Three (MORE) Messages Parents of High School Students Need to Hear About College Admission

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…and we’re back. As mentioned in Part I, I decided to write these two blogs specifically for my friends, neighbors, and other adults in my life who now have kids in high school or considering college. As such you are welcome to read and consider, read and ignore, or not read but still forward or share.

  1.  The admissions essay. First, not all colleges require students to write an essay or respond to short answer questions on their application. Those who do include writing as an opportunity for students to bring voice and personalization to an otherwise heavily box, number, and line- filled application. In reading essays, admission reviewers simply want to get a sense of students’ ability to express themselves or provide insight into their character, background, motivations, and so on. As a result, essays matter. Nobody adds questions or prompts to their application just to make it longer. We read. We share. We glean insight from student writing.

However, just as much as a comma splice or failure to underline the name of a book in an essay is not going to keep a student from being admitted, the essay in general is not going to be the thing that “gets your kid in.” Anyone who tells you otherwise: a) has never worked on a college campus b) has a vested (usually monetary) interest in convincing you otherwise c) that’s it. There is no C—other than their pulse on college admission. Is it wise to have someone look over an essay for feedback? Absolutely. Should students put thought, effort, and care into their writing for colleges? Undoubtedly. But as a parent or a supporting adult please do not edit out your kids’ voice/style, or pressure them to write about something they don’t genuinely value or believe has been impactful to them, because in doing so you rob the application of the very qualities we are hoping to see in their writing. More here. Bottom line: Essays are not the magic bullet/Hail Mary/death nail/Lazarus factor people believe them to be.

 2. High School/Club Sports vs. College Athletics. Too many conversations leap from “my kid is talented in (insert sport here)” to they’re going to play in college and “get a full ride scholarship.” Consider this: fewer than two- percent of high school athletes receive athletic scholarships, and most of those only cover a percentage of tuition, housing, meals, books, fees, and so on.

As your athlete has success at higher and more competitive levels, it is exciting to imagine them playing in bigger stadiums, in front of more people, or even on TV. My hope is you will focus more on the day to day and week to week of supporting, encouraging, and enjoying watching your athlete play club and high school sports, than speculating about or assuming where it may lead. Keep saving for college. Keep pushing your student to excel in the classroom. Be proud of them for who they are and what they’ve accomplished– and be sure they know it. In other words, don’t convince yourself there is an inverse correlation between the number of trophies or media coverage and the number of dollars you will be spending on college. It may play out that way, but in the overwhelming number of cases, it won’t. Dream killer or friend? You decide. Stay grounded, stay humble, and stay focused on being able to finance a college degree without dependence on a full athletic scholarship.

3. Quality of institution is not correlated with admit rate, ranking, or any other singular number or metric.

Whether it be an effort to simplify, ego, or buying into the false narrative around selectivity and rankings, parents and supporting adults too often reduce a student’s options, limit their perspective, and curb their ability to explore based on numbers.

Admit rate: When I arrived at Tech, we were admitting well over 60% of applicants. Just a few years ago we sat around 40%. This year’s class will see an admit rate below 20%. Are the students significantly smarter, more talented, or more destined for future success? Absolutely not. Students we admitted at 60% are running companies now and sitting on boards of major organizations. I’m not going to go down the rabbit hole of how different colleges count differently on apps received or admits issued, but the bottom line is selectivity level is not a proxy for academic quality. Most colleges in the country admit more students than they deny. If the best match for your student has an admit rate that is 20 points higher than another one they are admitted to, don’t let your ego or a false narrative cloud your judgment.

Ranking: The students at Tech who are currently sophomores applied here when we were ranked number five in the nation for public universities. Within a month of enrolling here, we’d dropped to number eight, and this year we are number 10. I’ve yet to see a student transfer because of this change—because nothing has changed. Same great students, important research, and valuable network/job opportunities. I  urge you to not draw firm (arguably arbitrary) lines, whether it be at number 10, 50, or 100. College is a big decision. College is expensive. College cannot be reduced to one number. Don’t fall into that trap. And for the love of all things holy, friends, if you are going to ascribe any value to a singular number or deem it an authoritative signpost, examine the methodology and ask yourself if your values are in line with their calculations.

In most cases, leading or pushing your student to limit or dictate their choice of where to apply or attend based on one number (or even small set of numbers) is short-sighted bordering on irresponsible.

Since there won’t be a part three to this series, let’s conclude this way. I know it’s challenging supporting your student through high school, and particularly through the college experience. So, while I do hope you will legitimately consider everything I have shared in this blog and the one prior, I also want to sincerely thank you.

First day of school
editorial cartoon

Thank you for loving your kids.

Thank you for advocating for them.

Thank you for wanting them to have a better life and more opportunities and experiences than you have had.

Thank you for encouraging them and supporting them, even when they drive you nuts, roll their eyes, mumble one-syllable responses, or keep you up late at night worrying.

Thank you for washing the same dishes and clothes a thousand times.

Thank you for driving to and from practice and sitting through hours of swim meets or dance or music performances (just to hear or see your child perform for a fraction of that time).

Do I wish you wouldn’t disguise your voice in order to procure your daughter’s admission portal password? Sure.

Would admission officers prefer to come in the morning after releasing admission decisions, get a cup of coffee, and check the scores from the night before, rather than having parents outside (or in the parking lot) wanting to appeal or provide 13 additional recommendation letters? Yep.

Do I enjoy having my competence, intelligence, or soul brought into question based on an admission decision? Not particularly.

Nevertheless, as the parent of two kids, I get it. The truth is you are doing what you always have–loving them, protecting them, and providing for them. And since you absolutely do not hear this enough– THANK YOU!

Got friends who won’t read 1200 words on this topic, but still may benefit from hearing these messages– pass them this Twitter thread.

Three Messages Parents of High School Students Need to Hear About College Admission

Listen to the podcast! Apple | Spotify | Spreaker | Google

I am getting older. I know this because I now bring a mini-massage gun with me when I travel; my pant legs neither tightly hug my calves nor end an inch above my ankle; and when I buy wine at the grocery store the cashier either does not card me or goes back to scanning items when I confidently reach for my wallet (plus, hey, I’m regularly buying wine at the grocery store).

I’m not sure if you are also experiencing this, but my kids are getting older too, as are their parents. So, with each passing year, I’m getting more texts, emails, and calls from friends about college and college admission, and over-hearing both discussed frequently at games or other events.

While I did write an entire book on this subject, I feel like I owe my friends more than simply texting them an Amazon link. Plus, I understand not everyone is up for reading 200+ pages. But after watching this cycle repeat itself for over two decades (use of “decades” being another “getting older” give-away), I’m convinced there are a few messages most parents of high school students need to hear-and hopefully will listen to also.

Pronouns Matter. As your kids enter and move through high school, and especially as they are applying to college, I hope you will be cognizant of your pronouns. If you find yourself commonly saying things like, “We have a 3.8,”Pre-Calc is really killing us this year,” or “Our first choice is ___________,” it may be time to take a long walk, a deep breath, or a stiff drink. Ask yourself if those pronouns are just a reflection of your love and years of intimately intertwined lives, or if they are a subtle prodding to step back and let your student demonstrate what you know they are capable of handling.

As you well know, parenting is a delicate dance that becomes increasingly complicated as kids get older. Be honest with yourself and pay attention to when its time to take the lead or step back. Interestingly, it was current Atlanta Mayor (and former Georgia Tech staff member) Andre Dickens who introduced me to the concept of moving from parent to partner with a presentation he used to give at new student-parent orientation. And that should be your focus as your kids move closer toward graduation from high school.

As a parent, I understand this is not easy. But don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal. “College Prep” is not simply about academics, and we should be focused on ensuring our kids are socially, emotionally, and practically prepared, regardless of where they end up going to college. Watching your pronouns is a great place to start.

College admission is not fair. However, in contrast to what most people think, it is easy to understand. Admission is driven by two fundamental rules:

  1. Supply and demand. The Applicant to Class Size ratio drives admit rate. If applications go up and enrollment does not, the admit rate drops.

This is why you hear about Younger Sibling not getting into University of X (Home of the Fighting X’s) with the same, or even better high school grades and classes, than Older Sibling (a current junior at X with a 3.4 GPA). Three years have passed, U of X’s new first-year class size is the same, but this year they receive 5000 more applications than the year Older applied. Could Younger do the work? 100%. Is Younger talented, ambitious, and very interested in going to University of X? Without question. Is this fair? Nope, but it is logical.

  1. Mission drives admission. As we just established, Older is a good student and a good person (3.4 GPA in college and very active on campus). But three years ago, when she applied as a high school senior, there was another candidate vying for admission—Applaquint. “App” had better grades, better classes, better writing, and more community involvement (all the things U of X says it values) than Older. App, however, was denied.

Why? Well, it happens that App is from Y (the state just to the east of X). Because University of X is a public school, students from the state are admitted at 5 times (would have been too confusing to say 5x) the rate of non-Xers. Fair? No! Again, App is smarter, nicer, and better looking than Older. But again, totally logical.

College brochures may make all campuses look the same, but the goals for the composition of their classes vary widely in number, geography, major, gender, and so on. So when admission committees discuss candidates, they are reviewing and considering GPA, essays, and letters of recommendation,  but ultimately institutional mission and priorities are the lens and filter through which admission decisions are made.

As a parent, my sincere hope is you hear, believe, and prepare yourself for this truth- neither an admit nor deny decision is a value judgment or evaluation of your job as a parent. My friend Pam Ambler from Pace Academy puts it perfectly: “Admission decisions feel deeply personal, but that is not how they are made.” As a result, many parents react when their student receives disappointing admission news. They see that hurt and think they need to call the admission office (or the president or the governor), appeal the decision, “come down there,” or pull strings. After watching this cycle repeat itself over and over, and particularly as my own kids grow up, I’ve come to appreciate ALL of that comes from a place of deep and genuine love. But ultimately, in these moments what kids need from you is very simple—love, concern, empathy, belief, and encouragement, or sometimes just a heartfelt hug.

College Parents > HS Parents. When your kids were little and you were struggling with potty training or getting your baby to sleep through the night, did you seek advice and insight from other parents in the same chapter? No! Because they were either a: just as clueless or frustrated as you were b: maddeningly oblivious c: prone to lie, exaggerate, or hide the reality of their situation.

The same is true when it comes to college admission. Other parents with kids in high school often have just enough information to sound informed but frequently serve to proliferate inaccuracy and consternation– “You know the valedictorian three years ago did not get into….” and “It’s easier to get in from (insert high school three miles away), because they don’t have IB like we do.” Generous generalizations and liberal rounding phrases like, “he has mostly As and Bs” or her SAT is “around a 1400″ should send your BS radar way up in cases like this. Walk away, my friends. Dismiss, change the subject, and don’t let those comments stress you out. 

The bottom line is parents of high school students should talk to fewer parents of high school students about college admission, and more parents of current college students, or recent college graduates. These folks, who are one chapter ahead, invariably provide perspective, levity, insight, and sanity. They are far less prone to exaggeration, and in fact often incredibly raw and honest in their evaluation. “She was crushed when she did not get into Stanvard. But now she’s at Reese’s U and is not sorry.” Or “We didn’t get the financial aid package we needed for him to go to Enidreppep University, so he ended up at QSU. He graduates this spring and already has a great job lined up with the company where he’s been interning.” Again, seek perspective, levity, insight, and sanity from parents of current college students, and spend your time talking to parents of other high school students about the upcoming game or recently opened restaurant in your area.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. And stay tuned for upcoming podcasts and blogs with a few more key messages for high school parents coming soon…

If you have friends who not won’t read 200+ pages, but are likely not even ready 1000+ words, you can send them to my original Twitter thread with these messages for parents. 

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.  

 

The Basics of College Admission: Part 3

It’s good to know your limits. It’s good to understand when the best thing to do is step aside and let someone else handle things. It’s also hard to miss those moments when family members communicate these things gently (but clearly) in statements such as:

  • “Just hand me the remote. I’ll show you how to find that.”
  • “I think we are good to go on virtual school today. It might be better if you go into the office.”
  • “That’s not an aerial. That’s not even a somersault. Watch this!”

This also happens to me at work. I’m fortunate to have an incredibly talented team of colleagues and friends around me. So, when it comes to communication strategy, data analysis, file review training, technology enhancements, and much more, I’ve learned to let the experts lead.

In that spirit, I’m cutting this intro short so you can hear directly from my insightful and experienced colleagues about key elements of your college admission and application experience.

Activities and Contribution to Community

Ellery Kirkconnell (Senior Admission Counselor) helps you understand what admission counselors are really looking for when they read and discuss your involvement, influence, and impact outside of the classroom.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Activities & Contribution to Community – Ellery Kirkconnell” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Focus on what you’ve contributed to your school, community, or family. This section is critical, so don’t short sell your involvement or rely on your strong academic background. “Tell us more” is the rule of thumb!

Listen For: Ellery’s crystal ball predictions on how this section will be reviewed in light of Covid-19.

Key Quote: “Impact does not necessarily mean you were a president of an organization… elected official… or the captain of a sports team.”

Further Reading Viewing: Ellery’s YouTube clip on C2C.

Letters of Recommendation

Kathleen Voss (East Coast Admission Director) provides key tips for students as they consider who to ask for letters of recommendation. She also provides helpful insight into what college admission readers are (and are not) looking for when they come to this section of applications.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Letters of Recommendation – Kathleen Voss” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Good recommendations showcase your character/compliment your story. Help your recommenders help you by giving them the time/direction/info they need to do their best job.  Only send the number of recs any particular college asks you to submit.

Listen For: The Starbucks Test (Honorable mention- Jerry McGuire hat tip).

Key Quote: “You are the book. And this is the person reviewing the book.”

Further Reading:   Big Future’s recs on recs. Insight from the Georgia Tech of Boston, aka MIT.

The Additional Information Section

Katie Mattli (Senior Assistant Director) explains what this section is (and what it’s not), as well as what readers are really looking for when they come to this section.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Understanding the Additional Information Section – Katie Mattli” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: It’s okay to leave this section blank. It’s not an additional essay or continuation of your resume and extra-curriculars. It’s an opportunity to include critical details of your story that you’ve not been able to include elsewhere. Google “the art of brevity.”

Listen For: Katie’s patented “two-part method” for approaching this section.

Key Quote: “I am a human being- and I’m trying to understand you as a human being.”

Further Reading: The Write Life.

That’s it for the real wisdom and helpful advice. In other news, here’s one more.

College Essays and Supplemental Writing

Rick Clark (Director of Undergraduate Admission) walks students through how to get started, possible topics to consider, and what “your voice” really means. He also touches on supplemental essays for colleges and walks you through very tangible tips for making your writing better.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Writing for Colleges – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Top Tips:  Voice record your essay and listen back for ways to improve. Your application is a story: how can your essay fill in gaps and round out the most complete picture of you? Have an adult who does not know you very well read your essays to simulate the experience and takeaways of an admission counselor.

Listen For: Personal secrets and confessions.

Key Quote: “Essays should be personal and detailed. The worst essays are vanilla. They’re broad and have a bunch of multi-syllabic words.”  

Further Reading:  Blogger, coach, author, and overall good person, Ethan Sawyer, aka The College Essay Guy. Five Practical Tips for Writing for Colleges.

Thanks for reading—and thanks for listening. We will be wrapping up our mini-series, “The Basics of College Admission,” in the next month with episodes including financial aid, interviews, transfer admission, and more.

At this point, we’ve reached about 18,000 listeners on The College Admission Brief podcast. Admittedly, my mom and kids have a few accounts I created which is inflating those stats, but in general we’re pleased and truly appreciative. The annual podcast fee just hit my credit card, so we’ll definitely continue to be around and want to make this as helpful as possible as you navigate your admission experience.

If there is topic you think we missed and want us to cover, please reach out to @clark2college or @gtadmission.

Thanks for subscribing or listening  on iTunesSpotify, and Spreaker.

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

The Basics of College Admission

Each summer we host a program for faculty, staff, and friends of Georgia Tech who have kids in high school. This has come to be known as “Admission 101.” In about an hour we discuss the landscape of higher education; how students can/should build a list of schools; how to make a good campus visit; what colleges are looking for in applicants/ how admission decisions are made; and how families can go through their college admission experience in a unified and healthy manner. It’s a lot. A lot!

In fact, someone could probably write an entire book on what we try to cover in an hour. Hmmm…

One piece of feedback we received this year is attendees wanted more of the nuts and bolts of each part of the application (academics, essays, testing, extracurriculars, interviews, recommendations, etc.)

So, now that college applications are open and Early Action and Early Decision deadlines are on the horizon, we are launching a two month podcast mini-series as part of  The College Admission Brief (available on iTunesSpotify, and Spreaker).

Holding to the same promise of 10 minutes or less, the first three episodes of The Basics of College Admission are live, and ready for your listening pleasure.

Understanding Fit

Alexis Szemraj (Senior Admission Counselor) discusses the questions you should ask yourself as you consider colleges, as well as practical ways to evaluate and compare schools.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Understanding Fit – Alexis Szemraj” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Use your network, keep an open mind, and ask yourself tough and real questions. Check out the alumni magazine and student newspaper from the schools you are considering, as well as their various social media channels. Think career, not major.

Listen For: Legacy lurk.

Key Quote: “The process should start by looking at yourself- not just a list of colleges.”

Further Reading: Cappex and Big Future

Campus/Virtual Visits

Katy Beth Chisholm (Assistant Director for Campus Visits) provides key tips for students and families about how to access colleges using online resources, such as online tours, sessions, webinars, and other campus resources.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Campus/Virtual Visits – Katy Beth Chisolm” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Take and keep notes, debrief with friends, family members, school counselors. Find authentic sources. Pace yourself.

Listen For: The Massive Matrix Spreadsheet. (I did find this one.)

Key Quote: “Check out the YouTube channel, Facebook Live, and Instagram stories (from individual colleges).”

Further Reading: YouVisit and Inside HigherEd

General Application Tips

Alex Thackston (Senior Admission Counselor) provides great insight on who admission readers really are, and discusses practical tips and common pitfalls students should know while working on their applications.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: General Application Tips – Alex Thackston” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Prepare, don’t procrastinate! Find a trusted proofreader. Be yourself.

Listen For: Underwater karate against sharks.

Key Quote: “We can read the rush in your application.” (aka Don’t procrastinate.)

Further Reading:  College Admission Timeline for Seniors and Common App Application Guide

We’ll be releasing an episode each week throughout September and October. You can subscribe and listen on iTunesSpotify, and Spreaker.

Upcoming episodes include:

  • Early Action v Early Decision
  • Standardized Testing and Test Score Optional vs. Test Score Blind
  • Extracurricular activities (Impact, Involvement, and Influence)
  • Special Circumstances/ Additional Information
  • Recommendation Letters
  • Interviews