What The…?!

Listen to the audio version here!

Young kids are like productivity’s kryptonite. A good day is two steps forward, one step back. I’m not saying they aren’t cute. I’m not warning you not to have them in the future. I am saying any adult who manages to keep these young beings alive, while also accomplishing more than the most mundane, perfunctory tasks, deserves to be praised, exalted, and cheered in the city square.

Just when you think you’ve washed all the dishes, you turn around to see an abandoned half glass of milk and two casually nibbled carrots on the counter top. And what is this in your periphery vision? Why it’s a lone striped sock, discarded by someone next to the fireplace. Mowing the lawn now involves an extra 30 minutes of post-cut clean up because of the 23 Nerf bullets shredded into hundreds of tiny pink, green, and orange pieces and sprayed all over the walkway and bushes.

If I’m being honest, in these moments I really have to watch my temper, tone, and tongue (a different three T’s than discussed a few weeks ago). Typically, I exhale deeply, close my eyes, and slowly bow and shake my head. Sometimes the sage words of Jimmy Buffett assuage my frustration, “If we couldn’t laugh, we’d all go insane.” But in most cases, amidst a swirling combination of confusion, exasperation, and uncertainty, all I can utter is, “What the…?!”

Here are a few recent examples:

I admit this could be called progress after the peeing in the vent story from a few years ago. That, however was more like no steps forward and $1200 back.

Yesterday, I received this Facebook memory of my kids. Looks innocent enough, right? Creating a work of art out of old cereal boxes on the surface may look like a commitment to sustainability and artistic expression. No. This was a mandated “project” that resulted after finding bins of wrappers, boxes, cartons and other trash our son had been hoarding in his room for months. Bins—plural! What the…?!

Just before bed one night last week, my wife asked me, “What is that goo on the floor in the kitchen? It’s an odd green color and seems to be spreading.”

I don’t know. Where? You didn’t smell it or try to clean it up?

“I wasn’t touching that. Could not tell what it was.”

Stumbling downstairs, I saw the substance in question. It was a brownish-green puddle a few inches in diameter. Food? Human discharge of some kind? Melted Play-Doh? A combination of all three? What the…?!

And today, I went to the refrigerator in the morning for some yogurt only to find a few mechanical candles randomly placed on the shelves. Not destructive, but again, “What the…?!”

On The Road

It’s recruitment season, and while traveling to high schools recently I have had a disproportionate number of questions about the open-ended section of the application called “Additional Information” or “Special Circumstances.”

“Is it going to hurt me if I don’t answer that question?”

“Can I include one of the essays I could not fit anywhere else here?”

“I’m a poet and was thinking about including…”

“Would you call filling this section out demonstrated interest?”

I get it. Most of the college application is straightforward. Name: check. Address: got it. School information: no problem. Activities, Essays… all of it makes sense.

Then there’s this: “Do you wish to provide details of circumstances or qualifications not reflected in the application?” If you select yes, you have a free form box that allows up to 650 words. No additional instructions. No examples. No guidance.

Most applicants neither use nor need this section. In other words, unlike the unidentifiable goo on the floor, you can just leave it be. For those that do complete it, these are the three big bucket reasons:

Significant life events.

You had mono as a junior and missed the first two months of school. Your parents’ divorce was finalized in the summer before senior year but the end of eleventh grade was filled with turmoil. You moved three times during high school due to a parent’s job transfer, promotion, or loss. These are just some of the examples we see in this section. Readers appreciate the perspective you can provide and they will make notes or highlight pertinent pieces they believe are relevant to their review and admissions decision, especially as it relates to overcoming challenges, persevering, or demonstrating tenacity/grit. In some cases, this information may lead them to add to or revise their notes from prior sections.

Academic Context.

Readers want to know if your schedule choices were impacted during high school. Are some courses only offered at certain times? Was a class you had hoped to take canceled due to low enrollment? If you moved multiple times during high school, readers will see that on your transcript, but you also have an opportunity to tell them what impact that may have had. If your move precluded you from being able to take a certain course or begin on a particular curricular track upon arriving at your new school, feel free to elaborate in this space.

Additional Activities.

There are times when the activity section is too limited in space for you to demonstrate the extent to which you contributed. Often this surrounds a business you started, a fundraiser you need to provide more details about, or additional levels of achievement from an activity you listed earlier in the application. Remember, this is “additional” for you– and to an extent it is additional for admission committees. HINT: Put your strongest, most compelling information FIRST in the activity section. Do not intentionally bleed over into additional information unless it is absolutely essential to convey the depth of your work or time.

Still unsure?

Ask your school counselor for their advice. See what their experience has been in the past with students who have used this section. You can also simply call or email the school you are applying to and ask them for their advice.

This is a section about necessary whys or what else– not the place for another essay. Instead, readers evaluate this section looking for pieces of information that provide valuable context (inside or outside the classroom) that you cannot convey elsewhere. Do not over think it! If you believe you have something noteworthy to add, then use this section. Readers will incorporate what they deem helpful and dismiss what they do not. It is as simple as that. It will not hurt you if you do not complete this section (again, most students do not), or if you include something that is deemed irrelevant.

It is called “extra” or “special” because it is not standard. Readers will not combine those two words in their head and assume any applicant completing this section is “extra special.”

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Advocacy is the New Application

This week we welcome Admission Counselor Mikala Bush to the blog. Welcome, Mikala!

School counselors and teachers, this blog’s for you!

Over the summer our staff prepared for the upcoming recruitment and application cycle. While we were certainly busy, we also had time to have fun, share ideas, and enjoy being together. We had a huge list of must-see movies and TV shows on our whiteboard to check off before summer ended. A few of my personal favorites include Ladybird (which should have won every Oscar!), Waiting for Superman, and Precious Knowledge (especially if you’re into educational documentaries), and most importantly the phenomenon known as O.I.T.N.B.

I’ve joined the millions of binge watchers who are currently hibernating with the newest season of Orange is the New Black, an Emmy-award winning show. In its sixth season, the theme is all about advocacy. The characters are advocating for themselves, for each other, and for better conditions while serving their time.

Are you in(mate)?

Advocacy, in most situations, is giving voice to those who do not have one or expanding/amplifying someone else’s story. In college admission, students certainly have the opportunity to advocate for themselves (in their essays and supplemental questions), but they also rely heavily on school counselors and teachers to do this for them through recommendations. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Advocacy is the New Application (see what I did there?).

Before starting in admission at Georgia Tech, I was a college adviser at an amazing public high school here in Atlanta. In that time, I often wondered how best to advocate for applicants.

As admission counselors, our advocacy looks a bit different but we still fight hard for your students. We highlight their self-awareness, passion, grit, perseverance, and we defend the setbacks that are out of their control. We ask where did this student start in the race and how have are they finishing? Each student is given full analysis with respect to their high school – be it the culture, policies, or the community that surrounds it.

Now that I’m on the inside (get it) I’m here to help you highlight important elements of a student’s story in your letters of recommendation.

What are you in for?

Letters of recommendation can be extremely helpful in the review process when they provide insight into a student’s story. Unfortunately, the majority of letters sound like this:

Johnny is a caring, charismatic, courageous student. He has a 4.0 GPA and a 34 on the ACT. He is involved in X, Y. AND Z activities. He would make a great addition to your campus.

While all of these characteristics may be true, admission readers have seen this information elsewhere in the application. A recommendation letter should highlight something new. If you are a teacher, highlighting a project that a student completed, how they interact with others in class, how they react to challenges, or the insightful questions that they bring to the discussion can really help tell a more complete story. Your voice is invaluable to us because it represents an on the ground angle that we simply do not hear anywhere else in the application.

If you are a counselor, ask yourself: How is this student different from others in the class, grade, school, etc.? How is this student perceived by peers and faculty? What might this student undersell or not see in themselves that I can highlight? Addressing these questions will ultimately lead to a better letter that shines a new, broader light.

Your past crimes don’t define you.

One of the subtle points students, and recommenders, forget is that we, as admission counselors, are human! We don’t expect perfection. When I worked as a school counselor, I once hosted a college visit in which I noticed there were more students in the session than had registered for the event. I then realized five students skipped class to meet with this particular college. I made a stern announcement about visit protocol and how to participate with the approval of teachers. Of the five, only one came up to me after and said “Ms. Bush, I was one of those students who did not get permission to come today. I am sorry and promise it will never happen again.”

This student showed courage to admit her mistake, apologized, and corrected it rather than slipping off quietly like her peers. The situation spoke to her character, which I was happy to later write about and advocate for in her recommendation letters.

Give yourself permission to write about students as humans – beautiful, flawed, and improving over time. I realize vulnerability and imperfection may seem contradictory to a process that is supposed to be about putting the best foot forward, but providing somewhat sensitive, yet unquestionably authentic information in your recommendation letters allows you to highlight growth and potential—and to both celebrate the student’s past and advocate for their future!

Are you a supporting witness?

Teachers, before you agree to be a recommender, help them answer these questions: Does this person know me well? Can they speak to my personality and character inside, and ideally also outside, the classroom? Have I spent quality time with them? Will they be an enthusiastic advocate? Remind them that often the teacher who can write with the most clarity and excitement is not necessarily the person in the academic area they plan to pursue in college.  That’s right–sometimes the best recommendation for a future physics major is the drama teacher!

My One Free Call…

Finally, I want to take a moment to say, as a former school counselor, to simply say, “THANK YOU!” Thank you for service to students. Thank you for your time, concern, and sacrifices. Thank you for writing and counseling these kids. Thank you for your advocacy!

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Breathing Room

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission (West Coast) Ashley Brookshire to the blog. Welcome, Ashley!

Have you ever watched a presenter on a raised surface, or a singer on a stage? Think about the space they leave between themselves and the end of the stage. Now, imagine that person chooses to pace on the very edge of the stage, rather than a safe distance back. I don’t know about you, but I would be much more concerned about that person walking themselves right off the edge of the stage than focused on their presentation. Because the speaker has positioned themselves in a place without margin, stress has now entered the situation for both them and the audience.

Margin is an essential part of our lives. Without margin we run right up to the edge. Once on the edge, our focus turns to simply staying upright, rather than paying attention to the quality and intentionality with which we operate. Breathing room is absolutely necessary in the college admission process! But if you don’t plan for it, you likely won’t have any.

For those of you who are high school seniors, the college application process has already begun. Here are a couple of tips to help you  set limits and expectations for the ride ahead—tips that will allow you to preserve margin around your college search process and decision.

Dead Line

Did you know that the origin of the word deadline comes from the American Civil War? It referred to a line within prison walls beyond which inmates were shot. What a terrifying origin for a word that is now a part of our everyday language! As you can imagine, during the era when this term was making its debut prisoners probably left plenty of margin between themselves and the deadline.

Fast forward about 150 years… these days we’re not very good at leaving margin between ourselves and deadlines. As the west coast representative for an east coast school, I’m often asked if our application deadline refers to 11:59pm ET or PT. If the answer to that question makes a difference in your plan to complete your application, then you are cutting things too close!

Last year at Georgia Tech more than 60 percent of our early action first-year applications were received within three days of our application deadline (that’s over 11,000 applications!). As more applications come in, the number of phone calls, emails, and walk-in visitors who have important, time sensitive questions increases. Needless to say, despite additional staffing, our response time during these few days of the year is slower than nearly any other time in our office.

If you’re treating the deadline as THE DAY on which you plan to apply then you find yourself with a last-minute question, you’re welcoming unnecessary stress into your life as you anxiously await a response. The solution is simple: build in breathing room! When you see a deadline, give yourself a goal of applying one week in advance. Then if something unexpected happens, such as illness, inclement weather, or the internet breaks (true story—it’s happened in the past!), you still have margin between yourself and the actual deadline.

Quiet Hours

Back when my husband and I were engaged, we realized very early on we could not talk about wedding planning every waking moment. There was plenty to discuss, and each day we could spend hours talking about song lists, seating charts, and minute details. But the obsession of planning was exhausting. If we wanted to actually enjoy our engagement, and plan for a future far beyond our wedding day, we had to set limits on when we discussed wedding plans.

I strongly encourage you and your family to do the same for your college search process. If you set no limits to college talks, then you all will inevitably burn out. A time of discovery and maturity will be marred with talking about details that are subject to constant change. You’ll find yourselves rehashing the same conversation over and over and over again, but with different levels of emotion and stress.  There are important things for you and your family to discuss, and you certainly need to have dialogue around the college process. Just don’t make it part of every conversation you have during your senior year.

Find the best time for you all to sit down each week and talk (sound familiar? It should!). Maybe you agree not to talk about college on the weekends… or before school… or maybe you only talk about it on a designated day. Do whatever makes the most sense for you, but make sure you’re setting a framework around when these important, but exhausting, conversations take place. Leave margin in your day and your conversations so college talk doesn’t permeate all aspects of your life.

Just Breathe….

Breathing room is valuable in many aspects of life, but in the frenzy and significance of the college process, we often lose sight of it. Keeping margin in the picture can substantially reduce the amount of stress you carry during this season as you keep your head above the chaos. Take a deep breath, make a plan, and use this unique time to determine what things matter most to you.

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The Three T’s

A few weeks ago, my wife called me at work around 2 p.m. This is not typical.

“Hey, what’s up?” I answered.

“Walter (our neighbor) is walking around his house with a clipboard,” she said.

“Weird.”

Not catching my sarcasm, she replied, “I know, right? Do you think they’re moving?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he has taken up sketching. I’ll see you around six.”

But like so many times before, she was exactly right. The next day there were guys pressure washing and painting. Within a week, red mulch was spread around the yard, and a bunch of boxes went out to a mobile storage unit.  Next came the “Coming Soon” sign, which a week later turned to “Just Listed.”

Since that day there have been regular showings, real estate caravans, and cars slowly cruising past the house. If you have ever sold a house, you know how all-consuming it can be. First you have to prepare to sell, which includes all the things our neighbors have been doing recently: de-cluttering inside; touching-up outside; and buying decorative items for show like doilies (things you would never actually use in day-to-day living). Once on the market, you are at the mercy of potential buyers. I distinctly remember this from a few years ago when we moved. “Someone wants to come see it at 8 a.m. on Saturday,” our real estate agent would say. We’d clean up the kids’ toys, wipe down the counters, throw about three boxes of stuff we did not have a place for into the back of the van and go eat the All-Star Breakfast at Waffle House (that part was actually okay).  “Someone wants to come at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday,” “Let’s have an open house Sunday from 1-4 p.m.,” “Look out your window. Yeah, those folks want to see it now!”

Let’s not forget you also have to move somewhere. The buying side can be worse. You download every possible real estate app: one from your realtor, not to mention all the other real estate search engines on the web. Whatever you can find. You set your parameters on the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, location, price, and so on. Then the notifications start coming… or they don’t. Either way it is maddening. If you are moving locally, every trip to the grocery store becomes a detour “just to see if anything has popped up” (as if your realtor’s search would not have caught that). You become the one that is manic about getting in to see houses before other potential buyers. You are the one in the driveway asking to “see it now!”

Conversations over meals are about houses and prices and what else might come up next week. Everyone in the family (even ones who are not going to live there and don’t even visit regularly) have an opinion about how you’ve priced your house and what you need in the next home.

We’re Moving!

If you are a high school senior, all of this may sound familiar. Every time you get home there is another glossy, shiny brochure telling you with a $75 fee and a few essays you might be able to move in for four years. You have also been “caravanning” around to colleges and creating pro/con lists about size, price, location, and other factors. Like the real estate apps and websites, I’m guessing you also have found conflicting information and question the accuracy or relevance of data like test score ranges and admit rates. Everyone from coaches to aunts to random baristas are asking you questions and expressing their opinions about which place you should choose, what schools are overpriced, or which ones are unwarranted in their popularity. It’s uncertain and protracted. Let’s face it, as humans we just hate the waiting. For too many students and families the college admission experience, like the home buying and selling process, can be exhausting, maddening, and not a lot of fun.

I’m here to tell you there is a better way. You have a choice. Since I was recently trying to teach my kids the concept of alliteration, I present to you “The Three T’s.”

1 – Time. It is incredibly easy to let the college conversation permeate life, especially as a high school senior. Where are you applying? Did you write your essay yet? Aren’t we visiting Northwestern next month? When is that financial aid deadline? Did you see that brochure from U Conn? Left unchecked these queries and conversations are like incessant app notifications: after practice; on the way home from school; during breakfast, or when you are just sitting on the porch trying to relax.

I propose you and your family allocate just three hours a week to college applications and discussions. Sunday afternoons from 2-5 p.m., Thursday nights from 6-9 p.m. Find a time that works. You do you (Southern Translation: Y’all do y’all). Protect your time, and protect your sanity.

Here is how this works:

PARENTS: This is your time to bring the brochures you’ve noticed in the mail and say, “Hey, look honey, the leaves are turning in South Bend. Isn’t it pretty?” You get to ask, “Have you written your supplemental essays for SMU?” Or “Do you still want to take that trip to California to look at schools in November?” It’s all fair game.

Outside of that time, college talk is banned.  Drive past a car with a University of Colorado sticker? Not a peep. Sean next door gets accepted to Auburn or Washington State? Mute button is on.

STUDENTS: You don’t get to bring your cell phone, crunchy snacks, or a bad attitude. Three hours a week. You come ready to string multi-syllabic words together and use intonation. No shoe gazing. You are committed to being fully engaged in the conversation because it’s the ONLY ONE! One time a week… only three hours (1/8 of one day). You got this!

Three hours a week is also plenty of time to get college applications done (just not the last three hours before the deadline!). If you use three good hours for several weeks, you can absolutely do a great job and in truth, your essays will be better having re-visited them in multiple sittings. There is a lot to say for letting something sit for a week and then coming back to it with fresh eyes, some sleep, and a new perspective.

Note to students: I know sometimes your parents’ questions and opinions can sound like nagging or overreach. See that for what it really is—love and deep affection in disguise. The thought of you heading to college brings a crazy mixture of emotions, and frankly sometimes they are still trying to reconcile you are taking AP Biology or standing at over 6 feet tall. Somehow, carpool lines and tricycles do not seem like that long ago. Give them a break. Fear, excitement, love—these all warrant your being fully engaged. Three hours is less than 1.8% of your week. Phone down. Answer their questions—and every now and then, how about a hug?

2 – Talk. One of the main issues with home buying and selling is how public it becomes. Everyone can see pictures, prices, statistics about square footage, and the number of bathrooms on flyers and online. Neighbors are chatting in the streets about why someone is moving, when the house will sell, who might move in, and if it is over or under priced. After the sale is finalized, that too is public information—setting off another wave of gossip. That type of unnecessary, unhealthy, and unbridled noise can also occur in your admission experience if you share too much publicly. I strongly encourage you to consider how much you are going to volunteer with friends and online about where you are applying, because that opens you up to questions later about whether you are admitted, deferred, denied, or waitlisted.

Students, consider holding this process a little closer to your vest (or sweater or shirt for non-vest wearers) and only letting in a very small subset of trusted people. Parents, commit (before any admission decisions are released!) to not adding to the speculation and consternation surrounding college admission by sharing stories at parties or games or online about where your son or daughter is admitted, denied, or offered scholarships. Keeping decisions and deliberations private has incredible potential to build trust and bond your family in what should be a very personal process.  Taking this a step further, do not ask others about their college admission decisions. Not only is it really none of your business, but typically the information shared is exaggerated or inaccurate. Sorry, but sometimes… people, you know?

3 – Trust. Paranoia often surrounds buying and selling a house making it even more all–consuming. We are not going to be able to sell our house for the amount we want. I just know we are going to get outbid. There are almost no houses for sale and lots of people buying in that neighborhood. All of this, again, is extremely similar to college admission. There are thousands of applicants for a limited number of seats in classes. You apply (make an offer) and then have to wait anxiously to see if you are going to be admitted (offer accepted). With tens of thousands of dollars involved and a potential move out-of-state, it’s expensive and emotional.

I am asking—scratch that—I am telling you this is all going to work out. How do I know? Last Sunday, we hosted a program at Tech called Give 1 Get 1. Before Convocation, students brought shirts from other colleges where they visited, applied, or were admitted. That day we got lots of different shirts, saw lots of different faces, and heard lots of different backgrounds and stories about how they arrived at Tech. They were bonded by one commonality—they were all excited to be on campus and get started with their college career. This is the beautiful and inevitable other side  I described a few weeks ago.

Trifecta: Combining the 3 T’s

Anyone who has bought or sold a house has had some disappointments and made some adjustments during the process. With so many variables in timing, pricing, and other buyers and sellers, things never go exactly as you hope or plan. But they will also tell you that a house becomes a home because you move into it. You make it yours.

The truth is there are lots of great colleges in the nation where you could move in, succeed, and be thrilled with the community—where you could make friends, do well, be happy, and thrive. Right now these places are just names and addresses—don’t place any more emotional attachment on any one of them than that. Talk to friends this year when they come back from college for Thanksgiving or Winter Break. Ask them where they thought they would be a year prior—for many their current school was not their first choice or even on their radar. But then they moved in. They made it their home. And so will you.

Time, Talk, Trust. Apply these well and behold the power of alliteration, my friends!

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Ask Good Questions

In the world of college admission there is always debate about the “best school” in the nation. As quickly as someone holds up Stanford or Harvard, someone else will poke holes in the methodology, or challenge that they may not be tops for  every major, and so on and so forth.  There are so many varying “sources” online these days that almost every school can tout a high-ranking or review in one area or another. “We’re among the nation’s best in ROI, or in STEM fields,” “We are the nation’s Greenest college” or “We have the best ice cream.” There is almost never a consensus or agreement on who really is “the best.” Perhaps that’s the beauty of this field– lots of great options and a desire to be the best in one thing or another, but clearly there is not a unanimous #1.

But in the world of music  a definitive leader is apparent; a band that rises above the rest and leaves no room for debate:  U2. From their lyrics to their history to their longevity, they simply define greatness. Glad we’ve established that.

A lesser known but important U2 song is 11 O’Clock Tick Tock. And in typical fashion, they always bring a lyric that is profound and broadly applicable to life:

“We thought we had the answers. It was the questions we had wrong.”

Asking the right questions, and being persistent in the asking, is a fundamental life lesson. And it’s absolutely vital as you go through the college admission process. So as you head out to college campuses, whether you are a sophomore or junior who is just starting to understand how one school varies from another, or a senior who is trying to figure out the best fit for the next few years, commit to being a relentless questioner. If you leave the question asking to the colleges, you can bet you’re  going to hear the same answers over and over again. “Oh, yes. Our biology program is great.” “Sure. You can double major in English and Sound Design. That’s actually extremely common.”

The emails and the brochures paint the same Pollyanna pictures, mixing appropriate diversity with studious learners closely inspecting a beaker or electrical circuit.. Don’t accept the Charlie Brown speeches. As you talk to people at different colleges, turn off the switch that has them rambling about studying abroad or the number of applications they received and ask them something better.

1) You ask: “What is your faculty: student ratio?” This number may not include faculty who are doing research and teach only one class, or those who are on sabbatical, and so on. For example, Tech’s ratio is 20:1, but that doesn’t mean you and 20 buddies will be sitting around a table in Calculus I your first year. These stats are compiled for publications to be comparative. So while helpful in that regard, they don’t tell the whole story.

You SHOULD ask: “What is your most common class size?” This question gets you right into the classroom. Schools rarely publish average SATs or GPAs but rather bands or ranges. Likewise, you want to look at their ranges and variances within class size. 85 percent of classes at Tech have fewer than 50 students. That type of information will be far more helpful to you in framing expectations and determining what kind of experience you will likely have.

And THEN ask: “How does that vary from first year to fourth year? Is that true for all majors? What does that look like for my major?” I had an intro Econ class at UNC-Chapel Hill that had 500 students in it. But that was not my undergraduate experience. In fact, that was the only course I took all four years that was over 100. Similarly, one of my favorite student workers at Tech was a senior Physics major whose classes had seven, 12, and 16 students in them. But rest assured that during her freshman year she sat in a large lecture hall for Physics I.

Your job is to probe. Your job is to dig and to clarify.

2) You ask: “What’s your graduation rate?” Schools do not answer this the same. Some will give you  their four-year grad rate, some five, and some  six. The variance is not an effort to be misleading or nefarious; they have been trained to respond with an answer that is  most representative of their students’ experience. Most four-year, private, selective liberal arts schools would likely not even think to respond with a five or six-year rate because there is no significant differentiation and their goal is to have all students graduate in four years. That’s how they structure curriculum and it is their culture.

You SHOULD ask: “What is your four and six-year graduation rate? And at those two intervals what  percentage have either a job offer or grad school acceptance letter?” Who cares if you have a high graduation rate if your job placement rate is low?

And THEN ask: “How does grad rate vary by major? What percentage of students who double major or study abroad or have an internship finish in four years?” My opinion is too much emphasis is put on this clock. Unfortunately, much of this is antiquated and driven by US News and World Report rankings (we won’t delve into this too much, but you can read about here). If you are taking advantage of opportunities on a campus like picking up a minor, or participating in a co-op, or working to offset costs, or going abroad to enhance your language skills, and all of those things are translating into lower loan debt and more job or grad school opportunities when you are done, then who cares about the clock?

3) You ask: “What is your retention rate?” Great question.. and an important one. Most put the national average somewhere around the 60% range. But as you can see from that link, it varies by school type and student type. So when a school says their first-year retention rate is 85%, that’s great, right?

You SHOULD ask: “Why are those other 15% leaving? Is it financial? Is it because the football team lost too many games? Is it academic and they’re not prepared for the rigor of the school? Is it because the school is too remote or too urban or too big?” Follow up. Ask them to articulate who is leaving. Tech has a retention rate of 97.3%, which  is among the top 25 schools nationally and top five for publics (these are statistics here, friends, not rankings). But we are constantly looking at who is leaving. Surprisingly, for many alumni and others who know the rigor of Tech, it’s not exclusively academic. It’s a balanced mix that also includes distance from home, seeking a different major, financial reasons, and, increasingly, because students are starting companies or exploring entrepreneurial options.

Some schools have retention rates below the national average, but they’re losing  students who are successfully transferring to state public flagships or into specialized programs in the area. If that’s your goal, then you can be okay with a lower retention rate, right?

Don’t be too shy to ask questions. This is your job… Not your mom’s job…. Not your counselor’s job. Your job. DO YOUR JOB!

And THEN ask: What that’s it? Nope. I have more questions…and so should you.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in February 2017. Links have been updated.

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