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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.

The Next Right Thing

Listen to “Episode 12: The Next Right Thing – Becky Tankersley” on Spreaker.

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

As the mom of two young girls, it isn’t shocking that over the last few weeks we’ve watched Frozen II in our house… A LOT. In full disclosure, I enjoy the movie (I will never be too old for Disney animated films and Pixar movies!), so watching it on repeat isn’t a burden. There’s a lot I love about the film, from the animation to the storytelling to the foreshadowing of what’s to come. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but I do need to give you a few details for the purpose of this post.

The future of the kingdom of Arendelle is uncertain and obscured, and early in the movie one of the characters tells Princess Anna, “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing.” This concept shows up repeatedly throughout the film, ultimately climaxing at a moment when all hope seems lost, and Anna is left alone to ask, “what now?” (in classic Disney heart-wrenching-song fashion, of course).

I’ve known for a few weeks now that I was scheduled to write the blog this week. As the primary editor of the blog, I have the privilege of being very familiar with our previous and upcoming content. Over the last two months, many voices have shared great wisdom for these trying times. As my week approached, I’ve wondered what I could possibly say that would be of any value to you, our readers. COVID-19 has made life uncertain for everyone, and I have a feeling hearing another voice say, “I don’t know” or “wait and see” isn’t helpful to anyone.

So instead of telling you any of those things, I’ll take a cue from Frozen II (and Kristen Bell) and encourage you to do the next right thing.

“But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make…”

If you’re a high school senior….

You’re wondering if you’ll have an actual in-person graduation ceremony. You’re waiting to learn whether or not you really will be moving out of your house and on to a campus in the fall. You left your school building weeks ago and “digital learning” and “remote delivery” have become your new normal (as has doing your work while your parents and siblings are on conference calls just down the table from you).

What is next? What will life look like in a few weeks, months? I don’t have an answer for that, or a crystal ball to look into the future.

But I do know you have an opportunity to do the next right thing. That will look different for each of you. Perhaps the next right thing is to spend part of your summer helping take care of your younger siblings (especially if their summer camps are cancelled). The next right thing may be helping your grandparents out around the house. The next right thing could be going grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor. The next right thing could be calling up a friend to ask how they’re doing. You can make an impact from exactly where you are right now.

If you’re a high school junior…

The way you thought your college applications would look has totally changed. Between cancelled ACT and SAT test dates, distance learning, changes in AP exams, and the cancellation of extracurricular activities, your application will not look the way you had planned. And guess what—we get it (see this blog for proof)!

You also have an opportunity to do the next right thing. This summer you can review the essay prompts for schools to which you’re considering and start drafting your essays. You can research financial aid and scholarship opportunities. You can take virtual tours of campuses, explore social media handles for student organizations, and sign up for webinars to learn about different colleges, their missions, and their application review process.

The next right thing for you involves using your time wisely. Your summer plans may be cancelled, postponed, or just… different. Regardless, you’ll likely have more down time on your hands than usual. Use that time to your benefit, and when the speed of life picks up again, you’re adequately prepared to step up and move forward.

If you’re a parent…

This one is a bit tougher to write. My oldest daughter is 8, so I won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be in your shoes and be the parent of a high school student. Maybe you’re nervous to send your child to college. Maybe you’re equally nervous to not send them to college, wondering what that could mean in the long term. Perhaps you’re concerned about your child’s lack of in-person social interaction and how it’s been replaced with virtual-everything.

Many of our families have been home, together, for a few weeks now. Some days are easier (or harder) than others. But as parents, as leaders of our families, we can also do the next right thing.

The next right thing could be creating intentional space to be together doing something other than looking at your computers. Take a hike, plan a picnic, plant and tend to a garden, schedule a movie night at home (yes, it’s a screen, but this one is okay!). Find something you can enjoy together, like watching all the Marvel movies in chronological order (what, that’s just me?).

Look for the little opportunities to enjoy time together in a different way. Have honest conversations about life, the world we live in, and how you too sometimes struggle to find and embrace the new normal. Honesty goes a long way.

Just do the next right thing

When we’re caught in the “what do I do now” situations of life, it’s easy, and natural, to become self-focused. Add quarantine and social distancing into the mix, and it becomes even easier. But I encourage each of you to do the next right thing in this moment. The answers we’re waiting for may not come for a few more weeks. No one knows what the “new normal” will look like–we can’t control it, and worry and anxiety won’t change it. But doing the next right thing is something we can control.

“Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing.”

Becky Tankersley has worked in higher education for more than a decade. 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 in television news. Her current role blends her skills in communication and college recruitment. 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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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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Rising to the Occasion

Listen to “Episode 9: Rising to the Occasion – Kathleen Voss” on Spreaker.

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission for the Mid-Atlantic, Kathleen Voss, to the blog. Welcome, Kathleen!

If you have ever been in a serious car accident, you are probably familiar with the feeling. The acrid smoke from the air bags fills your nostrils. You are disoriented, confused and probably hurt. It’s as though you have been hit in the chest with a baseball bat… if you can feel at all.

First, there is the impact which sounds like it is on top of you and miles away at the same time. Then peculiar silence followed by chaos. The sounds of people shouting, sirens screeching, my own cries to my children to answer me and to tell me that they are okay. I couldn’t get out of the car to check on them, in fact, I couldn’t move at all. I couldn’t catch my breath and the airbags blocked my exit.

In the noise and the confusion, I hear my daughter’s voice, clear and calm and sure, “It’s okay mom, we are okay. I am calling Dad. You are okay mom.” I am comforted. I relinquish the control that I have had for the past 16 years and hand it over to her. I trust her. She has risen to the occasion.

Relinquishing Control

I know, likening the college admission process to a car accident is extreme. It is not and should not be as dramatic and terrifying. Many of the blogs that you read here have spoken to the reasons why the process has gotten a bit out of hand.

I have worked with young people for more than 25 years, and while this process has absolutely become more stressful and challenging, once the dust settles and the decisions are made and accepted, the vast majority of students find peace in their decisions and success in the aftermath. I have heard from parents whose children were accepted to Tech, as well as those who were not, years later, and they regal me with stories of their son or daughter’s accomplishments.

They all wish that they could go back in time and tell the parent they were then to just relax, take a deep breath, and that somehow, “it will all work out.”

The college search process IS challenging and the added anxiety of what we must deal with now is certainly not helping. There will be disappointments and perhaps crying and shouting. As parents it’s natural for us to want to step in and help, to fix it, to make things better.

It is so much harder to back away and allow our children to rise to the occasion, or, heaven forbid, fail.

Prepare for… Failure

When I ask students at Georgia Tech what is the one piece of advice they would like to give prospective students, the common replies are; “Tell them to be prepared to fail.” “Tell them it’s okay to fail.” “Know who to reach out to when you fail.” No one likes failure but doing it for the first time, 500 miles from home, without any of the tools to deal with said failure, is just cruel.

As parents, we can teach our children how to react to failure. You can use your own experience or highlight that of another. There are hundreds of books about the value of failure and how to cope with failure and turn it to a positive.

It hasn’t been easy, watching my daughter navigate high school. It seems like her impending adulthood approached at lightning speed. There have been many battles of the will. And while my neighbors and parent friends at church and on the swim team have benefited from my decades old experience in college admission, my own child keeps me at arm’s length, preferring to brush off my advice and forge her own way.

I hear my father’s words echoing in my brain, “If you would only listen to what I am saying! Why must you always do the exact opposite of what I suggest?” It was years later, in my late twenties, that I apologized for not listening to what was his brilliant advice. I am sure my daughter will have the same epiphany, though I hope she recognizes my brilliance in less time than it took me.

Rising and Resilient

In the aftermath of that car accident, as I considered the reality of the dreadful possible outcomes, the list did not include my daughter’s GPA, ranking on the swim team, and advice about college preparedness.

Instead, we talked about how grateful we were. How blessed to be okay and together.

I am not perfect and absolutely know in the next few months we will need to focus. Junior year is no easy ride, whether at a distance or in a classroom. I have to accept I may or may not always be heard. Mistakes will be made. Classes will not come easy. There will be (gulp) failure.

I will try to remember the strong girl from the car accident, who took control, aided her sister, calmed her mother, called her father, and spoke to emergency workers with authority.

That girl is resilient. And that girl is going places, with or without my brilliant advice.

Kathleen Voss has worked in college admissions for over 25 years. She came to Georgia Tech in 2013 as the Institute’s first Regional Admission’s Director. Kathleen has worked with students and high schools in the mid-Atlantic since 2003.

10 Ways to Make Your College Decision Without Visiting Campus

Listen to “Episode 8: How to Make Your College Decision Without Visiting Campus – Andrew Cohen” on Spreaker.

This week we welcome Associate Director for Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen, back to the blog. Welcome, Andrew!

As an admission professional who oversees our campus visit programs, this is typically my favorite time of year. When we started the semester, we were preparing to host thousands of admitted students and their family members to campus to provide them with the information needed to make their final college decision. The campus visit experience is a crucial aspect in the college selection process… in some ways it’s a deal breaker (or maker!).

Across the country these on-campus visits experiences have come to a screeching halt during this critical time of year. High school seniors are now tasked with choosing an institution to attend with the possibility of never stepping foot on campus until they move in come the fall.

The good news? There are a lot of resources available to help you learn more about the schools you are considering. Here’s a list of ways to get a feel for an institution without ever stepping foot on campus.

1. Admitted Student Webinars and Virtual Events.
Colleges have been working around the clock to offer their admitted student programs virtually. If you do not see opportunities online yet, check back soon because something will most certainly be offered.

College Visit Webinars

2. Virtual Campus Tours.
Many schools have a virtual tour feature on their website, so make sure to take advantage of it. Most virtual tours last over an hour, so plan to spend a bit of time listening viewing all the videos and pictures that are available.

Virtual College Campus Tours

3. Social Media.
Yes, you should follow the institution and admission office’s social media handles, but also take a look at the various departmental and student organization accounts. These accounts are created for current students, so you will get some different information that you might not see on the institution or admission accounts.

Follow College Admission Social Media

4. Ask Questions of admission staff.
Admission counselors are not traveling this spring and families are not going on spring break vacations, so you should be able to get in contact with admission staff members to get your questions answered. You might not be able to call and get someone on the phone right away, but if you send an email, you can probably get a call set up to chat with someone.

Ask Questions to College Admission Staff

5. Talk to students.
I have learned admitted students would rather talk to current students about campus life than ask me. Most institutions have a way for you to connect with current students. At Tech we are offering Talk with a Tour Guide, giving admitted students a chance to talk one-on-one with a current student in their intended college.

6. Check out alumni magazines and student newspapers.
These types of publications target audiences other than prospective students, and can provide great insight about a school’s culture. Want to learn more about life after college? A digital version of an alumni magazine will help you learn about potential career opportunities.

College Alumni Updates

7. Use your personal network.
You likely know someone (or you know someone, who knows someone), who attends the institution you are considering. Use your personal network to make connections with recent graduates or current students. Their advice will be authentic and provide great insight.

Talk to Recent College Graduates

8. Explore multiple sources, and always fact check!
There are so many discussion boards and forums out there with valuable information, but it is important to fact check to make sure what you are reading is accurate. One person’s views and opinions shouldn’t become a broad generalization about the institution as a whole.

Fact Check College Information

9. Go with the flow.
Life is changing on a daily basis, and sometimes the answers to questions come slowly. Keep in mind everyone is getting you information as it becomes available. If a school doesn’t have an answer when you ask a question, it doesn’t mean they’re avoiding you. They will eventually have an answer! Everyone deserves some grace as we navigate these unprecedented times, and I promise, schools will get you the answers you need.

Waiting for college admission to respond to questions

10. Trust Your Gut!
At the end of the day, whether you visit a campus or not, you need to trust your gut. You can read websites, watch webinars, and scroll social media, but at the end of day you will have a feeling and need to trust yourself. You know yourself best! You will have that “aha moment,” at some point this year.

Trust yourself to choose the right college

Andrew Cohen Georgia Tech Undergraduate AdmissionAndrew Cohen joined Georgia Tech in 2018 and currently oversees the guest experience for all Undergraduate Admission visitors. His love for providing visitors with informative, authentic and personal experiences started as a student tour guide at his alma mater, Ithaca College. Andrew’s passion for the visit experience has lead him to his involvement in the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association, where he currently services as the Treasurer on their executive board.