Holistic Academic Review: More Than a GPA

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This week we welcome Assistant Director of Admission & Digital Media, Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome back, Sammy!

It’s that time of year! For new goals and resolutions? Perhaps. For feeling recharged after time off from work and school? Hopefully. For a crisp 3-inch blanket of snow draped across the ground? Maybe, but in Atlanta probably not. 

 For “How’d Emily get admitted with a 4.4 and John get denied with a 4.7?” Absolutely. Given my digital media work for our office, I’m privy to chat threads that start just like that, all the time. This time of year, those questions are on especially heavy rotation as “Chance me with a X.XX GPA” turns into “I was admitted/denied/deferred with a X.XX GPA.” So, all other elements of fit and the holistic review process aside (Which is no small “aside”, but my colleagues have written lots of great blogs on the matter) let’s talk about the limitations of using, and comparing, transcript GPAs alone as a decision indicator in holistic admission.  

The impact of weighting, and extracurricular courses 

Many schools use weighted GPAs to add extra point(s) to their more rigorous courses- AP, honors, etc. Essentially, the aim is to create a grade point that not only factors in a student’s performance in a class, but also the difficulty of the class. 

 Let’s say a school gives one extra grade point to AP courses (So, an A in an AP is five grade points, compared to four in a regular course). Emily and John both take two AP courses, and both get As for grade points of five. Emily has early dismissal at the end of the day, which she uses for her internship. She doesn’t get a grade for it. John is particularly interested in science, and is taking an anatomy course he’s enjoying- it’s offered at a regular level, so his A gets him four grade points.  

EMILY Classes Letter Grade Grade point 
AP Calculus A 5.00
AP Biology A 5.00
Early Release—Work  
AVERAGE   5.00

 

JOHN Classes  Letter Grade Grade point 
AP Calculus  A  5.00 
AP Biology  A  5.00 
Anatomy  A  4.00 
AVERAGE    4.666 

 In the short example above, both students received all As, both students used their time productively to explore additional interests, yet Emily’s average is a 5.00, John’s average is a 4.67.   

As the “A” in the abbreviation suggests, GPAs are just averages. They don’t give the context of what courses a student took, and how that impacted the final number. Here’s the good news: in holistic review, context is everything. Using your transcript to unpack your full course history and performance gives far more insight into your academic preparation than the GPA summarizing that performance.  (Video version, if you prefer)

The impact of non-universal school scales and curriculums 

In the above example, I gave you the scale by which the school weighed GPAs. When admission counselors review transcripts, we’ll typically have grading information available to us from a school report, school profile, or on the transcript itself. Out in the wild of various admission forums and chats with neighbors/friends/your great aunt’s second cousin… you won’t have that information, yet, it’s critical to understanding the ranges of GPAs typical at a given high school. A few weighted 4.0 scale examples: 

School One: honors get .5 points added, APs have 1 point added. The highest grade awarded is an A+. They offer 34 honors courses and 29 AP courses and do not limit the APs a student can take. Valedictorian has about a 4.9 

School Two: again, honors get .5 points added and APs get 1 point added. The highest grade awarded is an A. The school offers 18 honors courses and 22 AP courses, students are limited to taking 1 AP sophomore year, 3 junior and senior years. Accordingly, GPAs tend to average lower than School One, the valedictorian has about a 4.5 

School Three: Honors and AP courses are both weighted with two points, accelerated courses are weighted with one point. In the spring of 2020, all passing grades were marked as As, which is the highest grade awarded. There are no limits on weighted courses. Valedictorian has about a 5.6.  

There are an infinite number of curriculums and grading scales, there is no universal standard across United States school districts. The above hasn’t scratched the surface on 4.0 models, let alone 100 point models, 6 point, 7 point… you get the idea. When you see Emily on Reddit’s admission decision with a 4.4 and you’re curious what it means for you, it’s a fruitless comparison. Or perhaps fruit filled, as a 4.4 at her school is likely apples and oranges to a 4.4 at yours. Terrible play on words, sorry. 

apple and orange on a scale

Unweighted GPAs and the impact of rigor

In an unweighted GPA model, there’s no extra weight added to coursework, each course is factored into the GPA based on points for performance alone. Emily and John are both interested in aerospace engineering, and took the following schedules this year:  

EMILY Classes  Letter  Grade point 
AP Physics  A  4.00 
Calculus  A  4.00 
Honors English  B+  3.3 
AVERAGE    3.766 
JOHN Classes  Letter  Grade point 
Underwater Basket Weaving  A  4.00 
Precalculus  A-  3.7 
The Art of Napping  A  4.00 
AVERAGE    3.9 

At first glance, John’s earned a higher average than Emily, with a 3.9 compared to her 3.77. But all naps that I took in college aside…who has the stronger academic preparation for college-level coursework in aerospace engineering? I’ll let you make that call.  

The impact of performance over time and subject  

When looking at the transcript, admission reviewers can see patterns in course choice and performance. Where did the student perform their best? Which subjects did they challenge themselves in? And, how did they perform over time? We also may receive information from the student or school providing insight on circumstances that impacted a student’s academics. We may find upward academic trends (improved grades as a student progressed) or downward trends. In other words, while Emily and John could have a similar GPA, one might have had lower grades in 9th grade, while the other, in 11th. We know juniors are tired of hearing this, but given that they represent the more advanced coursework that you’ll build from in college, those later courses and their grades tend to matter more. All in all, the transcript tells a story of academic fit through the lens of your growth, strengths, and interests, which isn’t quite captured in a single number.   

So why does this matter? If you’re waiting on admission decisions, it can truly be stressful reading other students’ stats and trying to anticipate what it means for you. The reality is, those numbers are entirely devoid of the context—academically, and the additional context of holistic application review that we’ve sidelined for now—that they were made in. And so, I encourage the academic equivalent of “don’t judge a book by its cover”. While I know it’s tempting to try and find signposts hinting at a decision as you wait, my hope is that armed with this understanding, you can save yourself the headache and heartache of comparison and keep your sights on your own path, and your own accomplishments in this new year ahead.

Applying to College Isn’t Like The Movies

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This week we welcome current Admission Digital Media Student Assistant Sarah Engel to the blog. Welcome, Sarah!

This admission blog has long been written by experts in application evaluation, the admission counselors themselves. But they’ve always hoped you would seek out additional voices in your college admission experience as well—students who can share the culture and community of their colleges as they experience it every day, who can provide been-there-done-that support and encouragement as you navigate the college admission experience. And truly, as a current college student, and the first to write on this blog (no pressure!) I can echo the importance of those lived perspectives. I know first hand that when you’re actually in the midst of gathering your materials, writing your essays, and sending them off to colleges with the click of a button, it can all seem a little…surreal and disconnected. Not only do you have academic and social pressures from your friends and family, you likely have your own, internal expectations and media driven perceptions that hover over you like a dark storm cloud. 

Press Play

Growing up, I recall seeing countless teen rom coms and dramas in which the protagonist is somehow accepted into a prestigious university. Serena van der Woodsen from Gossip Girl being admitted to Brown University despite never attending class? Aaron Samuels from Mean Girls getting into Northwestern despite not understanding calculus? And, of course, the entire cast of High School Musical committing to Ivy Leagues, Juilliard, Stanford, and UC Berkeley? Not once did I see them studying between musical numbers in the gymnasium!

Disney family singalong: Zac Efron joins 'High School Musical' reunion

Now, in the age of social media, we are constantly exposed to “Reacting to my College Decisions” videos of shrieking students surrounded by family members, deserving student stories on Good Morning America being posted across Twitter, and congratulatory Instagram posts for friends committing to universities. As exciting as these seem, I know from experience how they can affect one’s mental health. The neverending stream of collegiate content across the internet, film, and television puts an invisible weight on the shoulders of students to perform well. Audiences (myself included) love the satisfaction of a loveable character embarking on a new, happy journey. But how realistic is the journey really? And what does this fascination with college in the media mean for real students applying to real schools?

Take a Pause

Spoiler alert: life isn’t always like it is in the movies (seriously, how do characters have so much time to hang out before they go to work and school in the morning?) and social media isn’t all that realistic either. When your admission experience looks different from everyone’s social media highlight reel, and Disney’s happily-ever-afters, that can feel a little lonely. But you’re not alone. My hope for you is that you’ll be kind to yourself. Check in on your friends, check in on yourself, have honest conversations with each other, and set boundaries. Hey, I work with digital media in our office, and while we hope to provide helpful content to students, I know that muting and stepping away from the screen can absolutely be an act of self-care. Taking breaks isn’t just healthy, it’s necessary.

Fast Forward 

Let’s look beyond the admission decisions: a fast forward through time for you, a rewind in time for me. Though it feels recent, I applied to college over three years ago (how is that possible?!). I remember dreading meetings with my college counselor, stressing over standardized test scores, reading my essays over and over, asking for recommendation letters, and that agonizing waiting period after applying. But then came the spring of 2019, and I was perfectly calm. Excited for the future, researching classes and clubs, planning out my dorm room decorations, and connecting with future classmates on social media. So much has changed for me since then! What hasn’t changed, however, is this truth: that, after the dust settles and the whirlwind of admission hype and headlines is behind you, what’s in front of you is an opportunity that’s yours to embrace. The keyword here is embrace. You may receive many admission decisions in the months ahead, ranging from exciting and surprising, to disappointing and… “you mean to tell me I have to send them more information?!”  The admission decisions themselves may not be yours to make, but choosing how you move forward, is. 

When I was a freshman in high school, I dreamed of going to a liberal arts college in the northeast. Perhaps Yale University, like Rory Gilmore (Gilmore Girls), or NYU, like Lara Jean Covey (To All The Boys I Loved Before). I thought, with my grades and extracurriculars, I’d be able to get in anywhere and everywhere, that I would live out the dark academia aesthetic of my dreams (a la Harry Potter). But by the time I was touring and applying to colleges, that fantasy seemed so far away. I had to face a reality check somewhere around junior year. I realized I wasn’t getting many scholarships at private, out-of-state schools. I also came to understand that I didn’t want to be all that far from my family. That I could always revisit the liberal arts school dream for graduate school. 

As colleges prepare to release decisions in the coming weeks and months, I hope you take away at least this message: it works out. Everything will be okay. Your admission decisions might not be the fairytale ending you first imagined, but that’s because they were never really an ending at all…just the opportunity to embrace a new storyline, whatever it may be. Don’t be discouraged if your fictional hero or heroine is accepted to every school they apply to, or if your best friend got a better scholarship than you. Remember that you are the protagonist of your own story on your own path. It might not be easy, but try your best, and believe me, #ItWorksOut.

Sarah Engel is a third-year LMC major from Dunwoody, Georgia. Her involvements have included the North Avenue Review Magazine, LMC CoLab, Excel Program, German National Honor Society, and FASET. Now, she works as the digital media assistant for the Office of Undergraduate Admission. 

 

 

College Admission- A Long-term Vision

“I can’t wait to get that extra hour of sleep this weekend!”

“This is great. We can stay up until midnight twice on Saturday.”

“I wish we could ‘fall back’ every weekend, so we could get an extra hour before Mondays.”

These are three statements I heard last Friday at work and at home (Identities have been withheld to protect the guilty).

I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the annual fall back weekend. Unlike most Saturday nights, and to the utter amazement of our kids, I actually watched the entire movie– rationalizing that 11 p.m. was really 10 p.m. But as the credits rolled, I was already dreading Sunday night, aware that for the next few months I would rarely make it home before dark.

If you are applying to college this year, my hope is A: You enjoyed your extra hour of sleep. Sleep is important and most teenagers don’t get enough. B: You will take the long-term, rather than short-term approach to college and college admission.

Look Ahead by Getting Organized/Re-organized Now

If you have not already done so, now is the time to create a spreadsheet with the various colleges you are considering. Application deadlines, financial aid deadlines, separate scholarship deadlines, notification dates, and so on. You can transfer these over to calendar reminders as well but start by visualizing them in one consolidated place.

Create subfolders for each college you are applying to and start unsubscribing from the schools you have ruled out. We took at look at an admitted student from last year and the number of emails we had sent her in March and April alone. I think the technical term was “a crap ton” but the actual number was too large to include here due to character count.

If you think you are getting too much email now, imagine when these schools offer you admission and go into full- out yield mode. Bottom line: make a plan and work the plan.

You Are Applying for Next Year- Not This One

Too many students who are deferred in the fall or winter stop out of the process because they are disappointed, mad, embarrassed, (insert other emotion here), or some combination of all of these. If you liked a college enough to apply early action or early decision, don’t let a deferral in December or January keep you from possibly becoming a student there next August. Hundreds of students in Georgia Tech’s first- year class were either deferred, waitlisted, or received both of those decisions last year.

Obviously, if you get a better offer, or have legitimately lost interest, you should cancel your application. All I’m saying is don’t let your ego or pride keep you from something you legitimately still want to pursue (and that applies to many things in life well beyond college admission, fyi).

Open Your Mind to Different Doors

Even prior to the pandemic, colleges were beginning to offer students different start terms. “Congratulations! We’re excited to inform you of your acceptance to Sample University! We know you’ll love being a (insert ferocious mascot name here). However, in order to join our first-year class, you will need to begin your studies in (insert international city, alternative semester, i.e., spring or summer, online, etc.) Post-pandemic, however, the number of colleges boosting enrollment by offering innovative enrollment options is proliferating. As an example, last summer 20% of our first-year students began their Tech career in June, and over the last two years we’ve started undergraduates in Shenzhen, China and Metz, France. This year we’ll add Oxford, England to the list.

Thinking long-term instead of short-term means you may have to get a passport, wait a semester or two to enroll, begin online instead of in-person, or transfer from another university after a year or two. Take some time now to learn about the options schools you are interested in offer applicants, and ask questions about the benefits, differences in cost or calendar, and other important details.

If you are going to focus on anything immediate, let it be your friends, family, grades, and impact on your community.  You only get one senior year– make yours memorable.

My hope is you will keep your options and your mind open. And enjoy those longer, lighter days that will come as a result.

 

 

College Admission: It Depends

Listen to “College Admission: It Depends (Reviewing Admission Predictions From This Year) – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Traditionally, the work and world of college admission is cyclical. The early fall is about recruiting- hosting students on campus, traveling to high schools, college fairs, and communities to spread the word about your school. While Covid-19 may have disrupted how that was done, the concept held: fall= spread the word and plant seeds for the future. 

Late fall and winter, at least for schools that have a holistic admission process, is about reading applications and making admission decisions. In many ways it requires the opposite skills and focus from the prior cycle- very inward focused and lots of time spent with colleagues vs. constituents.   

In the spring, we turn our attention back to recruitment- convincing seniors to “choose us” from their other options via on campus programs or virtual or regionally hosted “yield” programs, as well as starting to talk with juniors or sophomores about future application.  

And then there is the summer. While students are still visiting campus for tours, and there are orientations and documents arriving to ensure the new class is ready to enroll, this is the primary season for reflection.  

What did we do well?  

What do we need to improve, ditch, change for the year ahead? 

Reviewing My Predictions 

Right on cue last week, Sammy Rose-Sinclair, the “woman behind the curtain” of @GTAdmission social media handles and the engine behind our podcast, The College Admission Brief, asked if I thought I had gotten more of my admission/enrollment predictions right or wrong in my October 2020 blog “The Future of College Admission?”   

A valid and timely question to consider. And, like so many answers in college admission, the truth is “it depends.”  

Is a 3.9 GPA good? Well… it depends. Is that on a 4.0, 5.0, or 13.0 scale (yes, those are all out there). 

Should I take AP English or dual enroll for English 101? Well… it depends on where you are dual enrolling, where you might ultimately apply to college, how those schools accept credit, which one you think you’ll actually learn more from, and so on.   

The truth is you can basically answer any question with those two words and then just walk off stage- or exit the Zoom room, as it were. But I’m not going to do you like that. So, let’s take a look.  

 1- Application volume.  

I wrote: “Most colleges will see fewer, or the same, rather than more applications this year….”  

Well… it depends. Obviously, you have Colgate, UGA, several UCs, along with some nationally known and highly covered universities (known for their plant-based athletic league) saw significant application increases. In fact, so much digital real estate went to covering that handful of schools that many believe it to be the real narrative.  

However, community colleges, regional publics, less selective private schools, as well as large swaths of colleges in geographic regions across our country lost students this year, and were either flat or down in 2021-2022 interest.  

What does that mean for you as a future college applicant? 

Well, only you can answer that question, but here’s another one to consider: Do you care?  

Application Totals Through March 1 

Institution Type  One-Year Change in Applications 
Private, large, less selective  2.23% 
Private, large, more selective  20.66% 
Private, small, less selective  0.41% 
Private, small, more selective  14.11% 
Public, large, less selective  12.97% 
Public, large, more selective  15.53% 
Public, small, less selective  -2.13% 
Public, small, more selective  -0.64% 

In 2020, Colgate’s first year class was approximately 800. UGAs non-resident number was not far from that. Recently, too many people have cited those two schools to be me as signposts of the “craziness of the year.” But if you are more interested in watching Hamilton than living in Hamilton, NY, or you don’t look good in red and can’t bark anyway, do these two places matter to you?  

Let’s be honest- it’s normally “adults” fueling the frenzy of consternation. If you have one of those in your life quoting limited statistics or regularly breathing heavily about college admission because of the headlines, you may have to be the adult by providing perspective and level-setting. Last I checked there were less than 65,000 total undergraduates in the Ivy League, whereas there are over 100,000 studying in Texas A&M system schools; there are 450+ schools still accepting applications right now; and many of the colleges receiving more applications this year also admitted more students due to concerns around yield.  

Mixed bag.  

GRADE: B-ish.  

2- Fewer Apps/ Student, aka A Narrower Net

I wrote: “As much as we’re all fatigued by this pandemic, it is not over. The financial impact on families, businesses, and communities is yet to be fully felt. As a result, I foresee 2021 seniors casting a narrower net when applying to college resulting in a lower application: student ratio.”   

According to Common Application data, unique applicants who submitted at least one application increased 2% from 2019-20 (sounds like more support of being more right than wrong in Prediction #1), BUT “they have submitted 11 percent more applications than last year — primarily to colleges in the Southwest (up 22.73 percent and in the South (up 15.47 percent). The mid-Atlantic and New England schools saw single digit increases.” Whoops. 

Sure, I could tell you that the Common App, while significant, only represents 900 of our nation’s 4000 colleges and universities. I could tell you that, like in #1, this varied across sector and region of the nation. I could cite my comment from the fall, “Let me be clear. There are going to be exceptions to this. Ivy League and Ivy-like schools with multibillion-dollar endowments will likely not be affected as much, so please don’t email me in six months saying I predicted Princeton’s admit rate was going to double. But here again we’re reminded those places are outliers and anomalies, not the signposts, in American Higher Education.” But those would be excuses and half-truths. Yea, it depends. But if we have to get binary, this one is leaning more toward wrong than right.   

What does that mean for you as a future applicant? 

In four simple words—BUILD A BALANCED LIST!  If you remember nothing else from this blog (and I’m hoping you’ll primarily forget where I was wrong), it is this. If you apply to a set of schools that vary in their selectivity, geographic setting, and school type, you are going to have great offers- both in admission and financial aid. Your job as an applicant is the same as it is as a student: research, listen, ask good questions, seek perspective and stay broad/open-minded.   

The truth is that many amazing colleges, due to losses during the pandemic, as well as concerns about future enrollment (see Demographic Cliff/ International fragility) are looking for students just like you. In fact, check your email or mailbox regularly in the next few weeks and you’ll notice this as truth.  

Here is a question- do you think there is another high school in this country where you could go to make friends, get involved, and learn things? How about within your city or state? Would it be crazy to even say there are 5, 7, 11 other high schools out there where you could also graduate prepared for life beyond high school and generally happy? (Hint: the correct answer is Yes.) 

Well… then take that same mentality and go find colleges with varying admit rates and academic profiles. To be very specific: a few below 50% admit rate and a few above.  

GRADE: C (but not a grade inflated C, fyi.) 

3- Bigger waitlists = longer cycle. 

I wrote: “Selective colleges are going to hedge their bets on yield rates. This means they will likely put even more students on waitlists and start pulling students earlier in the cycle (in other words, expect to see more mid-April admits as healthy colleges see deposits roll come in)…Higher education is an ecosystem. As schools continue build their classes through waitlist offers in May and June, they will be pulling those students away from other colleges. This activity and domino effect will extend deep into the summer, just as it did in 2020. We anticipated a more extended cycle as a result of NACAC’s CEPP adjustments and Covid has served to further elongate that timeline.” 

All of that seems to be true and has played out on some level. Honestly, the seemingly low degree to which schools went to their waitlists this year surprised me. That either means yield was higher than anticipated, or they put out more admits in order to adjust for flat-ish yield (my guess in most cases).  

However, the number of students receiving waitlist offers, again according to school counselors (plus a few Reddit threads) did in fact play out to be “obnoxious” as predicted. We’ll see when Common Data Sets are released in the fall, but reports of more than a few schools waitlisting well over 10,000 students are prevalent. AND, the elongated cycle is also proving to be true. 

What does that mean for you as a future applicant?  

Waitlists are used by the school to ensure they hit their class goal. As an example, Georgia Tech initially offered 6,600 students. 3900 accepted a spot, and we’ve offered admission to 240 from our waitlist to this point. While our class seems to be very close to target at this point, we have not released our waitlist. Why? Because we continue to see students melting due to waitlist offers from other colleges, request gap years/gap semesters, and we are watching the international landscape to determine likelihood of visa issuance, particularly in Brazil and India.   

Covid is forcing schools to re-build the predictive model they use to judge yield and melt. This is going to take several years. If you choose to apply to several schools with admit rates below 30%, you should expect to receive at least one waitlist offer. That may sound a little wet blanket, but again college and college admission are all about understanding history, analyzing statistics, and coming to logical conclusions based on information. Just saying. 

GRADE: B+/ A- 

FINAL GRADE 

It depends is the story of college admission this year.  

Were apps/admit rates/yield up or down this year? It depends. 

Were my predictions more wrong than right? It depends. 

Should you continue to read this blog given the consistently mixed results? Well… I did include multiple caveats and disclaimers in that predictions blog, so it’s not like I won’t tell you when I am on shaky ground.  

But here is one thing I do know to be true. If you have read this entire blog, you are a talented, smart, diligent, and committed student. So I’m 100% confident in this prediction: BUILD A BALANCED LIST and you will have great choices and options. BUILD A BALANCED LIST and you won’t need to dig into every line of a Common Data Set or maniacally follow sub threads next year. BUILDING A BALANCED LIST means that every school you apply to is your top choice, rather than reserving that moniker for one place. 

Prediction: YOUR FUTURE GRADE=  A+  

What Will Your Sentence Be?

Listen to “What Will Your Sentence Be? – Lewis Caralla, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Georgia Tech Football” on Spreaker.

Lewis Caralla is the head strength and conditioning coach for Georgia Tech Football. Many days, after practice, he records videos for his players that start with, “Hey, guys. Got a message.” While these are brief, they are always poignant, passionate, and indicative of his deep love for his players—reflective of his desire to see them challenged and constantly improving. 

Recently, he started one of these videos with, “I think, in the end, we are all going to be defined by one sentence.” Well…that got my attention.  He went on to ask how people in your life would describe you. What is the “first thing that comes to mind about you?”  

Over the last two weeks, I’ve taken some time to think about that concept and wrestle with how people around me would answer the question. What do my kids say to their friends about me? How do my parents, colleagues, or neighbors quickly describe and summarize who I am? What are the first words, common phrases, and connecting themes? 

At any stage of life, this is a convicting and important concept.  

What do you want that sentence to be?  

What is it right now?  

Where are the gaps between ideal and current?  

If you are feeling really bold, ask the people in your life that you love, respect, and trust to share their summary sentence with you.  

Got a Message. 

When most admission officers, high school counselors, or independent consultants talk about applying to college, they break down the application into various segments. We have done that on our blog and podcast as well. It works well for purposes of simplicity and digestibility, so you won’t have to search online long to find pieces like, “Five Excellent Essay Tips,” “Acing the Interview,” or “Excelling in Extra-curriculars!”   

And we know that most students approach their application this way too. “Ok. I’m going to go ahead and get my Activities section done this week, and then I’ll move on to the Supplementary Questions  next week.” Hey, good on you. I love the time management (just try to avoid “next week” ending with an 11:59 p.m. submission on deadline day).  

Don’t misunderstand me. It is important to step away from your work a few times before submitting in order to either have others give you feedback, or for you to gain perspective and catch things you might not see in your first round of working through the prompts or questions. However, continually talking about the application in this fragmented fashion is misleading, because at schools receiving far more applications from incredibly talented students than they have spots available, that is not how they’re ultimately discussed, nor is that how admission decisions are made.  

I understand movies about college admission will make it seem like these pensive and stoic deans are dressed up, wearing spectacles, and sitting around oaken (a word typically reserved only for admission review and Lord of the Rings) tables, debating for hours the merits of each student who has applied to their prestigious university that year. However, due to the speed with which they’re reading, the volume of applications they are reviewing, and the compressed timeline for making decisions, the notes, conversations, and exchanges of admission officers are more like a Coach Caralla video- informative, personal, passionate, and incredibly succinct.  

The question then is after one of these folks reviews your transcript, reads your responses to essays or short–answer questions, considers the context of your community, family and school, evaluates your activities, and looks over your recommendation letters, what will their sentence be in summarizing your application– and how it fits into the larger applicant pool?   

And, back to the original question, “What do you want your sentence to be?” 

What do you want your sentence to be?

If you are a rising senior, my sincere hope is you will make this a constant question in your college admission search and selection experience.   

What do you want your sentence to be will help guide and lead you as you research and ultimately apply to colleges. It will serve as a signpost for articulating your hopes and dreams and determining if that campus environment and community is a good match.  

What do you want your sentence to be will help you select an essay topic from the various prompts. Students are always asking “which one” is best or “which one” should I choose? Well, let’s flip that. Which one helps you communicate your sentence? 

What do you want your sentence to be will help you know when you are done. Too often students struggle to submit their application because they are either nervous, or legitimately think that one more round of proofing or editing must be done. At some point, that is an exercise in futility.  

Instead, read over your application like an admission counselor would- cover to cover. And then ask your touchstone question—what will their one sentence summary be 

Will they include that you pushed and challenged yourself in the courses that were available in your school? 

Will they include that you were involved, had an impact on those around you, and influenced people positively? Will they answer that you will be missed by your school or community or family when you graduate? 

Will they include that they have a better sense of who you are and what you value from your writing? Essentially, that is what admission folks mean when they say, “we just want to hear your voice” or  advise you to“be authentic.”  

What do you want your sentence to be will help you wait. Clearly, one of the hardest parts of the admission experience for students is waiting on a result. After all of the hard work, preparation, consideration, and consternation, you send your application into the black hole of the admission office. If you are confident that your sentence is truly yours, you will have solace in that silence. 

What do you want your sentence to be will help you handle those admission decisions. We’ve written extensively about this in the past, and while those thousands of words are still accurate and valuable, the bottom line is this—if you are confident that your application accurately and compellingly communicated your sentence, then you will be able to keep perspective regardless of the results.     

Coach Caralla’s video concluded with this, “If you want a defining sentence that matters to you one day, live the one you want.” Bam! 

As you work on your applications, wait for decisions, and ultimately make your final college choice, that’s the mentality I hope you will adopt. It will help you eliminate options, tune out unhelpful voices, focus on what truly matters to you, and maintain peace, perspective, and sanity in the year ahead.  

Live your sentence well, friends.