Archives for November 2019

Communicating Thanksgiving

Each Monday morning our Communications Team meets. Our agenda is broken into four basic parts:

Immediate outbound: We discuss mass communications via email and address what applicants need to know about the admission cycle. What expectations do we need to set on timing? What are we communicating to prospective students to help them better understand campus culture, highlight interesting students, faculty, alumni, etc.?

Urgent/Fires: Our website is down. There has been a natural disaster somewhere in the world and we need to consider and communicate a deadline extension. My parents are coming tonight and you did not finish folding the laundry. (Wait… sorry, that was just a text from my wife.)

Our team member from the Communications Center (aka “the Calm Center”) reports on inbound calls and emails. What do we need to clarify or address immediately? “We’ve had 100 calls this week about X.” We then examine the source of confusion and look to communicate X more clearly on our site, publications, or in presentations.

On application deadline day, we inevitably get hundreds of calls asking, “Is today really the deadline?” “Is that midnight my time or yours?” “It says on my portal that I’ve been admitted. Is that really true?” You think I’m kidding. That is a very common one, actually. While it does make us question the decision, we don’t view skepticism as a reason for rescinding admission. Instead, we have come to appreciate there are some questions people simply want another human to answer. This is not an admissions fire. This is human nature (an entirely different type of fire).

If you are not receiving these types of emails from schools you are interested in, you can visit their website to subscribe. If you are receiving too many of these emails from colleges around the country, I can only apologize and urge you to a: unsubscribe to those you are no longer legitimately considering; b: create a separate email address just for your college search; c: blame the internet (that’s kind of my go to for all that is awry in the world).

Future focus/Strategic: What is coming up? These are the bigger communication projects we are working on, such as the production of videos, publications, events, or campaigns. We check in on needs/ status/necessary iterations or alterations.

Social Media/ Timely: We try to provide an authentic, day- to- day sense of campus life. Pictures, stories, events… a “sense of face and place” is our fundamental goal. What have we or should we be saying and showing on social media to engage, educate, entertain, and at least one more word starting with the letter “E.” Following (or at least trolling) social media from official admission accounts is worthwhile. I would also highly recommend doing the same for campus clubs or orgs at the schools you are interested in, because this is student-to-student communication that is organic, authentic, unvarnished and unfiltered, i.e. the real deal. Great way to get a sense of true culture and student life.

Back when only my mom and a few of her friends were reading this blog, we’d sort of hit that at the end. And by “the end,” I basically mean as people were walking out someone would idly mumble, “So, Rick. Are you going to write another bizarre story about your kids and then loosely correlate it to college admission?”

Once they realized that there was an endless supply of said anecdotes and debatable correlations, more team members volunteered to write. Now, we actually discuss the blog more intentionally: Who is writing this week and next week? What topics are most relevant/timely/helpful during this part of the cycle? What have we learned from feedback via comment or email?

This week the basic consensus was, No blog needed. Students are checked out, counselors/teachers are burned out, and parents are wishing they could just eat out. I get it. Thanksgiving is a time to relax, watch football, hang out with family, sleep, and travel. “Light reading” is the score ticker at the bottom of the TV, rather than a blog about college admission.  Still, because we all have so many challenges and rough situations to deal with throughout the year, I thought a brief and simple message was important.

Give Thanks

The admission process- like our communications meetings and life in general- is filled with a lot of looking forward. It is clogged and clouded with impending deadlines, calendared dates, planning, wishing, expectation and anticipation. While it is important, it is so rare and hard to celebrate your wins. As humans it seems we are always on to the next thing. But this week… this week is an oasis–a respite. It  is a rare time to reflect and to actually sit still for a minute or two, or take a long walk and ruminate.

I’ve heard a number of politicians use the quote, “If you see a turtle on a fence post, you can be sure it did not get there by itself.” On some level, however, we all fool ourselves into thinking we have achieved, succeeded, or climbed on our own, because we know that it has taken a lot of work. Today, however, I am asking you to reflect on who it is that has helped facilitate your success. Who gave you that job? Who selected you to be on the team or named you captain? Who took time to also write your recommendation letters after a long day teaching, coaching, and grading papers? Who sponsored the club you have grown to care about so deeply?

Take the time right now to send them a text or give them a call. Simple but powerful. Give thanks for these folks. This is not homework. This is an opportunity.

A Note to Seniors
Your parents need some love this week. Fall of your senior year is not easy on them. They’re excited for you, but they’re also nervous. They’re starting to realize this is the last Thanksgiving you will be living full-time at home. They may pretend it’s just dusty in the house or blame their emotions on a turkey- induced stupor, but it’s actually reality sinking in. 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. They could use a hug and a note too.

Despite what the commercials might say Thanksgiving is not really about the food or football or pre-Christmas sales. The true heartbeat of Thanksgiving is slowing down, reaching out, and choosing family. At its core, so too is the college admission experience. “Getting in” is what people talk about but staying together is what they should be focused on.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

 

Run YOUR Race

I went for a run in the woods the other day. I do that a lot this time of year. Last weekend it was a 15-mile trail race in North Georgia. In early December, I’ll go 19 miles through the rolling pines near Warm Springs, GA, where FDR famously spent time.  Late fall and winter is a busy time in college admission, so multi-hour runs are a catharsis of sorts.

On a particularly long and isolated stretch of forest last week, I began thinking about a conversation I’d just had with a friend whose daughter is a high school senior. He called me because they were arguing about her applications- mainly where she should apply and if she’d applied to “enough” colleges. “So, what would you tell her?”

I said I would think about it. And so somewhere around mile eight, that’s exactly what I was doing. Ironically, the more I ran, the more I realized how much trail running and college admission have in common. I also realized there was not much to “tell” – but definitely a lot to hope for.

So, seniors, as you run YOUR race this year– as you work on applications, await and receive admission decisions, and head into your final holiday breaks before heading to college, here are my TOP 5 hopes for you:

1-      That you will not be overly influenced by the opinions or experiences of others. Remain true to yourself and your unique and deeply personal college admission experience. Listen. In races you see some runners go out quickly. They charge up the hill or around the corner. That is not wrong, but it may not be your style or best approach. Maybe you did not have an Early Decision school that you felt 100% sure about and now you are questioning if you did something wrong by not applying under that plan. Maybe a few friends have already been admitted to college and you are still waiting on decisions or working on essays for other applications. Maybe you look around and believe everyone else knows where they want to go and you are still unsure and open. My friend, that is absolutely fine. Perfectly normal. You are not alone. Ultimately, your goal is to find a college campus where you can thrive both academically and socially. Pace of getting there will naturally vary. Keep the end in mind.

People will use the word “process” when they talk about college admission. This makes it seem like it’s a one-size-fits-all equation or formula, or that there is a specific way that leads to a predictable conclusion. That is a bunch of crap. Reject that. This is an experience. You have choices, options, and there will be inevitable turns and twists along the way. Run YOUR race. The beauty of trail running, in my opinion, is that you have to make decisions and keep your head up to look for blazes on the trees or signs in the woods. Unlike a road race where everything is cleanly marked, train running requires more thought and decision-making. The same is true for college admission. If you are doing this right, you won’t do it the same as your brother or best friend or the way you read it online in some guide. Keep your head clear and be confident. Run YOUR race.

2-      Enjoy your one and only senior year. Anytime you only have one of something it’s precious and should be treated and cared for as such. Enjoy your year. Don’t rush it or wish it away, because it will go fast enough on its own. Look around you in class or in the hallways or in the cafeteria next week. These people you have grown to know and love- and who also know and love you– will not be with you on a daily basis next year. Don’t take that for granted. Be proactive and give them a hug and tell them you appreciate them. Be specific about why they’re awesome. Make time for these people. You’ll never just have it.

3-      Be a light. Encourage people around you and help them. This is not going to help you get into college, but it is exactly the kind of person colleges are looking for. One thing I love about trail running is when someone misses a blaze and goes off track, other runners call to them. If a front runner sees a rock or a root or a branch, they call out or point to those obstacles and possible hazards. No matter what anyone tells you college admission it is not a zero-sum game. On almost every admissions panel I’m on someone in the audience will raise their hand and ask, “So if you have two applicants with the same GPA and same test scores, which one do you take?” In reality that’s not how it works.

I’ve often heard from high school teachers or counselors about students who won’t help others study for tests or share notes from class, because they’re afraid that will give their classmate a leg up. We’ve read essays about top students vying to be valedictorian who compete so ruthlessly academically they sacrifice their friendship. If thoughts like that are going through your head this year, I am imploring you to see the bigger picture. Helping others, sharing what you know, encouraging and facilitating the success of friends, classmates, teammates, colleagues is a life skill that will take you much further than the distinction of being valedictorian or getting into a specific school.

If you’ve been the subject of this type of behavior, I’ll simply quote the prophet Taylor Swift and say, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate…” They may end up with a specific title or offer of acceptance, but long-term that type of behavior, character, and approach ends up empty and often alone.

4-      Celebrate every offer of admission. I get that some of you go to “college preparatory” schools or take Dual Enrollment classes. I understand that you’ve taken more Advanced Placement classes than I have hairs left on my head. In your family or school or community, it may be a foregone conclusion that you’ll go to college, but that is not really what the world looks like. Did you know that less than 40% of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree, and worldwide that number is less than 10%? Keep this in mind when you receive an offer of admission. It is not “Just the University of X…” No. No!! It is “I was admitted to the University of X!”

This is an opportunity and a choice. This is what you wanted from the beginning- options, choices, and offers. Congratulations! Celebrate every win. Go to dinner, buy yourself something. You do you. But promise me you’ll celebrate—and also thank those around you who have made your achievements possible.

5-      Tell your parents/family/support network THANK YOU and I LOVE YOU! I am always amazed when I get to the end of a long trail race and see how many family members are there with signs, food, smiles, and hugs. People drive long distances and wait patiently for hours (often in crappy weather) for runners to arrive at the finish line.

That teacher who wrote your recs or helped you prep for exams; that coach or club sponsor or boss who gave you opportunities, challenged you, and encouraged your best— that’s who I’m talking about. Write them a note, give them a high five, send them a text. Be sure you let them know you appreciate them, their time, & their part in your success. They don’t expect thanks, but they deserve it. If you are a senior, this is your job.

And for your family- whatever instrument or sport you play well now used to be very painful to watch and listen to. Still, they kept driving you, encouraging you, paying for lessons or practice or competitions, etc.

Not convinced? Go open up the cabinets in your kitchen. Pull out any bowl or plate. Then ask your mom, dad, or whomever has raised you how many times they washed that or filled it with food. Think about five years ago when you were twelve or thirteen. Seems like a long time ago, right? Well, for the first five years of your life (time you basically have no recollection of), they fed you, clothed you, rocked you, nursed you, sang to you, woke up in the middle of the night worrying about you. They may not be able to physically still hold you the way they did then, but they are still doing absolutely everything they can to lift you up and support you now. Does that love look kind of crazy at times? Absolutely. Love is weird like that. What can I say? Nothing. What can you say? “THANK YOU and I LOVE YOU!” Make an effort to say that weekly from now until you graduate.

Along the trail in a race, there are all kinds of variables: hills, rocks, roots, creeks, downed limbs, changing temperatures, rain, wind, snow, blazing heat, major elevation changes. You have to adapt and adjust. It’s unpredictable- and college admission is the same. So while I can’t promise or predict exactly where you’ll start in college next year, I can guarantee that if these hopes come true, you’ll finish this year well- and that is a race worth running.

Interviews and Authenticity

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, joins us on the blog. Welcome, Chaffee!

When I was in high school, I was fortunate to be selected to interview for a scholarship at a large university. So was one of my best friends. Since only 30 scholars would be selected in the end, it would seem one or both of us might very well end up without it. After all, we didn’t come from a particularly noteworthy high school and, for all I knew, space was limited.

One of my interviewers asked me which of us was the stronger candidate. Wow! How does one answer THAT?! Without hesitation, I said, “We’re both strong in some different and some similar ways. She’s brilliant in math, kind, caring, and works very hard. I’m the more extroverted of the two of us, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more engaging. We’re very close friends so this is tough to answer. If you are asking who I think is the better overall person, that would be her.”

To our surprise, we would learn later we had each received the scholarship. We also both received a note from the interviewer in the mail (yes, the mail), afterwards stating that each of us had been asked the same question and answered similarly. We spoke of our own strengths but suggested the other one was a slightly better choice.

The Importance of Authenticity

I share this story to illustrate the importance of authenticity. Not a word of what I said or she said was anything less than honest. Yet both of us knew it might cost us the scholarship. I think we both intuitively knew that in the end, no matter the result, we would end up at whatever college was right for us, and it would all work out. Being true to ourselves and each other was paramount. Being authentic was a priority and it was natural to both of us.

In full disclosure, I was authentic in other scholarship interviews and they didn’t pan out. Pretty sure she had a similar story. What I want to share with you are some practical tips for what to do after you’ve applied to colleges and might end up interviewing for a spot at a college or in a scholarship program where interviews are a part of the process.

What I share is not solely about interview preparation, but how to present yourself as a self-aware, authentic person in other areas of life.

Prepare a resume

Yes, that’s right. Even if you have already done so, keep reading. I am going to suggest a framework that focuses on quality rather than quantity.

  • Start by keeping it to one page. Doing so focuses you on what’s most significant in your life. You may ask, “But how can I possibly fit my life onto one page?!” The answer: by considering where you are the most talented, most happy, most deeply involved. “But what if those things don’t align with my dream school?” Answer: why do you want to go to a college that doesn’t think who you are is pretty amazing? How do you know they won’t like your involvements? I hear from students all the time that they pick STEM-type activities to focus on when submitting their application to Georgia Tech because they think that’s all our institution cares about. Totally a false assumption.
  • When you are done with your first draft, you will no doubt be over a page. Don’t shrink the font and choose 0.05” margins to fit it all on. Drop the stuff that means little to you. You’ll get it down to one page and it will still be robust. Trust me! Furthermore, if someone asks you questions about your resume, you want it to be about the things that matter to you, because your answers will be more honest and authentic.
  • Pull a relevant story from each major part of your resume and think about how to tell it to someone who was interested in that part of your life. No, I am not suggesting you put that in writing on your resume. This part is a mental exercise alone. For example:
    • Did you list a sport? Talk about a lesson you learned playing on a team or competing.
    • Were you a leader in a club (whether or not you had a title)? Think about a clear time you as a leader influenced others for a positive impact.
    • Did you win an award? Why and/or how did you obtain it – and how can you say that confidently but humbly.

Prepare for an interview

Notice I didn’t say rehearse for an interview. Rehearsing has its place, but it can be the death knell of your interview hopes if you focus on it too much.

  • Consider different kinds of interviews.
    • Standard: anything goes. Tell us about yourself. What’s your favorite book? Who do you idolize? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What books/articles have you read recently that impacted your way of thinking?
    • Behavioral – they’ll ask you what you have done in specific situations, e.g. tell us about a time you experienced a challenge to your leadership – what did you do and how did you handle it?
    • Group exercise: sometimes there may be something unique, like you and other interviewees will be given a task that you must work on together – hard to prepare for, but think about how you would want to approach that and work well with the other members.
  • Consider the setting of an interview.
    • Several will be on the campus or at a local business – not much to prepare for there.
    • Some may be by video chat or telephone, especially at preliminary phases. Make sure what the interviewer sees on the other end is a neat and tidy space. If it’s your own room, make sure the space says, “this is who I am” without saying “TMI” (that may be the one caveat to being too authentic!). If your interview is by phone, stand in front of a mirror. You will convey in your voice the expression on your face and over the phone that is especially helpful.
    • Note that college interviews, as opposed to scholarship program ones, often involve an alum of that college chatting with you at your home, or at a coffee shop, etc. Dress appropriately and if you must err between too formal and too casual, always choose too formal. Think about how to have a neat suit or pants and shirt/tie or blouse that will work. They need not be expensive, but they should be clean and neat.
  • Consider your answers.
    • Regardless of the type of interview, review and be familiar with what you put in your application for the particular university or scholarship program – you will often be asked about it.
    • Be you! Rehearse enough that your answer flows easily but don’t memorize what you are going to say – if something is truly meaningful to you, you shouldn’t have to rehearse that much – that’s a sign you might not be a good fit with whatever you perceive the opportunity is evaluating you on.

Additional considerations

  • Chat with older friends from the schools/programs you are targeting during winter break if you can – find out what their campus experiences have been – and get more than one opinion for each school if possible.
  • Visit some schools if convenient, but remember if you end up interviewing you might be invited to campus – find that out and visit the schools that don’t do campus interviews to get the most bang for your travel time buck.

Finally, don’t stress – enjoy winter break, keep focusing on your grades and transitioning your activities, if you are a leader in them, effectively to those who will remain after you leave for college.

Am I saying that if you do all these things you will end up admitted to a prestigious school or winning a major merit scholarship? No. But you will better position yourself to be where you want to be. Louis Pasteur once said “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” I could also add “prepared heart.” After all, I could never have predicted the question about my best friend in high school, much less prepared for it. My answer was as authentic and spontaneous as it could get.

And if you end up somewhere you never expected to be – because you were authentic – that’s a win in and of itself that will hopefully carry you through a life of happiness.

Chaffee Viets has worked in higher education for more than 20 years. He joined Georgia Tech in 2011 where he oversees a team that selects the Institute’s top merit scholars and then develops them along the lines of scholarship, leadership, progress, and service. His experience with various prestigious scholarship programs at four universities drives his passion for selecting and mentoring student scholars.

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The Event Planner’s Guide to a College Application

This week we welcome Associate Director for Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen, to the blog. Welcome, Andrew!

As the leader of Georgia Tech’s campus visits team, part of my role is to plan and execute our daily visit program, open houses and events.  I love the thrill of event planning – from the initial conversations about the vision of the event to seeing it all come together.  Being a professional event planner, I often find my event planning skills and thinking spill over into my personal life… just ask my friends when it comes to making plans… everything is a production!

Right now, our team is preparing for multiple events on campus. We are excited to host a large group of high school seniors this week for our open house event.  This weekend we host our annual counselor fly-in program for college counselors from all over the county and world.

Event planning is much like preparing to submit a college application.  Everything leads up to the moment you press the submit button.  Like an event, there are multiple people involved in this process, like your college counselor and parents. There are also times when things do not go according to plan, and you must be prepared for these situations.  As you work on your college application, here are some helpful event planning tips to help you stay organized and be prepared to hit that submit button.

Understand the Bigger Picture

When planning events, it is crucial to understand the big picture.  Sometimes we get so caught up in our to-do list that we forget we need to take a step back.  This week we are hosting multiple events in a short amount of time.  This requires me to understand the impact different to-do list items have on other people assisting with the event, not to mention the event’s overall success.  For example, although we have several events this week, we also must think long term as space reservations become available for next year.  If we do not reserve these spaces now, we will face challenges when hosting events next year. It’s hard to think about a year from now when there’s something else in the immediate future.

When it comes to preparing your college application, it is essential to understand the bigger picture.  You will need assistance from others, so it is important to think about their schedules and what else they might have on their plate.  Teachers and college counselors are happy to help with your college application, but you need to understand what else is on their plate and remember they are helping multiple students, not just you.

Understanding when a college needs your high school transcript will help you know when you need to request this from your college counselor.  You cannot expect them to drop what they are doing to submit your transcript the second you ask.  They are submitting transcripts for many students to multiple schools.  Putting your request in well in advance is necessary to ensure they are all delivered in a timely manner.  (This also goes for teacher recommendations, so make sure to give them plenty of time to write and submit the letter).

Proofread… Proofread… Proofread!

When we host a large open house event, we have multiple sessions, in multiple locations, with many different presenters.  These sessions and their locations are all listed on a program for guests to use to navigate the event.  We have a separate list of spaces we have reserved for the event, and another spreadsheet listing all the sessions, locations, and names of presenters.  For an event to run seamlessly, we must be sure all these different lists and spreadsheets match what is listed on the program given to our guests.

If we didn’t carefully proofread, anything could happen at the event.  We could be sending guests to a room we do not actually have reserved.  Or maybe a faculty member could show up to the wrong building or room, maybe even at the wrong time!

Whenever I review an event program, I always proofread by crosschecking these additional lists/spreadsheets.  I must be sure all the times and locations are correctly listed on all of them and be sure a presenter has been secured for each presentation.

When finishing your college application, you need to proofread!  Yes, I know you have probably read your essay 100 times, but one last thorough read is worth the effort!  I always print copies of my event programs to review, and you should do the same with your application.  I know it’s not the most environmentally friendly option, but it will help with that final review (plus, that’s why recycling exists!). A final proofread is your chance to be sure all your application details make sense and show up correctly.  After every application deadline, our Communications Center receives hundreds of calls and emails about minor errors on an application (which we cannot update).  I bet many of these could be avoided by printing out your application and reviewing it one final time from start to finish (and ask someone else to read it too!)

Have a Rain Plan

Over the past year the weather has not been in our favor.  We can plan an awesome event that runs smoothly, but the one thing out of our control is the weather!  Torrential downpours can obviously affect our event and we must be prepared for these situations.  This might mean we pre-order rain ponchos for our guests, or we make last-minute changes to the program to keep guests inside a bit more.

It may not be rain that affects our event, but a fire alarm set off by another department, or a power outage in the building (all things that have happened to me before!).  These things are out of our control, and as much as we are prepared for our event to run smoothly, we must be ready to think on our feet and make last-minute changes. Believe it or not, this is one of my favorite parts of being an event planner. It tests me and keeps me on my toes. No, I do not hope we have pouring rain or other disruptions, but I do enjoy the thrill of needing to quickly make a change and implement it with our team.

When submitting your college application, you will encounter hiccups and issues.  Many of our early action applicants encountered a curveball this year when they logged into Common App and received a message (in bold red letters) that the deadline had already passed. The deadline had not passed, and students could still submit their applications. But this situation could have been avoided by submitting your application a few days (or a week) before the deadline!  Building extra days into your timeline allows for extra time should there be an issue with the processing of your application or application fee.  Giving yourself a few days helps you avoid panic when you run into an issue at 11:59 p.m. prior to the deadline. (Please note… Admission Offices are not open at that hour and we will not respond to emails/calls until the next day).

As you continue to work on your college application, build a to-do list, similar to the one I have sitting on my desk as we get ready to host a number of events over the next week (bonus tip: when you complete an item/task, it feels great to cross that item off the list!).  As we are busy working on putting the finishing touches on our events, you can do the same with your applications.

Andrew Cohen joined Georgia Tech in 2018 and currently oversees the guest experience for all Undergraduate Admission visitors. His love for providing visitors with informative, authentic and personal experiences started as a student tour guide at his alma mater, Ithaca College. Andrew’s passion for the visit experience has lead him to his involvement in the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association, where he currently services as the Treasurer on their executive board.

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