Nobody Loves February in College Admission

February. I’m not a huge fan. The weather is generally crappy, the sports choices on TV are limited, germs and colds multiply like Gremlins, and there aren’t any big holidays to break through the blah. You heard me Valentine’s Day– you cheap, fabricated Hallmark mockery.  

Feel free to message me if you are a big Feb fan, but it’s going to take a lot to turn me on this one, because in college admission land it’s also mid-cycle. This means the data campus partners want, and the questions from journalists, alumni, and prospective students can only be answered with caveats, asterisks, and big BUTs.  

How many applications did you receive this year?  

Ok. IF I give you that, it is important to understand more will still come in due to recruited athletes and other special cases; some students have partial (unactionable) applications; students who took a gap year may be included in this number, and those taking a gap year may fall out of this eventually.  

What is our admit rate?  

Sure. Right now it’s X%, BUT that is not final. We’ve only been through two rounds, and we have more admits going out in March. Plus, there are more applications this year, our class size target is higher, and our composition of in-state students will be increased too. AND all of that will impact our admit rate.

February is like the “Newman!” of the admission calendar. With each passing day it’s increasingly annoying and inconvenient. You want to provide clarity, and you don’t want to sound dismissive or cagey or unhelpful– BUT the data is not complete. February!! 

And lest we forget, applications aren’t showing up on campus anyway. All admitted students aren’t coming either (at least they better not or we are going to have some seriously long lines at Chick Fila and Starbucks). Not even all of the students who deposit are going to actually enroll by the time the fall semester starts.  

So listen, I know you need to report to your board or write your article or create some data visualization for your website, but can you just check back on all of this in April…or better yet July?  

WTAF! (Wait ’til After February!)  

A few years ago, I wrote a blog entitled College Admission- What the Funnel?! IF you are a junior or sophomore, you can check that out for a more exhaustive look at each stage of the admission process, as well as some suggested questions to ask as a prospective student. 

IF you are a senior, I’m guessing you may be equally annoyed right about now. Unless you were admitted under an Early Decision binding agreement, you are also mid-cycle. You likely have an admit or three already, but you are still waiting on a few others. Or you are excited about one of the places you have been admitted to BUT need to see your financial package before making a final decision.  

Yes, it’s frustrating when people casually ask you where you are going next year, and you don’t have an answer. 

Yes, a few of those friends who got in ED and seem so set and carefree about their college choice are moderately annoying.  

Yes, waiting in general = not fun. 

No, you haven’t “done this wrong.”     

No, I don’t recommend you call the colleges you are waiting on and ask them if they can speed it up.  


Since this is your one and only admission experience- and I get “Newmaned” on an annual basis, here are three lessons I have learned over the years to help weather the mid-cycle.  

  1. Answers are coming. I don’t have a remote control to fast forward through this time, so I need to remain confident that the picture (and the weather) will clear up soon. Same for you, my friends. The truth is we end up living a lot of our lives in these periods. Waiting for medical test results, trying to buy or sell a house, wondering when the next job opportunity or romantic relationship is going to come along. I’m not saying it is easy- but I am saying that honing quiet confidence in yourself and practicing contentment amidst uncertainty will serve you well for your college career, and life well beyond it too.  

2. Look around. Instead of constantly looking ahead, look around. February is a challenging month (see the litany of aforementioned reasons in paragraph 1). I need to take care of the people around me by encouraging them and staying positive and optimistic. My hope is you will not lose sight of the fact that this is your one and only senior year. Enjoy. Don’t take for granted the friends, family, coaches, teachers, and others who support and surround you now who will not be as physically present wherever you go to college in the fall. It is February for them too. No matter how well they fake it, they could use an encouraging word or text, a hug, fist bump, high five, or a simple thank you.  

3. Keep/Seek perspective. Escape into a book, go for a hike, call your grandma. Whatever it takes to prioritize perspective. Sometimes I just look at the bottom tip of the admission funnel. The number of apps, admit rate, decision release date – all of that is distraction. My team’s goals are geared toward enrolling a new class that will contribute and be successful on campus. My hope is you won’t lose sight of the long game either. This fall “where you got in” will be a brief mention in a passing conversation, rather than a bragging point. “Where you didn’t get in” or chose not to go will accompany a shoulder shrug or a casual laugh or perhaps a “their loss.” How you show up to college (I.e., prepared academically, mentally and physically healthy, and demonstrating that confidence and contentment we just discussed) is far more important than where you end up going.   


Author: Rick Clark

Rick Clark is the Executive Director of Strategic Student Access 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