We don’t watch a lot of TV in our house. In fact, until recently we only had Amazon and Netflix. But as big soccer fans we broke down earlier this summer and got a few cable channels so we could watch the Women’s World Cup. Now with college football upon us we (okay, I…) decided not to pull the plug just yet.
The other day at a commercial break I muted the TV and our 8-year old daughter looked at me as though I had thrown her favorite stuffed animal away.
“What? It’s just a commercial,” I said bemused.
She gave me the international facial expression for “What?!!!” and replied, “I know! That’s my favorite part.”
They seem to be big fans of GEICO and the Michael Bublé ad about sparkling water. However, understanding their sample size is limited to about four months and less than 10 channels, I searched “best commercials ever.” (I do realize that by providing this link you well may not read further, but I can’t hide gold from you.)
The phrase “internet rabbit hole” does not adequately describe what happened next, and before we knew it, we heard a car door slam and saw my wife on the back porch. The kids dashed into the other room and picked up books to feign reading.
“All finished with homework?”
“Uhhhh… pretty close. Yeah.”
Real Life Catchphrases
Whether they be movie quotes or pithy lines from commercials, what sticks with us are phrases that we can apply to everyday life. Can you say, “Dilly dilly!”
One phrase admission directors around the country are saying right now is, “Time to make the donuts!” It comes from this campy 1981 Dunkin Donuts commercial. It’s not polished, the acting is terrible, and the production costs had to be close to $0. But “time to make the donuts” caught on. For a solid decade (and occasionally even today) you would hear that reference as people headed to work, went in to take to take a test, or dealt with a variety of imperative tasks. Now that classes on college campuses have resumed, admission deans and directors are waking up with those words on their minds. Time to do this again.
Before they start frosting, baking, or reaching for the powdered sugar, they start by talking to the shop owner, e.g. president, provost, board of trustees, deans, and so on. (please don’t tell them I made this parallel). Essentially, we need answers to two questions.
- What kind of donuts do you want this year?
Known as “institutional priorities” this helps donut makers determine the proportion and representation of certain flavors, such as demographics. Everyone on a college campus has their own opinions about which ingredients are essential. Deans from each academic unit will want more or less students in their program depending on faculty: student ratios or the health of job prospects in their industry. For example, Tech recently added a major in Music Technology. That means students who may not have been a good fit in the past are now very much on our radar. Conversely, if a college enrolled too many computer science or biology majors the year prior, or if they eliminated a major or a sport, the strawberry sprinkles or maple frosting that were popular in the past may not be as much of a priority in this year’s batch.
A college seeking to increase its academic profile will create a different mix than one whose primary objective is to increase international diversity, raise net tuition revenue, bolster its percentage of first-generation students, or enroll a student from each state. If a school does not enroll “enough” business majors one year, the next fall that donut maker is told to ensure more business donuts are included and prioritized. Therefore, not only do admit rates vary based upon donut type, but financial aid packages do as well. Bottom line: the mix matters. While I’m a sucker for the “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign at Krispy Kreme, I’d be fired if our class was made up completely of cinnamon donuts.
2. What is the size of our box?
Each school has a different quantity target. A dozen, two dozen, 64 count of munchkins? It’s not the same from school to school—and interestingly it’s not always the same from year to year.
There are lots of reasons why the quantity changes: a university adds a new dorm, the public system issues an edict that demands the addition of 200 more students in this year’s class, the list goes on. Virginia Tech made news this summer by over-enrolling their first year class by 1,000. That is absolutely going to have an impact on the type and number of Hokie donuts moving forward. Conversely, Bucknell missed their class target in 2019, so you can guarantee the Bison donut factory is altering their formula as they make admission decisions and determine financial aid packages in this year’s batch.
What does this mean for you?
- You are not necessarily competing against ALL other applicants.
Public schools in North Carolina are legislated to enroll at least 82% of their class from their state. In other words, the Tarheel Donut Shop is largely locally sourced. You may be the sweetest, most flavorful spice out there, but if you were grown in Boston or Chicago, your odds of being included in that lovely sky-blue box are simply not as high as those grown in Wilmington or Asheville.
Fair? No. This is a donut making. The state you are from, the major you want to study, or the background and interests you bring to the table (pun intended), dictate your admission prospects.
- Ask specific questions.
When you visit the campuses you’re interested in, ask them about students like you. “What is the admit rate from my state?” “Do you make admission decisions based upon the major I’m applying for?” These answers will help you determine how percentages vary beyond the macro statistics published on outward facing sites. At Tech our Early Action admit rate is higher than our Regular Decision admit rate, often by more than 15 percentage points. Part of that is driven by the fact that Georgia students apply early, and our total undergraduate population is 60% Georgia. Historically our most talented in-state students apply in the first round. Takeaway: Don’t just look at the numbers—ask them to give you nuance within the stats too.
Some schools won’t know all the various admit rates or demographics off the top of their head. Are they trying to protect their recipe? Usually not. A donut maker (admission rep) walking around your school in the fall has his/her mind on telling the story of the shop (university). That’s not cagey. It’s human. Ask them to get back to you with the answers. This demonstrates your interests, continues the conversation, and gives you a better understanding of how donuts like you are viewed.
The truth is when you ask these questions to highly selective schools nationally (less than a 20% admit rate), you’ll often get a confounding answer that sounds a lot like a Jedi mind trick or political stump speech. Don’t be frustrated. Just translate that as a reminder that there are scores of donut shops around your state and thousands in the country.
- Control what you can control.
Your job is to express your flavor on your application and send it to a variety of shops with different size boxes and admit rate ranges. You cannot control the year you were born, or the macro directives or strategic changes made in boardrooms around the country. An admit rate might rise or fall the year you are applying to a specific school. That impacts you, but it’s not really about you. Quit comparing yourself to older siblings or classmates or teammates.
If you are looking at highly selective schools, you very well may end up in a different place than you have in mind right now. But the fact that you read this entire post, rather than getting totally derailed by random commercial links, gives me 100% confidence there is a donut maker waking up today who can’t wait to get you into their shop. And trust me, they are going to ensure the other donuts in the box around you are just as unique, interesting, and flavorful as you!
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.