Admission Process
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Georgia Tech

Breaking Down the Admission Team: Week 2: Offensive Line

In Fantasy Football, you score with skill positions, like quarterbacks and running backs. But we all know that in order for a player to succeed, he must have a group on the line blocking, working, and grinding every play. They don’t garner the spotlight, the headlines, or the score sheet, but make no mistake, the offensive line is the very heartbeat of the team.

And that is absolutely true of the phenomenal women and men who work in operations around the nation in admission. They don’t stand up on stages and deliver impassioned speeches about the school. They are not usually the ones talking with visitors. Their pictures aren’t prominently displayed on websites or publications. But day in and day out, they are moving the proverbial ball forward.

Back in the Day….

A decade ago or so ago basically all information that came into an admission office was via mail. I distinctly remember mail time. Back then we would literally wait for the truck to pull into the driveway. We’d have letter openers in hand and big tables nearby where we’d open, sort, and file documents for applications. Ultimately, those documents would be placed into folders (think dentist’s offices), and either delivered to counselors’ offices or placed on big sliding shelves in the mail room (think ELF, minus the dancing) for review. When supplementary information would arrive, operations staff would find the file, match the documents, and update the counselor. Besides the physical sorting, there was also a ton of data entry to do, including everything from social security numbers to addresses to test scores.

Fast Forward to Now…

These days schools have converted to reading applications on screens. Applications are submitted online, and transcripts either accompany that submission or come in via another electronic medium. But even now, admission offices are by no means completely paperless. Last year we received about 15,000 hard copy documents, including transcripts, recommendation letters, citizenship documents, school reports and profiles.  We also get a lot of extra information that students (or someone associated with the student) believe will be compelling. These range from projects (think paintings detailing Civil War battles or paper mache volcanoes), to pictures from actors / movie stars / athletes who are recommending students, to attendance records from the 3rd grade, to science reports from middle school.

But the majority of information comes in electronically. Tech works with 14 companies on a regular basis: testing agencies, foreign credit evaluators, application vendors, transcript avenues, etc. Not to mention we had over 6,000 emails last year from students, teachers, and counselors with attachments of documents. So while admission offices nationally may have led to the decline in stock prices for band aids and white out, their work load has not diminished—it’s just the nature of the work and skill sets of these folks has shifted. Big League (too soon?).

What does this mean for you?

I realize we’re getting into the weeds a bit, but this work directly impacts the efficiency and effectiveness in which admission offices operate. Operations folks are the ones who are updating your online checklists, your applications for residency, verifying transcript receipt, and confirming test score accuracy. They spend a lot of time doing quality control—making sure YOUR application contains YOUR grades, recommendations, and test scores, even though each of those may have been sent from a different source. Sound fun? This is what it takes to play on the Offensive Line. I’m telling you, these workers are the epicenter of every admission office in this country.

Any smart quarterback knows that he better take his offensive line out for steaks once a month and buy them some good Christmas gifts or he’s going to end up on the ground a lot more. So here are a few ways you can help yourself as you work with Operations Teams around the country.

Apply First. Test scores are very easy to match to applications. But when students send other things early (whether that be transcripts or immunizations form kindergarten) we don’t really have a mechanism for holding and matching. Think of your application as the cornerstone of a building. Everything is contingent and hooked to that foundation.

One and Done. If your counselor sends a transcript via Naviance or Common App or another electronic company, please don’t also mail, email, fax and carrier pigeon that to us to “be sure we have it.” You are just clogging up the system and adding processing time to your file and others. Schools give processing windows (messages saying it will be 2-3 weeks or 7-10 days before your online checklist will reflect receipt) for a reason. We have not yet found a way to bend the space-time continuum, so trust that timeline, check back, and take action if it’s not been received. We get that you are nervous about deadlines and being complete, but if 30,000 other applicants (and adding in eager parents, make that 90,000 people) are all calling, emailing, and showing up in person, you can understand the inefficiency that creates.

Know Your Name. Be sure you list the same first, last, middle name on your test scores, transcripts, and application. You may not love that your formal name is William, but using that on your application and “Willy B” on your SAT is going to lead to matching nightmares on our end. We find this issue particularly problematic for international students. We will call you whatever you want when you arrive on campus, but let’s keep it formal and official in the application process.

Go Green. Let’s work to save the world one transcript or recommendation letter at a time. If your school or county is not yet sending documents electronically, put pressure on them to rectify that. This is not a vendetta against the US Postal Service but the bottom line is electronic documents are easier to handle, match, upload, process and read.

Shout Out!

One of the very best in the business talking about “all things operations” is David Graves at UGA. Dr. Graves is the Senior Associate Director there and does a phenomenal job talking about things specific to UGA but also applicable info on test scores and tips for working with processing offices within admission. Follow him on Twitter: @drgravesUGA.

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College Admission Essays: I’ve heard that one before…

Last week I talked to a high school senior as a favor to a friend. The student is not applying to Georgia Tech, so I was giving him general application advice.

We talked about prioritizing extra-curricular activities, such as putting the things you care about most and have the most involvement with, first. While an application may have eight, 10 or 30 lines for involvement, busy admission officers who speed read this section may only get to third on the list. Make them want to keep learning about you by telling them clearly and thoroughly what’s most important to you.

Then we talked about his supplemental responses. Since I don’t work for the schools he’s applying to, I told him to research their websites, social media, and literature and pay attention to themes and key messages. At Tech we focus on our motto of Progress and Service and improving the human condition. Students applying to us will see questions along those lines, or should be astute enough to find opportunities to provide connections to those concepts. Every school has these, you just have to dig deeper at some places. Inside Tip: if you can’t identify what’s important to a school, then they haven’t done a good job articulating it, or they can’t differentiate themselves, or they’re just not resonating with you. Any of these is a red flag.

The Essay

Finally, we talked about his essay. I’ll be honest, the topic was trite (something about learning through basketball about overcoming odds). Admittedly, at that point, I was also packing for a trip so I was a bit distracted (and I was not being paid for this time or advice). But here’s the bottom line: the topic doesn’t really matter anyway. I’ve been reading essays for over 15 years. I’ve read for several institutions, two testing agencies, and various scholarship competitions. Conservatively, I’d say I’ve looked at more than 10,000 essays by now. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more, and I know plenty of people on my staff and around the country who put that number to shame.

But as somewhat of an expert, here’s what I firmly believe: there is no completely unique topic: sports analogy about life, failure, and triumph? Heard it. Mission trip to a third world country, including multiple transportation modes, animal crossings, and flat tires? Check. Family drama where you displayed tremendous patience, empathy, and wisdom beyond your years? Sure. The list goes on: difficult coach/teacher turned advocate… stuck out a horrible summer job that provided valuable lessons and renewed focus and direction … beloved grandparent who moved in, built close friendship, died, but taught a lot of valuable lessons in life and death (this one often doubles as an excuse for late app submission as well)… second verse, same as the first.

As Ecclesiastes says, “When it comes to college admission, there is nothing new under the sun” RCV (Rick Clark Version). Does that mean the essay does not matter? That you should resign yourself to mediocrity? Not at all. My point is that your energy should not be spent on selecting the topic. Once you figure out which question you want to answer, meaning you really have something to say or you’re somewhat excited to respond, start writing.

Find Your Voice

Knowing the topic won’t differentiate you, it has to be something else, right? This is where your voice has to be evident. And like the list of extra-curricular activities, it needs to be clear in the first sentence or two. I know many readers who read the first and last paragraphs and only go back if those are compelling. Otherwise, it’s a dime a dozen and the ratings are accordingly average. Some schools will tell you that two separate readers evaluate every essay in its entirety. Given volume, staff sizes, and compressed timelines between application deadlines and decision release, that seems at worst a blatant lie, and at best an incredibly inefficient process.

So how do you find your unique voice? I’m going to give you a few steps, but first check out the picture below. The woman on my right either thinks I’m insane or that something disgusting is on my hand. The woman to my left could not care less and simply can’t believe I’m still talking. The guy on the end may be interested in the woman to my right and is likely mad at me for making her mad at life. So continue to read knowing that if you disagree or think these tips are weak, you’ll not be the first– and certainly won’t be the last.

Step 1: Read it aloud. There is something magical about reading out loud. As adults we don’t do this enough. In reading aloud to kids, colleagues, or friends we hear things differently, and find room for improvement when the writing is flat. So start by voice recording your essay.

Step 2: Do it again and Listen. REALLY listen. Is there emotion in it? Does your humor come out? Can the reader feel your sadness?  Does it sound like you? If you can’t tell, play it for someone you know and trust. What do they say?

Step 3: Do the Math. (What?! I was told there would be no math on the essay section.) If 5,000 other applicants chose the same essay prompt, and 100 of those choose the same topic, will your essay be noticed? Does it provide specifics and descriptions of you or others, as well as setting and moment?

Step 4: Keep it simple. Three steps is enough. Once you’ve gone through those, hit submit and move on. Sitting on your essay until deadline day is only going to drive you nuts. So pray over it, do a dance, catch a falling leaf, or whatever else you think will help, and then be done.

Your essay topic may not be entirely different or unique, but your senior year can be. Go enjoy it!

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Ice Cream is the answer!

If you’ve been reading much surrounding the world of college admission this year, you’ve heard about the report out of Harvard called Turning the Tide. In this report, there is a call for colleges to attempt to minimize the stress in the process by not putting as much emphasis on test scores, redefining achievement and promoting meaningful contributions to the public good, rather than perpetuating the resume padding and gamesmanship that draws such angst and frustration. I am a signee on this report, so I’m not contesting or detracting from its noble intentions or merits. However, I also firmly believe that as long as American universities have single digit admit rates, there will always be frenzy that cannot be solved by asking different essay questions or telling students not to spend thousands of dollars to go on a mission trip. We can “turn the tide” slightly. Colleges can make efforts, many of which are outlined in the report, so that after riding the proverbial waves of the admission cycle you can still see your umbrella and beach blanket, but we’re not talking about bringing six feet waves down to a still pool by any means.  The only place that can happen is at home.

Let me tell you a story. A few weeks ago, I was walking across campus and bumped into Derrick Moore. “D. Mo” as he’s known on campus is the chaplain to our football team, a former NFL player, and one of the most passionate, inspirational, gracious people you will ever meet. If you’ve not seen one of his pre-game speeches on YouTube, you have unknowingly been leading an incomplete life. His messages typically surround the concept of being “all in” and fully committed to the team, believing in yourself, and family. When you hear these, you know he believes them with every fiber of his being.

d moAnd what I’ve come to appreciate about Derrick is he lives these messages every day at home with his wife and daughters. Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of watching him navigate the admission process twice now with his girls. His older is in college and another is a high school senior.

On the day we saw each other recently, he said it was ironic because that night his daughter would be finding out if she’d been admitted to her top choice school. He told me she’d been deferred in EA and had been understandably dismayed, but thankfully he explained, she also had a few other acceptances to some great universities. I asked him how he was doing and how she was feeling about everything.

He kind of shook his head and looked down, shuffled his feet a little and said, “Man, Rick. I’m nervous. I’m really nervous. She really wants to get into this school. It’s her first choice, and we are really hoping it’s going to work out.”

Then he looked up and said with striking confidence and conviction, “But here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going down to practice now to be with the team. Then I’ll leave a little early and stop by the store. I’m picking up some of my favorite ice cream and some of hers. Then we’ll sit down around our table, open up her laptop, and check her admission decision as a family. And I’ll tell you what– if she gets in, we’re going high five, hug, dig into that ice cream and enjoy every spoonful. But if she doesn’t get admitted, there are going to be some tears. Some tears from her and some from me and my wife too because we just love her so much. Then we’re going to eat our ice cream, give each other some big hugs, and then cry a little more. But tomorrow morning we’ll get up and we’ll get really excited about her going to X College, because it’s a great school and she loved her visit there.”

Behold the power of ice cream. It’s like the duct tape of foods. It repairs, it reinforces, it supports, it covers up, and it endures. Big break up– ice cream. Stressed about an exam– ice cream. Pregnant (not in high school. This is an illustration of ice cream’s longevity as a cure all) — ice cream. Celebrating a raise or a new house or a retirement— ice cream is the answer! In fact, when people tell me they don’t believe in God, I lean not on theology but rather on– ice cream. They quickly point to our current political climate to refute the existence of a higher loving deity. I pause, eat ice cream, and renew my faith. And frankly, in that moment with D. Mo, I also realized it’s also the way to best navigate the admission process. From searching for a college to applying to dealing with admission decisions to ultimately choosing a college– ice cream. Because ultimately it’s just love in a frozen state.

ice creamDo colleges have a responsibility to attempt to de-stress the process, to be more transparent, to think deeply about how to make applying to school more simple? Yes, of course. But the way students will feel good about their options at the point of application; the way they’ll process and deal with denials and admits with a healthy perspective; and the way they’ll best make a final decision does not hinge on semantics in an application or on a college’s website, but rather on a family sitting together around their kitchen table with spoons enjoying the same tub of ice cream. Unified, confident, committed to support and excitement, regardless of the outcome. That doesn’t turn the tide, it eradicates it altogether.

May 1 is nearly upon us. I’m sure there are still a lot of you who are coming down to the wire on deciding the best school for you and your family. What makes financial sense? Where will I thrive, grow, enjoy, be challenged and succeed? Before you make that decision, I point you to ice cream. When you grab your spoon remember this– you are not walking on a tight rope. This choice is like strolling on a very wide, smooth promenade. At the end of the day, the decision you make on where to go to college is not going to determine the rest of your life, contrary to what someone has inevitably told you or what the press will often purport. Instead, it will be the decisions you make in college: the grades you make, the internships you pursue, the network of friends, professors, advisors you create. Those will dictate your trajectory, your success, and your options, and ultimately your contentment in college and life beyond.

Whether you are a parent or a student reading this, it’s time to commit. It’s time to be all in. It’s time for family. And that means it’s time for ice cream! So donate or burn the other schools’ t-shirts, recycle all the literature colleges have sent you, go grab a few spoons and crack open a tub of your favorite ice cream with your family this week—and notice how smooth the waters are around you.

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

The Do’s and Don’ts of Holistic Admission

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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.

Early Action Deadline Approaching!

As a reminder, our early action deadline is October 15.

Still thinking of applying? Here are five reasons why you should!

Go Jackets!