Stay Curious

Early on in my time at Georgia Tech, a colleague received an email from a prospective student with a full signature line, including an inspirational quote at the bottom. I’m sure you have seen these before.

Typically, it looks something like this:

George P. Burdell
King of Georgia Tech
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

In most cases, you immediately recognize the quote (like the one above) or the person to whom it’s attributed. In my experience, Gandhi, MLK, Mother Teresa, or a dead politician or author are fairly common.

This particular situation had us curious because:

  • Most high school students don’t have signature lines.
  • Neither the quote nor the person to whom it was attributed were familiar.

So, we discussed, we debated, and we Googled. Finally, after extensive investigative research, we connected the dots. The mystery person who uttered these inspiring words was… the applicant’s dad—the different last name threw us off initially, but once we figured this out… it was on. For a good month, every internal email we sent included a quote from our own parents or close relatives.

“Don’t make me pull this car over.”

“Failing to plan means planning to fail.”

“This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

There were a few absolute gems. But it also led to some really personal conversations about our relationships with parents and some of the wise, interesting, and influential things they shared with us growing up.

Now, I’m not proposing you create a formal signature line for your emails during high school or walk around quoting your dad, but I do think this story is instructive. The truth is I cannot recall any of the other signature line quotes I’ve read over the years, but this one is emblazoned in my memory. Why? Because it was not familiar. And as a result, it led us to ask questions, research, and ultimately have enriching, bonding conversations.

A college search and selection process done right opens these doors for discovery and connection too. As a prospective student, my hope is you will stay curious, ask lots of questions, use your resources, and have open, honest conversations with the people around you about what you are learning.

In hopes of getting you started, here are a few accessible and available tools you may not have considered yet in your college search and selection experience.

College Scorecard– This site is hosted by the U.S. Department of Education. It is an increasingly valuable tool for searching for schools by academic program, size, cost, location, and other factors. It does a very good job providing details on price, median career earnings, graduation rates, and retention data, which often are tough to find on individual admission or university homepages. As you are researching where to visit or apply, the Scorecard comparison feature is helpful because it is easy to tailor based on a variety of factors. And it will give you data to consider or metrics to compare that you may not have previously encountered or factored. My hope is you will use this along the way, whether it be prior to visiting, applying, or deciding on a college.

ChatGPT– Based on their historically glacial rate of change and adaptation, I do not expect Common Application to include instructive language about the use of AI this year. So, there is no need to stare helplessly at a blinking cursor on the screen. One of generative AI’s greatest strengths is facilitating brainstorming and iteration.

There are seven prompts to choose from in the cycle ahead, so let’s assume you pick this one: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Include a few bullet points of your ideas and be sure to name specific people, places, situations, and perhaps a quote or two- and then ask the program to produce a response of 500 words.

Make notes of what is accurate and helpful? What does not resonate with you as specific enough or reflective of your voice and experience?

In the essay, admission reviewers want details and insight that is uniquely yours. If you are applying to a college that receives 35,000 applications and the essay responses are evenly divided, then five thousand other students are responding to the same prompt you choose. As my colleague Dr. David Joyner from Georgia Tech’s College of Computing said, “use your interaction with the AI assistant as a learning experience, then let your assignment reflect your improved understanding.”

Degree Choices.  Rankings get a lot of press and attention in the college admission conversation. However, in most cases, we do not dig into how these lists are formulated. Degree Choices provides a series of rankings lists based on region, academic program, return on investment metrics, etc. Even if you do not agree with the way they approach their rankings, at least it gets you thinking about what you do value. As I’ve said before, a good high school student becomes a good college applicant becomes a good college student. That starts with doing your homework, asking questions, re-thinking, and considering a variety of angles and sources.

The Common Data Set Initiative– For the data wonks among you- or for those who want to see information presented in a uniform manner from colleges. You can easily search for any institution’s CDS online. As an example, here is Georgia Tech’s. Particularly in the test optional world we are all attempting to navigate, the CDS can be helpful in understanding the number or percentage of test takers. CDS also highlights retention rates, financial aid distribution, and residency, ethnicity, and gender breakdowns, as well as size of classes, faculty degree attainment information, and more. Looking at multiple years of information in this format can point to trends or suggest institutional priorities. Again, taken alongside other tools and resources, examining Common Data Sets will inevitably generate questions for you to ask or additional topics to research when you visit campus and speak with students, faculty, or admission officers.

Pop Quiz

Did you wonder who George P. Burdell was in the example signature line? Did you follow the link to learn more? If so, you are well on your way with this whole curiosity and exploration adventure (If not, I’ve got you covered- here’s the link).

Rick Clark
AVP/Executive Director- Undergraduate Admission
“Stay Curious.”

Focus on Admission

It is Saturday at 5:30 a.m. and pouring rain.   

There are two ways I can view this fact: 

  1. It’s dark, windy, early, and of course… it is the weekend. Naturally, it’s been beautiful all week (while I was working and could not really enjoy the weather). I am only up because I set my alarm in hopes of getting some time before the day gets rolling to read, think, and take care of a few things for work. But now my son’s soccer game will be canceled, which means I definitely could have slept longer- something that does not happen often- and certainly not Monday through Friday.  


2. The rain is going to wash away all this God-forsaken pollen that has been caked all over our cars and porch and wreaking havoc on my allergies. No soccer game means no driving, no waiting around for the match to start, and more family and free time today. Also, I love running right after the rain, and sometimes heading out in the middle of it when nobody else is on the streets.   

Ultimately, our perspective, and where we focus, is a decision. In March and April, college admission is full of decisions. Admit, deny, waitlist decisions coming out from colleges. And as a student or family, receiving that information, coupling it with financial aid and scholarship details, and making big decisions yourself. 

Focus on Admission

A few years ago, my friend and colleague Akil Bello coined the phrase “highly rejective” colleges. I appreciate the reframing from “selective” and think it’s helpful to students in understanding the reality of supply and demand in higher education.  

For the same reason, I am an advocate of universities highlighting both the percentage of applicants they admit and deny, in hopes of encouraging students to consider a balanced list of schools to visit or apply to.  

At Georgia Tech this year, we admitted 16% of applicants. Some students did not complete their application, some canceled before we could make an admission decision, and some are currently waitlisted. Still, at this point, we have denied first-year admission to about 70% of applicants.   

In terms of motivating my team, and staying focused on our goals, I have two options:  

  1. I can embrace this moniker of being a “rejective” college (according to ChatGPT, “highly rejective” only kicks in at 10%). I could open my inbox and read the volley of angst from amazing students who were denied, frustrated parents who are… frustrated, or alumni who are considering removing Tech from their wills or “never stepping foot on campus again” (Yes. Those quotation marks are literal). I could go to the grocery store or church or my son’s soccer game and see neighbors and friends who Tech (sometimes perceived to be Rick Clark) denied this year. I could get really twisted up by the question posed to me on a panel recently, “How do you sleep at night knowing you turn down thousands of incredible students every year?”  


2. I can focus on the fact that Georgia Tech is the 2nd fastest growing public school in the nation behind UC-Merced (and they sort of have an advantage given they were established in 2005).   

I can focus on the 8,400~ first-year applicants we admit or the 11,000+ students we offer a Tech undergraduate opportunity to via first-year, transfer, and dual enrollment. I can appreciate that this year we’ll enroll 6000 new undergraduates and that this year we enrolled 3000~ more undergraduates than just five years ago.  

Of course, none of that changes the fact that we “turn down thousands of incredible students every year,” but my answer to that question on the panel was that I sleep just fine (sometimes aided by melatonin), because I choose to focus on admission. Our team works incredibly hard and it pays off. We create lots of opportunity and choose to celebrate the abundance of good news we distribute. Tech is a public good for our state that develops leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition at the local, state, regional, national, and global level. Our work is big, significant, and important, and as a result the future is bright!  

Focus on Admission  

As a student, you have a similar choice:  

  1. You can focus on the negative: you did not get in to your first choice; three schools waitlisted you; or you are experiencing the 8th level of admission purgatory—being deferred and then waitlisted. You can focus on the financial aid package that did not come through or the kid in your class or down the street (actual or imagined) who got into a particular college when you believe you are more qualified– or want to go there more.  


2. You can focus on admission. If you are a senior reading this, you have college choices and options. And be reminded, my friends, that was the goal from the outset. I am urging you to focus on the YES’. 

You can read back over those letters of admission that celebrate your accomplishments and welcome you into their communities. You can go to your mailbox or inbox and see invitations to admitted student programs or offers to visit campus and connect with other students.  

You can celebrate the hard work you have put in to get to this point and consider the innumerable and fantastically unknowable future opportunities you will discover at the college you select. None of that changes the fact that one (or a few schools denied you), but I am hopeful you will “highly reject” that vantage point, and instead FOCUS ON ADMISSION!  

Congratulations! Your future is bright– even if you happen to be reading this on what is (or simply feels like) a cold, dark, or rainy morning.  

Nobody Loves February in College Admission

February. I’m not a huge fan. The weather is generally crappy, the sports choices on TV are limited, germs and colds multiply like Gremlins, and there aren’t any big holidays to break through the blah. You heard me Valentine’s Day– you cheap, fabricated Hallmark mockery.  

Feel free to message me if you are a big Feb fan, but it’s going to take a lot to turn me on this one, because in college admission land it’s also mid-cycle. This means the data campus partners want, and the questions from journalists, alumni, and prospective students can only be answered with caveats, asterisks, and big BUTs.  

How many applications did you receive this year?  

Ok. IF I give you that, it is important to understand more will still come in due to recruited athletes and other special cases; some students have partial (unactionable) applications; students who took a gap year may be included in this number, and those taking a gap year may fall out of this eventually.  

What is our admit rate?  

Sure. Right now it’s X%, BUT that is not final. We’ve only been through two rounds, and we have more admits going out in March. Plus, there are more applications this year, our class size target is higher, and our composition of in-state students will be increased too. AND all of that will impact our admit rate.

February is like the “Newman!” of the admission calendar. With each passing day it’s increasingly annoying and inconvenient. You want to provide clarity, and you don’t want to sound dismissive or cagey or unhelpful– BUT the data is not complete. February!! 

And lest we forget, applications aren’t showing up on campus anyway. All admitted students aren’t coming either (at least they better not or we are going to have some seriously long lines at Chick Fila and Starbucks). Not even all of the students who deposit are going to actually enroll by the time the fall semester starts.  

So listen, I know you need to report to your board or write your article or create some data visualization for your website, but can you just check back on all of this in April…or better yet July?  

WTAF! (Wait ’til After February!)  

A few years ago, I wrote a blog entitled College Admission- What the Funnel?! IF you are a junior or sophomore, you can check that out for a more exhaustive look at each stage of the admission process, as well as some suggested questions to ask as a prospective student. 

IF you are a senior, I’m guessing you may be equally annoyed right about now. Unless you were admitted under an Early Decision binding agreement, you are also mid-cycle. You likely have an admit or three already, but you are still waiting on a few others. Or you are excited about one of the places you have been admitted to BUT need to see your financial package before making a final decision.  

Yes, it’s frustrating when people casually ask you where you are going next year, and you don’t have an answer. 

Yes, a few of those friends who got in ED and seem so set and carefree about their college choice are moderately annoying.  

Yes, waiting in general = not fun. 

No, you haven’t “done this wrong.”     

No, I don’t recommend you call the colleges you are waiting on and ask them if they can speed it up.  


Since this is your one and only admission experience- and I get “Newmaned” on an annual basis, here are three lessons I have learned over the years to help weather the mid-cycle.  

  1. Answers are coming. I don’t have a remote control to fast forward through this time, so I need to remain confident that the picture (and the weather) will clear up soon. Same for you, my friends. The truth is we end up living a lot of our lives in these periods. Waiting for medical test results, trying to buy or sell a house, wondering when the next job opportunity or romantic relationship is going to come along. I’m not saying it is easy- but I am saying that honing quiet confidence in yourself and practicing contentment amidst uncertainty will serve you well for your college career, and life well beyond it too.  

2. Look around. Instead of constantly looking ahead, look around. February is a challenging month (see the litany of aforementioned reasons in paragraph 1). I need to take care of the people around me by encouraging them and staying positive and optimistic. My hope is you will not lose sight of the fact that this is your one and only senior year. Enjoy. Don’t take for granted the friends, family, coaches, teachers, and others who support and surround you now who will not be as physically present wherever you go to college in the fall. It is February for them too. No matter how well they fake it, they could use an encouraging word or text, a hug, fist bump, high five, or a simple thank you.  

3. Keep/Seek perspective. Escape into a book, go for a hike, call your grandma. Whatever it takes to prioritize perspective. Sometimes I just look at the bottom tip of the admission funnel. The number of apps, admit rate, decision release date – all of that is distraction. My team’s goals are geared toward enrolling a new class that will contribute and be successful on campus. My hope is you won’t lose sight of the long game either. This fall “where you got in” will be a brief mention in a passing conversation, rather than a bragging point. “Where you didn’t get in” or chose not to go will accompany a shoulder shrug or a casual laugh or perhaps a “their loss.” How you show up to college (I.e., prepared academically, mentally and physically healthy, and demonstrating that confidence and contentment we just discussed) is far more important than where you end up going.   


Celebrate Your Submission

Yes. I have heard you get better traction on posts if you have a title that includes “Tips” “Top” or something inflammatory. Yes. I know at best this title sounds paradoxical and at worst—actually, not sure what worst would be. Something really dark, I’m sure.

Good news- that’s not this blog. In fact, my hope is it’s the flipside of dark.

On Sunday night, along with my colleague, friend, and co-author Brennan Barnard, I submitted the updated manuscript of our book to publish a second edition.  I’m not going to lie, it was a heavier lift than either of us expected.

Originally, when we discussed the project, it sounded easy. We had a solid base. This would just be making some additions, particularly since the first book was published just six months before the world stopped… aka March 2020.

Yea- we’ll talk about the rise of test optional, the virtual visit world, changes to yield prediction, and the new and shifting ways colleges are recruiting students in 2022 and beyond. No problem.  But I sort of forgot about the fact that I also have a full-time job, a wife and two kids, other responsibilities in my community and around campus, and a constant desire to add or change “just one more thing.”

So, after a few months of periodic work on the book, I stayed up way too many nights recently until 1 a.m. editing, revising, snacking, re-thinking, and sometimes just straight procrastinating. Ultimately, however, as I’ve written in this blog before, deadline means DEADline, so Sunday night we finally hit submit. Done.

If you recently applied to college via an EA or ED deadline, I’m guessing this sounds familiar, particularly the snacking and procrastination part. Personally, I’ll put in a plug for Reese’s Pieces, salted almonds, and in a pinch, Fritos, but I’m always up for a good gas station run, so if you have suggestions, hit us up @gtadmission on your favorite social media channel.

My point, friends, is that when you originally started your application earlier this fall or summer, I’m guessing you also were like, Yea, I got this. Street address, date of birth, full name. Scoop of chocolate, scoop of vanilla.

And then you ran into the essay; the various supplemental questions for multiple colleges; the mental gymnastics of whether or not to use the Additional Information section; and of course, the always enjoyable consternation about whether or not to send test scores to each of the schools you are considering. Several hundred (thousand?) calories and dozens of hours killed later, you finally hit SAVE for the last time—and then—SUBMIT.

Here’s What I Don’t Know

I don’t know if people are going to love the new book. My guess is a few people will say the Hamilton metaphor doesn’t work or that the Jessie J lyrics seem forced.

I don’t know who else may publish books about college admission in the same timeframe. Last time a flurry of other books came out around the same time. Different angles, different strengths, and different audiences.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the world in the year ahead as this publishes. Did not have my money down on a global pandemic last time, I can tell you that.

Same Same

I don’t know how your essay is going to “read” in different admission offices on that particular day with a certain admission committee. Maybe they’ll love it. Maybe not.

I don’t know which students or exactly how many applicants are going to apply to the places you applied to this year. Over the last two years, Tech has received 10,000 additional applications- from 40k to 50k. Admit rates change, institutional priorities shift, etc.

And I don’t know what’s going to happen in your life or the lives of people around  you that may dictate how you weigh your decisions or make choices about where you will ultimately go to college next year.

Here’s what I do know

I do know applying to college is a big deal.

I do know you have worked hard academically in high school and contributed significantly to your family, school, and community over the last few years.

I do know you spent the last few weeks editing, revising, proofing… and snacking, of course.

I do know the world spins way too fast. And because of that fact, we need to be intentional about hitting pause and recognizing our wins.

I do know as humans we are prone to focus more on the things that go wrong or we are worried about, and that too quickly we move on to “the next thing.”

Celebrate Your Submission

And that leads us back to the weird title. Celebrate your submission! Some of you finally hit submit after all of that work and then just went to bed, woke up in the morning and ate your cereal like it was any other day. Others of you checked the clock on November 1 and thought, “Oh, good- it’s only 11:54 p.m”.…waited 5 mins and then hit submit (Yea, I see you. Hope you enjoyed Halloween!)

Come on, people! Where is the fun?! Where is the appreciation, the satisfaction, and the other tions?

When we turned in the manuscript, I walked out of the room, kissed my wife, cracked open a… LaCroix… (come on, folks, this is a PG blog), and then got on Amazon and ordered a pair of shoes I’d been wanting. You do you and I’ll…. wake up the next day and eat a huge plate of French Toast!!  (Look, let’s not get all judgy about other people’s celebrations.)

Yes. I realize you have not been admitted yet. I realize this is just submitting applications. BUT it’s a big deal. A BIG DEAL. So don’t drop the ball here. CELEBRATE. You put in a ton of work to get to this point. Good on you. When you get in, we’ll go next level on the celebration, but don’t go flying past this stage.

So, to recap: send us snack recs, creative procrastination techniques, and submission celebrations!

Proud of you. Seriously. Proud. Of.  YOU!!

Playing to Win vs. Playing Not to Lose

You may not have been following Georgia Tech football in recent years. Suffice it to say, it’s been rough. Rough– as in three consecutive three-win seasons. If you are not an American football fan, it’s important to note- there are a lot more than three games in a season. Last month I walked by a man and his family looking at the field and overheard him say, “When I went here they played football down there. Now I hear they host some good concerts.” So, bottom line- not good. 

As a result, a little over a week ago, our head coach was fired, and assistant head coach and Tech alumnus Brent Key was named interim coach. In his first statement to the press, Coach Key stressed the importance of playing to win versus playing not to lose. His point was our players were worried something would go wrong and were playing tight as a result. He wanted them to feel empowered to make things happen versus waiting for things to happen. Well…in his first game as head coach, the Yellow Jackets (a double-digit underdog) traveled to Pittsburgh and beat the #24 Panthers. Clearly, Coach Key had unlocked (yea, I went there) something in his players.  

If you are a senior, my hope is you will also play to win versus playing not to lose in college admission and your final year of high school as well. Here’s what that looks like.

  1.  Trust yourself. Playing to win means believing in your preparation, intuition, and ability. Lots of seniors right now are stressed about their essay with EA/ED deadlines looming. Listen- you can write. And you have valuable stories to tell and perspective to share. There is no perfect essay topic, so don’t let that give you anxiety. Admission readers want specifics from you. They want to read something uniquely yours. Playing not to lose would be convincing yourself you need more multi-syllabic words or angsting over possibly missing a comma splice. Playing to win means being prepared, I.e. writing multiple drafts, having one or two others give you feedback, and then hitting submit with the confidence that you have done your best work.  

In the year ahead, I also hope you will trust yourself when it comes to the colleges you chose to apply to and those you decide not to pursue. To hear yourself you may have to tune out other voices. When you are deferred, waitlisted, or denied, trust other good things are coming your way. Success in college admission is not getting into your “top choice,” but being prepared, excited to play, and ready to take advantage of the opportunity wherever you end up. Playing to win will mean quiet confidence when the day comes to put your deposit down or close apps at other schools. Trusting yourself means knowing the choice is authentically yours.  

I hope your senior year is characterized by building friendships, preparing academically, and enjoying a unique time you’ll never be able to repeat. Take time to thank and appreciate the people around you who believe in you.  

2. Be Proactive. In the Pitt game and going forward, Coach Key wants his players to make plays, rather than waiting for the game to come to them. Good high school students, good college applicants, and good college students do the same thing. What is not done today that you need to take care of? Are you procrastinating on finishing your application? Figure out what it’s going to take and execute that plan. Are you nervous or unclear about what test optional really means at a college you are considering? Reach out to them. Do you need a teacher to write a rec letter for you, or your neighbor who is an English teacher to look over your essay? TODAY is the day! The college admission experience, if you will let it, can teach you lessons about how to succeed in college and beyond. Playing not to lose means hoping, worrying, and being tight or nervous. Playing to win means being proactive. 

I hope this is how you approach the rest of your senior year too.  A year from now your parents, teachers, coaches, boss, and the other supporting adults in your life won’t be there in the exact way they are currently. Are you waiting on them to provide, guide, decide, or drive?  I hope you won’t spend the year looking around waiting for others to create opportunities for you. To make a play you must move. What do you have to lose when you are playing to win?

3. Have fun.  I Googled fun and did not see pictures of people answering short answer prompts, brainstorming essay topics, or taking standardized tests. But let’s flip the script here. You don’t have to apply to college. Unlike the vast majority of the world’s population, you get to apply to college. We often call it an admission process, and that can make it feel like a grind. I believe that term makes this all seem transactional versus being transformational. Don’t lose sight of the big picture here. If you are reading this, YOU ARE GOING TO COLLEGE. That’s amazing! That’s exciting. Where? I don’t know. You don’t know. So, yea, there’s some uncertainty and mystery. Again, flip the script. Instead of that being what has you nervous, get excited and commit to having fun with the adventure of discovering.  

Ok. Let’s play this out and assume you won’t get into a couple of the schools you apply to. Playing to win does not mean everything goes your way or you control every down or play. Instead, it means you are on the field. You are in the arena. You get to see how and where your preparation, effort, ability, intuition, and excitement lead. That. Is. FUN.  

And again, same for your senior year.  Enjoy. Have fun. Laugh, smile, do things you want to do. For the love of all things holy don’t let college admissions dominate this final year of high school.  Playing to win means being relaxed, confident, trusting yourself, being proactive, and absolutely having fun. And, as always, hug your mama. 

Will Tech beat Dook (you run your spellcheck and I’ll run mine) on Saturday? I am not putting $ Down. But I know they’ll be playing to win- and I’m hoping the same for you in the days, months, and year ahead.