Application Tips for Activities and Leadership

Listen to “Episode 16: Application Tips for Activities and Leadership – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Earlier this week, The Common Application sent out an email indicating 166,948 students have created an account to start the process of applying to college this year.

If you are a senior working on your application, you will find the first few sections go pretty fast, and you quickly arrive at the Activities section. On the surface, this is relatively self-explanatory and the directions provided are clear. In other words, completing it should not be hard or confusing.

However, it is always helpful to get some perspective “from the other side.” I believe that’s particularly true during Covid when many colleges will not be using test scores to make admission decisions and some of the activities you usually participate in have been canceled or modified over the last six months.

What method are they using to evaluate? 

Just like individual high school grading scales, the rubrics colleges use to evaluate this section are not uniform. So, if you are applying to five or seven schools, your application will likely be evaluated on a variety of scales. Same application, same activities, same applicant – different systems. While one college may use a scale of 1-5, another could be out of 10 or 100. Alphabetic evaluations, check marks, +/-, or perhaps even emojis and .gifs could be used. Some schools fold their evaluation of this section into an overall admission decision recommendation without even assigning points or a score.

Who is reading?

People– not robots or algorithms. I’m always amazed that students believe we’re just feeding their applications into some kind of a machine that calculates the number of words you’ve used or hours you’ve reported in this section. Nope. These are actual living humans with families and dogs. They have been living through this quarantine just like you. They understand that life looks really weird right now. They get that your drama production was canceled and the internship you had lined up fell through.

The way colleges will read your activities is not going to change this year. They always make assumptions and inferences-and those always (and I use that word intentionally) lean toward providing you the benefit of the doubt. I believe that will be particularly true this year because my prediction is colleges in general will see applications go down and admit rates go up. Translation: They want and need students who are going to contribute on their campus.

…So What are they looking for?

While the training of staff, the number of committee members, and the flow of an application between admission officers will vary from one college to the next, the fundamental questions they are asking as they review your activity section are the same:

  • What was this student involved with outside the classroom?
  • Is there evidence this student made an investment beyond that involvement?
  • What impact is evident through this student’s investment and involvement?
  • Is there evidence that this student’s involvement, investment, and impact influenced others?

In an effort to help you get inside the mind of the admission committee, and also to receive tangible and actionable tips, I dug through the archives of our blog to find helpful advice we’ve provided over the years.

What: The Nuts and Bolts (Part 2)

When: October 2017

Who: Mary Tipton Woolley,  Senior Associate Director of Admission

Why: Because Mary Tipton answers questions students and families always want to know, including how many files do we read a day and how many people are in the room where it happens. But she also provides sage wisdom in her recommendation to “front” your most significant activities by listing them first.

“Then put the remainder in descending order of importance to you. It could be descending order of time spent, or significance of impact – you know best what will work for you. We discussed the review of activities in our staff training, emphasizing the importance of looking at both pages of activities in our review, but we all confessed we’d missed significant activities because they were at the end of the list.”

You can also apply this concept to your essays and admission or scholarship interviews. Make your most important point quickly. “Hook” the admission officer intentionally by prioritizing what matters most to you.

What: Subtle Leadership

When: October 2019

Who: Dr. Paul Kohn, VP for Enrollment Management

Why: Because this blog, written before any of us could have come up with the word “Covid” in a game of Scrabble, demonstrates the continuity of college admission. The way Dr. Kohn articulates leadership and impact proves my point that admission committees’ review of community involvement has not changed due to Coronavirus (Thanks, boss.).

If we were counting hours invested or the number of words on each line of your application, then sure, you would likely have less to include or describe during this pandemic. But check out his instruction to think about the filter in which you consider your influence, and how that comes across in the Activities or Community Involvement section:

Truly examine your experiences and look for the times you inspired others, demonstrated good decisions, set an example of honesty and integrity, or showed commitment and passion for a goal. Look for moments in which you cooperated with others to achieve an outcome, or you displayed empathy for others.”

Importantly, the questions he enumerates are arguably even more helpful this year than when he originally wrote his blog:

  • Have you demonstrated and preached tolerance of divergent ideas and thoughts?
  • Have you helped a classmate accomplish a goal?
  • Have you helped members of your family through a difficult time?
  • When have you helped others know the path without literally ushering them down it?
  • Have you given a speech or written an op-ed piece about the benefits of voting or contributing to certain causes?

What: Which Activities Will Make Me Competitive?

When: April 2019

Who: Katie Mattli, Senior Assistant Director of Admission

Why: Because she keeps it simple. Aaron Burr may have rap sung/ sung rap/ the 10 Duel Commandments in Hamilton, but Katie rocks the Three Extra Curricular Tenants here (apologies in advance for my attempt to lyricize her wisdom).

Number 1 – If you love it, you naturally become more competitive. The challenge demands satisfaction. This is not a reaction. She’s unapologetically repetitive. Simplicity and consistency are her sedative. Don’t write this off as sappy, because it’s true, “’What activities make you happy?’ Do… more of those things!”

Number 2 – If you are interested, I’ll be more interested.  If you are sitting pat, applications fall flat. Don’t concern yourself with what we want to hear. Be sincere. “Nothing engages me more than a student who tells me, “I love XYZ!” See? “Trying to craft a summary of undertakings that you really don’t enjoy.” Oh, boy. No. Want the bottom line? Fine. Don’t let this cause you strife. “Applications have a life and an energy when a student is trying to use every available space to expound on a passion project.”

And if you didn’t know- now you know.

Number 3 – Activities that are difficult can still make you happy.  “I said this was not a softball answer and I meant it.” Hold on a minute. That’s right- “easy and happy are not the same thing.” That line should be on a cover. And that’s why we love her. Because she can cover the basics and make great suggestions. Read her full blog for more insight and guiding questions.

What: Is it OK if I?

When: October 2018

Who: Ashley Brookshire, Regional Director of Admission, West Coast

Why: Because what you do in high school, what you do in college, and what you do throughout life should not be about playing the game or trying to win the approval of others. That box checking, resume padding climb will end up with you looking down/out/over what, exactly?

As we’ve said before, your college admission experience is a foreshadowing of your overall college experience. Don’t miss the important lessons it can teach.

In this piece, Ashley helps you “reverse this idea” and “apply to the colleges that model YOUR interests and values, rather than molding yourself to fit a school.” Now that is a life lesson. You can apply that same thinking to relationships, jobs, and many others decisions. Ashley went to Tech. She worked as a student in our office, and began her career as an admission counselor with us.

She’s since gotten married, moved to California, and had a baby. Lots of changes in her life, but what has not changed is her ability to things down to their essence and help bring out the most salient and important point. In this case:

“Is it ok if I…? Yes. Yes, to however you finish the question, because it is, and will be, okay! You can and should invest your time and energy in the things that feel most beneficial for your personal development and growth, regardless of which college you end up attending.”

What does all of this mean for you? 

Ultimately, your job is to convince the admission committee that you will be missed once you graduate– whether that be by a coach, a club sponsor, a boss, your family, a non-profit in your community, or another group or organization.

I’m confident after reading these excerpts you will have no problem doing that. Enjoy the experience. Take some time after you’ve completed this section to marvel at what you have done—and equally as important what you will inevitably contribute on a college campus.

Bonus Listen: Want more on this topic? Here’s an excellent conversation from CollegeWise to check out.

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Hang Your Picture

Listen to “Episode 13: Hang Your Picture – Ashley Brookshire” on Spreaker.

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission (West Coast) Ashley Brookshire to the blog. Welcome, Ashley!

At the risk of making myself vulnerable in front of our applicant pool (which, in my experience, is filled with ambitious, intrinsically motivated, mindful, and steadfast students), I want to confess something: I continuously put off doing the things I want to do. The things I should do. The things that are in my best interest to do.

I’m reminded of it every time I walk through my office and stare at the six panels of wall organizers propped up against the wall. They’ve been there for weeks. Every time I walk past them, I’m reminded that I haven’t taken the time to cross this “to-do” off my list. It also reminds me of other “unhung” pictures in my world right now. The habits I’ve wanted to form, but haven’t. The things I’ve wanted to learn, but put off.

At some point, I have to stop telling myself I’d do these things if only “I had more time.” Since my state’s stay-at-home order was issued in mid-March, I’ve been gifted more spare time than I ever wanted.

Don’t get me wrong, the whirlwind of my day is just as busy as ever. Juggling my roles as a spouse, mother, and employee, while managing a house that’s more lived-in than ever, occupies my day exceptionally well. But in the evening hours when I stop trying to spin plates, I have more time than I’ve had in a while. There are no dinners with friends to attend, trips to prepare for, or date nights to go on.

I don’t want to confuse busyness for progress. And as I look at spending my time more intentionally in the upcoming weeks, I first have to stop and assess the hurdles that have kept me stuck-in-place. Hopefully these will give you some questions to ask yourself as you look for ways to hang your own pictures.

Why wait?

There always seemed to be a good (or at least, not bad) excuse for pushing the task to another day. I’d have to find all of the tools that I need. Do I really want to commit to this space? There’s no harm in waiting another day…

For me, the hardest step has always been the first. I’ve found myself asking, “if not now, then when?” In the absence of a valid argument for “not now,” it’s time to get started.

Time to find a friend?

Hanging a group of pictures correctly can be a feat. You have to hold against them against the wall AND step back to gauge spacing. You’ll need to move pieces around WHILE keep everything level. You can’t do this by yourself unless you have an incredible wingspan. You need help. Not to get started, but to do it well and do it right. So why not bring someone along?

I’ve tried (more than once) to regain the Spanish skills I’ve lost in the years since being in a classroom. Duolingo has been my companion (and, at times, nemesis) in this endeavor. The app’s friendly, gentle reminders help me to stay on pace as I progress through the curriculum. When I miss a day, it’s quick to remind me. When I miss several days, it gets snarky (“These reminders don’t seem to be working…”). But still, I’m thankful Duolingo tries to keep me accountable. After all, not all assistance needs to come from human friends – just ask Jill Watson.

Maybe you need help. Maybe you need to be held accountable. Maybe things are just more fun to do together. Create a system for success by including others – human or otherwise – in your plans for moving forward.

What happens if you don’t?

When I fall short of the goals I set for myself, I’m the main victim. Others aren’t impacted when I push a nagging task to another day, hold off on learning about a new topic, or delay creating a habit. But I certainly have constant reminders that I haven’t taken action. My increasingly mobile child lets me know the wall organizers are on the ground are ready to be destroyed every time she crawls into the room.

One of the biggest losses is the positive impact I could have had if I moved forward. The skills I could share. The people I could help. The clutter and chaos I could remove from my family’s home.

Be kind to yourself, especially given the new-normal we’re all still adjusting to. But sometimes (and more often than sometimes, in my case), being kind includes giving yourself a kick in the rear to get going. Make a move. Use your new found time in this different reality to develop a skill. Dive into a new topic. And hang your picture.

Ashley Brookshire is an Atlanta native and Georgia Tech alumna who has worked in college admission for nearly a decade. Ashley serves as Georgia Tech’s Regional Director of Admission for the West Coast, making her home in Southern California. She’s been a California resident for more than 5 years and is a member of the Regional Admission Counselors of California.

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Focus on What You Can Control

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission (West Coast) Ashley Brookshire to the blog. Welcome, Ashley!

I loathe feeling out of control. My Type A personality enjoys organization, logical outcomes, and the authority to make decisions. Maybe that’s why adjusting to LA traffic has proven to be such a struggle.Traffic

If given the choice, I think most of us would choose being a driver over a passenger, especially in situations where we’re heavily invested in the outcome. Whether you’re putting an offer in on a house, waiting for test results, or doing something else that generally relinquishes your decision-making power to a third-party, it feels particularly chaotic and stressful.

Similarly, there are a lot of pieces of the college application process you can’t control. Worrying about who else is in the applicant pool for admission is misplaced; there’s nothing you can do to impact the decisions that individual students across the country make when it comes to their college applications.

Instead, focus on what you can control. Trust me – there is a lot within the admission process that puts you in the driver’s seat, even though sometimes it may not feel that way. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

What Matters?

You get to decide what matters to you in a college experience, and also decide how much time and effort you’ll exert to learn about colleges that offer those opportunities. The college search process should involve some soul searching, the benefits of which stretch far beyond creating a college list.

Take time to truly reflect on these questions:

  • What excites you about college?
  • Why do you want to go?
  • Are there pressures coming from others in your life that are directing your search on your behalf?
  • What type of environments allow you to thrive? Encourage you to grow? Make you happy?

You’re the one who will be calling this place your home away from home, not your parents, classmates, or overzealous neighbor. Wisdom and insights from others can be immensely helpful, but make sure you’re using this as a resource, not the final authority.

Control the Things You can ControlTake time to figure out what you’re looking for—it’s  much easier to find “it” if you know what “it” is.

Once you know the qualities of a college that excite you, start your search! There are more than 4,000 colleges in the US alone, and while many have overlapping traits, they also offer distinct communities and programs.

You get to decide how much time is spent in this process. If you truly take your time to learn more about yourself, as well as your educational options, then you’ll build confidence in yourself, as well as building a college list. If you’re only using word-of-mouth or quick ranking websites to build your list, then you’re leaving a lot of unknowns out there. Take time on the front end – it’ll direct the rest of your college search, all the way until you’ve made your final decision.

Set Your Pace

You control the time frame in which you work on your applications. An application deadline does not mean you have to submit your completed application during that 24-hour window. It means that—after  weeks of time to compile your thoughts, achievements, and story—applications  must be submitted no later than this date. You can decide how the work is broken up over the course of the weekends prior to the deadline, or if you’ll be using the last 2 hours ahead of the deadline to try to complete a well-polished application (spoiler alert: you likely will not put your best foot forward if you’re opting for the latter).

Be a Decision Maker

As mentioned before, you choose where you’ll submit your college applications. You get to set your priorities, craft your list, and actually apply to those schools. The colleges will evaluate the applications they’ve received against the institutional priorities set for them, then deliver the information back to students in the form of admission decisions. This particular step, the review of your application, falls into the “out of your control” category.

That being said, if the college needs additional information from you, they will reach out (check your email!). Make sure you’ve set up an organizational system to catch these important e-mails and requests! Need ideas? Check out this previous blog post.

Once admission decisions have been released, the ball is back in your court! You get to bookend this process as the decision-maker. From the collection of acceptance letters you’ve received, you now have the privilege of deciding where you’d like to attend (and these should all be from schools where you can see yourself enrolling. After all, you are the one who decided to apply in the first place!).

Managing anxiety and worry is challenging, but these emotions do not need to dominate your college search and selection. Take ownership, pride, and comfort in all the control you have in these processes, rather than dwelling on the few pieces that are out of your hands. Good luck!

Ashley Brookshire is an Atlanta native and Georgia Tech alumna who has worked in college admission for nearly a decade. Ashley serves as Georgia Tech’s Regional Director of Admission for the West Coast, making her home in Southern California. She’s been a California resident for more than 5 years and is a member of the Regional Admission Counselors of California.

 

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The Best of Intentions

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission (West Coast) Ashley Brookshire to the blog. Welcome, Ashley!

I love stories of wild animals mistakenly brought into people’s homes. While some of these stories are fake, it’s easy for us to believe that it could happen. You know the drill. It starts with a well-meaning, kind hearted (yet naive) individual who sees what they believe is a domestic pet in distress. They bring the creature into their home and give the animal what’s “best” for it: food, a bath, a warm bed. The images become public when this do-gooder posts them to social media, or a neighborhood app, hoping to reunite the scared, mangy, and increasingly irritated “pet” with its owner.

The entire time they are operating with the best of intentions, but unfortunately end up trying to fit a square peg in a round hole (or a mountain lion in a bathtub). It’s only when others chime in to widen their frame of reference (“that’s not a cat, its possum”) does the person start to gain perspective. Maybe the solution offered wasn’t best for the animal in question after all.

Mountain lion in a bathtub
Mountain lion in a bathtub (psst… hoax alert!)

The best meaning people in your community will have an abundance of opinions to offer as you go through the college application process: what is most important about a college experience… what athletic division is best… why you should go Greek… the one thing colleges care about in the application process… the sure-fire way to be admitted. Buckle up – this won’t be the only time you receive rapid-fire, unsolicited advice during a life chapter (weddings and pregnancies have a very similar effect on people).

Stop and Reflect

All of this advice is typically very well intended. Some of it may even resonate with you. But a lot of it may feel like grooming a coyote: it just doesn’t fit. Before you take to heart every piece of college-going advice you receive, stop and reflect:

  • Is the advice from someone who is a repeated participant in the college admission process (like a school counselor)? Or is it from someone speaking from a single experience, like your uncle who will likely disown his own children if they don’t attend his alma mater?
  • Are you learning about campus through the perspective of current students, or an alumna whose time in college didn’t include the internet?
  • Are you learning about requirements admission offices consider while reviewing applications from a representative of the school, or from the friend of your older sister who applied to three colleges five years ago?

Everyone – EVERYONE – has valuable wisdom and insight they can share from their experiences. Take time to listen to what those around you choose to share. After all, wild animal or pet, we can all appreciate a free meal from someone who cares. But please, keep in mind when people speak from their experiences, their perspective can be very limited—especially when it comes to talking about the “right” or “wrong” way to go through a process.

Have Perspective

Instead, think about the perspectives that some of the individuals mentioned above can provide, and how that may resonate with your search. While your uncle may not be the best person to talk about Early Action vs. Early Decision, he can certainly speak to the value of school spirit as part of his undergraduate experience and as an alum. While an older alumna may not know all today’s undergraduate experience entails, she does know how her university experience and network prepared her for life after college. And while your sister’s friend may not be an expert on enrollment management, she can share wisdom into the strategies she used to navigate the process (and keep her sanity).

Consider the SourceEqually important, learn where you should go to get information from the most appropriate source. Repeat participants in the college admission process, like your high school counselor and college admission representatives, can speak to trends and best practices. Questions about common application pitfalls, recommended timelines, and possible outcomes should absolutely be directed to these individuals.

While I love the Institute I represent, the reality is I am a paid staff member of the school. I take pride in the fact that our office and campus community operate with authenticity and transparency, but at the end of the day I am biased about opportunities at Georgia Tech (if I wasn’t, this would be a terribly challenging career). Our brochures, website, and admission presentations are also biased in highlighting the benefits of an undergraduate career spent on our campus. Keep that in mind as you use college-provided resources as part of your search. While incredibly helpful, they also have an agenda.

Current students are an invaluable resource to your college search. Unlike paid staff and faculty, students are consumers of the undergraduate experience and will provide you with a review from their perspective. That’s why so many resources about campus visits encourage you to engage with students in the dining hall, on the sidewalk, or at the student center. They will undoubtedly provide insight beyond the scope of the official school tour or information session you just completed as part of your visit.

Consider your resources and use them appropriately. Understand that those around you are excited for you, want to help you through your search, and are very well intended. But, also understand that wild mountain lions don’t need a good shampoo. Similarly, make sure the tools you’re using and the advice you’re considering makes sense for you and your college search.

Ashley Brookshire is an Atlanta native and Georgia Tech alumna who has worked in college admission for nearly a decade. Ashley serves as Georgia Tech’s Regional Director of Admission for the West Coast, making her home in Southern California. She’s been a California resident for more than 5 years and is a member of the Regional Admission Counselors of California.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

Is it okay if I…?

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission (West Coast) Ashley Brookshire to the blog. Welcome, Ashley!

I love fall travel season. It’s an opportunity to spend time face-to-face with students and share the excitement I have for Georgia Tech. This interaction also provides an opportunity for students to ask questions they are often hesitant to formally put in an email or address over a brief phone conversation. Last summer’s most popular question was “what do colleges prefer?” This year, at nearly every visit, college fair, or presentation, I hear the question, “Is it okay if I…?”

The ending varies from student to student: have one main focus? Don’t have one main focus? Do a lot of things outside the classroom related to my major? Have varied interests that aren’t related to my major? Moved in high school? Can’t work in the summer? Haven’t been able to do research yet?

The answer is, “Yes.” Yes, it’s okay if you made decisions that reflect your interests. Yes, it’s okay to choose certain routes if they make the most sense for your goals (and current limitations). Yes, it’s okay if you haven’t crammed a full collegiate experience into your high school years.

Any admission office’s goal is to bring a well-rounded first-year class into their university. Our goal is not, however, to ensure that mix by making sure each and every incoming student is equally well-rounded. We want a class with students who value who we are and what we do, but is also comprised of students who bring their own perspectives, experiences, and aspirations into our community.

At my Institute we have more than 500 active student organizations. Some of our students will work whole-heartedly in just one club, while others spend their time with multiple organizations. Just like you’ve seen students engage at your high school in different ways, we also see this variance in our college communities.

My biggest concern with this question is the tone with which it is asked. It’s with trepidation – concern that a student has misstepped and fallen off the path of “acceptable choices” they made throughout high school.

Break the Mold

I encourage you to reverse this idea – apply to the colleges that model YOUR interests and values, rather than molding yourself to fit a school. Sure, you can make it through your high school experience by choosing certain courses and becoming involved in certain areas because you want a college to admit you. But what happens if you’re admitted and actually enroll at that school? If you’ve only been participating in activities because a certain college values them, you’ll find yourself on a campus surrounded by students who weren’t faking it–students who genuinely enjoy those activities, share the same values, and earnestly look to engage with all the university has to offer.Be yourself

Your college applications should reflect your accomplishments; you should not be molding yourself because you think that’s what a college wants. Your application is how you can showcase your skills, interests, decisions, and aspirations to a potential community.  You should not operate on a daily basis chasing activities you think colleges “like more” than something else. Instead, you should choose colleges that will nurture, challenge, and support your unique self.

If you asked me five years ago what it would take to be competitive for admission to Georgia Tech today, I probably would have given you an unintentionally inaccurate answer. Things change a lot from year to year, much less over the course of a few years. Even those of us who make admission decisions are unable to prescribe a track or plan that will guarantee a student’s admission in the future.

Rather than working to fit a mold for the sake of attending a college, work to enhance who you are becoming as a person. Know that, whatever you choose to pursue, there are colleges out there which reflect your interests and will support your development.

So “is it okay if I….?” Yes. Yes to however you finish the question, because it is, and will be, okay! You can and should invest your time and energy in the things that feel most beneficial for your personal development and growth, regardless of which college you end up attending.

Ashley Brookshire is an Atlanta native and Georgia Tech alumna who has worked in college admission for nearly a decade. Ashley serves as Georgia Tech’s Regional Director of Admission for the West Coast, making her home in Southern California. She’s been a California resident for more than 5 years and is a member of the Regional Admission Counselors of California.

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