What I Do and Do Not Know…

Listen to “Episode 11: What I Do & Do Not Know – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Georgia Tech Admission Staff Webinar Meeting
“Dress up/formal” staff meeting theme

Each of the last seven Wednesdays at 2:45 p.m., we’ve held a full-staff meeting. While smaller teams are also meeting at other points, this is our weekly chance to all be “together.” As our time sheltering in place has lengthened, and reports and articles of other universities around the country issuing furloughs or discussing re-entry timelines proliferate, I’ve found it increasingly important to begin each meeting by laying out what I do and do not know. The latter is way longer most weeks.

When it comes to how COVID-19 will impact our work in the months ahead, however, the story is far more balanced.

What I DON’T know

In April and early May, admission deans and directors around the country get a lot of questions from their faculty, staff, alumni, and administrators such as, “How are the numbers looking?” or “Are we on target for next year?” Normally thousands of visitors are touring campus, neighbors’ or friends’ kids are weighing college options, and they’re seeing social media posts and online articles about high school seniors graduating and heading off to various colleges.

In most years by this point I have a great sense of how August will look. In fact, we often host a Cinco De Mayo gathering for our campus partners to thank them for their assistance and tell them about the incoming class in terms of size, demographics, geographic and curricular make-up, academic quality, along with a few interesting anecdotes from students’ essays.

This year is different. This year there are many uncertainties about what the months ahead hold, and the only honest answer to “How are the numbers looking?” or “Are we on target for next year?” is simply “I do not know.” Granted, no admission dean is that succinct, so those four words are quickly followed by some combination of “ifs,” “assumings,” or “hopefullys” in the subsequent sentences.

Here are a few of the key predictive metrics enrollment managers and their data gurus typically watch in late spring:

  • comparisons with historical trends.
  • the number of pending offers of admission.
  • the number of students canceling their applications to go elsewhere.
  • the number of students who attended a campus visit or information session.
  • open rates on emails and interactions online or via phone with staff.
  • the number of students registered for orientation and applying for housing.
  • the number of students who completed all financial aid documents and viewed their aid package online.

These indicators, in combination with a variety of other factors, help determine the number of waitlist offers to make, as well as how many deposited students will melt (or choose to go elsewhere) over the summer.

The basic math of college admission:

Admitted students/ Total applications = Admit rate

Deposited students/ Admitted students = Yield rate

100- (Enrolled students/ Deposited students) = Melt rate

Right now there are simply too many unknowns to accurately predict the final class size. So, “how are the numbers looking?” and “Are we on target for next year?”

Great questions. Any chance you could help me answer these?

  • Is the economy going to rebound, and to what extent?
  • Will US embassies and consulates again be issuing student visas so international students can study in America in the fall?
  • Will in-person instruction be permitted and/or advisable from a public health standpoint?
  • How open will travel be around the United States?
  • How comfortable will families be sending their kids 10s, 100s, or 1,000s of miles away from home?
  • How many students will opt for a deferment term or gap year? 

Other things I’ve recently learned I don’t know:

  • How to braid hair.
  • “New math.”
  • How to separate plastic vegetable bags at the grocery store while wearing gloves and a mask.
  • The neighbors directly across the street.

I wish I had more answers for my own staff, administration, and family. I wish I could tell my friend whose daughter is supposed to leave for college in August whether that university will be on campus for in-person instruction. The truth, however, is I do not know.

What I DO know

When we discuss and attempt to predict the “further future” of how juniors will be evaluated in the admission process in the year ahead, I feel a lot more confident.

Q: How will you evaluate GPA and grades when students may only have pass/fail grades or partial term grading for the spring semester?

A: We will do what we always have done:  look at the high school they attend, what courses they had access to (course availability), which courses they took (course selection, e.g. academic rigor), and how they did in those classes (course performance, e.g. GPA). We will not look at all high schools uniformly, but rather take the time to understand context, including how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted that community, school, and student.

We’ll also review grade trends. In other words, how did they do in 9th, 10th, and the first part of 11th grade, and perhaps also ask for a mid-term report in the senior year, especially for applicants in EA/ED rounds. Lastly, we will use historical information from classes from previous years to see how similar students from that high school have fared on our campus. No students from that high school previously? Not a problem. In fact, we are always excited to receive apps from schools we’ve not in the past. Again, we will look comprehensively at all of the factors outlined above.

Q: How are you going to evaluate extra-curricular involvement since students had seasons, performances, or elections canceled in the junior spring?

A: Holistically, and with benefit of the doubt. I know everyone says how important the junior year is and I’m not taking away from that. But again, we know what you had planned. We know what you already participated in and what you have accomplished. We’ll do what we do every year—we’ll make assumptions and inferences, which always (and I use that word intentionally) lean toward benefiting you. Here is how that will sound in admission committee: “She was on the soccer team but they did not get to play most of the season. She also plays club soccer and summer tournaments and camps were canceled. Looks like she’s listing her intent to play again in her senior year.” Translation: They’re reviewing your file as if all of that actually happened. Always, to your benefit.

Q: What about testing if administrations continue to be canceled? How will colleges review tests administered at home or those of a different format/length?

A: The test score optional movement gains momentum every day. In recent weeks, you’ve seen many public and private colleges around the country introduce either pilot plans for the year ahead or permanent policies within admission review that do not require standardized testing. A full list of nearly 1,200 colleges and universities can be found here. I highly recommend this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education from my colleague Jon Boeckenstadt from Oregon State University, a long-time champion of test-optional admission policies. College Admission Standardized Tests

For those colleges who continue to require standardized testing they will need to be very clear about their policies and considerations surrounding testing prior to or after Spring 2020.  As a prospective student, you will have to wait and watch this summer for indications from the colleges you are considering.

If you already have a test score that falls into a college’s middle 50% range (whether they are test score optional or not), I recommend sending those as an indicator of interest. In addition to registering for one of their information sessions or accessing their virtual tours, this helps them identify and communicate with you as a student who is serious about applying and potentially enrolling.

Other things I know:

  • I REALLY need a haircut.
  • Colleges need students now more than ever.
  • Hybrid models, including synchronous and asynchronous, are being developed. This will allow some schools to grow their enrollment and create more access/seats.
  • While highlights and re-runs of games are entertaining initially, they only make you long for live sports to return.
  • I appreciate you reading and hope you have a great week. Don’t miss this opportunity at home to tell the people in your house how much you love them and appreciate them.
  • Grace, forgiveness, patience, benefit of the doubt, and love need to rule the day during this time (and by this time, I mean ALWAYS).

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Change is the Only Constant

Listen to “Change is the Only Constant. Episode 5- Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In the last few weeks, as the Coronavirus has become more of a reality in America, we have seen unprecedented change. Schools, professional sports, places of worship, and annual events have been postponed, closed, or canceled. Each day the headlines, number of known cases, press releases, and economic implications seem to multiply at head-spinning rates. To be honest I’m not sure what has been more disconcerting and harder for me to grasp, the fact that The Master’s won’t be in early April or that I’m now essentially co-teaching my kids’ (nine and eleven).

If you are a high school junior, I know you have a lot of questions about how this interruption to your normal life and academic career might impact your college admission experience. In a time when so much is shifting on a daily and weekly basis, I am not going to purport to know exactly how this is all going to play out. If someone has told you they have all the answers, you should run. They are either delusional or lying. Dangerous either way.

However, in times of uncertainty, I think it’s important to ground ourselves in what we do know. As it relates to your college admission experience, I’d argue that nothing has changed.

Nothing has changed

Colleges Need Students. (I figured I start with a mind-blowing revelation). Check your email inbox. I know you are getting a ton of messages right now. How did they find you? Traditionally, colleges buy names from the College Board (PSAT/SAT) and ACT. If you took one of tests, they’ve pulled you into their communication flow and are now attempting to recruit you.

If you were scheduled to take a now canceled exam, you should still expect to receive plenty of mail and email. How? Many vendors already existed who gather lists of students in high school via surveys or other methods. And while the actual sport of fencing may not be in line with current social distancing standards, you can be assured that other vendors are coming out of the virtual woodwork right now soliciting their latest, greatest algorithm for geo-fencing, digital marketing, and a variety of other multi-syllabic, often- hyphenated opportunities.Visual depiction of continuity amidst change

Sure. Currently the subject lines are not “Come visit us” or “See you soon on campus,” but the message is still the same:  We want you. We need you. We want to tell you all of the reasons why we are great, you are great, and we can be great together!

Colleges Expect Variance. I don’t know how your high school is currently teaching your courses. I DO know it varies widely across our nation and the world. We’ve heard some schools may only issue pass/fail grades for this spring. Others are saying they plan to simplify their grading scales for this term or may compress certain subjects into summer courses (assuming they are back in school by June).

Undoubtedly, a lot of nuance and diversity. This should not concern you, or make you fearful that you’ll be at a disadvantage. First, everyone is dealing with this unprecedented new reality and continually adjusting to unfamiliar territory. Second, admission folks are used to seeing varying curriculum, grading scales, and delivery methods. They are trained to ask questions and dig deeply into your transcript. Holistic review means they are not putting your GPA into a spreadsheet and multiplying by some quotient. They don’t expect uniformity. And given the global impact of Coronavirus, you should expect a lot of grace from colleges in the weeks, months, and year to come.

Colleges train readers and committees to consider your course choice and progression. Their assessment of your academic career in high school is never purely numerical or black and white.  Their biggest question is always what could you have taken and what you chose to take during high school. In that sense, nothing has changed.

You have a lot of options. There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in our country alone. Let’s be honest- the brochures they send are pretty standard, similar, and predictable.

Page 1: a picture of the football team winning. Sunny day, fans in the stands, cheering and hugging. Life is good.

Page 2: Three students of different ethnicities wearing that college’s shirt, hoodie, or hat sitting under a tree with a professor. The professor effortlessly strikes that delicate balance between youthful energy with sage wisdom and sits casually yet controlled at that perfect distance that says, “I care about you… but not in a creepy way.”

Page 3: A student standing on something high- perhaps near a statue, or on a mountain, or on a bluff overlooking the ocean, pondering life’s limitless possibilities. You get the picture. Literally.

The truth is that although these brochures may look the same, American colleges and universities vary widely. One upside of the many articles covering how Coronavirus is impacting higher education is that they shine a spotlight on this impressive, beautiful, vast landscape. In fact, I’d contest the diversity of our higher education system is one of our greatest strengths as a nation.

Good news for you is that right now schools are working extremely hard to create and publish all kinds of ways for you to interact with them online via social media, webinars, individualized appointments, and more. In the days, weeks, and months ahead, you are going to see great, new content from students, faculty, alumni, and campus organizations in a way that students before you simply did not.

Bottom line: You have a lot of options, just like always. But this disruption is going to be a catalyst for colleges to demonstrate their variety and incredible communities in even more accessible, unique, and compelling ways than ever before.

Everything Has Changed

I get it. In many ways, it feels like everything has changed: You’re not in school and it’s Wednesday at 1:32 p.m.; people around you are genuinely excited when they score a 18- count package of toilet paper; Waze timeVisual depiction of changing times estimates have been moving to an “earlier arrival time;” “Quarantine” bingo cards are popping up on your social media feed. What the…?!! Crazy, crazy days, my friends.

My hope is you’ll see this disruption to normal life as an opportunity. Things have slowed down dramatically. Eventually and progressively they’ll boot back up. As they do, you will have the choice to re-enter relationships, organizations, and daily life in a different way.

Take some time (since you should have more of it now) to ask yourself what you want to see change in yourself, your relationships, the way you interact on social media, and how you treat and communicate with family, friends, and “your neighbors.” I hope you’ll be an encouragement to others during this time of uncertainty. I hope your relationships with your family will be strengthened.

Spend some time reflecting on how you currently invest your time and what that indicates about your priorities and character. Now that you are not in your normal patterns or rhythms think about where your identity comes from and if that is authentic and accurate.

My hope is you’ll not see the weeks ahead as isolating or something to fear, but rather as opportunity to embrace and lead change. Ultimately, you may find avenues or passions for bringing that about on a larger, broader, more societal or global level, but the courage to do that starts by honestly examining your own mind, heart, and life.

What does all of that have to do with college admission? Absolutely nothing… and everything.

What is taking so long?

Listen to “How Are College Admission Applications Reviewed? Episode 3: Mary Tipton Woolley” on Spreaker.
Every parent develops their own strategy for how to fend off the inevitable question kids ask on road trips: “When will we get there?”

Early on, I decided the best way to help a toddler understand distance was to use the rear view mirror.

“Okay, if this is our house,” I’d say while pointing to the far-left corner of the mirror, “and this is grandma’s house,” moving my hand to the far-right side of the glass, “then we are here.” Inevitably, “here” was about an inch away from where we had started- and that was being generous.

Last week my kids had Winter Break. On Tuesday, we headed to North Carolina to see my wife’s family. Inevitably, about an hour into the drive, Elizabeth (9) asks, “Where are we, dad?”

I started to explain the county we were in and what it was known for. She was uninterested and interrupted me to ask more clearly, “No, I mean on the mirror.” Wow. What started as an age- appropriate tactic seems to have turned into a barrier to gaining knowledge about geography and state history. Since I had worked all day and did not have it in me to protest, I simply pointed about quarter of the way down the mirror.

“That’s it? What is taking so long?!” About 40 responses went through my head in under three seconds, including trucks, construction, idiotic drivers, Atlanta rush hour traffic, and a number of expletive-laden opinions about population growth, city planning, urban sprawl, and more. Rather than utter these, I simply took a deep breath, shook my head quickly back and forth, and turned up the music. My wife was unimpressed.

I’m not sure what Elizabeth did after that, because I left the music up for the next half hour. But I started to think about her question: “What is taking so long?” Our culture has created an expectation of immediacy. We order a coffee, pay, slide down the counter and pick it up. Drive thru lanes are optimized, pictures can be printed at home or are ready for pick up immediately. We expect same day pick up for car repair, dry cleaning, or prescription refills. Actually, all of that requires actual effort. How about 1-click online Amazon orders that appear at our door often within hours?

A Road Trip Through the Admission Process   

When you apply to college, especially one that receives far more applications than they have seats available and uses a holistic and layered admission review, waiting is inevitable. If I were you, I’d definitely be asking, “What is taking so long?!” Don’t worry. I’m not just going to sigh and tune you out. Read on.

The application leaves home:

You hit submit. Now what?

Merging lanes:

At this point, the college matches supporting documents to your application in their database. Supporting documents includes everything from transcripts to letters of recommendation to test scores. The take home message is they’re ensuring your file is complete so they can begin their review.

If it is incomplete, your admission portal will show exactly what you are missing and you will start getting emails/texts/calls/owls about that. (By the way, if you are a senior reading this blog and not checking your email, stop reading this blog and go check your email!)

Carpool:

At this point, it depends on the system or style of application review a school has decided to use, but generally speaking the person who visits your school or is in charge of recruiting your city or state will be the one initially responsible for reading your application. At many colleges, file review begins once it’s complete, while others wait until all applications for that round have been received. Seeing all applications from a particular high school allows counselors to understand how your grades, rigor, trends compare to your peers in the applicant pool.

For example, one student receives a 91 in AP World History. That school adds 7 points of “weight” to all AP grades. While an admission officer would already know the A range extends from 90-107 based on the school profile and transcript, reading all applicants from a particular high school in the same day allows them to also see applicants who may have 102s or 104s. What does this mean for you?

  • Holistic review is both individual and comparative, rather than simply formulaic.
  • In a weighted system, two students can both have “4.0s” that look very different (in this example, 17 points).
  • This does not mean the student with the 104 is automatically getting in. Again, holistic means holistic. The entire goal of these processes is to gain and keep perspective, rather than to draw hard lines or apply a purely academic formula.

In some cases, initial review is conducted by a single individual. That counselor reads your application in its entirety, makes an admission decision recommendation and passes it along to another team member (often one slightly more experienced/senior on the team). Think about this as checks and balances. Schools want to be sure multiple people read your file and have a chance to offer their opinion on your candidacy for admission.

In other cases, schools employ Committee Based Evaluation or Team Based Review. The concept here is a simultaneous and synchronous review. Two team members read your application at the same time. One will evaluate you from a purely academic standpoint by reviewing transcripts, testing, and teacher and counselor recommendations. They take a deep dive into your course choice, grade trends, and how you have performed within your school’s context. The second reader tries to understand how you’ve used your time outside the classroom, as well as the impact and influence you’ve had on others through working, clubs, sports, or other pursuits. That staffer also reads your essays, short answer responses, and, depending on the college, may also read recommendations.  Each staff member makes individual recommendations based on their evaluation. They could both agree to admit or deny, or there could be a split decision.

Traffic Jam:

“Are we there yet?”

No! We are still only mid-mirror.

“But the driver and passenger both agree to head a certain direction.”

True. However, there are other cars on the highway, so now most files sit for a while.

“What does a while mean?”

You know how your Waze App has varying levels of red for traffic? Yea. Kind of like that. Sometimes it’s a dark pink, and often the time just keeps adding up.

“Why?”

Because admission decisions at selective institutions (those invariably using holistic review) are both individual and collective. Students are evaluated based not only on their performance in their school setting, and the other students in their high school (see example above), but also in comparison to the entire applicant pool.

Now counselors move on to that work. They begin reading other applications from schools, cities, or states they are responsible for, and they also help the rest of the team complete their first round of review.

As an example, if a college receives 20,000 applications in their Regular Decision round and has on average 10 pairs of people reading 50 applications a day, five days a week, it would take eight weeks to complete the first round of review. But you know life (and road trips) are never going to be that simple. There are holidays, sick days (for staff or their own children), as well as other recruitment responsibilities. Throw in some technology challenges, a fire alarm triggered by someone microwaving fish in tinfoil, and a good old snow day or two and you’re easily pushing 10 weeks.

“Why don’t you just hire more staff?”

Please call me on a secure line.

Recalculating….recalculating….

Next, schools move into “committee review,” or “cohort review,” or “class shaping.” Deans, directors, and VPs provide additional direction about institutional priorities and empower larger groups of staff to review applications on both an individual and comparative basis. Typically, in this phase discussions are informed by specific targets. Do we have enough admits from certain counties, states, or nations? How are particular majors doing in terms of their specific enrollment targets? Geography, academic major, ROTC, special talents, first generation, financial need, demonstrated interest may all come into play. Some or all of these student attributes, and potentially many more, are discussed as applications move through the committee review stage.  If faculty engage in the admission process, this is a logical time frame in which they’ll be consulted or asked to weigh in on student fit to their programs or the institution overall.

At some colleges, all files are reviewed again in committee, while at others only those who had a split decision in the first round enter this phase of review. Many colleges make admission offers to applicants about starting their academic career on a different campus, abroad, or in an earlier or later semester than the one for which they initially applied, which means committees are also attempting to hit targets for those institutional needs.

How long does this take? Well, that depends on the number of applications, the number of staff, and how bad flu is that year, but it usually takes several weeks. These are often tough and complex decisions that involve more people in the room weighing a series of macro factors and goals.

Re-routing:

We are almost to the far-right side of the mirror. Decision release day is approaching. Your calendar is marked and so is ours. Everyone is nervous. At this point, deans and directors are consulting with their data analysts to gauge their mathematical models for “yield” (the number of admitted students who actually choose to enroll).

Let’s say a college has a yield rate of 34% (this is actually quite common nationally). The dean knows her president, board, and faculty are counting on a class of 1,400. The current number of admits after committee is 5,000, which would result in a class of 1,700 students. The dean knows about 100 of the students who deposit do not ultimately enroll (this is known as “melt”). With residence halls and dining halls built for 1,400 new students, she is over by 200.

Accounting for yield and melt, a small group of senior-level admission folks take on the unenviable task of further reducing the number of admits (in our example by about 600+ students). This pushes previously slated admits to the waitlist, and as a result has a cascading effect on both the number and percentage of students who end up with that particular decision.

Owner’s Manual:

Every road trip and car system varies. I’ve tried to provide a general overview of how colleges review applications. If you want the full details of the operating system from a school you’re considering, check their website or consult one of their admission counselors. As an example, Georgia Tech made a video to illustrate our process.

Buckle Up! Inspirational picture describing the open road

I’m sorry this process takes so long (I’m also sorry this blog is so long). I don’t like to wait either. In fact, I don’t think I’ve never heard anyone say, “You know what I really love… waiting.”

If you are a junior just entering the college admission experience, I hope this gives you some insight and questions to ask as you consider specific colleges. When you visit or talk to one of their representatives, listen for their explanation of the process. Speak up and ask questions if it is not clear. You are going to put a lot of time and effort into applying. It is your right and responsibility to understand how they make decisions, as well as a clear timeline in which they do that.

If you are an applicant still waiting for the car to pull into the driveway, I hope you will take a holistic approach to waiting. Like admission officers, your goal is to keep perspective. You only have one senior year. Enjoy it. Go to games, hang out with friends, take trips, and have fun! Nobody ever looks back and says, “I wish I stressed out more and wished away the spring of my senior year in high school.” (Kind of like nobody says, “I want to marry someone mean,” or “I prefer to overpay for my meals.”)

Look around you this week in school.  I am asking you to fight the temptation to look to far ahead. Slow down. Remember this–  most of the folks you see every day now will not be around (in person) at this time next year. Give them a hug. Grab a meal together. Go see a concert. Just enjoy being together.

Ultimately, it is the things we have to wait for in life are the ones that shape us the most. You will come to the end of the mirror soon enough. Take in the sights. Share the road. Enjoy the ride!

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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.

Georgia Tech Admission Tweet Typo

 

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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The Discipline of College Admission

Listen to the audio version here.

If you are not one for imposed holidays, you’re in the right place. Last Valentine’s Day, I wrote about how love and admission have a lot in common. This V-week we are going full contrarian and talking about school discipline.

Most applications ask students to report discipline/behavior history, including suspension, expulsion, and arrests. In acceptance letters colleges discuss both the need to keep your grades up, as well as your responsibility to inform them if you have some form of school or community discipline incident after you’ve been admitted.

I’ve had several questions about this topic on college panels recently, so this is my attempt to address those and provide broader insight. As always, I’m writing generally and do not claim to speak on behalf of all colleges. If, after reading this, you have specific questions, call or contact the particular school you are interested in (don’t worry–you won’t be the first to disguise your voice or indicate you are “asking for a friend”).

The short answer: schools use the same individualized, holistic process for reviewing a student’s discipline history that they do for reviewing academic or extra-curricular background.

Here’s the long answer.

Context. Typically, the first question admission counselors ask when they open an application is “where does this student live and go to school?” The goal is to understand who you are, where you are from, and what your family, academic, social, and community background looks like. Admission counselors are charged with gaining perspective on your high school setting and experience in order to understand both the options available to you and the choices you made, both inside and outside the classroom.

Context MattersMoved three times in high school? Had a two-hour commute each day? Saw mom and dad go through an ugly divorce? Suffered a concussion or another illness that caused a prolonged absence? In college application review, context matters. Context is critical. Therefore context is always considered.

The same is true of our review of your disciplinary background. I once read the application of a student who was arrested for being in a dumpster behind his school. Why? Because his mother was working a double shift and had not left him a key to their apartment, so he was looking for warmth and shelter. Another student was arrested for being in a dumpster after spray painting the school with graffiti and slurs (the dumpster was simply where the police found him and his friends hiding). As you can see, context matters—and context will always be considered.

Timing. In their academic review, many colleges separate a student’s 9th grade GPA from their 10th-12th grade academic performance. This does not mean grades in Geography or Geometry in freshman year don’t matter, but rather indicates we recognize they’re not as predictive of academic success in college as grades in higher level courses (this is also why committees look at grade trends in a holistic review process).

Timing is also one of the factors admission counselors consider when reviewing a student’s discipline record. No, we don’t love your sophomore year suspension, but if there are not additional infractions, we are likely to exercise grace, consider it an isolated incident, and trust you learned a valuable lesson. The bottom line: holistic review = human review. Admission deans, directors, counselors may look polished or established now, but we’ve all made plenty of mistakes (I likely up the overall average). It is important you know we bring our ability to make judgment calls into our review of transcripts, test scores, family background, non-academic impact, and yes, disciplinary infractions as well.

Process. The admission “process” is not just for students. Colleges also have an entire process, including one for review of all elements of an application. In most admission offices, there are initial guidelines for discipline/behavior/criminal review. Most of the questions relate to severity, timing, the school’s action, and the implications that incident had on other students. If the situation warrants additional review, staff members escalate it to an Associate Director, Dean, Director, or an official review committee. At this point, 99% of cases are cleared without further action. However, if the case requires another layer of review, schools will involve partners from around the university for insight and areas of expertise, e.g. Dean of Students, General Counsel, and perhaps Chief of Police or other security representatives.

Having participated in many of these layers, I am always encouraged by how thoroughly and thoughtfully questions are asked and facts are gathered. One of the most difficult things about living in this beautiful but broken world is coming to the realization that as much as we may desire it, there are few things that are 100% good or bad; 100% right or wrong; 100% black or white.

Ownership.  Answer the questions honestly and thoroughly on your application or reach out personally and immediately to a school who has admitted you, if you have some type of infraction post-admit. Every year we receive emails and calls from other students, principals, counselors, “friends,” or others in the community informing us of discipline/behavior/criminal matters involving an applicant or admitted student. It is much, much better to be honest and proactive than to have an admission counselor receive information from another source and have to contact you to provide an explanation of circumstances.

“My friends made me…” “I didn’t want to but…” “I tried to tell them it was wrong…” and the list goes on. Please. I am begging you, PLEASE be sure none of these phrases are in your application. Whether at home, at school, or at work, disciplinary action is serious. If you have something to report, own it. Drunk at prom? Arrested at 2 a.m. for re-distributing neighbors’ leaves back across their yards after they’d lined and bagged them at the street? “Borrow” the car in the middle of the night by putting it in neutral and coasting out of the driveway with the lights off? We’re listening.

Application evaluation, individualized discipline review, life in general… it’s nuanced, complicated, and grey. Why did you choose to do that? What did you learn from it? How has it changed you as a person, a student, a friend, a family member? Those are the questions at the core of our review. You made a decision and now we have one to make. Help us by not waffling or watering down your explanation.

A Final Note to Seniors

Your final semester is supposed to be fun. You have lots to celebrate and enjoy: games, productions, awards ceremonies, spring break, prom– tradition upon tradition, and last upon last. I get it.

I ask you to please hit pause when you find yourself in certain situations or when a “great idea” gets proposed in these next few months. Each year we see incredibly smart and talented kids do

Class of 2019
FYI- Wow. What a diversity of Google images you get when you search for “seniors.”

indescribably dumb stuff that has lasting implications or consequences. So before you get behind the wheel; before you go to (or throw) that party; before someone brings out another bottle; when “everyone” is going to jump off that bridge naked in the dark into water at an untested depth; when cramming 12 people into a hearse to go blow up the principal’s mailbox gets suggested as a senior prank; before you post pictures or gossip or antagonizing content on social media, I hope you will thoughtfully consider your beliefs, character, and goals. (If all of that sounds too specific to be made up, well…).

I implore you not to rationalize with phrases like “everyone else is” or “she told me to” or “someone said it was okay.” Have the maturity and vision to say no or walk away or stand up or defuse the situation or speak calmly in frenetic moments.

I encourage you to read your offers of admission from colleges closely. They are promises of a future community. They are based on your academic potential but also upon their belief you have and will continue to enrich those around you.

I said there would be no cheesy Valentine’s sap here, and I’m sticking to my promise. True love is not capable of being boxed up and forced into one day. It can’t be captured in a card. Instead, it is both shown and proven over time. My hope is you will look around you this week (and every week between now and graduation). Be reminded of how much your friends, family, class and teammates love and respect you– not for what you do or don’t do (or will or won’t do) in a certain moment on a particular night– but for who you are consistently.

Above all else, my hope is you will have the composure and confidence to lead yourself and others with character in these final months of high school. Finish well.

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