Diving into 2017

It’s a busy week here at Georgia Tech as we prepare to release more than 15,000 Early Action admission decisions this coming Saturday. Since Rick is tied up with the business of admission, I hope you’ll bear with me as his fill-in this week!

We don’t get a lot of snow here in Atlanta… if I’m being honest, we don’t get any. Maybe the occasional ice storm will roll through, but snow? Not so much. So you have to understand why the GT swim team (and one diver!) had a pretty epic experience when last week’s swim meet at UVA was canceled due to snow.

So what does swimming in the snow have to do with a new year, college admission, and the blog? More than you may think…

New year, new goals

It’s a new year, and our tendency as humans is to dive in (see what I did there?) as we turn the page from 2016 to 2017. Something about the freshness of a new year (maybe it’s the calendars?) makes us excited to set goals and create new plans for ourselves both personally and professionally. We’re eager to shake off the shackles of whatever held us back before and move boldly into the future.

But… Before we forge ahead into our new to-do list and start checking those boxes, we can’t forget one little word that has a whole lot of impact: assessment.

If we really want 2017 to be different, and to be better, it must begin with a true look back. Assessment helps us see where we stumbled, where we excelled, and how we can improve.

Help us help you

The GT Admission blog has been up and running for over a year now, and we’re thrilled to have more than 400 subscribers (thank you!). Our team eagerly reads and shares any and all feedback we receive on our posts, and we use those conversations to shape our strategy for future posts.

One of our goals for the blog is to lift the veil on college admission. We try to give you an inside look into the who, what, how and why of admission. We want to help students (and families and counselors) understand what they can, and cannot, control when it comes to “getting in” at their top schools.

Each week our team brainstorms ideas for the blog, hoping to hit on what you want to hear. Sometimes we knock it out of the park… other times, not so much. What is it that makes one post successful, and another not?

We’re asking you to lift the veil on your side of the curtain, and help us understand what YOU want to hear from us. How can we provide the content you’re looking for? It starts with assessment. We’ve created a quick survey (and I do mean quick–only 7 questions!) that we hope you’ll take a moment to complete. We know you’re busy folks, so trust me when I tell you that not only are we anxious to hear your thoughts, but we will use what we learn to steer the blog forward in the year ahead.

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Breaking Down The Admission Team. Week 5: Quarterbacks

This year we moved our Regular Decision Deadline from January 10 to January 1. When we initially made the call to change the date, one of my boss’s biggest concerns was that “we would ruin New Year’s Eve” by “making them” stay in to apply to Tech.

My counter was two-fold. First, the application opens on August 1, so we’ve “given” them five months to apply. How long do you need to write a few paragraphs and ask mom and dad some questions about their jobs, degrees, and residency?

Second, let’s not forget about January 1. Even if they stay out to celebrate NYE, they still have ALL DAY January 1. And, predictably, 3,500 students did wait to apply for 2017 in 2017.

I can relate. I started this series on The Admission Team in early November and committed to finishing before we went back to work January 3, and here I am writing this on January 2 (with all the time in the world to meet that deadline). Takes one to know one.

QB1

We’ve worked through The Communications Team (Defense), The Operations Team (Offensive Line), The Initial Review (The Bench), and The Recruitment and Holistic Review Team, (WRs and RBs). And that leaves us with just one position left to cover: The Director/Dean/AVP (or some other fancy title) of Admission. You can basically throw in folks with titles like Associate and Senior Associate to this group as well.

These are the Quarterbacks of the team. They call the plays, scan the entire field, read defenses, and align their team’s talent in the right positions to be successful. They make strategy and personnel adjustments as the game progresses in order to lead their team to victory.  Consequently, they are typically the names on recruitment and decision letters, the spokespeople providing quotes to journalists, and they’re also the ones who take the heat when goals are not met.

Signal Callers

These folks are part demographer, part pitch-man, part cheerleader, part bridge-builder, and of course, part soup maker. 

Directors and Deans are over-“meetinged.” They spend time looking at historical trends of applications by state or major or some other category; they are concerned about demographic shifts; they are constantly refining predictive models in order to be sure they bring in the right class size and make-up.  They field way too many calls from vendors wanting to sell them services. They meet with and listen to alumni, presidents, provosts, deans, donors, board members, legislators, and other key constituents, and attempt to translate sweeping five-part mission statements and aspirational future casting about the university into succinct, engaging messages that can be easily understood and attractive to students and parents.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit we don’t always get this right. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of glossy, shiny brochures with phrases like “Invent your future” or “Be Bold” or “Find it here.” Trite? Cheesy? Sure. But next time you scoff at one of these short verb-led challenges on a mailing, imagine if instead it read “Engaging students in co-curricular and inspiring world-class education in order to create global citizens committed to endeavoring into passionate, meaningful dialogue for life-long learning and the cultivation of future impact.” (The reason you know I made that up is there are nearly ten mono-syllabic words).

These folks are multi-taskers (and often caffeine junkies) who have become masters of slipping out of meetings with influential alumni in order to quickly welcome a group of visiting sophomores to campus.

Quarter Backgrounds (see what I did there?)

If you look at quarterbacks around the NFL, you’ll find their backgrounds and personalities vary widely. Eli Manning comes from a family that’s basically football royalty. He attended a prestigious private school in New Orleans, and played big time college ball at Ole Miss in the nation’s biggest powerhouse conference. Joe Flacco went to the University of Delaware (Go Blue Hens!) out of the Colonial Conference– far more known for basketball than football– and attended  public high school in New Jersey. Cam Newton has a gregarious and sometimes flamboyant personality. Drew Brees… not so much.

And so it goes with admission directors and deans. There is no template or mold. Accountants have CPAs. Lawyers have JDs. Look at some of these biographies online. Music majors, MBAs, PhDs in History and Fine Arts. Some have parents who were long time deans with a deep lineage in higher education, while others are converts from corporate America or have migrated from other parts of academia.

But there is one trait I’ve found applies to all of the folks: they are extremely genuine. They deeply want to see young people thrive and succeed. They believe in and love the school they represent.

What’s it to you? 

Like quarterbacks in football, these are typically very goal oriented, driven people. They spend a great deal of time analyzing, tweaking, refining. They like to win, they like to compete, and they want their team to be the best. But they are also committed collaborators. They share ideas and best practices, even with direct competitors, because they want to see others become better. They are humble people who know that even with all the skill in the world, there’s no way that they can individually recruit or enroll a great class. They need the full investment of their campus community, alumni community, and the team around them. No quarterback throws a pass to himself. And without support from the team, they’d be on their back every play.

So What?

Knowing this about the people who are recruiting you or reviewing your application is not going to give you any kind of edge when it comes to “getting in.” The truth is that most applicants never meet the dean or director of the colleges to which they apply or ultimately attend. But it is important to know what type of person is behind the emails, or the marketing materials, or the counselors and other admission representatives that you do meet. Their values and personality and priorities drive and transcend a great deal of what you see and experience.  These are people who  strive to create access to higher education for all students, and are fully committed to enrolling thoughtful, dynamic, diverse classes.

Post-Game Press Conference

If you have taken away nothing else from the parallels between positions on a team and the roles people play in the admission office at universities around the country, please remember this: the work of recruiting students and making admission decisions is deeply human. Unfortunately the vocabulary of this field (application, process, deadline) dilutes that very important truth. But it is critical that you know this, because ultimately you’re not applying to an institution. An institution does not teach nor inspire; a community does these things.

Now that you know the people of college admission, make your experience about the people. Don’t let the list of schools you apply to or ultimately choose be about where they are ranked, or what that name might look like on a bumper sticker. Don’t let the claim that you “got in” dictate your decision. Instead, make it about finding a distinct community where your talents, your goals, your skills, your vision, and your aspirations align with that team.

Tune in next week when we’ll be talking about something other than football.

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Denied or Deferred Admission? Perspective is a precious holiday gift.

We aren’t sending Christmas cards this year. Normally, we drag the kids out to a park somewhere, force them to wear festive clothing, and pack their weight in snacks to get through a one hour session. Last year I was literally so worn out from picking them up, coaching them to smile or keep still, or to contort their bodies in some unnatural positions while tossing leaves, that I had to stop for a hamburger on the way home. Crossfit may increase strength but family pictures easily burn as many calories.

So this year, instead of that miserable experience, we’re just cobbling together some pictures from the year and sending Happy New Year cards. Buys some time and saves some heartache, so it’s a win-win. As we were looking through pictures to use, I found one from 2015 that I really liked. “We can’t use that one. It’s not from this year,” my wife protested. “Yeah, but it’s so good, and most people haven’t seen it. We all still basically look the same,” I asserted. That last comment sunk me because both our kids have grown several inches since that time. Probably should not have pushed my luck or stretched my argument there.  But, unlike small children who DO change dramatically in a year’s time, college admission (for better or worse) DOES NOT.

Moving Forward After ED and EA Decisions

Last week a number of schools across the country released Early Decision or Early Action decisions. I heard a good bit about this from friends via text, social media, and email over the weekend. “What should I tell her? She’s crushed.” “Do you think it’s worth doing the deferred form or should we just move on?” “Will visiting in January help our chances? We can book a trip to Boston over the MLK weekend.” And the beat goes on.

So while I may be keeping my Christmas cards purely 2016, last year I wrote two blogs in December that I think are relevant this week. 

1) Deferred? Check out The D Word. This walks you through key next steps and gives you some healthy perspective: “You are not denied. Finish the drill. Check your ego.”

2) If you were denied, take a look at It’s Not You, It’s Me.   “You are not okay… but you WILL be okay. Time to refocus.”

If you remember nothing else, remember this: admission decisions are just that. They are limited. They are finite. They are not sweeping judgments of your value or character.  They don’t change who you were the moment before you received that letter or opened that portal, and more importantly they don’t dictate who you will be and can be in the future. You’re disappointed. You’re mad or frustrated or angry or sad. All of those feelings are understandable and legitimate.

Last December thousands (literally!) of students were denied and deferred from the nation’s elite schools. They felt the same way you do now. You probably know some of them and remember that time. And where are they now? They’re on some of those exact campuses after being deferred. Or they’re happy at another school after being denied.  As I said last year, “Go ahead and scream, cry, talk to your parents… beat your pillow, or cook something. Do whatever it takes for you to begin to move on and clear you head.” But don’t let these decisions ruin your holidays. Don’t let them disrupt precious time with family. Don’t let them keep you from some good naps or from getting out to the movies or hanging out with friends.

And most of all, don’t let them put any doubt whatsoever into your mind about your talents, your abilities, and your confidence.

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Breaking Down The Admission Team: Week 4: Wide Receivers and Running Backs

One hot August night during college, a friend of mine (who happened to be the starting center on our football team) and I got pulled over by a cop who immediately started berating us about the speed limit and asking why we were out so late and if we had been drinking (we had not). My friend handed over his license and registration to the officer who grabbed it and headed back to the patrol car.

Through the rearview mirror I saw him stop, turn, and come back to the driver side door. “Listen. Going to let you off without a ticket tonight. But be safe, slow down… and good luck this season.” I was pumped! Win, right? But my friend had a different reaction, “Man. If I were a running back or wide receiver, he would have recognized me right away. #linemanproblems

Yep. That’s how running backs and wide receivers roll. They are the face of the organization. It’s their name and picture on websites and cards. And so it goes for Fantasy Football. Along with the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers have the big names, the featured press conferences, and the long interviews– but with better celebration dances, bigger personalities, and generally warmer demeanor.

Well, my friends, I’ve just described admission counselors (though typically with fewer tattoos and less ability to evade speeding tickets, especially in places like Waldo, Florida. Ughh… still bitter). Counselors are the faces of the college. They are the ones who travel around the country and meet thousands of people each year at schools, programs, and coffee shops. If you visit campus, they are the ones who give the presentation or meet with you and your family.

Who are they?

1- Like many of the star running backs and wide receivers in the NFL, most admission reps who are recruiting and doing first/second read on college applications are in their 20s or early 30s.

2- They generally get into admission because they love their alma mater, so they typically start out working there. Others may simply be intrigued by Higher Education or love working in a college environment. Others may be buying time before grad school– and more so lately they are doing both simultaneously.

3- They are affable and generally extroverts who have good public speaking, communication, and relational skills. Those who don’t have those skills get a ton of practice refining and improving all of these within the first six months on the job.

4- Like RBs/WRs who are asked to be versatile and flexible in their routes and game plans, the same is essential for admission counselors. They walk into schools around the country not knowing exactly what to expect. “Today you’ll be speaking with four kids for 10 minutes.” Next school: “We are putting you in the auditorium. Thought you could speak to our 10-12 graders for an hour about college admission and maybe your school for max five of those.” Next: “We don’t have any students for you to see today, but we are short-handed in the cafeteria. How are you with prepping veggies?”

Admission counselors get into this field because they love students. They want to have a positive impact and believe they can in this role. They enjoy meeting new people, and love experiencing new places and opportunities. They are curious, open-minded, positive, genuine, bright, and passionate. They see the best in others. An added bonus is they want to have fun while accomplishing all of that.

counselor-picThere is no shortage of jokes, laughs, dance moves, and big personalities in admission offices around the country. I realize this may be slightly self-serving, but I believe these are some of the very best people you’ll ever meet.

Why Should You Care?

Unfortunately, in recent years, the stress surrounding the admission process has increased. Much of this is due to more students applying to more colleges, but it’s also correlated to financial costs, family pressures, and competitive, achievement-centered high school environments. As a result, “getting into college” has become more transactional and less relational. But that does not have to be your experience. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind when interacting with an admission counselor:

When meeting in person…
When an admission counselor shows up at your school or you meet them on campus, remember that they simply want to talk to you and help you. These are not judgmental folks. They’re not perfect and they don’t expect that from you. So ask your questions and listen, but also relax. Talk about the things you love in school and in life. Share your personality. Allow them to make connections with you and for you by being genuine. You’ll learn a lot more from that than from asking them to quote the library’s book sharing policy or what percentage of kids study abroad. Sure. A running back can answer questions about offensive schemes, but what you remember from interviews are the stories. Ask good questions.

On your application….
An admission counselor is the kind of person you want reading your essays and reviewing your application. Remember what you know about them: they are positive, and they naturally see and are trained to look for upside. On your application, they are listening for your voice. They want to know you and want to be in your corner. I’ve asked high school students to close their eyes and describe who they think is reading their essay. The typical response is a white, middle-aged male who has spectacles, patches on his tweed coat, and snarls as he opens his red pen. Look at a few of the staff websites or office social media accounts of the universities you are interested in (not the actual counselor’s Instagram, mind you— that’s weird). Check out Google images for “admission counselor.” Mean people? Nope. Running Backs and Wide Receivers.

So whether you are working on an application right now or planning a visit to campus soon, keep these admission counselor traits, motivations, and personalities in mind. While this won’t change the low admit rates at UPenn or Pomona or University of Michigan, it hopefully puts in perspective that these folks see themselves as being on your side. And that makes all the difference.

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Breaking Down The Admission Team: Week 3: The Bench

Alright, after a break for the election and Thanksgiving, it’s time to refocus on the important things in life… like Fantasy Football.

If you apply to a selective school (schools that  have an admit rate of less than 33%), they will use a holistic review process. Given that full-time admission staff also needs to travel for recruitment, meet with families, and make presentations on campus, there is simply no way for them to also read every application, front to back, with care and detail.

In Fantasy Football when you’re down a player, you need to have a good bench: skilled, experienced, and readily available to help out when the team is down. And trust me, when thousands of applications pour in on the last two days before the deadline and you are looking at a calendar trying to calculate daily quotas, you can feel down. The weather is getting colder, the sun sets earlier, caffeine doesn’t have its normal effect, the kids get sick and… sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah… the bench. Every good team has to have one, and in admission offices around the country, the bench are the seasonal employees.

 Our Bench: The Seasonals

Back when we received about 17,000 applications at Tech, we had five folks on the “bench.” Now we’ve crossed over the 30,000 mark, and our bench has grown to 15 (for context, plenty of other institutions employ well over 50 seasonal readers). Some schools only hire former admission officers, teachers, or counselors for these roles. We take a more holistic approach, so our bench includes an aerospace engineer, a former TV show producer, consultants from a variety of industries, several GT alums, and yes, some with extensive admission experience. Nationally, more and more of these employees work remotely, but ours mostly come into the office for 20-30 hours each week. They start with a week of training in early October to refresh on our process, learn any new updates, and go through complex application examples. They wrap up their work in mid-February each year.

Our staff loves this group– not just because they lighten their load, but because they bring life, energy, stories, and tons of personality with them each day. We call them “The Seasonals” (but we’re open to new team name suggestions).

Their Job

Seasonals come in specifically to read applications. Exactly which role this group plays varies from one school to the next, but ours are primarily doing first review. They review your transcript, enter your GPA in the system, count the number of AP/IB/ Dual Enrollment courses you’ve taken, note your highest math class, confirm official test scores are in, and verify that your senior schedule is complete. When they’re all reading, AND if our technology (including the Keurig) is working well, AND assuming no fire alarms, AND barring no silly meetings called by the director, they work through roughly 500 applications a day. Think of these folks as dental hygienists: they are poking and prodding around to ensure the file is complete, and clean, before advancing to second read.

Your Job

I’m not going to rename them “The Hygienists,” but to extend the metaphor, you would not intentionally put your tongue in the way of a double bend hook or ask to have your gum pierced by a sickle scaler. That would only lead to a bloody mess and severely slow the work of the hygienist. Similarly, you want to submit an application that’s clean and keeps these folks working smoothly.

1. Follow Directions. Before you start any section of an application, read all directions thoroughly. I know that sounds preachy, but this is a serious pitfall. Most applications specifically tell you not to abbreviate, and that’s for good reason. Sure, we know what Lit and Comp mean. But how about Dis of Hum Geo? Is that math or social science? And some abbreviations lead to all kinds of awkward… for example, Anal. Geometry is uncomfortably common.

2. Run Spellcheck. Senior schedules are basically free form, which can lead otherwise academically talented students to list Psycology, Psychologie, Scicology. Or how about Chemistrie, Cemistry, Chemistree? I’m not making these up, and they’re not one-offs either. The bench has a lot more patience for this kind of thing than I do (they’re good people, I tell you).  But remember that “best foot forward” thing? Yea… it’s a thing.

3. Be Specific. Students often say they’re taking Calculus spring of senior year, when in reality it’s actually Multivariate Calculus or BC Calculus. More information, not less, is the basic principle of holistic review.

4. Send All Transcripts. Have you switched schools in high school? Be sure that you have official transcripts sent from each one. We’ve seen plenty of examples of early grades being misrepresented (and often shortchanged) on the current school’s transcript. Is 9th grade not on your current high school transcript? Get it and send it.

Your School’s Job

1. Quality Check. Some schools (and at least one entire state) send photocopied transcripts (some with test score tapes covering important information). If we can’t read it, it’s pushed to the bottom of the stack until we can get a better copy. Not only does this not help your students and your school, but it also upsets the hygienist!

2. Help Us Help You. On the counselor form of The Common App, there is a place for “student rank.” This is where we should see simple numbers like 2/245 or 11/326. Instead, we will often see 1/119 followed by “Number sharing this rank: 21.” What the…?! 21 valedictorians? NO! Just like there should be limits to the distance off the highway that a restaurant must be in order to advertise on the exit sign, so too should there be limits to number sharing rank.

3. More Information, Not Less. Again, this is Rule 1 of holistic review. Selective colleges are making nuanced decisions. Based on application volume and class size, we are going to differentiate in extremely slight ways. Over the last decade we’ve seen fewer and fewer schools provide rank on profiles and forms. It’s moderately annoying, but borderline understandable. Lately we’ve seen a trend to not provide a GPA. Line crossed. Now we are in a position of making some uncomfortable assumptions about calculations in the absence of critical information.

I’ve heard many reasons from friends on the secondary side for these adjustments. Invariably, the headmaster or board or Grand Poohbah believes that not giving rank, or not giving GPA, or altering a grading scale, or not adding weight, is going to help more kids “get in.” We all have bosses, right? Admission directors can relate to the shoulder shrug, head tilt, eye roll, and knowing glance of “Yep. That’s what I told them.” Just humor me and add that Harvard’s admit rate is not going back above 7% regardless of how you frame your profile… and the bench doesn’t appreciate the extra splinters in the pine either.

Vegas, baby.

Our Seasonals primarily work out of two offices. These are small conference rooms with multiple desks or long tables. One is called “The Bat Cave.” The other is affectionately called “Vegas,” because what is said there stays there.

Don’t let the tips above be like Vegas. Share this, heed this, discuss these points, and put them into practice. We love reading your applications. We want to turn around decisions as fast as possible.

So show some love to the Seasonals as you submit information this winter. Accuracy and the quality of the information you and your school provide dictate their ability to keep the rest of the team moving. So how ’bout a slow clap for the bench?

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