Your Voice Matters

Listen to “Episode 14: Your Voice Matters – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

If you have ever heard an admission counselor discuss college application essays, they will inevitably say, “We just want to hear your voice.” Having worked at a number of institutions, I can tell you this is absolutely true. While grammar and style matter, conversations in committee rooms center on what your essays tell us you care about and how you think and operate.

Admission interviews are similar. In fact, “interview” is really a misnomer. Admission reps, alumni, students, faculty, or other university representatives you meet with have a battery of questions to ask, but really they are hoping for a conversation. They are interested in the content of your responses, your tone, your ability to build on ideas, and the tenor of the overall exchange and dialogue.

In other words, when an admission dean tells you they “just want to hear your voice,” they are not only thinking about your application, but also who you will be as a future member of their campus community—and ultimately as a graduate and a global citizen.

Your voice matters in the college admission experience.  How and when will you use it?

Your Voice Matters

As someone who works at the unique intersection between high school and higher education; as an educator charged with building and shaping a class and a community; as the father of two young children, I believe all schools and universities should foster discussion, expose you to new ideas, and surround you with people who think and approach life differently. These communities should serve as laboratories for the mixing and merging of perspectives and the facilitation of open, spirited dialogue. None of that happens without your full engagement and commitment—without your voice.

If you are about to begin your college career, go look at your acceptance letter from the school you plan to attend.

I hope it makes you feel proud. I hope you see it as a vote of confidence, an invitation, and a contract.

An offer of admission is our way of saying…

We trust you.

We believe in you.

We need you.

We are counting on you to show up and contribute. We want you to be challenged and to challenge us. We are offering you an opportunity to learn, transform, and improve. And we are also imploring you to teach, transform, and improve our campus community.

Your voice matters in college. How and when will you use it?

Your Voice Matters Now

These are fractured and tumultuous times. Our world is facing a global pandemic. Our nation is in a divisive and contentious election year. Our cities are experiencing protests and curfews.

Honestly, part of what gives me hope right now is you. On Sunday, my family went to a protest organized by the Beacon Hill Alliance for Human Rights. The first 10 speakers were either high school or college students from the Atlanta area. It further convinced me of what I already know from reading your college applications—your voice is powerful and crucial right now and as we move forward.

Whether you are returning to high school or beginning your college career, I want you to know your voice matters. Your voice can help bring about the change and healing our local communities, campuses, cities, and our country so desperately need.

After the recent killings of Aumaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, there has been no shortage of articles, interviews, speeches, and social media posts suggesting precisely how and when you should use your voice. Ultimately, that decision rests with you.

My hope is you will choose to use it in your school and community to:

  • call out and speak against injustice, inequality, racism, and discrimination.
  • encourage.
  • lift the voice of friends, classmates, or other community members who are marginalized or excluded.
  • inspire.
  • acknowledge what you do not know and commit to listening and learning.
  • forgive.
  • speak truth to power, especially when the reality of an organization or an institution does not mirror its stated values, mission, or vision.
  • challenge.
  • question and protest systems/ status quo that work against progress and equity– and ultimately vote accordingly.
  • engage.
  • call out who is not in the room and work to bring them in as equal partners.
  • love.

I want to be clear. I do not always get this right– far, far from it. The Real Cost of Silence is a story I told several years ago as part of Georgia Tech’s Transformative Narratives project, which demonstrates that fact. But it taught me that my voice matters; transformation comes through experience (often through missteps and failure); our words will never be perfect, but silence in the face of injustice and overt prejudice is patently wrong; we cannot change the past, so we must commit to a different and better today and tomorrow; and perhaps most importantly, not being part of the solution means you are part of the problem.

Your voice matters each and every day. How and when will you use it?

Your Voice Matters, Now More Than Ever

I hope you take this summer to read, listen, watch, learn, reflect, and evaluate.

I hope you will ask yourself big questions about who you are, who you want to be, what you care about, and what you believe. Whether you are applying to college in the year ahead or beginning your college career, those questions are critical.

I hope you consider what you want your future and the future of our nation and world to look like.

Most of all I hope you will be reminded and confident in this—YOUR VOICE MATTERS.

How and when will you use it?

More Georgia Tech Voices 

President Ángel Cabrera’s Statement on George Floyd

A Commitment to Drive Change by Archie W. Ervin, Ph.D.

Dean of Computing, Charles Isbell

Dr. Rafael L. Bras, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs

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The Real Wonder Woman

As the parent of a 9- and 12- year- old, superheroes have surrounded me in recent years. I’m not talking about watching a few movies or picking up some random trivia or occasionally eating a Marvel- themed yogurt squeezie. I’m talking about intense action figure battles; regular discussions and speculation about individual characters; deep dives into specific qualities, relationships, powers, weapons, and personalities; and more than the occasional role-playing battle that spills out of the house and into the yard (maybe even once into the street, to the utter terror of an elderly neighbor who thought she’d met her end at the hands of three masked figures shooting arrows and screaming about the honor of Valhalla).

I have come to appreciate that while superheroes are pervasive in our culture on billboards, movie placards, and cereal boxes, real heroes have the same attributes, yet they walk among us.

Heroes come in a wide assortment of shapes and sizes.

My hero is a 4’11” spit fire from East Tennessee named Nancy Beane. Nancy is retiring this year from The Westminster Schools in Atlanta after a 40+ year career as a teacher, mentor, leader, and counselor. Don’t let her stature deceive you. She has more wisdom, fight, savvy, and skill in her right pointer finger (one she uses often to emphasize a statement while holding her reading glasses) than the normal human possesses in their entire body.

Heroes know their imperfections and have found strength and perspective in humility.

Whether she is giving a speech, talking in the hallway between meetings, accepting an award, or discussing a topic over a meal, Nancy is always self-deprecating. She’s quick to point out what she does not know or who is more of an expert in a particular subject. However, I’ve come to realize you should always listen a little closer when she says, “Well, I probably don’t have a clue about this, but ….” Or “Now, I’m not sure I know exactly…” That’s when she drops real knowledge. It is kind of like Barry Allen speculating about speed. She knows. She doesn’t just have a clue—she has the entire case solved already.

Heroes use their strength and power to help others.

As far as I know, she does not have laser vision in those glasses or a Batmobile or superhuman strength. Instead, Nancy’s power is her access, privilege, and voice. She works at one of the most highly regarded private schools in the South. She has been the president of every organization I’m part of on the state, regional, and national level. Her husband, John, is a successful lawyer (and a hero in his own right). The people she meets and influences on a daily basis in her neighborhood, at local restaurants, and in her college counseling office run the city (cue Oliver Queen). It would be easy– I’m talking about Sunday morning strolling the beach easy—for her to just live in the status quo.

That’s not Nancy. She is a champion. She is an advocate– for her students, for younger professionals in the college admission and counseling profession, for women (especially as a proud Agnes Scott alumna), for colleagues who might otherwise be overlooked or undervalued, for anyone in whom she sees potential. She may have to pull a stool up to the lectern in order to reach the microphone, but once she has it, you can be assured she is going to use that opportunity to skillfully advance causes, give credit to others, encourage students, and skillfully incorporate wisdom, wit, and calls to action.

Heroes don’t look for credit.

Instead, their reward and satisfaction come from watching the people they serve have opportunities to grow and thrive. A few years ago, I watched Nancy plant a seed with a lawmaker in D.C. that ultimately became an education bill benefiting military veterans. Walking out I had no idea what we’d started, but she did. She always does. I think her comment was simply, “That ought to give him something to think about.”

Because that’s what heroes do. They give us something to think about. They see in us what we cannot or do not see in ourselves. As I look back, it was Nancy who first encouraged me to get involved with leadership in professional organizations. “Rick, you should consider putting your name in the hat for SACAC Board.” Consider is Nancy speak for do it.  Four years later, she called again. “You need to really think about getting involved on the national level.” When Nancy calls, you answer.  Often her calls were about her students. “Now, let me tell you about this boy. He’s really something.” I’m guessing hundreds of admission deans around the country have heard Nancy say those exact words. Always advocating. Always talking about how great others are.

Heroes are in the right place at the right time.

Superheroes have an advantage. They can fly or use super speed or swing from buildings to the arrive on the scene. Real heroes just show up. They call. They text. They don’t miss the party or the funeral or the big day. One of Nancy’s greatest powers is being present. She is at the games, shows, meetings, graduations, and celebrations. She calls when she knows you are hurting. She always picks up her phone, or is crazy quick to call back. “Sorry. I was trying to find the darn thing…”  She always asks about family first. She is a hugger.

Heroes pay a severe price.

I am convinced this woman does not sleep. She has sacrificed countless days, weeks, and years serving students and colleagues. Showing up and being available sounds good in leadership books—it’s in there because it’s so difficult to live out. Over the years, Nancy’s advocacy for the under-served has at times drawn criticism from friends, colleagues, and others in power. Using her voice and speaking up has come at a relational cost. This is the price of doing the right thing, of being a champion. But heroes don’t shrink from the fight, and she has only become more invested and committed as her power has grown.

Heroes change the world.

Unlike superheroes, Nancy (to my knowledge) has not moved a literal mountain. But one by one she’s spoken into the lives of thousands of students, professionals, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. One day at a time. One relationship at a time.

In a life that is often challenging, in a time that is extremely unknown and uncertain, in a world that has plenty of darkness and difficulty, we need heroes like Nancy Beane. They inspire us. They challenge us to live more selflessly. They come alongside us, lift us up, and believe in us, even when we are having difficulty believing in ourselves. Heroes beget heroes.

Like all good superheroes, Nancy is known by many names and titles: Mrs. Beane, mom, president, teacher, and counselor to name a few. But those who have had the honor of spending time with her know her true identity: she is the real Wonder Woman!

Congratulations on a heroic career, Nancy. We love you!

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Dreaming

This week we welcome Dr. Rafael L. Bras, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, to the blog. Welcome, Dr. Bras!

Over the past few months, I have worked harder than ever and certainly worried more than ever. I have been worrying about family, friends, colleagues, Georgia Tech, the nation, the world. But the isolation and the long hours have afforded me some time to think. One recurring subject is my life. Although I have seen my share of failures and disappointments, like most people, I can unquestionably say that I have been successful by almost any metric. I am satisfied and happy — most of the time. So, I have been trying to distill the ingredients that made it so. I can talk about hard work, and about focus and dedication. But, while necessary, those alone are not sufficient conditions for success and happiness. In my opinion, the three ingredients for success in my life are family, education, and dreaming.

I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to a lower middle-class family — not an obvious launching pad for a career and life that has taken me to all seven continents. But my luck was being born to educated parents that had a dream for their children — a dream that could only be achieved through education. I fear that reliance on education as the most important instrument of social mobility may have weakened over time. I am sure experts will chime in, either in agreement or disagreement, with valid evidence and explanations.

I believe that my generation benefited from being the children of individuals shaped, early on, by the Great Depression, and later, by a World War that threatened their very existence. It was a time when the dream of every American was to own their home, have a family, and, for many, to study under the GI bill. The creation of the middle class was fast and dramatic, and correlated to education and hard work. I fear that those of us who made it to that cherished middle class or higher have become complacent, and more self-centered and less family oriented than our parents.

The education of our children is an expensive investment. And, while many truly struggle to educate their children, they try their best. But it is not uncommon to meet individuals who are unwilling to give up vacations, or other luxuries, in order to give their children the best education possible. I can say that my parents spared no effort or expense to offer my sister and me the best education possible at significant personal and financial sacrifice. This sacrifice was evident early on. They made sure I attended the best private school available, a reach for them and for me. That put me in a competitive position that led me to MIT.

I might as well have gone to the moon (which was, indeed, happening at the time). MIT was that far-fetched for all in my family. My parents not only lacked the resources to support me in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but I was truly ill-prepared academically and socially. But their dream became my dream, and I was not about to wake up to a different reality.

At MIT, I was surrounded by very bright people to whom the phrase “changing the world” was not hypothetical. It rubbed off on me. All of a sudden, I was not a young man from a small far away island, but I had joined the network of movers and shakers of the world. My parents’ investment literally opened the whole world for me. The investment bought me a very good education but, equally important, it bought me access, visibility, and a sense of self-confidence derived from the realization that maybe I was not any different than my Nobel-prize winner professor or my wildly successful entrepreneurial friend.

Georgia Tech provides that same opportunity to our students. The environment, the peers, the culture all say “You can do that.” If not alone, you can do it with your friend, your roommate, your classmate, your professor, or with one of the thousands of alumni who will welcome you to the network. That network is linked by dreams of those who have been empowered, urged, to dream.

Let’s now talk about dreams. Many have studied and written about what makes us dream when we sleep. A few things are clear. Our dreams, when we sleep, are very much influenced by the experiences of our environment, and they are stimuli to our brains, occurring during the period of most brain activity while asleep. Dreams and aspirations also reflect our environments and are the essence of a successful, fulfilling life. We must encourage our children to dream — not doing so stifles their creativity. The role of top universities like Georgia Tech must be to facilitate dreaming by providing the stimuli, the challenges, the skills, and the network to make dreams reality.

I have had a lot of dreams in life. Many have become reality, and to that I attribute my success. My biggest disappointments in life have been the result of failing to dream or failing to live a dream. We want all our Georgia Tech students to live as many of their dreams as possible and we will do everything possible to help them become reality.

Life without dreams is not worth living. In fact, a successful life may be nothing but a dream and the dream is the life. That duality of life and dreams have been explored for centuries. Pedro Calderon de la Barca, one of the most prolific and extraordinary playwrights of all time (17th century) wrote a piece entitled: La Vida es Sueño (Life is a Dream). In the most famous soliloquy of the play, the main character, Segismundo, muses (one of many available translations):

“What’s life? A frenzied, blurry haze.
What’s life? Not anything it seems.
A shadow. Fiction filling reams.
All we possess on earth means nil,
For life’s a dream, think what you will,
And even all our dreams are dreams.”

For Segismundo, his nightmare (his life) ultimately became a fairy-tale dream. We must let our children dream, within the family, in the schools and in the universities so they can live the good life.

Dr. Rafael L. Bras is the provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Bras is a professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. He is the first Tech faculty member to hold the K. Harrison Brown Family Chair.

College Admission Brief Podcast

We started the GT Admission Blog in 2015. At the time, I had a regular Thursday afternoon “running meeting” with our former director of enrollment communications, Matt McLendon. We’d set off with a full agenda to cover, but inevitably somewhere along the Beltline I’d start rambling about a particular challenge or admission issue. One day (mid-run/ mid-rant), Matt gently suggested I “write this stuff down.” He asserted that families needed to hear more honesty and openness from admission deans and directors, and my random analogies and anecdotes may actually be a refreshing way to present subjects that often stir anxiety. (Is it likely he was just trying to enjoy the run and stay on task? Absolutely. Nevertheless, here we are.).

In the early days of the blog, I was the sole/soul author. And for the first month, it was basically just my wife, mom, and aunt reading (using several email accounts to up our subscriber number). Since that time, we’ve found ways to bring in a variety of different voices from our admission team, enrollment division, as well as campus partners. The goal remains to provide perspective, insight, and helpful tips in a relatable and accessible tone–and hopefully to also bring some levity and solace along the way.

At the time of this writing, we have over 3,550 subscribers. We know that parents and counselors regularly share our blogs in their communities and friend sets. Thank you! And while we occasionally hear from applicants who have read an entry or two, we understand high school students may not always be up for reading another 1,200-1,400 words in an already word-filled day/week of going class, studying, taking notes, etc.

Still, we know from questions in and after presentations, as well as from emails, calls, and online posts, students want to get perspective about college admission. They want to know how decisions are really made, what they mean (and don’t mean), and often simply need to be reminded that the people reading their apps are just that—people.

College Admission Brief Podcast

College Admission Brief Header

To that end we just launched a new podcast, The College Admission Brief. Just like our blog, we hope to personalize the admission process by sharing timely tips and encouraging advice from colleagues and campus partners. While we’ll sometimes use Georgia Tech as an example, the goal is to include general information, advice, and broadly applicable admission insight for students to use in their college admission experience.

A great example of why we launched this podcast is my obnoxiously long (2,160 words to be exact) blog from last week. If you read it, thank you. Grit is a valued trait and you have it in spades, my friend. (Plus you now have a sense of what Matt was dealing with on those runs). The actual title was “What’s Taking So Long?” and anyone who is honest would admit they asked themselves that precise question several times during the reading.

If you skimmed a few paragraphs and clicked back over to Instagram or scrolled down twice hard with your thumb only to realize you were only to the second picture, I understand why you bowed out. Seriously, I get it. Good news- our latest podcast episode with our Senior Associate Director, Mary Tipton Woolley, covers the same content in under 10 minutes. Bonus- you can listen while walking, driving, or waiting around for a practice or rehearsal to start. (Multitasking is a skill and we’re here for you.)

Listen to “How Are College Admission Applications Reviewed? Episode 3: Mary Tipton Woolley” on Spreaker.

We are still tweaking the audio and working out some behind the scenes kinks, so just like: the world; my laundry folding skills; the admission experience; or any one of us, it is not perfect. Still, we hope you’ll find these interviews and recordings encouraging, relatively light, shareable, and at times humorous. But if nothing else we guarantee this—they’ll be brief! Each episode is less than 10 minutes. How bad can it be? Download and listen on iTunes, Spotify, or Spreaker to check it out. Happy listening!

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More and Less, Part 2

Rick Clark’s time off of screens
This is my auto-generated monthly recap from December. That was 6 “quiet days” more than the November report, so here’s hoping for 2020.

Last week we kicked off the new year with some questions around what you want to see more and less of in your life in 2020. I confessed my need to unplug more and email/text/tweet while walking less. Again, if you have not already done so, I highly encourage you to take some time this week to write down your goals and priorities and revisit them periodically in the year ahead. I also shared my hopes for mores and less’ from my college admission colleagues around the country. You can read that blog here. Now, you’re all caught up.

Since our best work is done in collaboration and partnership, this week Part 2 continues with a focus on school counselors. First, Happy New Year! I am guessing for many of you it already feels like two months back, rather than just two weeks, because the beginning of any semester is a frenetic–especially in high schools.

If you have not heard, “Thank You!” lately, then please pause on those words. I’ve had the opportunity to walk the halls of a few schools over the last week, and it reminded me of how deeply thankful I am that you are there each day. These students walk through your doors carrying such a breadth of burdens, questions, pain, and uncertainty. Your smile, fist bump, hand shake, or offer to simply sit down and breathe is invaluable. As a parent that drops two kids off each day in a public school, I live this. Knowing there are caring adults who see and hear things I’ll never be privy to has made me even more grateful for the pivotal role you play in loving, encouraging, and mentoring our kids. Thank you!

To my school counselor colleagues:

More Advocacy

Nationally, the counselor: student ratio is nearly 500:1. School counselors are frequently asked to proctor exams, assist with class registration and course changes, handle psycho-social and family-related counseling, and much more. As a result, writing recommendation letters, ensuring transcripts are sent, and providing guidance to students in their college search is a small, and ever-decreasing percentage of the work.

My hope for 2020 is more counselors will lift the issue of chronically high ratios to principals, superintendents, PTA/PTO, and broader school community, as well as with local and state representatives. Addressing this problem has short and long-term implications on mental health, high school and college retention and graduation rates, as well as finding the best academic and financial college matches for students.

It is my hope through collective advocacy, as well as telling a broader story, decision makers will gain more appreciation for the value of investing in K-12 counselors, which will improve college performance at their state’s public schools and ultimately reduce student debt due to finding the best academic and financial matches. If you are a parent or student reading this, take the time to learn more about your school’s ratio and then ask your counselor what they could do more, or by necessity do less, based on that number. Want to know your state’s overall ratio? Check here.

Another important point surrounds the fact that many of the degrees counselors need to practice in our high schools require precious little emphasis on college guidance. Equally unfortunate is continuing education requirements rarely include robust college counseling exposure. Add to the equation a severe lack of budget, time, and support for public school counselors in particular to attend professional development programs, and we are left with both a significant gap and an equally viable opportunity.

Whether you are in an independent school with a counselor: student ratio of 40:1 or working at a public high school and carrying a 400:1 caseload, it is imperative for those of you who live this every day to raise your voice and tell your story.

We need your singular anecdotes as well as your aggregate data to provide policy makers compelling illustrations of how helping students find good college matches allows them to earn a degree, graduate with less debt, and find a job quickly, therefore helping them to contribute to the economy.  Easy? No. Critical? Absolutely.

Wondering how to get started? Contact your local government relations liaison through your regional or state affiliate or contact NACAC’s Government Relations Jedi master and esteemed legislative guru, Mike Rose.

Less Rush to Judgment

My hope is 2020 will bring more trust between school counselors and college admission officers. We effectively build and fortify this bridge when admission reps focus on improving transparency, and school counselors commit to being more quick to listen and learn about the pressures their university colleagues face, and less apt to jump to conclusions without first gleaning appropriate context and engaging in conversation.

Recently, a colleague told me about a change that his university has decided to make for next year’s admission cycle. “I’ll tell you what I’m not looking forward to is dealing with the maelstrom this is going to create among counselors next fall.” His statement is reflective of what needs to change in the professional dynamic going forward.

I hope you will remember just as you operate within the framework/pressures/dictates of your school or system, admission offices are doing the same. When they set policies, timelines, or admission decisions, they are responding to institutional priorities which are typically driven by a board, chancellor, president, provost, or even the regents or administration of a state system.

While it is critical for you to challenge us at times, as well as to highlight the implications these decisions have on you, your students, and your communities, too often the tone of comments on social media or the edge voiced in questions is skeptical and accusatory at best, and confrontational at worst.

Comparative questions like, “Why don’t you all do X like Y college?” and comments beginning with “I just don’t understand….” Or “It makes no sense that you….” neither facilitate a healthy exchange nor set an example for students on how to seek information or understand nuanced issues.

I hope in the year ahead, you’ll pick up the phone or reach out to contact admission colleagues more quickly, rather than make assumptions or post speculation/ isolated anecdotes without attempting to glean context.

More Collaboration Building collaboration

Just as I hope more universities will look for diverse partners to travel or host programs with, I’m similarly hopeful for my school counselor friends.  In 2020, I hope you will consider not simply putting on programs for your individual school community, but will look around your area to see who you can partner with. Could you open up your evening panel of visiting college deans to all schools within a five-mile radius, or local CBOs? If you have an admission director coming to speak with your students or families in the evening, could you host a lunch for all local counselors to learn more about that school or set of schools? Can you create or broaden your college fair to include even more high schools and local students?

I can tell you without a doubt that directors and deans will be far more apt to attend your programs if you demonstrate collaboration with counselors at other schools. This is the type of ROI for them that makes it worth leaving campus for a few days or spending time away from family. I’ve seen great examples of models for these types of programs, so please reach out if you want to share your previous models with others or receive ideas or contacts from colleagues (@clark2college).

Looking Forward

As 2020 gets rolling, I am optimistic. While the challenges are many, I am deeply encouraged by the quality of professionals in our field. Want to be inspired? Check out this piece by Brennan Barnard in which he highlights the influential work happening in high school and college communities around the country.

Next week, Part 3- More and Less for parents and students in the college admission experience.

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