Making the Most of Your Campus Visit: Part 1

This week Elyse Lawson, our Assistant Director in charge of campus visits, joins us as a guest blogger. Welcome, Elyse!

As May 1 approaches, students around the country will be deciding which college they will call their “home away from home.” One of the best ways to do that is by visiting campus and exploring the surrounding areas!

In Part 1 of this two-part series, we begin with a list of College Tour Do’s and Don’ts, to help you make the most of your visit at Georgia Tech!

To Make your Visit Enjoyable and Pain Free, DO:

  1. Register ahead of time: Our daily visits begin filling pretty quickly due to limited space capacity. To ensure that you have a spot, make sure you go online and register for your visit, as soon as possible.
  2. Allow for extra time to find parking and reach your destination: Make sure you do research and check out our parking and directions webpage. It will show you the different visitor parking options around campus.
  3. Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes: Our tour includes about 1.75 miles worth of walking so you will want to make sure you are comfortable during your tour. If you need any special accommodations please contact our office as soon as you register for your visit.
  4. Allow enough time to soak in everything campus has to offer: Our info session is about an hour long and the tour can take up to an hour and half. Please plan to be on campus for at least 2-1/2 hours when you come to visit.
  5. Ask Questions: Parents, try and encourage your students to think about questions beforehand. It is important to ask questions that will allow you to get a true sense of what the student experience will be like.
  6. Inform your Tour Guide if you have another campus tour or meeting scheduled that day: Our tour guides want to be as helpful as possible! If you have another meeting scheduled at the end of your tour or need to leave a bit early, let them know!

Avoid These Common Visit Mistakes, and DON’T:

  1. Talk on the phone or text: Answering phone calls or texting while on your tour is disruptive for the tour guide and other visitors, and it can also delay the progress of the tour. Don’t use your phone, so that the Tour Guide can keep the tour moving along smoothly.
  2. Lag behind or get in front of the tour: Try your best to keep up with your tour group. It can be challenging for our Tour Guides to keep large groups together, so please make sure you stay as close as possible throughout the tour.
  3. Monopolize the Tour Guide’s time with questions that are not applicable to the group: Tour Guides love to share their experiences with you, but also want to make sure the information they are conveying applies to the entire group. If you have specific situational questions, we ask that you please hold those until the end of the tour. Our Tour Guides usually stick around after tours and love to answer questions and have personal conversations with families!
  4. Engage in side conversations when the Tour Guide is talking: There is time between each stop on the tour that you will be able to speak with your tour guide or get to know other people on your tour. We highly encourage you to take advantage of this time, but please be mindful when the Tour Guide begins speaking about the next stop, so not to interrupt the experience of others.
  5. Solely rely on your tour to help you learn about the school: As you will see in the second part of this series, there is far more that campus has to offer than we have time to show you during a 1.5 hour tour. Take time to explore Atlanta and the rest of campus when you come to town! There are so many great things to see!

Join us next week for part 2 of this series, with inside tips on what to see at Tech, and Atlanta!

Keep it simple. But not too simple…

My wife loves REAL SIMPLE magazine. Their tagline is: Life Made Easier. I think of it as the “EASY Button” of magazines. You’ll commonly see headlines like, “How Lemons Can Simultaneously Clean Your Shower and Shape Your Abs,” or “6 Ways to Get More Sleep without Sleeping.” Typically, I will flip one open, read the first paragraph, skim the second, glance at the picture of some helpful graphic or perfectly trimmed flower in an artisan glass, before I start thinking of the irony that these come so frequently they’re cluttering what is clearly supposed to be a straight-lined house (see page 28).

Unfortunately, in the admission process, especially due to the generalized media coverage surrounding our field, there are many “REAL SIMPLE-fied” subjects. Here are a few tips to help you avoid the temptation to start showering with lemons:

  • Don’t let the “sticker price” keep you from applying to a particular school. As of 2011, all colleges and universities receiving federal funds must post an online net price calculator to provide prospective students and their families estimated net price information based on your individual circumstances. While I’ve literally NEVER heard a family say, “Wow. We are getting that much in aid! That seems too generous,” most families report that the net price calculator serves as a helpful catalyst to gauge likely cost and discuss the reality of attending a particular college. Also, check out online message boards, and talk to friends from your community about their experience at certain schools. Many schools will “discount” or reduce a percentage of attendance in order to meet enrollment goals. You’ll especially see this happen at private schools in the mid to upper tier. As long as your family discusses what the ultimate package/cost of attendance will need to be for it to be affordable, don’t let the broadly published total keep you from applying.
  • Don’t believe the rankings hype. If you have been admitted to two schools and there is a significant disparity (a number for you to define) in ultimate costs, do not choose the one ranked higher based solely on that factor. Look at the current NCAA Basketball rankings. Can you really make a compelling argument that the team ranked number six is significantly better than number twelve? Would you put money on them finishing higher in final polling or that they’ll advance further in the tournament? Let’s say you had to put down $500 to align with number six and only $100 to ride the tide with number twelve? Both schools will prepare you well, they’ll support you academically and socially, and they’ll be broadly known to give you every opportunity during and after your college experience. Just as much as you expect a holistic admission process as an applicant, your selection of a school should incorporate far more than a number on a page (particularly a hotly contested and arguably arbitrary one). NACAC provides a healthy lens to view rankings through here.
  • Think more broadly than quantifiable ROI (return on investment). Thankfully, since about 2009, our nation has been more conscious of discussing ROI. The right questions are being asked about the value of a college degree and the employability of a particular major based on supply and demand. However, the metrics used for determining value and ROI, while helpful, only look at dollars invested vs. dollars earned in starting or mid- career situations. Is this college a place where you will be challenged in what you know, what you believe, how you live now, and how you will live in the future? Are the connections you make—both among classmates, professors, and alumni—the kind of people that you want to surround yourself with and be associated with in both the long and short term?

I know it’s a lot easier to throw in five ingredients that simultaneously make a gourmet meal AND leave your hair well-conditioned for life, but adding nuance to some of these otherwise overly simplified aspects of the admission process means you are doing your job and allocating due weight to the importance of this decision.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves, Part 1. Students.

I run, but I’m not a REAL runner. But I am a competitor. So when someone passes me or is faster than me, I always tell myself that they’re just in the first quarter mile. Conversely, when I pass someone, I convince myself that they’re fresh and barely getting started, while I’m nearing the end of my jog. It’s ridiculous. But we all do this on some level, don’t we? “I’m not gaining weight, this scale is always five pounds too high.” “Going out with friends instead of studying for tomorrow’s final will be fine. I’m really at my best after 2 a.m. anyway.” “This shirt is expensive, but I need to look good and land this  job.” On some level, we know these thoughts aren’t true but they help us justify our actions, they make us feel better, and they provide us a little bit of hope that we love to cling to.

These little lies also happen in college admission, and we’re all guilty- students, college admissions counselors, and parents. Let’s start with students.

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Students:

Lie 1- Applying to multiple schools with extremely low admit rates increases my chances of getting into one of them. Statistically incorrect. If every school you apply to takes one out of every five students (or less), you are entering a complete crap shoot, as we examined in Holistic Admission, The Struggle is Real. Each year I hear from a student or about a student who applied only to Ivy League Schools, and was not admitted to any of them. Or worse, from the student who applied only to one ultra-selective school, only to learn in March they’ve been denied and are left scrambling for options. Maybe you’re too young to have seen the cinematographic masterpiece Dumb and Dumber in which Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carey) asks Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly—also briefly, and I mean briefly, Carey’s wife) the chances of them ending up together. He suggests one in a hundred to which she replies, “I’d say more like one in a million.” Christmas pauses, considers, and then replies exuberantly, “So…you’re telling me there’s a chance… YEAH!” Like I said before… it’s the hope we love to cling to.

If you’ve been tuning out counselors, teachers, or parents who advise you to apply to a “foundation” or “safety” school, it’s time to snap out of it and get one or two more applications in NOW. If you’ve been looking at data in Naviance or from prior years matriculation lists from your high school and see no one with your profile has been admitted to a particular college over the last few years, then I implore you to submit at least one application to a place you could see attending (not only one that will admit you, but likely offer you a scholarship too).

Lie 2- I have to go to X institution if I’m going to have a really successful career. Look at the Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 list of companies and their CEOs. Most come from schools not categorized as highly selective. While this is a purely monetary measure, it demonstrates that you do not have to attend an elite college in order to be highly successful. Similarly, ask any parent or teacher that attended a prestigious school about their experience and their experience now 20-30 years after graduating from college. They’ll inevitably rattle of plenty of examples of classmates who have not “succeeded,”, and an equal or greater number who are not happy, content, or thriving. The college you attend does not dictate your life trajectory. Getting into a school earns you nothing but the right to pay tuition. It’s the work you do once there, the contacts you make, the worldview you gain, and the opportunities you grasp and capitalize on that will have the primary bearing on your future success—however you define that.

Lie 3- The school I get into and attend represents my success and standing. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and this is a very noble trait. In its best form, it leads to people serving in the armed forces or sacrificing their own stat sheet for a team win. But when it comes to college admission, unfortunately, this often goes the other way. Take Eric. Yesterday he was admitted to Stanford. Congratulations, Eric! Only 5% of applicants will be this year. Today Eric proudly threw open the schoolhouse doors with his chest out, his hair flipping, and his chin unnaturally high. The other mere denizens of the school (including his teachers and administrators) were simply thankful to be in his esteemed presence. Eric perused the cafeteria at lunch as he considered whom he should grace with his presence….. Eric had been admitted to Stanford. But he’d also become a complete jerk. Don’t be like Eric.

Tomorrow we’ll hear the lies college admission officers tell.

Holistic Admission – The Struggle is Real (Part 3 of 3)

The Do’s and Don’ts of Holistic Admission

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I know it’s unsettling to read or hear that in holistic review there is little to no certainty. And I realize that uncertainty is one reason anxiety surrounding college admission exists. I don’t have the remedy for eradicating all stress but I do have some tips:

As you work on your applications, or as you research schools to apply to, you should be thinking about what differentiates one school from another in ethos and mission. While they may all have websites with happy smiling students under trees with professors or sunny days and brick buildings, there are fundamental differences. At Tech you will see a good deal of reference to our motto of “Progress and Service.” We are looking for evidence within a student’s background that is in line with this concept. A student who exhibits and embodies these characteristics, while potentially 40 points less on a section of the SAT or .2 lower in GPA than another student or the normal profile is more compelling since data will show those numbers have no predictive difference in determining college academic success. What does a school discuss online or in their print materials? Is your background or goals in alignment? How can you highlight or tailor your writing, course choice, experience to bolster your candidacy?

Tell your full story. Or as one of my colleagues says, “I want to see that they’re hungry (typically not hard for high school students).” Translation: do not let your numbers or stats deter you or leave you complacent. Every year we hear from students or parents after being deferred or denied asking why. Here’s a common lead into that query: “Didn’t you see I have a 35 ACT?” or “Don’t you know our school is the best in the state?” or “But I took more AP courses than your average…” As we unpack the process and the particular application, however, we often find there were many activities or anecdotes the student could have included but did not because they felt their academics would be sufficient. When a student at or below profile applies they know they have to do a great job on every part of the application and put their best effort in as a result. Students above profile applying to schools with low admit rates have to ignore the ranges or averages and do the exact same thing.

Don’t bother with “Chance Me” conversations online or in person and skip to the next item.

Be sure your essays and short answer questions broaden our understanding of who you are—not simply what you’ve done. We can pick up your accomplishments from your transcripts or extracurricular record. We want to hear your voice and deepen our understanding of “why and how” you would thrive on our campus or contribute to the dynamics. More on essays here.

Keep admission decisions in perspective. These are not value judgments or character decisions. Your future, value, and worth is not hinged to what a school decides in admission. So please do not blur those lines. The existence of a holistic admission process means by nature that highly qualified, supremely talented students will not be offered admission. If you choose to apply to a school that utilizes a holistic process, you are also stating that you are willing to accept an admission decision without an “admission explanation” you can fully understand, especially through the filter of numbers alone.

A Championship (Admission) Season

A few years ago our staff started a Fantasy Football league. Developing careers, having kids, going to grad school, and life in general have spread our group across Georgia Tech’s campus and to other institutions including Harvard, Columbus State, Duke, the University of Texas, and beyond.

Amidst our trash talking and complaints of injured players, we often note the similarities and differences that exist between college admission and fantasy football. As we approach decision releases for Early Action and Early Decision (and Fantasy Football playoffs draw imminently closer), here are a few observations.

It’s never about one thing.

In Fantasy Football, you may have a quarterback or wide receiver score massive points, but if your tight end and defense lay eggs, you’re going to have problems in cumulative point total.

Similarly, you may have incredible test scores and a fabulous essay. But if your extra-curricular involvement and course choice/GPA are relatively unimpressive, it’s highly doubtful you’ll be admitted to a selective college or university. Holistic admission by definition means your entire application balances out to be both compelling and a good fit for an institution.

Everyone needs a kicker.

Your Fantasy Football team cannot be made up exclusively of players from a certain position ( i.e. all running backs or wide receivers). The best teams are strong across the board. A kicker is not the most glamorous player you have. He will not touch the ball a lot or make headlines very often, but his contributions are critical to the team.

In much the same way, colleges with very large applicant pools are shaping a class that has a wide range of interests; is geographically diverse; and draws students with different passions from all cultures and backgrounds. Shaping a class means schools admit students based on a variety of factors to determine impact, success, or best fit on campus. It’s helpful to understand this goal when you think about admission decisions, because complementary talent cannot be quantified by only one or two measures.

It’s not about the W’s or L’s.

Too many students and parents see the admission process as a game, and this is where fantasy football and admission diverge completely. If you are not admitted to a school, it’s not a “loss.” And conversely, if you are offered admission, it’s certainly not a “win.” Ultimately, the college admission process is exactly that: a process. It’s not a record or a point total of admission offers or scholarships.

Believing you are fundamentally a better person because you are admitted to a college is as ludicrous as thinking the same of a fantasy football win. Neither are judgments of your worth, future, or character.

Playoffs?!! Playoffs?!!!

Fantasy Football, for anyone who’s serious about it, knows the real reason you compete is for the playoffs and the ultimate championship. Winning most of your games across a regular season may have some level of satisfaction (as might compiling a good GPA or test score, or getting in to a specific school). Your regular season is your high school preparation and college search and selection process. Don’t lose sight and begin to think “getting in” is the championship. Playoffs start after you are into a college- and a deep run and championship season are defined by how well you’ve prepared to thrive there and in life beyond.

Commissioner’s Note:

In this season you will have times you feel winless, and others you feel undefeated. Ultimately, if you keep the admission process and your high school experience in perspective, you can take the tough break-ups, the failed quizzes, the meaningless denial letters and the awkward prom dates, and turn them into an inspiring Championship run!

Mediocre Advice:

My favorite Fantasy Football podcast is ESPNs Fantasy Focus. Matthew Berry, Field Yates and company frequently proclaim they proliferate “mediocre fantasy advice.” But if you are looking for an entertaining listen and some occasional life and love advice too, check them out.