Alex Thackston
Application Advice
College Decision
Deferral/Waitlist
Guest Blogger

Navigating the Waitlist

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor, Alex Thackston, to the blog. Welcome, Alex!

We live in unknown times. The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the effects it will have on us, our families, our society, and the world, leaves us feeling uneasy and unsure about our future. I’m not sure about you, but I wish I had a definitive answer on how this will all turn out. But this is not the first time I have dealt with this feeling of uncertainty, knowing I had no control over a situation.

When I was pregnant with my son, my fellow mom-friends advised me to start looking for daycare programs early in the game. I thought it was a little overboard to research and tour daycares before even telling anyone I was expecting. Once I learned about the competitiveness of getting into these schools, I started my preparations. After combing through 40 different early childhood institutions in the Atlanta Metro area, I narrowed my search down to six schools that met what my husband and I were looking for in a school.

We factored in location (to home and our jobs), types of curriculum (I know… curriculum for a baby?), certifications of the centers and teachers, affordability, and good reviews. Starting to sound familiar? Out of those six schools, there were two that came to the top of our list. Our top option was really out of our price range, but offered every aspect we wanted! The second option was also a wonderful choice, but a little farther than we wanted to travel. We applied to both, paid our application fees, and we were place on… the waitlist. Yep, you read that right: a waitlist for daycare!

Hurry Up and Wait

During this holding period, we continued to hold onto hope that we would be accepted into our top choice. We figured we could find a way to save and budget for the high costs, dreamed about the educational opportunities it presented, and loved the idea that we could walk from our home to pick up our little guy.

However, fate had another plan. As we waited (and waited…), the due date of sweet boy quickly approached. We found ourselves without the news we wanted or expected. Jack was born in early August, six months after we had placed ourselves on these schools’ waitlists. We ended up receiving a spot off of the waitlist for our second choice. But we were frustrated and upset about the prospect that our first choice was not going to work out when we needed it.

picture of happy baby

Jack loving his new daycare.

We spent a couple of months bonding with our little man at home, but once January hit, it was time to send him on his way. While Jack could have cared less about where he was going, we put on a brave face and sent him to our second choice: an amazing school that still offered everything we were looking for, despite not being the perfect location. And while it wasn’t our number one choice at the time, in the long run we’ve been very pleased with the teachers, curriculum and experiences that our little guy was, and has, been having there.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want…”

So why bring up the “you can’t always get what you want” message at a time like now? Because I know many students across the country will be receiving admission decisions in the coming weeks, and it may not be the news they hoped for.

In my experience, the hardest part is not being denied or told “no,” but being told “maybe” and placed on a waitlist. While this type of decision gives hope, it also brings about uncertainty. So, what can you do? My lesson learned is to continue making plans and look at your other options. There are bound to be other colleges on your list that have already admitted you to their first-year class. If you haven’t been admitted elsewhere, there’s good news—many institutions are still accepting applications for their first-year class!

While these schools may not be your top choice, consider how they suit you and your needs. Make a list of all of the positive attributes you discovered in your top choice school, and look at the other schools to see how they too may possess these factors. You may find that some of these institutions aren’t all that different.

Make the Most of What You Have

I highly recommend that once you get to your new school, make the best of your experience there. You may come to find that the institution you chose was the perfect fit for you after all—a place where you can grow holistically and develop academically.

As a parent, I am always looking for opportunities to create the best experiences for my child. For me that meant stressing over the perfect daycare for a 5-month-old. When our first choice didn’t work out, I looked to my husband for comfort. I mean, how was this other daycare supposed to compete with one that has a curriculum created by PhD’s, an app that let you peek into your kiddo’s typical day, and brand-new facilities for our little one to grow into?

He reassured me that our second option had a curriculum created by former Atlanta teachers who had a combined total of 30+ years of teaching experience, an app where our teachers would post videos, pictures, and updates of our son based on his personal development, and state-of-the-art facilities that were recently renovated when they expanded their building due to the high demand of their program.

It turns out my second choice had everything we wanted and more! Ultimately, we made the best decision for our son and for our family, and along the way learned the lesson the Rolling Stones said best: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you just might find, you get what you need”.

Alex Thackston has worked in college admission for nine years. Prior to joining Georgia Tech in 2014, she worked for the Office of Admission at Florida State University. She currently serves as a Senior Admission Counselor working with first-year and pathway students, and also serves as the athletic admission liaison.

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

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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Coffee and Good Neighbors

This week we welcome Assistant Director for Summer Session Initiatives, Christina Wan, to the blog. Welcome, Christina!

Listen to “Campus visit/selection tips, social media for good, & rockets; Episode 2: Christina Wan” on Spreaker.

When I first started my job at Georgia Tech, I had worked in colleges, and with college students, for a few years. I also went to college myself, for two degrees. So, I thought I knew a little bit about college life.

That’s where I was wrong. I had never worked at a place quite like Tech. I didn’t know what a Diff-Eq was, what a DefBods was, or why everybody kept talking about pythons. I just thought students must really like snakes (and, some might… that’s cool too).

Some of those amazing student leaders I was telling you about.
Photo credit: Taylor Gray

Suddenly, I needed to know what those things were, and even more, to be able to help students and families make decisions about coming to Tech. I did the only thing I knew to do:  find some students who could tell me why Tech students really like snakes. I’m kidding. But truly, I relied on a community of students who were kind enough to answer all my questions about pythons. They were instrumental in teaching me all about life at Tech, and I could not have done my job without them!

I spend a lot of time working with students and families in the transition to college, either through the iGniTe Summer Launch Program or teaching GT 1000 or GT 2000 on campus. I get to work on a daily basis with some of the most amazing student leaders, and all of this work has taught me so much about what the first year of college (and beyond!) should be. The best parts of college are the community – your friends, college staff, and professors who support you in finding your place in this new chapter of life.

Whether you’re a high school senior weighing your college options or an underclassman beginning your search, here are a few tips on how to approach the decision of where to go to college.

How can you be a part of the community? The college experience is filled with community building opportunities. When you visit, or check out online panels or social media presence, and think about how you can be a part of the community. A community of people will help you make the best of college and thrive! If you are a parent or family member, join a community with other families as they support their students in being successful wherever they go!

How can you be a good neighbor? I think about this part a lot – at work, in the office, and in my neighborhood. What can you do to make everyone’s life in the neighborhood better? If you choose to live in a residence hall, that is your new home! Something our team likes to do in a new office environment (we recently moved to a new building) is walk around with candy and visit with people around us to learn what they do. This could easily be done in a residence hall to meet new people on your floor!

It’s okay to be nervous! There are big changes ahead. You’re going to make a new friend group, start new classes, learn a new place, and join some new clubs and organizations. It can be scary, but just like there are a lot of people who helped you get to where you are, there are more people who will be there to help as you make your way through college.

Take care of each other. As college decisions are released, it’s important to lean on your current community and support everyone in their choices. And once you get to college, taking care of everyone so we can all thrive and do our best is incredibly important. Be a good human, and be kind. My students tease me for it, but I use the term “warm fuzzies” to describe all of the wonderful things that make life great – good friends, kindness, and supportive communities. Find those in your college experience!

I need coffee. Coffee is my non-negotiable to get my day started. You have to figure out what your non-negotiables are in making your choice to come to a college. There are so many unique institutions and my hope is you find the very best fit for you. Rest assured, if your non-negotiable is coffee, coffeeshops are fairly popular on campuses everywhere!

It’s okay to divert from the plan. Here at Tech students can receive several types of admissions decisions and pathways, including admission for summer semester. One of the most common questions we get is, “Why was I admitted for summer?” There is no one single answer. But we know our summer students have fun, make friends, and earn course credits along the way. It might not be your first plan, but schools put a lot of work into the offers and options for students. You might find a diversion from your original plan is a chance to do something unexpected.

Whether you are just beginning to look at college options, hoping for particular decisions in the next few weeks, or weighing the options you currently have, choosing a college is a big decision. Connect with some of the parts of college that aren’t quantifiable as you make your decision – community, care for one another, and support.

Christina Wan is the Assistant Director for Summer Session Initiatives in the Office of Undergraduate Education at Georgia Tech. She works with students taking summer classes, including through the iGniTe Summer Launch Program, and partners closely with the Office of Undergraduate Admission to work with students who start their Tech career in the summer term.

Typ0s, Repeated Words Words, and Other Signs of Humanity on Your College Application

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome, Sammy!

Listen to “Typos & mistakes in college apps. Deal breakers? Episode 1: Samantha Rose-Sinclair” on Spreaker.

Our twelfth president was formally installed in a ceremony called an Investiture last October. It was a powerful celebration that happens only a few times in the life cycle of an institution. As the person behind our admission Twitter account, I was thrilled to attend in order to share the festivities with our online community.

The result: 351 cumulative words and 13 carefully curated tweets and retweets over four hours to capture the significance of the morning. And in the very last tweet–the grand finale–the first word was a typo. And I didn’t see until until hours later. The. First. Word. Face, meet palm. Much like college essays, tweets can’t be edited after pressing send (but uh, @twitter, if you’re listening, I wouldn’t mind sacrificing this comparison if you’d consider changing that) so this one lives on to quietly haunt me forever.

 

That Moment You Find an Error….

Months ago you drafted your essays, polished your application, and submitted it into finality. Now you anxiously start peeking back at your docuuments while you wait for the decision on the other end. That’s when you see it: the word “biomedical” repeated twice, perhaps the incorrect use of “there.” My advice could be to close your laptop, walk away from your application, and we could end the blog there. But I’m a realist–so we’ll keep going.

Here are some more numbers for you: We’ve been reviewing files for about 117 days now. That’s around 35,000 essays, another 35,000 supplemental essays, 58,000 rec letters, and one “Nicholas Cage Appreciation Club” extracurricular. But whose counting, right?

Let’s be honest, I’m not 100% confident in all those numbers, but I am without a doubt confident about this: in thousands of decisions rendered, no one has been denied for a typo. Or the inverse: I’ve read a comment from a student on a college admission forum that hid typos in an essay to see if a school really read them. When he was admitted, he concluded that they didn’t. That’s just not how it works. (The truth: they read his essay and likely looked past the errors.)

We don’t practice gotcha! admission review. By that I mean, Admission Officers aren’t cynics looking for that one mistake, a missed point on a final grade, or that one letter that’s out of place in order to cross you off the list and move on. Actually, I don’t mind the occasional light reminder that at it’s core, this process is human, our applicants are human, and the function that the application serves is often more important than the form it takes.

Keep the Big Picture in Mind

In the past few months, I’ve read about some school called Georgia Gech and been called Georgia Tech University more times than I can count. A student discussing foreign policy spelled illegal, “ill eagle” and one student (hopefully) used the wrong vowel when describing his love of math. Some were admitted, some were denied, but all those decisions were made with the bigger picture in mind.

Schools that practice holistic admission use your application as a medium to learn not only about what you’ve done, but to learn about who you are and how you would contribute to campus. This is our chance to hear your voice–what are you passionate about? What drives your intellectual curiosity? Can we see you coming to campus and building on your experiences and interests to add to our campus community? When a school takes the time to comb through your applications, essays, and activities, we do so with intention and care. While we expect that you put the same care into your application, we also know when to extend grace.

Quick word from the devil’s advocate: this is not intended as your hall-pass to forgo the editing process or skip having others look over your work before sending it to us to review. That’s still an important part of the process. If your on your own, try changing the font and printing out your essay (sometimes it’s easier to catch things in print) and reading it aloud, or copying and pasting it into a text to speech site to hear it read to you. Though not perfect, that should help you catch most mistakes. After sending, if you notice mistakes that would prevent us from understanding that bigger picture (perhaps an imperative sentence got missed when you copied and pasted from your drafts) feel free to reach out to admissions offices. If it’s just a letter here, or a missed word there, there’s no need to do anything further. We get it. There’s a lot on your plate this college admission season, feel free to take this little piece of worry off it.

Be Kind to Yourself

One more time for good measure: Schools don’t practice “gotcha” admission review. When a recommender highlights an activity that a student forgot to mention, we’ll note it. When a student laments a class they just couldn’t fit into their schedule, we understand there’s only so much time in the day. Still, those aforementioned college forums are riddled with “I wish I…”, “Help! I forgot…” and various other shoulda/coulda/wouldas. We get it! This process can drum up self-reflection and subsequent anxieties you’ve never experienced before. But regardless of the decision awaiting at the end, submitting college applications is a huge achievement, and your personal growth over the past four years to get to this point is even bigger. So, it’s your turn: we extend grace- we just hope you’ll be kind to yourself too.

This blog is roughly double the length as most of those 30,000 essays we’ve read to date. Not including the title and the listing of application typos, there were four typos of my own. Did you notice them? They may have been momentarily distracting, but were you able to understand the bigger message? That’s the point. A typo in a tweet about a president’s Investiture doesn’t take away from the gravity of the day, an error in a blog doesn’t override the message, a mistake in an application doesn’t preclude admission. So, whether you’re applying to Georgia Gech, or somewhere else entirely, one mistake doesn’t erase years of hard work. We look forward to getting to know you–humanity and all.

Sammy Rose-Sinclair has worked in college admission for four years. A newly-minted southerner, she moved to Atlanta and joined Georgia Tech two years ago as a senior admission counselor on the first-year admission team. She now uses her millennial-ness and love of working with students, families, and counselors to interact with the GT Admission community through our social media channels. If you’ve gotten this far, send her questions about admission or Netflix recommendations on twitter or Instagram- @gtadmission.

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Turning a Loss into a Big Win

This week we welcome Communications Manager (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

A couple of years ago a piece of Atlanta history came crashing down. A key step to opening Mercedes-Benz Stadium was imploding the Georgia Dome. As with most major demolitions, news crews from all over the city were there to cover the action. After all, who doesn’t love to see a good building implosion?

The Weather Channel’s coverage easily won the internet that day. The timing couldn’t have been worse for a city transit bus to roll in and completely block the biggest moment of the event, which only lasted around 30 seconds at most. The frustration, disappointment, and angst in the videographer’s voice is priceless.

 

Before working in higher education, I was a television news producer. So much of my fascination (and pure enjoyment) of this video has to do with my knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes of live tv. That experience gives me some insight into what likely happened off-camera that day:

1 – No doubt the videographer scouted out the ideal spot to capture the action days, if not weeks, ahead of time. There was a plan in place!

2 –  He arrived at said location in the early, early morning hours on a very cold day, maybe as early as 4 a.m., to test his equipment, set up the angle, and be sure he had a clear connection for his live shot back to the station.

3 – Meanwhile, back in the newsroom, a whole host of staffers—including producers, directors, and anchors—were all waiting for this video and had centered their newscast around it. The bus was not included in any part of the script.

What should have been a straightforward live shot ran off the rails, and the outcome wasn’t anything close to what anyone expected. As for the videographer, in that moment he’s likely thinking a lot of things, including, “This bus ruined everything. Why did this happen?!”

Transit Buses and Admission Decisions

How does any of this remotely relate to college admission, you ask? This month a host of colleges and universities across the nation released their early admission decisions. While I don’t know exact details on percentages, the law of averages tells me many students did not get the news they hoped for. In fact, more students likely received a decision that starts with a D (defer or deny) rather than A (admitted).  If you find yourself in the D group, you could say you’ve had a Georgia Dome experience: a bus rolling into your frame at a critical moment, completely blocking you from the one thing you’ve worked so hard to get.

It’s easy to feel defeated. Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like being put off for another few months, or getting flat out rejected, by your dream school.

So how can you handle it when a bus rolls into your live shot? Take a few lessons from the Georgia Dome incident.

Trust the process. There’s two ways to look at the bus: you can get mad, shout, yell, throw in the towel, and give up. Or, you can get mad, shout, yell, and… wait. The bus in front of you will eventually move, and you’ll be left with a completely new perspective. Once the bus gets out of the way, you’ll have some great choices—so get ready.

Assess where you are now. You can’t go back in time and change your application, but you can look at where you are now and choose your next step. If you were deferred, is there a piece of information you can add into your deferred applicant form? Will their admission office accept an updated transcript with fall grades? If you have open applications at other schools, are you meeting their deadlines and turning everything in that they need to make a decision? If you were denied at one school, do you have applications in at others that fit what you’re looking for in a college experience? There are still colleges that are accepting applications, so get those apps in!

Accept it. Sounds a little harsh, but bear with me. You might ask, “how does she know what it feels like to be turned down by your dream school?” I actually know exactly how it feels. When I was a senior one of the Southern Ivies was at THE top of my list. I was in love with this school in every way. I applied Early Decision and was deferred to Regular Decision. A few months later, I was denied. It’s been 20 years, and I still remember receiving the letter, sitting down with my parents, and crying for three solid hours. I felt disappointed, sad, and betrayed. I had to allow myself time to mourn the end of my dream. Then, I looked at the other colleges where I was admitted, chose the school I felt would be the best fit, paid an enrollment deposit, and never looked back (p.s. I made a good decision, too!).

I bet the videographer also allowed himself time to lament his ruined live shot. But then he picked up his camera, jumped back in the truck, and headed off to the next shoot. Because that’s how news, and life, works–as one story ends, another is beginning.

Turning Abject Failure into a Big Win

Here’s the point: at the end of the day, what may have felt like abject failure to the guy behind the camera actually turned into a huge win for him, and his station. The Weather Channel embraced the video and put it on YouTube. As of today it has more than 1.4 million views! There is no way their coverage would have gotten so much mileage had everything had gone right that day. The video went viral and trended for days. National news outlets picked it up, and in no time spoofs were made of the incident. The internet loved it!

Even the associate science editor at The Weather Channel at the time was able to joke about it.

I’m not telling you to broadcast your defer or deny all over social media (in fact—please don’t). What I am telling you is what looks like, feels like, and is one of the hardest moments of your life will eventually turn into something good. You will find a college to call home… you will find a school that wants you on their campus… and when you get there in the fall, the sting of this decision will fade away as you make new friends, pursue new dreams, and make new memories.

Hang in there… easy to say, hard to do, but please try. The holidays are here, and you have a couple of weeks to rest, recover, and breathe. Be with family and friends, do something fun, read a book for enjoyment (not school!), and invest in your overall well-being. You’ve got one more semester left before your life changes… clear your head, and get ready. Great things are ahead!

Editor’s note: This post first appeared on the GT admission blog in December 2017.

Becky Tankersley has worked in higher education for more than 10 years. She joined Georgia Tech in 2012 after working at a small, private college in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. Prior to working in higher education, she worked as a television news producer. Her current role blends her skills in college recruitment and communication. Becky is the editor of  the GT Admission Blog, and also serves as a Content Coordinator for the American Association of Collegiate Registrar and Admission Officers.

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