College Admission
Early Action
Georgia Tech

Holistic Admission – The Struggle is Real (Part 1 of 3)

Buzz starred in the Hobsons videos for the December and January emails sent to prospective freshmen.

What the…?

Last weekend, Georgia Tech’s Early Action admission decisions were released. Like most schools, we provide a profile of our admitted group to give applicants, as well as campus and external constituents a sense of the class. This year, 30 percent of applicants were admitted in the early round. On average they had 11 AP/IB/college courses prior to graduating from high school and a 33 ACT/1453 SAT (CR+M). (Note: We no longer publish a GPA because schools have such varying ranges. Some schools are on a 4.0 non-weighted scale, some are on a 5.0 or 12.0 weighted scale, some have numerical only ranges to 100 or 80 or 120. The landscape is vast and non-standardized, so giving numbers has become pointless. For example, if you are a student on a 5.0 scale and a published GPA is 3.8, you’re thinking, “Sweet. My Bs and Cs are really paying off!”).

My wife’s comment upon seeing the numbers was “I didn’t know they even offered 11 AP classes.” And this is a woman who has two master’s degrees and smoked me on both her testing and academic performance, so granted, the word “average” and those stats should not even be in the same sentence.

Formulaic Process

This year we received nearly 15,000 applications for early action. Last year that number was 3,000 less, and in 2012 we did not have that many during the entire application cycle. See a trend line here. When I came to Tech in 2003 (ahem, at age 15…) we were receiving under 10,000 applications and admitting 65 percent of applicants. Life was easy. We calculated a GPA, downloaded test scores, ran the excel tables, plugged some codes into the system, and BAM! Change the toner a few times, grab a coffee, lick some stamps, and call it a year. Effectively, that formulaic process worked for us based on the admit rate, quality and size of applicant pool, and overall goals of the Institute.

But because our undergraduate population is not growing, our admit rate has plummeted based on supply and demand alone. The exciting part of this is that we are ultimately enrolling an incredibly talented and diverse class but it also means a lot of essays to read, copious amounts of caffeine, long days away from family during file review season, and the fact that we are not able to offer admission to many phenomenal students who will go on to literally change the world. And let me be clear—it was a lot more fun admitting two out of every three students than denying two out of every three.

Click here to read part 2 of 3, where I explain the “holistic admission” process, and what that really means when we sit down to review applications.

“It’s Not You… it’s me.” Denied Admission– A Path to Recovery

“This is not working out.” My high school girlfriend and I were working on math homework at her house. We were trying to solve equations I hadn’t seen before (I’m sure most of you reading this would scoff at their simplicity, but it was difficult at the time). I said, “I know. But we will figure it out.” She paused, then put her pencil down and said kindly, but definitively, “No.” Then “this,” pointing her finger back and forth between my chest and hers. “Us. It’s not working out.” I remember so clearly how those words sounded at the time.

I know this has become a predictable Hollywood storytelling technique, but it was one of only three times in my life when the noise around me seemed to fade into the background. I watched her continue to tilt her head, stroke her hair and occasionally look down, somewhat painfully, as she explained why “we” needed to break up.

I had known this girl since Kindergarten, but it had only been in the last year that I realized she was truly beautiful. And funny, and smart, and kind. We liked the same music, she watched sports (although cheered for the wrong team…Bulldogs), and we laughed together a lot. Basically, I thought she was perfect. And it was sinking in that she was taking that perfection and moving on.

I really can’t tell you what I said to her… maybe I actually said nothing. All I remember was getting my books, getting my bag, and getting the (deleted) out of there. I drove the four miles home and on the way I rolled down the window, turned up the music, and yelled out the window a mixture of questions, anger, and tears. I was a mess.

I walked into my house and my mom was doing dishes in the kitchen. She could see I was upset and asked me what was wrong. I remember sitting next to her on the couch and listening to her tell me everything was okay… there would be other girls… and maybe I was better off anyway.  In fact, now I wonder if she did not have a hand in writing The Avett Brothers song I Would Be Sad: “One day son, this girl will think of what she’s done and hurting you will be the first of many more regrets to come.”  It was one of those moments that I’m sure she could see my thought bubble of “Yeah, easy for you to say.” At the time, I didn’t understand that at one point in her life, she was a teenager too. I thought she’d always been married to my dad and that her life started when I was born. So how could she know what I was going through?

Road to Recovery

At this time of year, a good number of colleges have already released admission decisions. I’ve heard a number of these conversations in our community, and have started to read the advice and speculation online or on social media as well. If you have been denied from a school that seemed perfect and you had your heart set on, I’ve got three tips for you:

  1. You’re Not Okay. Go ahead and scream, cry, talk to your parents… beat your pillow, or cook something (you can even try all of those at once if you’re really upset). Do whatever it takes for you to begin to move on and clear you head. But don’t drive while you’re healing… be stationary (or on a treadmill) and then let it rip.
  2. You will be Okay. Here’s what I see every year. Some students whose first choice was not Georgia Tech end up coming here and loving it. Then again, every now and then I’ll run into a sibling or parent or counselor of a student we denied admission to who tells me that student was devestated about not getting in here, but is now at X College and doing great. One of the schools you’ve applied to, or are waiting to hear back from is IT. Take a moment to believe that—and be encouraged and get excited about it.
  3. Refocus. When I had to refocus, I dove into school and soccer. Immediately after that break up, I wasn’t a lot of fun to be around for a few weeks. But I threw myself into academics and practicing with incredible focus, resolve, and motivation to get better and succeed. I remember long nights of studying and going early and staying late for practice. What is that focus for you? Maybe it’s another college. Or perhaps it’s proving the school that denied you wrong by thriving through your senior year and into college elsewhere.

I understand that it seems unlikely you could completely distill moving on after being denied admission into three easy steps. Or maybe it’s not. After all The Avett Brothers song continues, “‘If she doesn’t call, then it’s her fault and it’s her loss.’ I say, It’s not that simple see, but then again it just may be.”

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The “D” Word

I don’t swear a lot. Occasionally, but not that often. Partly that’s because I’m not apt to losing my temper, and I also remember being told that cursing lacks creativity. That always stuck with me, and I think it’s had a lasting impact.

THE ‘S’ WORD

Recently, my seven year old son came home extremely upset because a neighbor kid had used “THE ‘S’ WORD!” Despite being the Holidays I was pretty sure we weren’t talking about Santa, so I immediately started considering how I’d respond. I asked him to tell me more and as he began I started thinking about my advice. Something surrounding how “THE ‘S’ WORD” is not appropriate and you can get in trouble for using it and…. then I heard something that made me pause. “Yea. He was like, ‘that is just plain Ssssssss’… and then you know… and then, ‘Pid.'” Ok. Totally different “S word.” Totally different lecture. Totally different approach. Now we are moving into how that word is insulting, and lazy, and all the other synonyms that are more interesting.

THE ‘D’ WORD

But it got me thinking about college admission. Logically. At this time of year a lot of schools are releasing their EA and ED decisions. I’m already seeing posts on social media and hearing more from friends in our neighborhood talk about their son or daughter. One of the biggest questions surrounds…. “THE D WORD!” Nope… not deny. I suppose that’s kind of like the actual “S WORD.” Pretty clear. If you are denied, it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting, it’s a tough blow. But at least you have a decision and you can move on. I’ll write more about this in a future post, but it’s a lot like breaking up. You know where you stand… and who you won’t be standing next to. Unfortunately, defer and deny both start with the same letter. But their implications are extremely divergent.

If you are deferred admission from a school, it’s important for you to remember three things:

1. You are not denied. If a school did not think you were competitive or a good fit, they would have denied you. This sounds harsh but it’s true. There is a reason you got a different “D Word,” so pay attention because the message is as different as the two “S Words” above.

2. Finish the drill. Getting deferred is not fun. It means being in limbo a while longer. Now you are going to need to send in fall grades, you may need to write an additional essay or tell more about your personal activities. But you are not denied. The school that deferred you wants to see more. They need to understand perhaps 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 within. And they likely also want to see how you stack up with the entire applicant pool. So defer is a “hold on” or a “maybe” or even a “tell me more.” So do that. If you liked a school enough to apply, you should finish the drill. After all, it’s called an admission process. Sometimes that means more than just one round. See it through by submitting what they request and put your absolute best foot forward. OR cancel your application and be done. But don’t go halfway and stop giving your best effort.

3. Check your ego.  The truth is that you should do this when you are admitted, denied, or deferred. After all, an admission decision is not a value or character decision. Don’t blur the lines. If you are deferred from a college you really want to attend, you need to give them every confidence that you should be admitted in the next round, or even from the wait list. If a school asks for a mid- spring report, or they call your counselor, or they ask you to come in for an interview, you have solid grades and interesting new information to share. Your job as a senior is to finish well.

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Early Action Deadline Approaching!

As a reminder, our early action deadline is October 15.

Still thinking of applying? Here are five reasons why you should!

Go Jackets!

Let it go!

I have little kids, ages 7 and almost 5. This essentially means that, in attempting to raise them, I say the same things a lot, eat the same things a lot, and watch the same things a lot. It means other things too (like leg hugs) but we’ll just focus on the routine, repetitive nature of young humans.

Not unlike a lot of kids, mine love Disney. I think my current movie-viewing count is approximately three gazillion and my song-listening count is double that. Some of these Disney characters, lines, and themes are now forever emblazoned in my mind. They say when you learn another language you start dreaming in it. My wife recently heard me muttering something about a witch and a poison apple, so it seems I am now fluent in Disney.

Over the last year or so, Frozen has been ubiquitous. Interestingly, as Early Action and Early Decision deadlines approach, I think this movie has a lot to say about the admission process.

As you are probably aware, Elsa, the newly crowned queen, flees Arendelle in an attempt to begin a new, freer life for herself. She sings her passionate and cathartic song, “Let It Go,” as she creates an incredibly majestic ice paradise on the North Mountain.

When it comes to writing your college essays this year, I hope you will remember that scene and phrase.

You will hear supposed experts tell you to “be yourself” as you write. I think that is well-intentioned but dreadfully vague advice. To be more specific: Admission counselors want to hear YOUR voice and understand YOUR background.

All her life Elsa had been controlled and suppressed, and it was not until she left Arendelle that she could truly create something unique and beautiful. (Granted [spoiler alert!], she created an even greater masterpiece when she came back later and saved her kingdom and sister, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

You should absolutely ask others for their opinions and editing suggestions but don’t let them steal the power of YOUR story. Neither course choice nor course performance nor test scores nor extracurricular activities (that’s a lot of nors, I realize) convey you as an individual. Those details and attributes may trace a silhouette, but it’s your essay that colors in the full picture of how you are unique from the thousands of other applicants. Since very few schools interview students, think of your essay as an opportunity for the admission reader to really HEAR YOU.

The other lesson we can learn from Elsa about writing college essays is in her song “Let It Go.”

On the back end of the applications, we can see what percentage a student has completed. So when you finish detailing your extracurricular activities and biographical information,  you may be 70 percent or more complete. But year in and year out, applications will sit at 90 percent or so for weeks leading up to a deadline.

My guess is, the angst and uncertainty revealed by this incomplete status emanate from the fact that the essay is the last thing students can control. Your grades are all but set, your testing and scores are likely done, and you either did or did not join that club or play that sport in your sophomore year. But the essay … ahhh, this you can still hold, continue to massage … and perhaps it’s the magic bullet that will tip the scales.

But the truth is the essay alone will not be what gets you in or keeps you out of a school.

So, here is my strong and earnest advice: Choose a topic you care about, draft, write, edit, ask for feedback, refine — and then “Let It Go.”