The Basics of College Admission

Each summer we host a program for faculty, staff, and friends of Georgia Tech who have kids in high school. This has come to be known as “Admission 101.” In about an hour we discuss the landscape of higher education; how students can/should build a list of schools; how to make a good campus visit; what colleges are looking for in applicants/ how admission decisions are made; and how families can go through their college admission experience in a unified and healthy manner. It’s a lot. A lot!

In fact, someone could probably write an entire book on what we try to cover in an hour. Hmmm…

One piece of feedback we received this year is attendees wanted more of the nuts and bolts of each part of the application (academics, essays, testing, extracurriculars, interviews, recommendations, etc.)

So, now that college applications are open and Early Action and Early Decision deadlines are on the horizon, we are launching a two month podcast mini-series as part of  The College Admission Brief (available on iTunesSpotify, and Spreaker).

Holding to the same promise of 10 minutes or less, the first three episodes of The Basics of College Admission are live, and ready for your listening pleasure.

Episode 1: Understanding Fit

Alexis Szemraj (Senior Admission Counselor) discusses the questions you should ask yourself as you consider colleges, as well as practical ways to evaluate and compare schools.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Understanding Fit – Alexis Szemraj” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Use your network, keep an open mind, and ask yourself tough and real questions. Check out the alumni magazine and student newspaper from the schools you are considering, as well as their various social media channels. Think career, not major.

Listen For: Legacy lurk.

Key Quote: “The process should start by looking at yourself- not just a list of colleges.”

Further Reading: Cappex and Big Future

Episode 2: Campus/Virtual Visits

Katy Beth Chisholm (Assistant Director for Campus Visits) provides key tips for students and families about how to access colleges using online resources, such as online tours, sessions, webinars, and other campus resources.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Campus/Virtual Visits – Katy Beth Chisolm” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Take and keep notes, debrief with friends, family members, school counselors. Find authentic sources. Pace yourself.

Listen For: The Massive Matrix Spreadsheet. (I did find this one.)

Key Quote: “Check out the YouTube channel, Facebook Live, and Instagram stories (from individual colleges).”

Further Reading: YouVisit and Inside HigherEd

Episode 3: General Application Tips

Alex Thackston (Senior Admission Counselor) provides great insight on who admission readers really are, and discusses practical tips and common pitfalls students should know while working on their applications.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: General Application Tips – Alex Thackston” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Prepare, don’t procrastinate! Find a trusted proofreader. Be yourself.

Listen For: Underwater karate against sharks.

Key Quote: “We can read the rush in your application.” (aka Don’t procrastinate.)

Further Reading:  College Admission Timeline for Seniors and Common App Application Guide

We’ll be releasing an episode each week throughout September and October. You can subscribe and listen on iTunesSpotify, and Spreaker.

Upcoming episodes include:

  • Early Action v Early Decision
  • Standardized Testing and Test Score Optional vs. Test Score Blind
  • Extracurricular activities (Impact, Involvement, and Influence)
  • Special Circumstances/ Additional Information
  • Recommendation Letters
  • Interviews

Navigating the Waitlist

Listen to “Episode 10: Navigating the Waitlist – Alex Thackston” on Spreaker.

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor, Alex Thackston, to the blog. Welcome, Alex!

We live in unknown times. The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the effects it will have on us, our families, our society, and the world, leaves us feeling uneasy and unsure about our future. I’m not sure about you, but I wish I had a definitive answer on how this will all turn out. But this is not the first time I have dealt with this feeling of uncertainty, knowing I had no control over a situation.

When I was pregnant with my son, my fellow mom-friends advised me to start looking for daycare programs early in the game. I thought it was a little overboard to research and tour daycares before even telling anyone I was expecting. Once I learned about the competitiveness of getting into these schools, I started my preparations. After combing through 40 different early childhood institutions in the Atlanta Metro area, I narrowed my search down to six schools that met what my husband and I were looking for in a school.

We factored in location (to home and our jobs), types of curriculum (I know… curriculum for a baby?), certifications of the centers and teachers, affordability, and good reviews. Starting to sound familiar? Out of those six schools, there were two that came to the top of our list. Our top option was really out of our price range, but offered every aspect we wanted! The second option was also a wonderful choice, but a little farther than we wanted to travel. We applied to both, paid our application fees, and we were placed on… the waitlist. Yep, you read that right: a waitlist for daycare!

Hurry Up and Wait

During this holding period, we continued to hold onto hope that we would be accepted into our top choice. We figured we could find a way to save and budget for the high costs, dreamed about the educational opportunities it presented, and loved the idea that we could walk from our home to pick up our little guy.

However, fate had another plan. As we waited (and waited…), the due date of sweet boy quickly approached. We found ourselves without the news we wanted or expected. Jack was born in early August, six months after we had placed ourselves on these schools’ waitlists. We ended up receiving a spot off of the waitlist for our second choice. But we were frustrated and upset about the prospect that our first choice was not going to work out when we needed it.

picture of happy baby
Jack loving his new daycare.

We spent a couple of months bonding with our little man at home, but once January hit, it was time to send him on his way. While Jack could have cared less about where he was going, we put on a brave face and sent him to our second choice: an amazing school that still offered everything we were looking for, despite not being the perfect location. And while it wasn’t our number one choice at the time, in the long run we’ve been very pleased with the teachers, curriculum and experiences that our little guy was, and has, been having there.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want…”

So why bring up the “you can’t always get what you want” message at a time like now? Because I know many students across the country will be receiving admission decisions in the coming weeks, and it may not be the news they hoped for.

In my experience, the hardest part is not being denied or told “no,” but being told “maybe” and placed on a waitlist. While this type of decision gives hope, it also brings about uncertainty. So, what can you do? My lesson learned is to continue making plans and look at your other options. There are bound to be other colleges on your list that have already admitted you to their first-year class. If you haven’t been admitted elsewhere, there’s good news—many institutions are still accepting applications for their first-year class!

While these schools may not be your top choice, consider how they suit you and your needs. Make a list of all of the positive attributes you discovered in your top choice school, and look at the other schools to see how they too may possess these factors. You may find that some of these institutions aren’t all that different.

Make the Most of What You Have

I highly recommend that once you get to your new school, make the best of your experience there. You may come to find that the institution you chose was the perfect fit for you after all—a place where you can grow holistically and develop academically.

As a parent, I am always looking for opportunities to create the best experiences for my child. For me that meant stressing over the perfect daycare for a 5-month-old. When our first choice didn’t work out, I looked to my husband for comfort. I mean, how was this other daycare supposed to compete with one that has a curriculum created by PhD’s, an app that let you peek into your kiddo’s typical day, and brand-new facilities for our little one to grow into?

He reassured me that our second option had a curriculum created by former Atlanta teachers who had a combined total of 30+ years of teaching experience, an app where our teachers would post videos, pictures, and updates of our son based on his personal development, and state-of-the-art facilities that were recently renovated when they expanded their building due to the high demand of their program.

It turns out my second choice had everything we wanted and more! Ultimately, we made the best decision for our son and for our family, and along the way learned the lesson the Rolling Stones said best: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you just might find, you get what you need”.

Senior Admission CounselorAlex Thackston has worked in college admission for nine years. Prior to joining Georgia Tech in 2014, she worked for the Office of Admission at Florida State University. She currently serves as a Senior Admission Counselor working with first-year and pathway students, and also serves as the athletic admission liaison.