College Admission: Read, See, Discuss (…and Be Thankful)

In my 11 years (and all of the months of 2020) serving as director of admission at Georgia Tech, I’ve had three assistants. Their individual personalities vary widely, but they have all been incredibly talented and deeply committed to helping our entire team succeed.

In addition to the hundreds of other roles they play, one key part of the job description (not listed on the official HR site) is keeping me in the loop on what’s really happening with our staff.

What do they need and want? What is bothering them? What do they need to know? And in general, how can we make their day to day life better?

Over the years, feedback has ranged from family leave policies to microwaves and from office sharing challenges to invaluable suggestions. At some time or another, each of them has started that portion of our meeting with: “I don’t know how you’re going to feel about this…” Or “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” That’s when I know something specific to me is coming.

A few years ago, my assistant gently (but very clearly) said that while our team really appreciates all of the articles and podcasts and other collateral I send them each week, it can also be overwhelming to get so many emails about varying issues and topics, especially during the busiest times of our cycle.

Noted and valid. So, we came up with the idea for a Friday Newsletter specifically for staff entitled “Progress and Service,” in honor of Tech’s motto. Broken down into four sections: READ, WATCH, LISTEN, BUZZ (something related to GT), this allows me to share timely higher education- related information without totally spamming their inboxes.


Since next week is Thanksgiving and we won’t be publishing a blog, here are a few of the real gems I’ve heard, read, and seen lately in a consolidated (and relatively concise) format:

SEEN: One of my best friend’s just moved back to Atlanta. It’s been such a gift, especially during Covid-19, to get consistent time together. One thing I appreciate about him, and something I’ve seen up close lately, is how quickly he will reach out to his friends and network when he needs a recommendation for an electrician or a place to buy good produce.

While those are mundane examples, this also translates to his work as well, and it is illustrative of his overall humility and desire to improve.

As you go through your college admission experience, I hope you will emulate this by continually asking: “Who do I know that can help me? Who knows more than me about x or y?”

Who can provide you honest feedback and help you edit (not re-write) your essay?

Who has been through interviews or interviews people regularly?

Who has experience in financial planning or explaining debt, loans, long term implications of return on investment?

Bottom line: USE YOUR NETWORK. If you are considering visiting, applying to, or ultimately attending a certain college and don’t reach out to an alum of  your high school, former teammate, or neighbor who is already there, you are missing a big opportunity.

People want to help you. Friends, family, current college students, want to use their experience and knowledge to see you succeed, find your best match, and ultimately be confident in your college admission experience.  It’s on you to reach out.

DISCUSSED: Todd Rinehart is the VP-Enrollment at the University of Denver and the President of NACAC. On a panel recently, he beautifully outlined a truth that most high school students forget when they think about college admission. You control most of this experience.

  • Of the thousands of schools in this country, you decide which ones you want to apply to. In other words, if you apply to seven colleges, you eliminated 99% of possible places. You select where you apply.

So, if you’re about to hit submit on an app (or you have recently), you should celebrate that decision. I hope you will literally say out loud when you hit submit, “Of all the colleges and universities in the nation, I’m choosing to apply to you.” Does that sound corny or cheesy (and more importantly why these midwestern foods associated with that concept)? Trust me. If your mentality when you apply is one of excitement about each college you apply to, then you are preparing yourself well for the rest of this experience.

  • Now, you do not control whether or not you are admitted, or the level of financial aid you receive. That part is out of your hands. Don’t sit around worrying about it. Don’t drive yourself nuts constantly hitting refresh on portals or emailing admission counselors asking them if decisions may be out earlier. Wait well.
  • You choose from your options. Ball is back in your court. If you listened to your counselor, did your research, and were honest with yourself about the set of schools you applied to, you are going to have choices.

People who have never been through the college admission experience often think the goal of this is to get into a certain place. Admission professionals, whether they are on the high school or university side, know the real truth- your goal is to have choice and options.

In the spring of your senior year, you will be able to sit down with the schools who have admitted you, look over your financial aid packages, revisit your goals, hopes, and dreams, listen to your parents insight, advice, and encouragement, and make a choice. That is what this is all about, friends. Don’t let some hack tell you otherwise.

  • At this point, you own and control 66% of this exchange. But I think this pandemic has taught us there is a fourth piece- also one you control. You decide how you show up at the place you ultimately pick. Bam- 75%! (With grade inflation in some schools that is an A.)

This fall has stretched and challenged us all, but I’ve been deeply encouraged by the resilience and spirit of the students I work with on a weekly basis on campus (so I wrote to them to say THANK YOU).

They regularly say, “You know. It’s not perfect, but I am so glad I’m here.” Or “I love being  with my friends and we are finding ways to have fun and enjoy our semester.” Even when the pandemic ends, you are going to find situations or elements of your college that are not perfect.  Your job is to arrive ready to embrace the new community you choose, build a new network, and take advantage of opportunities. That mentality and approach is all up to you.

READ: My friend and co-author Brennan Barnard wrote a great piece in Forbes recently. Per usual he tackles some of the most pressing and relevant conversations happening in college admission with balance, empathy, and (see #1) by leaning on the wisdom of experts. His piece covers the truth about: test score optional; high school quotas; the “magic formula” of getting in; gap year impact on the Class of 2021; how COVID-19 is impacting the college admission world. In some ways, it’s his version of “Progress and Service.” No wonder we get along.

BONUS- On a hike this week, my son asked, “Dad. You know how there is a yellow sun and an orange sun, and also a blue moon?”

Yeah…

“Well, is there a blue sun?”

Hmm…I’m not sure. Let’s look that up (turns out the answer is … kind of).

I get these kinds of questions from my kids constantly. Con-stant-ly. About former first ladies, minor powers of super-heroes, whether penguins are mammals, and the list goes on. But it’s great and I do my best when I don’t know the answer to look things up with them.

I’m imploring you not to lose that child-like curiosity and willingness to ask questions in your college admission experience. All of the points, Brennan makes in his article, you can ask individual colleges. What is on your mind? What do you want to know or ask? Do it. That’s why colleges employ admission counselors—to be available to you and help you get answers to your important, specific, and critical questions. Ask YOUR questions. Whether that is about majors or residence halls or admission policies or origins of mascots or vegan options in the dining hall. Part of being a good college student is being curious, being proactive, and constantly asking questions. Start now!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Thank you reading our blog and listening to our podcast. This year in particular I’m hopeful  you will pause, reflect, and embrace life’s simple moments and joys in the week ahead.

College Admission: Read, See, Discuss (…and Be Thankful)

In my 11 years (and all of the months of 2020) serving as director of admission at Georgia Tech, I’ve had three assistants. Their individual personalities vary widely, but they have all been incredibly talented and deeply committed to helping our entire team succeed.

In addition to the hundreds of other roles they play, one key part of the job description (not listed on the official HR site) is keeping me in the loop on what’s really happening with our staff.

What do they need and want? What is bothering them? What do they need to know? And in general, how can we make their day to day life better?

Over the years, feedback has ranged from family leave policies to microwaves and from office sharing challenges to invaluable suggestions. At some time or another, each of them has started that portion of our meeting with: “I don’t know how you’re going to feel about this…” Or “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” That’s when I know something specific to me is coming.

A few years ago, my assistant gently (but very clearly) said that while our team really appreciates all of the articles and podcasts and other collateral I send them each week, it can also be overwhelming to get so many emails about varying issues and topics, especially during the busiest times of our cycle.

Noted and valid. So, we came up with the idea for a Friday Newsletter specifically for staff entitled
“Progress and Service,” in honor of Tech’s motto. Broken down into four sections: READ, WATCH, LISTEN, BUZZ (something related to GT), this allows me to share timely higher education- related information without totally spamming their inboxes.


Since next week is Thanksgiving and we won’t be publishing a blog, here are a few of the real gems I’ve heard, read, and seen lately in a consolidated (and relatively concise) format:

SEEN: One of my best friends just moved back to Atlanta. It’s been such a gift, especially during Covid-19, to get consistent time together. One thing I appreciate about him, and something I’ve seen up close lately, is how quickly he will reach out to his friends and network when he needs a recommendation for an electrician or a place to buy good produce.

While those are mundane examples, this also translates to his work as well, and it is illustrative of his overall humility and desire to improve.

As you go through your college admission experience, I hope you will emulate his approach by continually asking: “Who do I know that can help me? Who knows more than me about x or y?”

Who can provide you honest feedback and help you edit (not re-write) your essay?

Who has been through interviews or interviews people regularly?

Who has experience in financial planning or explaining debt, loans, long term implications of return on investment?

Bottom line: USE YOUR NETWORK. If you are considering visiting, applying to, or ultimately attending a certain college and don’t reach out to an alum of  your high school, former teammate, or neighbor who is already there, you are missing a big opportunity.

People want to help you. Friends, family, current college students, want to use their experience and knowledge to see you succeed, find your best match, and ultimately be confident in your college admission experience.  It’s on you to reach out.

DISCUSSED: Todd Rinehart is the VP-Enrollment at the University of Denver and the President of NACAC. On a panel recently, he beautifully outlined a truth that most high school students forget when they think about college admission. You control most of this experience.

  • Of the thousands of schools in this country, you decide which ones you want to apply to. In other words, if you apply to seven colleges, you eliminated 99% of possible places. You select where you

So, if you’re about to hit submit on an app (or you have recently), you should celebrate that decision. I hope you will literally say out loud when you hit submit, “Of all the colleges and universities in the nation, I’m choosing to apply to you.” Does that sound corny or cheesy (and more importantly why these midwestern foods associated with that concept)? Trust me. If your mentality when you apply is one of excitement about each college you apply to, then you are preparing yourself well for the rest of this experience.

  • Now, you do not control whether or not you are admitted, or the level of financial aid you receive. That part is out of your hands. Don’t sit around worrying about it. Don’t drive yourself nuts constantly hitting refresh on portals or emailing admission counselors asking them if decisions may be out earlier. Wait well.
  • You choose from your options. Ball is back in your court. If you listened to your counselor, did your research, and were honest with yourself about the set of schools you applied to, you are going to have choices.

People who have never been through the college admission experience often think the goal of this is to get into a certain place. Admission professionals, whether they are on the high school or university side, know the real truth- your goal is to have choice and options.

In the spring of your senior year, you will be able to sit down with the schools who have admitted you, look over your financial aid packages, revisit your goals, hopes, and dreams, listen to your parents insight, advice, and encouragement, and make a choice. That is what this is all about, friends. Don’t let some hack tell you otherwise.

  • At this point, you own and control 66% of this exchange. But I think this pandemic has taught us there is a fourth piece- also one you control. You decide how you show up at the place you ultimately pick. Bam- 75%! (With grade inflation in some schools that is an A.)

This fall has stretched and challenged us all, but I’ve been deeply encouraged by the resilience and spirit of the students I work with on a weekly basis on campus (so I wrote to them to say THANK YOU).

They regularly say, “You know. It’s not perfect, but I am so glad I’m here.” Or “I love being  with my friends and we are finding ways to have fun and enjoy our semester.” Even when the pandemic ends, you are going to find situations or elements of your college that are not perfect.  Your job is to arrive ready to embrace the new community you choose, build a new network, and take advantage of opportunities. That mentality and approach is all up to you.

READ: My friend and co-author Brennan Barnard wrote a great piece in Forbes recently. Per usual he tackles some of the most pressing and relevant conversations happening in college admission with balance, empathy, and (see #1) by leaning on the wisdom of experts. His piece covers the truth about: test score optional; high school quotas; the “magic formula” of getting in; gap year impact on the Class of 2021; how COVID-19 is impacting the college admission world. In some ways, it’s his version of “Progress and Service.” No wonder we get along.

BONUS- On a hike this week, my son asked, “Dad. You know how there is a yellow sun and an orange sun, and also a blue moon?”

Yeah…

“Well, is there a blue sun?”

Hmm…I’m not sure. Let’s look that up (turns out the answer is … kind of).

I get these kinds of questions from my kids constantly. Con-stant-ly. About former first ladies, minor powers of super-heroes, whether penguins are mammals, and the list goes on. But it’s great and I do my best when I don’t know the answer to look things up with them.

I’m imploring you not to lose that child-like curiosity and willingness to ask questions in your college admission experience. All of the points, Brennan makes in his article, you can ask individual colleges. What is on your mind? What do you want to know or ask? Do it. That’s why colleges employ admission counselors—to be available to you and help you get answers to your important, specific, and critical questions. Ask YOUR questions. Whether that is about majors or residence halls or admission policies or origins of mascots or vegan options in the dining hall. Part of being a good college student is being curious, being proactive, and constantly asking questions. Start now!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Thank you reading our blog and listening to our podcast. This year in particular I’m hopeful  you will pause, reflect, and embrace life’s simple moments and joys in the week ahead.

The Basics of College Admission: Part 4

The last several months have led to a lot of finger pointing. The left blaming the right, and the right giving it back to the left. School administrators have been accused of being irresponsible in how they opened, or did not open, their elementary, middle, and high schools, and college presidents have certainly been the targets of plenty of ire and consternation as well.

Photo credit: The Raleigh News & Observer (file photo)

As we head into Thanksgiving and the holiday season, I’m hopeful for a different kind of finger pointing. This is the stuff of the great Dean Smith coached UNC basketball teams—when someone helps you score, win, or succeed, and you acknowledge them by pointing to them in recognition.

The truth right now is we are all doing our absolute best in a time of great ambiguity. That’s draining and often lonely. My hope is you’ll look around you today and point your finger to (not at) someone who makes your life better—the people who help you learn, grow, and thrive. Finger points during Covid include texts, calls, distanced high fives, long-sleeved elbow bumps, and a variety of other mediums. Be creative and let the folks you love and appreciate know that today.

I’ll go first: This blog and podcast would never be possible without the incredible team I have the honor to work with at Georgia Tech. To Becky Tankersley, editor extraordinaire—THANK YOU! Your patience, attention to detail, and friendship are huge blessings in my life. To Samantha Rose- Sinclair, aka. SAMMY!! who edits our podcasts and cleans up all of my stumbles, mumbles, and bumbles—THANK YOU!

To each and everyone one of my colleagues featured below—Finger point, finger point, finger point! I appreciate y’all and consider it a true privilege to call you friends and colleagues.

Our mini-series “The Basics of College Admission” has been a great success. Thanks to those of you who have downloaded, subscribed, and listened over the last few weeks. If you are just tuning in or catching up, here is a quick look at some recent episodes on very timely topics.

Admission and Scholarship Interviews

Chelsea Scoffone (Associate Director, Special Scholarships) provides key tips and insight into how to prepare and practice for interviews, answer questions well, relax and actually enjoy the experience.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Interviews for Admission & Scholarship Programs – Chelsea Scoffone” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Take advantage of “optional interviews.” Use interviews to learn more about the school and communicate aspects about your background that may not come out as clearly in your application. The best interviews are really a conversation. Translation: Don’t memorize answers!

Listen For: Key questions to ask yourself in preparation. The three biggest misconceptions students have about interviews.

Key Quote: “Don’t restate your resume…we are trying to learn those things that cannot be captured on your application.”

Further Reading: Big Future and US News

Transfer Admission

Chad Bryant (Associate Director, Undergraduate Admission) helps students understand ways students can research, prepare, and successfully transfer between colleges. He provides great tips into how students should learn about course requirements, transfer credit, deadlines, and more.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Transfer Admission – Chad Bryant” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Take time to stop, reflect, and consider your goals for your college experience. Reach out to schools early to understand their specific process—they’re all different by design, which is both beautiful and maddening.

Listen For: An explanation of articulation and transfer programs or pathways.

Key Quote: “More than 1/3 of college students transfer colleges, and nearly half of those transfer more than once.”

Further Reading: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, American Association of Community Colleges, NACAC.

The Basics of Financial Aid

Larry Stokes (Customer Service Manager, Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid) explains the “alphabet soup” of Financial Aid. He walks students through FAFSA, CSS Profile, NPC (Net Price Calculator), COA (Cost of Attendance), and EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) and gives critical tips for students and families about deadlines, questions to ask, timeline of submitting documents, and other helpful tips and advice.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Financial Aid – Larry Stokes” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines! Each school is different. Research each college and their requirements.

Listen For: How to use Net Price Calculators and how to locate “outside scholarships.”

Key Quote: “Schools are not going to be chasing you down to throw money at you.”

Further Reading:  FastWeb, College Affordability and Transparency Center,  and Federal Student Aid

Who is Reading Your Application?

Katie Faussemagne (Senior Assistant Director) gives you a look into the admission committee room. Who are admission counselors? What are their backgrounds and interests? And exactly what are they looking for when they open your application or interview you for their college?

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Who’s Reading Your Application? – Katie Faussemagne” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Don’t try to figure out what an admission counselor “wants to hear” in an essay or an interview.

Listen For: “The hidden rubric.”

Key Quote: “The biggest misconception students have is we all wear navy blazers and have a deny stamp in our hand.”

Further Reading: Our five-part blog series on The Admission Team.

Have a great week! Remember, give your fingers a break from the keyboard. Lift them up, extend them out, and encourage someone around you now.

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

Breaking Out of the “Little Boxes” in College Admission

Before we had staff living all over the country, and before we employed part-time readers to assist in file review, we had a fun tradition during reading season. Several times a week, we’d gather in my office and someone would share a funny YouTube video. This is how I was first exposed to John Mulaney, Mike Birbiglia, and this gem. It was a great way to start a long day or night of reading in committee.  

Recently, I’ve incorporated this concept at home. Each night while we’re cleaning the kitchen after dinner someone gets to pick a clip to share. Some Good NewsTrey Kennedy, and Hamilton have all made some good runs, but lately we’ve been on a Walk Off The Earth kick.  

Last night’s clean-up was inordinately long and YouTube rolled us from Hey Ya to Little Boxes.  

Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same 

There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same 

And the people in the houses
All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same 

Written by Malvina Reynolds and popularized by Pete Seeger the campy rhythm, simple lyrics, and refrain of “all the same” really sticks with you. Brilliantly, maddeningly, intentionally—with ticky tacky– it sticks with you. It rattles around in your mind, until you almost want to shout, “A box-dominated life is no life at all!”  

2020!!

2020 has squeezed us. It has limited our radius from home and forced most of our interactions onto small screens. Whether it be school or work or time with friends and family, we’ve been boxed up and reduced to a pixel count on Zoom.        

This myopic, restricted, obscured life is not natural. Fundamentally, we long to be fully seen—to be deeply known. While we may appreciate not having to wear shoes or tuck in our shirts for calls that only show us from the torso up, this season has made us acutely aware that real life, true life, full life is meant to be multi-dimensional and 360 degrees.   

As you go through your college admission experience, I hope you won’t forget these pandemic lessons. I hope you will resist being placed in a limited, restricted, narrow, and myopic “little box.” 

Look Beyond What You See– Rafiki had this right in The Lion King when he instructed Simba to look within himself for truth, strength, vision, and authentic hopes and dreams. Regardless of where you live, you’re exposed to a limited number of colleges and universities. The same bumper stickers, same hoodies, and same schools getting TV coverage.  Look beyond what you see

Your family, siblings, neighbors may be loving and supportive people, but they’re usually not the best at helping you broaden your set of college considerations. Don’t get boxed in!

When that brochure or email from a college you have not heard comes, don’t immediately trash it. Hit pause and look closer into the ripples like Simba did. Be courageous enough to imagine life outside the camera angle that many around you might unintentionally (or very intentionally) impose.  

Process vs. Experience– Journalists and most admission folks will describe this all as the admission process. I want to push back on that word. Go to Google Images for process. You’ll find lots of cogs in the wheel, and mechanical, sterile, linear pictures. Like the Zoom life we’re experiencing, they can be isolating—you’ll notice almost none of them include other people. 

If you approach this as a process, then you begin to believe there is a specific and right way to go about it. Your mindset becomes binary. Process will tighten you up and restrict you to a narrow path Cogsyou must take in order to avoid peril…. And then test administrations get canceled, you make a B+ instead of an A, you don’t get to go on that mission trip or aren’t able to volunteer at the hospital as you’d planned…. You missed an ingredient, and the recipe is a bust. The process is ruined. The box is crushed.   

Experiences on the other hand are more open, more fluid, and more relational.  Google experience and you find people on high places looking out at their options. They have vision, perspective, and freedom. Experience images are boats in the water. Experience images incorporate other people, a variety of places, and wide lenses. Experiences facilitate relationships, inspire dreams, and account for a breadth of decisions, routes, and ultimate results or destinations. 

2020 has squeezed us down. Your job is to stand up, move around, breathe, break out, lift up, and push back. Assert agency, seek perspective, and flip your camera around.    

How > Where– The longer I do this work the more I think most people miss out on the real opportunity the admission experience provides for students and their families. As a high school student, and particularly as an applicant, my hope is you will be more concerned about how you end up on a college campus- prepared, confident, ready to engage- and less focused on precisely where, i.e. which gate or archway you walk through or statue you pose in front of.   Waterfall

Students often ask, “What do I need to do to get in?” They expect to hear a formula: take 7 AP classes, make a 1370 or higher, be sure to play on the tennis team, and lock down a position in the French Club. The truth is college admission deans and committees just want you to be a great high school student. If you work hard academically and invest in the people around you- the people in your house, your school, and your community– you’ll be a great candidate for most colleges. 

Take some time to write down your answer to this question: What does success look like a year from now? 

If you are a senior (or the parent of a senior), my sincere hope is your answer does not start with (or include) the name of a specific college. Instead, I hope your goal is to be academically prepared, socially engaged, comfortable with the financial investment, and closer with your family because of open, honest, proactive conversations that led to a unified college decision.   

Draw fewer lines. Spend more time listening to your family about hopes and dreams and goals, and less time strategizing or attempting to control a specific outcome. The college admission experience provides a unique and precious opportunity to deepen, broaden, and expand. Refuse the tunnel visioned, myopic, boxed- up mentality of where, and commit fully to how you and your family will start college. 

Thankfully, this pandemic won’t last forever. However, I’m hopeful some of the lessons we are learning now will sustain. I would never have wished your high school experience to have been impacted this way. But I also believe you have a significant opportunity right now to garner a healthy distaste for draconian lines, to develop a “box busting” mentality, and to refuse a narrow approach to life.  Instead, my hope is the rest of your high school career, your entire college admission (and actual college) experience, and your life well beyond will be open, broad, multi-dimensional, and characterized by deep, meaningful, and authentic relationships.    

Big shout out to my friend Jeff Kurtzman at the McCallie School in Chattanooga who plays “Little Boxes” each year for his junior class as way to get them thinking about why they want to go to college, the expectations their family has for them, and to begin a conversation about their unique hopes and dreams. 

The Future of College Admission?

Listen to “Episode 22: The Future of College Admission? – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Let me start by saying this: I’m no futurist. My family is quick to point out I’m wrong multiple times a day on a variety of subjects (game outcomes, how long to bake chicken, etc.) My co-workers can also enumerate many occasions when I’ve been dead wrong about direction, strategy, and approach.

But recently, whether it’s a virtual panel or webinar, a television, radio, or podcast interview, or even last week’s (virtual) fireside chat, the big question seems to be, “What’s the future of admission and enrollment?”

So, while I’m painfully aware that I don’t have all of the answers (and I’m not booking a flight to Vegas  to put cash on these predictions), I do see some distinct writing on the higher education wall for the year ahead.Perspective

(1) Most colleges will see fewer, or the same, rather than more applications this year.

Covid-19 hit colleges across the country extremely hard. Last week the National Clearinghouse published its most recent numbers. Overall enrollment is down 4%. Enrollment of first-year students is down 16.1% from 2019 (even more disturbing is that community colleges saw a 22.7% dip in enrollment).

As much as we’re all fatigued by this pandemic, it is not over. The financial impact on families, businesses, and communities is yet to be fully felt. As a result, I foresee 2021 seniors casting a narrower net when applying to college resulting in a lower application: student ratio.

Say what you will about testing, but those scores did provide a way for students to nod to schools and colleges to send them recruitment and application information. The mass cancellations and ensuing test-optional landslide has severely limited a big part of how colleges solicit applications through what we call “search.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not crying about the The College Board or ACT coffers taking a financial hit. However, this traditional source of names and leads did generate thousands of applications nationally in the past, and nothing to this point has proven to directly replace it.

Talk to any admission person and they’ll tout how they’ve stood up more virtual visits and reached higher numbers of students through online programming, tours, or sessions. This is a great silver lining of Covid for both the short- and long-term. However, student Zoom fatigue combined with colleges’ inability to host families on campus and travel to high schools and communities will further deflate applications overall.

Going test score optional (TSO) normally serves to increase applications. But we’ve never seen this many schools go TSO at the same time. My guess is some will see a bump due to this change in policy, but the majority will not.

(2) Admit rates at most schools will go up this year.

Sure. This will in part be a function of flat (or less) applications, but it’s also a response to what we’ve experienced over the last two semesters in higher education. As Clearinghouse data shows, many schools lost undergraduates this year. Translation: they took a major financial hit and need to find ways to recover.

Public universities are going to be under pressure to grow. Those with big brands will be counted on by their state to buoy their overall system. With the tail of Covid coming like Smaug’s in Lord of the Rings, state appropriations to public schools will inevitably be hit hard. Growth expectations, reduced appropriations, and family financial uncertainty as a result of the pandemic all point to more offers of admission to make (and especially to attempt to grow) enrollment.

At privates, especially non-research institutions, tuition is the life blood. Given Covid’s impact on retention and finances last spring and into this fall (not to mention growing trepidation about Spring 2021) I expect these colleges to admit more students in hopes of remedying recent enrollment/net tuition revenue loss.

Let me be clear. There are going to be exceptions to this. Ivy League and Ivy-like schools with multibillion-dollar endowments will likely not be affected as much, so please don’t email me in six months saying I predicted Princeton’s admit rate was going to double. But here again we’re reminded those places are outliers and anomalies, not the signposts, in American Higher Education.

(3) Yield in general declines nationally.

The number or percentage of students who accept an offer of admission and pay an enrollment deposit is known as yield. In recent years, NACAC reported the average yield rate is approximately 33% (College Transitions provides a helpful yield breakdown by institution). Oregon State’s Jon Boeckenstedt produced this visualization earlier this week, which provides Roundabouteven more insight on the challenges and trends with yield and “draw rates.”

Given financial, medical/ health, and travel (distance from home) concerns, as well as the likelihood of most colleges admitting more students, I project yield will again decrease at most schools around the country.

(4) International applications decrease.

In recent years, I’ve had the opportunity through the State Department’s Office of Overseas Schools to travel to consulates and embassies abroad speaking to Americans and their contacts about higher education in the U.S.

During this time, I’ve seen a palpable shift in the conversations about college in America. Other nations, including Canada, Australia, Spain, and the Netherlands, among others, have become far more competitive and aggressive in their recruitment of students around the world.

Add political rhetoric, less than glowing media coverage about the pandemic in the United States, and the fragility of this demographic (which has been a boon for American colleges and universities, particularly since the 2008 recession) only increases. College admission officers’ inability to travel abroad this year further exacerbates the issue– and strengthens predictions 1-3.

(5) Bigger waitlists = longer cycle.

Selective colleges are going to hedge their bets on yield rates. This means they will likely put even more students on waitlists and start pulling students earlier in the cycle (in other words, expect to see more mid-April admits as healthy colleges see deposits roll come in).

Higher education is an ecosystem. As schools continue build their classes Admission Listthrough waitlist offers in May and June, they will be pulling those students away from other colleges. This activity and domino effect will extend deep into the summer, just as it did in 2020. We anticipated a more extended cycle as a result of NACAC’s CEPP adjustments and Covid has served to further elongate that timeline.

(Bonus) Gap year concern… not a thing.

I’m a Presbyterian and we normally stick to three or five points in a speech or article. But since so many have asked about gap years, I’ll include a bonus piece here. 

Harvard made news with 20% of their first-year students opting to take a gap year. This article lists a few other examples, such as Williams, Bates, and MIT, with big increases in gap year students. Understandably, since the press loves to cover schools like “Stanvard,” this has understandably raised concerns among 2021 high school graduates.

As I said earlier, I’ve been on a lot of panels with friends and colleagues from around the country lately. All of them (literally all of them) from schools with 7% to 77% admit rates, are saying the same thing: 2020 gap years are not “taking seats” from 2021 graduates.

Hopefully, everything I’ve laid out in this blog serves to reinforce one point—COLLEGES NEED STUDENTS! Now more than ever.

If the financial argument or the international argument or the health argument doesn’t convince you, here are Tech’s numbers. We granted about 130 gap years deferments. 49 of those will start this spring, 10 in the summer, and the rest next fall. We are not counting these students into our predictive model, but rather adding them to our new classes each term. In other words, they’re “extra seats” not “taking seats.”

Final Thoughts

If you are a junior, sophomore, ninth grader… all of this basically applies to you too. Higher education had its eye squarely on 2025 before the pandemic. Known as the “demographic cliff” we were all planning and preparing our administrations for a decrease in high school graduates, and therefore even more competition and enrollment instability. Covid has fast forwarded us toward the cliff. All of that to say, the future of higher education is trending towards higher admit rates and more options for students.

If you are a senior… I hope this gives you a bit of solace. If your goal in applying to college is to have choices and options (and it should be), I see that coming to fruition this year, assuming you choose a balanced list.

I know that high school is not wrapping up the way you’d hoped or envisioned (if you did envision this, please call me, as we’re working on predictive future models and I could use your help. Plus, we could make a killing in Vegas). However, if you can keep your head up, keep working hard in school and in your community, and maintain a long-term vision during a challenging time, I earnestly believe you’re going to come out of this better, stronger, and more prepared for wherever you end up in college next year.

If you are college counselor or college admission professional… Thank you! You’re probably not hearing that enough lately. We work under severe deadlines, many levels of scrutiny, and increasing pressure. If you’ve not heard it from anyone else this week, please slowly read this: THANK YOU! Thanks for all you are doing for your institution, students, and surrounding community. This is not easy work, but it is ineffably meaningful. Take care of yourself so you can keep taking care of those around you.

Covid is pushing and stretching us all. Throw in a contentious election season and divisive rhetoric on all mediums and it’s no wonder we are all exhausted. I hope in the days ahead you’ll find creative ways to renew, refresh, and share small moments of joy with those around you. Be well, friends.