Two Sides of the Same Story

This Saturday we will release admission decisions. On Friday, we will gather our entire staff in a room we affectionately call the “collaboratory” or the “collaborodome”—a  big space including about 12 work stations, a few white boards, a flat screen, and more forms of chocolate than you find in most grocery stores.

First, we will walk through the number and percentage of students in each admission decision category, as well as their basic academic and geographic profile, the timeline for pushing the decision into our portal, and the email communications 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’s to come.

Great work, tough decisions, many responsibilities.

We will thank staff for their great work to get us to this point. 18,000 applications reviewed (many having been read two or three times) in less than 12 weeks (that’s 18,000 essays and 18,000 short answer responses, people), not including review with faculty from all six colleges. By all counts it’s a huge challenge and a phenomenal accomplishment. In the midst of reviewing applications, we’ll acknowledge how our staff also spent time hosting families on a daily basis and traveled to high schools to talk to students and families about Tech specifically and the admission experience broadly. We will applaud the sacrifice of time away from family; the toughness to push through fatigue and illness; and the commitment they’ve demonstrated to get us here. Working in college admission is not an easy job—and we try to drive this point home. Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect. And chocolate for everyone!

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 in order to select the best match students from thousands of incredibly talented applicants. Even in our own committee discussions we have disagreements. 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, conservatively, you assume every applicant has four people “in their corner,” you’re talking nearly 100,000 people this Saturday who are impacted by these decisions. Expect to receive emails 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.” And 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 Tech family.” “And why didn’t you fold the laundry?” (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

Miles to go before we sleep.

In many ways putting these decisions on the proverbial streets is only the beginning of our work. As soon as we admit students, the hard work of convincing them to come begins. Known as “yield season” in our world, it’s a time filled with calling campaigns, open house programs, and even more travel. Not to mention another 18,000 regular decision applications to review by early March. Tight timeframes… lots of work to be done. Keep the coffee pot full, re-stock the Emergen-C, and keep your head up. We got this.

A Commonality

As I was making my notes on what to say to staff on Friday, I could not help but notice that as an applicant, all of these things can be said for you too. Most of you will receive some combination of admission decisions from different schools 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. It has taken sacrifice, commitment, desire, and a willingness to trade some comfort and ease for a more difficult path. If you are admitted, great. Kudos. 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 not admitted, nothing has changed. An admission decision does not invalidate the character you’ve displayed or knowledge you’ve gained. Hey. Hey! Do you hear me? Sincere, authentic appreciation and respect. Some other school is going to send you chocolate soon (metaphorically speaking, of course) and it will taste doubly sweet when they do. Trust me.

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’ve 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’re 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, Ifsecond 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’s 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’re going to get in several places. You still need to compare those options, visit campus, receive and evaluate financial aid packages. Oh—and not to mention next week’s Calculus exam and the paper you still need to write.

Miles to go, my friends. But that’s the adventure, isn’t it? Enjoy every step!

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Transitioning to the Tandem Bike

As we approach the May 1 National Deposit Deadline, seniors aren’t the only ones preparing for a big life transition. Parents, we know you have a big transition ahead of you too. This week we asked the Director of Georgia Tech’s Parent & Family Programs, Laci Weeden, to share her tips for parents on how to navigate the days ahead. Welcome, Laci!

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The transition from high school to college can be both exciting and scary at the same time.  As parents and family members, you have helped your student get to where they are today, and you will continue to have have an important role in their higher education journey.  But how will your role change from what it is now, to what it will be, when your student is in college?

I like to think of the transition from high school to college like a tandem bicycle. When your child was younger, and their feet didn’t even reach the peddles, so you steered, peddled, and determined the path and the destination of the bike.

As your child grew older, you began to feel them peddle and you listened as they shared their thoughts on the journey. Now that they are ready to head off to college, it’s time to switch seats and let your student take the lead.

Tandem BikeNow that your student is now on the front of the bike and  ready to take the lead, your roles will switch. Your student will be steering their own course, finding their own path in life, and pedaling hard to be successful. But don’t forget, you are right there on the bike, too – peddling, supporting, and cheering them on along the way!

Here are a few tips to help your student and your family with the transition.

  • Establish a regular time to catch up and check in with your student.
  • Send care packages and cards from home.
  • Listen to what they have to say.
  • Encourage them to work on time management and create good study habits.
  • If they struggle, remind them that they have your support, but encourage them to find solutions on their own when possible.
  • Remind them to utilize all the resources around them. As a parent, you can feel free to reach out to campus resources yourself as a family member if you need support..
  • Encourage them to take advantage of campus and local opportunities.
  • Encourage your student to get exercise, eat healthy, and sleep, as balance and wellness are important.
  • Remind your student that you are proud of them, you trust them, and you love them.
  • Try not to worry too much. You did a great job getting them off to college!

For more information and questions about being a college parent or family member at Georgia Tech, visit parents.gatech.edu.

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LOST in the numbers

First, sorry for the brief blog hiatus. I came down with Bronchitis and have not been able to type more than four words without coughing for a week. I will say if you’re looking for a quick way to drop 10 lbs you may want to look into acquiring this lovely condition, otherwise it pretty much stinks.

Ever seen Lost? It’s ok if you haven’t, because now you at least know what you’re doing this summer, as it’s bar none the greatest TV series of all time. In the show, Hurley (Jorge Garcia) is shown through flashbacks to have won the lottery with the numbers 4.8.15.16.23.42. Over the ensuing weeks, everyone around him suffers horribly bad luck. He then visits a mental asylum where he apparently had resided for a time, to talk to another patient who keeps repeating the same numbers. When Hurley tells him that he used the numbers, Lenny panics and shouts, “The numbers are bad! You gotta get away from them!” The numbers continue to come up throughout the show in meaningful and correlated ways, and at times in random unconnected situations. Intrigued? If not watch the trailer here.

4.8.15.16.23.42. It’s April (4) 8th, 15th, 16th, 23rd….42nd! “Ahhhh!! The numbers are bad! You gotta get away from them!” The proverbial countdown is on as we approach the May 1 National Deposit Deadline. Before coffee, picking up a toothbrush, or checking the weather, Deans, Directors, and VPs around the country are waking up each day and immediately checking deposit reports on their phones and Ipads. “Are we up from last year?…Oh man, I hope not too far up or housing is going to kill me! “Are we down in students from abroad? Is it too early to go to our waitlist?” Scroll down: “How does our SAT average compare to last year?” Scroll down: “Do we have a kid from every state and enough in every major?” “Are you sleeping with your phone?” Wait… that’s not my voice. Roll over: “Yes, sweetheart. Gotta check the numbers.” (She always tells me with a mixture of concern and confusion that I make too much of an effort to think like a 17 year old, and I know the whole sleeping with the phone thing only adds ammo to her growing arsenal.)

 

4.8.15.16.23.42. So we made you wait for months on an admission decision, and now the tables are turned. Joke is on us. I’ve been reading back over my own advice on waiting and confirmed… it sucks! It’s a maddening time because we are asked daily “how are we looking on numbers?” by our President, Provost, Deans, Boards, housing directors, student reporters, random guys at the gas station… And we try to speak with some confidence knowing that 10 days is an eternity, because like applications, hundreds of deposits will come in over the last day or two, which will change everything. Inevitably there will be many calls on April 30 asking if the deadline is midnight that day or May 1 at midnight– followed often by, “which time zone?” (Don’t be that person!) Not too long ago, when many deposits were mailed in with checks, we asked for a post-marked date of May 1. That was even more frustrating because you had to wait each day on buckets to arrive from campus mail. It was literally all hands on deck with letter openers, sorting trays, and band aids for paper cuts. Good times! I know Deans that used to go straight to the mail house around this time of year because they didn’t want to wait on Fred the mail guy to chat it up in the Chemistry department and hold up delivery.

4.8.15.16.23.42. Ultimately, we need about 2950 deposits. That way when we lose (“melt”) deposits/commitments over the summer, due to schools pulling our deposits from their waitlists, breakups, financial reasons, Visa issuance hold ups, yellow pants just don’t work in the color palette, etc., we end up at our target of 2800 in the class. So on April 8th we had 1481 deposits; on the 15th, we had 1871; on the 16th 1912.  While it scares me to report out of sequence before the 23rd, this a.m. we had 2107 deposits. Hold please. Ok, now 2112.

So that’s what’s up with me. Coughing less, sleeping less, using the word “gotta” more, but hopefully some insight from the college side. One takeaway for those of you on waitlists is this: because there is so much movement in numbers in the final week, it is rare that schools will begin to pull from their waitlists pre- May 1. If they do, they either intentionally under admitted (a tactic typically employed to reduce admit rate and impact rankings/prestige), or they truly are having an unexpected drop in yield this year. So if you’re on a wait list, expect news post- May 1 and be sure you deposit at your second choice school to hold your place.

 

 

 

The Waitlist…yea, you know. Part 3.

Good news, bad news. Good news is my editor just had a baby. That means the filter is off and you’re going to get an even more concentrated dose of transparency. Bad news is my editor just had a baby. That means the clean sections, readability, and schedule of these blog entries is going to take a hit. Bonus good news: this beautiful new baby just became part of a loving, amazing family.

waitlist-300x200

I coach little kids soccer. My goal (no pun intended) when the kids were three and four years old was to keep them all on the field, heading the right direction, and not crying uncontrollably. If you could achieve the trifecta in one game, it wasn’t just a win– it was like a championship run! Now most of those kids are seven or eight. We have progressed to periodic passing, trapping, and calling for passes, etc. But beyond the fundamentals we also focus a lot on sportsmanship/exhibiting class. You knock a kid down, you help him up; you lose a game, you still line up with your head up and earnestly say “good game.” The other day after a game I saw two kids pushing each other a little bit. These were not my players. Still, I couldn’t help myself. I walked over, and just as I got in earshot, I heard one of them say, “Oh, yea. What are you going to do about it?!” Now the kid really had me pissed because not only was he being a jerk, but he used one of the lamest lines of all time. Come on, man!

For the last two weeks we’ve bemoaned the waitlist. We’re on a three step process to healing.

  • Step 1: Acknowledge.
  • Step 2: Yell it a little louder.
  • Step 3: What are you going to do (and not do) about it?!

1- Do your part. At most schools the waitlist offer is just that– an option. Check what they sent you or what they put on their website. Typically, you need to take action of some kind to accept or claim your spot. So do that (Or don’t. That’s also your choice. You can absolutely cancel your application, and you should, if you’ve decided to go elsewhere.)  If you do claim your spot, be sure you do anything additional that they instruct. Is there a supplementary short answer question to respond to? Do they want you to send another recommendation letter or schedule an interview? Each school will handle this differently, so read your letter, email, or online collateral carefully.

2- Don’t get crazy. We’ve had students send a painted shoe with a message on the bottom reading: “just trying to get my foot in the door.” Cute? Well, I remember it. But it was ultimately ineffective. We’ve had lots of chocolates, cookies, and other goods sent along with poems or notes. I can’t speak for all admission offices, but there is no way I’m eating any of that, even if it’s been shrink wrapped, vacuum packed and appears to be delivered straight from the vendor. Call that paranoid or callous if you will. I’ll find my own dessert.

3- Do reach out to your admission counselor. (Unless they specifically tell you not to.) Check out our waitlist website here. We’ve been told that it’s terse. Perhaps. But it’s pretty darn clear, right? We’d rather be accused of being brief and directive than vague and verbose (put that in your SAT pipe and smoke it.) If you have met or corresponded with someone from the admission office, perhaps when they visited your high school, or while you were on their campus, send them an email. Let them know you claimed your spot on the waitlist, completed the school’s stipulated form, essay, etc. You are indicating continued interest in attending. Remember in Waitlist, Part 1 when we talked about the university’s perspective? If they miss their class and need to go to the wait list, they want to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is your wink and nod that you would accept an offer if made. Now let me be clear– I’m not tell you to reach out every day. This is a one and done proposition. One year I received a letter, email or call every day in April from a student wanting to “demonstrate interest.” There is a distinct line between demonstrating interest and stalking… and it she leapt over it with both feet.

4- Do deposit elsewhere. The university that has offered you a spot on their waitlist should be instructing  you to take this step, but I cannot reinforce that enough. Because most schools won’t have a firm sense of deposits until late April, the majority of waitlist activity occurs in May and June. Since May 1 is the National Deposit Deadline, you need to go ahead and put money down before that point to secure your spot in a class. I understand and sympathize with this position. I know you don’t want to forfeit money, as these deposits are typically non-refundable. And I know that from an emotional and mental standpoint this is a challenge. So I’ll just conclude where I began– with a sincere apology that waitlists exist at all. They suck!

5- Do wait well. Last time I said I did not have a tip for you on this. Well, that’s because I knew I’d need a fifth bullet point in this blog. Here’s my advice. After you’ve claimed your spot and deposited elsewhere, take some time to write down a few things you are looking forward to in college. In doing so, you’re focusing on “why” you are going to college, and de-emphasizing the “where.” (Keep that list and re-visit it next year at holiday break and after freshman year.) This April I want you to relish your senior year. Enjoy spring break, go to prom, take the opportunity to thank a few teachers or read something outside of school that you’re genuinely interested in. When talk about college comes up, whether that be with family or friends, steer the conversation away from where and towards what you want to study, experience, learn, and accomplish.

I distinctly remember being in your spot in April of my senior year. People seemed so sure of themselves. It appeared they knew exactly who they were going to live with, which fraternity they were going to pledge, and what football games they would be going to in the fall. Let me tell you something: Life does not change in that regard. Other people always seem like they have it all together. Life looks easy for them (especially if you believe their social media account). But we all have our challenges, our doubts, and our insecurities. If you have the confidence to embrace uncertainty, and can be open to and excited about the adventure of not knowing, you will not only navigate the next few weeks well, you’re going to live a rich and content life.

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A Family Affair, Part 3

“Look Beyond What You See”

If you have ever watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you will remember Kostas “Gus” Portokalos issuing a challenge: “Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek.”  So call me the Gus of college admissions. Here’s a few examples:

What’s the value of college visits?

It’s just like dating… all about getting a good image in your head of what you are or are not looking for- and what will be a good fit for you

Colleges that use demonstrated interest?

It’s like deciding who you’re going to ask to prom. You don’t walk down the hall blindfolded and grab someone (Please. Please. Don’t do this!). You want to get a sense that they may say yes.

Double depositing?

Two-timing.

Okay… so maybe I need to work on some of these a little bit. But the point is there are parallels between everyday life (and love) experience and the college admission process. Hopefully these begin to help clarify what’s often seen as mysterious or veiled.

In an earlier post, we established that I speak Disney. In The Lion King 1 ½ , Rafiki encourages Timon to “look beyond what you see.” Those words really stuck with me because of how tough they are to live out, especially in high school. Even with access to information and connections all over the world, our daily exposure and interactions have incredible influence on the decisions we make and our view of ourselves and of our world.

No matter where you live, there are a group of schools that you regularly hear about on TV or see on bumper stickers in the school parking lot or drive-thru line. If you read national news about college, particular related to rankings and admit rates, the school set is even more limited.  So it’s easy to develop tunnel vision and believe there are only a handful of colleges for you to consider. In truth, there are  more than 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States alone, and more students are going abroad for college every year.

Look beyond what you see.  I wrote this last year but it bears repeating. “Look at the alma maters of Fortune 100 CEOs and you’ll find as many public or not well known schools as you will Ivy League schools. The pathway to success does not always go through Cambridge or Palo Alto. Does the college you are considering facilitate your ability to continually learn, adapt and think analytically? Many schools do this phenomenally well. Too many families stretch financially for a brand, when the better option may be a college off the beaten path.” 

Students:

As much as you may love cheering for a certain school’s football or basketball team, it does not mean that it’s a good match for your education. You may have a picture of yourself as a baby in a onesie from your mom’s alma mater. Or you may be admitted to the same school as your best friend, or a place with an exceptionally low admit rate. But I urge you, “look beyond what you see.” It’s not easy. It takes the willingness to trust yourself and to diverge from the common route in your community or family. Ultimately, that self-awareness, confidence, and self-reliance will prepare you not only for success in college, but in life well beyond too.

Parents:

Maybe you’ve dreamed about a particular school for your student (remember the picture of them in that cute onesie?). If that dream is driven from your desire to boast of their admittance or attendance, I implore you to take a step back and examine if you really believe it will be a good fit for them. While they may not tell you, your opinion and approval influence them heavily. I know that can be hard to believe based on some of your interactions lately, but I talk to students all the time who say parental pressure is a major reason for their college selection. Too frequently that leads them to make a choice that was not truly right for them.

As you navigate this road, take heart and remember the wise words of Rafiki, “It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all through despair and hope, through faith and love.”