Holistic Admission – The Struggle is Real (Part 3 of 3)

The Do’s and Don’ts of Holistic Admission

0524103-P27-24

I know it’s unsettling to read or hear that in holistic review there is little to no certainty. And I realize that uncertainty is one reason anxiety surrounding college admission exists. I don’t have the remedy for eradicating all stress but I do have some tips:

As you work on your applications, or as you research schools to apply to, you should be thinking about what differentiates one school from another in ethos and mission. While they may all have websites with happy smiling students under trees with professors or sunny days and brick buildings, there are fundamental differences. At Tech you will see a good deal of reference to our motto of “Progress and Service.” We are looking for evidence within a student’s background that is in line with this concept. A student who exhibits and embodies these characteristics, while potentially 40 points less on a section of the SAT or .2 lower in GPA than another student or the normal profile is more compelling since data will show those numbers have no predictive difference in determining college academic success. What does a school discuss online or in their print materials? Is your background or goals in alignment? How can you highlight or tailor your writing, course choice, experience to bolster your candidacy?

Tell your full story. Or as one of my colleagues says, “I want to see that they’re hungry (typically not hard for high school students).” Translation: do not let your numbers or stats deter you or leave you complacent. Every year we hear from students or parents after being deferred or denied asking why. Here’s a common lead into that query: “Didn’t you see I have a 35 ACT?” or “Don’t you know our school is the best in the state?” or “But I took more AP courses than your average…” As we unpack the process and the particular application, however, we often find there were many activities or anecdotes the student could have included but did not because they felt their academics would be sufficient. When a student at or below profile applies they know they have to do a great job on every part of the application and put their best effort in as a result. Students above profile applying to schools with low admit rates have to ignore the ranges or averages and do the exact same thing.

Don’t bother with “Chance Me” conversations online or in person and skip to the next item.

Be sure your essays and short answer questions broaden our understanding of who you are—not simply what you’ve done. We can pick up your accomplishments from your transcripts or extracurricular record. We want to hear your voice and deepen our understanding of “why and how” you would thrive on our campus or contribute to the dynamics. More on essays here.

Keep admission decisions in perspective. These are not value judgments or character decisions. Your future, value, and worth is not hinged to what a school decides in admission. So please do not blur those lines. The existence of a holistic admission process means by nature that highly qualified, supremely talented students will not be offered admission. If you choose to apply to a school that utilizes a holistic process, you are also stating that you are willing to accept an admission decision without an “admission explanation” you can fully understand, especially through the filter of numbers alone.

Holistic Admission – The Struggle is Real (Part 2 of 3)

Formula vs… well, no Formula

If you are applying to Georgia Tech or schools with a similar or lower admit rate, you are being reviewed under a holistic admission process. Many of you have heard this term before but what does it really mean? Essentially, there are two types of admission review. The first is a formulaic process, which is what I described yesterday. Most less-selective schools utilize this process, and for many public schools in Georgia it is called a “Freshman Index.” You can literally plug in a GPA, test scores, and sometimes (though often not) factors for rigor of courses to determine admission. The upside here is that when you apply to a school like this you basically know your decision before you even apply. I always equate it to running track. There is a hurdle set at a certain height and you either clear it or crash into it. Formulaic admission is clean, clear, black and white, and pretty simple.

The easiest way to explain a holistic file review process (other than the video link I included above) is to say it’s exactly the opposite. It’s very much gray, and it’s not clean or clear or easy to predict. All of the certainty you get in a formulaic admission process essentially goes out the window with holistic review.

Tangent (Skip this section if you don’t want to join me on a personal diatribe)

And that’s why the whole “Chance me” thread from College Confidential is basically pointless. College Confidential is an online forum where students discuss the admission process, pose questions to other commenters, and share their experiences with particular schools. There are some helpful threads on subjects and occasional experts who provide facilitation of topical discussion. But largely, at least at this time of year, there are long exchanges between students and parents that have come to be known as “chance me.” In these threads parents, I mean students… well, let’s call a spade a spade, parents pretending to be students, post stats such as GPA, test scores, extracurricular involvement, essay topics, and other demographic descriptors. Then other forum members provide their thoughts, speculation, and odds of that person being admitted to a particular school. In reading those strings, I am reminded of the quote “most advice is sound- but it’s rarely sound advice.”

And, We’re Back

Nearly 600 of our denied students had either a 35-36 ACT or 1500-1600 SAT (CR+M). The vast majority of students who were denied or deferred have taken AP Calculus or higher and are in the top 10% of their class and taking the toughest curriculum in that context. In other words, numbers are by no means the whole story. Holistic admission is going to look at every single element of an application and weigh that overall file in comparison not only with the applicant pool, but also with institutional priorities. This is where you start to hear words like “fit” and “match.” Ultimately, colleges are attempting to enroll classes that are in line with the goals of the institution.

Competitive vs. Compelling

In admission committee, we often see notes or hear verbal summaries that include this distinction. A student may be extremely strong from a pure academic standpoint but fails to truly distinguish him or herself when it comes to evidence of fit or match overall. Here’s how this plays out: two schools have essentially the same academic profile but are worlds apart when it comes to the type of student that excels in that environment, or who will add value to their campus culture. Take Brown University and Cal Tech as examples. When you read their websites, hear their admission representatives speak, or walk around their campuses, you know there is a fundamental dichotomy. However, the academic profile of the two is not disparate. A student who applies to these two institution may have completely different admission results based not on numbers but rather on personal attributes or background, and how that either complements or fails to add distinct value to the rest of the student population or overall mission.

Tune in tomorrow for the final post in this 3-part series… my tips on how to handle the uncertainty of a holistic admission process.

Holistic Admission – The Struggle is Real (Part 1 of 3)

Buzz starred in the Hobsons videos for the December and January emails sent to prospective freshmen.

What the…?

Last weekend, Georgia Tech’s Early Action admission decisions were released. Like most schools, we provide a profile of our admitted group to give applicants, as well as campus and external constituents a sense of the class. This year, 30 percent of applicants were admitted in the early round. On average they had 11 AP/IB/college courses prior to graduating from high school and a 33 ACT/1453 SAT (CR+M). (Note: We no longer publish a GPA because schools have such varying ranges. Some schools are on a 4.0 non-weighted scale, some are on a 5.0 or 12.0 weighted scale, some have numerical only ranges to 100 or 80 or 120. The landscape is vast and non-standardized, so giving numbers has become pointless. For example, if you are a student on a 5.0 scale and a published GPA is 3.8, you’re thinking, “Sweet. My Bs and Cs are really paying off!”).

My wife’s comment upon seeing the numbers was “I didn’t know they even offered 11 AP classes.” And this is a woman who has two master’s degrees and smoked me on both her testing and academic performance, so granted, the word “average” and those stats should not even be in the same sentence.

Formulaic Process

This year we received nearly 15,000 applications for early action. Last year that number was 3,000 less, and in 2012 we did not have that many during the entire application cycle. See a trend line here. When I came to Tech in 2003 (ahem, at age 15…) we were receiving under 10,000 applications and admitting 65 percent of applicants. Life was easy. We calculated a GPA, downloaded test scores, ran the excel tables, plugged some codes into the system, and BAM! Change the toner a few times, grab a coffee, lick some stamps, and call it a year. Effectively, that formulaic process worked for us based on the admit rate, quality and size of applicant pool, and overall goals of the Institute.

But because our undergraduate population is not growing, our admit rate has plummeted based on supply and demand alone. The exciting part of this is that we are ultimately enrolling an incredibly talented and diverse class but it also means a lot of essays to read, copious amounts of caffeine, long days away from family during file review season, and the fact that we are not able to offer admission to many phenomenal students who will go on to literally change the world. And let me be clear—it was a lot more fun admitting two out of every three students than denying two out of every three.

Click here to read part 2 of 3, where I explain the “holistic admission” process, and what that really means when we sit down to review applications.

Seven Yellow Jackets on Forbes 30 Under 30 List

Seven Yellow Jackets appear on the magazine’s 2016 list of the brightest young minds in America. Click the image below to learn more!

23072166254_b3d7584ee9_m

“It’s Not You… it’s me.” Denied Admission– A Path to Recovery

“This is not working out.” My high school girlfriend and I were working on math homework at her house. We were trying to solve equations I hadn’t seen before (I’m sure most of you reading this would scoff at their simplicity, but it was difficult at the time). I said, “I know. But we will figure it out.” She paused, then put her pencil down and said kindly, but definitively, “No.” Then “this,” pointing her finger back and forth between my chest and hers. “Us. It’s not working out.” I remember so clearly how those words sounded at the time.

I know this has become a predictable Hollywood storytelling technique, but it was one of only three times in my life when the noise around me seemed to fade into the background. I watched her continue to tilt her head, stroke her hair and occasionally look down, somewhat painfully, as she explained why “we” needed to break up.

I had known this girl since Kindergarten, but it had only been in the last year that I realized she was truly beautiful. And funny, and smart, and kind. We liked the same music, she watched sports (although cheered for the wrong team…Bulldogs), and we laughed together a lot. Basically, I thought she was perfect. And it was sinking in that she was taking that perfection and moving on.

I really can’t tell you what I said to her… maybe I actually said nothing. All I remember was getting my books, getting my bag, and getting the (deleted) out of there. I drove the four miles home and on the way I rolled down the window, turned up the music, and yelled out the window a mixture of questions, anger, and tears. I was a mess.

I walked into my house and my mom was doing dishes in the kitchen. She could see I was upset and asked me what was wrong. I remember sitting next to her on the couch and listening to her tell me everything was okay… there would be other girls… and maybe I was better off anyway.  In fact, now I wonder if she did not have a hand in writing The Avett Brothers song I Would Be Sad: “One day son, this girl will think of what she’s done and hurting you will be the first of many more regrets to come.”  It was one of those moments that I’m sure she could see my thought bubble of “Yeah, easy for you to say.” At the time, I didn’t understand that at one point in her life, she was a teenager too. I thought she’d always been married to my dad and that her life started when I was born. So how could she know what I was going through?

Road to Recovery

At this time of year, a good number of colleges have already released admission decisions. I’ve heard a number of these conversations in our community, and have started to read the advice and speculation online or on social media as well. If you have been denied from a school that seemed perfect and you had your heart set on, I’ve got three tips for you:

  1. You’re Not Okay. Go ahead and scream, cry, talk to your parents… beat your pillow, or cook something (you can even try all of those at once if you’re really upset). Do whatever it takes for you to begin to move on and clear you head. But don’t drive while you’re healing… be stationary (or on a treadmill) and then let it rip.
  2. You will be Okay. Here’s what I see every year. Some students whose first choice was not Georgia Tech end up coming here and loving it. Then again, every now and then I’ll run into a sibling or parent or counselor of a student we denied admission to who tells me that student was devestated about not getting in here, but is now at X College and doing great. One of the schools you’ve applied to, or are waiting to hear back from is IT. Take a moment to believe that—and be encouraged and get excited about it.
  3. Refocus. When I had to refocus, I dove into school and soccer. Immediately after that break up, I wasn’t a lot of fun to be around for a few weeks. But I threw myself into academics and practicing with incredible focus, resolve, and motivation to get better and succeed. I remember long nights of studying and going early and staying late for practice. What is that focus for you? Maybe it’s another college. Or perhaps it’s proving the school that denied you wrong by thriving through your senior year and into college elsewhere.

I understand that it seems unlikely you could completely distill moving on after being denied admission into three easy steps. Or maybe it’s not. After all The Avett Brothers song continues, “‘If she doesn’t call, then it’s her fault and it’s her loss.’ I say, It’s not that simple see, but then again it just may be.”

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address above, or click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.