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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Andrew 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.
Each year after we release admission decisions in March, I spend time cleaning up my office. After weeks of committee, reviewing predictive models, and hosting ad nauseum meetings, the room is typically littered with Coke cans, candy wrappers, errant scratch paper with quick calculations or idle doodlings, and a month of unopened mail littering my desk.
In a particularly thorough round of purging and organizing, this year I came across a trove of old marketing materials from Georgia Tech and other colleges around the country (I use an alias to receive these) that I have been collecting for the last decade. As a high school senior, I’m guessing you may have a few of these laying around your house or room right now too.
Invariably, the brochures prominently feature a 3-4 word verb-led challenge like Change the World, Dream Big, Live Bigger, Lead the Way, or Create the Future.
Having been in the room when these taglines are created, I can tell you that countless sticky notes, multiple whiteboards, copious amounts of catered turkey wrap sandwiches, and well-dressed, bespectacled consultants are involved in their formation. Some are cheesy, some fall flat, but occasionally you get it right. And as I leafed through the stack and tossed most into the recycling bin, I came across the one I always thought was our best: Great Minds Think Differently.
I texted a picture of the cover to a friend who was also involved in developing the piece and put the brochure in my bag. That was March 17th–the last day I was on campus this spring.
Since then our world has shifted dramatically. The majority of news, stories, and data are disconcerting, and inevitably many people around you are expressing concern and anxiety about what the short- and long-term future may hold.
I’m not saying this is easy, but as you finish high school, make a final college choice, and prepare to leave home in the coming months, I want to challenge you to think differently.
In Your Actions
Last week I talked to a friend whose daughter is graduating from high school this spring. “She already knows where she’s going to college and her school just announced pass/fail grades for this spring, so she’s basically checked out. Just prepping for AP tests, but even those are not going to cover the full amount of material.”
Great Minds Think Differently
I get it. If you are a senior, so much of what you were looking forward to is off. Games, prom, graduation, tradition, and last after last. That sucks. Really, really sucks. I’m not going to sugar coat this, because that’s not the world we’re living in right now. Instead, I am going the exact opposite direction. I ask you not to quit on you.
Much of life is lived when no one else is looking. This is a good time to consider why you took that class or spend time preparing for exams. Is it just for a letter or a grade? Are you hoping to just get through it?
Now your test will not cover certain material… so you could basically stop here without any short-term consequences. But scenarios like this are not isolated to the current impact we’re all feeling from COVID-19… scenarios like this occur all through your life.
Right now you have a precious opportunity to pause and ask yourself questions far too few high school students (and too few people in general) ever do: what drives and motivates me? Why am I doing this?
If you are checking out on Chemistry or Biology because the information is not going to be covered on a test, should you really pursue pre-med in college (despite how many people around you may have suggested you become a doctor)?
If you are “done” with Calculus or Physics and not planning to keep pushing and learning in these weeks ahead, then do not pursue engineering in college. I, for one, do not want you building the bridges or planes that might carry my kids in the future.
The truth is we know what really drives someone by the things they make time for and commit to. What are you curious about? What do you care about? When you found out you just got back a ton of time, where did your head go? Those are your real passions. Be honest with yourself and then let your responses guide you as you enter college, select your courses, or pick a major and a career path.
Thinking differently impacts your actions.
In webinars, emails, and interviews lately I’ve been asked numerous times: “How should a senior make their final college decision if they cannot visit campus?”
I’ll be honest. I truly hate that you cannot visit college campuses this spring. Anyone in college admission loves showing admitted families around and introducing you to faculty and students. The weather is amazing, students are excited—there is no better place in the world than a college campus in April.
But I will tell you the Covid-19 crisis has pushed colleges to significantly up their game and provide quality online content through live and recorded webinars, student and faculty videos, and helpful and creative information on social media. You should take advantage of all of these new resources.
You should intentionally check out the social media accounts of the student groups or clubs that interest you, and compare them between colleges. If you are thinking about participating in music or club soccer or robotics, go to the Instagram or SnapChat pages of those clubs and organizations. Why? Because they are not intentionally talking to you for recruitment purposes. Read the comments and see who is involved. That will provide you invaluably organic and authentic insight. They’re not trying to “sell” you on attending–they don’t even know you are there.
You should read the online school newspaper and alumni magazine from the universities you’re considering. Using sources that are intended to “talk to each other” is going to help you glean true culture. Do these conversations resonate with you? Are these your people? Do they make you excited to be part of that community?
You should reach out to advisors, faculty and current students. They are remarkably available right now. Ask them your specific and personal questions so you are able to make the best final college choice.
If your family’s financial situation has changed since you were admitted or received your financial aid package, you should contact those institutions to submit new information or ask whether they are able to alter your aid package. You should do this respectfully and with the understanding that many schools may not have additional funding to extend because of the current climate, the flexibility of their funds, the size of their endowment, and the fact that many other families are in similar situations.
Great Minds Think Differently so let’s spin the question: “What can you be doing now?”
The truth is none of those shoulds will matter if you are not honest with yourself about who you really are, what you want, and what type of people, setting, and community bring out your best both inside and outside the classroom.
You can see this time as a rare opportunity to separate yourself from the voices that typically surround and influence you–and actually listen to your own voice.
You can consider Steve Jobs’ comments in his Stanford commencement address, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
You can recognize that whether it be this fall or some months after that, you will be leaving home. You can forgive and ask for forgiveness. You can go out of your way to spend time with your mom doing whatever she really enjoys. If you do nothing else this week, hug your mama!
Thinking differently will impact your decisions.
Right now much of the news we see and hear is bleak. Unemployment is at a record high, hospital beds are filling or spilling over in major US cities, and the majority of people at the grocery store are wearing masks and gloves. You cannot go online, watch TV, or listen to a podcast without hearing phrases like “everything has changed” or “the world has stopped” or “this is crazy.” One thing is abundantly clear right now in every facet of society: we do not have all the answers, but we do have a choice.
Great Minds Think Differently!
Find creative ways to encourage your friends, serve your family, and be a source of energy and strength online. Send a positive text message to a teacher, organize a Zoom call to sing happy birthday to a friend, or offer to mow a neighbor’s yard.
If you have not seen John Krasinksi’s “Some Good News” Network on YouTube, stop reading this immediately and click here.
Thinking differently will impact your words (and your words can go places you never will).
This time is a gift. Consider looking at it that way. Use it to think differently about your actions, your decisions, and your words. In doing that, you’ll finish high school well, make a college choice that is truly yours, and bring signs of light, life, and hope to a world that desperately needs it right now.
Great Minds Think Differently. Thanks for being one of those!
As I was falling asleep last night, my head was buzzing with the conundrum of painting a picture of our campus for students in this new climate. How do I make connections? How do I share a story without the campus backdrop that tells so much without words? How do I help them see us?
Then in the dark, staring at the ceiling, I remembered: we ask students to do this every year. Every time they begin a college application, they are essentially trying to make colleges see them through their only medium: words. At my fingertips I have social platforms, pictures, phones, websites, webinars… a whole slew of tools beyond the written word to paint the campus story for prospective and admitted students. If I only had words, I would have to intentionally craft a careful and thoughtful message.
So, this blog is filled with application tips and thoughts, dedicated to all those soon-to-be seniors who will only be using words to be seen in the admission process.
For those anxious about how to start a college application, I see you.
This summer or fall you will sit down at your computer and write your college application. I hope not all in one sitting (you can save it and review it later!). During information sessions, I ask students to imagine a scenario with me: Pretend you could have a cup of coffee with me. If we spent 30 minutes together, what would you tell me? Lots of things, right? You would tell me about what you love in high school, how things are crazy right now, how and why you chose classes and clubs and sports teams and service projects. About who changed your life and why. What’s good, what’s bad, what matters to you.
Through a college application you are speaking to me too–just on paper and not in person. So, here’s the tip! Pretend we did have a “coffee conversation.” Grab a piece of paper and write all the things you would want me to know, and what you would talk about if we were in a coffee shop chatting. Just make a bulleted list. Now take that piece of paper with you to the computer when you pull up your college application and start marking things off your list. This is a great exercise to whisk some of the stress away and just get started.
When what you need to say just doesn’t fit in a category, I see you.
You had to make a choice in your senior year schedule because 2 AP’s were offered at the same time. You changed schools after 10th grade because one of your parents had a job change. You had a blip in your grades, and you want to tell me about it. In March of your junior year… things got a little surreal.
I see you. And I carefully read the “Additional Information” section of your application. This small, unassuming section is a blank text box on your application. You can share any little detail that you feel is relevant or helps put your high school career in context. You can write a paragraph or leave bullet points. The format is optional so list what makes sense to you.
There is also a separate response space to tell us about a high school change. It is not required but it is really helpful for admission counselors to hear more about what caused the decision to change schools. It may be personal, and that’s okay if you don’t want to share. But if you feel comfortable, add a few sentences to let someone reviewing your application understand the change.
For those who don’t think they can “stand out,” I see you.
A few years ago, I read an application from a student who loved Chemistry and was captain of her swim team. Neither of these attributes are unique in a sizeable applicant pool. But her application was so memorable. She broke water down to its elements in her essay and spoke about how it flowed through her life, in her love of chemistry, of her leadership on the swim team, and through a water-centered philanthropy that really mattered to her. It was great! She stood out!
Without knowing it, she followed two rules that I encourage all students to consider before turning in their application:
Does it answer why?
Does it pass the Anonymous Application test?
(Neither of these are actual rules, but I still tell anyone who will listen that they should be.)
First, does it answer why? So many students want to know what they should list on their application to be competitive. I tell them they should instead ask why are they involved in a certain activity, why does it matter to them? If you can articulate this, you can probably put together a strong application—one that is authentic and genuinely has a good foundation.
Now, the anonymous application test. If you were to print your application (you don’t do this, but follow me here) and you were to drop it in your high school hallway—without your name on it—could anyone read it and return it to just you? That is a strong application. That is an application that has your unique voice that a friend, teacher, or peer would recognize. Just like your thumbprint, you are unique. No application is exactly like another. You can stand out by simply being authentic.
Things I don’t see
Since we are in this theme, I think it is important to mention the things that I don’t see.
I don’t see the number of hours you put into a sport or activity unless you tell me. Be sure to take a calculated guess as to the time you spend on your activities.
The 50-point difference in test scores. I don’t care that your best friend or the guy in your math class got a perfect score. I don’t admit test scores, I admit people. In a holistic process we see test scores, but we see so much more. Don’t distill yourself to one number. I don’t and neither should you.
Lastly, for those who feel their world is upside down right now, I see you.
If your spring sport just got cancelled, if your spring break vacation was spent watching Netflix at home, if your ACT or SAT just got cancelled and you don’t know when you will take it again, if you are now taking virtual classes—with your parents sitting beside you at the kitchen table also working: I see you.
Moments like this make us feel insecure, anxious. They make us feel alone, unseen. But I will tell you a secret: high schoolers are the most resilient creatures on Earth! I mean it. I have seen students rise from situational ashes that would bring most adults crashing down. I have proof. I read your words year after year. You bounce back. You make plans. You attack problems with passion. Your words bring me joy because there are moments in the committee room when I say out loud, “Y’all. This student is going to change the world.”
You don’t have to change the world to be resilient. Being resilient changes the world. So, take heart in these unprecedented times. Colleges and institutions everywhere send you love and support and we can’t wait to “see” you in your application next year!
Katie Mattli has worked in college admission for over 10 years. She joined Georgia Tech in 2014 where she works with underrepresented minority recruitment focusing on female, first generation, African American and Hispanic recruitment efforts. Her previous years at a private liberal arts college for women fueled her love of student leadership and advocacy.