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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Thanksgiving Thoughts

Every Monday morning we meet as a Communications Team to talk about what is going on and what is going out that week. Basically, the agenda is broken into four parts:

1. Immediate outbound messages (aka email blasts): what are we saying to applicants and prospective students? FYI- prospective students are non-applicants who have either visited campus, met our staff during our travels, or whose name we’ve bought or been given from list sources (hm…. seems like we might need a blog soon on the entire search process, i.e. “how did you get my name?”).

2. Urgent/Fires: We’ve had 100 calls this week about X. Clearly, X is confusing on our website or in our publications, so we need to help people better understand X. Although, sometimes it’s about Y, which is dismissed as “Yeah, people are just going to call about that. It’s Y. Happens every year.” Or put differently “Y Happens.”

3. Future focus/Strategic: These are the bigger communication projects we’re working on, such as the production of videos, and publications that we’ll mail out in the coming months.

4. Social Media/ Timely: We talk a lot about helping people get a day to day sense of Tech. Pictures, stories, events… a “sense of face and place” is our basic purpose. We’ll review what we have and should be saying on social media. What is helpful and interesting? What can we learn from that engagement? Every few months we’ll discuss delving into Snapchat or whatever new social media platform is emerging. Then we’ll inevitably shelve that to “look at the analytics,” which is code for “<<insert new medium here>> just feels like we’re going too far.”

It’s in section four we talk about this blog. Have we received comments, or do people seem to be sharing it with others? What is happening right now in the admission cycle that we can attempt to bring some insight to? Or, did my kids do something ridiculous that we can somehow stretch into an analogy?

Is anyone out there?

Well, friends, this week is Thanksgiving. The basic consensus was that people are checked out. “Sure, you can write a blog but doubt anyone is going to read it.” They’re watching football, hanging out with family, sleeping, traveling. Counselors, teachers, and others in schools who may read occasionally are finished with most of their recommendation letters and just need a break. If they’re reading anything this week it’s a good novel they’ve put off for the last few months as school started and admission deadlines took over their lives.

Students aren’t reading this week either. They’re either totally checked out after meeting said deadlines, or they are focused on finishing papers or studying for impending tests. Parents… nope. Cooking, cleaning, driving, dealing with sometimes awkward Thanksgiving family dynamics (I suppose that can be said for anyone on this list).

So, you might ask, why am I already 500 words into this post? It’s a valid question. Maybe it’s because I promised to write weekly. Maybe it’s because the office is quiet right now and I can’t answer another email or continue working on bigger projects. Call it being committed, or stubborn, or even procrastination.

I say it’s because I’m thankful. I’m thankful you are only reading this because you want to this week. And to add cheesy to the list, I’m also just thankful for you. Thankful that your family is in town, or you are going to them. or that you have friends to gather with. Thankful that you get a chance to read whatever you want for a change, or just go see a  movie. I am thankful that you are going to sleep in, or nap on the couch after eating too much. I am thankful that in a fall of tests and elections and deadlines that you can take a step back.

A Time for Reflection

See, the admission process, like life, is filled with looking forward. It’s clogged and clouded with impending deadlines, decision release dates, campus visit planning, and the list goes on. But this week… this week is an oasis, a respite. It’s about reflection. It’s about sitting still for a minute and ruminating and considering. 

I’m not trying to give you homework.. but I do hope you’ll consider using a little of your downtime to brighten the week of those around you. How?

Ask
Who has helped you to this point? Who has written a recommendation letter for you, or helped you edit your essays?  Who has given you some good advice on where to apply (or where not to)?

Act
Amidst the frenzy of the fall, we often forget to thank these people. Sure, maybe in passing or in a text, but really,  I mean really, say thanks.  I encourage you to recognize these people with a hug, or a jubilant high five, or an actual hand written, postage stamped note. Even a genuinely heartfelt email will do the trick. To make it easier for you, feel free to copy-paste or edit the following statement as needed: “Hey {name}. Thanks for writing that rec letter. I know you are crazy busy and you have written a ton this year. Whether I get into {college name} or not, I really appreciate your time and willingness to support me.”

A Note to Seniors
Mom and dad need some love too. Fall of your senior year is not easy on them. They’re excited for you, but they’re nervous. And despite what they might say, it’s not all about where you are going to get in or how much it will cost. They know a year from now you’ll be on a college campus somewhere. Maybe they don’t know exactly where, but they know you won’t be at home. Don’t let their plans to convert your room to an office or guest room fool you. Their hearts are breaking a little right now, so they could use that same hug and note.

As for me, we’ll be with my wife’s family this week. My folks will be on the opposite side of the country, but I want you to know that I plan to practice what I preach, and am getting out some note cards now.

PS – We’ll get back to Fantasy Football Admission next week with an inside look at The Bench (the Seasonal Readers). Until then, give thanks, friends. Life is good.

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Lessons from the Election

Note: Next week we will get back to talking about fantasy football. But for now we’re calling an audible and saying it’s halftime, because it’s important we deal in reality. And the reality is the last week has been terrible. (How’s that for an intro?)

The dramatic election Tuesday was followed by turbulence and fall out on social media, in personal conversations, and in the press. I have had a lifetime of preparation for this kind of division. See, I grew up in a split household. My mom is about as liberal as they come: raised in the northeast by parents who both worked at Princeton, she took us to help at a homeless shelter as soon as we were old enough to volunteer. She is pro-choice, advocates for gay rights, and will be in Washington for the Women’s March in January. Conversely, my dad was raised by a widowed hairdresser, served in Vietnam, and ran his own small business until he sold it a few years ago. Fiscally conservative and socially conservative, his motto is “keep the government out of my business.”

When we were kids, they’d come to the breakfast table on Election Day, raise their coffee cups and say, “Okay, let’s go cancel each other out.” Their differences extend well past politics. She’s an extrovert, while he’s an introvert. He loves the beach and the sun, and she would be happy if it never warmed up past 75 degrees. They are the first hit when you search Wikipedia for “opposites attract.”

Their marriage has not always been easy. But I always saw effort, forgiveness, and an acknowledgment of their own faults. And that’s what led to reconciliation.

A House Divided…

This election was filled with some of the most divisive rhetoric of any in modern American history.  And those lines have only been reinforced as the pollsters and press dissect how America voted: urban vs. rural, black vs. white, rich vs. poor, educated vs. uneducated. Regardless of who, if anyone, you supported, emotions are swirling: surprise, excitement, bemusement, vindication, fear, or some combination of these and many others.

In 1858 Abraham Lincoln addressed his Republican colleagues in reference to the pressing issue of slavery and said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” In talking and listening to friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and random people on the train, the concern for our nation is palpable. There seems to be a dearth of empathy and a plethora of anxiety; an abundance of fear of the future;  a lack of faith in the inevitability of unity; not to mention a lot of finger pointing and too little hand shaking.

Certainty in Uncertain Times

In uncertain times, there is solace in remembering some things have NOT changed, and recalling the things you can count on in the future.  As election season gives way to admission decision season, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Things are going to happen in life that you did not “vote for,” and that you cannot control. You may be denied or deferred from the college you really wanted to attend. Or you may get in to your dream school but not get a financial package that you can afford. If (or more likely when) one of these things happen, it’s understandable that you may need a week to cry, scream, mope, curse, or question. But ultimately, you have to shake that off. Keep working and have confidence in yourself. And it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t do that alone. Share your frustrations with friends and family, but also lean on them, listen to them, and learn from them as you move forward.

You will see someone get in who you don’t think is the “right” or “most qualified” person. We see and hear this every year in the admission process. “Well, they only got in because they are <<insert group here>>, or from <<insert school or state here>>.” “She got that scholarship because she’s  X (or had a Y) and I didn’t because I’m Z.” Broad generalizations like these are essentially saying  “Well, that’s the way THEY are.” And that, my friends, is divisiveness. I think it’s important to note that Lincoln’s speech was quoting from the Bible. In the original text, the “house” was not a not a nation but a person’s soul and character. Open your laptop, check a few trending hashtags, or go sit on a park bench and listen. You’ll see why those types of broad categorizing statements are toxic. Saying it’s a slippery slope is not even accurate–this is a cliff you tumble off, taking the character and achievements you’ve worked so hard to build and throwing them into an abyss.

I’m coming out of the fog and muck of last week. I have an advantage by working at a college. Walking across campus yesterday, listening to conversations in the dining hall, and sitting down to talk with students from all over the nation and the world has brought me much needed encouragement.

What Awaits You in College

I can’t tell you which campaign promises will be kept or abandoned or adapted. But what is certain, and what I hope provides you great excitement and optimism, is what awaits you in your college experience.

  1. College will continue to be a place that seeks students who want to learn. Students who ask why and how; who want to make the world around them now and in the future better, safer, and more interesting.
  2. College will continue to be a place that draws students with diverse thoughts, passions, and interests. Students who commit to one another; who seek to understand one another; who know that learning from their differences and tapping into everyone’s strengths and talents will allow them to collectively solve problems.
  3. College will continue to be a place that cheers together in athletic victory, cries together in campus tragedies, studies together in the wee hours of the morning, and ultimately embraces each other on graduation stages and in life well beyond its gates.

Wedged between election season and admission decision season is Thanksgiving. I hope you will use this time as a respite; a time to be reminded of and surrounded by the things and people who bring you rest, joy, and assurance.

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