The Unbroken Cycle of College Admission

This year it seems that the articles, news stories, and headlines surrounding college admission have focused almost exclusively on how significantly things have changed—the “dramatic increase” in applications (at a small set of schools); the disturbing decrease in undergraduate enrollment, particularly in our community college sector; gap year request; no campus visits or recruitment travel, “obnoxious waitlists,” and so on.

I admit to contributing to the chorus of just how unpredictable many elements of the field have been too, including FUBAR yield models, questions about issuance of travel visas, and the eroded “demographic cliff.”

H/T: UC-Davis

So while it is true that the inputs shifted this year, more people wore hats and pajamas to meetings, and the number of cats and kids in admission committee went up exponentially, the rhythm of the job did not change: the fall was still filled with recruitment programming; the winter with application review; and the spring with releasing decisions and convincing admitted students to confirm or deposit.

Ultimately, the actual work of college admission proved to be predictably cyclical, and the comments, questions, and interactions (as well as their timing) remained constant:

  1.  Student calls weeks after application deadline to see if he can submit late.
  2.  Parent disguises voice to receive portal password day before decision release.
  3.  Alumni friend of denied family writes to complain that the admission process is totally jacked up (PG version).

For those scoring at home: The pandemic shook things up but again did not bring in some of these:

  1. You must have made a mistake. This financial package is way too generous.
  2.  I wanted to come clean. I have been emailing you pretending to be my student all year.
  3.  Please audit your process and reconsider your decisions, because it seems you admitted too many kids from our high school.
  4. YES. I’m expecting you to admit her because of her father’s accomplishments.
  5. I wouldn’t call him a late bloomer- he was just lazy as a freshman.

Back to business…

And right on cue, earlier this month we started receiving emails and calls telling us about admitted or deposited students behaving badly.

These accusations come almost exclusively from one of two sources- current college students who “heard something” from their high school or “saw something” online and wanted to report it to the admission office; or from another student or parent in the high school. They almost never come directly from the student involved writing to admit to wrongdoing, a lapse in judgment, or a blatantly immoral/illegal/indecent act.

When we receive these, we pursue them. Normally, this starts by asking the student to provide their summary and perspective. Depending on the response, we will also reach out to the school counselor, principal, or other school official. Most colleges then involve their dean of students, office of student integrity, and when necessary their police department or legal team.

If all of this sounds uncomfortable, messy, and a long way from the earlier jokes about cats and pajamas, that’s totally understandable. Frankly, it’s uncomfortable to write about and the last 17 years of experience.

However, if you’re feeling all of those emotions because you are currently involved in something that you know falls short of the expectations of the college that admitted you, I am strongly encouraging you to be proactive and reach out to your admission counselor.

Owning your mistakes and initiating the review process is not fun, but it is absolutely the right thing to do. Tip: Don’t start with: “My friends made me…” “I didn’t want to but…” “I tried to tell them it was wrong…”

If you have something to report,  own it. Arrested at 2 a.m. for re-distributing neighbors’ leaves back across their yards after they’d lined and bagged them at the street? “Borrow” the car in the middle of the night by putting it in neutral and coasting out of the driveway with the lights off?

Hard to admit? Embarrassing and regrettable and serious for sure, but trust me- it is much, much better to be honest and proactive than to have an admission counselor receive information from another source and have to contact you to provide an explanation of circumstances.

A Note to Seniors

Your final semester is supposed to be fun. You have lots to celebrate and enjoy. But I am asking you to be mature and thoughtful enough to hit pause when you find yourself in certain situations or when a “great idea” gets proposed in these next few weeks or over the summer. Each year we see incredibly smart and talented kids do indescribably dumb stuff that has lasting implications or consequences. So before you get behind the wheel; before you go to (or throw) that party; before someone brings out another bottle; when “everyone” is going to jump off that bridge naked in the dark into water at an untested depth; when cramming 12 people into a hearse to go blow up the principal’s mailbox gets suggested as a senior prank; before you post pictures or gossip or antagonizing content on social media, I hope you will thoughtfully consider your beliefs, character, and goals. (If all of that sounds too specific to be made up, well…).

I implore you not to rationalize with phrases like “everyone else is” or “she told me to” or “someone said it was okay.” Have the vision to say no or walk away or stand up or defuse the situation by speaking calmly in frenetic moments.

I encourage you to read your offers of admission from colleges closely. They are promises of a future community. They are based on your academic potential but also upon their belief you have and will continue to enrich those around you.

My hope is you will look around you this week (and every week between now and the time you head to college). Be reminded of how much your friends, family, class and teammates love and respect you– not for what you do or don’t do (or will or won’t do) in a certain moment on a particular night– but for who you are.

Above all else, my hope is you will have the composure and confidence to lead yourself and others with the maturity and character that earned you offers of admission. Finish well.

BONUS: Other “never heards” receiving votes:

  • I hear it’s easier to get in from our school than the one down the road.
  • I understand that my child’s admission experience, and likely their actual college experience, will be almost complete different from mine.
  • I got your helpful & carefully worded email on my next steps, and I read the whole thing!
  •  I have objectively concluded that my child’s unfavorable decision is just a reflection of a competitive applicant pool and not a fundamental bias in your process perpetuated in an urban legend.

 

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