College Admission Word Association

Listen to “College Word Association – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

“It’s 7:20! Why are you still asleep?!” I say flipping on the lights and opening the blinds.

“My alarm didn’t go off,” mumbled my daughter from under three sheets and four stuffed animals.

“What?! I can see your clock says, ‘snooze!’”

Stuffed Animals

“I didn’t do that…”

“Whatever! Now you aren’t just lying in bed. You’re just straight up lying. You’re sleeping outside tonight, and the sun can be your alarm. Get up!” (You know. The way you talk to a child.)

I’m not saying I am proud of the threat to sleep outside, but I thought the lying pun was pretty good.

Word Association 

You, on the other hand, are not 10. And unless you are a ridiculous multi-tasker, you are not asleep. You are a high school student thinking about college, so don’t hit snooze here. Instead, flip on the lights, open the blinds, and let’s play a quick word association game.

(Do not skip this or skim down the page.) Write down, voice record, or type out the first three to five words or phrases that come to mind when you read or hear the word “college.” 

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

Now (again, no skimming, skipping, or snoozing), ask one or two people you know who are either in college or who have graduated from college to give you five words and write those down.

OK. I’m going to trust you to stop reading here and complete the assignment.  Come back when you have your answers and those from the folks you talked to.

—————————

And We are back…

What did you get?

Having asked this question around the country in various cities and school communities, particularly when parents are in the room, the responses are usually extremely hopeful, relational, open, and life-giving. I see a lot of smiles and hear answers centering around friends, fun, travel, sports, and learning. 

Ok. Now I want you to write down or think quickly about the first three to five words or phrases that come to mind when you read or hear the words “college admission.”

1-

2-

3-

4-

5-

How do your answers compare?

The students and families I’ve spoken with typically come up with words like tests, stress, tuition, pressure, and deadlines.

Boo!! Who popped the balloon?! What happened to the fun, friends, growth, learning, freedom, and opportunity of college itself? My challenge to you (especially if you are a junior or sophomore just really starting to think about college) is to keep your answers as closely connected as possible. Here is how.

Change One Word.   

Traditionally, when journalists and college reps talk about admission, they describe it as a process. I want to push back on that concept. Take a minute and search Google Images for the word “process.” (Yes. I seriously want you to take out your phone and do this.)

So, what did you find?

Probably a lot of flow charts, cogs grinding together, and mechanical, sterile, linear graphics. Notice that almost none of them include other people– unless there is some lonely dude in a lab coat closely examining some colored liquid in a test tube.

If you think of all of this as a process, you begin to believe there is a specific and right way to go about it. Your mindset becomes linear or binary or zero sum. Process tightens you up and restricts you to a narrow path that you feel like you must follow perfectly in order to avoid disaster.

Process dictates each piece must fit perfectly and flow precisely from one thing to the next. And then life happens. You make a B+ instead of an A in that history class sophomore year; you don’t get elected president of the French Club; you tear your ACL and can’t play soccer on the travel team; the research project gets canceled; or I don’t know, let’s pick something arbitrary… say a global pandemic.

If this is a process, then you absolutely should or should not “do this the way your older sister did.” Process is filled with don’ts. Process is a tightrope. Process means if you miss a certain ingredient the recipe is a bust. There is absolutely no room for risk, variance, or divergence.

Now take a minute to search Google Images for “experiences.”

The College Admission Experience

What do you find? And how does it compare to “process?”

These images are more open, fluid, and relational. In these pictures you find people looking out over high places considering their options. They have vision, variety, perspective, and freedom. The people in these pictures are not trying to control each and every moment. In fact, they seem to be excited about the unknown as opportunity to explore, learn, and discover. There is no forgone conclusion, precise end result, perfect formula, or exact combination.

Experiences images are filled with boats in the water or bikes on the trail. Experiences facilitate relationships, inspire dreams, and account for a breadth of decisions, routes, choices, results, and destinations. It sure sounds like we are back to where we started with the answers to association with college.

The truth is that done well the college experience and the college admission experience should be more similar than different. Whether you are a junior, sophomore, or a parent supporting a high school student considering college, my hope is that you take time regularly to pause and check in to see if your five words associated with college and college admission are aligned or divergent. If stress, tests, control, and pressure creep in too much, it is a good sign you need to recalibrate and regain perspective.

How to do that? Might I suggest sleeping outside!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!   

What does being admitted mean?

This is the final blog in our three-part series looking at different admission decisions. Check out part 1 (what it does and does not mean to be deferred) and part 2 (how to handle and move forward after being denied) for more details.  

“You are in! Congratulations! Welcome!”

In the last few weeks, thousands and thousands of students have received letters, emails, or portal notifications with these words. Fireworks, falling confetti, gifs with mascots dancing (if you got one with fireworks dancing or mascots on fire, please contact the admission office immediately!). Being offered admission is a little bit easier to understand than being deferred or denied, but there is good reason the letter you received is more than one sentence. So, let’s dive into what it does and does not mean, as well as what you should do and avoid doing after being admitted. (Note: This week I’m pushing my predictions about offers of admission during Covid-19 to the end, so stay tuned!).

What does being admitted mean?  

It means “Yes! You are in! Congratulations! Welcome!” (Cue the music!)

Being admitted means the college recognizes and celebrates your academic ability and preparation, as well as your potential to contribute outside the classroom on their campus. Additionally, it means your writing, interviews, recommendations, or other supporting materials were in line with their mission and goals as an institution. This is what is commonly referred to as match or fit.

It means you have an option, a choice, a possible place to continue your education and pursue your long-term goals. This is a big deal! Congratulations!

What should you do?  

I know this is not really a 2020 thing to do, but you should CELEBRATE! You. Got. In! So regardless of whether you are convinced you are going to that college or not– celebrate. Order out from your favorite restaurant or treat yourself to something you’ve been wanting (we should all buy ourselves at least one thing around the holidays anyway, right?). You do you.

The bottom line is we are all too quick to move on to the next thing in life. You should sit with your success for just a moment.  Consider the hard work you have put in to have this choice. Then thank the people in your life who have made this possible. Family members, coaches, teachers, and so on. Send them a text, write them a note, or bring them a gift. Celebrating is always better in community- thank yours!

Attend admitted student sessions.  In the weeks and months ahead, that college is going to host a number of online or in-person sessions, tours, or virtual programs specifically for admitted students. Register for these. This is a great opportunity to hear from current students, faculty, or alumni about their experience in that community. Invaluable information.

Meet financial aid deadlines. If you were admitted through an ED plan, this will look a bit different. Likely you have a deposit deadline to meet soon and they will be sending you plenty… plenty of information and reminders here.

If you were admitted through a non-binding plan, make sure to submit your FAFSA and any other required financial aid documents as soon as possible. Financial aid is all about deadlines. Check out more on our recent podcast.

What does being admitted NOT mean?  

It does not mean you are smarter, cooler, or a better person than someone in your class, team, or neighborhood who did not get in. I’m not saying you’re not awesome, and the college who offered you admission clearly communicated that in words and graphics. Soon they will be reiterating that message in every medium known to man (phone calls, emails, letters, texts, and potentially owls, too).

But let’s be honest: it could have gone the other way for you, too. As we’ve covered, holistic admission is unpredictable. Again, some crazy qualified and talented students did not get in. They are disappointed and hurting. So, act like you’ve been there before.

It’s okay to post your excitement on social media, but a little humility goes a long way. There is a big difference between: “Got into UVA! Hoo didn’t think I’d get in.” vs. “Accepted to Colorado College. Excited and humbled.”  Whether it be online or in person, keep it classy, my friend.

What should you AVOID doing? 

Do not blow off any offer of admission as being a little thing. Too often we hear students say, “Yeah, I got it, but it’s just the University of X.” C’mon, man. What kind of logic is that? You are the one who applied there! Be thankful that you have an option! In my opinion, that is the entire goal of the college admission experience.

Avoid slacking off in classes or making drastic changes to your spring schedule now that you have been admitted. Go back and read the second or third section of that letter. Inevitably, it discusses how they will be reviewing your final fall and spring grades. They likely discuss their right to revoke admission if you do not continue the academic pattern you set over the last few years, and on which they based their decision to admit you.

If you are going to make changes to your spring schedule, especially if those move away from and not toward additional or equivalent rigor, you should contact the college before spring semester begins.

Want to read more about being offered admission? Read on. And on.

Prediction:  In general, there will be more offers of admission going out in the fall, spring, and summer this year for a few reasons. First, I expect many colleges stay flat or lose applications compared to last year. We are already seeing this in Common App data, and some schools who were up in EA/ED are seeing their gap close as the RD deadline approaches. More EA and ED admits means more closed apps earlier in the cycle, and thus more spots freed up (in other words, look for an increase in admit rate).

Recent National Clearinghouse data supports what many feared: fewer students both started (-4.4%) and returned to college this year (-13%). As a result, many colleges will be looking for ways to build back enrollment. Some will turn the transfer lever harder, but many will seek to grow their first-year class size. Again, more admits.

So, whether you have recently been admitted or you are still waiting on decisions, the good news is colleges need students! Whether you are currently sitting on an admit or waiting to hear back, I have full confidence one is coming your way. Covid has been rough on the class of 2020 and 2021. This is a bright spot. Get fired up!

What does being denied mean?

This is part 2 of a 3-part series looking at different admission decisions: what they do and do not, mean; what you should you do and avoid doing in their wake; and what, if anything, is different this year due to Covid-19.  

While nobody loves being told maybe (as discussed last week with deferrals), I think we can all agree that a straight “no” is even harder. 

Bad news: that is where we are going today. Good news: I have as much experience hearing “no” as I do saying it. I was denied admission as a high school student; again by a few graduate schools; and in more recent years for jobs at other colleges. I may not hold the record on university denial letters, but I could make a run at the title.  

Whether you have recently received a deny, or you are waiting on an admission decision to come in the next few days or weeks, the tips and advice below come from lived (and deeply felt) experience.   

Denied Admission 

Prediction: In contrast to last week’s prognostication about more defers (and likely waitlist offers) across the board, I think denies will be like the relationship of a couple in a romantic comedy or the stock market during this pandemic—up and down… not always in that order.   

While overall I do think the percentage denied by most colleges in early rounds will go down (see this blog for rationale), some of  the colleges releasing decisions around this time of year are currently reporting bigger applicant pools. If the college you applied to is not increasing its class size, even if they both admit and defer more students, the raw number of denies could essentially be flat or even increase. 

In other words, still a lot of dream killing and tears in December.

What does being denied admission mean?   

It means “no.” Band-aid off, short letter, 86, time to move on. Some of you may not have needed all of those examples, but as a talented student and likely a really great person in general, I am guessing this is neither a word nor a concept you’ve experienced often.   

Being denied admission means that based on supply and demand, institutional priorities, or some combination of the two, they are unable to offer you admission. It means that even if you cheer for their team each season or just overpaid for a hoodie from their online bookstore or have eight family members who attended, they have closed the door.  

While I do not love being the one to put it so abruptly, I’ve seen some admission letters take three paragraphs to say “No” and others leaving you wondering if that is really what they said at all. Hint: If they don’t say “Congratulations!” in the first word or sentence, it’s likely a “No.” I’m not going to do you like that. Trust me- we have to start quick and rough in order to provide perspective and move on. 

What should you do?   

Scream, cry, beat your pillow, cook, or eat a lot of something. Whatever it takes to begin clearing your head. We all have different responses and emotions surrounding notifications of finality. And since I feel like we have already gone there at this point, I might as well be the one to tell you this is not the last time you’ll encounter these kinds of disappointments.  

One thing you need to hear, and maybe repeat back to yourself in the days and weeks after being denied, is that however you are feeling is both reasonable and understandable. Mad? Sad? Frustrated? Disappointed? I get it.   

What brings you joy or clears your headDo those things. Go for a long drive, watch a funny movie, or eat a gallon of ice cream. What brings you perspective? Who totally gets you or can make you laugh or feel like the only person in the room? Be intentional about being in those spaces and with those people right now. 

Then you should start to move forward. Take some time to look at some of the college brochures laying around your room. Check your email from the last week and be reminded that you have lots of options and lots of choices.  

You are likely going to need to submit another application or two. If you’ve already got this covered, that’s great. If not, then good news—many great schools have deadlines in January. Look for colleges that interest you who have higher admit rates and lower academic profiles than the one(s) that denied you. 

What does being denied admission NOT mean?   

Being denied, especially from a selective institution (i.e. a lot of them releasing decisions right now) does not mean you are not smart, talented, capable, bound for future success, or a good person. These decisions are not perfect or perfectly fair.  

Being denied does not mean your effort to this point has all been in vain; that you did something wrong in your application; or that if you had either sent or not sent test scores the result would have been different. 

Do not second guess yourself—a denial from a college(s) does not mean that you are not going to get into the other schools to which you applied (an actual question/comment from my neighbor’s daughter last week).  

What should you AVOID doing?  

Do not look backward. Please do not accuse Mr. Wilson of writing you a crappy recommendation letter; tell Mrs. Jenks that if she had just bumped your 9th grade Geography grade from an 89 to a 93 (especially after turning in your amazing extra credit project on the “Primary Tributaries of the Mississippi River”) you would have been admitted; or question if you should have joined the Spanish club as a sophomore.  

Do not conflate or confuse the message. Please do not convince yourself the school that denied you was the only school where you could be happy (note: this is also true of relationships, jobs, etc. for the future). In my opinion, the terms “dream school” and “top choice” should be banned. 4,000 schools in the country. You may not feel okay right now, but you are going to be.  

Do not go for a long drive, watch a funny movie, and eat a gallon of ice cream simultaneously (just wanted to be sure you caught that “or” from earlier and did not think I was suggesting combining those).   

Please keep perspective. Do not send an expletive laced email rant to the college’s admission counselor cc’ing the President, Provost, multiple congressional representatives, and the entire Board. As I said earlier, this is all based in lived experience. In fact, we had one a few years ago that also copied—wait for it— our Governor, as well as the President and Vice President of the United States. (For those scoring at home I kept that one.)

Do not burn articles of clothing with that college’s logo. Instead, take a breath, do some good, and locate your closest Goodwill.   

Over the years I’ve written extensively about my own personal re-routes, as well as the experiences of students, family, and friends in hopes of providing solace when something you hope for doesn’t go as planned:

Please hear me say again: however you are feeling right now (or in the days and week after receiving a denial) is both reasonable and understandable.

What you need to avoid is sitting in that particular emotion for too long. Do not get stuck; do not stay down. understand if you do not want to hear or believe this right nowbut I can say with absolute confidence through repeatedly lived experience,  It Works Out.  

I’ll see you on The Other Side. 

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What does being deferred mean?  

Listen to “Episode 27: What Does Being Deferred Really Mean? – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Recently we modified the final portion of our podcast to field listener questions from Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit. If you have something you want us to tackle, feel free to tag @gtadmission.

A few recent inquiries surrounded how to prepare for the various admission decisions that will be coming out from colleges and universities in the next few weeks, and how/if we think anything will be different this year due to the pandemic.

Since we know you are busy with classes and your time is limited right now, we will hit the highlights of each possible EA/ED decision (deferred, denied, admitted) over the next few weeks and put a few podcasts out on these topics as well.

Deferred

Prediction: I think more students will be deferred this year by selective schools than they have in the past. Keep in mind enrollment managers are doing exactly what their job title says: managing enrollment (you come here for the deep stuff, I know).

Colleges are closely, and quite nervously, watching their spring enrollment numbers. What will retention look like if students were disappointed with their fall experience on campus, online, or in some hybrid delivery mode? If they take an additional financial hit, they will likely be looking to build an even bigger first-year class for the summer or fall of 2021.

Additionally, they have lots of questions about how to predict this year’s admitted student behavior:

  • Will yield go down as a result of test score optional policies?
  • Will international students be able to receive visas at pre-pandemic rates?
  • Will the financial fallout of Covid-19 deteriorate yield of domestic students?

All of this means they will likely defer a higher percentage of early applicants in order to wait and see what they can learn about vaccines, infection rates, economic recovery… you know, little stuff like that.

What does being deferred mean?  

It means maybe, hold onwe’re not surewe’d like to see more. Better than No? Yes. Ideal? Nope.

Being deferred means you have more waiting to do, and that is not easy or fun. This year more than ever before, though, I want to urge you to finish the drill. More defers does not necessarily mean more admits in the spring, but in many cases I think it will. And that is likely true from the waitlist too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  

You are likely going to need to submit another application or two. If you’ve already got this covered, that’s great. If not, then good news—many great schools have deadlines in January. Look for colleges that interest you who have higher admit rates and lower academic profiles than the one(s) that deferred you.

What should you do?  

First, read the letter, subsequent emails, and portal instructions closely. Then do what they say.

You are going to have some more work to do. Inevitably, you will need to send in fall grades, so finish this semester strong. Colleges that defer you will want to see how you’ve done in a challenging senior schedule (especially an abnormal junior spring term), or if your upward grade trend will continue, or how you are adjusting based on responsibilities outside the classroom. You may need to write an additional essay, have an online interview, or complete a form indicating continued interest or discussing updates on your fall activities.

What does being deferred NOT mean?  

It does not mean they are questioning your ability, talent, intelligence or potential match for their school. I understand we all desire instant gratification, but don’t miss the fact that the admission process can teach you some lifelong lessons (for example, some things are worth waiting for; some things do not happen your first time out; sometimes getting put on hold gives you a chance to reflect).

While both words start with “De,” being deferred does not mean you are denied. If a school did not think you were competitive or a good fit, they would have denied you. This sounds harsh but it’s true. Disappointed? Understood. 2020 has been a clinic in disappointment, so I feel you. But 2020 has also reminded us about patience, seeing the positives, and keeping perspective. You got this.

What should you AVOID doing? 

Please do not take being deferred as code for “try harder” by sending 18 additional letters of recommendation, stalking admission counselors on social media, going to see a fortune teller, or getting a tattoo of four-leaf clovers + college logo on your back.

In my opinion, particularly based on the enrollment uncertainty I described above, you should not write off a school you have strong interest in at this point in the cycle. Hold on, send us some stuff, tell us more– you can do that. Unless you have gotten into another college that is a better match for you, then I strongly encourage you to see this through.

Want to know more about being deferred? Read on. And on. And on.

Next week we will delve into what it means to be denied admission.