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

Listen to “Episode 25: I Applied… Now What? (And More Questions From YOU!)- Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

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.

Author: Rick Clark

Rick Clark is the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech. He has served on the SACAC Governing Board, the ACT Council, and the College Board Search Advisory Board. He is a current member of a NACAC’s Committee on Leadership in College Admission, and Past Chair of both the national Government Relations Committee and Georgia Tech’s Staff Council. 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 forthcoming book The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together. 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