Yoda translations go here) Scores matter, sure. But due to testing alterations and lack of data, grades, rigor of curriculum, and your ability to demonstrate how you will improve a college campus and those around you through extra-curricular impact and essay and short answer writing will be even more critical. Bottom line: “Stay on target.” – Gold Five 

Olympic Gymnastics and College Admissions– NOT FAIR!!!

It’s Not Fair!!

I’ve been watching the Olympics a lot lately both at home and in the office (don’t worry tax payers, I’m only viewing at lunch, or when slowly meandering past the lobby TV, or perhaps occasionally on the split screen desktop– what can I say, I’m a multitasker).

The other night Gabby Douglas placed 3rd in the Women’s Gymnastics All-Around qualifying. Third out of 24 (Top 12%). But because she finished behind her two American teammates, she was not able to advance to defend her 2012 Gold medal. She smoked the rest of the field and certainly could have edged out either of her two teammates in the actual medal round, if given the chance– but no dice. She was out.gabby

This is a young woman who grew up blowing away the competition in her home gym and school. She was quickly the best in her state, region, and ultimately climbed to national prominence. But this year, based on the most slight movements and judgments in the Olympics, she would have to watch from the sideline. And that’s when my wife stormed out of the room railing about the crappy Olympic rules and reiterating things like, “it’s not fair” and “that sucks” as she went upstairs to bed.

I just kept sipping my drink. Because, you know what, it all seemed very familiar to me (cough… college admission). She’s right though. It’s not fair. It does suck. World-class athletes get edged out of their pursuit for an Olympic dream all along the way– in trials, in nationals, and yes even right at the very last moment by .04 by her own teammate.

Here’s the thing though– she signed up for it! Gabby knew how good the other Olympians would be. She’s trained with, supported and pushed Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, along with her other US teammates to improve over the last few years. Would she have lost a night’s sleep before competing at her state tournament? Absolutely not. She’d probably have stayed out late the night before eating Cheetos and playing Pokemon Go. Then she would have waltzed in, closed her eyes, and still sailed to first place. But on this stage- at this level- she knew that coming in 3rd and having to cheer on her teammates in the medal round was a possibility.

Admission Perspective

Only about 20 colleges in our nation have admit rates of 12% or less. If you are applying to one of these, and frankly, if you are applying to a school taking 33% or less, you need to understand that getting edged out is a distinct possibility.  Is that fair? Does that suck? If your answer to both is “Yes” right now, you have some work to do:

  1. Consider: You are signing up for that uncertainty and possible disappointment. You may be among the best in your high school, county, or even state, but that does not guarantee admittance when the field is this strong. You may have 18 relatives who have attended or been wearing that schools gear since you were in diapers, but in that year, for that college, and based on where you’re from or what you want to study, or what the school is emphasizing or de-emphasizing (Institutional Priorities)– and most importantly the rest of the competition, you may not get admitted. Can your ego handle that? Can your parents handle that? Gabby was absolutely frustrated, sad, and upset. But she gathered herself, cheered on her teammates and then pulled it together to win other medals in the Rio Games. That choice is on you, too.
  2. Back-up: Every year we read stories of students who “got in to every Ivy League school.” While many marvel and inevitably some TV station broadcasts this “success” in awe, my normal response is they wasted a lot of money, because those place are so different from each other that clearly the student did not do their homework on the college search. OR (and more likely) they or someone around them have an incredibly big ego, so thank goodness they did not apply to Tech. Following that I am thinking, “I know it worked out, but I sure hope they had at least one “foundation” or “in- profile school” on their list. No matter how high your GPA, number of APs, test scores or others opinions of you, you need at least one non-Olympic school on your list.

Georgia Tech Olympics

BRONZE: We often get calls from counselors or parents who says that Tech was the only school a student applied to. Will you re-consider your denial because now it’s late March and all other deadlines have expired? Sip. You signed up for that.

SILVER: We also get calls from parents or counselors or principals/headmasters about a brilliant student who applied only to (insert your five to seven crazy elite schools here) and was denied or waitlisted to all of them. It’s now early April and she’s scrambling for an admit. “This is a great kid. I know you would have taken her if she’d applied in Regular because she’s right in your profile.” Sip. At that point, we’ve already handed out our medals too. “Games” over, friends.6 year snap

GOLD: Take a look at this application and admit rate chart. Imagine two siblings are applying to Tech. One in 2012 and one in 2016. Same classes, same grades, same Model UN coach and same summer job. But in those four years the competition rose significantly and the class size stayed the same. The bar went up drastically based on the other applicants in the pool, or field, or whatever Olympic/Admission analogy you choose to use here.

Listen, I get the desire to compete at the highest level. I applaud that. I also see the attraction to applying to one of the small set of schools in our nation that take basically 1/10. Big reputation. Beautiful campuses. Successful alumni. Parents love the bumper sticker. Not hating on that aspiration, so don’t misunderstand me. I’m just saying you don’t always know what the judges may be looking for in that competition, and that there are a lot of Simones and Alys in those applicant pools. That’s all I have to say about not getting “Gabby Douglased” in the admission process.

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The Welcome Manual, Step 3: “Holy Cats! Keep Singing!”

Songs at Bedtime 

I have two kids, ages 8 and 5. They’re hilarious, quirky, and a ton of fun– but they also have boundless energy. Which means at night you don’t just tuck ’em in and walk out; otherwise, in the morning, you’ll find a fort made of disassembled furniture held together by Play Doh, or perhaps a barricade of clothes by the door and a naked kid sleeping in the closet.

When it comes to bedtime, my wife and I alternate between the kids each night, which makes it tough sometimes to know what happened in a book (missing two chapters every other night means lots of assumptions about how characters ended up on magical islands or colluding with a neighbor that had previously been a rival).

My tactic is read for 20 minutes or so, and then check to see if I hear snoring. If yes, creep out ever so quietly and endure the pain silently if I step on an errant Lego. If no (which is 90% of the time), pray with them. Sometimes that puts them to sleep (less characters and plot). If they’re still awake, sing. Now let me say that I’m a horrendous singer– so out of key and tune that I sit in the front row at church so nobody can hear me. I’m sure my pastor thinks I want a good seat for his sermon or quick access to the freshest communion bread– nope. At best it’s an act of mercy and love for fellow congregation members. At worst, it’s my own pride and shame.

But for some reason, my kids seem to like my singing. I’ve attempted everything from the Beatles to Beyonce, Al Jarreau to Alvin and The Chipmunks. One of their favorites– and one of the first I sang to them as babies, is Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” Simple tune, easy lyrics, and a great message:

3 birds

Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright
Rise up this mornin’
Smiled with the risin’ sun
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true
Saying’, (this is my message to you)

And then I throw their name in (partly to personalize, partly to see if they’re still awake) “Oh Lizzy, don’t worry about a thing… cause every little thing gonna be all right.”

This is My Message to YOU

Do you have an older sibling, a friend from the neighborhood, or a teammate that’s heading off to college in the year ahead? Ask them where they were a year ago in their thought process for college selection. Or even ask about a few months ago in March/April. Many did not get into their first choice school and are now excitedly heading somewhere else. A year ago, some of them had one place in mind and that changed radically as the year went forward, due to major of interest, realizations of weather patterns, or bad break ups.

And you’ll hear this exact thing from college freshman when they return for Thanksgiving or Spring Break. They are glad it worked out the way it did. “I did not get into X or could not pay for Y, so I came here…. and I’m so glad.” I was on a panel recently and a mom in the audience said indignantly to an admissions dean of an Ivy League school, “When you’re denying over 90% of students, how can you sleep at night?!” His response was honest and perfect: “If we were the only school out there, I couldn’t.” So true.

The landscape of American higher education is vast. Forty-five percent of degree seeking undergraduates right now are at community colleges. Most of our 4,500 colleges and universities admit far more students than they deny. Forty percent of four-year students graduate with no debt, and of the 60% who take out loans, the average debt is under $30,000. There is a good academic, social and financial fit for every college applicant. Your job is to ensure that your list of schools is diverse and that you’ve really considered why you’re going and how you’ll pay for it. You will end up happy and at a great place next year– even if that’s not the place you have top of mind right now.

The bottom line: kids are like cats (all due respect to both parties in this analogy)– they always land on their feet. And you will too. Right now, and at points in the admission process, it can feel like an unsettling free fall. Read too much in the press, or get too wrapped up in the highest tier of selectivity, or fail to examine numbers like the “trillion dollar student debt in our nation” and you can believe that you can’t get in or won’t be able to afford to go. And that is patently false.

Case In Point

I distinctly remember meeting with a family a few years ago after our admission decisions were released. We had denied this young man and his folks were beyond angry. They were a multi-generation Georgia Tech family, consistent donors, season ticket holders– the whole nine-yards. We talked through admit rates, selectivity, competition, and our inability to admit many amazing students despite their academic qualifications due to space and faculty:student ratios.

catsNow I’d love to tell you that I was so compelling and charming that they left enlightened and wrote a bigger check to Tech. Not the case. They did not care about how Tech’s reputation, and their degree, is benefiting from growing selectivity. They wanted their kid in. I get it. We’ve talked about this. People love their kids. And we want what we want, right? They left as mad and frustrated as they entered. And I was left with less tissues and some choice new word combinations that had never been directed toward me before.

Fast forward a few years. I am at an admitted student event and meet their daughter who is a senior in high school. She’s been accepted to Tech. She’s thrilled and her mom is too! After some brief discussion about dorms and major I asked, “So how is your brother doing?” “He’s great,” she said. “He’s a junior at X college and majoring in business. This summer he was home doing a really cool internship with Coke. Looks like he’ll graduate with honors next year.” Sure, a lot of things could have been going through my head right then. Thoughts like “Good for him” or “Glad we don’t have to have another denied student meeting” or “Hope they did not really get rid of their season tickets because we need every fan we can get” but instead my only thought was… “Cats!”

Every Little Thing…

So whether you are a parent or a student (or perhaps even a counselor or teacher about to head back to school for another year) we all need to hear this: (insert name here) don’t worry about a thing…’cause every little thing gonna be all right.

Addition: I’m adding this in a few weeks late because I just came across a great testimony of exactly what I’m talking about. You don’t have to listen to the entire thing but atleast check out from the 5 minute mark to about 6:45. Here you go.