Soothing the Sting of College Admission Decisions

Listen to “Soothing the Sting of College Admission Decisions – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

My son has terrible seasonal allergies. Since Atlanta is basically a city in the forest, spring is really rough as everything starts to bloom. This week his throat has been so sore that he’s barely eaten, he’s woken up most nights crying in discomfort, and has spent his days at school suffering under a mask. As a parent, I want so badly to take away his pain, but I’m left helplessly repeating, “It is going to be ok. You are going to feel better soon.”  

All true but he’s the one having to suffer through the pain and frustration (plus pop Claritin and suck on lozenges). I can support and encourage him, but ultimately it’s just going to take time to improve  

Over the last few weeks, and in the days ahead, many colleges are releasing admission decisions. Inevitably, some of you reading this will be (or have been) denied or waitlisted (or supporting those who do)

I can’t totally soothe that sting, but over the years, I’ve written extensively about my own personal “re-routes,” as well as the experiences of students, family, and friends 

Here are a few that may give you some perspective, solace, and hope.  

Lessons and Hopes for High School Seniors. Happened last year – lost an election to the board of my national organization. 

“The truth is we learn more about ourselves when we don’t get something, or when something is taken away, than when everything is smooth, easy, and going our way. Growth comes after discomfort or pain. My hope is you won’t just get through the admission process, but rather embrace it as an opportunity to remember the decisions of others are not what define us. They may change our direction, but character, mentality, and motivation is ours to choose.”

I Have a Brother. Multiple instances of not making a team, being selected, getting a job, getting into his first-choice college, and more. 

“My hope is you will come to understand and appreciate that success is not a point-to-point trip. A life fully and well-lived is not a straight road. So when you feel like things are falling apart; when you look around and believe “everyone else is happy;” when you question what you did wrong or why something did not work out, my hope is you will remember you are not at a dead-end, or even a U-turn that is forcing you to double back. These are inevitable turns, re-routes, and natural bends in the road you should expect on any journey.” 

Handling That MomentJunior year in high school, dumped by my girlfriend.   

If you If you find yourself in that moment, I hope you will have the clarity to know—or the willingness to hear your friends or parents or coaches remind you—of the truth: nobody is perfect. No college is either. 

The Other Side. Stories of current college students who did not end up where they expected. 

“There are many times in life that we need to be reminded to slow down, remain calm, and dream of The Other Side.  I hope you’ll strive to recognize those moments not only in your own life but in those of your friends and family members too. Take the time to encourage them; to come around them; to describe with optimism and confidence the better days that lie ahead.” 

Earlier this week, Melissa Korn, who covers education for the Wall Street Journal, sent out this tweet encouraging followers to share their stories of denial and disappointment. If you are a senior currently awaiting or having just received a waitlist or deny decision, I encourage you to go check out that thread, as admission directors and others from around the country shared their own stories.

I’ve said before and will say again, college admission decisions are not character judgments or predictions of future potential. Getting in, or not getting in, to a particular school does not change who you are, the feasibility of your goals, or define you in a substantive way. 

Just like with my son I know I cannot fully take away your discomfort or pain or frustration with my wordsThat is going to take some timeBut hopefully through these stories and posts will help you begin to believe and see that you are not just going to be ok—you are going to be great. TRUST!    

The Waitlist. Why?!

Listen to “The Waitlist…Why?! – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

The only thing more annoying than a four-year old incessantly asking you why is a twelve-year-old, impersonating a four-year old asking you why. Plus, they are faster, and not as easily distracted by a lollipop or cartoon.

However, lately our ten-year old has come up with some pretty solid queries about how things work.

Why are some metals not magnetic?

Why do Americans say, “soccer” instead of “football?”

Not liking my first answer, she patiently rephrased, “Why did Americans decide to name another sport “football?”   

If you’ve received a waitlist offer recently, you are probably also asking, “why?” And while Google was quite helpful on “Why California became a state before Oregon,” you’ll find some disconcerting and completely inaccurate information about college waitlists on the interwebs.

Waitlisted? Here is what you need to know:

Why do they exist?

Colleges use historical trends and statistical models to predict “yield,” i.e., the number or percentage of students that accept an offer of admission and choose to enroll. Currently, the average yield for four-year colleges is around 35%.

Yield varies based on a variety of factors. For example, a student’s major, distance from campus, and financial aid package all contribute to their likelihood of committing. But, for the purposes of simplicity, if a school is looking to enroll 1,000 students, and their expected yield is 33%, they’ll need to admit approximately 3,000 students.

As you can imagine, this year yield is more fragile and unpredictable than ever. The pandemic has thrown all kinds of curveballs into the equation, including issues around finances, health, willingness to travel great distances from home, and so on.

Ultimately, however, chancellors, presidents and boards of directors/trustees do not care about variables. Every university has an enrollment goal they are expected to meet, and the admissions and enrollment teams are charged with bringing in that class–both in overall size and particular composition.

If yield drops (as it has most places in recent years), the college needs to be able to make additional offers to hit stated targets. Voila- The Waitlist!

How do waitlists work?

A waitlist for a college is not the same as a line outside of a concert or restaurant (use your way back machine to visualize this reference). In other words, schools do not assign numbers or rank to the students on their waitlist. Instead, they watch their deposits closely beginning in April and compare those numbers with their goals. If they see that their geographic, gender, academic, or other demographic targets are “soft” (i.e. not coming in at the level they are looking for), they may go to their waitlist before their deposit deadline. Otherwise, they will wait until after their deposit deadline, assess the gap between their targets and their current number of deposits, and then begin making offers to “shape” their class.

Here is an example. Good College, located in Bonne, is trying to grow their Economics program. They have 560 students on their waitlist. After their deposit deadline, they see they still need 20 deposits to hit their overall class target. They also notice that students depositing for Economics are at the same level as the year before. So, guess who is getting the first wave of waitlist offers?

Waitlist activity is influenced not only by the demographics and composition of the incoming students, but also on who is graduating and which current students they expect to return. In other words, if the university always wants to be able to say they have at least one student from each of the 50 states, and their one Nebraskan is a senior… “Welcome to Good, Mr. Bien from Kearney, NE.”

How they don’t work.

  • Each year, a few admitted students will inform us they are going to choose another college, but they want to “give their spot” to a friend on the waitlist. That’s good looking out, and kind to offer. Not how it works, but good looking out. 
  • Showing up to “demonstrate interest” is not a thing. Even in non-pandemic times, coming to the admission office to say, “Hey!” Or “Hey, I’m on the waitlist and… I’d like to come off.” Or “Hey, I’m on the waitlist and… I’d like to come off… and I really like your shirt.” NOPE. None of that is necessary, and none of that will work. See Admission 101 advice below.

What can you do if you are waitlisted?

  1. Accept your spot on the list. At most schools the waitlist decision is actually an offer, rather than an automatic spot on the list. Typically, you need to take action of some kind to claim your waitlist spot. You also may need to complete a supplementary short answer question, send mid-semester grades, or submit another recommendation letter/ interview. All colleges vary in how they work their waitlist, but Admission 101 = read what they send and do what it says. 
  1. Deposit elsewhere. The college that has offered you a spot on their waitlist should be instructing you to take this step, as it is absolutely critical. Because many admitted students wait until the week prior to the deposit deadline to commit, the majority of waitlist activity occurs in May, June, and July. That means you need to put your money down at another school in order to secure your spot. Just like the college, you are hedging your bets.
    I hate to go all Effie Trinket on you here, but just in case no one else says it… the waitlist odds are not in your favor. “But I thought you just said…” I know, I know. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it is a numbers game, and this year you’ve got plenty of company on the waitlist. Your job is to get excited about a school that did admit you and secure your space in their class.

3. Don’t stalk the admission office. Claim your spot, send in what they ask for, and wait. That’s it! If you really feel compelled to send an email to an admission counselor that you’ve met or corresponded with previously, that could be your one other action item. If you do that, it’s a one and done deal. We have seen students send a painted shoe with a message on the bottom reading: “just trying to get my foot in the door.” Memorable, but ultimately ineffective. Admission offices regularly receive chocolates, cookies, and treats along with poems or notes. It is safe to say that a couple hundred grams of sugar and a few couplets are not going to outweigh institutional priorities. There is a distinct line between expressing interest and stalking. Stay in your lane.

4. Finish Well. This is not the “scared straight” message about keeping your grades up, not being a jerk to your sister, or posting mean things online. If you have not heard all of that by now, we have an entirely different set of issues. Instead, my hope is you will not let being on a waitlist keep you from enjoying the last part of your senior year. It’s already been challenging enough with Covid-19, so don’t make it any more stressful or difficult for yourself. Spend time with your friends and family and do the things you love.

For the Record

Whether you are an admissions dean, a student, a school counselor, or a parent, we can all agree on this- The Waitlist Sucks. It’s like the brain freeze of admissions land; it’s the seventh layer of admission purgatory; it’s our collective Newman! Why? Why! Why?!

Waiting Well in Uncertainty

This week we welcome Senior Admission Counselor Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome back, Sammy!

Listen to “Waiting Well For Decisions-Sammy Rose-Sinclair” on Spreaker.

If you applied to colleges for regular decision, it’s been a few long weeks now that you’ve been waiting on your decision. For the many Early Action applicants deferred from schools this year, it’s been even longer—we’re talking months. Long enough to have watched The Office 26 times back to back.

Still waiting…

While you’re suspended in the discomfort of uncertainty for so long, it’s easy to fixate, to try and find insights that fill in the gaps of what you don’t know. First-year profiles and stats? “How I Got In” YouTube videos? Common Data Sets? Checked them. A thousand times. You may find yourself hunting for signs, trying to decipher anything, anything, as an indicator of what’s to come. An email from Financial Aid? A new button on the admission portal? That could mean something, right? And then there’s daydreaming about life after the admission decision, and how much better things will be.

This is not me passing judgment. This is me speaking from experience. Let me level with you for a moment:

While I was halfway across the country waiting on a potential job offer from Georgia Tech, I jumped into a bottomless pit of internet tabs and YouTube videos about Atlanta and Georgia Tech every night. Every. Night. While I was waiting to hear if my offer was accepted on my home, I scrolled through the pictures on Zillow over… and over… and over. Before long, I had mapped out every grocery store, restaurant, and retail store within a 5-mile radius.

To bring us back a little bit closer to home, I applied to graduate school two summers ago. Slightly different than undergraduate admission, but the application bones were the same: transcripts, test scores, essays, recommendations, the whole deal. I obsessed. I tried to find all I could about how likely I was to get admitted. (You know when you’ve hit the third page of Google results you’re in way too deep.) In my interview, the recruiter quite literally told me I was going to be admitted a few weeks later, and I STILL kept at it.

Feel familiar? Truly, my hope for you is to be better than me. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Getting excited about a new adventure is a good thing.

Researching and virtually visiting schools so that you’re well prepared to make a decision in a few months is a good thing. But doing all the things I just described above? That doesn’t feel good. If you stop to think about how you feel when you’re doing these things, you’ll likely agree.

My hope for you is that you can recognize that moment, and act on it. Reclaim your time, and see this period of time between submitting applications and making a college decision as an opportunity. There are people you care about and things you can do in your last year of high school that deserve your attention now, so much more than the college admission fixation. I promise you, investing your energy in them will feel a million times better.

Trying to peg your likelihood of admission with “chance-me’s,” or thinking up various calculations of where you fall/versus application numbers/versus admit rates, can only provide a fleeting and false sense of certainty where there isn’t any.

It won’t help. I understand the instinct to want to know the unknown. Unfortunately, while you’re waiting for an admission decision, I’ve learned there’s not much you can research that will truly help you “know.”

Here’s a bit of tough love for you:

  • “How I Got In” videos provide singular anecdotal evidence of an admission decision, without insight on what actually lead to that decision in application review. Yet, they’re often presented as a guide or formula to admission, which is terribly misleading. Don’t put any stock into them.
  • “Chance me’s” lack context of the high school, the full student experience, application, academic history, or the applicant pool—all things that factor into admission review.
  • First-year profiles, stats, and data sets, though they’re more data driven, are a guideline of historical numbers. They are not an absolute guarantee of admission results, especially in selective, holistic environments where the important qualitative elements of a class are difficult to summarize. Last year’s first-year profiles also are missing another critical factor: for the most part, those students applied pre-Covid-19. The context of their class profile is completely different than yours.

Boom. There’s the tough love. I don’t want to leave you feeling defeated and without a compass.  However, I believe it’s helpful to realize the compass wasn’t reliable in the first place.

Here’s the good news: wait well, and know that certainty is coming. You’ve worked hard! You’ve done your part to submit your application. The ball will be back in your court soon, but for right now, you’re not going to be in the room while your application is being read.

With all else that you have on your plate, refocus your time and energy on controlling what you can control. Take time for yourself. Take time for your friends. Hug your mama.

A college admission decision does not define you—it is not a judgement of your character, abilities, or a predictor of future success.

Let’s add on to that: a college in and of itself will not define you either. So, if you feel stuck, fixated on daydreaming about how great life will be at this one college if you could just get admitted… rethink that perspective. Don’t give any one school that kind of weight—put that power back in yourself. You’ll explore new opportunities, invest in your own personal development, challenge yourself, and create new relationships in the coming years. That’s not dependent on one college—that’s all you.

The truth is, you will be great no matter where you go, as long as you take that excitement with you, and really show up wherever you end up this fall.

My hope is that you can take the pressure off of any given admission decision in the coming months, and can get excited for the bigger picture. Trust us, it works out.

On behalf of college admission officers everywhere, thank you for waiting with us, and allowing us the opportunity and time to dive into your accomplishments. We’re in the home stretch now!

Sammy Rose-Sinclair has worked in college admission for five years. She moved to Atlanta and joined Georgia Tech three years ago as a senior admission counselor on the first-year admission team. She uses that same love of engaging with students, families, and counselors to interact with the Tech Admission community as the coordinator of our social media channels (@gtadmission).

Same Kind of Different

Listen to “Episode 30: Same Kind of Different (Preparing For Decisions) – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

This Saturday we will release Early Action II admission decisions. Later today our team will gather online (I guess that’s a thing) to walk through the number and percentage of students in each admission decision category (admit, defer, deny), their basic academic and geographic profile, the timeline for pushing the decision into our portal, and the communications plan to follow.  

These are the numbers and the mechanics. But where we will spend most of our time is encouraging and preparing our staff for what is to come. 

Great work, tough decisions, many responsibilities. 

We will thank the team for their great work to get us to this point. Over 21,000 applications reviewed (many having been read two or three times) since the November 2 deadline. For those scoring at home that’s 21,000+ different stories, writing samples, and letters of recommendation.  

In a normal year that is a heavy workload for a staff of 27, but particularly when we’ve been nearly 100% remote and many on our team have been caring for parents or pseudo-homeschooling their kids as well. Bottom line–  it’s been a lot, so we will take some time to celebrate this significant challenge and phenomenal accomplishment. 

We will applaud how flexible folks have been with one another and the grace they have extended  as dogs bark in the background, babies crawl over laptops, and internet service lapses or drops entirely. Good times! This work is always compressed and stressful, but this year has stretched us all- we will try to drive this point home. Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect.

Not everyone agrees. 

Once we have laid all of the accolades on pretty darn thick, we will discuss how tough the decisions really are. There are many difficult choices that go into selecting the best match students and meeting the goals of the Institute. Thousands and thousands of incredibly talented applicants that we simply do not have the capacity to admit 

The truth is even in our own committee discussions we have frequent disagreements and disappointments. So, especially for the staff members who have not been in our office for many years, we prepare them to hear from many students, friends, parents, counselors, principals, neighbors, loving aunts, alumni, and even seemingly unconnected observers who will not agree with our decisions.  

If you assume every applicant has four additional people “in their corner” (personally I think that is conservative) you’re talking over 100,000 people who are impacted by these decisions. That gravity is not lost on us.  

We prepare staff to expect email and calls questioning and commenting on almost every element of our process. “Didn’t you see how high her test scores are?” “You clearly have no idea how hard our high school is.” “I thought you had a holistic review. There is nothing else he could have done outside the classroom.” Covid-19 will put its own spin on this, inevitably, as courses and opportunities have been impacted and disrupted. 

Ironically, within minutes you will receive contradictory accusations. “I know you only took her because she’s a legacy.” Followed by “Apparently, you could care less we are a third-generation family.” You left without doing the dishes!” (Wait…. that was a text from my wife.) Bottom line: there will be a lot of people poking holes, second guessing, and generally frustrated about things not going the way they think they should have gone. 

Miles to go before we sleep. 

In many ways putting decisions on the proverbial streets is only the beginning of our work. As soon as we admit students, the hard work of convincing students to choose us begins. Known as “yield season” in our world, that will entail creative efforts such as calling campaigns, virtual open house programs, and late nights/ early mornings to account for a wide variety of time zones— not to mention another 20,000+ applications to review by mid March. Tight timeframes, bleary eyes, and all of the continued underlying concerns and uncertainties Covid continues to bring. So we’ll preach a steady diet of caffeine, Emergen-C, exercise, and prayer. WE got this 

Same Kind of Different 

As I was making my notes on what to say to staff today, I could not help but notice that as an applicant, all these things can be said for you too. Most of you will receive some combination of admission decisions from different colleges this year. When they roll in, regardless of the outcome (admitted, deferred, denied, waitlisted) keep these three things in mind: 

Great work, tough decisions, many responsibilities. 

You have juggled a lot to get here: classwork, practice, job, family, and all of the complications, stresses, and challenges of a global pandemicYou have demonstrated sacrifice, commitment, desire, and a willingness to trade some comfort and ease for a more difficult path.  Well done. Seriously, you likely do not want to hear this, but what you have persevered through is great preparation for college. Period.

If you have been admitted to college already, CONGRATULATIONS! Well done. You took the classes, made the grades, put in the work and deserve to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing your efforts get rewarded. Keep your celebration classy, my friends. Act like you’ve been there before.  

If you are denied, nothing has changed. An admission decision does not invalidate the character you’ve displayed or knowledge you have gained. Hey. Hey! Do you hear me? Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect. Your day is coming. Some other schoollikely several, are sitting in committee right now impressed and excited to offer you admission. Trust.  

If you are deferred or waitlisted by a college, hang in there. This year in particular those are going to be common results. Take whatever comfort you can in knowing you are not alone. Check your ego. Do not write a school off because they said maybe or hang on, especially since the pandemic has upended traditional yield models and deans and directors are more unsure than ever about how the spring will play out on deposits. Be patient. Keep things in perspective. Be willing to wait. Not easy by any means, but absolutely critical, my friends.  YOU got this!

Not everyone agrees. 

I’m sorry to tell you this, but you may actually have to be the adult in this situation, even in your disappointment. I have seen many grown people absolutely lose their minds over admissions decisions: rants, cursing, threats, accusations, pulled donations, thrown objects, broken friendships. I’ve NEVER seen this kind of behavior from a student (well, maybe a few curses, but basically warranted).  

You may get in somewhere only to have a friend’s parent assert it is “just because ___________.” Just because of… gender, major, your parents’ jobs, one of your feet is slightly longer than the other, or you are left-handed. You may not get in and have your own parent cite one or all of these same reasons.

Bottom line: there will be a lot of poking holes, second guessing, and general frustration around things not going the way others think they should have gone, and when it does, remember most of it stems from a place of love. It may not feel like it at the time, but love is the root of the behavior. Two pieces of advice: 1 – read the poem “if” by Rudyard Kipling soon. 2 – Hug them. If you keep your composure, maintain your confidence, focus on the big picture, and express love in the moment, there is nothing you can’t handle (actually a rough paraphrase of “if”). 

Miles to go before we sleep.

I understand how in January it feels like getting in is what it’s all about. But the truth is some of the toughest work is still ahead of you. The likelihood is you are going to get in several places. You will need to compare those options, receive and evaluate financial aid packages… Oh—and don’t forget about next week’s exam and the paper you still need to write. 

Miles to go! But that’s the adventure, isn’t it? Embrace the journey!   

What does being deferred mean?  

Listen to “Episode 27: What Does Being Deferred Really Mean? – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Recently we modified the final portion of our podcast to field listener questions from Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit. If you have something you want us to tackle, feel free to tag @gtadmission.

A few recent inquiries surrounded how to prepare for the various admission decisions that will be coming out from colleges and universities in the next few weeks, and how/if we think anything will be different this year due to the pandemic.

Since we know you are busy with classes and your time is limited right now, we will hit the highlights of each possible EA/ED decision (deferred, denied, admitted) over the next few weeks and put a few podcasts out on these topics as well.

Deferred

Prediction: I think more students will be deferred this year by selective schools than they have in the past. Keep in mind enrollment managers are doing exactly what their job title says: managing enrollment (you come here for the deep stuff, I know).

Colleges are closely, and quite nervously, watching their spring enrollment numbers. What will retention look like if students were disappointed with their fall experience on campus, online, or in some hybrid delivery mode? If they take an additional financial hit, they will likely be looking to build an even bigger first-year class for the summer or fall of 2021.

Additionally, they have lots of questions about how to predict this year’s admitted student behavior:

  • Will yield go down as a result of test score optional policies?
  • Will international students be able to receive visas at pre-pandemic rates?
  • Will the financial fallout of Covid-19 deteriorate yield of domestic students?

All of this means they will likely defer a higher percentage of early applicants in order to wait and see what they can learn about vaccines, infection rates, economic recovery… you know, little stuff like that.

What does being deferred mean?  

It means maybe, hold onwe’re not surewe’d like to see more. Better than No? Yes. Ideal? Nope.

Being deferred means you have more waiting to do, and that is not easy or fun. This year more than ever before, though, I want to urge you to finish the drill. More defers does not necessarily mean more admits in the spring, but in many cases I think it will. And that is likely true from the waitlist too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  

You are likely going to need to submit another application or two. If you’ve already got this covered, that’s great. If not, then good news—many great schools have deadlines in January. Look for colleges that interest you who have higher admit rates and lower academic profiles than the one(s) that deferred you.

What should you do?  

First, read the letter, subsequent emails, and portal instructions closely. Then do what they say.

You are going to have some more work to do. Inevitably, you will need to send in fall grades, so finish this semester strong. Colleges that defer you will want to see how you’ve done in a challenging senior schedule (especially an abnormal junior spring term), or if your upward grade trend will continue, or how you are adjusting based on responsibilities outside the classroom. You may need to write an additional essay, have an online interview, or complete a form indicating continued interest or discussing updates on your fall activities.

What does being deferred NOT mean?  

It does not mean they are questioning your ability, talent, intelligence or potential match for their school. I understand we all desire instant gratification, but don’t miss the fact that the admission process can teach you some lifelong lessons (for example, some things are worth waiting for; some things do not happen your first time out; sometimes getting put on hold gives you a chance to reflect).

While both words start with “De,” being deferred does not mean you are denied. If a school did not think you were competitive or a good fit, they would have denied you. This sounds harsh but it’s true. Disappointed? Understood. 2020 has been a clinic in disappointment, so I feel you. But 2020 has also reminded us about patience, seeing the positives, and keeping perspective. You got this.

What should you AVOID doing? 

Please do not take being deferred as code for “try harder” by sending 18 additional letters of recommendation, stalking admission counselors on social media, going to see a fortune teller, or getting a tattoo of four-leaf clovers + college logo on your back.

In my opinion, particularly based on the enrollment uncertainty I described above, you should not write off a school you have strong interest in at this point in the cycle. Hold on, send us some stuff, tell us more– you can do that. Unless you have gotten into another college that is a better match for you, then I strongly encourage you to see this through.

Want to know more about being deferred? Read on. And on. And on.

Next week we will delve into what it means to be denied admission.