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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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Admission Mystery: Follow the Clues

Listen to the audio version here.

My friend and colleague Brennan Barnard recently wrote an incredibly insightful, heartfelt, and encouraging letter to students in Forbes. I hope you will read it. His conclusion really stuck with me: “I hope you are ready because you are bound for an amazing college experience filled with opportunities to learn, connect, and grow. Where all of that will happen is a mystery—and like all good mysteries, it should be filled with twists, turns, discovery, new places, and interesting people. My hope is that you will find joy in uncovering the clues that lead you, and that ultimately you will arrive on a college campus confident and excited to embrace the opportunity. Enjoy the journey.”

A Game of Clue

Those words reminded me of last Saturday night after dinner at our house. My kids insisted we play the classic board game Clue. If you are not familiar with the game, the goal is to use the process of elimination to determine the character who did the deed, the weapon they used, and the room where the crime occurred. 

First, you choose a card from each category to put in an envelope in the middle of the board. Then, by looking at your cards, asking questions of the other players (as well as closely watching the interactions of other players), and moving around the board to different rooms, you attempt to solve the mystery. (Rules are here, if that brief description is not adequate. I recommend the movie too.)

By the time our kids took their baths, put on pajamas, and got everything set up, it was about 8 p.m. It didn’t take long to realize this was not going to end well. Within a 10 minute period, Elizabeth, our eight year old, fell off the bench, knocked over her milk, and started crying because she thought we had skipped her turn (and she had just gone).

Elizabeth (Ozzie in stripes) in an entirely different mood.

My wife (far more patient and generous than me) had just poured her another glass of milk when Elizabeth inadvertently dropped two of her cards face up on the table. This led our son to say, “Ahh… okay. So it’s not Mr. Green…” and then he feigned making a note. Game over. Tears, flailing on the ground, and of course, more spilled milk— this time on her teddy bear Ozzie, aka her teammate.

“That’s it!” I pronounced. “We’re done. We can finish this tomorrow.”

HOLY COW! You would have thought I said we were going to burn Ozzie and throw his remains in the sewer. It was like scene from the Book of Revelation. Writhing, gnashing of teeth, and an alternation between screams and whimpers that left me questioning our decision to have a second child.

Once she pulled herself together and blew her nose about seven times, she insisted on looking at the cards in the envelope to learn the answers.

“No, sweetheart,” I told her. “We will finish the game tomorrow.” I picked her up and carried her to bed. She was snoring within 46 seconds.

Second verse, same as the first

I was working at the dining room table the following morning and heard her come down the stairs. Not realizing I was watching, she went into the room where the board was set up in order to peek inside the envelope.

It felt like Groundhog Day as I walked in and reprimanded her. Bam! She hit the floor, casting Ozzie aside in her grief. As I watched her moan and roll around (essentially serving as a human Swiffer), I thought about… well, first about being on the beach alone. But then I considered just how natural her desire was to check the envelope and uncover the resolution.

A Desire for “The Answers”

We have all been there…

  • Is this date going to lead to anything significant?
  • How did I do on that test?
  • Is this job interview going to result in an offer?
  • Is my health exam going to come back positive or negative?

The desire to know how it’s all going to work out is true in the college admission experience as well.

If you are a junior

Emails flood your inbox. Every brochure presents you with another beautifully manicured quad, incredible brick or stone architecture, and a perfectly balanced array of students from different ethnicities, majors, and states. They seem to say (without overtly saying), “no matter who you are, there is a place for you here.” The big machine of college admission marketing is in full gear and your name is up.

  1. Look at those letters, emails, and brochures as clues. Ask yourself, like you would in the game, what am I holding in my hand— in other words, who am I? And who am I not? Take the time to consider, refine, and record distinctions between what you want (would be nice) and what you need (must have) in your college experience. Think about your school, community, and the teams, clubs, jobs, and other places you are involved and plugged in. What do you love about those opportunities or environments and want more of in college? What do you not see, have, or enjoy that you are hoping to gain, learn, or be exposed to after high school? These are fairly deep but incredibly important questions. They will take work and effort to answer. But like anything into which you invest time and effort, they will provide you with invaluable ownership and confidence.
  2. “Like all good mysteries, your college search should be filled with twists, turns, discovery, new places, and interesting people.” Get online and poke around on schools’ virtual tours. Snoop around on social media accounts of the student groups from campuses you are interested in. Go see the places that match your needs and wants and investigate for yourself. When you are there, interrogate everyone you meet as a potential suspect. Wait…no, don’t do that.
    When you are there, don’t just settle for the canned tour and spiel. Work a little harder. Eavesdrop in the dining hall or student center. Listen to the conversations students are having. Go find the buildings that house your major if you don’t get there on the tour. Observe the interactions of faculty and students. Are these your people? Like any good detective, pay close attention. Take notes. Ask the same questions to as many people as possible on each campus and continually compare those answers.

Yes, there were a lot of underlined verbs in those paragraphs. Again, a college search done right is supposed to require time and effort. At times it might seem easier to simply pull the envelope from the middle. Remember, that information will come last.

Just because everyone in your family has gone to a particular school or these are the five colleges with the highest ranking in the major you want to pursue does not mean they are the answers in your envelope. Don’t cheat yourself of the opportunity to discover more about who you are, how you are made, and the best environment to help you move toward your goals by taking short cuts.

If you are a senior (or the parent of a senior)…

You may have one or two admission decisions back and are potentially waiting for a few more. Maybe you have been admitted to your first choice school and just need to receive the financial package. Either way, you have some information but need more clues before you open the envelope and solve the mystery. Be comfortable in the waiting. In the weeks and months ahead, you have some great stuff to look forward to— prom, spring break, final games or meets or performances. Don’t be so concerned with what is in the envelope that you dilute the enjoyment of those unique, important, and fleeting experiences.

  1. Just like in the game of Clue you need to pay attention and look around at the other players— your friends, family, coaches, teachers, and other important people in your life. Where you will be next year may be a mystery but one thing is certain— you will not be where you are right now. Don’t waste this time of uncertainty stewing or shrinking inward. Proactively pursue the relationships around you. Go back to the teacher who inspired your love of Biology and tell her that. Let your coach know how much you appreciate their time and effort and how it impacted you. These folks invest countless hours every year. They may not be looking for acknowledgement, but I guarantee they’ll appreciate it. Don’t look at your younger brother’s incessant requests for a ride or pleas to borrow a sweatshirt as annoying, but rather as a chance to connect that you simply won’t have on a daily basis eight months from now. And, I have said it before but this won’t be the last time— hug your mama!
  2. Don’t pay too much attention to the other players. Huh?! Listen, if John or Madison or Ryan or Lauren or some other person you know whose name ends in “n” gets into a particular school, or gets a scholarship, don’t spend your time or energy thinking about it. Honestly, it means nothing for you. They had their questions and you have yours. That is their envelope and yours is coming. Keep focused on your cards and the board in front of you. “Find joy in uncovering the clues that lead you, and ultimately you will arrive on a college campus confident and excited to embrace the opportunity.” That is not a hope or a utopian thought— it’s a promise rooted in experience.

Eventually, even the best metaphors eventually break down, and we’ve reached that point here. College admission is not a game (cue Allen Iverson); and contrary to common vernacular it is not a process; instead, it is an experience. “Enjoy the journey!”

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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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Say It Again!

Last November we made a plan for the blog.

We looked out at the spring and created a log.

To various staff we assigned certain weeks.

We wondered how to improve–what are the necessary tweaks?

That’s when we realized we really need you

To tell us how to be helpful, encouraging, and true

We really want to know what you think,

So please help us out and visit this link.  

In our original January blog plan, we were only going to send out the survey this week without any additional message or content surrounding it. But I convinced my sweet, amazing, beautiful editor/communications manager if we put the link in three times, y’all would still do it. Maybe it is from reading so many amazing applications lately, but I decided to go for four. Love you, Becky.

Decisions, Priorities, and Goals

Saturday we released admission decisions. As I write this, I have 164 emails in my inbox. I am going to give you one guess at how many are from students/families who were admitted… right—that would be one less than your number of guesses.

Here are some of the subject lines: “Concerns for admission process” or “Broken system.” Most of these messages include details about a particular student’s statistics and how they either compare to our published middle 50% ranges or to other students they know (or have heard from a second cousin twice removed) who were admitted.

At the heart of these notes (gentle euphemism) is a plea for the numbers to dictate, or a desire for admission officers to point to one particular reason why, the student was not admitted. We are never going to do that. Not because we aren’t willing to be transparent or because we are not good people (despite a few emails with some creative language asserting that opinion).

Ultimately, it is because holistic admission is completely counter to isolating numbers, sorting data in a spreadsheet, or putting all rationale for a decision on one single factor. Ultimately, both application review, and certainly admission decision-making (particularly at the macro level), are driven by an institution’s priorities and goals.

While I was listening to music on the train earlier this week, I came across a song that I had not heard in a while, “Say It Again” by Don Williams. I took particular note of that tune because it was such a stark transition from the songs that preceded it (“With My Own Two Hands” by Ben Harper and “So What’cha Want” by the Beastie Boys). Word to the wise: shuffle your full song history at your own risk. I’m not recommending you download “Say It Again” but the refrain stuck out to me: “Come on. Say it again.”

Since I was not supposed to really write anything this week (because of the survey), I decided to provide you a few greatest hits from the archives, as well as a couple quick listens, that may be helpful.

  • Admission: It’s Not Fair. This post further explains the concept of institutional priorities and mission, as well as how they dictate admission decision. Audio version here.
  • Handling Those Decisions. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with my friend and colleague, Mark Stucker who is a college counselor at KIPP-Atlanta and also has podcast called “Your Collegebound Kid.” In episode 49 and 50, we talk about how decisions are made, as well as how you can respond and take action once you have been admitted, denied, deferred, or waitlisted.
  • Be Cool. Another blog from the archive, particularly for admitted, denied, and waitlisted students, so I went back and recorded an audio version.

Have a great week. (Oh… and did we mention the survey?).

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Hope for the New Year

Listen to the audio version here.

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2019. Over the break I was thinking about how great it was to be a kid during the holiday season: time off from school; presents; lots of sweets; and family around to spoil you. As a parent… not so much. Maybe I’m doing something wrong but my holidays were filled with doing dishes, spending money, and negotiating family and neighbor dynamics.

I also had several lengthy conversations with friends whose 12th grade students are going through the college admission experience now. Some of the most frequent words I heard were: stressed, nervous, unsure, and scared.

Ironically, as I was taking down holiday cards I kept running across words like joy, light, and–the most popular– hope. So, since the new year is about believing in and creating a better future, and because parents are usually the ones sending, rather than receiving, the notes at this time of year, I wanted to write you my admissions letter of hope as we kick off the New Year.

Dear Parents,

As your student goes through the college admission process, I hope you will have the vision to help them start by asking why they want to go to college, the patience to listen and thoughtfully consider their answers, and the wisdom to keep bringing them back to those guiding responses as they apply, receive decisions, and ultimately select a school to attend.

I hope you will allow their goals and hopes–rather than an arbitrary list, the opinions of others, the culture of your school or community, a rankings guide with subjective methodology, or outdated stereotypes–to lead your exploration.

I hope you will be the example in your community. At times the swirling discussions about college and gossip about admissions will be unhealthy and unproductive. I hope you will recognize these moments and either remove yourself entirely or redirect the conversation.

I hope you will be the example on social media. You are going to see some terribly misinformed opinions, negative banter, catty comments, and bold-faced lies. I hope you will not engage in that dialogue online and take opportunities in-person to re-center the conversation with your friends, neighbors, or relatives. Strongly consider not posting anything about your child’s college search or admission experience, unless you think it could be beneficial to others online.  My hope is you will use your platform to be encouraging, positive, and reassuring—provide healthy and desperately needed perspective when discussions go off the rails and fan the flames of anxiety.

I hope you will be the example for your family. Try to back away when you are at a college visit or information session and let your student ask their questions of a tour guide or an admission counselor. In a short year or two, they will be on a college campus. They need to be able to advocate for themselves to professors and navigate internship or job interviews. I hope you will see this as an opportunity to prepare them for success in a future chapter.

I hope that will go for a walk or a drive when you hear yourself say things like “We are taking the SAT next weekend,” or “Our first choice is Boulder.” Ask yourself if those pronouns are just a reflection of your love and 17 years of intimately intertwined lives, or if they are a subtle indication you should step back and let your student demonstrate what you know they are capable of handling. Parenting is a delicate dance, but it is one you know well. Be honest with yourself and you will know when to take the lead and when to step back. You got this!

Trust your child’s ability to articulate points and express themselves effectively in writing for colleges. My hope is you will ask questions about college essays and make helpful edits or suggestions, rather than re-write their work by inserting words like “blissful” or “propitious.”

You are going to see inequities. You will see students “get in” with lower scores. The kid down the street/ the blue chip athlete/ the son of a major donor/ (insert unthinkable prototype here) is going to receive offers or scholarships or opportunities that your student does not. You are going to read online, or see on social media videos, pictures, comments, and posts about neighbors or students in your school or community who by every measure you observe do not seem “as good as” or “as qualified as” your kid.

Each year after decisions go out, admission officers receive fuming phone calls, vitriolic emails, threats, accusations of bias or conspiracy, and expletive-laden rants. These are never from students. I hope when you are tempted to “come down there” you will take a deep breath and (when necessary) bite your lip. When you get upset or frustrated or angry, my hope is you remember those emotions are a manifestation of your love. More than they need you pulling strings or filling out appeal forms, they simply need to hear you tell them you love them and you are proud of them.

I hope you will encourage your student to enjoy their final months (or years for parents of juniors/sophomores) in high school. Remind them to keep perspective when a test does not go well or a final grade is lower than they hoped. Keep making time to get to their games, shows, recitals, etc., and hug them even when they pretend like they don’t care or need it. My hope is you will truly enjoy this unique, and all too short, chapter of life.

Make every effort to get out of your local admission echo chamber. Take time to look at the Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 lists of companies and their CEOs. Most come from schools that are not categorized as highly selective. Go back and re-read Frank Bruni’s book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. Listen to the many stories your own friends and colleagues have about their own college experience. They will tell you about how they did not get into their top choice or could not afford to attend a certain school, and now 20-30 years after graduating, they would not have it any other way.

Talk to parents who have kids in college. Ask them to reflect on their experience. Inevitably, you will hear them say they wish they had not stressed as much. They will tell you about their daughter who was not admitted to her first choice school, ended up elsewhere, and is thriving now. They will go into great detail about how their son did not receive the merit scholarship he had been hoping for, selected another option from his choices, and now has an incredible internship and a girlfriend (who they actually like) that he never would have met otherwise.

I understand that as a parent the college admission experience seems incredibly complicated because it is filled with a myriad of dates and deadlines. It seems confusing because the mainstream press and pervasive how-to guides regularly provide incomplete and frequently inaccurate data. It seems consuming because friends and colleagues incessantly share their “inside” information and stories (or the alleged stories of relatives twice removed) on social media. It seems confounding because those same friends and colleagues, while adamant, have widely divergent experiences and opinions they are quick to share each time they see you at the school, store, or stadium. It seems complex because colleges and universities all have different processes, review different factors, and operate on different timelines.

After watching this cycle repeat itself for two decades, I am convinced it seems this way because people are too focused on “getting in” when they should simply be committed to staying together.

Ultimately, my biggest hope is that no matter where your college admission journey leads you, you’ll keep telling your kids three things: I love you. I trust you. I am proud of you.

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