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Make It A Summer… again!

Memorial Day is one of my favorite holiday weekends because it’s low key. Memorial Day is like that quiet, smart, and deceptively good-looking person we all know who just goes about their business doing their thing without looking for praise or the spotlight. Every now and then you take a look and they’ve just aced a test or scored a goal or are dating some amazing person. This is the infectious and admirable quality of contentment and self-awareness. 

Memorial Day isn’t going to bring fireworks or presents or greeting cards (which is truly something in the world of holidays). It just goes about its business every year, gently and encouragingly shepherding us into summer. It confidently holds open the door where sunshine glints through and kindly warms the room. You can hear laughing and music and the smells of barbecues as you approach and enter the season.

Summer is here, my friends. It’s a time to breathe. It’s a time to rest. It’s a time to slow down and enjoy people and books and being outside. I guess The Fresh Prince said it best– it’s a “time to lay back and unwind.” Memorial Day is an usher (no capitals, no link… the role not the artist) to Summertime. So embrace it– summer is your friend.

Last year I wrote a blog for rising seniors on how to “Make it a summer.” In recent conversations with friends, colleagues, and family, I felt like it was worth sharing that post with you again this year. Drums please!  Bonus: Looking for some other song suggestions? You’re in luck.

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Ad(mission): It’s not fair.

I suppose I could have gone with “An Admission: It’s not fair!” What can I say, catchy titles are not my thing. Working on it. But at this time of year, “fairness” is a resounding theme.

“How can you waitlist my son? He has 30 points higher and two more APs than your average. And we know someone down the street who got in that….”

“Something is wrong with your process if my daughter who has been through as many medical issues as she has and still has a 3.8 is not getting in. Talk about not being fair….”

“And don’t get me started on financial aid… or lack thereof.”

These are actual quotes from real people. Granted, they’re being used without acknowledgment (I didn’t think asking for permission to use them would be part of the healing process). Undeniably, there is something hardwired in us that longs for right, equal, just, fair, and perfect results. And these are noble aspirations.

Kids are among the most vocal about longing for fairness. Spend the same amount of money on presents? “Well, he got more gifts.” Buy the exact same number of gifts? “That one of her’s is bigger!” “Okay, tell you what, I’m going to take all of these out to the fire pit then and you can play with this cardboard box.” Now they’re both screaming in unison, writhing on the ground and flailing, with great gnashing of teeth. It’s like a scene from Revelation followed by a simultaneous and guttural reaction: “That’s not fair!”

Well, my friends, neither is college admission. If you applied to a college that has a selective (meaning below 33% admit rate) process, or if you are a counselor, principal, parent, friend of someone who has gone through this lately, you know this to be true. Inevitably, you know someone who was denied or waitlisted that was “better” or “more qualified” or “should have gotten in.”

I try not to specifically speak for my colleagues, but I feel confident saying this for anyone that works at a highly selective college that has just denied a ton of the students you are thinking about/calling about/inquiring about: We know. It’s NOT fair. You’re not crazy. In fact, we’d be the first to concur that there are many denied students with higher SAT/ACT scores or more community service or more APs or who wrote a better essay or participated in more clubs and sports than some who were admitted.  But here is what is critical for you to understand– ultimately, the admission process for schools denying twice or three times or sometimes ten times more students than they admit– is not about fairness. It’s about mission.

Mission Drives Admission.

Selective colleges publish mid-50% ranges or averages on our freshman profiles to serve as guides, not guarantees. These are the quantifiable factors that provide an overall sense of the admitted or enrolling class. Yes, we look at test scores, rigor of curriculum, course performance, impact on a community, essays, interviews, and so on. But what drives a holistic review process and serves as a guide for admitting students is a school’s mission. Counselors in high schools talk a great deal about “fit.” Where are you going to thrive? Where are you going to create a network or be challenged? Where do you see students that will push and challenge and stretch you to grow as a person and as a learner? These questions come from the fact that they’re savvy and educated not just about our admission processes and stats, but more importantly about our distinct missions. Ultimately, choosing the right school should not just be about “can I get in?” from a statistical or quantifiable standpoint, but “do I align with their mission?” It takes more work to figure that out, but that’s your job as an applicant or prospective student.

If you look at the academic profiles of Caltech and Amherst, they are very similar. But take a look at their missions.

Amherst (abbreviated) “Amherst College educates men and women of exceptional potential from all backgrounds so that they may seek, value, and advance knowledge, engage the world around them, and lead principled lives of consequence… and is committed to learning through close colloquy and to expanding the realm of knowledge through scholarly research and artistic creation at the highest level. Its graduates link learning with leadership—in service to the College, to their communities, and to the world beyond.”

Caltech “…to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”

The difference in missions is why an individual student sometimes gets in to a higher ranked or more selective school and is denied at another. The student applying to Amherst has the same profile, involvement, writing ability, scores, and grades. but is a totally different fit in their process than for Caltech. This is, at least in part, what counselors are talking about when they say “fit.” It’s fit with mission. You’ll hear schools talk about “institutional priorities.” These are simply components of the macro vision and mission of a university.

A quick look at Georgia Tech

Founded: 1885. Classes begin 1888. One major- Mechanical Engineering. All male. It was a trade school responding to the needs of 19th century and early 20th century Georgia and US South.  The focus was on training and preparation for product creation and being prepared to lead and create the next in an industrializing state, region, and nation. Were there more “qualified” or “smarter” students at the time who had aspirations of becoming ministers or lawyers or physicians? Unquestionably. And had they applied with those intentions, they likely would not have been admitted. It was not our mission to educate students for those roles.

1912: Tech establishes a “School of Commerce” which is essentially a business program. 1952: Tech begins enrolling women. 1961: Georgia Tech becomes the first school in the South to integrate classes without a court order. It’s not hard for me to envision a younger brother in 1954 who is by all counts smarter than his older brother not being admitted to Tech due to this change in mission. Supply and demand drive admit rates. If your supply shrinks due to a shift in your mission, then admission decisions also change based upon factors besides grades, scores, or performance.

The University of North Carolina system is mandated by their legislature to enroll no more than 18% of students from outside of the state. This is why the admit rate for Chapel Hill is more than three times higher for in-state students vs. non-residents.  There are valedictorians from around the country not admitted to UNC (mission here) who get into Ivy League schools. Does this sound controversial or unfair? Not if you understand that mission drives admission.  Schools end academic programs. They add majors. They create new co-curricular programs or add or terminate sports teams. Mission changes and with it admission decisions are impacted to support those goals.

At Tech, our mission is “to define the technological university of the 21st century.” Our motto is “Progress and Service.” Our commitment is to “improve the human condition.” So while we are going to provide stats and averages and profiles like all other schools, these are the conversations in admission committee that contribute to decisions. Fair? No. Perfect? No. Reality? Yes.

What does this mean for you?

If you are a senior (or a parent of a senior) who has been denied or waitlisted: You are most likely just as smart, capable, and talented as other students admitted to that school. Move past the numbers and the comparison. You’re absolutely right: it’s not fair in a comparative sense. But that school has made its decisions in light of advancing their mission. Inevitably, you’ve also been admitted to a school where, if you looked hard enough, you could find someone denied with higher scores or more APs or better grades than you. But you fit their mission. Embrace that!

If you are an underclassmen (or parent of one): Selective schools will say, “We are looking to shape a class.” Counselors will talk to you about “fit.” As you try to digest and comprehend what that really means- or where that comes from- look to the school’s mission. Use the academic ranges they provide as a guide. Check out the profiles and other historical data to see how “students like you” have done in the past. But keep in mind those graphs don’t show the qualitative elements. When you are writing or interviewing at schools, do your homework in advance by researching. The essay you write for Caltech should not be the same one you write for Amherst. Your mission, should you choose to accept it (see what I did there?), is to find a school that aligns your academic ability with your vision of the future. Data is helpful. Stats are important. But fit, ethos, campus community, and your ability to be honest with who you are and want to be– that’s the best way to approach the process.

The other day my son was inconsolable. “She got presents on my birthday, and I never get anything on hers. It’s just not fair!” Finally, I just grabbed him, held him, and kept saying, “I know, son. I know.” So listen, you may not feel any better after reading this blog. Still angry. Still frustrated. I get it. I just wanted to save you that part of any email you send schools or the first part of a phone call. You can go right into other grievances and skip the “it’s not fair” part. We know, we know.

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You’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day!

Last week I flew out on a cloudy, rainy, windy day. As we taxied on the runway, raindrops skimmed down the windows. The turbulence on the way up was fairly severe, and the woman next to me, who I never met, grabbed my arm and buried her head in my shoulder. Awkward? Absolutely. But after a few minutes we burst through the clouds into blue skies. It was amazing. Bright, warm sunshine came beaming through the windows. My new friend looked out, smiled, and then looked back at me and said, “Thank you. I’m sorry. I hate flying.”  “No problem,” I replied. “Happy to help.”

I’ve had this experience before (not the stranger on the shoulder thing, but the bursting through the clouds part), and I truly love it. It’s uplifting and inspiring. There’s something magical and empowering in leaving behind rough weather and cruising into the clear, open sky.

No matter how old you are, we all have our fears, our day-to-day problems, and our nagging concerns. Some people may hide these fears well, but deep down we’re all anxious or uncertain or stressed on some level. Maybe it’s an upcoming exam or a turbulent relationship. Maybe it’s a big decision or a financial burden. And let’s be honest, in the past year in our nation, there are both micro and macro issues that have been disheartening and deeply disconcerting.

Get Ready

If you are a senior about to go off to college, I want to urge you now to think about your “above the clouds” moments and the people and experiences that give you life and encouragement, because you’re definitely going to have some gray days in the first year of college. (I know, I know… This blog started out so positive. Don’t worry, we’ll get back there.)

Here’s the thing: Starting a new life at college is a big deal. I know to this point it’s mostly been about where to apply, where you got in, and ultimately, where to go. But in a post-May 1 world, it’s now about getting ready.

Sure, some of “getting ready” is labeling your clothing and doing a few practice runs in the laundry room. I’m not discounting that as important and worthwhile. Definitely check the bed lengths for appropriate sheet sizes. Keep reading, do a few math problems, read the emails your new college sends and then DO WHAT THEY SAY.

But this summer is also a time to consider self-care. I’ll admit that I’m not the master here. I don’t sleep enough. I drink too much coffee. My stretching is inconsistent and sometimes I wear the same pair of boxers or socks two days in a row. But that clunky, imperfect, messy daily life is inevitable. We all fall into patterns and make mistakes and battle against the wind and rain and clouds of daily life. And that’s why you should think now about where you get your energy. What fills your cup? Who makes you laugh or encourages or inspires you?

Find Your Place

Throughout high school you may not ever have really thought about this, because those familiar places in your house, neighborhood, and hometown have always been there.

I like high places. They give me perspective. In high school, there was a Waffle House right by the highway near my house. You could take a trail from behind the restaurant to a cliff overlooking the interstate. A friend and I would sit up there for hours talking, watching cars, and just thinking about life. It was healthy and refreshing (admittedly, slightly dangerous, but as a 17-year old boy those traits are often intertwined).

In college I found a few campus rooftops (primarily all open to public) where I’d study or go to talk with a friend or simply sit on tough days. Take some time this summer to reflect on where you go to find similar refreshment, whether that be mentally and figuratively (a movie or a book) or literally a physical place. And then look for those spaces and places this fall on campus.

Find Your Person

If you are dating someone or have a long-time best friend, you likely have some cheesy things you say to one another. This will continue in your life, and it’s healthy. It conveys intimacy and trust and something that’s unique and special to that relationship. It’s indicative of time spent and a reliance that we all need. My wife and I, in tough times (and often when we’re coming out of a difficult period) will say, “You are my person.” Sounds funny as I write and read that, but in the moment those four words somehow convey a million thoughts and emotions.

Who is your person? Who is it that gives you energy; checks in on you; asks you good questions; doesn’t allow apathy or self-pity? Who walks into a room and gives you a smile or a look and helps you rise above the clouds? First, if you have not already, tell them (whether it’s a parent or a sibling or good friend or teammate). And, before you call it a career in high school, a few teachers, counselors, coaches and others could probably use a head nod, fist bump, or anonymous note too.

Second, give some thought to what makes that person so special and unique. Look, I’m not saying you’re going to replicate that relationship in your first semester at college. Odds are you won’t and can’t. But understanding why “your person” is “your person” is a good place to start, so you’ll recognize it when you see it.

Freshman year is exciting. It’s a new start with tons of opportunities and experiences. New relationships, new professors and classmates, a new town, a new schedule. But what will not change are the moments of self-doubt, the uncertainty within relationships, the anxiety and pressure of academics, and the cloud-filled days where you can’t even identify the source of the problem. I hope you’ll use the summer to find YOUR place and YOUR person so that YOU are ready and can see and feel the sun when you most need it.

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Transitioning to the Tandem Bike

As we approach the May 1 National Deposit Deadline, seniors aren’t the only ones preparing for a big life transition. Parents, we know you have a big transition ahead of you too. This week we asked the Director of Georgia Tech’s Parent & Family Programs, Laci Weeden, to share her tips for parents on how to navigate the days ahead. Welcome, Laci!

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The transition from high school to college can be both exciting and scary at the same time.  As parents and family members, you have helped your student get to where they are today, and you will continue to have have an important role in their higher education journey.  But how will your role change from what it is now, to what it will be, when your student is in college?

I like to think of the transition from high school to college like a tandem bicycle. When your child was younger, and their feet didn’t even reach the peddles, so you steered, peddled, and determined the path and the destination of the bike.

As your child grew older, you began to feel them peddle and you listened as they shared their thoughts on the journey. Now that they are ready to head off to college, it’s time to switch seats and let your student take the lead.

Now that your student is now on the front of the bike and  ready to take the lead, your roles will switch. Your student will be steering their own course, finding their own path in life, and pedaling hard to be successful. But don’t forget, you are right there on the bike, too – peddling, supporting, and cheering them on along the way!

Here are a few tips to help your student and your family with the transition.

  • Establish a regular time to catch up and check in with your student.
  • Send care packages and cards from home.
  • Listen to what they have to say.
  • Encourage them to work on time management and create good study habits.
  • If they struggle, remind them that they have your support, but encourage them to find solutions on their own when possible.
  • Remind them to utilize all the resources around them. As a parent, you can feel free to reach out to campus resources yourself as a family member if you need support..
  • Encourage them to take advantage of campus and local opportunities.
  • Encourage your student to get exercise, eat healthy, and sleep, as balance and wellness are important.
  • Remind your student that you are proud of them, you trust them, and you love them.
  • Try not to worry too much. You did a great job getting them off to college!

For more information and questions about being a college parent or family member at Georgia Tech, visit parents.gatech.edu.

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The Magic is in You (Part 2 of 2)

In case you’re just joining us: to recap our Disney trip: we had a plan, we had a vision, and ultimately our experience was completely different than what we thought our day would look like.

You can read the details of that in Part 1, but the bottom line is while our day diverged from our initial concept, it was indeed magical, largely because our kids were thrilled with rides and experiences that we had not included in our original plan.

That being said, if you are a parent of a senior and you’ve had less than a Disney-rific college admission experience, this blog’s for you (isn’t that how the saying goes?). Anyway, we’re going to keep it very simple: One question, one favor, and one suggestion.

A Question:  Who is more disappointed, angry, hurt, frustrated or embarrassed?

Space Mountain is closed. Repeat: Space Mountain is closed. It’s tough to watch your kid cry. It’s tough to see others walk onto the ride who are no smarter or capable or talented. I get that. But before you go berating a “gate agent” or calling the folks you know “at Disney” or pulling out a checkbook or making threats and spewing insults, check in to be sure it’s really that big of a deal to your kid.

Sure, articles are written every year about the kid who gets into every Ivy League school, and people love to go home and brag about how they “rode every ride by 2 pm,” but at the end of the day, you can only attend one place. And if you’ll really stop to listen and consider what they’re saying, you’ll be amazed at how often they’re cool with a different space galaxy.

A Favor: No. I’m not going to do anything for you. I’m asking you to do yourself a favor: Give yourself a break and enjoy the ride. We both know you booked the hotel, packed the snacks, set the alarm, and had everyone there on time. You did all you could. Look. Rides break, power goes out, apps fail, and then there are people. Don’t get me started. But this is not about finger pointing and blame. This is not about what is deserved or fair or right. I’m not going to lie, I felt like I had failed my family when we got shut out of Seven Dwarfs Minetrain. Does that sound ridiculous? Well, my friend, I understand that the analogy between college admission and Disney is not perfect, but it’s also ridiculous for you to be blaming yourself or feeling guilty because your kid did not get into Duke or UCLA. Fact. Do yourself a favor: Enjoy. The. Ride.

A Suggestion I’ve talked to many parents over the last few weeks who have shared admit letters, financial aid packages, and scholarship offers from schools around the country in hopes of altering our decision- be it to get in, come off the waitlist or increase our aid award. 

If this is you, I want to suggest that instead of continuing to “refresh the app” hoping that more FastPasses are going to open up, you get fired up about Barnstormer or Buzz Lightyear. Go on! Buy the Space Ranger merchandise at the closest kiosk and get super excited because these are amazing rides that will take your kid to new heights and provide them with an awesome experience! Now, I recognize that was a lot of superlatives and exclamation points. And that is intentional. Whether you believe it or not, they always have, and will now take their cues from you. Celebrate! Late April is a time for excitement. It’s a time for dreaming. It’s a time for hand holding and ice cream and fireworks. Yes. I’m suggesting you provide that. Because, at the end of the day, MAGIC does not discriminate based on age- and IT IS IN YOU!

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