Same Kind of Different

Listen to “Episode 30: Same Kind of Different (Preparing For Decisions) – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

This Saturday we will release Early Action II admission decisions. Later today our team will gather online (I guess that’s a thing) to walk through the number and percentage of students in each admission decision category (admit, defer, deny), their basic academic and geographic profile, the timeline for pushing the decision into our portal, and the communications plan to follow.  

These are the numbers and the mechanics. But where we will spend most of our time is encouraging and preparing our staff for what is to come. 

Great work, tough decisions, many responsibilities. 

We will thank the team for their great work to get us to this point. Over 21,000 applications reviewed (many having been read two or three times) since the November 2 deadline. For those scoring at home that’s 21,000+ different stories, writing samples, and letters of recommendation.  

In a normal year that is a heavy workload for a staff of 27, but particularly when we’ve been nearly 100% remote and many on our team have been caring for parents or pseudo-homeschooling their kids as well. Bottom line–  it’s been a lot, so we will take some time to celebrate this significant challenge and phenomenal accomplishment. 

We will applaud how flexible folks have been with one another and the grace they have extended  as dogs bark in the background, babies crawl over laptops, and internet service lapses or drops entirely. Good times! This work is always compressed and stressful, but this year has stretched us all- we will try to drive this point home. Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect.

Not everyone agrees. 

Once we have laid all of the accolades on pretty darn thick, we will discuss how tough the decisions really are. There are many difficult choices that go into selecting the best match students and meeting the goals of the Institute. Thousands and thousands of incredibly talented applicants that we simply do not have the capacity to admit 

The truth is even in our own committee discussions we have frequent disagreements and disappointments. So, especially for the staff members who have not been in our office for many years, we prepare them to hear from many students, friends, parents, counselors, principals, neighbors, loving aunts, alumni, and even seemingly unconnected observers who will not agree with our decisions.  

If you assume every applicant has four additional people “in their corner” (personally I think that is conservative) you’re talking over 100,000 people who are impacted by these decisions. That gravity is not lost on us.  

We prepare staff to expect email and calls questioning and commenting on almost every element of our process. “Didn’t you see how high her test scores are?” “You clearly have no idea how hard our high school is.” “I thought you had a holistic review. There is nothing else he could have done outside the classroom.” Covid-19 will put its own spin on this, inevitably, as courses and opportunities have been impacted and disrupted. 

Ironically, within minutes you will receive contradictory accusations. “I know you only took her because she’s a legacy.” Followed by “Apparently, you could care less we are a third-generation family.” You left without doing the dishes!” (Wait…. that was a text from my wife.) Bottom line: there will be a lot of people poking holes, second guessing, and generally frustrated about things not going the way they think they should have gone. 

Miles to go before we sleep. 

In many ways putting decisions on the proverbial streets is only the beginning of our work. As soon as we admit students, the hard work of convincing students to choose us begins. Known as “yield season” in our world, that will entail creative efforts such as calling campaigns, virtual open house programs, and late nights/ early mornings to account for a wide variety of time zones— not to mention another 20,000+ applications to review by mid March. Tight timeframes, bleary eyes, and all of the continued underlying concerns and uncertainties Covid continues to bring. So we’ll preach a steady diet of caffeine, Emergen-C, exercise, and prayer. WE got this 

Same Kind of Different 

As I was making my notes on what to say to staff today, I could not help but notice that as an applicant, all these things can be said for you too. Most of you will receive some combination of admission decisions from different colleges this year. When they roll in, regardless of the outcome (admitted, deferred, denied, waitlisted) keep these three things in mind: 

Great work, tough decisions, many responsibilities. 

You have juggled a lot to get here: classwork, practice, job, family, and all of the complications, stresses, and challenges of a global pandemicYou have demonstrated sacrifice, commitment, desire, and a willingness to trade some comfort and ease for a more difficult path.  Well done. Seriously, you likely do not want to hear this, but what you have persevered through is great preparation for college. Period.

If you have been admitted to college already, CONGRATULATIONS! Well done. You took the classes, made the grades, put in the work and deserve to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing your efforts get rewarded. Keep your celebration classy, my friends. Act like you’ve been there before.  

If you are denied, nothing has changed. An admission decision does not invalidate the character you’ve displayed or knowledge you have gained. Hey. Hey! Do you hear me? Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect. Your day is coming. Some other schoollikely several, are sitting in committee right now impressed and excited to offer you admission. Trust.  

If you are deferred or waitlisted by a college, hang in there. This year in particular those are going to be common results. Take whatever comfort you can in knowing you are not alone. Check your ego. Do not write a school off because they said maybe or hang on, especially since the pandemic has upended traditional yield models and deans and directors are more unsure than ever about how the spring will play out on deposits. Be patient. Keep things in perspective. Be willing to wait. Not easy by any means, but absolutely critical, my friends.  YOU got this!

Not everyone agrees. 

I’m sorry to tell you this, but you may actually have to be the adult in this situation, even in your disappointment. I have seen many grown people absolutely lose their minds over admissions decisions: rants, cursing, threats, accusations, pulled donations, thrown objects, broken friendships. I’ve NEVER seen this kind of behavior from a student (well, maybe a few curses, but basically warranted).  

You may get in somewhere only to have a friend’s parent assert it is “just because ___________.” Just because of… gender, major, your parents’ jobs, one of your feet is slightly longer than the other, or you are left-handed. You may not get in and have your own parent cite one or all of these same reasons.

Bottom line: there will be a lot of poking holes, second guessing, and general frustration around things not going the way others think they should have gone, and when it does, remember most of it stems from a place of love. It may not feel like it at the time, but love is the root of the behavior. Two pieces of advice: 1 – read the poem “if” by Rudyard Kipling soon. 2 – Hug them. If you keep your composure, maintain your confidence, focus on the big picture, and express love in the moment, there is nothing you can’t handle (actually a rough paraphrase of “if”). 

Miles to go before we sleep.

I understand how in January it feels like getting in is what it’s all about. But the truth is some of the toughest work is still ahead of you. The likelihood is you are going to get in several places. You will need to compare those options, receive and evaluate financial aid packages… Oh—and don’t forget about next week’s exam and the paper you still need to write. 

Miles to go! But that’s the adventure, isn’t it? Embrace the journey!   

Author: Rick Clark

Rick Clark is the Director of Undergraduate Admission 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