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College Bound… But Where?

This week Georgia Tech’s Vice Provost for Enrollment Services, Dr. Paul Kohn, joins us on the blog. Welcome, Dr. Kohn!

If you’re a high school senior, it’s almost time to commit to the college or university you’ll be attending in the fall.  As you go through this process, it may seem daunting to have multiple options to choose from… confusing to figure out finances… and confounding that your friends appear to know exactly where they are headed and the reasons why.  Meanwhile, you can’t decide whether you want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or pizza for dinner, much less decide where to go to college.

You probably have some concerns, doubts, and fears. Is this really the best school for me?  Am I good enough to succeed there? Will I fit in? Who will I live with and where?  Then others, maybe family, add: is it going to pay off?  Aren’t you going to miss home?  How will you deal with the cold, or the snow? Will you be safe? Are you really going to borrow that much money? You may have friends who are choosing to stay home and either skip going to college or start out at the more affordable and familiar local junior college—and by their example, your concerns just loom larger.

If you weren’t already worried, you might be now! Before you get overwhelmed, here are a few tips to help you get through this process and make the best decision for your future.

STOP!  First and foremost, if you haven’t congratulated yourself on reaching this milestone where you stand upon the threshold of attending college, then do it now! Stop and remember all you have accomplished, how fortunate you are to have choices and how blessed you are to be facing such possibilities. Believe it or not, relatively few people graduating high school this year will go to college next. What may seem like problems are really gifts.

REFLECT upon how you reached this point in your life.  You worked hard.  You asked lots of good questions.  You learned to make good choices.  Others have likely helped and supported you on this journey.  Your skills, your intuition, and your mentors are with you and they will help guide you to make a good choice.  You got yourself to this point in time. Trust your instincts, but also be practical.

MAKE A LIST of the pros and cons of the final choices you are considering.  Review your list with friends, relatives, and teachers.  Listen to the thoughts that come to mind as these guides point out details about you or about the schools.  Distinguish between your past actions versus your thoughts of the future.  I personally think our past actions and choices provide much more insight into who we truly are than the way we think we should be.

For example, I have a friend who says he loves going to concerts, but his actual behavior reveals he hasn’t been to a live show in years.  When he told me he was thinking about moving to Austin to enjoy the thriving live music scene, I challenged him, and he recalled the 101 excuses he routinely has for not going to any shows—and  he lives in New York City!  What do your actions tell you about yourself, and are they more telling than your beliefs?  Now go back and rewrite your list. Narrow things down to two options.

If you can afford the time and expense, go visit the finalists one last time.  If you cannot, watch some YouTube videos about life at each school.  Read about the accomplishments of current students, recent grads and professors.  Get inspired.  Transform your quandary into: which of these two great schools would be perfect for me?

Then accept that the answer is neither—there is no perfect place! Come October, you will second guess whichever choice you made because you’ll be one month (or more) into the semester. You may have no idea what grades you are achieving, you’ll face more exams, papers, problem sets and group projects, and life overall will feel stressful.

When you go on social media, it will look like your friends at other schools are having the times of their lives, while you’re mired in stress from making a bad choice.  Don’t let social media be your barometer for relative happiness. You’ll get through the assignments. You’ll survive the stress.  You’ll learn how to succeed in a new environment, make friends from distinctly different backgrounds, and see how the power of a positive attitude can make an enormous difference in how you experience the stress of decision-making, the stress of uncertainty, the stress of the unfamiliar.  If you truly hone these skills, you may begin to see all the stress as part of the adventure. For that is what is truly ahead of you–one of life’s most remarkable adventures, in which you will build memories, skills, relationships and goals you may have never dreamed of.

TRUST that you’re where you are because of your ability to make good choices, and send in your deposit. Stop agonizing over where to go, and start picturing yourself in your new school colors, cheering for the team, pranking your roommates, talking with professors, and deciding if it matters which side of the bread you put the peanut butter on and which side you put the jelly.  Either way, it’ll still be a PB&J and if you believe it’s good, it will be.

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The Waitlist STILL Sucks!

Listen to the audio version here.

  • Pink eye.
  • A car hitting a puddle and soaking you from the waist down.
  • Someone eats the last Girl Scout cookie but leaves the box in the pantry.
  • Back pain.
  • Your car needs need a new timing belt.

Feel free to add on to this list of Things That Suck, but I figured I’d get you started. Surprisingly, it can be a bit cathartic to just toss them out there. I find it enjoyable to say these with gusto while leaning in slightly, gritting my teeth, narrowing my eyes, clenching my fist, and adding the disdain only rivaled by Jerry in Seinfeld episodes when he’d curse the name Newman! (Yes, I expect you to click on that link if you don’t know that reference. This is a life-enriching blog.)

In college admission, I’d argue the most Newman-worthy word is waitlist. A few years ago I wrote a three-part series called “The Waitlist Sucks.” Since that time, we have seen political change, population growth, and new world champions crowned. But The Waitlist Still Sucks! Here’s why.

Reason #1: I’m Not That Smart

Why does this admission purgatory exist at all? Well, it depends who you ask. Deans, directors, and other enrollment managers will say it is because predicting 17 and 18 year-old behavior is not an exact science. After all, if we could precisely determine the number of students who would accept our offer of admission and deposit (yield) by the May 1 National Candidate Reply Deadline, waitlists would not be necessary.  So in addition to reading applications all year from students who make A’s in classes I can’t even spell or accomplish things in under 20 years I’ll never achieve in my lifetime, the waitlist is an annual reminder that I’m just not that smart.

Waitlists are basically a cushion. Colleges build and utilize historical yield models in order to predict the number of students we think will say yes to their offer of admission. However, because the number of beds in residence halls, the number of seats in classrooms, and the faculty:student and advisor:student ratios are very specific, they intentionally plan to come in slightly below their target. In many cases, they do this in order to account for years when the model changes and students “over-yield.” If you are applying to a school that over-enrolled the year prior (cough… Georgia Tech), you can be sure they will be extremely conservative, e.g. filling an even higher number of spaces from the waitlist.

The waitlist also exists to allow schools to meet institutional priorities. After the May 1 deadline, colleges evaluate their deposited class and use their waitlist to increase desired demographics that were not met in the initial round of admission offers. This could mean more students from a particular state or geographic region to proliferate their college’s brand. Perhaps they just hired a new dean in business who is clamoring to grow the program. Or maybe they are trying to increase male enrollment in their education department. The bottom line is college waitlists are not restaurant waitlists. You are not ranked or assigned a number. Instead, they hand-pick applicants to fill a specific purpose. Cushion, institutional priorities, unpredictable teenager thought process. Call it what you will. Bottom line: I’m just not that smart. Newman!

Reason #2: Waiting sucks (add this, and losing to your rival in the final seconds of a game, to the list at the top.)

You applied. You waited. You waited some more. You took up curling and counted the number of Cheerios in your bowl each morning. You watched the rain fall. Finally, decision day arrives. You take a deep breath, say whatever type of prayer, hex, good luck incantation seems most fitting, enter your password, and… What?! No! Oh no you didn’t.

I wish I had a good tip for you. All I can say is what you already know—waiting is hard. Uncertainty is frustrating and unsettling. Feeling better? Yeah, I get it. I’m guessing you’re also not going to like to hear that life is full of situations just like this one. Will I get a new job, and when? Will the results of this test come back from the doctor with life-changing implications? For many of you this is the first of many big situations that mean waiting, hoping, praying, and learning to be content and joyful in the present, regardless of your circumstances. That is a challenge at any age—you are just getting some early practice. Congratulations??

**Special note/apology: Some of you were deferred and will now receive a waitlist offer. Welcome to the 9th level of admission hell. We don’t like doing it and we know you hate dealing with it. This year UNC-Chapel Hill moved away from that progression by no longer deferring anyone in EA and rather pushing students straight into waitlist. Is that kinder, gentler admission or just Newman showing up earlier in the episode? You decide.

Reason #3: It’s an ego hit.

“What’s wrong with me?” “Why did that other kid get in and not me?” “How is my 3.8 and 1520 not good enough?” Please, hear me adamantly reminding you: This is not a value judgment! Again, as my colleague Pam Ambler from Pace Academy here in Atlanta so astutely put it, “How admission decisions feel is not how they are made.” YOU are amazing! YOU are talented. Yes. I am talking to you. YOU—with the iPad out or scanning your phone, or reading this while you’re pretending to listen in class or to a friend. That doesn’t mean it does not sting, burn, or make you want to scream, “Newman!” (Feels good, right?)

Keep your head up. Don’t let a school’s decision (based on factors well outside your control) shake your confidence. Your goal is to have the confidence to embrace uncertainty as an adventure rather than a burden. Great days ahead, my friends. Where exactly? I don’t know. But walk confidently and keep your head up. You got this.

Being in limbo is tough enough on its own. But adding to the angst, frustration, and ego hit is that everyone else seems to be set and living a smooth, stress-free life as they finish high school. Seems is the key word here. Trust me—they still have their own issues and doubts. They are only posting their (occasional) fancy meals and best hair days on Instagram. And you better believe those pics are highly photo-shopped and multi-filtered.

I understand lots of your friends already know or soon will know where they are going to college next year. I hope you’ll have the vision and character not to spend your energy envying them but rather celebrating with them. This will come back around. This is all going to work out. Love on them now and they’ll be thrilled when you’ve made your final decision too. Trust.

So, what can you do?

  1. Accept your spot. At most schools the waitlist decision is actually an offer, rather than an automatic secured spot. Typically, you need to take action of some kind to accept or claim your waitlist spot. If you do claim your spot, be sure you also complete anything additional they ask you to submit. Is there a supplementary short answer question to complete? Do they want mid-semester grades sent, or another recommendation letter or an interview? All places vary. Admission 101 = read what they send and do what it says.
  2. Deposit elsewhere. The college that has offered you a spot on their waitlist should be instructing you to take this step, as it is absolutely critical. Because most schools won’t have a firm sense of deposits until late April, the majority of waitlist activity occurs in May and June. Since May 1 is the National Candidate Reply Date, you need to put your money down at another college in order to secure your spot in their class. Just like the college, you are hedging your bets.
    I sort of hate to be the one to tell you this, but just in case no one else will do it… the statistics/odds say you are likely not coming off the waitlist. Yes, there is always a chance. Dark horses win races. It somehow did rain for the 83rd straight day in Atlanta. Don’t hear me say it’s impossible. But if I were you I’d get excited about the school that accepted you and where you chose to deposit in March or April.
  3. Don’t stalk the admission office. Claim your spot, send in what they ask for, and wait. That’s it. If you really feel compelled to send an email to an admission counselor that you’ve met or corresponded with previously, that could be your other action item. If you do that, it’s a one and done deal. We have seen students send a painted shoe with a message on the bottom reading: “just trying to get my foot in the door.” Memorable, but ultimately ineffective. Admission offices regularly receive chocolates, cookies, and treats along with poems or notes. It is safe to say that a couple hundred grams of sugar and a few couplets are not going to outweigh institutional priorities. There is a distinct line between demonstrating interest and stalking. Stay in your lane.
  4. Grrrr….Newman!

Finish Well

At the end of the day, my hope is you will not let being on a waitlist keep you from enjoying the last part of your senior year. Have fun on spring break. Go to prom. Take the opportunity to thank your teachers or read something outside of school in which you are genuinely interested.

Maybe one day we’ll live in a world where the admission experience is perfect. Students apply to their one and only dream school (likely without having to write an essay or pay an application fee); the college admits them all with full scholarships; students arrive on campus singing, smiling, and holding hands; they all earn (not get) 4.0 GPAs, retain at 100%, graduate in four years, get high paying and highly fulfilling jobs after graduation, name their babies after the admission director… you get the picture.

Until then… we have the waitlist (and it still sucks!).

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Success Isn’t Guaranteed—Try Anyway

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, joins us on the blog. Chaffee has administered prestigious scholarship programs for the past 20 years, and is also a past president of the Undergraduate Scholars Program Administrators Association. Welcome, Chaffee!

Let’s start by admitting that not everyone’s experience growing up in the United States is the same. Rural, urban, and suburban life looks different, and there are certainly other differences when considering family background and other factors. Having acknowledged that, I think it’s fair to say the people of Generation X (to which I belong) grew up with a great deal more freedom to explore the world around them as children than today’s kids and youth. By late elementary school I could explore the neighborhoods around me a mile in any direction.

Talk to my Baby Boomer parents and they’ll tell you that not only were they given even more freedom, but also asked to work harder at an earlier stage of life. My father mowed lawns, drove a tractor, roofed houses, and used hatchets as early as fourth grade. Compare these experiences with today, where I know thriving middle schoolers who aren’t allowed to walk 500 yards to the nearest corner with a traffic light because of concerns about safety.

I don’t share these views to judge parents or children today. After all, today’s world is bigger, especially online. Taking more safety precautions is necessary. Yet coinciding with these observations is a feeling that several colleagues and I share—a feeling supported by frequent recurring experiences. High school and college students today do not experience failure because 1) they’ve been shielded from them when they occur or 2) are steered away from undertaking opportunities that might result in anything but clear success.

Take the Opportunity to Fail

Although versions of this topic have been trending the past few years (and even before that in some circles), I want to provide insight which I hope is new. I want to talk about why students should put themselves in circumstances where success is not guaranteed. When you look at it as an opportunity for success as well as failure, the intention and aim become different. Simply looking for opportunities to fail can be a hollow exercise, but earnestly pursuing a goal that may or may not be reached is an opportunity for a win-win experience, regardless of the final outcome.

I had a student ask me to write a recommendation for them for the Truman Scholarship, a nationally competitive and prestigious scholarship for public service leadership. Some regard it as having the most rigorous application of any of the major national and international graduate scholarships. As you can imagine, the percentage of people awarded from among applicants is quite small. Despite the odds not being in anyone’s favor, the student elected to try. By clarifying purpose, thinking about future goals, losing sleep, and sacrificing comfort all in hopes of a slim chance to leverage the scholarship toward making the world a better place, this student gained tremendous personal insight. This kind of personal insight only comes through testing oneself, working hard, and reaching for something most likely out of reach. Did it yield a scholarship? No.

Undaunted, the student went on to apply for the Marshall and Mitchell scholarships as well. Again, hard work and sacrifice led to self-awareness, goals clarification, personal insight … but no scholarship. Yet on the horizon was the famous Fulbright Fellowship for graduate study in another country, which my student ended up receiving.

Seems like three losses and a win, right? I count it as four wins. Each attempt helped my student to grow. Each attempt taught lessons in perseverance, grit, and humility. Even if my student had not won the Fulbright, it wouldn’t change my mind. Four wins, zero losses. I believe that if you asked my student, the response would be the same. The win was in trying to reach for the stars and the growth that resulted.

Pursue Possibility

I’ve been fortunate over the past seven years to travel with my students on outdoor leadership expeditions in some beautiful – and physically challenging – environments around the country and the world. These trips are led by experts in Georgia Tech’s outdoor recreation department. Scholarship programs around the nation often encourage or require their scholars to participate in these types of adventures with similar organizations. There is no defined “win,” only an expectation that you’ll make it from the start to the end, persevering through trying circumstances. Blisters, aching muscles, exhaustion, cold or heat, insects, cuts and scrapes. They are all there. Getting through means relying on your own inner strength and your team.

For a very few, these trips are easy (at least at first). For most others, they will mess up the cooking, go slower than the team, or otherwise “not be great.” Yet when they talk about these trips days, months, and even years later, many speak of how the difficult circumstances on the hike resulted in the ability to handle the rigors of college life better than they would have done otherwise.

One of my favorite illustrations of the points I’ve been making comes from the movie, Meet the Fockers. In it, Jack Byrnes, played by Robert De Niro, notices his son-in-law, Greg Focker, played by Ben Stiller, has a 9th place ribbon displayed at his parent’s house. Not second or third … but ninth. I love that Focker’s parents encouraged him to participate in something that he clearly did not win (and they probably knew he wasn’t going to, either). No matter what the outcome, Greg had to come to terms with the fact that he did not experience success, at least not by traditional measures. Did he learn something from competing, from trying, from watching eight others do better than he did? The movie doesn’t go into this, but I suspect he did.

If you’ve seen the rest of the movie, you know that Greg messes up a good bit, but in the end, how he handles these failures and keeps picking himself up amplifies his fiancé’s love for him and earns him the respect of his future in-laws. All that said, in real life I wish his “award” for competing wasn’t a ribbon but a pat on the back from his parents. Because part of the lesson in trying is not everyone gets a trophy nor deserves one.

If I were to outline a lesson from all this, it would be to challenge everyone to pursue possibilities where the chances for a win are moderate to slim. The challenge must be measured though. The more talented or well-trained an individual, the more they should pursue even more difficult experiences. Whether one is in high school, college, or well beyond, remember that we grow by reaching skywards, not by standing still.

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The College Visit Checklist

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

Back in November I wrote a blog post about moving to Atlanta over the summer, and how that move was a big step out of my comfort zone.  I often think back on my initial interview and visit to Atlanta. I imagine my first visit to Atlanta felt similar to what many students experience when they visit college campuses. Once I knew I was seriously considering a move from New York to Atlanta, I realized how important it was to not only find answers to all my questions, but to also take the time to really get to know my (at the time potential) new city. From walking around campus to trying out the food, my overall experience helped me better understand what life could look like in this new place.

I’m now more than six months in and am working with our staff to prepare for our newly admitted students to flock to campus to see if Georgia Tech is the right fit for them. Whatever college you’re considering, it’s important to make your campus visit about more than just the standard information session and tour. Take advantage of these tips to help you make the most of your time on campus.

Allow yourself extra time to explore.

During my first visit to Atlanta, I allowed myself to spend an extra day in the city to better explore the overall feel of the area.  If I was going to move here, I needed to know if I liked it.  I explored the area around campus and different neighborhoods, and also experienced some of Atlanta’s local highlights, like Ponce City Market.  When you plan your visit to campus, try to allow extra time to become more familiar with the area rather than rushing to visit another school or catching a flight home.  After your “official” visit is over, further explore academic facilities for your intended major, eat on campus, or spend some time in popular places like the student center (don’t forget to eavesdrop while you’re there!).

Talk to Students

See these tour guides? They’re also regular, every day students. Talk to them!

During your time on campus there is a real benefit to speaking with current students.  This is a great way to get an authentic look at what it is like to be a student at the institution you are visiting.  Whether it is the person behind you in line for food in the dining hall or a student employee working in one of the departments you visit, students are usually happy to chat with you. When I visited Atlanta for the first time, I had dinner with friends who lived in the area, and they gave me some great advice about moving from New York and living in Atlanta.

Build Your Own Visit

During my initial visit to Atlanta I wanted to be sure to experience some of the local highlights. I planned a full day of exploring, which included things like eating breakfast at the Silver Skillet, walking on the Belt Line, and visiting some of the downtown tourist attractions.  Just like these extras that I was able to add on, it is important for you to customize your visit to make the most of it.  When not restricted by time, you can make a whole day out of your time on campus, even if you are only scheduled to attend a 2-hour information session and tour.  At many institutions, departments and colleges offer sessions about specific academic programs.  Even if there is not a formal session scheduled, reach out in advance and talk to someone, as chances are someone would be able to meet with you.

Experience the Weather

This one is a bit more difficult because you cannot always visit during specific times of year, but it definitely is important to understand the weather you might encounter during your college career.  I went to school in Upstate New York, where it is cold, grey and windy for a large portion of the academic school year.  It is very different to visit there in the summer than it is in February.  Although weather was not a big factor for me personally, if it is for you, make sure to plan your visit accordingly.  If you are going to live somewhere for four years, it helps to know what it will feel like.  (Although it does get cold in Atlanta, I have been enjoying the much milder winter!)

Ask for Advice

Georgia Tech admission staff appreciates the work of school counselors! #nscw19

Prior to my visit to Atlanta, I reached out to a number of people to get advice.  I got food recommendations, learned local lingo (like OTP and ITP), and learned more about Georgia Tech. Utilizing resources like your college counselor are crucial throughout the whole college decision-making process.  Ask for their advice before you visit campus.  They can help ensure you make the most out of your visit.  They may be able to put you in contact with a student at the institution you are visiting, or share some information they know about the school.  A conversation with your school counselor will help better prepare you for your visit, which in the end will result in a more informed visit.

(To all of the counselors reading this post – thank you for all of the work that you do with students, we really appreciate it.  And happy National School Counselor Week!)

On behalf of all of the campus visit professionals around the country, we are looking forward to seeing you on campus over the next few months. Happy Visiting!

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A (Fox) Worthy Approach to College

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in January 2016.

When asked to name some of the greatest minds in history, many would respond with Plato, DaVinci, Descartes, or Tesla. Certainly there would be controversy in assembling such a list, and ordering would be nearly impossible.. However, when it comes to establishing a clear front-runner today, it’s much easier than looking back through history. Clearly, one man would rise to the top… Jeff Foxworthy (and you were worried this was going to be an idle diatribe about college rankings!).

Model Release-Not Needed

I am confident we can all attest Foxworthy’s portfolio is impressive and wide-reaching, from The American Bible Challenge to Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader to the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. What launched such success, brilliance, range and influence? Well, certainly his education at Georgia Tech did not hurt, but ultimately it was his astute ability to help others with effective, actionable self-realization. Foxworthy utilized extensive qualitative research to develop what is known in modern psychology as You might be a redneck. His approach was simple—systematically use “if – then” prompts to suggest indicators of this condition and help listeners self-diagnose: If your family tree does not branch, then you might be a redneck. Valid and noted, sir.

I think many parents can use Jeff Foxworthy’s approach to take a pulse on how they’re doing. Ultimately, this litmus test comes down to pronouns.

  • If you’ve recently said, “We are taking the SAT next weekend” then you might be overly involved.
  • If you said to a friend in the bleachers last week, “Our first choice is Columbia” then you might be overly involved.
  • If, as your daughter was leaving for school the other day, you said, “Let’s ace that Calculus exam!” then you might be overly involved.

Shift from Parent to Partner

Listen, I get it. We’ve already established that people love their kids, so your desire to help and see them thrive is absolutely commendable. But this spring is the right time to make an intentional shift from parent to partner. We talk a lot about this concept in our orientation and first-year programs. Stepping back (not away), changing pronouns, and providing opportunities to make practical, diurnal decisions before heading to college is critical.

If you have a high school senior, they are going to be on a campus somewhere in a few short months (grab some Kleenex, but keep reading). And once there, your student will face options and opportunities each day that you’ll never know about. Bolster your confidence in them now by stepping back and empowering them as they navigate this spring. If you have a junior or underclassmen, you can set a pattern now for your support and direction and control of the college admission process.

Going for a college visit soon? Let them find the hotel and make dinner reservations. Talk through the budget, the details on logistics, and what they’re wanting out of the trip beyond seeing the school.

Son was deferred by a college? He should be the one to reach out to his admission counselor or to verify that all necessary transcripts or supplements have been received.

Laundry/Credit Card bills? Who is taking care of those things? And who will during freshman year in college? Or who will when they’re 24? The time to provide opportunities to become more independent and more aware of limitations is now—while you are there to answer questions and give guidance.

I’m no Jeff Foxworthy, but I hope you’ll take these prompts to heart, watch your pronouns, and seize the opportunity to start making that frightening yet crucial shift from parent to partner today.

(By the way, our survey is still open! More than 200 people have already shared their thoughts–we hope you’ll join them!).

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