Visiting Campus? The Four Questions for Admitted Students

This week we are joined by our Associate Director of Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen. Welcome, Andrew!

It has been a while, but it is good to be back on the blog, especially during one of my favorite times of the year.  April is a busy month for all admission professionals, but especially for those responsible for campus visit programming.  Between high school juniors starting to tour campuses to admitted students hunkering down to make their college enrollment decision, institutions are busy welcoming students and families to their campuses.  Here at Georgia Tech, it is not unusual for us to see 400 visitors each day throughout the month of April! 

My cousin, brother and me cooking matzah balls with Bubbie Cohen.

But it is not just these busy weeks of spring break visits and admitted student events that I look forward to each year, it is also my favorite Jewish holiday that always falls right in the middle of all of this craziness.  The Jewish holiday of Passover is celebrated each spring to commemorate and retell the story of the exodus from Ancient Egypt.  Each year, Jewish families all over the world gather together for a seder to retell the story.  For me, Passover is a time filled with family traditions and memories, like making matzah balls with my Bubbie (Yiddish for grandmother), utilizing various family heirlooms on the seder table that have been used for decades and always some subpar singing from my father.  We even use the same Haggadah (book or guide used during the Passover seder), that has been used by my family for more than 30 years.  My father still uses my grandfather’s Haggadah with all his notes from when he led our seders until his passing.   

One of the parts of a traditional Passover seder is known as the Four Questions.  Early on in the seder, the youngest family member recites a series of four questions to help fulfil the obligations of retelling the story of Passover and to help children at the seder better understand the significance of the holiday.  Although I am in my thirties, I am still the youngest at the Cohen Family Seder, so I continue to hold the responsibility of reciting these four questions (really hoping for a nephew or niece to eventually take this one over!).  The Four Questions all center around the idea of “Why is this night different from all other nights?”  As we go through each question, we are reminded of the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the traditions of Passover that are still practiced today.   

Cohen Family Seder from 1948. The same wine decanter, plates and kiddush cups are all still seen on the Cohen Family Seder table today.

Like the Passover seder, visiting campus should be an engaging, interactive experience. It’s an opportunity for you to pause, reflect, and and ask important questions to help you make or confirm your final college choice. Here are ways to frame your questions and prepare ahead of time to maximize your visit.  

 1. Academic Interests and Options

Make an effort to meet with experts beyond admission counselors and tour guides. Inquire in advance to see if you might be able speak with faculty members, academic advisors, or students within a particular major.  This is your chance to understand specific courses, various research projects, or other academically-related opportunities. Prospective students frequently ask general questions about majors and academic programs such as “do you have a psychology major?” or “tell me about your engineering program?”  As an admitted student, your goal is to understand details about the academic area you are considering, and how you can tailor your studies toward your interests.  “How can I be a computer science major but also be a pre-med student?” or “I am interested in fintech. What kind of classes would I be able to take in this area?”  Remember,  your goal is to glean insight and details to gain an understanding of what your experience will really look like on these  campuses.    

If the standard tour does not go to the buildings, or area of campus, where you will be spending a lot of your time, go there on your own. Even if you do not speak with someone, go into the different facilities, read the posters on the walls, and listen to what students are talking about in the hallways.  This is about understanding possibilities and culture.     

2. Community  

Students and families always have questions about living on campus and want to see specific residential halls.  Unfortunately, that is not always possible, due to the safety and privacy of students.  You’ll find most institutions have alternatives to allow you to better understand the on-campus living experience.  At Georgia Tech, we are unable to show visitors a residential hall, but our Office of Housing and Residence Life, have 360 photos of every single option… much more than what you would be able to ever see on a campus tour.   

As an admitted student, your goal is to understand some of the unique residential opportunities available. For example, many institutions offer the option to live in theme-based housing which connects programming and classes.  Talk to your tour guide and other current students about the pros and cons about these types of experiences.   

3. Culture 

For admitted students, this is your chance to get an inside look at what it is really like to be a member of the institution’s community.  As an admitted student, don’t rush on and off campus. Build in time to explore parts of campus not shown on tour, talk to current students, attend an event, or just sit on campus and watch and listen. 

Keep in mind you are visiting campus one day out of the year, so your experience is not going to be a fully accurate representation of the campus culture.  For instance there might not be many events happening if you are on campus the Friday before spring break or during final exams. This is where social media accounts can really help you learn more about things that happen throughout the year.  My colleague, Sammy, shared some great tips in a TikTok video on how to use social media effectively in your college search or decision-making process.  We all spend time scrolling on our social media, but this is a really great way to make that time productive!  

4. Stories not statistics  

Statistics can be helpful in helping you make a final decision, but you can ask Google for those. Use your time on campus to ask for stories and anecdotes about graduates or graduating seniors.  As an admission staff member who works with our campus tour guides, I love to brag about them (just like their parents and family members).  Yes, I can tell you a graduation rate, but talk to people like me on campus and they’ll inevitably tell you about a student deciding between multiple job offers across the country in their area of study, or connect you with a tour guide who interned over the summer and worked on a project that was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And ask tour guides for their stories too! It might be their own personal experience finding an internship or maybe their friends.  By reframing these questions, you will gain much better insight to the all-important topic of return on investment. 

As we head toward May 1 and you visit schools to make your final choice, I hope you will refine and reframe your questions so you can utilize your time on campus. Ultimately, this will help you gain the insight and confidence you need to make this important decision.   

I wish you the best of luck. Enjoy the remainder of high school– and an early congratulations on graduation.   

And for those readers, who celebrate Passover, Chag Sameach.   

Andrew Cohen joined Georgia Tech in 2018 and currently oversees the guest experience for all Undergraduate Admission visitors. His love for providing visitors with informative, authentic, and personal experiences started as a student tour guide at his alma mater, Ithaca College. Andrew’s passion for the visit experience has led him to his involvement in the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association, where he currently services as the Treasurer on their executive board.

NEEDED- New College Admissions Map

Listen to “JUNIORS: Create a New College Admissions Map – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

I have traveled extensively throughout the United States and overseas. At last count, 45 states, five continents, and 138 of Georgia’s 159 countiesBeyond that I have always loved looking at maps, studying American history, and can generally hold my own at Tuesday Night Trivia when geography questions come up.  

However, a few years ago I visited Minneapolis for the first time. I flew in late and woke up early to run through the city before the day got rolling. At the hotel’s front desk, I asked for a recommendation on a good route to get a sense of the area. “Oh. Of course. I’d recommend the ‘Bridge Run.’ It’s about six miles and crosses the river four times. I think you’ll love it.”  

I honestly pray the hotel did not have a camera on the front desk that morning to capture the next part of our exchange.  

“Oh, great. What river is it?”

Honestly, I thought she was going to rattle off some obscure name that I may have vaguely heard mentioned or seen once randomly on a map. 

She paused and I noticed her eyebrows raise slightly as she breathed in deeply.  And then, with a slight bit of pity in her voice, she said slowly… “The Mississippi.” 

Now I am pretty sure I held it together in the moment, but it was all I could do to bottle up the simultaneous combination of embarrassment and shock that ran through me.

“Perfect,” I stammered and headed quickly for the door.  

Arguably our nation’s most famous river, I’d crossed the Mississippi many times— even swam in it once–granted a few thousand miles south. How could I not realize this is the state where it starts?  

The run across the bridges at sunrise that day was breathtaking. By the third crossing I had transitioned from being flummoxed and embarrassed to laughing about it. I texted my wife (who lived there for five years) a picture from the middle of one of the bridges: “Mississippi River runs through Minneapolis…who knew?!” Five minutes later she replied, “Everyone but you, apparently.” Ouch. Insult to injury.  

I am guessing you can think of a similar situation or revelation–something you read, heard, or learned that changed your view, challenged your assumptions, or expanded your understanding of someone or something (If you can’t, start reading more and hanging around different people).  

In many ways, my experience in Minnesota is illustrative of the limited and misinformed perspective most people have on both college and college admission. They have some exposure but lack the full picture. They rely on personal experience and are so heavily influenced by social media or what they hear and observe in their small circle, that their view is understandably narrow–a condition, whether it be in politics, public health, or another issue in society, that inevitably leads to poor decision-making and unnecessary anxiety.  

Mind the Map

If you are a junior in high school, your job this spring is to work diligently to see a bigger, more accurate landscape of higher education, broaden your understanding of the amazing choices and options you have, and commit to navigating a unique path through your college admission experience 

Since traveling is limited right now in the pandemic, here are a few ways to get a sense of the landscape and ensure the “map” you are using is accurate: 

1- Determine Your Starting Point 

  • Write down the names of the first seven colleges or universities that pop into your head.  
  • Now circle the schools that are in your home state; the colleges that a parent, sibling, or other family member attended; the schools that are nationally known in your favorite sport; and any that rhyme with Stanvard. 

Are more than 50% circled?  If so, welcome to Minneapolis!  Hopefully, you see this as an opportunity to expand your horizons  

 2- Survey Your Surroundings– find out where some people you know (or know of) went to college. 

The CEO of your favorite national/international brand. 

Your principal/ school head. 

Your town/city’s mayor. 

Two or three of your neighbors or parents’ friends. 

Your favorite science or math teacher. 

Your favorite history, foreign language, or English teacher.  

Your favorite athletes. 

The owner of your favorite local business. 

Your favorite actor or musician.  

A state or federal legislator you respect.  

A famous person from your city or state. 

What did you learn? 

What surprised you? 

Is there a college or university on the list you had not heard of before? 

3- Drop a Pin

Patrick Winter, Associate Vice Chancellor of Academic Services and Enrollment at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln has a theory that if you were to throw a dart at a map of the United States, or enter coordinates into Google Earth and drop a pin online somewhere in this country, you would find a college within 100 miles where you could get in, meet a friend for life, engage with a professor who would support and encourage you, pick a major you would enjoy, and plug into a campus community where you could build a network and thrive during your undergraduate years and beyond. 

  • Give it a shot! (Just promise to be careful if you choose to blindfold yourself and throw darts.)  
  • After a selecting a random location, drop a pin on your house’s location, and draw that same circle within 100 miles.  

What are your options?  

What if we expanded that to your entire state?  

Any state that borders your state?  

Go online and search for the alumni magazine and student newspapers from some of those colleges you have discovered, or check out their social media accounts. These are great resources as you are researching, preparing to visit (virtually or in person), and ultimately before making a final college choice. In these publications, you will read countless success stories, relationships that started on campus, and interesting, caring faculty and staff who make that school an absolutely incredible environment to learn, grow, and explore. They’ll prove in both statistics and stories of students and graduates that the path to success and happiness goes through hundreds of campuses, rather than the ten or twenty most media cover ad nauseum. 

4- Black Out 

Give a parent or younger sibling a Sharpie and tell them to rip the cover off brochures that come to your house in the next month. Then ask them to use a Sharpie to black out the name of the college everywhere it appears.  

How does not knowing the name of a college change your perspective or opinions? 

How do the questions you ask change when you review colleges this way?  

5- Stay Grounded and Take Flight 

Watch and listen closely to the seniors this spring. You are going to see them deliberate over decisions that involve finances, distance from home, opinions of others, and a variety of other factors. Those who applied to a variety of schools in terms of selectivity and cost are going to have options. Ask the seniors you are close to what advice they would have based on their experience. And  pay attention to what they are saying this fall as they head off to school – and as you are applying to schools too. Notice how stories and perspectives change. Their “dream school” or “top choice” from last fall or this spring is often not the same one they end up attending and loving.   

Like college itself, the college admission experience is all about learning, expanding, researching, and being open to new ideas and possibilities. That takes paying attention, reflection, intention, and sometimes tension. Focus this spring on acknowledging what you don’t know and commit to listening, learning, and exploring. Enjoy the journey  

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.

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

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

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

10 Ways to Make Your College Decision Without Visiting Campus

Listen to “Episode 8: How to Make Your College Decision Without Visiting Campus – Andrew Cohen” on Spreaker.

This week we welcome Associate Director for Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen, back to the blog. Welcome, Andrew!

As an admission professional who oversees our campus visit programs, this is typically my favorite time of year. When we started the semester, we were preparing to host thousands of admitted students and their family members to campus to provide them with the information needed to make their final college decision. The campus visit experience is a crucial aspect in the college selection process… in some ways it’s a deal breaker (or maker!).

Across the country these on-campus visits experiences have come to a screeching halt during this critical time of year. High school seniors are now tasked with choosing an institution to attend with the possibility of never stepping foot on campus until they move in come the fall.

The good news? There are a lot of resources available to help you learn more about the schools you are considering. Here’s a list of ways to get a feel for an institution without ever stepping foot on campus.

1. Admitted Student Webinars and Virtual Events.
Colleges have been working around the clock to offer their admitted student programs virtually. If you do not see opportunities online yet, check back soon because something will most certainly be offered.

College Visit Webinars

2. Virtual Campus Tours.
Many schools have a virtual tour feature on their website, so make sure to take advantage of it. Most virtual tours last over an hour, so plan to spend a bit of time listening viewing all the videos and pictures that are available.

Virtual College Campus Tours

3. Social Media.
Yes, you should follow the institution and admission office’s social media handles, but also take a look at the various departmental and student organization accounts. These accounts are created for current students, so you will get some different information that you might not see on the institution or admission accounts.

Follow College Admission Social Media

4. Ask Questions of admission staff.
Admission counselors are not traveling this spring and families are not going on spring break vacations, so you should be able to get in contact with admission staff members to get your questions answered. You might not be able to call and get someone on the phone right away, but if you send an email, you can probably get a call set up to chat with someone.

Ask Questions to College Admission Staff

5. Talk to students.
I have learned admitted students would rather talk to current students about campus life than ask me. Most institutions have a way for you to connect with current students. At Tech we are offering Talk with a Tour Guide, giving admitted students a chance to talk one-on-one with a current student in their intended college.

6. Check out alumni magazines and student newspapers.
These types of publications target audiences other than prospective students, and can provide great insight about a school’s culture. Want to learn more about life after college? A digital version of an alumni magazine will help you learn about potential career opportunities.

College Alumni Updates

7. Use your personal network.
You likely know someone (or you know someone, who knows someone), who attends the institution you are considering. Use your personal network to make connections with recent graduates or current students. Their advice will be authentic and provide great insight.

Talk to Recent College Graduates

8. Explore multiple sources, and always fact check!
There are so many discussion boards and forums out there with valuable information, but it is important to fact check to make sure what you are reading is accurate. One person’s views and opinions shouldn’t become a broad generalization about the institution as a whole.

Fact Check College Information

9. Go with the flow.
Life is changing on a daily basis, and sometimes the answers to questions come slowly. Keep in mind everyone is getting you information as it becomes available. If a school doesn’t have an answer when you ask a question, it doesn’t mean they’re avoiding you. They will eventually have an answer! Everyone deserves some grace as we navigate these unprecedented times, and I promise, schools will get you the answers you need.

Waiting for college admission to respond to questions

10. Trust Your Gut!
At the end of the day, whether you visit a campus or not, you need to trust your gut. You can read websites, watch webinars, and scroll social media, but at the end of day you will have a feeling and need to trust yourself. You know yourself best! You will have that “aha moment,” at some point this year.

Trust yourself to choose the right college

Andrew Cohen Georgia Tech Undergraduate AdmissionAndrew Cohen joined Georgia Tech in 2018 and currently oversees the guest experience for all Undergraduate Admission visitors. His love for providing visitors with informative, authentic and personal experiences started as a student tour guide at his alma mater, Ithaca College. Andrew’s passion for the visit experience has lead him to his involvement in the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association, where he currently services as the Treasurer on their executive board.

Change is the Only Constant

Listen to “Change is the Only Constant. Episode 5- Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In the last few weeks, as the Coronavirus has become more of a reality in America, we have seen unprecedented change. Schools, professional sports, places of worship, and annual events have been postponed, closed, or canceled. Each day the headlines, number of known cases, press releases, and economic implications seem to multiply at head-spinning rates. To be honest I’m not sure what has been more disconcerting and harder for me to grasp, the fact that The Master’s won’t be in early April or that I’m now essentially co-teaching my kids’ (nine and eleven).

If you are a high school junior, I know you have a lot of questions about how this interruption to your normal life and academic career might impact your college admission experience. In a time when so much is shifting on a daily and weekly basis, I am not going to purport to know exactly how this is all going to play out. If someone has told you they have all the answers, you should run. They are either delusional or lying. Dangerous either way.

However, in times of uncertainty, I think it’s important to ground ourselves in what we do know. As it relates to your college admission experience, I’d argue that nothing has changed.

Nothing has changed

Colleges Need Students. (I figured I start with a mind-blowing revelation). Check your email inbox. I know you are getting a ton of messages right now. How did they find you? Traditionally, colleges buy names from the College Board (PSAT/SAT) and ACT. If you took one of tests, they’ve pulled you into their communication flow and are now attempting to recruit you.

If you were scheduled to take a now canceled exam, you should still expect to receive plenty of mail and email. How? Many vendors already existed who gather lists of students in high school via surveys or other methods. And while the actual sport of fencing may not be in line with current social distancing standards, you can be assured that other vendors are coming out of the virtual woodwork right now soliciting their latest, greatest algorithm for geo-fencing, digital marketing, and a variety of other multi-syllabic, often- hyphenated opportunities.Visual depiction of continuity amidst change

Sure. Currently the subject lines are not “Come visit us” or “See you soon on campus,” but the message is still the same:  We want you. We need you. We want to tell you all of the reasons why we are great, you are great, and we can be great together!

Colleges Expect Variance. I don’t know how your high school is currently teaching your courses. I DO know it varies widely across our nation and the world. We’ve heard some schools may only issue pass/fail grades for this spring. Others are saying they plan to simplify their grading scales for this term or may compress certain subjects into summer courses (assuming they are back in school by June).

Undoubtedly, a lot of nuance and diversity. This should not concern you, or make you fearful that you’ll be at a disadvantage. First, everyone is dealing with this unprecedented new reality and continually adjusting to unfamiliar territory. Second, admission folks are used to seeing varying curriculum, grading scales, and delivery methods. They are trained to ask questions and dig deeply into your transcript. Holistic review means they are not putting your GPA into a spreadsheet and multiplying by some quotient. They don’t expect uniformity. And given the global impact of Coronavirus, you should expect a lot of grace from colleges in the weeks, months, and year to come.

Colleges train readers and committees to consider your course choice and progression. Their assessment of your academic career in high school is never purely numerical or black and white.  Their biggest question is always what could you have taken and what you chose to take during high school. In that sense, nothing has changed.

You have a lot of options. There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in our country alone. Let’s be honest- the brochures they send are pretty standard, similar, and predictable.

Page 1: a picture of the football team winning. Sunny day, fans in the stands, cheering and hugging. Life is good.

Page 2: Three students of different ethnicities wearing that college’s shirt, hoodie, or hat sitting under a tree with a professor. The professor effortlessly strikes that delicate balance between youthful energy with sage wisdom and sits casually yet controlled at that perfect distance that says, “I care about you… but not in a creepy way.”

Page 3: A student standing on something high- perhaps near a statue, or on a mountain, or on a bluff overlooking the ocean, pondering life’s limitless possibilities. You get the picture. Literally.

The truth is that although these brochures may look the same, American colleges and universities vary widely. One upside of the many articles covering how Coronavirus is impacting higher education is that they shine a spotlight on this impressive, beautiful, vast landscape. In fact, I’d contest the diversity of our higher education system is one of our greatest strengths as a nation.

Good news for you is that right now schools are working extremely hard to create and publish all kinds of ways for you to interact with them online via social media, webinars, individualized appointments, and more. In the days, weeks, and months ahead, you are going to see great, new content from students, faculty, alumni, and campus organizations in a way that students before you simply did not.

Bottom line: You have a lot of options, just like always. But this disruption is going to be a catalyst for colleges to demonstrate their variety and incredible communities in even more accessible, unique, and compelling ways than ever before.

Everything Has Changed

I get it. In many ways, it feels like everything has changed: You’re not in school and it’s Wednesday at 1:32 p.m.; people around you are genuinely excited when they score a 18- count package of toilet paper; Waze timeVisual depiction of changing times estimates have been moving to an “earlier arrival time;” “Quarantine” bingo cards are popping up on your social media feed. What the…?!! Crazy, crazy days, my friends.

My hope is you’ll see this disruption to normal life as an opportunity. Things have slowed down dramatically. Eventually and progressively they’ll boot back up. As they do, you will have the choice to re-enter relationships, organizations, and daily life in a different way.

Take some time (since you should have more of it now) to ask yourself what you want to see change in yourself, your relationships, the way you interact on social media, and how you treat and communicate with family, friends, and “your neighbors.” I hope you’ll be an encouragement to others during this time of uncertainty. I hope your relationships with your family will be strengthened.

Spend some time reflecting on how you currently invest your time and what that indicates about your priorities and character. Now that you are not in your normal patterns or rhythms think about where your identity comes from and if that is authentic and accurate.

My hope is you’ll not see the weeks ahead as isolating or something to fear, but rather as opportunity to embrace and lead change. Ultimately, you may find avenues or passions for bringing that about on a larger, broader, more societal or global level, but the courage to do that starts by honestly examining your own mind, heart, and life.

What does all of that have to do with college admission? Absolutely nothing… and everything.