The College Application is NOT a Form. It’s YOUR STORY!

Over the years, I have tried to shine a light on what people often misunderstand in the college admission experience. This has ranged from explorations of waitlists to examinations of deadlines to explications of supply and demand and institutional missions. (I’m sure if I thought hard enough I could come up with other verbs starting with ex and how admission issues are connected.)

Recently, I have also come to appreciate the massive disconnect between how students approach and complete the application and how it is actually read in admission offices.

Students see the application as a form. And I get that because it starts the same way most forms begin- asking for biographic information like name, address, family details, date of birth, etc. It also looks a lot like other forms they have seen in high school— job or driver’s license applications, sport and club registrations, and so on.

Report your test scores, tell us which high school you attend, etc. It’s definitely form-y. Even after the standard details, college applications include sections with lots of lines and boxes that ask you to provide details about what you have done outside the classroom. These are extremely prescriptive in their character counts and instructions. Form-ish for sure. On the Common Application, which I’m guessing if you are a senior you are using for at least a few of the schools you are considering, you need to quantify exactly how many hours a week and weeks per year that you have worked, played sports, volunteered, etc.

So, yea, when you log into an online platform and begin entering and saving information, this all seems like a standard and basic form. But the truth is that at schools using holistic review where essays and supplemental responses are required, once you hit submit, the person on the other side is not “reviewing” your form. They are reading YOUR STORY.

Think about it. Colleges post jobs for “application readers.” There are videos about reading season. And you’ll inevitably receive email bounce backs from schools in the winter that basically say, “Yea. Not going to reply anytime soon— I’m READING.”

If you view the application as a story, it will change the entire way you approach applying to college. And it will greatly reduce some of the stress you feel along the way. Win-Win.

Telling a story is an opportunity. Completing a form is a task. When you login to your applications this fall, I’m hopeful you will think about conveying rather than completing. You are not “working” on your application, which is what most students say. Instead, you are simply telling your story. Poll 100 people and ask them to list the Top 10 things they do for fun. “Complete forms”—not on the list. Telling, reading, watching stories, however. Different…well…story. Similarly, when you finish, you are not “submitting.” Forms get submitted. Sending in your story, on the other hand, is exciting. It is something you can and should take pride in. And if you will let it, it may even be the F word– FUN.

Stories are read. Forms are processed. Holistic admission is human. People with their own kids, hopes, worries, DNA, Instagram, and food preferences read your application. If you think of your application as a story, it changes how you approach this. Think about it. Nobody buys and opens a book hoping it sucks. Nobody pays $17 to go to a movie and another $24 for popcorn, candy, and a coke in anticipation of a boring or lackluster experience. Instead, as people, we always start with the desire to see something good. So that is your job on the application. That is your job with your story. Tell them what is interesting about you. Give them a full sense of your character- what interests you, what excites you, what do you hope for, and how have you arrived at this point. The same way authors and directors create compelling characters in their movies, novels, or video games.

If you look at your application this way, it will help you know where to start on your Activities section. It will help you figure out what you WANT to write about in your essay. Not what you SHOULD or what they want to hear, but what you genuinely NEED them to know about you as a fully developed character, aka applicant.

Stories are fully reviewed before publishing. We just published a book on college admission, so I can tell you that typing the last word or page does not mean you are done. Instead, there are multiple phases of review. In the editing process, we had to go back over each chapter, each piece of data, and each table, figure, and image to confirm, check, and verify. We also had an outside editor read over the entire book to provide insight and feedback.

In my experience, students are apt to have a parent, counselor, coach, teacher, or another trusted adult or friend read their essays and perhaps their supplemental responses. In other words, they do ask for feedback on what they have written. BUT most students do not have anyone read the way admission readers do- from beginning to end. So, before you hit enter and send up your prayers for stable technology and a kind soul on the other side of the interwebs, have at least one other human read your entire application from beginning to end.

Ask them to write down what they think you have left out. Have you undersold something you’ve been investing in at home, school, or in your community? Give them the chance to relay how your story reads and if there is any opportunity they see to provide more context, information, or insight into who you are, what you have accomplished, and how you would likely contribute and enhance a college campus.

Peace

One of the reasons students struggle to ultimately send in their applications is because they know that letting go means signing up for weeks or even months of uncertainty. I’ve been there friends, so I get it. Not easy. However, my hope is that changing your perspective from completing and submitting a form to sharing your story will help. Ultimately, when you are sitting in class or driving home from school wondering what is happening in some distant office or committee room, you will not dread the review of your form, but instead be excited for someone to read your authentic and unique story. (Trust me- I try to think this way every time I post one of these blogs.)

Ultimately, you can’t control if a school you apply to gets 4000 more apps this year and their admit rate drops as a result. You cannot control if a college decides that they are going to reduce the number of students they admit and enroll from your state or in your major this year. But you can control how you tell your story; think like an admission reader; review and seek feedback on your entire application; and choose peace and confidence.

TELL YOUR STORY. AND ENJOY DOING IT!

What is Success in College Admission and YOUR Senior Year?

In my office, I have a lots of paintings from my daughter, a few awards, diplomas, and certificates, as well as a number of books, pictures, and admittedly some random other décor I’ve picked up along the way. Most of the time, since I am in there so frequently, I don’t really stop and pay attention to most of them.    

But there are four pieces that I intentionally look at and consider regularly, because of how they impact and inform my work.   

The first is on the window sill behind my desk and is entitled “The Man in the Arena” from Teddy Roosevelt. 

This is my regular reminder that people- both on and off campus- are inevitably going to oppose and disagree with my decisions, priorities, and leadership (or blog topics/opinions), and that I am going to make mistakes. But at the end of the day, I am the one doing the work and it’s important to keep the weight of their voices in check. Effectively, this is the early 1900s version of “haters gonna hate.”   

The second was given to me by a colleague, because it is one I can recite verbatim and have shared in staff meetings over the years. Often attributed to Emerson, it is entitled: “What is Success?”

As you can imagine, much of my work and goals are quantifiable. We have a target overall class size each year. We are attempting to increase our yield rate (percentage of students who say YES to our offer of admission), enroll more Georgians from more of our 159 counties, increase our number and percentage of first-generation and Pell eligible students, and so on. Numbers matter. They matter a lot. But I keep this quote on my desk because it reminds me to keep a big picture view and perspective on my job and life.   

Another is right next to my computer screen so that I see it multiple times each day. It is a simple board with just four words: Humble, Available, Honest, Clear 

Ultimately, a big part of my success is the success of others. My role is to create a vision and set direction for my team. If I can empower them, I am confident they have the skills and talent to help us reach the metrics and numbers we are expected to deliver. These words help me stay focused and grounded on how I should conduct myself and approach my work. 

And finally, I have picture from the North Georgia mountains with the first verse of Psalm 121.

I lift my eyes up to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Again, perspective and big picture vision. I am very cognizant of the fact that my time, my energy, and my knowledge are finite. This image and message help me on a weekly basis to remember that my identity, hope- and ultimately my success- is not all about quantitative results or outcomes. 

Intentions for Senior Year and College Admission

If you are a senior in high school applying to college right now, I wonder if you have considered what success looks like for you this year. How are you going to maintain perspective, especially when you cannot control all outcomes or when things don’t go as you had hoped or planned they would? What do you want your senior year to look like academically, relationally, socially, and beyond? If you have not taken time to pause, reflect, and consider these questions, I’m encouraging you to do so before you finalize your essay or submit your apps.   

When this spring rolls around, how will you measure success? I know it’s uncommon to use paper and pen, but I am challenging you to actually do that. Put away your phone and write this down.   

Whether it is a paragraph, a few sentences, bullet points, or even a letter to yourself, articulate how you hope your senior year will go and how you want to feel about your college admission experience in April of 2024.  

I know you don’t read this blog for more homework, but I think you will find this helpful to revisit periodically, particularly when you are about to submit applications, you are waiting on decisions, notifications from colleges arrive, and when you ultimately are making your final choice.  

Pause, Reflect, Consider, and Revisit

After watching this cycle of college admission repeat itself for over two decades, I hope you will take a broad view of success, seek perspective, gain identity from character built not results achieved. 

In the year ahead, where will your hope, strength, confidence, and identity come from? 

Does not getting into your first choice, or even one of your top three schools, change anything about who you are or your belief in your future and potential?   

Should you even have a “first choice” or a “top school” in mind?

How will you celebrate your friends and classmates, particularly when you are dealing with uncertainty or disappointment?  

What are your goals this year for how you will impact and influence your team, co-workers, classmates, family, or friends- particularly knowing you will likely not be with them physically a year from now?  

Regardless of college outcomes, what is your plan for thanking, celebrating, or honoring those who have provided opportunities for you and helped you to this point?

College admission generally includes a lot of waiting- on decisions, on financial aid and scholarships, on your housing assignment, and on your class schedule. While you are in inevitable periods of limbo, how will you view yourself, treat others, and focus your mind and time? 

How will you communicate with your parents this year about tough topics like money, deadlines, or the minutia of completing forms and other logistics? 

How will you conduct yourself on social media?  

I believe the college admission experience is an opportunity to prepare for college and life well beyond. Ultimately, we wake up each day with a choice about how we show up. We get to determine what drives us, what gives us peace, where our identity comes from, and how we treat those around us. 

When you are sitting at graduation this spring, regardless of where you may be going to college next fall, what is success? It’s an important question. Your answer matters. Take five minutes now. Yes, seriously. I want you to do that now. Check in periodically along the way to see how you are doing- and revise as necessary.

Spoiler Alert

If you are reading this blog, you are going to “get in” to college- likely multiple, in fact. So, a year from now you’ll be waking up in a bed somewhere and putting your feet down on the floor. You’ll walk to the mirror and stare into it. My hope is you will be more proud of the person looking back at you than the name of the college on your shirt. How will you ensure that is the case? I look forward to hearing some of your answers and experiences this year. 

Seniors, Can We ChatGPT?

Last week I wrote a piece for rising juniors about how they could consider using generative AI platforms such as ChatGPT and others in order to assist in their college search. The takeaway is that these tools are helpful for brainstorming, iterating, and sparking thought and reactions, which is essentially what the college search, application, and selection process should be.   

The responses I received via email and direct message were… mixed.  

A few were extremely appreciative– another good resource and a helpful way to open students’ minds to choices and options.  

Others were- let’s just say- less appreciative. Everything from references to an “unchecked Pandora’s Box” to some straight up vitriol. Welcome to the world of blogs and social media.  

Undeterred, this one is for high school seniors.

Here is what we know 

  1. The Common Application does not have a policy for students on using Artificial Intelligence. In fact, if you enter “AI” into their platform’s search, only a list of colleges come up: American International College, College of St. Scholastica, The Citadel, Colby College, Lawrence University. FYI- that’s a very different list than the same prompt on ChatGPT, which again points to the concept of using a variety of sources and resources in your college search, application, and selection process. 
  2. Colleges are unlikely to have uniform policies on the use of AI that cuts across their entire student body. They’ll largely leave guidance and appropriate use to individual professors and courses.  
  3. Most admission offices have not published guidance for applicants or provided public information on how AI should or should not be incorporated as you work on applications, or supplemental questions, etc.  
  4. Most high school students are using AI to some extent for personal or academic purposes.  
  5. Colleges want applications that are full of details, specifics, and insight into who you are, how you think, what you have learned, and what you care about.  

So, in hopes of bridging the void and advancing the conversation, as well as giving students, counselors, parents, and school communities (on the K-12 and higher ed side) something to react and respond to (one of AIs biggest value adds), we consulted with experts on campus- specifically Dr. David Joyner in our College of Computing- in order to develop this framework- Georgia Tech’s applicant AI guidance.  

Tools like ChatGPT, Bard and other AI-based assistance programs are powerful and valuable tools. We believe there is a place for them in helping you generate ideas, but your ultimate submission should be your own. As with all other sources, you should not copy and paste content you did not create directly into your application. Instead, if you choose to utilize AI-based assistance while working on your writing submissions for Georgia Tech, we encourage you to take the same approach you would when collaborating with people. Use it to brainstorm, edit, and refine your ideas. AI can also be a useful tool as you consider how to construct your resume in the Activities portion of the Common Application. We think AI could be a helpful collaborator, particularly when you do not have access to other assistance to help you complete your application. 

 The Activities Section. (Hat tip to my colleague Mary Tipton Woolley for her experimentation with this portion.)  

At Georgia Tech, we call this Contribution to Community. We are looking for students to demonstrated “The Three I’s”- Involvement, Impact, and Influence. We talk about this in info sessions, write about it on this blog, and even include guidance and insight, including videos on our website. Still, sometimes students struggle to think through what they’ve done and how to describe that in the boxes provided on college applications.  

Here was my prompt: can you help me put my work at Subway into the extracurricular activities into the common application  

ChatGPT response:

Absolutely! Including your work experience at Subway in the extracurricular activities section of the Common Application is a great way to showcase your skills, responsibilities, and dedication. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it: 

  • Title and Description: Start by giving your extracurricular activity a title. For example, you can write “Subway Employment” or “Subway Crew Member.” Be clear and concise. Then, write a brief description of your role and responsibilities at Subway. Highlight your key achievements and contributions. 
  • Organization Name: Mention “Subway” as the organization name. 
  • Position/Role: You can list your position or role, such as “Crew Member” or any other relevant title. 
  • Time Commitment: Specify the duration of your employment at Subway. Mention the start date and, if applicable, the end date. If you are still working there, you can write “Ongoing” or “Present.” 
  • Hours per Week: Mention the average number of hours you worked per week at Subway. This gives colleges an idea of your time management skills. 
  • Key Responsibilities: List some of your main responsibilities and tasks at Subway. Highlight skills and qualities you developed while working there. For example: 
  • Provided excellent customer service and ensured customer satisfaction. 
  • Prepared and served food items according to Subway’s standards. 
  • Operated the cash register and handled financial transactions. 
  • Maintained cleanliness and sanitation of the store. 
  • Collaborated with the team to achieve daily sales targets. 
  • Achievements: If you received any awards or recognition during your time at Subway, be sure to mention them. For example, if you were recognized as the “Employee of the Month” or received positive feedback from customers or managers. 
  • Personal Growth: Reflect on how your experience at Subway contributed to your personal growth. Did you develop communication skills, learn to work in a fast-paced environment, or improve your problem-solving abilities? Colleges value personal growth and development. 
  • Skills Gained: Highlight the skills you gained or improved through this experience. These could include customer service, teamwork, time management, responsibility, or any other relevant skills. 
  • Impact and Learning: Explain how your work at Subway influenced your academic or career goals, and what valuable lessons you learned from this experience.

And then it closed with: Remember to be honest and authentic while describing your experience at Subway. Admissions officers appreciate genuine experiences that showcase your growth and development. Including work experiences like this can demonstrate responsibility, time management, and the ability to balance academics with employment. Good luck with your application! 

 Well…thank you ChatGPT. I appreciate the integrity and encouragement!    

Perfect? Absolutely not. You are not going to have space, nor do you need to delve into “Personal Growth” or “Impact and Learning.” But the rest is helpful, accurate, and fairly thorough.  

You’ll also find these tools helpful if you are struggling to fit an activity into the boxes and character count on an application. Rephrasing, reformatting, iterating, and doing so within specific word parameters is a strength of ChatGPT. 

College Specific Supplements and Essays 

Here is our specific advice: 

In the same way you would not copy directly from any other source you may incorporate into the writing process, you should not copy and paste directly out of any AI platform or submit work that you did not originally create. Instead, approach and consider any interaction with an AI tool as a learning experience that may help you generate ideas, provide alternative phrasing options, and organize your thoughts. Ultimately, we want to read and hear your unique and valuable writing style. 

The truth is that getting started with anything is hard. Getting out the door to go to the gym or for a run, cleaning the house, or working on a project. Momentum is tough to create, and we all need help at times.  

Over the years, I have consistently heard students talk about the dreaded blinking cursor. The tyranny of the blank page. How do I get my thoughts out? How do I figure out what I want to write about or how to phrase things?

Some students have built in resources to help- parents, siblings, teachers, counselors, or other supporting adults around them who they can talk through their activities or essays with. Other students pay for that service and assistance.  

AI tools can complement those other resources and fill a void for students who may not have historically had these benefits. This is a good thing.  

What I AM saying 

ChatGPT can write an essay or supplemental response for you.   

Will it have any personal style, unique details, valuable specifics, or soul? No.  

Is copying, pasting, and submitting something you did not write ever a good idea? No.  

Could reading those before you go to sleep be a helpful substitute for melatonin? Yes. 

AND I am also saying that after reading the essay or supplemental prompts, it could be worth asking ChatGPT to generate a response that will help stimulate ideas and ways to improve and personalize your writing. Again, this is a tool, a collaboration, and a way to get started.   

What YOU can expect 

  1. Perfect grammar. These tools are built off ridiculous amounts of information. The grammar will be impeccable.
  2. Inaccuracies and generic writing. After reading what is produced, it will be very sanitized and relatively boring. It will lack specifics and it will not “sound like me.” Some of the content will simply not be accurate.  
  3. A need to revise. Re-enter the prompt adding in details and specifics. When, where, who, why?
  4. Head shaking. Wait… NO. That’s not what I meant. That’s not what happened. That’s not how I want to say it. And simultaneously, YES! That could be a good way to go, or I had not thought about putting it that way.
  5. MOMENTUM! Ok. Now you are rolling. Now your brain is working and you’re homing in on what YOU want to write about. You’ve seen the boring and impersonal way to write about your topic. Now it is time to open that Word document and take some of the lessons you’ve learned and write your own essay or supplemental response.   

As I said earlier, colleges want applications that are full of details, specifics, and insight into who you are, how you think, what you have learned, and what you care about. That’s a lot to ask. And it is a process of brainstorming, iterating, uncovering, discovering, ultimately submitting an application that tells your story. It’s a process. While AI does not make a good author, it can be a helpful stimulator, sounding board, collaborator, and momentum generator.   

Congratulations on your senior year and getting started with your college applications!     

 

Let’s Get A Few Things Straight (about College Admission)

There has been a lot of talk in the last few weeks about how much has changed in college admission.

Maybe….

But just like during and following the pandemic, much remains constant. So, let’s get a few things straight.

College Admission is Not Fair. I know some groups may claim to have brought this about with the proverbial wave of a wand or banging of a gavel, but the truth is that no system or process is (or ever will be) fair or perfect. Humans run processes. Humans are imperfect, flawed, and operate in a broken world.

Do not confuse quantitative measures with fairness. I remember when Georgia Tech operated on a purely formulaic basis. We recalculated GPAs so that everyone had a max GPA of 4.0. We did not consider the rigor of the high school, performance of past graduates, or a student’s grade trends. We considered Honors, Magnet, Gifted, AP, IB, Dual Enrollment to all be rigorous and each received an extra .5 bump- again with a max GPA of 4. We effectively “let out the slack” from the top until we had admitted the number of students we needed based on historic yield models.

I’m guessing many of you are already poking holes in how FUBAR this model is– and can likely channel some of the complaints and questions we’d get…

I have all APs and my classmate only took honors level. You’re weighting that the same?

But I had all As in a full IB diploma program and my “friend” only took general courses. Are you telling me that we both end up with a max 4.0?

I made a 1300 on one take with no outside help. My neighbor made a 1200 the first time and then after thousands of dollars in private tutoring ended up with a 1350. That’s going to be the difference? He’s got lower grades than me!!

At the time, I was not the director, but my name was on admission letters for students whose last name started with A-C.  As a result, even though I did not agree with how we were making decisions, I was left to defend them.

One of the most memorable cases was a girl in North Georgia who was the valedictorian of her high school. She had taken the toughest classes, made the highest grades, and accomplished all of this while juggling a 25-hour a week job at a local restaurant to help support her family. She was not admitted because her SAT score was 10 points below our threshold that year– 10 points. Meanwhile, we admitted three other kids from that school who had slightly lower grades, less rigorous courses, and less impact on their community, etc. Fair? Hell no. In fact, I can still remember talking to her mom on the phone and having to suppress my own frustration.

Over the years, we have continued to evolve our file review process to make it more contextual and holistic. Academically, we look closely at grade trends, course choice, rigor, high school history, etc. We do not draw hard lines on test scores and we use macro data to help understand student testing context.

And, of course, a great deal of time is spent in committee looking at a student’s involvement, impact, and influence. Still, I’d be the first to say that neither our process, nor any other college’s in the world, is perfectly fair– it’s not possible or designed to be. Instead it’s designed to be comprehensive and thorough, but fair….NO.

There has been a lot of talk lately about checkboxes on applications. Here is one you won’t see on an application but you need to mentally agree to:

“By submitting this application, I understand I may not agree with the decision I receive, the timeline on which I receive that information, or the rationale I get for why the decision was made.”

Mission Drives Admission. Think of your high school. It exists for a purpose. Maybe it’s a public school and is located to intentionally serve kids from your part of the city or county. Maybe you attend a private or religious school. Again, it was founded for a reason and is attempting to attract and enroll students and families centered on that mission. Companies, community centers, organizations… they all have a mission and are making decisions geared toward moving that forward.

As a public school, Georgia Tech’s goal is to enroll 60% of our undergraduates from our state. This means we prioritize Georgians in our entire process. We attend more recruiting events in Georgia than out of state; we set deadlines earlier for our residents, and inform GA applicants of their decisions ahead of non-residents. Tuition is much lower for Georgia kids and our admit rate is three to four times higher for Georgia students than it is for non-Peach staters.

In an attempt to enroll students from all across our state, we have programs like the Georgia Tech Scholars Program for valedictorians and salutatorians. Are there cases where the number three (or thirteen) student at one school is as strong as the salutatorian from another… and yet decisions vary? Yes. Is the average SAT/ACT from out of state/country higher than it is for Georgia students? Yes. Is mission driving admission? Y.E.S.

A college you apply to may be trying to grow a particular major. That is going to influence their admission decisions. Another school is looking to enroll more students (or less) from your region of the country or nation. That will have an impact.

The truth is you are not always going to know these things. What you do know that is institutional missions – not your particular test, GPA, number of APs, or selected essay topic- drives admission.

What does all of this mean for you? 

1- Apply to a balanced list of colleges. If your current college list only includes schools with admit rates under 20%, you need to re-think. Applying to more schools with single digit admit rates does not increase your odds of being admitted to one of them. That’s just not how it works.

2- Celebrate your wins. Every time you receive an offer of admission, you need to pause, celebrate, reflect on your hard work, and thank the people around you who’ve made that possible, i.e. friends, family, teachers, counselors, coaches, and so on. As always, hug your mama!

3- Control what you can control. Admission is not fair. And mission drives admission. You cannot control where you get in or how much money they offer you in financial aid. You can control how you receive and process admission decisions. These are not value judgments or predictions of future success. Don’t over index.

You can control how  you treat people around you. You cannot control the decisions made in admissions offices you’ll never enter, but you can control the decisions you make in the rooms you enter everyday– your living room, classroom, etc. I hope you’ll make that your mission. Fair?

 

 

Stay Curious

Early on in my time at Georgia Tech, a colleague received an email from a prospective student with a full signature line, including an inspirational quote at the bottom. I’m sure you have seen these before.

Typically, it looks something like this:

George P. Burdell
King of Georgia Tech
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

In most cases, you immediately recognize the quote (like the one above) or the person to whom it’s attributed. In my experience, Gandhi, MLK, Mother Teresa, or a dead politician or author are fairly common.

This particular situation had us curious because:

  • Most high school students don’t have signature lines.
  • Neither the quote nor the person to whom it was attributed were familiar.

So, we discussed, we debated, and we Googled. Finally, after extensive investigative research, we connected the dots. The mystery person who uttered these inspiring words was… the applicant’s dad—the different last name threw us off initially, but once we figured this out… it was on. For a good month, every internal email we sent included a quote from our own parents or close relatives.

“Don’t make me pull this car over.”

“Failing to plan means planning to fail.”

“This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

There were a few absolute gems. But it also led to some really personal conversations about our relationships with parents and some of the wise, interesting, and influential things they shared with us growing up.

Now, I’m not proposing you create a formal signature line for your emails during high school or walk around quoting your dad, but I do think this story is instructive. The truth is I cannot recall any of the other signature line quotes I’ve read over the years, but this one is emblazoned in my memory. Why? Because it was not familiar. And as a result, it led us to ask questions, research, and ultimately have enriching, bonding conversations.

A college search and selection process done right opens these doors for discovery and connection too. As a prospective student, my hope is you will stay curious, ask lots of questions, use your resources, and have open, honest conversations with the people around you about what you are learning.

In hopes of getting you started, here are a few accessible and available tools you may not have considered yet in your college search and selection experience.

College Scorecard– This site is hosted by the U.S. Department of Education. It is an increasingly valuable tool for searching for schools by academic program, size, cost, location, and other factors. It does a very good job providing details on price, median career earnings, graduation rates, and retention data, which often are tough to find on individual admission or university homepages. As you are researching where to visit or apply, the Scorecard comparison feature is helpful because it is easy to tailor based on a variety of factors. And it will give you data to consider or metrics to compare that you may not have previously encountered or factored. My hope is you will use this along the way, whether it be prior to visiting, applying, or deciding on a college.

ChatGPT– Based on their historically glacial rate of change and adaptation, I do not expect Common Application to include instructive language about the use of AI this year. So, there is no need to stare helplessly at a blinking cursor on the screen. One of generative AI’s greatest strengths is facilitating brainstorming and iteration.

There are seven prompts to choose from in the cycle ahead, so let’s assume you pick this one: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Include a few bullet points of your ideas and be sure to name specific people, places, situations, and perhaps a quote or two- and then ask the program to produce a response of 500 words.

Make notes of what is accurate and helpful? What does not resonate with you as specific enough or reflective of your voice and experience?

In the essay, admission reviewers want details and insight that is uniquely yours. If you are applying to a college that receives 35,000 applications and the essay responses are evenly divided, then five thousand other students are responding to the same prompt you choose. As my colleague Dr. David Joyner from Georgia Tech’s College of Computing said, “use your interaction with the AI assistant as a learning experience, then let your assignment reflect your improved understanding.”

Degree Choices.  Rankings get a lot of press and attention in the college admission conversation. However, in most cases, we do not dig into how these lists are formulated. Degree Choices provides a series of rankings lists based on region, academic program, return on investment metrics, etc. Even if you do not agree with the way they approach their rankings, at least it gets you thinking about what you do value. As I’ve said before, a good high school student becomes a good college applicant becomes a good college student. That starts with doing your homework, asking questions, re-thinking, and considering a variety of angles and sources.

The Common Data Set Initiative– For the data wonks among you- or for those who want to see information presented in a uniform manner from colleges. You can easily search for any institution’s CDS online. As an example, here is Georgia Tech’s. Particularly in the test optional world we are all attempting to navigate, the CDS can be helpful in understanding the number or percentage of test takers. CDS also highlights retention rates, financial aid distribution, and residency, ethnicity, and gender breakdowns, as well as size of classes, faculty degree attainment information, and more. Looking at multiple years of information in this format can point to trends or suggest institutional priorities. Again, taken alongside other tools and resources, examining Common Data Sets will inevitably generate questions for you to ask or additional topics to research when you visit campus and speak with students, faculty, or admission officers.

Pop Quiz

Did you wonder who George P. Burdell was in the example signature line? Did you follow the link to learn more? If so, you are well on your way with this whole curiosity and exploration adventure (If not, I’ve got you covered- here’s the link).

Rick Clark
AVP/Executive Director- Undergraduate Admission
“Stay Curious.”