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

The goal isn’t to be perfect, but to be authentic!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.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

Success Isn’t Guaranteed—Try Anyway

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

Let’s start by admitting that not everyone’s experience growing up in the United States is the same. Rural, urban, and suburban life looks different, and there are certainly other differences when considering family background and other factors. Having acknowledged that, I think it’s fair to say the people of Generation X (to which I belong) grew up with a great deal more freedom to explore the world around them as children than today’s kids and youth. By late elementary school I could explore the neighborhoods around me a mile in any direction.

Talk to my Baby Boomer parents and they’ll tell you that not only were they given even more freedom, but also asked to work harder at an earlier stage of life. My father mowed lawns, drove a tractor, roofed houses, and used hatchets as early as fourth grade. Compare these experiences with today, where I know thriving middle schoolers who aren’t allowed to walk 500 yards to the nearest corner with a traffic light because of concerns about safety.

I don’t share these views to judge parents or children today. After all, today’s world is bigger, especially online. Taking more safety precautions is necessary. Yet coinciding with these observations is a feeling that several colleagues and I share—a feeling supported by frequent recurring experiences. High school and college students today do not experience failure because 1) they’ve been shielded from them when they occur or 2) are steered away from undertaking opportunities that might result in anything but clear success.

Take the Opportunity to Fail

Although versions of this topic have been trending the past few years (and even before that in some circles), I want to provide insight which I hope is new. I want to talk about why students should put themselves in circumstances where success is not guaranteed. When you look at it as an opportunity for success as well as failure, the intention and aim become different. Simply looking for opportunities to fail can be a hollow exercise, but earnestly pursuing a goal that may or may not be reached is an opportunity for a win-win experience, regardless of the final outcome.

FailureI had a student ask me to write a recommendation for them for the Truman Scholarship, a nationally competitive and prestigious scholarship for public service leadership. Some regard it as having the most rigorous application of any of the major national and international graduate scholarships. As you can imagine, the percentage of people awarded from among applicants is quite small. Despite the odds not being in anyone’s favor, the student elected to try. By clarifying purpose, thinking about future goals, losing sleep, and sacrificing comfort all in hopes of a slim chance to leverage the scholarship toward making the world a better place, this student gained tremendous personal insight. This kind of personal insight only comes through testing oneself, working hard, and reaching for something most likely out of reach. Did it yield a scholarship? No.

Undaunted, the student went on to apply for the Marshall and Mitchell scholarships as well. Again, hard work and sacrifice led to self-awareness, goals clarification, personal insight … but no scholarship. Yet on the horizon was the famous Fulbright Fellowship for graduate study in another country, which my student ended up receiving.

Seems like three losses and a win, right? I count it as four wins. Each attempt helped my student to grow. Each attempt taught lessons in perseverance, grit, and humility. Even if my student had not won the Fulbright, it wouldn’t change my mind. Four wins, zero losses. I believe that if you asked my student, the response would be the same. The win was in trying to reach for the stars and the growth that resulted.

Pursue Possibility
Adventure

I’ve been fortunate over the past seven years to travel with my students on outdoor leadership expeditions in some beautiful – and physically challenging – environments around the country and the world. These trips are led by experts in Georgia Tech’s outdoor recreation department. Scholarship programs around the nation often encourage or require their scholars to participate in these types of adventures with similar organizations. There is no defined “win,” only an expectation that you’ll make it from the start to the end, persevering through trying circumstances. Blisters, aching muscles, exhaustion, cold or heat, insects, cuts and scrapes. They are all there. Getting through means relying on your own inner strength and your team.

For a very few, these trips are easy (at least at first). For most others, they will mess up the cooking, go slower than the team, or otherwise “not be great.” Yet when they talk about these trips days, months, and even years later, many speak of how the difficult circumstances on the hike resulted in the ability to handle the rigors of college life better than they would have done otherwise.

One of my favorite illustrations of the points I’ve been making comes from the movie, Meet the Fockers. In it, Jack Byrnes, played by Robert De Niro, notices his son-in-law, Greg Focker, played by Ben Stiller, has a 9th place ribbon displayed at his parent’s house. Not second or third … but ninth. I love that Focker’s parents encouraged him to participate in something that he clearly did not win (and they probably knew he wasn’t going to, either). No matter what the outcome, Greg had to come to terms with the fact that he did not experience success, at least not by traditional measures. Did he learn something from competing, from trying, from watching eight others do better than he did? The movie doesn’t go into this, but I suspect he did.

If you’ve seen the rest of the movie, you know that Greg messes up a good bit, but in the end, how he handles these failures and keeps picking himself up amplifies his fiancé’s love for him and earns him the respect of his future in-laws. All that said, in real life I wish his “award” for competing wasn’t a ribbon but a pat on the back from his parents. Because part of the lesson in trying is not everyone gets a trophy nor deserves one.

If I were to outline a lesson from all this, it would be to challenge everyone to pursue possibilities where the chances for a win are moderate to slim. The challenge must be measured though. The more talented or well-trained an individual, the more they should pursue even more difficult experiences. Whether one is in high school, college, or well beyond, remember that we grow by reaching skywards, not by standing still.

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.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

The Scholar Ship

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, joins us for a piece about preparing a scholarship application. Welcome, Chaffee!

I met an old sea captain while travelling through Croatia about five years ago. While we chatted, he told me his criteria for assembling a crew. Each member had to fundamentally understand that when you are at sea, the ship comes first, the crew comes second, and the sailor comes last. Those who didn’t understand and embrace the concept in action weren’t fit for his ship.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Titanic, but I suspect neither the ship nor the crew were the captain’s primary concern. The wealthy passengers’ interests, or perhaps the company’s that owned the ship. Maybe it was the fancy white hat? Need I say more?

BoatOne of the sea captain’s stories focused on how to best prepare for a typical six month trip at sea. When it came to provisions, all the food had to be packed very carefully in a tight room in his small vessel. The items set to expire early in the journey needed to be near the door and other items at the back – which literally could not be accessed until months into the journey. Such packing couldn’t be left until the last minute. Careful planning and execution prior to setting sail was essential. What weighed too much and had to be left behind? What food didn’t have enough calories to sustain the crew? What was frivolous?

There are lessons to be learned in pondering this story which relate to scholarship (and admission) applications. So I invite you now to board a different vessel, the “Scholar Ship,” and take a guided tour with me. While this isn’t the first time someone has used this metaphor (nor will it be the last), it will help you visualize your own scholarship journey.

Captain’s Lesson #1: The Ship and the Crew Come Before You

This one is pretty simple, but is often overlooked. When you are working through a scholarship application (and/or admissions application if that is used for scholarship consideration), focus on what you can bring to the institution, not initially what you will get out of the deal. How will your presence will ostensibly improve the college community if you are given a scholarship? Focus on those elements in your application and subsequent interviews if applicable. It not only shows you want to give back, but also shows humility and a contributor mindset. These days, universities want to give scholarships to people who will make a difference, not just those looking for a cash prize.

Captain’s Lesson #2: Pack Only the Necessary Items in the Right Order for the Journey

When you are boarding the Scholar Ship, you’ve got to pack only the most important items. This means when you list your extracurricular activities, awards, work or volunteer experience, and honors on your application, or deciding on elements of your essay, focus on the ones that are the most significant to you and provide you with the most excitement, joy, and impact (this is especially if you are limited in what you can share). Case in point: many professionals have a 1-2 page resume. Compare this with my experience hearing from a few high school students and their parents that only an 8-pager will capture all they’ve accomplished. See the irony here? If a seasoned professional with years of experience can fit their biggest accomplishments on a 1-2 page document, so can you!

The order is also important. You don’t put cookies on the ship before potable water. List your activities and ideas by importance to you. Put down your accomplishments before you list your hobbies. Note also that written communication typically precedes verbal, so focus on your application before preparing for a potential interview. Most universities’ top scholarships are given to intellectually curious students who think critically, communicate effectively in writing and voice, and make an impact in some fashion, whether in leadership, service, or some other emphasized arena.

Captain’s Lesson #3: The Sailor (that’s you!) Does in Fact Matter

Colleges and scholarship programs also want to know why you are interested in them. Why is what they offer compelling to you? How you will make the world a better place by taking advantage of those offerings and produce a return on their investment? Imagine for a second that you tell the old sea captain, “I’m a good fit because I know you will stop on this particular island where I can find a resource that will lead to cures for diseases back on the mainland. I am really interested in being able to go to that island.” Even more simply, it’s fine to say, “I really want a strong degree, great job or graduate school offer, and the rich college experience your school offers.” Be sure to articulate your “why,” because that’s important! Colleges want scholars who will make an impact, but they also want to see you enjoy yourself simultaneously on campus. Most will even try to ensure it!

Captain’s Lesson #4: Don’t Be Afraid to Jump Ship

Well, honestly, the old sea captain never told me this one. It’s just one I think he might have shared had he had the opportunity. While you may have a destination in mind on the Scholar Ship you board, you are likely to find that some of the places you visit along the way – like a backup school or the more obscure one that offered you a great scholarship complete with both financial and developmental incentives – is really where you want to disembark. Such a school might end up being a better endpoint to your journey than you originally intended. If the final destination is what you want, that’s wonderful—go there and finish the voyage. If not, and something else feels like a better option, throw out your anchor and row to shore!

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.

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.

The Secret Sauce Behind Scholarship Selection (part 2 of 2)

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, is back for the second in a 2-part series about scholarship selection. Welcome back, Chaffee!

As I mentioned last week, in my experience as a scholarship director, there are three issues affecting your chances of receiving a major (and sometimes even minor) scholarship: Fit, Numbers, and Composition.

This week we’ll talk about the third issue on the list that affects your chances of receiving scholarships: Composition.

Two Types of Major Scholarships

Before we get into composition, let me define what I mean by a “major” scholarship. There are two key types I am focusing on. The first is the kind that offers more than just money. These scholarships also include personalized mentoring, enrichment experiences, leadership development, research opportunities, shared experiences with a cohort of fellow scholars, and/or admission to an honors program. All or some of these experiences might be offered in addition to a full (or near full) ride to college. There might be anywhere from 5 to 50 scholarships to go around for each incoming class at various schools in the United States (the Stamps President’s Scholarship at Georgia Tech falls into this category).

The second kind of scholarship is the most expensive or most prestigious scholarship at a particular school. It’s not unusual to find 5 or 10 of these scholarships sitting there for the students deemed “the best of the best” in the incoming class. Criteria for selection is often very academically focused, but not exclusively. Incentives beyond funding for the cost of attendance are hit or miss, usually miss (though sometimes they come with admission to an honors program). Regardless, there are probably still anywhere from a handful up to 25 or more per incoming class.

Back to Composition…

Now, what do I mean by composition? I’m talking about what type of backgrounds will be sought in a full cohort of incoming scholars. What will they look like with regards to gender, geography, ethnicity, major, and so on? It might have to do with secondary factors like organizations they represent. Each school and scholarship program will have a desired composition or enrollment priority.

This is usually where someone gets worried that their demographics will work against them.

For example, a few years ago in a public forum someone asked me whether or not we reserved a certain number of spots for students of color in our scholarship program. I asked him if he meant qualified or unqualified students of color. He indicated qualified students. I replied, “If they’re qualified, why would I have to reserve any spots? Did you actually mean unqualified students of color? Because we don’t reserve any spots for unqualified students of any type.”

Judging from my conversations with families in the past, some people seem to fear that our aim to build a diverse cohort means we are selecting unqualified students over qualified students in the name of diversity. While I have no doubt such a thing has happened somewhere at some point in time, I have not encountered that situation in my career anywhere I have worked (or seen it happen among my colleagues at other scholarship programs at other schools).

Each scholarship program you might be considering will want to build a full cohort representing our society, not just one or two predominant segments of it. They will aim to pick scholars from various walks of life. The overall composition of the group of incoming scholars is important because in the programs that offer more than money, they usually want the scholars to work together on various projects, where success is enhanced by having a multitude of different perspectives and backgrounds involved.

It’s about the numbers.

It’s about the fit.

It’s about the composition.

Fake News (or something like it)

Hollywood, the media, and broader American culture often provide a distorted picture of the availability of scholarships and what it takes to get them. Popular myths, including having straight A’s, being involved in 10 different clubs, or having relatively good grades and being a great athlete and student body president, send the message that a scholarship is an easy thing to come by. These are all generally fiction. Not exactly what would qualify as fake news, but it’s pretty darn close. So are alarmist stories of how certain students can’t win scholarships based on their demographics.

Here’s the bottom line: if you don’t win a scholarship (or the particular scholarship that you wanted) that is normal, even for gold stars. Don’t take it personally, don’t believe you have been rejected (an awful word in my experience), and don’t be resentful. Above all, don’t let not receiving a scholarship keep you from attending a college if it’s the right fit for you. Attend the  best college for you and pursue a career and life full of meaning … even if it didn’t come for free. The best things in life, despite the old adage, are not necessarily free.

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.

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.

The Secret Sauce Behind Scholarship Selection (part 1 of 2)

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, joins us for the first in a 2-part series about scholarship selection. Welcome, Chaffee!

Imagine you are a child playing with a blocks and cutouts set. You have stars, triangles, squares, circles, and rectangles. Each block is made of pure gold. You place all of them until you get to the last set. In your hand is a gold star, but the remaining cutout is a square. So the game is over – you just can’t fit a star into a square.

This scenario is a good way to think about your chances of winning a major full-ride scholarship to a college or university. Even if you are made of pure gold, among the best students out there, it doesn’t change your shape. It doesn’t change who you are fundamentally. What can change, however, are your expectations for financing college education.

In my experience as a scholarship director, there are three issues affecting your chances of receiving a major (and sometimes even minor) scholarship: Fit, Numbers, and Composition.

Fit

I’ll start with the concept of Fit. Many students think if they aren’t selected for a scholarship it’s because they weren’t good enough—that something is wrong with them, or something is wrong with the selection process. Both of those scenarios are rarely the case when we are talk about truly competitive students (the gold stars). Instead, it is usually about a lack of fit.

For example: the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship at Georgia Tech is the Stamps President’s Scholarship. Our program focuses on four pillars: scholarship, leadership, progress and service. Let’s say we see a student who is solid gold in all their pursuits, but they’ve spent only a little time in service. While the student’s overall quality is high, their fit for our program is not, as service is a fundamental trait we value. On the other hand, that same student might be an amazing leader with a very strong background in athletics. Another well-known, prestigious scholarship program at another school may focus on physical vigor among other qualities. So the same student who may not fit in our program very well may fit into another.  When quality is high and fit is high, the chances of receiving that scholarship increase. (For the record, we do have athletes in our program. Other scholarship programs that do not focus on service still have students with great records of helping others. These are just general examples being used to illustrate a point.)

Now, notice I used the word chances. It’s a chance because fit isn’t a check box—there’s more than one aspect of quality being sought in the same student, not just service, or just physical vigor. It’s more than a yes or no. Many different aspects of a student and their background are held up against the desired characteristics of any particular scholarship program. Students are complex and so are scholarship programs.

My Advice:  when it comes to fit, be sure to apply for scholarships that fit you and your accomplishments, rather than chasing awards a well-meaning parent, alum, or counselor told you would look good on your resume.

Numbers

What do I mean by numbers? On one level, it’s about the quantity of scholarships, and on another, it’s about statistics. We’ll start with quantity of scholarships. If a student is admitted at Tech in early action, that student is in the running for one of our 40 Stamps President’s Scholarships. That’s right –not 1,000, not 100. Only 40. The numbers are similar at many other schools with prestigious, merit-based, full ride scholarship programs-. At Tech, this translates to a less than 1% chance of receiving the scholarship because we admit only about 4,500 students in the early action round.

Why are the numbers so low? The reality is every full ride scholarship a university offers to undergraduates is usually thanks to generous private donors who wish to help fund the education and professional development of a single scholar. Many, if not most, scholars must be funded from the income generated by permanent endowments, especially at public universities. Multiply that by dozens of scholars per year, then by four years’ worth of scholar cohorts. You quickly get a very large amount of money each school must raise from private donors.

The bottom line? There are many more gold star students than there are funds for a prestigious full ride merit scholarships.

What about statistics? Some schools have SAT/ACT minimums or GPAs that must be met, while others do not (for the record, Tech does not have a minimum threshold for our program). Chances for scholarships can, and do, depend on which school and scholarship program you’re targeting. Sometimes scholarship programs make such eligibility factors public, but not always. Even if there are no minimums, the truth is that for students seeking academic scholarships, GPAs, course selection, and test scores still factor into the equation. And even if a program doesn’t have a minimum requirement for academic scholarships, your GPA, course selection, and test scores will still factor into the equation—how can they not? The good news is several scholarship programs use a holistic review just like many admissions offices. Regardless, unless a student with lower academic performance has incredible leadership or extracurricular activities, it is hard to ignore the intellectual superstars in favor of better-than-average students.

One other thought:  To be a valedictorian or in the top 5-10% at your high school is an incredible accomplishment. But when all the top students at high schools across the nation start competing for colleges, only a portion become the top 5-10% of all applicants. It’s mathematically impossible for all of them remain in the top 5-10% at the college level. Yet that is often the mentality of a valedictorian or salutatorian – being the big fish in a small pond in high school often ends with being among the average when it comes to selection for major scholarships. I can’t tell you how many parents have called me over the years to say “but my child was valedictorian, so that means a scholarship.” Sadly, the numbers don’t make that a possibility. Besides, valedictorian is only one measure of strength.

My advice: apply for scholarships and always hope for the best, but get comfortable with the idea that you will pay for college with student loans, work-study, and other sources, even if you are a solid gold performer. Most students going to college have to pay, and they do so knowing they’re investing in themselves and their future salary will pay off those loans. If you’re still concerned about cost, take a look at the schools ranked high for best value, as these are also excellent choices.

Next week we’ll talk about the final piece of the puzzle: composition.

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.

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.