Breaking Down the Admission Team: Week 1: Defense/Special Teams

I’ve written before about our office’s Fantasy Football league. At one point,  everyone was working at Tech, but now many are now at other schools, or other departments around campus. The weekly match-ups bring banter, side bets, entertaining emails, and group texts with heckling emojis.

If you have played Fantasy Football, you know that while a game may occasionally be won or lost due to one player, championship teams are those that have balance and strength across all positions.  You can limp through the season with a good kicker and running back but that inconsistent tight end will eventually lead to your demise.

The strength of a team is equally important in college admission. Over the next few weeks I’m going to walk you around our office and introduce you to our team. Who does what, and when, and why? While admission offices, just like Fantasy Football leagues, are set up differently, the concepts and roles, as well as the challenges and advice, we’ll cover are applicable at any place you’re applying to or visiting.

The Communications Center (aka Defense/Special Teams)

If you call our main phone number (404.894-4154) or email our primary address (, you are going to reach our lead staffer, and Tech alum Katie Ruth Landers ’09  or one of our current students. We employ around 10 students, and two or three of those will be working at any given time in the Comm Center (“Calm” Center). They provide help on everything from “I’m driving down 85 and see Georgia Tech but think I missed my exit,” to “My transcript was sent a week ago and I don’t see it in the checklist.” 

This group does a phenomenal job. They have full access to our student information system, so they can see all documents and assist with functional application questions. Beyond that,  they can discuss campus life and student-centered questions from a very current perspective. They field approximately 90% of the calls and emails that come in, which keeps our admission counselors available for recruitment travel in the early fall and spring, and application review in the late fall and winter. It’s been said that offense wins games but defense wins championships… in this case that’s 100% accurate.

I know the value of the front lines from personal experience. My first job in college admission was at Wake Forest University. I don’t think I even had a title and I know I didn’t have an office, or even a cube… It was more of a nook.  My job was to answer emails, field phone calls, and occasionally (and I mean very occasionally!) they’d actually let me talk to families that were visiting (as a recent UNC alum, I was basically a last resort). But that training could not have been better for me. I was asked every possible topic under the sun: directions… transfer me to the Chemistry office… does Wake Forest have Psychology… and, naturally, what are my chances of getting in?

The “Calm Center” Checklist

Check the Time.  On average we receive about 1650 emails and 1500 calls each month. That’s about 80-90 of each per work day. Calls from students average 3 minutes, and it’s longer when it’s from a parent (data on parents pretending to be students is not kept). The busiest call day of the week, by far, is Monday. Part of that is catching up from the weekend and part is because people come into the week with a task list and emotions (probably generated from the Sunday Meeting). The heaviest window on a daily basis is between 2  and 4 p.m. We answer every call, even if that means  asking you to hold briefly. We know your question and situation is important, and we do everything we can to ensure you talk to a person who can help quickly. But it’s good to understand their environment lots of lines ringing, emails pinging, etc. Now that you know the heavy windows of traffic, consider reaching out on a Wednesday at 11 a.m. In talking to colleagues nationally, and after reading articles on normal email traffic, this is a normal pattern and thus applicable no matter what school you’re contacting.

Check Yourself. “What do I think the impact of this will be?” Asking this will help you figure out how to phrase your question and determine who you need to talk to. Often, callers realize they’re talking to a current student and then demand to talk to a counselor– even though all they need is to know is if a document has been received or when a decision is going to be available. Folks on the phones all have access to all the same systems. Insisting to be transferred to a full-time staff member only takes that person away from reading your application.

Check The Website. MANY times a day we get calls about information that is online. This becomes particularly heavy around decision release and deadlines. Questions like: “Is the deadline really October 15?” “Are you going to release the decisions any earlier than January?” Every Monday we meet with our Communications Strategy Team. We hear what Katie Ruth is getting in the Comm Center, we talk about websites, publications, emails, social media, etc. If you are reading it and calling to hear a human voice confirm that information (“I see this on your website, but just wanted to see if that’s right..”), I implore you to trust yourself. This also applies to driving. If you come to a stop sign, please read and take heed. Safety first, friends.

Check Your Pulse. The staff and students answering your calls and emails are in place to help you. Remember that when you call. We know that your particular situation is important and we are going to help you solve it, regardless of whether that’s because something appears not to have arrived or you want to know about Greek Life. So before calling take a deep breath. This will help your tone and heart rate simultaneously (a win-win!). The folks on the other end of that call or email, whether or not they’re admission counselors, share the same bathrooms, break rooms, and hallways as the deans, directors, and others who are making decisions on your application. That’s not a threat– that’s reality.

I’ll never forget the time I was hanging out in the Comm Center and someone called and immediately started cussing out one of our students. Professionally and calmly she kept asking him, “Sir. Can I have your daughter’s name please?” Finally, as he was shouting, he gave it to her. “Oh, hey Mr. Johnson. It’s Grace. Yes, from the church youth group.” BAM! Reality check. You never know who may be on the other end of the line… and remember that in a year or two, it may be you (or your student) answering the call and taking the brunt of someone’s anger.

I have said before and will continue to reinforce that admissions is a human process. People applying, people reading, people making decisions, people answering phones and  emails. Following these tips will not only help you get good information quickly but will likely allow you to learn something from the folks on the other end of the phone. After all, a human exchange goes both ways.

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Author: Rick Clark

Rick Clark is the Executive Director of Strategic Student Access at Georgia Tech. He has served on a number of national advisory and governing boards at the state, regional, and national level. Rick travels annually to U.S. embassies through the Department of State to discuss the admission process and landscape of higher education. He is the co-author of the book The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together, and a companion workbook published under the same title. A native of Atlanta, he earned a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a M.Ed. from Georgia State University. Prior to coming to Tech, Rick was on the admissions staff at Georgia State, The McCallie School and Wake Forest University. @clark2college